Sunday, January 28, 2007

Gearóid O Colmáin on the burning of books and people

Das war ein Vorspiel nur.
Dort wo man Bucher Verbrennt,
verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen

Heinrich Heine


On may 10th 1933 in Bebelplatz in Berlin, the SS took thousands of books from the libraries of the Humboldt University and piled them in a pyre, where they set them alight. The books were by Jewish authors and academics. The quotation above is written in the square today where the books were burned and reads, ‘that was only a prelude.where men burn books, there too some day they will burn humans’. The ethnic Jews of Europe had soared some of the greatest heights of European culture, Mendelsohn, Mahler, Kafka, Mann, Marx, Spinoza, Einstein, Chagal, Kandinsky, the list of intellectual achievements is staggering. Some of the worst acts of barbarism took place in Yasenovatac concentration camp in Croatia where the psychopathic Ustasha regime, lead by Anton Pavelitch, undertook the systematic annihilation of Jews, Orthodox serbs and communists at the Yasanovac concentration camp, where up to 1 million people died. The catholic church played a central role in this holocaust, led by Monsignor Alyosius Stepinac, a committed fascist and antisemite who would later be tried for crimes against humanity by Tito’s communist regime. In spite of this, however, he was promoted to Cardinal in 1953 by Pope Pius XII and sanctified by Pope John Paul II in 1995. The Vatican has since produced an impressive corpus of lies in order to hide their nefarious role in the Croatian holocaust. One glance at the literature on the net and you will be regaled with mendacious versions of his life. However, the documentary and photographic evidence against Stepinac is incontrovertible. Cathal O Shanlon’s documentary ‘Ireland’s Nazis’ reveals the extent to which this country acquiesced and in some cases participated in the pervasive anti-semitism of the time by refusing to take in our share of Jewish asylum-seekers, while welcoming fascist murderers from Croatia, France, Belgium and Germany, many of whom escaped to Ireland through connections in the Roman Catholic Church.

It makes the blood run cold to think that Eamon De Valera, a man who fought alongside James Connolly in the Éirí Amach of 1916, could have harboured fascist sympathies. Yet he did. As did the ideologue of the unwitting Irish populace, Eugenio Pacelli or Pope Pius XII. The Irish government of 30’s and 40’s banned almost any edifying book they could get their hands on, driving free thinkers from this country in their thousands . One of the first victims of censorship was the Tailor and Antsy, a book full of ribaldry, derision and sexuality, steeped in the rural sagacity of West Cork’s Gaelic culture, a world view that was unpalatable to the government of the time, whose monoethnic conception of Éire as the land of ‘comely maidens’ and ‘bucolic bliss’ was not reflected in the world of the tailor. The Seanad debated its alleged ‘filth’ for four days banning it outright. It was subsequently burned by a local priest. An act of despicable barbarism. Could this have happened in the Isola sanctorum doctorumque, the island of saints and scholars? A land famed in medieval Europe for its love of learning and pious humility? The land of Eriugena the philosopher( whose magnum opus was also burnt by the Church) and Dicúil the geographer? Should we not be bibliophiles (lovers of books) rather than bibliophobes ( fearers of books) in this island that brought the light of learning to medieval Europe?

What would a land of learning and pious humility be in the twenty first century? A philosophical culture that thrives on the differences between people, differences that make us question our own way of being as well as that of the other, a cosmopolitan nation composed of the diversities of human understanding. Páidraigín Haicéid, a Gaelic poet of the seventeenth century spoke of how ‘an Ghaeilge ghrinnshlitheach, Gaelic of the subtle paths’ was antipathetic to the interests of the clergy of the time. In a fulminating verbal tirade against dogma entitled ‘Do Chuala mé Inné’, Haicéad says

Fuagraim tréad an chaolraigh chuimsithe
‘s a bhfuath, a Dhé, tar éis mo mhuintire.


I condemn the herd of narrow censors
And the hate they bear my people, O my God.

If history teaches us anything, it is that ‘caolraigh chuimsithe’, the narrow censors of Human diversity, always fail in the end. But in order to learn the lessons of history, we rely on the ‘grinnshlí’, the subtle path of understanding, sometimes revealed to us in those epiphanous moments, such as when speaking a foreign language we nod and say, oui, je comprend, tak, rozumiem, sea, tuigim, tuigim anois.

1 comment:

Mindy said...

Good words.