Margaret’s response to the trigger ‘word’:
Solution by Margaret Moreton
‘The word was made flesh … and dwelt among us … full of grace and truth…’ The word was “solution” and was proclaimed to the world. It too was flesh – nothing more nor less – and dwelt among us – full of dread and despair … and yet hope.
“Arbeit macht frei” – so many times have I seen this maxim proclaimed in news bulletins or I’ve read it in journalistic articles, but never have I felt the chill of its impact so deeply, as I stood beneath the gateway carrying its message. My mind ranged through the translated meaning which I understood from schoolgirl German, and which I’m sure lay behind the hoped for message greeting impending occupants. The dastardly underlying meaning hit me and clearly I saw the man who put it there. He who dreamt it up must have borne a triumphant, cynical smile across his lips. A more loaded welcome would have been hard to extend.
What did I expect as I stood there? This epic chapter of history I had lived through. Had I been asked that question in the late forties, my answer would have been different from that which I may have offered a few weeks ago. Even with that answer, I would not have come close to what now I saw and learned. I had seen photos of ‘striped pyjamas’, ‘Goon boxes’ and barbed wire, but none began to relate the choking horror of what was preserved, telling of what happened. As I walked on, between the harsh naked once-dwellings of selected and herded humans, I was eerily forewarned by the chilling silence, of the awfulness of what I had to address as I went forward. No birds sang; no dogs barked; indeed, in the vast openness of Birkenau, no rabbits scampered, no foxes prowled.
Everywhere was evidence of the dehumanisation of people; of men and women like you and me, and of children like ours. Names ignored and numbers used instead. Thus dignity was gone – indeed how would a number need – on demand – dignity? Clothes removed, comfortless striped pyjamas supplied in return. Dignity and individuality were gone. Barbed wire and electric fences corralled all, and all were watched by armed guards in elevated wooden towers. Dignity was gone! Even in death there was no dignity – corpses were haphazardly cast into mass graves, body on body. Unsuspecting souls were promised much-needed showers; instead were stripped, cornered and poisoned by Zyclon B, then cast into an oven inferno.
The stark reality of rows of supported wooden planks with holes over buckets every two or three feet – latrines in a very open communal area – no question of a label or a latch on a door – no question of a door. Privacy and dignity were words far divorced from the vocabulary of the master. The dormitories were grotesque – indeed the derivation of the word was a mockery – sleep could only have happened in exhaustion. Just tier upon tier of stark, rough, wooden, crate-like structures, each one shared by, I believe, two or even three people – often by corpses.
Seventy years of suns, snows, rains and fogs have not cleansed the chill concrete ‘shower-room’ of its awful gasping cries; of its bitterly dashed hopes for a future. It is still there, that aching mausoleum of innocents. Neither have those years cleansed and erased the shuddering ghastliness of the vast ovens, nor the sight of crammed heaps of empty Zyclon casks, nor yet the impact of the towering chimneys.
While I was there I bought a book: ‘Man’s search for meaning.’ Its cover carries the picture of an imaginary but splendidly vibrant bird, poised for flight, perched, on a barbed fence surrounding an open space, guarded by observation towers, wired electric fences and flood lights. I see it as a defiant salute to hope, despite the awfulness of Holocaust – a message voiced in its forthright writing. We all need hope in our lives. So felt the man who secretly fashioned a tiny rosary from his once-a-day ration of bread.
Towards the end of my visit, I became aware of the biting wind and my deeply blue hands. It seemed to sum up and underline the pervading chill; the insidious lack of any feeling of warmth anywhere. In quiet moments now, there still thunders through my mind the phrase, ‘Man’s inhumanity to man.’ I have seen in widescreen, pictures of those words drawn in abject sufferings. May they never be so clearly portrayed again.
The word? The word was ‘solution’. And the solution? Was it final? I think not. I was helped in my aching tiredness, over the last hours there, by three groups at various times: firstly by a party of young Jewish men, then by a party of Irish visitors, and finally by a French family. There lies something towards a solution, with natural barriers down and help given as and when it was needed. We can preserve our differences without resorting to aggression, if we have humanity, nation unto nation.
Michael’s response to the trigger ‘truth’:
THE UNBELIEVABLE TRUTH
As a group, the sad truth is that Human Beings as a race do not take care of each other. Indeed, through history the evidence is that Wars have sought better and more efficient ways to cause such harm. This truth was brought vividly to my attention some years ago.
The year was 1978. I was talking to the Chief Scientist of a company called Cary Scientific Instruments in Metuchen, New York, USA.
The purpose of my visit was to assess one of Cary’s Raman Spectrometers with a view to its possible purchase for research at Nottingham University, a mere £70,000 .
The Chief Scientist was an interesting man, I guess about twice my age. He was an expert in the use of spectroscopy for chemical analysis. Their machine was state-of-the-Art: laser powered, and computer driven. By comparison my machine at Nottingham would have looked out of date at Stonehenge. I continued our conversation by asking him what was his background. He explained that he did his first degree at Harvard followed by his PhD , and then he joined the US Army’s technical branch just as the war started. He found himself being seconded to the Manhattan Project – the Atomic Bomb.
He went on to explain the excitement of developing techniques for purification of Uranium and methods for measuring it. He had witnessed several bomb tests in the Mexican desert, which he said were astounding. ‘But none of us realized what the impact would be’. He then went on to describe the dropping on Hiroshima. ‘We were all horrified at what we had developed and the magnitude of the effect,’ he said.
I was slightly shocked to note he had tears in his eyes. He continued that as soon as he could he left the US Army’s Technical Branch and returned to civilian life.
