It is humbling to read about the uncle I never knew – executed as a prisoner of war by the Japanese in 1944. I cannot even begin to imagine the terror, deprivation and stubborn refusal to give in that kept them alive for so long in the face of unremitting misery and the absence of hope.
My uncle, Lionel Matthews, was captured by the Japanese and sent to Sandakan in what used to be Borneo. There he was able to engineer a daring scheme to smuggle in supplies and smuggle out information & news. Naturally this enterprise was eventually discovered and the Japanese wreaked a terrible revenge. The ring leaders, including my uncle, were executed and of the 1500 odd remaining prisoners, only 6 survived to see the end of the war…
My aunt, Lionel’s wife & my father’s oldest sister, eventually remarried and only died last year in Adelaide, aged 96.
What a powerful documentary, re-enacted cleverly so that once again we come face to face with the waste & devastation of war…..I loved the idea that when one holds a book in your hand you are holding the hand of man – the writer & all the history which goes into creating either a piece of fiction or fact. And what terrible sadness flowed from the knowledge that centuries of tolerance between many ethnicities & religions was wiped out by greed & hatred from a few in such a brief time. Two million books were destroyed before Bosnia, Serbia & Croatia finally signed a declaration of peace at the end of 1995….thankfully over 10,000 books & manuscripts were saved through the bravery & hard work of a few.
Walking back to the tram after watching such a harrowing & gripping movie, I was struck by the peace & beauty of our own state library…how distressing it would be to lose our store of books documenting our much shorter history….
The film reinforced my feeling that Geraldine Brook’s fascinating & powerful novel, ‘People of the Book’, was inspired by this true story/incident.
I have referenced an excellent blog with some good pictures of both the movie & Sarajevo in all its beauty (a naturally picturesque setting) & ugliness ( after nearly 4 years of war)
The Love of Books: A Sarajevo Story.
Thoroughly enjoyed my recent visit to the Fairfax Studio at the Art Centre to hear Tim Draxl deliver music & words around the life of Chet Baker. I have two of Chet Baker’s recordings and loved the blend of trumpet & soft, melancholy singing before knowing anything about his life.
Born in 1930, Chet Baker lived most of his life after 25 out of the USA. He brushed shoulders with an amzing range of artists including Herb Albert, Marilyn Monroe, Count Basie and so many more. He was firstly a trumpeteer but sang enchantingly as well. He spent time in the army when just a teenager (a waste of space & very uncool) and even made a movie (too slow). His first trumpet was given to him by his father from a pawn shop when he was just a child. He taught himself to play for something to do in a small town in Ohklahoma. As a white jazz musician, Baker was feted by the greats of American jazz, based in LA during the 1950s, a golden age in jazz.
The show by Tim Draxl was absorbing with neat segues between Tim singing and narrating a simplified biography of Baker’s life. Draxl had the audience from about 10 bars into the first song ‘ My Funny Valentine’ and cleverly ended the main part of the performance with a taped version of Chet singing the same song. The effect was haunting and quite magical. Obviously Draxl has neither the demons nor the history of Baker, to my knowledge anyway! But the concept showcases both Tim & Chet’s talents in a very positive way. Supported by just a piano, double bass, drums & trumpet, the songs came to life through a voice full of feeling and technically excellent. I left appreciating the power of music to convey so many human emotions.
Reading a review in Saturday’s Age of a new memoir about Joesph Roth, a Jewish German writer whose life was destroyed by Nazism(1), I was struck by the strength of the ripple (or earthquake really) of man’s evil deeds against other men. Mention of Ernst Toller and the Hapsburg Empire caught my eye & my imagination when reading the article. What a powerful sentence….”The corollary of Hitler’s book burnings was a bonfire of the talents, the flames of which lit a succession of melancholy images.”… What wicked destruction of art, writing & people’s lives, the effects of which last forever (the loss of culture) & decades (many generations of traumatised families). Just today there was an obituary in ‘The Age’ newspaper (2) to yet another refugee from Hitler’s Europe who found her way to Australia & managed to build a quite different life out here. In the sad final sentence of the review of Roth’s memoir, Roth is quoted in 1933 as writing ‘We all over-estimated the world, even me, an absolute pessimist’.
Here was I, in Australia in 2012, being struck for probably the sixth or seventh time this year by the devastation caused by World War 2. Possibly I am at an age where reflections on life become more relevant & more likely, with slightly more leisure time on my hands. Going to Auschwitz and Poland was the start. Reading ‘Sophie’s Choice’ (3)and ‘All that I Am’ (4) was a natural progression. Choosing to do a CAE course on the Hapsburg dynasty seemed like a natural fit for someone curious about Central Europe’s history. The film ‘Lore’ (6) confirmed the absolute ugliness of WW2 Germany where a father could choose to desert his family in favour of duty as the head of an internment camp and where the children truly believe in the inferiority of Jews, even when someone they think is Jewish saves them as they trek across Germany in search of their grandparents’ home. What madness & evil is the human race capable of & why do we repeat it even as we recognise the errors of the past?
Even my bookclub read at the moment (‘The Constant Gardener’ by John Le Carre(5)) is depressing as pharmaceutical and colonial powers experiment with thousands of lesser beings in Africa, using them as guinea pigs for drug trials.
It all leaves me pondering at the randomness of our fate – me safe here for no apparent reason & with no tangible means to stem the ways of the world at large….the only useful path seems to be to not give up on our environment, on the power of education, on faith in the majority of my fellow humans. I hope we are not too little, too late.
Was intrigued to find a photo in the Age newspaper travel liftout last Saturday from a reader in Bath, England. His photo(see link) and mine (below) were of apparently levitating buskers, seemingly defying gravity. I walked completely around the busker I saw in Vienna in April this year & could not figure out how he did it. It must have to do with the pole but I could not see how! Both buskers hold the pose for ages….
Enjoyed a barbeque by Taylors Lake this evening, complete with a curious black swan who cruised over to see what all the commotion was. A glorious Spring day in Melbourne with consistent sunny weather from dawn to dusk!
Sunday morning exercise – relaxing with joggers, cyclists, prams, dogs & even some rowers……