Arbeit Macht (Nicht) Frei


As you all know, today – the 27th January – is the Holocaust Memorial Day.


“Countless men, women and children suffered the horrors of the ghettos and Nazi death camps, yet somehow survived. All of them carry a crucial message for all of us.  A message about the triumph of the human spirit.  A living testament that tyranny, though it may rise, will surely not prevail”. (UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, 27 January 2010)

The 27th January – the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp – was designated  in the “Holocaust Remembrance” United Nations Resolution 60/7 – as an annual International Day of Commemoration to honour the victims of the Holocaust. This occasion is observed with ceremonies and activities at United Nations Headquarters in New York and at UN offices around the world. Every country around the world holds specific events dedicated to this occasion.

I don’t actually like using the term ‘Holocaust‘, in fact a lot of controversy has been raised regarding the use of a term meaning “sacrifice” as if the killing of millions of people had a ‘higher’ purpose or justification. This is why the preferred term is the Hebrew one ‘Shoah’ meaning catastrophe, disaster and destruction.

I would like to remember this day, by posting the famous poem ‘If this is a man’ (Se questo è un uomo) by Primo Levi, which was written by the well-known survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp to convey the feeling of degradation and inhumanisation experienced by the people kept in the Nazi extermination camps.

Voi che vivete sicuri / You who live safe
Nelle vostre tiepide case / In your warm houses,
voi che trovate tornando a sera / You who find warm food
Il cibo caldo e visi amici / And friendly faces when you return home.

Considerate se questo è un uomo / Consider if this is a man
Che lavora nel fango / Who works in mud,
Che non conosce pace / Who knows no peace,
Che lotta per mezzo pane / Who fights for a crust of bread,
Che muore per un sì o per un no. / Who dies by a yes or a no.

Considerate se questa è una donna / Consider if this is a woman
Senza capelli e senza nome / Without hair, without name,
Senza più forza di ricordare / Without the strength to remember,
Vuoti gli occhi e freddo il grembo / Vacant eyes, cold womb,
Come una rana d’inverno. / Like a frog in winter.

Meditate che questo è stato / Realise that this has happened.

Vi comando queste parole. / Remember these words.

Scolpitele nel vostro cuore / Engrave them in your hearts,
Stando in casa andando per via / When at home or in the street,
Coricandovi alzandovi / When lying down, when getting up.

Ripetetele ai vostri figli./ Repeat them to your children.

O vi si sfaccia la casa / Or may your houses be destroyed,
La malattia vi impedisca / Illness bar your way,
I vostri nati torcano il viso da voi / Your offspring turn away from you.

This poem, which is of extraordinary strength, focussed on the humiliation of the camps that sought not only to destroy people physically, but also – and especially – emotionally. People there were not to be people anymore. The key aim of the Nazis was to make these prisoners forget they were humans too, and, as such, had natural rights.

I wrote about this poem once before in my blog, when I was talking about racism against immigrants. You can read about that topic, here: This is Not a Man.

A year ago, I wrote a few lines about the 27th January, The Meaning of Life.

Today, people have lived like usual and people have been at work.

Yet, today, we need to stop and think…we need to remember what has been and why.
This has been and it could be again.

Please take a few minutes today to think, remember and understand that what happened can happen again. We are never to consider ourselves safe enough from humans’ folly.

Shelter / Rifugio


Shelter


One immediate thought
is brought up by the memory of you

the sun of your smile

the light of your blue eyes.

You ride your bicycle
You taste the joy
of the wind in your face

You laugh without worries
contemplating the noise of the market

I know where you are now,
inside your shelter
of old and new pages.

Pages of unknown books,
but appreciated by you.

Continue, please,
do not interrupt your
reading for me.

I leave you in silence,
knowing that silence it is not

filled by sounds of words
and by the uproar of your thoughts.

—————-

Il rifugio

Un primo pensiero la tua memoria richiama

il sole del tuo sorriso

la luce dei tuoi occhi celesti.

Corri sulla tua bicicletta
assapora la gioia
del vento sul viso

Ridi spensierata
osservando il brusio del mercato

So dove sei ora,
nel tuo rifugio
delle pagine antiche e nuove.

Pagine di libri sconosciuti,
ma da te apprezzati.

Continua, ti prego,
non interrompere la lettura per me.

Ti lascio in silenzio
sapendo che silenzio
non è

riempito di suoni di parole e del frastuono dei tuoi pensieri.

