All we can do in the darkness / is shine

The Nuremberg trial opens on November 20, 1945. Lauterpacht is present in the courtroom, with the British team, pushing for the protection of individuals. Lemkin remains in Washington, with the American team, pushing for the protection of groups. One of the twenty-two men in the dock is Hans Frank, the fourth man in my book. An early supporter of the Nazis, from 1928 he worked as Adolf Hitler’s personal lawyer. In October 1939 he becomes Governor General of Nazi occupied Poland. In August 1942 he comes here, to Lemberg and Galicia, newly incorporated into his territory. He hosts a concert which concludes with Beethoven’s 9th symphony, and gives a few speeches. One is in this very room. Here, on August 1st 1942, seventy-five years ago, he announced the plan to eliminate the city’s entire Jewish population.

This paragraph is from keynote speech by Philippe Sands at the 83rd PEN International Congress, in Lviv. We were warned from the beginning. In the main hall of Ivan Franko University, we, the delegates, were seating in the very chairs where the Nazi leadership sat when the plan to kill the Jewish population was announced, during the very first days of the implementation of the Shoah, the destruction of the European Jews. So we knew that the memory of the crime against humanity, the genocide, would mark the PEN congress – and our personal memories of Lviv.

At that Congress we elected Judith Rodriguez as vice-president of PEN International. It was a great joy for me: I have shared with her admiration and friendship from the first day we met in PEN. These past days, while writing our tribute to her memory after she passed on November 22nd, my mind has been returning to the presence of Judith at the Lviv Congress. She was one of the four poets who took part in an extraordinary poetry reading: she read her poems, if I remember well, just before Adam Zagajewski. When she took the microphone she simply said "I will start with a poem I have written three hours ago, in the bedside table of my hotel room". And she read it:

At Lviv

Here or downriver

they lived, family of my mother.

Here or downriver

they took early warning.

Of this my mother said nothing.

What scattered cousins

underwent the darkness?

What roads and houses

miss their tread, their voices?

Did my mother ask?

Her Paris aunt and uncle

ended on the Nazi scrapheap.

Her father chose Palestine.

Her mother died in Perth.

That my mother mourned.

War came. Rumors grew.

A pond in these woods hides

the bones of thousands,

veils a regime’s shame.

Here and downriver,

this painful knowledge—

but all earth’s places,

all have lain in moral darkness.

My mother said nothing.

All we can do in the darkness

is shine.

#JudithRodriguez #Lviv #Poetry #Poet #Memory #Tribute #Nuremberg #PEN #Congress #Shoah

© 2023. Created with by Laia Puig i Espar.  

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