Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Word of the day - Vergangenheitsbewältigung

Vergangenheitsbewältigung is not an easy word to translate. Leo will give you "coming to terms with the past" but although this is correct, the historical event that hangs over Vergangenheitsbewältigung is the Holocaust, the Shoah. To some extent for many Germans in the second half of the 20th century the word meant living with the immeasurable weight and guilt of genocide - a past that cannot be come to terms with.
Genocide cannot be come to terms with. Sense cannot be made out of slaughter. And yet human beings try to - we dare to speak of reparation, forgiveness, restorative justice, reconciliation ...

Dealing with that past has been part of me all my life. Estimates say as many as 11 million died, 6 million of them Jews. There are almost no Jews left to be buried in new graves in the Weissensee Jewish cemetry where my great grandparents are buried.

How do we deal with this past? This so-called ceasura in western history? Can horror be overcome?

As I watch images from Gaza, I cannot do so without thinking of the ghetto in Warsaw. Of course the scale of death is not the same, but death is death, injustice is injustice and wrong is wrong. Is the world's focus on this part of the Middle East conflict part of our own way of trying to deal with a past that cannot be come to terms with? A product of our sense of guilt?
How do we deal with our feelings of rage and helplessness to change things?

In the prayers of peace we are saying each day this week we use that powerful book from the Hebrew scriptures, the book of Lamentations.

My eyes are spent with weeping;
my stomach churns;
my bile is poured out on the ground
because of the destruction of my people,
because infants and babes faint
in the streets of the city. (Lamentations 2.11)

And also this from Jeremiah and Job:

A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
she refuses to be comforted for her children,
because they are no more. (Jer 31:15)

Even when I cry out, "Violence!' I am not answered;
I call aloud, but there is no justice. (Job 19:7)

I lament my own lack of integrity, and lack of discernment and learning about the Israeli-Palestinian issue over the decades. I lament in dry-eyed horror and shock at pictures of dead babies, families and futures crushed. I need verses from the Bible to speak, otherwise my lips would not find words. Enraged I lament a discredited US president telling the world that Israel has the right to protect itself in this premeditated disproportionate way.
My compassion is fatigued. My anger dull. I make no sense of this slaughter. I find no words.
And so I try to pray ...