Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Overcoming a historical wound



Rosa Naparstek was first an attorney in Detroit until she became convinced that through law itself nothing shall change. She moved to New York and became an artist. In her installations she tends to explore "the ordering of things", and explains why in her own words. It is due to specific, indeed childhood experiences.

Artistic Statement of Rosa Naparstek

I work with found objects, family photographs and text (original nursery rhymes). I explore both the “ordering of things”—how we attach meaning to “random” juxtaposition of objects—and “the
order of things”—looking at our inner landscapes for the emotional roots of the world we create personally and politically. Much of what I do centers around childhood memories and experiences and is concerned with questions of cruelty and its source within us. I believe the fundamental human questions are about good and evil and that each person, culture, and even each civilization asks these through the lens of its own experience. Mine was the Holocaust. For as long as  I can remember, I have wanted to know what makes human beings capable of such cruelty.

I have come to believe that the primary source of evil lies in our ability to deny our own pain, fear, and vulnerability. In our mistaken belief that we can protect ourselves from life as it is, we inflict the
worst horrors onto others and ourselves

Song of Atonement: The images are of a Romanian Insane Asylum seen after the fall of Ceausescu. Even here, I don't confront concentration camp images, but those of the insane asylum wearing the pajamas.
Part of that was also a link to all the suffering...not just my avoidance


She revealed her past to me after having send her reference to Slawomir Grunberg who was doing at that time a video about 'historical wounds'. I learned that she was born in Russia 1944. Prior to that her parents escaped from Poland in 1939, thus she belongs to a second generation of Holocaust survivors. No wonder that she has continous difficulties to come to terms with that terrible past. How to come to terms with something which makes no sense at all in human terms? Hannah Arendt comes to mind who had attempted in her book called 'the banality of evil' to come to terms with Eichmann. She described how this man appeared to her when standing trial in Israel. He was in her eyes far more a normal, indeed banal figure and not what one would expect him to be, namely the evil monster par excellance.

George Steiner framed this as a paradox. He asked how is it possible for someone to play music on the piano the evening before going the next day into the camp to kill men, women and children? It is a relevant wonder to date about whether or not the arts can prevent man from becoming uncivilized?

That same question resonates in a letter the poetess Merlie M. Alunan has written. She asks likewise how is possible for someone walking down the street and killing 'just for fun'? ( http://poieinkaiprattein.org/poetry/merlie-m-alunan/these-are-our-times---about-human-vulnerability/).

At the same time, Stuart Krusee in Paris discusses the use of drones in terms of what will happen once machines, not human beings decide which human beings are going to be killed according to a list of terrorist suspects? The cybernetization of war has made the absence of an ethical perspective all the more invisible.

And while I write this, a new war has started: besides Syria, now France engages itself in military actions in Mali.

The question of Marlie M. Alunan is not easy to answer. All the poets linked through Poiein kai Prattein discussed this phenomenon in conjunction with the shooting before Christmas at that school in Newtown. For instance, Rati Saxena responded that in India there is another reason to be shocked. She referred to that gang rape of that girl which died two weeks later. So the struggle to become free from post colonial systems as explained by Waqas Khwaja has also to do with how we approach the question of individual freedom. That is why the works of Rosa Naparstek are so decisive as all of us face the need to come to terms with these 'historical wounds'.

Holocaust left such a deep wound that Rosa Naparstek still struggles even today, that is many years since her childhood years, with this phenomenon. To come to terms with 'evil' is not easy becaue the imagined and the real became evident in a weird way. It upsets all normal presumptions and assumptions about mankind.

Studies about Fascism in Germany can be connected with Jean Amery who had survived Auschwitz where he was imprisoned for three years. He did write in retrospect an essay of redemption and called it like Dostoevsky as something being beyond "crime and punishment". He believed both the German soldier and the Jew were exposed to the same command, namely the one ordering them to survive. The only difference between the two was that the soldier had to learn to be active and shoot faster than the enemy, whereas the Jew had to stay passive best exemplified by not touching the electricized wire of the concentration camp.

There is as well Klaus Heinrich's book with the title "The difficulty of saying 'No'" in which he tries to argue for a possible partnership with a Fascist, in order to say with him together 'no' to the evil actions he was planning and about to undertake, but not 'no' to the person. That is an extremely difficult differentiation in practise but offered a way to think about potential resistance.

