Wieder ein Blick auf die Uhr. Noch zwölf Minuten. Mein Hals ist trocken, die Hände steif vor Kälte. Wie Eiszapfen fühlen sich meine Finger an, die Haut ist bläulich. Ich friere und schwitze gleichzeitig. Im Zugabteil ist es warm, der ältere Herr mir gegenüber trägt zu der dünnen Khaki-Hose nur ein kurzärmliges kariertes Hemd. Die stark behaarten Arme hat er vor der Brust verschränkt, der eiförmige Kopf ist leicht zur Seite geneigt…
Another quick glance at my watch. Twelve minutes to go. My throat is dry. I feel cold, then hot. Sweaty palms. The train compartment is too warm; the elderly man sitting opposite me is wearing just a short-sleeved checkered shirt with thin khaki pants. His hairy arms are crossed over his chest; his egg-shaped head slightly tilted to one side…
Fiction and Fact: Stories and Reality about the Holocaust. Our presenters will compare the topic through poem lyrics and stories with the actual accounts told to Dr. Stern while working at various positions at the Holocaust museum. Presenters: Dr. Stern has lectured and written on survivor experiences and the wisdom which Jewish scriptures attribute to older persons. Susanna Piontek has dealt with the Holocaust through her short stories and poems.
The literary representation of Holocaust memories will be the subject of a presentation by the husband-and-wife team of Susanna Piontek and Guy Stern in Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences.
The program, “Remembering the Holocaust Through Fiction and Facts,” is on Wednesday, March 6, at 5:30 p.m. in the Peter Graham Scholarly Commons of Bird Library. The event is free and open to the public. For more information, contact Karina von Tippelskirch at 315-443-5383 or email@example.com.
Described as a reading interwoven with conversations about Piontek’s and Stern’s work, the program will address issues of translation and fictionalization of actual memories.
“It will mark the culmination of the couple’s visit to campus,” says von Tippelskirch, assistant professor of German and coordinator of the German language program in the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics (LLL). “Guy Stern is a leading expert of German Jewish and exile literature and, as an emigrant, has dedicated his life to teaching and scholarly research of these subjects. In turn, Susanna Piontek has always been interested in Jewish tradition, literature, music, and history. Many of her stories deal with problems of Jewish life in post-war Germany and Israel.”
During the program, Piontek will read from her English-language short-story collection, “Have We Possibly Met Before?” (Culicidae Press, 2012).
Born in Poland, Piontek immigrated to Germany, before settling permanently in the United States as a freelance writer. “Have We Possibly Met Before?” originated in 2005 as a collection of stories published in German. Stern, who translated the book and wrote the preface, calls Piontek’s literary perspective “refreshingly realistic.”
“With unflinching exactness, she describes everyday life situations we all know very well,” he writes. “In a certain way, we walk into her stories like guests into a living room, but only to realize that things are not as they seem, and that we will never get what we want.”
Piontek earned a master’s degree from Bochum University (Germany), where she studied language pedagogy, history, and American studies and then trained in broadcast editing. While working at a radio station, Piontek began jotting down poems and short stories, which have been published and anthologized throughout North America and Europe.
Stern is director of The Harry and Wanda Zekelman International Institute of the Righteous—the nation’s first freestanding museum dedicated to the memory of the Holocaust—in Farmington Hills, Michigan. He also co-founded the country’s first Lessing Society at the University of Cincinnati, serving as society president from 1975-77. Stern has written and edited numerous books on German literary history, including “Fielding, Wieland, Goethe, and the Rise of the Novel” (Peter Lang GmbH, 2004); “Literature and Culture in Exile” (Dresden University Press 1998); and “War, Weimar, and Literature: The Story of the Neue Merkur, 1914-25” (Penn State University Press, 1971).
Born into an assimilated Jewish family in Germany, Stern escaped to the United States in 1937. (He later found out his parents were murdered at the Treblinka extermination camp in Poland, after being deported to the Warsaw Ghetto.) Following World War II, Stern embarked on an illustrious academic career that included positions at Wayne State and Denison universities and at the universities of Maryland and Cincinnati. Stern is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany and the Goethe Medal.
