Tuesday, 21 April 2009

The sirens...

...went an hour ago. For some reason, I'd expected them to go off last night at 8. I guess I'd mixed Yom HaShoah up with Yom HaZicharon...

I usually put my son to bed at about 8, and I'd wondered for a bit - hypothetically - about what I would say to him if he asked me why all the sirens were wailing. I'm not really sure. On a philosophical level, I'm not really a fan of sugar-coating, euphemisms and stuff like that. On the other hand, how does tell a small child about the Holocaust?

I say hypothetical because my son is two and a quarter, and the biggest thing in his life right now is In The Night Garden... But he will grow older, if not necessarily wiser; if not next year then the year after it, the question will no longer be hypothetical. And I do wonder, at what age does one start to talk to children about the fact that we live in a very unpleasant world? And in what language, in what terms?

A colleague of Mrs Goy was chastised by his son's nursery for bringing the child late to school last week, on the first day after the long break for Passover. They were going to start to talk about the Shoah, and it was important that he - the child - didn't miss anything.

The child in question is four and a bit. Now, apparently, he doesn't really want to go anywhere by train now because...well, you know the rest.

Of course, talking about the Shoah as a vague abstracts turns the whole horror into a pointless fairytale, with no meaning and nothing to be learnt from it. But on the other hand, I do wonder...personally

(and I accept that since I am not Jewish, my position on this can be interpreted as detached)

personally, I don't think that telling small kids, in explicit terms, about the camps and the murders and the death trains serves any useful purpose. I don't think they can engage with it in a meaningful way, and I wonder whether it doesn't intead become yet another abstraction, a sort of malevolent bogeyman under the bed.

I don't know.

I remember that when Roots was shown on television in England in the autumn of 1976 (1977? I forget), my mother didn't let me watch it. "Not suitable for little boys and girls," she probably said. That said, she didn't object when I started to read the source material, Alex Haley's book, a little bit later. Perhaps she thought that it would be easier to engage with the written word than the grisly imagery on the flickering screen. I'm not sure.

(I asked her why a couple of years ago. She looked at me as if I was mad and said that she had no idea what I was talking about. Typical parent get out clause. I must remember to use that on the Small Noisy One in due course.)


Just after I moved to Israel, I asked someone how Yom HaShoah was observed. Was it like the Sabbath, with no work, no transport...

Nah. he replied. "No cinema, no restaurants, not much TV and Shlomo Artzi and Eviatar Bana'i on the radio all day."

Which misses the point a little, I suppose.


Whatever one's views about the ongoing UN anti-racism parley in Geneva, one can't but think that to schedule the address by the Tinker from Tehran for the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day was...how to put this nicely? Fucking Stupid.


A couple of months ago, I spent a week reading The Kindly Ones, by Jonathan Littell. It took me a while to form a clear opinion.

Thinking with my pseudo-intellectual hat on, my first impression was that my main problem with the book was that the detail - acres and acres of the stuff - was only scantily mediated by any sort of intellectual oversight. The book recollects - and, according to those who should know, quite faithfully, accurately - aspects of the Final Solution in astonishing detail. But it lacks - at least through the primary character, an odious bugger called Aue - the structure that would allow the reader to gain any insight whatsoever. The material, basically, is regurgitated onto the page, and it falls to the incautious reader to make of it what they can.

Then suddenly, it came to me. Littell, to my mind at least, has the abilities of an extremely diligent and energetic sixth former (12th grader), pouring the energy and obsession and libido and sexual dysfunctionality (aside from the graphic violence, the book has sex - lots of it, much of it enough in itself to get the perpetrator sectioned indefinitely) characteristic of an 18 year old pouring his heart and unrequited sexual energies into his end-of-year project.

In short, I think Liddell wrote this when he was a precocious teenager, then spent the next two decades looking for a mug to publish it.

Read it only if you have to, or if you are a fan of American Psycho. Me, I want my week back. And with interest.

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