Piff! Puff! Pouf! “An acute delirious puff”: a licence to murder Jews in France – the case of Sarah Halimi

In France, with just one puff of marijuana, you can claim you experienced a “delirious fit” when you kill a Jew, and not stand trial. (If, however, you instead kill a dog, you will stand trial and be sentenced to 2 years’ imprisonment.)


Sarah Halimi’s flat was broken into, and she was tortured, murdered, and her body thrown out of her window by her neighbour, Kobili Traore, who had previously been subjecting her to relentless and severe anti-Semitic harassment.  Her murderer has been exempt from standing trial as he has been judged as not responsible for his actions at the time of the murder since he was alleged to have been affected by marijuana – a judgement upheld by Court of Cassation’s Supreme Court of Appeals.  He nevertheless had the awareness at the time to flee the scene of the crime.

Now he is in psychiatric care, instead of in prison awaiting a criminal trial. Why should this be? Having an adverse effect from smoking marijuana is not a mental illness, so why is he in psychiatric care? Psychiatric diagnosis is based largely on the patient’s own description of his feelings/experiences (and the psychiatrist’s acceptance of its truthfulness and accuracy). There is no other witness to the internal subjective state of one’s mind. The witness to how he presented at the moment of murder was murdered by him – so she cannot verify that he presented as having a delirious fit or otherwise. The basis on which he is being excused from trial must be based entirely on his own account or allegation of his subjective state as affirmed by 2 out of 3 psychiatrists. What about the statement of the third psychiatrist? Psychiatry presents itself as scientific! It is not supposed to rest on a vote of 2 out of 3.  Science does not rest along the lines of democratic election!  It is not the majority opinion that wins! Which assessment is scientifically most valid?  That is the question that needs to be asked.  What is the relative experience and specialism of each psychiatrist?  How can we measure the extent to which he was having a delirious fit, and why would it have been focussed precisely on breaking into the home of this particular neighbour with the tragic and violent consequences?  Were huge quantities of marijuana found in his blood stream? –  Exactly how soon after the act of murder?  As a drug dealer and hardened marijuana injester, one would have expect that he would have acquired a degree of tolerance to marijuana.

Where is the science in this?

Marijuana is legal in the Netherlands.  I don’t think this would be the case if the medical establishment in the Netherlands considered that a puff – nay – an “acute delirious puff” – of the substance could lead to delirious fits, which could induce its legally-complying marijuana-smoking citizens to commit murder.  In fact, from my own personal observations and experience, marijuana is not an activator but the opposite.  As an undergraduate at Manchester University, I did know someone who – having gone to no lectures whatsoever – revised someone else’s lecture notes while constantly smoking marijuana, and managed to get a 2:1 in her finals.  I, on the other hand, had to forget about doing any study if I shared or smoked a joint.  All I, and most people I observed, were capable of doing under the influence of marijuana was to recline, listen to music (on one occasion, appreciating two different cassettes played simultaneously on a double deck) and eat 6 milk chocolate flakes in a row.  On one occasion, a friend managed – extremely slowly and carefully – to drive herself and a couple of friends home after smoking marijuana – which was quite a feat of concentration!  Marijuana acts as a relaxant, and if anything, it suppresses physical activity.  It seems inconceivable to me that a puff of marijuana – however “acutely delirious” – and however paranoia-inducing – could give someone the strength and motivation to break down the door of an apartment, murder a person and throw her body out of a window. 

There don’t seem to be many voices making this point.  Is it that no-one wants to admit that they have smoked marijuana?  Oh Dutch people – join the conversation!  How many of you have been motivated to break into an apartment, murder someone and throw their body out of a window under the influence of marijuana?

Piff! Puff! Pouf! An “acute delirious puff” ….and a licence to kill a Jew with impunity!  In France.

What if when the murderer is discharged from psychiatric hospital (which can be at any moment, since he cannot have been sectioned with a mental illness – in fact, what treatment is given for an “acute delirious puff” of marijuana?) he then has another “acute delirious puff” of marijuana and kills another Jew? Same again? And again?

And what if the person he kills next time isn’t Jewish?  What if, the next time, the person is a judge?  Or a psychiatrist?  But it won’t be – unless the judge or psychiatrist is Jewish.  Because the intention to murder a Jew was there – in his historic behaviour as well as in his behaviour surrounding the murder.  Isn’t that what constitutes murder?  The act of murder governed by the intention and premeditation to murder? 

France – during WWII with its Vichy government – puppets to the Nazi regime.  Its own police willingly rounding up Jews for mass murder.  And in Paris, there is a delightful garden dedicated to the memory of Anne Frank – ignoring the fact that 11,400 French children were zealously rounded up by the French police to hand over to the Nazis for mass murder.  Now its own judiciary has established its own exclusive criterion for the determination of murder in the case of Jews. It has set a precedent licensing the murder of Jews with impunity.  France is back to 1939-45 era – but this time its determination of the legality of the murder of Jews is more specifically home-grown.

In short, France is not a country where it is safe to be a Jew. Many French Jews have realised that for years now, and France has been significantly emptying itself of its Jews.

