Abandoned by God; Betrayed by Humanity

January 27, 2005

They have drunk the Black Milk: Of Schiller and Shulamith over at a bird’s eye view.


Of Schiller and Shulamith

January 27, 2005

Today, the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, has been declared by the UN as the International Holocaust Memorial Day. I have had a heavy heart all week reading remembrances of survivors and other stories relating to the Holocaust in the news, both from the US and in the press of other countries.

In a speech to the United Nations on Monday, January 24, 2005, Eli Wiesel, noted Auschwitz survivor and author of Night, said that

We know that for the dead it is too late. For them, abandoned by God and betrayed by humanity, victory did come much too late.

Wiesel then noted that, despite this tragedy,

it is not too late for today’s children, ours and yours. It is for their sake alone that we bear witness.

We need to remember the Holocaust. In a ceremony remembering the victims at Auschwitz today, Vice President Dick Cheney observed that the Holocaust happened in the very “heart of the civilized world.” He noted further that

The story of the camps shows that evil is real and must be called by its name and must be confronted.

Reflecting on this has led my thoughts to the idea of civilization and how this could happen, as Cheney stated, in the heart of the civilized world. Eli Wiesel’s question comes to mind:

[H]ow could intelligent educated men, or simply law-abiding citizens, ordinary men, fire machine guns at hundreds of children every day and in the evening read Schiller and listen to Bach?

This question is particularly potent for me because of my emphasis at Oxford on the writings of Schiller. I have no answer. I know that Schiller, and Goethe, and the other classical giants of German culture, are not to blame for this. I do not, therefore, agree with Horkheimer and Adorno that the end-product of the Enlightenment was necessarily the Holocaust. As expressed by the Boston Globe,

the left-leaning German philosophers Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno argued that the Enlightenment was responsible for the Holocaust. Incapable of defining absolute moral ends, the Enlightenment’s “instrumental reason” could define only means. A tool of power, it encouraged human beings to see their fellows as objects to be exploited like the natural resources of the earth. “Enlightenment behaves towards things,” Horkheimer and Adorno affirmed, “as a dictator toward men.” In a grim pun, they added, “The fully enlightened earth radiates the triumph of destruction.”

Rather, if I am to lay blame on the Enlightenment for the horrors of the twentieth century, I tend to side more with Oxford’s Isaiah Berlin that

the end product was not the Holocaust but the Gulag. The Enlightenment’s will to intellectual mastery, they charged, and its attempt to link all values-moral, political, and aesthetic-to a uniform rational system was akin to the perverted force that drove communist tyranny, stamping out genuine pluralism and difference in the name of reason.

But, in truth, I am pro-Enlightenment and so neither of these theories suits me. I do not lay the blame for these things at the feet of the Enlightenment, to which Goethe and Schiller contributed largely. Still, I am depressed that their ideas and the ideas of other Enlightenment thinkers and writers did not create a society in which this would literally have been impossible.

Neither do I agree with Adorno’s maxim that [t]o write poetry after the holocaust is barbaric; rather, I have found that poetry can relay some of the essence of that monstrous occurence very effectively and emotively.

One of the most poignant poems that I know of relating to the Holocaust is, of course, Paul Celan’s Death Fugue:

Black milk of daybreak we drink it at evening
we drink it at midday and morning we drink it at night
we drink and we drink
we shovel a grave in the air there you won’t lie too cramped
A man lives in the house he plays with his vipers he writes
he writes when it grows dark to Deutschland your golden hair Margareta
he writes it and steps out of doors and the stars are all sparkling, he whistles his hounds to come close
he whistles his Jews into rows has them shovel a grave in the ground
he commands us to play up for the dance.

