Archive for November, 2010

Thinking about Katyn and onwards to Poland

Posted in Poland with tags , on November 27, 2010 by Louise Steinman

All over Poland there are memorials to  Katyn. For decades under Communism, all mention of this 1940 NKVD massacre of some 22,000 Polish officers in a remote forest in western Russia was taboo, punishable by prison or worse. Poland’s wartime underground heroes were considered traitors to the Communist cause. (In Moczarski’s “Conversations with an Executioner,” the former Home Army officer was imprisoned in the same cell (!)  as SS General Jurgen Stroop, the liquidator of the Warsaw Ghetto, a man whom Moczarski had once tried to kill… it’s one of the strangest and most profound jailtime interviews you’ll ever read.)  Poland’s Communist rulers kept in tune with the Soviet hierarchy in claiming that the massacres were the work of the Nazis. But they were lying. And the Poles knew better. As historian Norman Davies writes, “For once, Goebbels could have been telling the truth.” And yesterday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev  announced the resolution of the Russian Parliament to make what the Poles have long known official:  Stalin ordered the Katyn massacres. It’s a big step forward in Polish-Russian relations. For a visceral understanding of this tragedy and its central place in Polish political and cultural history since 1940, don’t miss Andrzej Wajda’s gut-wrenching film from 2007, KATYN.

I’m heading to Poland later this week, and it will be interesting to see the reverberations of this decision among friends in Krakow and Warsaw. I’ve started this blog THE CROOKED MIRROR primarily to blog on this trip. My friend Anne asked about the blog title, a good question. It (mirrors) the title of the book I’ve been working on for some time–  THE CROOKED MIRROR: A Conversation with Poland. The phrase comes from the title of a satirical Yiddish paper — Der Krumer Spigel (the crooked mirror) once published in the little Polish town of Radomsko, where my family lived for hundreds of years.   I loved that phrase and later read an essay by the Polish priest Josef Tischner in which he talks about how– when we look at our neighbor through a crooked mirror– what we see is distorted, unrecognizable. That’s how Poles and Jews have largely regarded each other since the traumas of the last war.  For the last eight years, I’ve been exploring the problematic, surreal and sometimes surprisingly exhilarating territory of Jewish-Polish dialogue in Poland, a journey into The Crooked Mirror.

Brian Turner reading at ALOUD

Posted in ALOUD with tags , , on November 19, 2010 by Louise Steinman

Poet Brian Turner—a veteran of Iraq– read at the library as part of ALOUD last night. He read about exhausted Scheherezade falling off the Al-A’imma Bridge, about desert winds, and soldiers bleeding out. He read about child sobbing that his father was a “good man,” he read about headless Iraqi translators who appear in his dreams. He wrote of women in abayas floating in the waters of the Tigris River, the rotor sounds of helicopter blades, about a caliph trampled to death by horses.  He carried us to the landscape of that war that has no front lines, the war that takes place in small stucco houses with dirt floors, in  cargo containers booming disco music.  How are we complicit in that war that still smoulders and the one in Afghanistan that still rages? There was a young woman who sat on a bench during the booksigning, silently crying. Her husband or friend kept his hand on her back, trying to comfort her. Brian paused during the booksigning to speak with them. I couldn’t hear what he said. She nodded at him gratefully. He wrote something on a note and gave it to her. Afterwards, he told me that her cousin—a soldier in Afghanistan—stepped on an IED two days ago and lost both his legs, but he doesn’t know it yet.  “And it goes on and on,” he said.


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