Clouds / Nuvole


Clouds

Soft buds
of cotton wool

Laid down towards the infinite
in white mounts
of froth

They move apart
and they get close again

Light and shadow games
they appear like hills
the traces left by the skies

Cross over
softly
quietly

And airplanes escape
on the horizon.

———————

Le nuvole

Soffici batuffoli
di cotoneDistesi all’infinito
in bianchi cumuli
di schiumaSi dividono
e si riavvicinano

Giochi di luci e ombre
appaiono come colline
i solchi scavati dagli sci

Si incrociano
morbidamente
silenziosamente

E aerei fuggono
all’orizzonte.

This is not a man


Questo non è un uomo

I have decided today to post the poem by Adriano Sofri, a prominent and controversial Italian political activist and critic, because of its depth and value. My English translation is posted just below the Italian original poem.

This poem is inspired by the famous poem ‘If this is a man’ (Se questo è un uomo) by Primo Levi, which was written by the well-known survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp to convey the feeling of degradation and inhumanisation experienced by the people kept in the Nazi extermination camps.

Voi che vivete sicuri / You who live safely
Nelle vostre tiepide case / In your warm houses,
voi che trovate tornando a sera / You who find warm food
Il cibo caldo e visi amici / And friendly faces when you return home.

Considerate se questo è un uomo / Consider if this is a man
Che lavora nel fango / Who works in mud,
Che non conosce pace / Who knows no peace,
Che lotta per mezzo pane / Who fights for a crust of bread,
Che muore per un sì o per un no. / Who dies by a yes or a no.
 
Considerate se questa è una donna / Consider if this is a woman
Senza capelli e senza nome / Without hair, without a name,
Senza più forza di ricordare / With no longer the strength to remember,
Vuoti gli occhi e freddo il grembo / Vacant eyes, cold womb,
Come una rana d’inverno. / Like a frog in winter.

Meditate che questo è stato / Realise that this has happened.

Vi comando queste parole. / Remember these words.

Scolpitele nel vostro cuore / Engrave them in your hearts,
Stando in casa andando per via / When at home or in the street,
Coricandovi alzandovi / When going to bed, when getting up.
Ripetetele ai vostri figli./ Repeat them to your children.
O vi si sfaccia la casa / Or may your house be destroyed,
La malattia vi impedisca / Illness bar your way,
I vostri nati torcano il viso da voi / Your offspring turn away from you.

This poem, which is of extraordinary strength, focussed on the humiliation of the camps that sought not only to destroy people physically, but also – and especially – emotionally. People there were not to be people anymore. The key aim of the Nazis was to make these prisoners forget they were humans too, and, as such, had natural rights.

Sofri’s poem posted above is a serious cry for help – help for those black people in Southern Italy (Rosarno – in Calabria, region just North-East of Sicily) who this week (January 2010) have rebelled to the constant racism that reigns over their difficult and sad lives  They rebelled against the racism of the locals (e.g. spitting at them in streets, shouting insults at them) and against the slavery-like treatment reserved to them for years in the fields where oranges and other typical southern-Italian products are grown and collected. This market is under the control of the Mafia from many years and the immigrants, whether they are legal or not, are taken under what is real modern slavery. They earn 1 euro per hour or less, they live under what can hardly be called rooves, and they wash in the streets. These black men and women have been humiliated in the streets, attacked, hit and killed because they ‘disturb’ the town.

This has caused a very big debate amongst Italian politicians as to whether the local inhabitants are ‘racists’. Some politicians seem to think the key problem in this case is that there are far too many immigrants. The problem of uncontrolled immigrants is real and under everybody’s eyes. However, few people (and politicians) seem to have the courage to denounce what is the real problem: the Mafia, which encourages people from abroad, who live in appalling conditions and thus have nothing to lose, to migrate to Italy with the promise of a safe and honest job to help their families. These people abandon their families to go to the ‘promised land’ only to find themselves trapped in a condition of slavery and illegality, without the protection of law, since for the State they are ‘non-existant’ individuals hidden by the Mafia. Once their job is no more required, they are abandoned in their situation of desperately poor immigrants (60% of the immigrants involved in the situation in Rosarno were legal immigrants) and they are not accepted by the population that attributes their condition to their own lack of attempt to be follow the ‘welcoming country’s laws’.

The poem by Sofri wants to remind us all that no matter whether legal or illegal, an immigrant is a human being like any one else: someone who has a right to a dignified life and a right to be treated as equal to any other man or woman. Let us stop manipulating a reality which we, Italians, have greatly contributed to create and let us stop closing our eyes in front of the atrocities which are being committed against these poor people.

