Sunday, February 3, 2019

Complexity / "There are times when dreams sustain us more than facts." (Helen Fagin)

A Velocity of Being: 100-year-old Holocaust survivor Helen Fagin reads her letter about how books save lives from Maria Popova on Vimeo.

It was startling to learn that the experience of reading Gone With The Wind in the Warsaw Ghetto gave hope to Jewish children who could not have known from reading that book that the lives of African American people during the American Civil War were much more complicated than that book portrayed and who certainly would have empathized.

The picture is complex.

With a little bit of Googling, I found another Jewish perspective, the perspective of a white woman on re-reading the book as an adult, a perspective from the Irish Times, and an African American perspective.  As far as I know, the world of Gone With The Wind contains absolutely no mention of  Indigenous people or any of the formerly invisible people of the U.S.A, non-white and white, who now have voices.  It is a work of fiction, of course, written from the perspective of a white woman from the American South, presenting a strong and ambitious fictional woman, Scarlet O'Hara.

Helen Fagin's story is moving in that it does show that a dream world, with all its limitations, had something to bring to young and vulnerable Jewish children.

From Helen Fagin's story from Warsaw Ghetto times:

"... I had spent the previous night reading Gone with the Wind — one of a few smuggled books circulated among trustworthy people via an underground channel, on their word of honor to read only at night, in secret. No one was allowed to keep a book longer than one night — that way, if reported, the book would have already changed hands by the time the searchers came.
I had read Gone with the Wind from dusk until dawn and it still illuminated my own dream-world, so I invited these young dreamers to join me. As I “told” them the book, they shared the loves and trials of Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara, of Ashley and Melanie Wilkes. For that magical hour, we had escaped into a world not of murder but of manners and hospitality (am's note:  It confounds my heart that a work of fiction could erase so much and thus create a dream world that gave respite and "new vitality" in another terrible time).  All the children’s faces had grown animated with new vitality.
A knock at the door shattered our shared dream-world. As the class silently exited, a pale green-eyed girl turned to me with a tearful smile: “Thank you so very much for this journey into another world. Could we please do it again, soon?” I promised we would, although I doubted we’d have many more chances. She put her arms around me and I whispered, “So long, Scarlett.” “I think I’d rather be Melanie,” she answered, “although Scarlett must have been so much more beautiful!”
As events in the ghetto took their course, most of my fellow dreamers fell victim to the Nazis. Of the twenty-two pupils in my secret school, only four survived the Holocaust.
The pale green-eyed girl was one of them.
Many years later, I was finally able to locate her and we met in New York. One of my life’s greatest rewards will remain the memory of our meeting, when she introduced me to her husband as “the source of my hopes and my dreams in times of total deprivation and dehumanization.”
There are times when dreams sustain us more than facts. To read a book and surrender to a story is to keep our very humanity alive. 

I keep thinking about the complexity of perspectives that converged at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on January 19, 2019, and the innumerable perspectives of those throughout the world who witnessed those events due to the power of cell phones.

I am reminded that there is a book that no one can write -- a book that shows the world from all points of view.

Suddenly I hear Bob Dylan singing:

And she winds back the clock and she turns back the page Of a book that no one can write Oh, where are you tonight? The truth was obscure, too profound and too pure To live it you have to explode In that last hour of need, we entirely agreed Sacrifice was the code of the road
(lyrics from "Where Are You Tonight? (Journey Through Dark Heat), 1978)

Interesting that whoever posted that Bob Dylan song used images of Edgar Bergen (Scandinavian) and Charlie McCarthy (based on an Irish newspaper boy) from the 1950s to accompany it.

Speaking of dreams:

Coincidentally, this began playing directly after the song above:

"... You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one ..." (John Lennon and Yoko Ono, lyrics from "Imagine.")


Sabine said...

Thank you for this collection.

Holocaust Remembrance Day (27th Jan, the day Auschwitz was liberated) is honoured here - among other events - by inviting a survivor to speak to the fully assembled parliament in Berlin. This year, it was Saul Friedlander (
The event is broadcast live and the text of the speech is published in all of the national daily paper. For what it's worth. The public reactions are still respectful but less than in previous years.

I worry about that. Recently a colleague from another EU country asked me when it will finally stop, he felt all this "dwelling on old stuff" was getting "past its due date" and that he wouldn't visit any memorial site esp. not the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam because it was all a money making exercise. Sometimes, I am so shocked that the appropriate reply does not come.

am said...

Sabine -- Thank you for your comment and the link to information about Saul Friedlander. There is a 96-year-old survivor living in the town where I live. She has talked about her experiences locally, nationally, and internationally so that after she dies, there will be large numbers of people who can say that they heard a survivor's story in person and that there will be generations to come who will repeat her story, linked to her as witnesses to what happened and cannot be forgotten.émi_Ban

beth coyote said...

Forgiving Dr Mengele is an amazing documentary. Please enjoy.

37paddington said...

I used to wonder how the camps happened, such inhumanity, and now i no longer wonder. thank you for this reminder that we can find reasons to hope in the darkest of times, and even in the most imperfect of stories.