How inverted racism works

Stock photo. ©Anna Nahabed

It is a tragic phenomenon, that in societies where you find racism, you also find inverted racism, and the degree of the latter is probably in direct proportion to the extent of the former.  Because just because someone is a member of a stigmatised group, does not make that person immune to the misinformation, brainwashing, and systems of thought which prop up and sustain the racism, which that person may then apply to herself or himself.

I know exactly how inverted racism works – how people come to be inverted racists,  – because I myself was one – as an 11-year old child.  It is a very straightforward process.  Suddenly, being Jewish works to your disadvantage.  It separates you from people you love.  It impedes you from doing the things that you love.  As a child with a lack of understanding, I blamed these things on my Jewishness, rather than the anti-Semites, and therefore wished to fully dissociate myself from my Jewishness and – more than hide it – deny it.

I will start further back than that, because I actually experienced anti-Semitism years before, and yet it didn’t have the same effect on me.  I think it’s because it didn’t stop me from doing the things I loved doing, and didn’t separate me from anyone.  I was born to a young “sabra” – an Israeli woman (who had had very little, if anything – to do with Catholics, and who in fact had not, to my knowledge, experienced anything of European-style anti-Semitism,) and to a holocaust survivor who, working for an architectural firm after the war, would measure up bombed-out churches.  In some of these churches, he found boards on which was proclaimed:  “The Jews killed Jesus.”  We lived in the North London suburbs, with Jewish communities of all denominations:  Religious, Orthodox, Reform, Liberal, Secular… and no shortage of Jewish schools, Church of England schools, schools that didn’t define themselves religiously.  And yet, for some strange reason which I actually think stemmed entirely from my mother’s love of the film:  The Sound of Music(!), my parents decided to bypass the Jewish schools, the C of E schools, the non-denominational schools, the schools within walking distance, and to send me to Sacred Heart Convent School.  There, from the age of 4, I routinely crossed myself and put my hands together in prayer, reciting as many Our Father’s and Hail Mary’s as any Catholic child; kneeling in church; and loving Jesus (pictured with long blonde hair as in my Children’s Bible: New Testament). At the age of 6, well-aware of being a sinner, and aspiring to be a nun; a year or two later, during a music-and movement class – wondering if it was significant to find my feet bleeding exactly where nails would have pierced the flesh of Jesus on the cross (after hearing stories of just such saintly signs); and, at the age of 8, being present in the confirmation classes.  When I was deemed a little disruptive of these classes – chiming in that Jesus was Jewish; even taking this idea further and informing all my classmates that that meant that they were therefore Jewish too(!), I found myself being sent to piano or elocution lessons while confirmation classes were taking place (apprehensive, perhaps, of possible reactions by Catholic parents upon discovering that, during confirmation classes, their children were being told they were Jewish!) – hence becoming well-spoken – especially for a young Jewish girl whose parents both spoke heavily-accented English.  

Once a week, on a Sunday morning, I would be sent to Cheder (the “ch” pronounced as in the Scottish “loch” – Jewish Sunday school/Hebrew classes) – so the balance was definitely in favour of the Catholic influence!

I was the only Jewish child in the school, until my younger brother and sister briefly attended.  I experienced anti-Semitism but didn’t know that it was anti-Semitism. For example, when at the age of 6, the art teacher would keep hitting me but didn’t hit anyone else – this is when I started to learn about inconsistency – with one rule (revealed after it was broken) applying to me, and another rule applying to others. A little boy had painted his entire sheet of paper a single colour, which I obviously considered a good idea, since I followed suit! I was hit – he wasn’t!

Or – another example of what I now interpret as anti-Semitism which I experienced was when the music teacher’s eyes would consistently drift past my arm straining in the air, because (for example) I knew I could easily play that bongo beat pattern which eluded the other kids.  (I got that she didn’t seem to like me, but even before this had twigged, she was the source of my unrelenting desire to play the guitar.)  

I only remember the P.E. teacher from one incident, when I forgot my P.E. kit, and she forced me – much to my great distress and humiliation – to participate in the (mixed-sex) lesson outdoors, stripped to my underwear. I don’t remember that any other child, particularly any other girl, was subjected to such sadistic treatment, and that surely wouldn’t have been because nobody else ever forgot their P.E. kit. Perhaps she derived some kind of fetishistic satisfaction from the power of forcing a young Jewish girl to run around in her underwear amidst fully-clothed (in T-shirts and shorts) Catholic boys and girls.

I didn’t know what anti-Semitism was, and certainly didn’t feel at all negatively towards my own Jewish identity and religion.  One incident that I remember in particular is that when a little flaxen-haired boy called Dermot punched me in the stomach for being Jewish, at the age of 8, I knocked on the office door of Sister Maria (the headmistress); she admitted me and listened while I related to her what had happened; and she said nothing (perhaps nodded acknowledgment), and did nothing.  The other two nuns I remember were fine! My mother would wax lyrical about how Sister Veronica would place me on her lap and read with me when I was 4. Some years on, Sister Anita would humour me by allowing me to teach her Hebrew phrases while she was on playground duty, when I had no-one to play with during the break. She seemed unimpressed by my experimental artwork, but her artistic opinion paled into insignificance when my father – whose artistic judgement I valued much more highly – gazed intently at my paintings as if beholding works of genius, and kept them to his dying day! (That may have been because he forgot he had them!) Meanwhile, thuggish little Dermot was forced to be kinder to me: we were placed into the same small group to prepare a nativity play, and his best friend Adam, once it was agreed that he should be cast as Joseph, was insistent that I should be Mary, even though Dermot tried to convince him that I couldn’t be Mary because I was Jewish!

