Sunday, September 25, 2016

A Tale of Two Czechs: Karel Čapek and Max Mannheimer - fighters against forgetting

 “The hurricane does not roar in pentameters.” At the heart of The Tempest is a linguistic imperialism that still exists today ...

The Green Party co-chairs Katrin Göring-Eckardt and Anton Hofreiter acknowledged Mannheimer as "an important fighter against forgetting (the atrocities)." His message to young Germans was: “You aren’t responsible for what happened. But you are responsible that it won’t happen again.”

Mr. Mannheimer was born on Feb. 6, 1920 in the town of Novy Jicin in what is now the Czech Republic. As a Jew, he was deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1943 and later sent to Auschwitz and Dachau. He was freed by Americans a week before the end of the war in 1945. Only he and his brother Edgar survived from his family.
When the war was over, Mr. Mannheimer wanted to leave Germany for good. But then he met a young German woman who had fought in the resistance against the Nazis and founded a family in Munich. He began to paint in the 1950s to help him live with the painful memories of what he endured during the war. In his book “Late Diary,” he recounted his memories.
From 1985, he fought publicly against anti-Semitism and right-wing extremism. He gave numerous talks in schools to young Germans and was active in concentration camp memorial foundations. He also advised the German government on how to conceive its remembrance work of the Holocaust. Max Mannheimer holocaust survivor dies at 96

In 1925 Čapek became the chairman of the Czechoslovakian PENclub (Poets’, Essayists’ and Novelists’ club). In 1936 he was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature. 

Not afraid to speak his mind and an ardent critic of dictatorship and totalitarianism, the looming threat of Nazism in neighboring Germany filled Čapek with worry and he used every available avenue to expose this threat to humankind at large and to his beloved Czechoslovakia in particular. Following the invasion of Austria in March 1938, he tried to persuade the Western world to recognize the threat of Hitler’s expansionism, but to no avail. When France and England signed the Münich Agreement with Germany (September 30, 1938) to hand over the Czech border regions to Germany in exchange for not invading the rest of Czechoslovakia, Čapek realised that war was inevitable. That same day he wrote the Czech writers’ manifest “To the Consciousness of the World”. Being such a critic of the new order resulted in Hitler personally ordering his Gestapo to arrest him the moment the Nazi troops had occupied Prague. Being “public enemy #2” in Czechoslovakia, Čapek was offered the possibility of leaving his country to live in England in exile but he would have none of it, even though he suspected that his arrest would be imminent after a German invasion. 
In December 1938 he suffered a serious bout of flu resulting in double pneumonia and inflammation of his kidneys. Karel Čapek died on December 25, 1938, at his home in Prague.
In March 1939, Germany invaded Czechoslovakia, Čapek’s works were blacklisted and his brother Josef was arrested and sent to a German concentration camp. Josef died in April 1945 in Bergen-Belsen. In September 
1939 Germany invaded Poland, signaling the beginning of World War II.
Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again.
                Caliban, (Act 3, Scene 2, 135-143)

How Caliban, The Tempest, and a poet’s exile became the perfect storm for a first book.
I’ve spent a good part of the last 14 years thinking about Caliban. The first time I read The Tempest, his anguish and corrugated selfhood spoke to me so acutely, I felt him to be real. His fevered dreaming as a slave in a stolen kingdom has also been my dreaming, his twangling instruments my own strange music. Like him, I’ve always been an outsider. Home for me has always been a place of unbelonging. This is the strange yet all-too-familiar exile of living in the Caribbean, of being a part of the African diaspora: belonging in two places and no place at all. Home was not my island, which never belonged to us Jamaicans, though it’s all we’ve known, and home was not my family’s house, which we’ve always rented, all of us acutely aware of the fact that we were living in borrowed space, that we could never truly be ourselves there. Home was not the body. Never the body—grown too tall and gangly too quickly, grown toward womanhood too late. Like a city built for myself, home was a place I carved out in my head, where the words were always the right words, where I could speak in English or patois, could formulate a song or a self. Home for me has always been poetry "Gabble Like a Thing Most Brutish"