The Poem
…………………………………………………

In the Ghettos of Italy
This is not a Man

by Adriano Sofri

Once again, again consider
if this is a man,
like a toad in January,
who is on his way when it is dark and foggy
and returns when it is foggy and dark,
who collapses on the side of the road,
who
at Christmas smells of kiwi and oranges,
who knows three languages yet can speak none,
who fights his meals with mice,
who has two spare slippers,
an asilum request,
an engineering degree, one photograph,
and he hides them under cardboards,
and sleeps on the Rognetta cardboards,
under an asbestos roof,
or without a roof,
who lights a fire from the rubbish,
who stays in his own place,
in no place,
and comes out, after shooting,
“He got it wrong!”,
of course he got it wrong,
the Black Man
from the black misery,
of the black market, and from Milan,
after begging for attenuating circumstances
they write in big letters: BLACK,
discarded by a corporal,
spat in the eye by a miserable local man,
hit by his owners

chased after by their dogs,
what an envy for your dogs,
what an envy the jail
(a good place to hang oneself)
Who urinates with dogs,
who bites the dogs without owners,
who lives between one No and another No,
between a Police office for mafia
and a last welcome Immigrants Centre
and when he dies, an offer
of his brothers paid one euro per hour
sends him overseas, over the desert
to his land – “To whatever land!”
Meditate that this has been,
that this is now,
what a State this is,
Reread your essays on the Problem
you who adopt from a safety distance
in Congo, in Guatemala,
and you write in your warm homes,
neither here nor there,
neither goodness, something left to charity,
nor brutality, something left to internal affairs,
tepid, like a gun in the night,

and you move your eyes away from her

who is not a woman
from him, who is not a man
who has not got a woman
and his sons, if he has sons, are far
and prey again that your newborns
will not turn  their faces away from yours
in disgust.

The meaning of life


Today, the 27 January 2010, we remember the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
The meaning of life

Today, is a foggy day and the snow is melting in the streets of Torino.
Today, people have lived like usual and people have been at work.

Yet, today, we need to stop and think…we need to remember what has been and why.
This has been and it could be again.

Always question the reasons for hatred and question things that do not seem right.
Stand up for your ideas and don’t think ‘my opinions won’t count’.

Thinking means being heard and speaking aloud.

Don’t forget to hear the voices of those

who never had the chance of speaking out.

Trappola / Trap


Trap

The flame elongates

Can you see the reflection?

It rises, it elongates, it retreats

My heart pulses

Can you hear the drums?

One, one hundred, one thousand

Or none

My voice

Overshadows my voice

You must talk louder!

Shout!

No, only silence

The mind runs

Can you reach it?

I don’t know where it is going

The pen chases and catches…

The ink

Penetrates.

Insatiable

Hunter

Fragments of thought

Trapped in the paper.

——————–

Trappola


La fiamma si allunga

Vedi il riflesso?

Sale, si allunga, si ritira

Pulsa il cuore

Senti i tamburi?

Uno, cento, mille

O nessuno

La mia voce

Sovrasta la mia voce

Devi parlare più forte!

Urla!

No, solo silenzio

Corre la mente

La raggiungi?

Non so dove vada

La penna insegue e afferra…

L’inchiostro

Penetra

Cacciatore

Insaziabile

Frammenti di pensiero

Intrappolati nella carta.


Like a flower / Come un fiore


Like a flower

She blossomed flourishing

Like a flower

She grew and she breathed the breeze

That life infuses,

Like a flower

She sprouted and saw her little ones

Grow,

Like a flower

After many years she became unable

to stand on her strong stem,

and slowly, like a flower,

she bent, trying with all of her strength

to resist.

Today her lymph has broken,

But the memory of this beautiful flower,

A true gift of nature,

Will stay within the heart of all of those

Who have for long been able to admire

Her lovely petals.

—————–

Come un fiore

Come un fiore

È sbocciata rigogliosa,

come un fiore

è cresciuta ed ha respirato la brezza

che la vita infonde,

come un fiore

ha germogliato ed ha visto i suoi piccoli crescere,

come un fiore,

è arrivata dopo tanti anni a non reggersi più

sul suo forte stelo,

e lentamente, come un fiore,

si è piegata, cercando con tutte le forze

di resistere.

Oggi la sua linfa si è spezzata,

ma il ricordo di questo fiore stupendo,

un vero dono della natura,

rimarrà nel cuore di tutti coloro

che hanno a lungo potuto ammirarne

i bei petali.