Then I was sent to St Mary’s C of E primary school when I just turned 9.  A large proportion of the pupils were Jewish, and we had separate Jewish assembly, although I preferred to go to the Christian assembly because I loved singing the hymns, and especially the carols approaching Christmas.  The headmaster was a man who maintained and inspired religious tolerance. 

Then he retired and was replaced by a new headmistress, Miss Pybus (a very tall woman with hair the colour and texture of straw, and whose face was dominated by a huge curved nose!), who took the school’s status as a Church of England school to mean exclusion of Jews (but not Hindus or any other religion).  She prevented any more Jews from being admitted to the school, so the new first year intake, for the first time ever, from having previously been approximately 30% Jewish, was now completely Judenrein!  Normally kids came into the first year of that school automatically from the neighbouring infant school, but from this point, that infant school sprouted its own separate primary school, and my youngest brother graduated to that one.  

She also prevented Jewish children from singing in the choir.  By now, I had entered the fourth and final year of the junior school, and one of the highlights of being in this year was that if you were selected, you got to sit on the stage in assembly each morning as part of the official school choir.  The previous year, I had been chosen as one of five soloists for the Christmas carol service (“About the best so far” – when it was my turn to audition, to the protest of one child who couldn’t sing properly in tune: “That’s not fair!  She’s Jewish!”)  No such protest when the Hindu girl also got chosen.  Yet in my fourth year, I was prevented from being a part of the choir of several times five, explicitly because I was Jewish!  Yet the Hindu girl was admitted into the choir.  What made this even more hurtful was that my best friend (who couldn’t even sing completely in tune – whereas I always sang perfectly in tune) was chosen as part of the choir – so every morning in assembly, we would be separated:  she on the stage with the choir – me sitting cross-legged on the floor with the rest of the school.  During that year’s Christmas carol concert, I sneaked into the choir stalls in church and sang with the choir, and the music teacher noticed but raised no objection.  This was the same music teacher who had chosen me as a soloist the previous year.

With the advent of Miss Pybus, (perhaps her intense anti-Semitism was a means of dissociating herself from Jews in view of the fact that she was the one with the huge nose!) where there had previously always been religious tolerance in the school, suddenly, in the younger year groups, fights developed in the playground between Christians and Jews which my sister and other younger brother found themselves embroiled in, and in the context of which my sister learned to physically fight tooth-and-nail!

This was the year when I started to hate and deny being Jewish, and to dissociate myself from anything to do with Judaism.  I didn’t actually hate other Jews, or change my feelings towards them – it was all to do with what had been taken away from me, and the associated humiliation. When I turned 12 and started at my new secondary school, nobody knew my background.  If anyone asked, I would say that I was Church of England.  The only other Jewish girl in my class whom I’d befriended seemed suspicious of my true identity when she came to my home, but I didn’t reveal the truth even to her.  I once asked a boy in my class who, I thought, looked quite Jewish – with his nice brown curly hair – and who seemed to have a Jewish surname, if he was Jewish, and his reaction was one of such strong anger and disgust, that that certainly discouraged any inclination I may have felt to come out.  Apparently I didn’t conform to most people’s – even most Jews’ – idea of what a Jew looks like (years later, my aunt in Israel told me I looked like a typical Russian shiksa [Yiddish: “non-Jew”]), and having had a full Catholic/Christian education, I played the part flawlessly.  But to me it wasn’t a “part” – I was in full denial, and was almost close to believing it myself.  I was still being sent – against my will – to Cheder – and had a close Jewish friend.

The lovely Japanese friend, Nibou, of our Japanese housekeeper (- who had not yet started to show signs of becoming the intensely cruel and highly abusive person she subsequently revealed herself to be) had the sensitivity and insight to give me a copy of Anne Frank’s diary – just at this time when I was in denial about being Jewish and rejecting everything Jewish (except my friends and family)!

After two terms in my first secondary school, I changed to another school where it happened that about 30% of my class were Jewish and it was not an issue.  There seemed to be no further need to hold on to my inverted anti-Semitism, and I don’t think it took long to accept my Jewishness, and to stop hiding it.

So that is exactly how inverted racism works.  It can manifest in relatively small ways – such as a lack of confidence or undervaluing oneself.  Or it can manifest in pathologically self-destructive ways:  Otto Weininger comes to mind – a Jewish philosopher living in Austria at the turn of the 19th/20th centuries, when anti-Semitism was rife.  He developed a theory that Jews were incapable of originality, and committed suicide as what he apparently saw as a logical consequence of his own theorisation.  (If I have remembered this correctly from a philosophy lecture or tutorial attended as a young undergraduate student, a long time ago!) 

In another blog post of mine, I have written:  “Anti-Semites love a self-hating Jew!”  The question as to why a Jew would wish to be loved by anti-Semites is another strange, perverse phenomenon which seems pathological!   The anti-Semites’ love is more logical – it is not actually a love of the Jewish person, but it is a love of the validation they are seeking, and which is delivered by the self-hating Jew in her/his self-hatred.  They (the anti-Semites) want to say – and they do say:  “I’m not anti-Semitic:  I have Jewish friends!  So-&-so is saying this too, and she/he is Jewish!  Therefore my views are validated,” (and spewing forth from their lips come tales of Jewish cabals and the Rothschilds, and Jews controlling the media, “Zionists”, Jews as “Nazis” or “worse than the Nazis”, Israel and “apartheid”, etc.  They might express intense sympathy and compassion for actual heinous Nazi criminals languishing in prison in isolation; but none whatsoever for their victims.  They will undoubtedly express concern about the Palestinians  – but only if they are living in Israel, the West Bank or Gaza.  The plight of Palestinians in Syria, or Saudi Arabia, or Iraq, or of Palestinians suffering at the hands of their own leaders is of no interest.)   “And therefore,” they say, “I can’t be anti-Semitic.”  And the answer is:   “Yes you are extremely anti-Semitic, and so, probably, is your Jewish friend you feel so validated by, and on whose self-hatred your friendship is based!”

Of course, you also find a small number (I hope it’s small) of massively destructive Jewish anti-Semites in or from Israel.  This is a phenomenon which requires, it seems, a different kind of explanation.  Israel is not a society where anti-Semitism is experienced in the same way, or as chronically as, for example, in the UK or the States or – really horrifically – in France.  (It is not, for example, hammered by the non-Arab news outlets – or “in the air”.)  (As I stated, my mother who was born and grew up there did not, to my knowledge, encounter anti-Semitism except from neighbouring hostile countries.)  I will probably leave this phenomenon to someone else to figure out!

Land of Plenty

20200315_160204I was living in Israel during 1990/91 at the time when, just after Perestroika, Jews from the Soviet Union, finally free to leave, were flooding into Israel. I studied Hebrew in an Ulpan (language school) where most of the other students were from the former Soviet Union (mainly Russia and the Ukraine, but also Georgia, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan). When we had a tea break, these students would form a massive queue and each take as many biscuits as they could possibly hold, not caring whether those further back in the queue, or whether non-(former-)Soviets: (Brits, Ethiopians, Palestinians, Israelis, Americans, the French and a New Zealander) who refrained from joining the long queue, would get any. They started to bring in supermarket carrier bags, emerging from the front of the queue triumphant, their carrier bags crammed full of biscuits.  To me, it looked ugly. I had little sympathy, even though I understood that for their entire lives until then, they had wasted their days queuing for essentials such as bread, only to get to the front of the queue and find there was nothing left.

The principal of Ulpan Akiva was a woman with a lot of understanding and compassion. Rather than trying to limit the number of biscuits each person could take, or trying to change their behaviour, she simply ordered in more and more boxes of biscuits.  It would take time for them to get used to the idea of continuous supply.

And here we are, in the UK, plundering the supermarket shelves with little regard for whether there will be anything left for others.  (I haven’t been partaking in the plundering – being temporarily quite itinerant, but I hope I wouldn’t anyway.)  And we haven’t been traumatised by having our lives eroded  – day after day – forming queues for a loaf of bread or other essentials, only to find nothing left by the time we get to the front of the queue.  And it is ugly.  When I saw it among the former Soviets, I didn’t expect ever to see such a thing here – Land of Plenty!

My Russian neighbours at that time showed me photos they were sending their friends and relatives back in the former Soviet Union:  of supermarket shelves laden with food, deep freezes full of meat.  And here are we, on social media, posting photos of supermarket and pharmacy shelves, plundered and empty.

 

 

Witnessing WWII in Czechoslovakia – oral histories

Sudeten Mountains

Photo:  Marilyn Herman 2018.  Chomutov, near the death march route, looking towards the Sudeten mountain range on the border with Germany.

Following on from my previous blog, I very recently decided to visit Chomutov, in the Czech Republic.  I was interested to see what kind of place produced a heroine like the young woman who gave her life to give my father bread.  I wanted to get an idea of the context at the time.  

I am indebted to Jan Krupicka who grew up in Chomutov, who arranged for me to interview two couples and two widows who lived through World War II, taking me to the retirement home, and to Amalie’s village, and who interpreted between Czech and English during the interviews.

All but two of my interviewees had lived in other parts of Czechoslovakia during World War II.  From my interviews, I learned about the general situation for civilians during the German occupation of Czechoslovakia. Food rationing was imposed, and ethnic Czechs were restricted to the extent that one could not live on rations alone.  Czech men were sent to Germany for forced, unpaid labour, to fill in for German men who were in the army.  Czech women similarly had to engage in forced, unpaid labour for ethnic Germans in Czechoslovakia, or if they were younger and without children to care for, they would be sent as forced unpaid labour to Germany.  “The only people who didn’t come back were the Jews.”

 From Karel and Kvetuse, a couple living in a retirement home in Chomutov, who had lived in other parts of Czechoslovakia during WWII,  I learned that the generation of Czechs at the end of the 19th century all spoke German.

They told me that there were Czech and German schools.  Once the German occupation started, it was stipulated that there should be a German class every day in the Czech schools, and history classes were only about the German Reich, and nothing else.  Pages of history books referring to previous history were glued together, and after that the books were thrown away altogether, and history lessons were just given through talking by the teacher, without books.