To look into what brought about the SS mentality, that is even more difficult. Beate Waldek recommended to read 'Dialogue with the Henchman' by Moczarski Kazimierz. The book is about the SS man Jürgen Stroop who was the henchman for Himmler and responsible for the liquidation of the Jewish Ghetto in Warszawa. After having completed 'his mission', he went to Athens to 'reform' the police. There exists still the  building in the old town where he lived. The door has still the swastika symbol on it.



Gestapo House in Athens

Jürgen Stroop was uneducated and very much influenced by the hierarchical orientation of his mother. She had excellent contacts to the upper strata of society and especially to the aristocrats. At the same time, she looked down upon her husband since he was in her eyes a mediocre police officer with but four people under his command.

Most revealing was that Jürgen Stroop strived to fulfil his big dream once the end victory of Hitler was accomplished. He dreamt of having a riding estate in the Ukraine.

When Jürgen Stroop married a woman whose father was a learned professor, he did not know what to do with his dowry gift. It was an entire library full of books. In the end, he sold all of them to a factory which was producing toilet paper. It should be noted that this happened well before the burning of books by Nazi followers in Germany.

Why mention all of this? In Discussion with the henchman - a book review by Kazimierz Moczarski it is shown that Kazimierz Moczarski had the opportunity to observe Jürgen Stroop up close. They shared the same jail cell for nine months and this with a third person. Of interest is that Jürgen Stroop could break out in sweat if he saw that his fellow mate had a knife in his possession although it was strictly forbidden in jail and all would be punished if caught. It reflected his person as being obedient to the top, and down right inhuman to anyone below him.

At the same time, Moczarski observed that Jürgen Stroop could not articulate himself at all very well. He had only a very low educational background. He never went to high school. But whenever he spoke about his actions, suddenly his vocabulary changed. He spoke with a perfect terminology suited for the specific action. It can be explained that he was then prepared for the action by scientific advisors to Himmler for whom Stroop carried out all orders.

Kazimierz Moczarki learned as well that the SS had studied well the resistance movement in Poland since they proved to be most effective. They even commissioned studies about this movement, in order to learn from them. Presumably it was done in anticipation of Hitler being defeated and the war would end. They would have to go underground. One of the formulaes adopted was to stay silent. This evocates an association with Günter Grass, who was himself in the SS as a seventeen year old, but kept silent about this for more than sixty years.

Another but important detail revealed in this dialogue with the henchman was that the men of the SS served for a limited time in the Wehrmacht, the regular German army. They did so in order to obtain the Right to wear the uniform of the Wehrmacht. When Himmler was finally caught by US troops, he was not wearing the SS but the Wehrmacht uniform.

So I do not know if this helps answer the question of Rosa Naparstek. When wounds are very deep, then a lot of work has to be done in the direction of redemption. There is the famous thesis by the psychoanalyst Mitscherlich who postulated you can only trust again when you have gone through a period of mourning.

The loss of trust in humanity is terrible. I suppose the guy walking down the street and shooting at random is a lone figure out of this world having lost any bearing and for that matter any trust.

Paul Celan answered Adorno in his way about poetry being possible before, during and after Auschwitz. But some claim that he forged around him a silence, so as not to reveal everything what he did back then in Rumania, in order to survive while his parents did not. At one point he explained him remaining undetected that he pretended to be a flower leaning against a tree, so that no one took notice of him.

After having visited myself Auschwitz for the first time in 1999, I came out of the camp much more silent than when I entered. I went into the camp with a Polish friend who had grown up looking from her window over to one of the camps. Despite this she says life goes on and when the gates of Auschwitz opened, one famous Jewish violin player said to all freed prisoners that now you need to go back to what you have been doing before: baking bread, cutting hair, repairing shoes or watches. He said it as if the society known before the war would continue to exist and therefore they needed to adapt to the same old reality.

A crucial question is if a poem can be recited before it is too late, so as to prevent something similar happening whether at a small or huge scale?

Rosa Naparstek seeks through her artistic work a possible answer to her question i ever an atonement with this human pain is possible? Closer reflections reveal this pain is due to many historical wounds which have still not healed. What makes it all the more terrible is that every day new ones are added.

hatto fischer

Athens 14.1.2013


Additional notes:


Letter by Rosa Naparstek to Slavomir Grünberg

dear Slavomir, I just checked out the info on "Castaways". All my life I have hidden from what I know, not fully allowed the information in, the stories or the images of the Holocaust, yet late in life,my 40's, started writing rhymes and then putting together things relating to the rhymes...and sometimes the other way around. I soon realized that what I could not face directly, I was beginning to deal
with in another manner. And to this day, I still cannot, or have not been able to see movies or listen to the stories of the Holocaust. Yet, my whole life has been informed by the need to understand the in/human capacity for such things.

My going to see "Castaways" or even listen to the Karski video's on your site is a challenge, and I am grateful that thank's to you and Hatto, it is coming to me this way.

I hope you don't mind, but I am attaching a brief segment of my "Artists Statement" and one of my artworks.
Thank you for your indulgence.


Slawomir Grunberg

The World Premiere of CASTAWAYS and Kickstarter Campaign for KARSKI & THE LORDS OF HUMANITY
Date: Sat, 12 Jan 2013 14:16:53 -0500
From: slawomir grunberg <grunbergfilms(at)gmail.com>

Dear All,

We are pleased to announce that the World Premiere of our new
documentary “Castaways” will take place at the Walter Reade Theater
(Lincoln Center) in New York on January 21 at 6PM and January 22 at 4 PM
as part of the New York Jewish Film Festival. “Castaways” is
co-directed by Slawomir Grünberg and Tomasz Wisniewski and edited by
Katka Reszke with music by Beate Schützmann-Krebs. This short
documentary tells about the desperate acts of condemned parents to save
their children on the way to the Nazi death camp of Treblinka.

For more information about the movie please go to www.jankarski.com [2]

Slawomir Grünberg
and the "Karski & The Lords of Humanity" Production Team
Cell: 917 864 0715, Fax: 914 920 9747



Eva Pierrakos from the Pathwork of Self-Transformation lectures

Quotes to clarify her standpoint about the need to overcome historical wounds

"The highest morality is tremendous compassion for human beings who are in such pain and denial that they create the context for violent elimination of the other. (Etty Hillesum)

“Numbness and insensitivity towards one’s own pain, in turn equals numbness and insensitivity towards others. When examining one’s reactions closely, one might observe that the first spontaneous reaction to others is a feeling for and with them, a compassion or empathy, a participation of the soul. But the second reaction restricts this emotional flow. Something clicks inside and seems to say no. The result is a protective layer of un-feelingness. In that moment one stands separate–apparently ‘safe,’ but separate. Later, this may be overcompensated for with false sentimentality, a substitute for the numbness. The numbness, instituted for oneself, must be continued towards others, just as every attitude towards the self is bound to expand towards others.”

“For he who is most shocked, afraid of, and unable to cope with the existing cruelty in the world, he who suffers most by the mere knowledge that it exists, is inevitably the person who has, in some way, made himself numb and suffers from the guilt of it’s consequences. Therefore, there must be a correlation between one’s numbness and one’s approach or attitude to the evil aspects of life”.

“What is the real origin of evil...denial of your vulnerabilities, the shame of helplessness and the feeling of being unlovable create evil and destructive attitudes and feelings. Evil is a defense against suffering...and as all defenses, they create more suffering, as well as confusion, by dint of no longer being connected with the real feelings in the self."


Surviros Tumbleweed - a poem by Rosa Naparstek to sum up this discussion


The tow the tomb the undertow

The call, the hold, the hold

The fingernail dug in the hand

As I was growing old.


He rarely spoke of what was wrong

His eyes a leaden gaze

Because he lived and they did not

We suffered in his rage.


And yet,


I played, I sang, turned somersaults

In search of childhood cheer

But the tow the tomb the undertow

Made childhood disappear.




I cannot bear to hear again

Again this dead refrain

Reliving every injury

Abounding in my brain.


I want to free my memory

Of all held much too long

I want to free my body

To sing another song.




The only way that I know how

Is to let the rhyme prevail

Un-censoring the undertow

Releasing me from jail.


RN: 6/18/12

... a moving poem...
The poem can be related to another poem written by Rati Saxena in India. After asked what she has to say about the recent incidence of gang rape in Delhi, she answered with a poem having to do with the wail and nails of artificial civilization having dug themselves into her skin. There is a huge issue behind this: how women are regarded, and treated by men.
Rosa Naparstek's poem is an important reminder what childhood means despite all those threats and what loss of childhood does mean insofar it prevents anyone from becoming a real human being once an adult.
We all suffer those losses and our memories attempt to keep fresh those experiences when we could laugh and sing.
To become free from this jail - yes, that is an important task.

Hatto Fischer 18.1.2013


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