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Featured: The Holocaust & Reconciliation: An Interview with Thomas Orszag-Land

In Europe, Featured, human rights, interview, poetry, writers on June 28, 2013 at 21:28

Thomas Orszag-Land is a poet and award-winning foreign correspondent writing from London and his native Budapest. His reviews and polemics have been published by the London Magazine and The Times Literary Supplement, and his poetry by Ambit and BBC World Service.

Enjoy the interview and feel free to comment.

HG

Featured: The Holocaust & Reconciliation: Poetry may salve the wounds that have refused to heal, An Interview with Thomas Orszag-Land

The wounds inflicted by the Holocaust are still refusing to heal – but they are not the only burden of human rights abuse inherited by the 21st century. DAVID CUSCÓ I ESCUDERO, editor of the Catalan cultural magazine “El funàmbu”l (The Tightrope Walker) serving a country that endured unspeakable atrocities during the Spanish Civil War, questions THOMAS ORSZÁG-LAND, a Jewish-Hungarian poet, translator and foreign correspondent, on his attempt to look beyond the Holocaust.

David: We are about to publish some of your Holocaust poetry in Catalan translation. We are also very interested in your English translations of outstanding Hungarian Holocaust poetry. Did you write them because you thought that the Holocaust could be fathomed only through literature since the basic facts of that crime were so huge and its premises so horrible that they could be described comprehensibly only in fiction? That would be just the opposite of Theodor Adorno’s dictum that “to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric” – although he later qualified that, after reading Paul Celan’s poetry.

Thomas: Adorno looked at Auschwitz and despaired. But humanity must look to its future, and cannot afford to despair. I recently attended a meeting of Holocaust survivors, old people who had looked evil in the face as young adults, somehow survived and dedicated their lives to warning the world against attempting such madness ever again. They agitate, they write, they lecture, especially to the young.

But they see that the very occurrence of the Holocaust is vociferously being denied by people who would like to repeat it. These aging witnesses know that they will be silenced soon by illness and death. They fear that, when they are gone, no-one will be left to defend the world against such renewed barbarity.

I do not fear that. I believe that, as Odysseus will sail the seven seas of imagination in Homer’s hexameters for the rest of history, so the passionate warnings of the Holocaust survivors will resound through the ages in the voices of the poets of our own time.

David: In your poem “Caution,” a child summons humanity from Auschwitz. He reminds me of Hurbinek, that unforgettable child in Primo Levi’s “The Truce” who mumbles instead of talking. Despite the pain conveyed by your poem, I sense a spark of optimism here, in the dignity of the child’s response to his own suffering… Is there, to you, room for optimism after the Holocaust?

Thomas: Probably the most important thought in that poem is “hold up your head… while you’ve got it.” It radiates optimism even beyond death. I did not invent that. I found it in a surviving poetic fragment from a slave-labour camp. I’ve just managed to identify its author as Jaroslav Ježek (not the composer of that name), to whom the poem is now dedicated.

Primo Levi and Paul Celan both committed suicide after the Holocaust, perhaps because they saw no room left for decency, let alone optimism, after Auschwitz. Both turned to poetry to shout out their astounded grief and rage at their incomprehensible humiliation and abuse at the hands of the Nazis, for which they had been totally unprepared. But the subsequent generations are not unprepared. They are all survivors, and their enduring capacity for love and decency originates from within. Read the rest of this entry »

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