There were ethnic Czechs who said they were German during the occupation, seeking benefits. They also told me of hearsay about one ethnic Czech man who was really pro-Nazi and a snitch.

I interviewed Viera on 30thNovember 2018, and relay what she said below:

 The Germans were well-off, while food was very scarce for the Czechs following the German occupation. She knew a Czech woman who worked just for food.  Ethnic Germans in the area were on higher rations than the Czechs. 

I asked if this caused resentment.  She responded that there wasn’t much resentment.  Most of the Czechs left, [since Chomutov was being bombed by the allies – there were factories there serving German war effort].  Not many Czechs were left in Chomutov.  Those who remained had to cope with how things were.

Viera would take the animals and geese to the woods when there was an inspection [by the German occupiers).  They would be warned a couple of days in advance by Czechs working in the government office.  If these Czechs had been caught, they might have been executed along with their families. 

You couldn’t survive on the food stamps.  Life was better in the rural areas.  You were in a better position to survive – to have what you needed.

Viera was studying fashion design.  Her father was recruited at the age of 17 in World War I.  He fought in an Italian batallion.  

In World War II, Czech men didn’t have to go into the German army.  They were supposed to be relocated to Germany to substitute for Germans who went to war, as forced unpaid labour.  German cities were under attack [by the allies] – the situation wasn’t good there.  Viera’s husband – a student – was digging ditches for the Germans. 

In Czechoslovakia, the men were gone, and food was scarce.

Viera’s brother was supposed to be relocated.  A German man saved him – he said that he needed him to work in his inn, where people would leave their carts and horses.  He was an old man, and said he was ill and needed Viera’s brother to work for him.

There were lots of Czech/German married couples.

 Some [ethnic] Germans collaborated with the Nazis, but others were perfectly fine.  There were people who sought benefit from siding [with the Nazis].  Maybe some Czechs were the the worst “snitches”.

 

Mrs Amalie Libuse Vinduskova had lived in the same village near Chomutov her whole life. I interviewed her on 2ndNovember 2018.  Amalie felt the need to talk about her experiences during WWII.  It caused her great anxiety to remember and talk about her experiences, but she felt it was important for them to be known.  This is what she said:

She told me about the remains of  a Jewish cemetery in a forest near the village.  Her daughter-in-law sent me photos and put stones on the graves in the Jewish tradition, since it was too late for me to go there after the interview.

 

 

 

Amalie also talked about where the victims were shot by Germans on the “Day of Executions”.  I am not clear about what she was referring to, but will try to clarify it and revise this blog post shortly.  I think she was referring to the death march after it passed through her village as she specified that it was in April 1945.  (My father related that on the death marches, as soon as they arrived at some distance from a town or village, the German guards would shoot prisoners who they thought could not continue, or would shoot a group of prisoners to reduce their numbers.)

Amalie said that more than 30 people were shot.  She said they may not have [all?] been Jews.  Germans who lived in Czechoslovakia were also among those who were executed – those who went against the regime.  Some of the graves in the woods are of German communists. None of the graves have names.

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I am arranging to have the notice board (above) translated, and will add the translation here.

Amalie’s mother asked a [German] soldier where they were taking the prisoners.  He responded:  “Up the hill, and when we’re done, you’re next.”  

Amalie heard the shooting and was shocked.  When they heard the shooting, she went out and saw a prisoner in a white-collared shirt lying by a small apple tree.  He couldn’t talk, but pointed to his mouth to indicate that he was hungry.  The German guards wouldn’t allow him to be given food.  On the way up the mountain, he grabbed some grass. He was about to put it in his mouth, when the German guard stabbed him with his bayonet.  Amalia was crying and shaking (as a girl) thinking of this man.

She was 13 when she witnessed the death march passing through her village. She turned 13 in February 45.  When Amalie saw the death march, she was shocked and couldn’t move.  Her mother went to sit in the creek for the whole day

Czech adults didn’t approach the death march.  Her mother and aunt went to hide.  The children approached the march because they were children and spoke German. The prisoners were so weak and helpless! 

I asked Amalie if she thought the woman who gave my father bread on the death march would have been Czech?  Amalie was sure that a German girl wouldn’t have handed him bread.  The Czech girl must have known what she was getting into. The guards were so threatening! It was huge, huge bravery! 

Until the War, nobody cared who was Czech, German, Jewish, Polish.  Only after the War started, such distinctions started to be made.  As soon as these distinctions started to be made, marriages started breaking up. 

Heller was a Jewish woman with a German husband.  He divorced her (after the German occupation) and she was deported together with their two daughters to Theresienstadt.

Amalie’s mother had had a hard time in 1937 when there was a rubella epidemic. Three of her children died.  She collapsed and received treatment for half a year.  After that, her peaceful place was in the creek where she would retreat to. 

Amalie’s father was Polish.  He was the only Polish person there, having come to that region when he was only 16. He had paid a farmer to keep (hide) the family, but her mother refused to leave.  As soon as he heard that the Germans were crossing the border, her father shot himself.  He had heard what the Germans had been doing to the Jews in Germany.  He committed suicide to save the family.  He could have killed the whole family together.  He shot himself to avoid deportation, and to save his family so that they wouldn’t be endangered by association with him. 