“Remembering the Holocaust” is organized and presented by the German language program, with support from LLL; The SU Humanities Center; the Judaic Studies Program; the School of Education’s Regional Holocaust and Genocide Initiative: “Resistance, Resilience, and Responsibility”; and the German Consulate General in New York.
LLL is the largest department in The College’s humanities division, serving more than 6,000 graduates and undergraduates a year. The department provides instruction in 21 languages and offers nine bachelor’s and three master’s degree programs. More information is at lang.syr.edu.
Guy Stern, leading international scholar on exile from Germany and Europe during the Third Reich and on the Holocaust, an emigrant and survivor himself, has dedicated his life as a scholar to German and German-Jewish literature. Throughout his career he focused on the memory of those who had to flee from persecution and on the memory of those, who could not and perished. Among his numerous books are Nelly Sachs: Selected Poems; War, Weimar and Literature: The Story of the “Neue Merkur” 1914-1925; Literature and Culture in Exile; and Nazi Book Burning and the American Response. Together with Rebecca Swindler, he edited in 2008 the proceedings of the Fourth International Conference on Altruism, titled The Rewards of Raising Righteous Children.
Susanna Piontek has always been interested in Jewish tradition, literature, music, and of course history. Writing short stories on a wide variety of topics, she also described problems of Jewish life in post war Germany and Israel. This interest intensified upon meeting her husband to be in 2004 who was not only a Holocaust survivor but also is working at the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills, Michigan. The two authors will engage in a dialogue about their encounters, how to communicate with each other and with their German and American audiences. One particular mode of discourse is translation, a means not restricted to Guy Stern’s translation of Piontek’s prose, but also a metaphor for fictional accounting. Remembrance and representation are at the heart of the joint reading, which will be the high point of a series of events around Guy Stern’s and Susanna Piontek’s visit to Syracuse University.
I open a chamber of my soul for you,
a chamber desiring no visitation.
Violated, tortured, and gassed were you,
but not forgotten.
You live in the memories
of those who escaped,
who bear the heavy burden
who bear testimony
and give you a name, a face.
The prayer chokes upon my clumsy lips:
Forgive me that I could not prevent
what was done to you.
Forgive me that I was not with you
to bear the unbearable.
Forgive me that I was not born
when they declared your life unworthy.
I open a chamber of my soul for you.
The idea is simple: Everybody who likes it, should, as often as he/she thinks of it on Oct. 8th, carry out some of his/her activities in slow motion – e.g. lathering when taking your shower in the morning, going from one room to the other, preparing a meal and/or eating, brushing your teeth and much more. Set no bounds to your imagination!
It is important that you don’t engage in those activities perfunctorily and absentmindedly. It is Slow Motion Day – so act with total awareness and concentration.
If that idea appeals to you, please forward this message to all those who might like to slow down a bit on October 8th.
As part of my visit to Germany I met art painter Michael Lassel who generously had given permission to use his painting “Correspondence” for the cover of my book Have We Possibly Met Before? And Other Stories (Culicidae Press, Ames: 2012).
Jack Lessenberry, Professor of Journalism at Wayne State University, and a contributing editor and columnist for The Metro Times, The Traverse-City Record Eagle, and The Toledo Blade who also works for Michigan Radio and has published widely in Vanity Fair, Esquire, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, and The Oakland Press, has just published a short and sweet review of Have We Possibly Met Before? And Other Stories in HOUR – Metropolitan Detroit’s Monthly Magazine. Here’s an excerpt from Lessenberry’s take on the book:
[…]…exquisite portraits in miniature […] often laced with delightful black humor and surprise endings of a sort familiar to anyone who is fond of the O.Henry style of fiction. Most of their themes are the ordinary stuff of daily life: love and loneliness, greed and sorrow, sexuality, betrayal, child obesity, deceit, even murder as misplaced revenge. While Piontek’s fiction often leaves the reader open-mouthed at their conclusion, the events in them are all easily imaginable. A woman who deceives her lover in an effort to persuade him to leave his wife, while, at the same time, his wife is deceiving him. The haunting murder of a small girl’s guinea pig and what it says about the cruelty of children and within families. The title story, which is the most haunting and most European of the collection, recalls the horror that has shaped and defined so much of the modern age. […]
See the full review by clicking on the image below: