An invite to an exhibition

This is an invite to an exhibition at the Jewish Museum by someone who is pondering his roots as a descendant of those who experienced the holocaust.  I was sent it as someone on the Dunera News mailing list. 

I think about this myself, not so much in relation to myself, but rather in relation to my father whose mother was engulfed in the maelstrom.  He said very little about it.  

In fact it was my mother (born in England after WWI to fourth generation Australians from the Queensland squatocracy) a tough old stick about most things.  But she seemed to take it more to heart. Mum can’t really bear to even think or hear about the holocaust without disolving into sobbing.  I wonder what she’s thinking?  How could they have wanted to do that to such a nice man as her Fred?  Is she thinking about the comfortable anti-semitism of her mother and the fact that her earliest friend and the nicest person she knew in primary school – happened to be Jewish. Her mother wasn’t troubled by this as her anti-semitism was pretty theoretical. She was fine with Mum being friends with Pat, her Jewish friend and holidayed with her I think.  And when she met Dad she took Mum aside and said “I think you’re on a winner there dear”. Is she thinking of her father – more your genocidal anti-semite who might in other circumstances have taken a shotgun or a shovel to Dad – and of the fact that this meant that she had to betray one of the two men she loved most. That’s my theory, but who knows?   

But somehow it seems these things do reverberate down the generations.  That’s why I was so moved to read this lullaby which I found quoted in a book by Mark Raphael Baker. His parents were both Holocaust survivors and they sing it to their grandchildren.  I quoted it in my speech at my Dad’s memorial

Sleep now child, my pretty one,
Close your dark eyes.
A little boy who has all his teeth
Still needs his mother to sing him to sleep? . . .

A little boy who will become a great scholar
And a successful businessman as well.
A little boy wholl grow to be a bridegroom
Has soaked his bed as if hes in a pool.

So hush-a-bye my clever little bridegroom
Meanwhile you lie wet in your cradle
Your mother will shed many a tear
Before you grow up to be a man.

And their son sings to them:

Sleep my dear parents but do not dream.
Tomorrow your children will shed your tears
Tuck in your memories in bed and say good night.  

My daughter reckons I’m a bit strange about the holocaust. I reckon I am too.  I keep thinking about it. I should have given her the middle name of Marianne – Dad’s mother’s name. But it didn’t occur to me at the time. Now I’m hoping that my daughter might give any girl of hers that name as a middle name.  But she doesn’t like the name.  So it’s a dilemma!  Perhaps the son . . .

Anyway, I might go along and see what awaits at the exhibition.  I understand others will be welcome if they turn up.

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Joshua Gans
15 years ago

Isn’t it completely natural to be ‘strange’ about the holocaust? You don’t even need to have had family caught up in it, though that would obviously intensify it. Perhaps it’s something about growing up in idyllic Australian suburbia in the 1960s and ’70s. To people middle aged or older, it was a fresh memory, but something they were happy to forget. For us, curious just by virtue of being children, it was at once near at hand and awful beyond comprehension, hence fascinating and even tantalising.

15 years ago

Thanks for this Nick – I’ll be going for sure.

Fred Argy
15 years ago

Very moving, Nicholas.

Tony Harris
15 years ago

One of the chilling things about the Holocaust was where it happened – that kind of thing might have been expected in places like Poland and Russia (not to mention less civilised parts of the world) but not in a nation with the high culture and intellectual record of Germany.

Someone was comparing Germany and Russia with the comment that some kind of normal life persisted in parts of Germany because the terror had weird limits. She described an episode where a relative was in social company with a high officer of the SS and the relative mentioned that one of her (non-Jewish) friends had been beaten up in the street by SS troopers. The officer promised that the men would be punished if she could provide more information about the episode.


[…] mentioned an art exhibition by a ’second generation Dunera Boy’ in an earlier post and I went along on Sunday. I found it very affecting and bought a painting – they’re very […]