This Place Holds No Fear
By Monika Held
Haus Publishing – £14.99
‘You can walk on the dead and don’t even notice.’
It’s already been over a week since National Holocaust Day (January 27th), yet still the inexorable barbarity continues in Syria. Unabated and fundamentally unchallenged, the pointless savagery goes on: day after day, week after week, year after year.
And for what? Glory? Land? Religion? Geographical redemption?
Are those responsible for all the suffering, killing and pointless destruction, actually aware of this grotesque thing we (flippantly) refer to as the Holocaust? If they were, would they not, even if just for a mini-micro-second, realise the total moral redundancy of their atrocious ambition(s)?
So far as both the annihilation and the deprivation of humanity is concerned, what better template is there to acknowledge or refer to than the Holocaust? An undecipherable time in European history, which will surely continue to resonate with an abundance of shock, horror and pathos, long after those who had the misfortune to live through it, have died.
Which is why a book such as this is so very, very important.
This Place Holds No Fear is a poignant, pertinent reminder, of what can happen to society when all the wrong people come into power (which for some unbeknown reason reaon, they always invariably do).
With it’s rather austere, sombre cover, these 277 pages pronounce that which should never have to be pronounced: ”Casually, as if discussing the weather, he said: In Birkenau, when you walk from the women’s camp to Crematorium II, you see a small path – nothing special. People don’t notice, he said, when it crunches under their feet. Little stones, they think – gravel, sand. But what’s really crunching underfoot are the remains of people who’ve been burned […]. The rough pieces are tiny bits of bone. Each from a different person. The paths there are covered with the bits of bone that trickled off the truck. In Birkenau pools and tarns are filled with this stuff. The lane that leads into the camp is white. You can walk on the dead and don’t even notice.”
Subtle, at times heartbreaking, yet totally engrossing, this book is written in such a way that one cannot help but be transported back to a time when the difference between life and death was so hopelessly fragile, it really doesn’t bear worth thinking about.
As authoress Monika Held reminds us: ”Nothing can bridge the gap between your imagination and our experiences.”
Moreover, one of the most powerful pieces of writing is the description of Vienna feeling ”like a bubbling cauldron;” where Held quotes from Carl Zuckmeyer’s memoirs depicting March 11, 1938: ”That night hell broke loose. The underworld opened its gates and vomited forth the lowest, filthiest, most horrible demons it contained. The city was transformed into a nightmare painting by Hieronymous Bosch; phantoms and devils seemed to have crawled out of sewers and swamps. The air was filled with an incessant screeching, horrible, piercing, hysterical cries from the throats of men and women who continued screaming day and night. People’s faces vanished, were replaced by contorted masks: some of fear, some of cunning, some of wild, hate-filled triumph. I saw the early period of Nazi rule in Berlin. But none of this was comparable to those days in Vienna…What was unleashed upon Vienna was a torrent of envy, jealousy, bitterness, blind, malignant craving for revenge. All better instincts were silenced. Here only the torpid masses had been unchained. Their blind destructiveness and hatred were directed against everything that nature or intelligence had refined. It was a witches’ Sabbath of the mob. All that makes for human dignity was buried.”
The above does indeed read like a literary rendition of one or several of Bosch’s paintings; where a mob-like-mentality has taken over (the political asylum). Much like it has in certain parts of current day Ukraine. Or throughout all of Syria.
There is so much to be gleaned from this very brave, worthy and most eye-opening of books. Even if just from that of a philosophical persuasion: ”Every man knows that he is born to die, yet we all forget, and squander our time on earth. Death is my shadow, it accompanies me like a mild headache. It’s there to say: Do not forget that each moment is precious.”