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at morning and midday we drink you at evening
we drink and we drink
A man lives in the house he plays with his vipers he writes
he writes when it grows dark to Deutschland your golden hair Margareta
Your ashen hair Shulamith we shovel a grave in the air there you won’t lie too cramped

He shouts jab the earth deeper you lot there you others sing up and play
he grabs for the rod in his belt he swings it his eyes are so blue
jab your spades deeper you lot there you others play on for the dancing

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at midday and morning we drink you at evening
we drink and we drink
a man lives in the house your goldenes Haar Margareta
your aschenes Haar Shulamith he plays his vipers
He shouts play death more sweetly this Death is a master from Deutschland
he shouts scrape your strings darker you’ll rise then as smoke to the sky
you’ll have a grave then in the clouds there you won’t lie too cramped

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at midday Death is a master aus Deutschland
we drink you at evening and morning we drink and we drink
this Death is ein Meister aus Deutschland his eye it is blue
he shoots you with shot made of lead shoots you level and true
a man lives in the house your goldenes Haar Margarete
he looses his hounds on us grants us a grave in the air
he plays with his vipers and daydreams der Tod ist ein Meister aus Deutschland

dein goldenes Haar Margarete
dein aschenes Haar Shulamith

(Tranlsated by John Felstiner, in: Paul Celan – Poet, Survivor, Jew. New Haven 1995.)

This poem is poignantly beautiful and tragic in the extreme. The words convey emotion, pain, and grief that is, ironically, beyond expression in words. Shulamith, “the ‘black and comely’ princess in the Song of Songs in the Old Testament,” is associated with the Jewish people. Margarete, on the other hand, is the fair German maid of Goethe’s writings; the pure vessel who is tragically corrupted in Goethe’s Faust and becomes, in inverse fashion to the new name given on the white stone of John’s Revelation, the despised and desperate infanticide Gretchen. The following stanza captures the discontinuity, the mystery of how this could happen in the heart of civilization:

A man lives in the house he plays with his vipers he writes
he writes when it grows dark to Deutschland your golden hair Margareta
he writes it and steps out of doors and the stars are all sparkling, he whistles his hounds to come close
he whistles his Jews into rows has them shovel a grave in the ground
he commands us to play up for the dance.

The Kommandant, representing Germany, like it or not, sits in his house and writes to his fair, golden-haired Margarete–and then steps outside for the mass execution of a collective, ashen-haired Shulamith.

he whistles his hounds to come close
he whistles his Jews into rows has them shovel a grave in the ground

This portion is masterfully translated, as is the entire poem. This is a powerful line for me: the dogs and the Jews in the same sentence and action. The Kommandant whistles both to attention but kills the latter after they dig their own grave.

The entire poem is a lamentation of Biblical quality, in my opinion. It could be and perhaps should be scripture. The Jewish people, God’s chosen people, have drunk the black milk. Either the Bible’s Job or Celan’s Shulamith embodies this experience. The difference is that Celan’s Shulamith represents six million, maybe more, exterminated human beings. It pains me to say it, but I find it difficult to disagree with Wiesel’s bitter remark that the victims were abandoned by God and betrayed by humanity. It is, unfortunately, so true. . . .

To All German Speakers

January 26, 2005

Go comment on Peter Clayson’s post at LDS FLB on the birthday of modern Austria, 50 years of official state recognition of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Austria, and more soberingly, on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

We have been slow in getting LDS FLB up and running. Little by little, we want to turn this into something beneficial. Go contribute by commenting on Peter’s post.

Stella Awards

January 25, 2005

[EDIT: 01/26/2005: Ethesis and Michael, a first time commenter here, both pointed out that the Stellas are largely urban legends. See Michael’s comment to this redacted post for links to some information about that. I wondered about that when I got the email but went ahead and posted them here without double-checking. Thanks guys!]:


(The Stella’s are named after 81-year old Stella Liebeck… who spilled
coffee on herself and successfully sued McDonald’s. That case inspired
the Stella awards for the most frivolous successful lawsuits in the
United States.)

Here are this year’s winners.

5th Place (tie):

Kathleen Robertson of Austin, Texas, was awarded $780,000 by a jury of
her peers after breaking her ankle tripping over a toddler who was
running inside a furniture store. The owners of the store were
understandably surprised at the verdict, considering the misbehaving
little toddler was Ms. Robertson’s son.

