Gary's blog

too weak to applaud


It was on this day in 1945 that the U.S. army entered the Buchenwald concentration camp near Weimar, Germany. At the time, there had been reports of concentration camps from the field, but no Americans had seen the camps for themselves. The American soldiers who arrived at Buchenwald on this day in 1945 would become the first Western observers of one of the worst atrocities in human history.

Several of the soldiers carried Kodak cameras, and so they took photographs of the surviving prisoners and the dead, so that people would believe what they had seen. Their photographs showed human beings so emaciated that they could barely walk, and victims' bodies stacked around the camp like piles of wood.

One of the children liberated at the camp that day was a teenager named Elie Wiesel, who would go on to win the Nobel Peace Prize. He had been forced to march from Auschwitz to Buchenwald a few weeks earlier, and his father had recently died in the camp. In the weeks before the liberation, Wiesel had stopped going to get his food rations, had given up on living. And then, on this day in 1945, Wiesel saw American jeeps rolling into the camps. In his memoir All the Rivers Run to the Sea, Wiesel wrote, "I will never forget the American soldiers and the horror that could be read in their faces. I will especially remember one black sergeant, a muscled giant, who wept tears of impotent rage and shame... . We tried to lift him onto our shoulders to show our gratitude, but we didn't have the strength. We were too weak to even applaud him."

promised land

On this day in 1968, the civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated by a rifleman while standing on the second-story balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. He had come to Tennessee to support a strike by the city's sanitation workers. The night before he died, he gave a speech at the Memphis Temple Church in which he said, "I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land."

To Hold

Poem: "To Hold" by Jean Nordhaus, from Innocence. © The Ohio State University Press.

To Hold

Before I left for camp, my mother sewed my name
with a firm stitch into everything I owned.
She even looped a string of nametapes
through the scissors I keep to this day on my desk.

She wanted to be sure, when she sent me into the woods,
she'd get the right child back at summer's end,
that I'd not be left in the laundry drum
like an unmarked sock. Others—

careless lazy mothers-favored marking pens,
illegible black letters bleeding into stain.

My mother knew nothing was permanent.
She'd seen how fast a child could disappear:

consent

dead ideas

"I almost think we're all of us Ghosts. ... It's not only what we have inherited from our father and mother that walks in us. It's all sorts of dead ideas, and lifeless old beliefs, and so forth. They have no vitality, but they cling to us all the same, and we can't get rid of them. Whenever I take up a newspaper, I seem to see Ghosts gliding between the lines. There must be Ghosts all the country over, as thick as the sand of the sea. And then we are, one and all, so pitifully afraid of the light."

- Ibsen 

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