Thursday, March 19, 2015

Parable of the Feisty Old Survivor (Among Many Other Things) [25 Sept. 2014]

The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase, 
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin, 
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin  […]? — T. S. Eliot "[…] Prufrock"

Two things to start: First, this is going to be just one pass at a topic I'll return to more scrupulously later. Second, it really is kind of a parable, so, if it succeeds, it will be true even if not necessarily factual. (Like it's a joke about the literalist lawyer who wanted the name of the man who got mugged going from Jerusalem to Jericho and whether he was on foot or on a donkey or horseback, and — and you get the point: "The Parable of the Good Samaritan" [Luke 10.25-37] is a parable, and it's not relevant whether or not it actually happened, let alone the details.)

So, anyway, I heard on the radio (as I'll retell the story) a journalist or scholar saying how she'd interviewed an old woman who had been sent to one of the death camps but still managed to survive the Hitlerian Holocaust. The old woman told her story and bore witness and all, and then, when her interviewer seemed finished, asked her, the interviewer, more or less, «That's it? You don't have any other questions about my life?»

This impressed the interviewer. The old lady was, after all, old. Like "the unsinkable Molly Brown" on the Titanic — or the Kate Winslet character in the film — this woman was a survivor but more than just a survivor. Her years in the concentration camp(s) and the death camp were highly significant in her life, but they were just a few years in her life and didn't define her life.

Only a pretty tame pigeon is going to go calmly into a pigeon hole, and in the journalist's retelling of the latter part of the interview (as I remember it), we had here what we can admiringly call one tough old broad, a woman who was not going to be pigeon-holed by the journalist or by society or history — and certainly not by the goddamn fascists who'd tried to kill her.

And good for her!

We still have survivors around of the Hitlerian Holocaust — including in my area — and additional survivors of other horrors. Try to get them "formulated" in one word, and some of them will push back hard, asserting a fuller humanity than that.

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