5th Place (tie):

19-year-old Carl Truman of Los Angeles won $74,000 and medical expenses
when his neighbor ran over his hand with a Honda Accord. Mr. Truman
apparently didn’t notice there was someone at the wheel of the car when
he was trying to steal his neighbor’s hubcaps.

5th Place (tie):

Terrence Dickson of Bristol, Pennsylvania, was leaving a house he had
just finished robbing by way of the garage. He was not able to get the
garage door to go up since the automatic door opener was malfunctioning.
He couldn’t re-enter the house because the door connecting the house
andgarage locked when he pulled it shut. The family was on vacation, and
Mr. Dickson found himself locked in the garage for eight days. He
subsisted on a case of Pepsi he found, and a large bag of dry dog food.
He sued the homeowner’s insurance claiming the situation caused him
undue mental anguish. The jury agreed to the tune of $500,000.

4th Place:

Jerry Williams of Little Rock, Arkansas, was awarded $14,500 and
medical expenses after being bitten on the buttocks by his next door
neighbor’s beagle.

The beagle was on a chain in its owner’s fenced yard. The award was
less than sought because the jury felt the dog might have been just a
little provoked at the time by Mr. Williams who had climbed over the
fence into the yard and was shooting it repeatedly with a pellet gun.

3rd Place:

A Philadelphia restaurant was ordered to pay Amber Carson of Lancaster,
Pennsylvania, $113,500 after she slipped on a soft drink and broke her
coccyx (tailbone). The beverage was on the floor because Ms. Carson had
thrown it at her boyfriend 30 seconds earlier during an argument.

2nd Place:

Kara Walton of Claymont, Delaware, successfully sued the owner of a
night club in a neighboring city when she fell from the bathroom window
to the floor and knocked out her two front teeth. This occurred while
Ms.Walton was trying to sneak through the window in the ladies room to
avoid paying the $3.50 cover charge. She was awarded $12,000 and dental

1st Place:

This year’s run away winner was Mrs Merv Grazinski of Oklahoma City,
Oklahoma. Mrs. Grazinski purchased a brand new 32-foot Winnebago
motorhome. On her first trip home, (from an OU football game), having
driven onto the freeway, she set the cruise control at 70 mph and calmly
left the drivers seat to go into the back make herself a sandwich. Not
surprisingly, the RV left the freeway, crashed and overturned.
Mrs.Grazinski sued Winnebago for not advising her in the owner’s manual
that she couldn’t actually do this. The jury awarded her $1,750,000 plus
a new motor home. The company actually changed their manuals on the
basis of this suit, just in case there were any other complete morons

Happy Birthday Jordan!

January 25, 2005

Jordan hits the big 30 today! Congratulations and Happy Birthday! Studying for the Texas bar–what a way to celebrate your thirtieth birthday. Good luck!

A sweepboy in the House of the Lord

January 25, 2005

Not too long ago, I wondered what would become of lawyers during Christ’s millenial reign. Just a few days later, I had an experience which whispered to my heart that it does not really matter what becomes of lawyers- or of any profession for that matter.

First of all, let me explain. My pride did not want the “skills” I learned in law school to be useless. Above all, I personally don’t want to feel useless. Since I don’t really know how to make anything, or how to do anything very practical (like bow-hunting, ninja-arts, or computer hacking, for example), I sometimes worry that I will just be a useless parasite on society.

A few nights ago, I had the opportunity to help deep clean inside the Dallas temple. It was a great experience. As I swept up the ventilation room, the thought occurred to me that it does not much matter if my skills as a lawyer or whatever else would be relevant. If I am willing to work, and I will be, then I am sure there will be something to do. It no longer seems to matter if that work is considered prestigious in the eyes of others. Will ambition, other than an ambition, motivated by true love, to serve well wherever called, really profit anyone during that time? It seems not.

Indeed, I would happily be a sweep boy in the House of the Lord during that time, if that is what were asked of me.

Get out the Vote!

January 21, 2005

Go vote for Bloggernacle awards over at IntellectXhibitionist. Dave is in the lead for best individual blog; let’s see if we can keep him there. Also, let’s try to raise bird’s eye view’s numbers in the small to medium weight category.