Monday, May 01, 2006

Someone really screwed up

by allowing Kapò[^] to run this week on Turner Classic Movies.

I caught maybe 5 words in English, for the rest it was mainly in Italian but with some French, Polish, German and Russian. Oh, and right at the end, some Hebrew! I can't tell you what a pleasure it was to find a movie running on cable with English subtitles! It felt almost as though I was back in Australia watching SBS[^].

Given that it's rare enough that a British movie or an Australian movie runs on American TV this is an unforgivable lapse! :-)

During the opening minutes of the movie, as Jews were herded into the concentration camps, I was thinking how incredible it was that millions of people had gone through that experience. The numbers are mind boggling. 6 million Jews. Another million or so gypsies, homosexuals, cripples. 30 million or so through the Gulag. A million and a half or so in Kampuchea in the 1970s. What's the count for Rwanda? Bosnia?

I'm not sure if I think it lucky or not that I was born not very long after the holocaust came to an end. Close enough to the holocaust for it to have been the occasional subject of conversation among the adults though, to be completely accurate, they were more often inclined to talk about the Pacific War; that had been a lot closer to home!

There was also an anti-semitic streak in some of the adults I had contact with; I well remember Misery Guts (my stepfather) strenuously denying any Jewish connection (as far as I remember his mother was Jewish but that's based on what I heard, I never met her and she's dead these many years). I was 8 years old at the time; into what context could I put the denial? I can remember being driven past Harry Hanks pawn shop on Buckley Street Footscray and Misery making comments about how Harry was a Jew, said in a way that was unmistakably derogatory. How about the time we were sitting at the traffic lights at the corner of Williamstown Road and Francis Street and an old man was poking at an orange in the gutter with his walking stick. Once convinced that it was safe he picked it up and proceeded on his way, orange safely ensconced in his pocket. Misery said 'what a Jew'.

To this day, whenever I drive past the building that Harry Hanks used as his business I remember Misery Guts comments.

I took what might reasonably be expected away from such comments given my age and experience. Yet my experience even then included seeing my best friend in 1961 being insulted because he was Italian. How could Mario be my best friend and yet a worthy target of spittle? Add in the fact that Misery was rather more fond of using his belt on my bum than I was and it should come as no surprise that I decided he was wrong.

We watched movies on Sunday nights and it wasn't entirely possible to hide the ugly truth from us; horrific things had happened on an organised basis involving the deliberate destruction of people based on race. Throw in a childhood friend whose parents[^] had survived the death camps and it came close to home even if we were talking things that had happened 20 years before!

All of that said, it still boggles the mind that people could have carried out such crimes. Could I? I surely hope not. Could you? I'm less certain of that but again, I surely hope not!

1 comment:

Norma Morton said...

This may be out of date, but Harry Hanks was our neighbour in Footscray. My parents had the pennant/flag making business. Looking for history on Footscray and that area from 1930s to 1980s as research for a book. Would love some feedback