Previously her father would join the Germans going to work.  Once he shot himself, he became “the Polish bastard”. The Germans didn’t mind that the Jews were in the death march.  Before the War, the Germans wanted to leave for their “home country”.  Then [after the War] when they were being chased out, they didn’t want to go.  Her own uncle was one of the worst Germans who was beaten and chased out [after the War].  

28 German soldiers were put up in their house.  The officer would stay there all day.  He was very civil to her mother.  When a neighbour came round and said: “Do you know who you are drinking coffee with?” (in order to betray her because the family was Polish), the officer asked where the neighbour lived, and threatened her.

You couldn’t tell who was German, or who was Czech [or Jewish?] [from looking at or speaking to someone].  But once the War started, the [ethnic] Germans started feeling superior. 

The Jewish people were gassed in trucks, with the exhaust pipes discharging inside the trucks.  The local German people approved of this.  Her mother spent that day sitting in the creek.

Her older siblings protected Amalie from it.  She was the second youngest.  They didn’t talk about such things in front of her.  She was called a “Polish bitch” [by Germans?] once the War started.  They mostly spoke German at home.  Her parents were scared to speak in Czech.  After the War, her mother said she was not going to speak German anymore.

There were Germans who were neither communist nor pro-Hitler.  They wore white bands, and got food from the Russians. There were good and bad Germans.

It was a German-speaking region, and Amalie went to a German school.  There was only a German school in her area. Everyone went to it:  Jews, Czechs.  After the German occupation, at school, when she put up her hand to answer a question, her teacher told her there was no point in her learning.  Her teacher didn’t expect her to survive the War because of her Polish identity.  It was local Germans from Chomutov who were teaching in the school. 

The German pupils would get food first, and the Polish and Jewish pupils would get whatever was left, if anything.  They would be sitting on the steps [while the German pupils were eating]. In the winter, only the German pupils got meals at school, and the other children didn’t get anything.

The German flag was raised at school and the children had to raise their arms and say “Heil Hitler”. 

Amalie’s mother had lived through World War I, when she had had to be very self-reliant and creative (resourceful).  When there was a wheat harvest, her mother would collect whatever remnants were left on the field after the harvest, (although they were gardeners before the occupation) and would make little breads, and sprinkle sugar on top.  She told her children to eat these in the bathroom so that the other children wouldn’t laugh at them. 

Amalie’s cousin was mother to a six-week old baby.  As a punishment for giving frozen bread to a Polish worker, she was imprisoned for two months – despite having a six-week old baby at home.  The German mayor was nice, and arranged for her to be released early.

Amalie’s three sisters had to work as maids on local German farms.  They had to be German [i.e. the farmers they worked for].  They were nice people.  Ordinary people.  Some of the farmers could be mean to the girls [who worked for them].  It was forced, unpaid labour.  They were just given board and lodging. 

Her two older sisters were dating Germans, one of whom was very much in love with her sister and wanted to marry her.  He was sent to the Russian front, because he wanted to marry a Polish woman. 

Her brother was stationed with a Czech army unit guarding the border.  They were forced to surrender.  He went to Benechov and hid, so that he was not deported. Her younger brother worked in salt mines in Thuring.

Ritter was a nice farmer.  He would take a loaf of bread, carve it out and put lard in it, and give it to her mother. 

The German farmers were producing food for themselves and also had to give produce to the Nazis.

The Czech people were not allowed to breed animals or grow plants.  Amalie’s family used to have commercial gardens: they were gardeners who grew food [before the occupation], and now her mother had to collect remnants from fields after the harvest. 

I commented that the Czechs were being starved, like the Jews.  Amalie said that the German approach was that if you eliminate someone, you get what’s left.

Amalie’s first husband was from the Ukraine, from a village called Lapaus in the Damidovka district.  There, they brought the Jews to a forest and made them dig a grave. 

In Chomutov, there were lots of Jewish shop owners who were very nice. One Jewish shop owner would let his first customer have her shopping for free.  The second customer, he would let her have her shopping on credit.  If someone owed him money, he would come round and collect a little at a time.  He wouldn’t collect the whole debt at once. 

There was a Ukrainian general:  Vlasov who joined the German side.  When the tables turned, the “march” of Vlasov’s men took two days – to send them to Siberia.

There was a huge community of Czechs living in the Ukraine.  They came to the vacated farms (i.e. vacated by the expelled Germans.)

People need to know what was going on in the War.  Now they are making a lot of noise about how the Germans were expelled. But they are not talking about how the Germans behaved.  They would take a baby from its mother, and smash it against a wall. 

The Angel of Chomutov

Angel copy

Photo: Marilyn Herman 2018.  Angel – from a monument in Chomutov for protection against the bubonic plague.

In April 1945, my father, Abraham Herman, and his brother, David Herman, were prisoners on a forced death march from Rehmsdorf to Theresienstadt.  When they crossed over from Germany into the Czech Sudetenland, in the town of Chomutov, Czech bystanders were throwing food to the prisoners, but there would be such a scramble, the bread would break up, and nobody would get any.  (I have very recently visited Chomutov, and interviewed some people who lived through WWII.  They informed me that during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, ethnic Czechs and ethnic Poles were effectively subjected to a policy of slow starvation – with food rationing enforced to a degree that it was not possible to live on the rations alone.)  The German guards threatened to shoot anyone who gave the prisoners food. One heroic, defiant young woman ran inside the line of prisoners, placed bread firmly into Abraham’s hands, and as she ran back out, a German guard smashed the butt of his rifle down on her head.  In all likelihood, she never got up again.

I am composing a work to commemorate this unknown Czech heroine.  I was scouring poetry and psalms for words, and even ordered an anthology of Czech poetry with translation.  Finally, I decided to use my own words:

 

The Angel of Chomutov

 

To risk your life

to give bread

to a suffering child

Not knowing if he would live

another hour

another minute

 

To give your life

not knowing

if all he would live to know

was that you risked your life

to give him bread

 

Most precious of gifts

More than all the garnet of Bohemia

all the gems of Moravia

Your bread – bestower of life

 

To risk your life

not knowing

that the last thing you would do

would be to give bread

to another woman’s starving child

 

To give your life

to show a tortured child

Life almost extinguished

by forces of darkest destruction

To show this captive child

the precious value of his life

 

Tower

Photo:  Marilyn Herman 2018.  Chomutov 

 

For drivers – including bus & HGV drivers …& pedestrians – some things you need to understand about cyclists

England, London, City of London, Cyclist in Traffic

EEB04E England, London, City of London, Cyclist in Traffic

Yesterday, while cycling down a steep downhill stretch with a car constantly hooting behind me, I was moved to write this post.

London has become death city for cyclists.  When I go out on my bike, I make sure that I have something on me that can identify me.

There are a number of things that drivers need to understand about cyclists, to make drivers less lethal, and less detrimental to cyclists’ nervous systems.  I believe these points should be incorporated in the Highway Code for drivers.  (Some of them may already be.)

1.  Cyclists are as entitled as drivers to be on the roads.  The vast majority of us are drivers as well as cyclists, and have at least as much road sense as you (whether we drive or not), and when/if we own vehicles, pay road tax.  

2.  We are affected by gradients.  If we are cycling down a steep hill, we need both hands to be braking the whole time, and do not have a third arm to indicate.  We may manage a very rapid arm indication.  So you will know, if we move towards the centre of the road while slowing down, that we need to turn right.  And you will know if we slow down on the LHS of the road, that we need to turn left or stop.  (You would need to watch another vehicle in the same way to see what they are doing.  Just because a vehicle is indicating or not indicating, you cannot be sure of what the driver is going to do.)

3.  If we are cycling up a hill, we cannot cycle fast – especially if it is a steep hill.  Super-fit athletes can cycle faster than the rest of us – but that still won’t be as fast as on flat or downhill terrain.  So there is no point in continually honking at us because you’d like us to go faster uphill.  (Or yelling at us – especially if you are the female, blonde-haired, Eastern European driver of the 263 bus in East Finchley going towards Holloway.)  Some of us are cycling to get from A to B, rather than as training – so we are not aiming to arrive at point B in a massive sweat.  If we have a long way to cycle, we will need to pace ourselves, and not exert all our energy on an uphill stretch.  

4.  If we are on a mountain or hybrid bike, we have to work harder, and may not be able to cycle as fast on the road as someone on a road bike, because of our chunky tyres, and the weight and structure of our bikes.  And as with uphill cycling, we may wish to pace ourselves to conserve energy for a long ride, or in order not to arrive at our destination in a state of exhaustion and drenched with sweat.

5.  We understand that you need to go faster than us, and will move over so that you can overtake at suitable points.  But you need to be patient until those suitable points are available.

6.  We take up space, and we are entitled to that space.  If we pass parked cars, we need to allow a car-door’s width’s space to pass so that we are not knocked off our bikes by a suddenly-opening car door.  Similarly, we cannot, and do not have to, cycle in the gutter.  

7.  Please do not do an emergency stop in front of us for no good reason.  We cannot stop as suddenly as you can – especially going downhill.

8.  This is a point for pedestrians too, who see cyclists coming, but decide to cross right in front of us anyway, thinking we can stop in a split second.  We can’t, and will instinctively swerve, placing us in danger of passing or oncoming traffic.  So pedestrians, if a cyclist is approaching, wait for her/him to pass before crossing.

9.  The number of times I have been “shaved” by overtaking buses – especially in Oxford!  Here I will quote from: 

https://www.cyclinguk.org/blog/update-highway-code-make-cycling-safer-why-wouldnt-you

“Rule 163 requires that drivers “give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car”.  So far, so good – and how much room should be given when overtaking a car? – just enough to “not get too close”. I expect you see the problem.”

“As part of Cycling UK’s response to the Department for Transport’s cycling and walking safety review, we will propose a move from the vague notion of not getting “too close”, to a more clearly defined rule which gives objective guidance to drivers – and to courts. For example, the Code could cite a guideline of 1.5m as a safe overtaking distance at speeds up to 30mph, and 2.0m for higher speeds, while also urging drivers to leave wider gaps in bad weather, and advise those in charge of larger vehicles to take extra care.”

10.  I learned while driving my first car, a mini, that drivers of large cars tend to be bullies on the road.  And now cars can be larger than ever – like tanks, or minibuses!  So just because you drive a large car, you are not superior or more important or entitled than the rest of us!!!

This blog will probably be added to in future.

The feeling in the guts

Embed from Getty Images

 

In Buddhist meditation, we have the intention of working on our minds.  (Although that may be contentious:  the idea of having any goal in meditation, rather than just being in the meditation – even if that is to aim at being in the meditation). 

Since clinging was identified by Buddha as the cause of all suffering, we are aiming to let go of clinging, which we practise, by letting go of thoughts and of the breath.  We work to improve our mind states, to be present, and therefore to be aware of what comes up in the mind, and to let go of whatever comes up, whether we judge it to be positive or negative.

Akong Tulku Rinpoche (Restoring the Balance, p53) states:  “Most of us have fifty percent good and fifty percent bad.  So there is fifty percent to work on.”  That seems to me to be a high percentage of bad!

Jinananda – an angel to my mind – wrote in his blog two months before his death:

“There are still one or two people who I may have felt treated me badly at one time or another, that I’ve lost contact with, but you know, we’re all in the same boat.  Human beings do damage to each other.  And now it’s the damage I’ve done to those I love that I feel in the guts, not the damage done to me.”  (31.10.17)

https://jinanandasteen.blogspot.com

So this is not a good assessment of the human condition from a couple of Buddhists.  Most of us have 50% bad (and good), and “human beings do damage to each other”.  Bearing in mind that the ratio of bad to good is so high in most of us, we should not be surprised when we ourselves, or other people, do not live up to our expectations of consistent goodness.  Yet it is surely not productive to expect ourselves or other people to have approximately 50% of bad in them.  People often deliver according to their own and others’ expectations, so it would surely be more productive to set high expectations of goodness.  At any rate, I think there must be more variation in ratio of good to bad in people.  And these ratios will also vary at different stages of our lives.

So whenever I find myself particularly unable to let go of something in my mind; whenever I make what feel like catastrophic, yet avoidable, mistakes through carelessness or anger, I wonder whether Buddhist meditation is in fact doing me any real good.  I wonder if there has really been any point to spending hours of my life on the cushion.  (When I come across negativity in other meditators, I find it similarly paradoxical.)

Perhaps the difference is that after the fact of this cumulative meditation, I may be able to own up to my mistakes more quickly, or at all.  While my reaction might initially be defensive, and I may search for ways to mitigate or justify or even disown unskilful actions of mind, body or speech, I might now perhaps become aware of these things sooner.  It’s hard to know if I get fewer things wrong the longer I keep up a meditation practice – how can we know what we would have got wrong otherwise?

In aiming for or wanting something (non-clinging), we may be averse to and resistant to what we do not want (clinging), and Buddhism teaches us that we actually strengthen thoughts and feelings that we resist, by giving them energy.  This is why we practise letting go of thoughts.  So could our meditation, with such an intention, actually be strengthening our clinging through our resistance to it, instead of eroding it?  This may be the logic behind the ideal of sitting in meditation with no purpose.  Just to be with the sitting, with the body, and the breath.  (However, someone once pointed out that when we meditate, it is a good idea to set up conscious intentions, because otherwise unconscious intentions may take over.)

In speaking of intentions, these are apparently the driving force of karma:  the consequences of our actions.  To put it simplistically, actions deriving from positive intentions reap positive karma, and the opposite applies to actions deriving from negative intentions.  But in my experience, great harm may come about from actions where intentions have not been negative, and it is possible for positive consequences to result from actions deriving from negative intentions.  I have not found a way of reconciling this with ideas of karma, but welcome input/discussion on this.  Actions and intentions can be very mixed.  One can be doing something beautiful, such as caring for a child, and at the same time, mindlessly engage in idle gossip without negative intentions, which may result in someone being hurt.  Or in trying to protect oneself (a positive intention), one may unintentionally endanger someone else. 

According to Chogyam Trungpa, “The Sanity We Are Born With” apparently evades us thereafter unless we can avoid psychosis (manifested by our habitual reaction to our own projections) by developing an effective meditation practice.  

And according to Tibetan Lama Rinpoche Yeshe, meditation strengthens the mind.  These are certainly good reasons to meditate!

Many people come to meditation to find peace.  Chogyam Trungpa seems to scoff at the idea of using meditation as a tranquillizer.  The bigger aim of Buddhism is the cultivation of world peace;  the sum total of the cultivation of all our individual peace.

One kind of Buddhist meditation is known as “insight” meditation, and I have found, from time to time, that I seem to receive insight during meditation – particularly on meditation retreats.

To return to the quote from Jinananda’s blog:  “And now it’s the damage I’ve done to those I love that I feel in the guts, not the damage done to me.”  What can be done with that feeling in the guts?  The Buddhist way is to acknowledge the feeling, rather than to push it away.  To contact the feeling rather than find a way of evading it through self-medicating with drugs, or alcohol, or other distractions.  To be aware, and to resolve not to repeat negative actions.  I have come to the conclusion that there is no way of truly compensating or being compensated for harm caused to anyone, even if the harm was unintentional.  Feelings of guilt, which is in fact “self-hatred” are definitely not the answer.  But perhaps what some of us can expect, like Jinananda, as time starts to run out, is that feeling in the guts.