Monday, November 18, 2013

PAHULJE - Safet Ramic

Snowflake ... a voice from Bosnia ...

During the Days of Remembrance at the Capitol Rotunda in Washington D.C., on Thursday 1 May 2008, Mr. Fred Zeidman said:

"This year on these days of remembrance we remember the sound of glass breaking in the night, in that night sound there are others that echo across the ages .... the sounds of mothers weeping, of mobs shouting, of trains rattling on tracks whose destination is death. We remember too the sounds we will never hear the sounds of joy and laughter the sounds of an endless horizon of generations never born to millions who were not allowed to live.  We remember the sound of glass breaking in the night because it was the sound of illusions breaking. Some illusions of broken glass remain unshattered ... This is why we remember not only to honor the victims but to remind ourselves and we always need reminding why illusions are so easy and so dangerous ... why we were so deaf to the sounds of broken glass.  We remember for our world and for all times ... so that in remembering the sound of breaking glass seventy years ago we will open our ears and our hearts to the sounds of Darfur wailing today, to the sounds of survivors testifying and children learning ..."

August 2010 was also the end of a decade of horror for me -  on top of the awfulness of the Homeland War had come the reports of the atrocities in Srebrenica, best friends had died, my mother died, my wife died, my father died, and now my career seemed to be coming to an unplanned and unwelcome early conclusion. 

As I seemed to finally have a few weeks to myself, I hatched up a plan to use some of that time in Houston where I had lived for a number of years.  As I drove toward Houston I purchased tickets to the Alley Theater, and begin trying to find old friends from long ago who were living in the area.  I was disappointed.  It seemed no one whose phone number I could find had time to talk to me.  I must point out that this was a bit before so many of us were hooked up on Facebook together.  The outcome would likely be much different today, but that was a few years back.  Somehow I tracked down Freddie's number and he actually spoke with me. 

In fact, Fred had an assignment for me.  My heart leaped with joy! Those of you who know me personally do know how loathsome aimlessness is to me.  Now my journey to Houston had a purpose!!  President George Bush had appointed Fred Chairman of the US Holocaust Memorial Council.  Fred wanted me to tour the Holocaust Museum Houston and bring back a report to him of my impressions.  I could do that. 

Now then, before some mean spirited person even thinks something about Fred being a rich Jew blah blah blah, you had best listen to me just a moment. I've known Fred and his family for about sixty years. Fred's family were not rich and powerful. They just worked hard. I remember when the wooden paneling on Fred's mother's station wagon deteriorated and parts of it fell off.  Still she drove that car until it quit. I remember when Fred's mother saw Amalia coming to school barefoot on a cold wet blustery winter day. I remember that somehow very quietly the next day Amalia had shoes.  I may be the only one who knows what Mrs Zeidman did but I know and God knows - and now you know.  Fred was brilliant in school, he worked hard, he was a master of the snare drum, and everything he has today he earned the hard way. Fred was always like his parents, always a friend to everyone, even to me. I am not the only one who will tell you these things either.

To make my tour even more pleasant, there was a particular guide I was supposed to find.  I found her and joined the group she was leading. The tour was awesome.  She asked the right questions along the way.  For example: "Why didn't the Poles living near Auschwitz tell the world what was happening there?"  She wasn't ready for the answer I had for this question - that many of those living nearby, the remnants of the Bjelohravati (White Croatians) in the area had perhaps been the first into the ovens.   They seem to have completely disappeared from southern Poland during World War II.

When we got to the part of the exhibits relating to the Balkans I had some difficulties which I reported to Fred.  First, the map designated the area as "Yugoslavia" which term is not only offensive to me, but historically inaccurate.  Next, the numbers of Jews and Roma, and others reported on the charts as having been exterminated were woefully understated.  

These and other details were part of my oral report to Fred. It had been fifty years since we had seen each other but he gave me nearly three hours of his time that day.  Fred was not in a position to make immediate changes in the displays, but he promised me that as the opportunity arose the displays would become more and more accurate. We shared news about our respective families.  He listened attentively and took notes as I told him about other holocausts more recently in the Balkans. 

Today the exhibits both in Houston and in Washington contain more accurate information about the World War II Holocaust in the Balkans, including some about what happened at Jasenovac.  Sadly, as we Croats face the atrocities committed during the Communist years against us, there is this matter which some of us have yet to fully face.  Our Jewish neighbors were Croatian.  Our Roma neighbors were Croatian.  I have Croatian friends who who are living in Israel because during those times their families had to leave Croatia.  Our Muslim neighbors are Croatian.  We must never allow what happened under the Nazi regime to happen again.  We must never allow what happened to us under the Communist regime to happen again.  Where possible, where they are still living, those responsible must be brought to justice.  

Since our conversation in 2010, I see that the US Holocaust Memorial Council has been responsible for some investigations into the matters in the Balkans.  In some of this, their work has been very helpful and we can be thankful for their efforts.  I personally am thankful to Fred for perhaps quietly pushing some of this along.  It has not hurt our cause that a prestigious institution has been aware of our situation and has give us significant attention.

However, some of the conclusions in some of their reports are less than helpful.  The notion of "shared responsibility" is abhorrent.  It is as ridiculous coming from this source as it would be to lay "equal responsibility" at the feet of the Jews in Europe had they somehow banded together and successfully defended themselves from the German army during World War II.

Before we go off on the deep end now, lets look at what happened to the reporter on the job in this business.  I do not want to excuse him, but look at the facts.  The horrors in the Balkans are so mind boggling and so horrific that one's brain wants to escape even trying to comprehend what happened there.  It's one thing to study and report about matters which happened some seventy years ago and quite another to report matters which in fact are still happening especially in the Serb controlled areas of Bosnia. When your face is literally splattered with the fresh blood of fresh victims one wants simply to conclude his report somehow, even if nonsensically and flee  - to want to be "deaf to the sounds of broken glass."  We have to face what happened because we are the ones who are bleeding.  Others don't have to, but we need everyone to know the truth.
As Mr Zeidman said "We remember the sound of glass breaking in the night because it was the sound of illusions breaking.  Some illusions of broken glass remain unshattered ..."  It is our job to shatter those illusions with the truth.  It is our job  to persistently, consistently, and relentlessly respectfully tell the truth, all the truth, to as many people as we can get to listen.  

In my paper regarding "How do Croatians communicate" I was clear about how our musicians are one of the keystones of Croatian communication. Today we have Safet Ramic with a song "Pahulje," "Snowflake."  There is a magnificent tree in the forest with his branches reaching to the sky like hands reaching to heaven. A snowflake falls, and another and another ... until finally the tree splits with a wrenching and rending sound the limb falls. In much the same way, the pain of loss, a mother, a father, a brother, a sister, a lover, piles up on the heart like the snowflake on the branch, until finally the heart is broken and shattered.  

Even if you do not understand the language, listen to Saffet's voice, you will hear in his voice the truth, the truth which must be heard, the truth which will shatter illusions ...

Many of the snow covered images in the video are photos from the "Martyr's Cemetery" in Sarajevo.   Let them speak to you as well.  Hear the truth and know the truth.  Let the illusions be shattered in your own heart.

PAHULJE - Safet Ramic 

do sljedeći put, blagoslov - until next time, blessings,

Canovals a.k.a. Slavonac

18. studenoga 2013

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