Violence and War III
I don't know if there's many pretentions left about these sessions on war and violence. We've had three of them now, three days in a row, and on paper they're supposed to provide us with a framework to use looking at different acts of violence. What genocide is is, for example, or war. But at this point they're pretty much something else.

On Tuesday our speaker, Andriy Portnov, was about trying to parse out what violence is, what it means, and how to deal with histories where everyday people have learn to kill. Yesterday we spoke about what gives people space to pick up weapons and go on to do quite irrevocable harm.

Today we're getting out of the classroom. On the edge of the Oder river, on the Frankfurt side, there's a little bell. We pass right by it. Our speaker takes us across and out past the edge of town. That's where the Jewish cemetery is.
It's a physical space that speaks quite a bit to the history of the town, and Andriy reminds us that the history of any town in this part of the world is a history of violence. Like any part of Germany (until just before the middle of the century) there were lots of Jews, and like any other religious practitioners they wanted their own cemetery.

They happened to get a piece of land located a bit of a walk from the center of the city (Christian cemeteries are nearby, I hear), and that distance itself has proved controversial. Was it a way of pushing the community out of sight? Was it a way of giving privacy? Was it something advocated for by the community itself? We're told, additionally, of other traditions – no food, no drink, no spending the night. You aren't supposed to look at the dead, he says. The typical Christian wake is a no-no.

Then the Nazis come to power – they deported the Jewish population but left the cemeteries. In the words of our speaker, a dead Jew happened to be more heartening than a living one. But since Jews were rumoured to be buried with their gold, people would come at night (even once these lands were already Communist) with their shovels. Once the bridge was rebuilt and the post-war border point reopened, Germans came to Slubice as tourists and even more graves got robbed. Cemeteries closer to the border were the first, and then ones closer to Warsaw were ransacked in the years after. For an atheistic, developed, socialist government this was a bit of an embarrassment so they made a decision: close the graves. Let them go back to nature. Pull up the stones.

At the site we go to, Andriy says, they were just getting ready to build a nightclub (the reason for yet another nightclub in Slubice goes undiscussed) when some major politician went on some trip to the States. "By the way," he was asked at one lecture, "whatever happened to the Jewish cemetery at Slubice?" He was more than a bit shocked that anyone knew it existed. Turns out that there are three significant spiritual figures buried there, and so said politician blitzed back to socialist Poland and halted construction on the nightclub.

"But there's another one," Andriy says, "just through the trees." And probably more just down the street.

And all this, this place, these stories, for him it's a sign of the way violence's shaped borders and their communities. Think what, how and when something's considered the edge of a nation or national identity, and what that does to the people living there. And how they're remembered. More than any structured exploration of violence, these lectures, for me, seemed the bewildered attempts of a person trying to figure out where it all fits. And, if there's energy, cope.

"Go ahead!" he says, "it's all here. You can see it. Touch everything."