News about Wilde; Relais de la Mémoire at Norden

 

Dear readers of my blog,

again it is after a period of prolonged silence in these digitized columns that I resume my communications, while October and November have been extremely eventful months both in terms of Oscar Wilde and my other favourite subject, the study of the Shoah.

On 11th October 2019, the Italian translation of Oscar Wilde's novel The Picture of Dorian Gray was presented by Sara Pini, a Ph. D. student at Bologna University in the most prestigious hall of that well-renowned alma mater. Though the book entitled Il ritratto di Dorian Gray. Stesura del 1890 and published by Elsinor Verlag, followed my edition, I was unable to attend this occasion. Unfortunately, life makes you very often take hard decisions. In most cases, it is impossible to please everyone, including all facets of one's own personality. So I was extremely relieved when learning two days before the event that the books had arrived safe and sound in Italy.

In a way, I had almost panicked until then, imagining to recur what had happened once to a writer friend in Belfast who with under half an hour to go before the launch of his book of memoirs had realized the publisher had mistaken the packages, so that only those copies could be sold and signed on the night that within the space of thirty minutes could be procured from the local shops.

With that relief to boost my morale, I went on holiday for a week to take another hard decision, to give up printed Oscar Wilde calendars, that is. So many delays in producing a viable layout and other matters such as an unprecedented rise in postage for sending individual parcels abroad at high prices, unless you register like a real business online, and the likely outcome of an extremely hectic advent trying to sell off as many copies as possible in a very short space of time, all these spoke in favour of giving up this venture for good.

What I am not going to give up – not just yet, that is – is producing the Oscar Wilde calendar for 2020. It is going to be published online – in four different languages, English, French, German, and Italian, all complete and separate, as PDF documents, with English and German being integrated into this website in other ways as well, while the French and Italian editions are going to be part of the calendar section only. It is projected as a calendar for free, starting in late December 2020 and growing through the year, so that it is only complete in late November that year. As you can imagine, rather than being based on aphorisms, the text is derived from the events of the year 1895, with Ulrich Hoepfner from Leipzig as usual providing twelve pictures. The online calendar is still being developed, so I can only describe it here but hope to be able to upload samples soon.

The second matter that took up much of my time outside professional and family obligations was the second Relais de la Mémoire meeting to take place at Ulrichsgymnasium Norden from 6th through 10th November 2019. Acting as a co-organizer there, I had many tasks while preparing the event, one such being writing and translating speeches given at the opening ceremony. Passing the relay of history on to the coming generations is one of the privileges anyone enjoys who does not shy away from the bitterness particularly the first half of the twentieth century has left nearly everywhere in German family life. So while meeting contemporary witnesses from various countries and with widely differing stories to tell, the students from Austria, France, Germany and the United Kingdom had much fun recognizing their respective interests in an otherwise thorny subject: “Europe in danger: in past, present, and future”.

Here I document my short speech given to introduce our own working party's presentation on some of the events that took place on the 9th November in German history. It was written sentence-wise in three languages simultaneously, and I decided to give it in English feeling that with my voice hampered by the strain of the occasion I felt most at home in this language. Moreover, I was the only one that morning to address the audience in English.

“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, dear participants of the Relais meeting, the German Basic Law from the year 1949 postulates that the dignity of man is inviolable. This is why we decorate each and every person present today and all participants of this meeting with a medal designed as a nameplate, bearing the inscription: “Man with dignity”. Thus the first Relais meeting at Norden, which ended in Haus Nazareth in Norddeich, and the second, for which I am grateful to follow an idea I encountered in a service in Haus Nazareth on 13th October this year, are directly linked.

(Showing the nameplate)

According to the daily Hannoversche Allgemeine date 25th October 2019, 41 per cent of the Germans questioned believe the Jews are talking too much about the Holocaust. The leader-writer, however, thinks that a survivor of the Holocaust needs to talk about it. There were so few of them. Yet, still according to the article, also the majority of Germans descended from surviving perpetrators, who live today, need to talk about it. Be it only for the reason that the Holocaust should not be repeated.

For there are still people who, while they know about their family history in terms of the Holocaust and the NS period, face enormous difficulties when they try to speak about it in public. Silence is painful enough, but only speaking fully opens up the wound. It will not start to heal, however, unless it is open one day.

Being faced with anniversaries, places, and people makes for such confrontations in all our lives, which means that many who had been on the lookout for themselves have had the experience which helped them to acknowledge their own inner wound, whether it was caused by pain, guilt, or shame or all of them together.

The 9th November is such a day in Germany.

It would be good if every family knew where its members were in the respective years, centuries even, just as in the recent past many people can tell you immediately where they were on 11th September 2001 on hearing about the attacks on the World Trade Center.

Our working party of the Relais de la Mémoire is concerned with local, regional, German, and European history.

So we look at the 19th through the 21st centuries when studying Antisemitism, dictatorship, and democracy.

All three are closely looked at in Germany on a 9th November in any year. This is why we meet at Norden just now.

Who is willing to listen to the story here, may perhaps soon be able to see it outside in his or her life and thus change his or her behavior – for, as Anne Frank wrote, this can happen every day, however slight the occasion may be.”

Little did I know that the very words I had chosen in the sentence “It would be good if every family knew where its members were in the respective years, centuries even” in the course of the meeting would unlock a memory of a moment when I had asked such a question about the 9th November 1938. The day in question there was even an answer forthcoming – not given by the person I had questioned but by someone else whose words “You were not there at the time, were you?” had been locked up in me for more than a decade as a riddle I was unable to solve on the night nor in either person's lifetime.

Recently, I did, however, discover an inscribed edition of Hitler's Mein Kampf which, though undated, by means of some research along with the sentence to have resurfaced last weekend has allowed me to establish where the person had been on 9th November 1938.

Now, for the first time, a visit to the graveyard to put a single flower there seems imminent as I now know the plight, pain, and shame that were hidden away for decades. At the same time, I also know why I sincerely regret their deaths, mourning in particular the lost chance to pass on what they knew and went through to us.

It is pertinent to write this on the thirtieth anniversary of the day that changed my entire life: 15th November 1989 when I received a fat envelope in the morning with a covering letter congratulating me for having qualified for a Ph. D. grant for two years. The Berlin Wall had been open for under a week, and I already felt the wind of change, so that financial independence for two years to come at such a moment was more than just a windfall. Soon, I thought, money would flow to East Germany. And yesterday, thirty years almost to a day later, Bundestag voted to waive the solidarity payment taxpayers have had to pay since the 1990s to help reconstruct East Germany for most people as of 2021. Another event also happened on 15th November 1989: While East Germany failed to qualify for the World Cup in Italy by losing to Austria in Vienna, West Germany only just made it by beating Wales at Cologne. I attended the match, having decided in the morning that if they actually qualified I would do all I could to attend the World Cup Final at Rome on 8th July 1990, hoping that the German team would play there, too. In the end, I both booked a language course in Rome in February and a train ticked in early May and also ended up watching the final. This, however, is another story.

Jörg W. Rademacher, 15th November 2019



 

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