Sunday, July 05, 2009

A summer adieu


I took in Ronald Harwood's new play Collaboration yesterday. It treats the relationship between the composer Richard Strauss and the Austrian writer Stefan Zweig. Strauss worked with a number of Jewish artists, which put him in conflict with the Nazi regime. The play is an examination of the nature of collaboration - between artists, with regimes, with the overpowering sweep of diabolic history. Harwood is a very traditional playwright. The first half is a setting of the scene with little dramatic heft; I was quickly propelled into the interval without anything to consider. The second act is stoked well by the facts of history. Drawn from correspondence between Strauss and Zweig, it is explicit about the puzzle of a man so obsessed with his creative output as STrauss was at a time of genocide. Strauss kept a space away from the horrors (which included protecting the family of his Jewish daughter-in-law) for his creative work, going on to write his exquisite Four Last Songs. Zweig could see no further use for art, he experienced the extinction of hope, and killed himself.
I came back from the play and finished reading Barbara Cherish's The Auschwitz Kommandant. It's a fine book, well controlled and written, a lady adopted by an American family recovering the story of her father, who as a one-time Kommandant of Auschwitz was executed post-war. The book is not Nazi apologia, though does make a case for the relative leniency of her father's short regime at Auschwitz, posing the question of how a good-hearted man might set himself against the machine of state-run evil. Her father was clearly complicit in the Holocaust in that he was a top SS officer signing orders at Auschwitz, but he was of a different order of man, a more soft-hearted one (indeed it was a weak heart that saw him assigned to camp duties rather than the front), than the likes of Hoess, the Kommandant who devised much of the killing and punishment methods at Auschwitz.
Barbara Cherish's father abandoned his family to go off with another woman soon after Barbara was born. That's enough of a trauma for most of us. Discovering your father was executed for conspiracy in the commitment of genocide is a fair load to add to that. Barbara Cherish also has the story to tell of her childhood as a displaced person, dragged aross the ruins of Germany and Austria, locked in a room and brought to near starvation by a schizophrenic mother who's sacrificed much of her life togather the crusts to keep her daughters alive. A playmate of Barbara's for a while in this postwar world was the son of the Nazi Rudolf Hess. I read that and for a moment thought - no, that's too much, it's too intense a grouping of Nazi children. Then I thought ... what are you saying? What is this 'Nazi child' - we're talking abandoned children. You can't start shunning children, seeing them as tainted with evil.
I was walking past a group of infants playing in a park last week, so free and happy on a summer's day, and was brought close to weeping by the thought that sixty years ago, in much of Europe, they could have been rounded up and killed because of their race.
My playgoing, my reading, my thoughts as I wander this world, keep taking me back sixty years into the nature of music, the Third Reich, children and the Holocaust. I'm building up to resuming my new novel which deals with those themes. So this blog is something if an explanation for my forthcoming silence, and an au revoir. I don't expect to be posting much these next weeks as I create the space to let my novel flow through.
Have a lovely summer.

Picture: Mothers and babies on the liberation of Dachau, 1945

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