‘Have a look at the pictures of destruction caused to see what it meant,’ he said to me. ‘Be careful what you do as a scientist.’
This encounter had a profound impact on me and ever since I have considered the impact of any research I do.
Oh yes, I bought the Raman Spectrometer
We moved on from the triggers of the essential elements into firstly the Surreal – for which this is Micheal’s piece by way of introduction, then up to ‘Impression’.
In the colourful world in which we live The skies are blue and our land has a tinge of green birds fly by squeaking in agitated flocks,And fields of corn wave golden across a tree-punctured landscape or Crashing waves form a Dark storming sea.
But, not everything has to be painted by an artist in exact form. They may have their own interpretation of the world, As the work of our artists John Constable and JMW Turner.
Although these two highly skilled men had a famous artistic feud, their work led to some romantically famous, beautiful trees, cottages and ships, on canvas representing the British countryside of the 1880s.
But not all contemporary painters used romantic realism – some of the painters used their own representation of things, a style that finally became known as Surreal.
Salvador Dali was one such exponent. Born in 1904 he was a great self-publicist for his work.
Pablo Picasso was another great artist of the Surreal style.
Like Dali, Picasso was born in Spain, in 1881, and became probably the leader of the Surreal Movement and sold his many paintings for fortunes.
Surreal art was not just restricted to painters on canvass. Sculptors also indulged in that medium. Henry Moore became internationally famous, for his sculptoral gigantism. He established the Henry Moore Foundation as a school to develop Massive metal Sculptures, as was his style.
Not everything had to be obscure or massively oversize in the Surreal.
For example, the matchstick Men of Lowry: highly powerful but realistic and original imagery.
Here’s Kevin’s piece from the 3rd March trigger ‘Gear change’
‘Crying out’ by Kevin Murphy
We were playing in the sandpit, Little Madam and me.
Somebody was crying.
I went to the back door. ‘Mamma. Somebody’s crying’.
Mamma came to the door. She could hear her.
‘Daddy!’ she shouted, ‘somebody’s crying, out over Jarvis’s.’
Daddy stands at the back door. ‘That’s “Help, Help” isn’t it? Sounds like a woman.’
He runs to the back gate. Mamma runs after him.
We run after Mamma.
Daddy can’t get the gate open. He throws my train. He throws Madam’s trike.
Daddy’s in the lane.
We are all at the gate – I stand against the post and Madam holds Mamma’s pinny.
All down the Lane, men at their gates, listen to the cries for help.
They run. The run across the lane, across the field, towards a point in the big hedge along old Jarvis’s farm.
The first one disappears in the hedge.
A shout. He runs out. The men all shout and run along the hedge to get to the farm-gate.
Mums and kids stand in the lane.
I cry for the poor lady.
Madam laughs at me.
I poke her.
Mamma lifts her up.
She looks at Daddy running.
The lady still cries, but we cannot see the fathers any longer. They have disappeared along the boundary fence and probably clambered into the farm. Mothers gather up the little ones and move together into huddles. There is some whispering and more attention and concern is displayed to the infants.
A mother sidles towards the side lane to improve her view of the men, to gain first impression of safety … or menace.
The rescuers reappear and the first couple give a wave to the gathering on the Lane.
The lady still cries out so the women look from one to another. I see Daddy and Mamma lets me run towards him.
I career into his arms. He gathers me up into his arms, laughing and kissing me.
‘Stop laughing at the poor lady, Daddy,’ I say patting his head.
‘What a ridiculous father you have Kevin.’ He looks around and shouts at the other men who are all panting and laughing and waving to their arriving wives and families.
‘We weren’t to know!’
‘Naagh, we couldn’t chance it.’
‘So frightening – real wasn’t it.’
‘ ’ark at the stupid thing – took no notice of us!’
‘Old Jarvis shoulda told us.’
‘Told you what, Daddy?’ asked Mamma.
‘That he’s been and gone and bought himself a blinkin’ peacock.’
‘What’s happening to the lady, Daddy?’
A true story. Mr Jarvis had a farm, now a scrap yard, across the field from Meadow Lane, on Jackdaw Lane, Oxford. My sister was actually called Madam by everybody until she got to secondary school. Clark’s got the idea for their shoe advert from her.
A Visit to the Past
Although now retired I remain a coordinator for a Linkedin Group, the professional equivalent to Facebook. Each member produces a brief biography of themselves from School onwards. My own includes a brief mention of my first days at Prep. School. One of our members read my biog. and noted that his children now attended the School to which I had been an earlier pupil. He notified me and informed me that there was to be a reunion – ‘would I be interested’. I said I would. This resulted in a smart invitation to my wife and I to attend the reunion from the current Headmaster. As a result the past became the present.
Oh how strange and pleasant that Saturday seemed. We climbed the steps that I had first climbed some 62 years ago. Into the entrance, down the long corridor and into the main hall. It all seemed so much smaller than I remembered, but then I had grown a bit!
We were treated to a splendid display of athletics and a brief play and music by the current pupils, as well as a very pleasant tea. The Headmaster came and chattered enthusiastically to us and, clearly, I knew more about the earlier times than he did. Sadly, all my masters had either retired or passed on by now.
I had enjoyed my time at this School. It set me up really well for my future life. Here, I had passed my Eleven-Plus and gained a scholarship. More importantly I had gained an interest and some knowledge about life then, in the past and what may be in the future.
It transpired I was the only aged returner at the reunion, but for me it opened doors in my memory and this return to my past made a wonderful picture of life then, in a different World.
This brief visit to my past reminded how pleasant life had been. Just for a brief while the past became the present.