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Other witnesses transformed their bitterness into an appetite for revenge. Moritz Berger “dreamed of being a bomber pilot and reducing [his native city] to ruins.” Yet other writers express a noteworthy refusal to be bitter, such as Martin Freudenheim, a Berlin-born lawyer who immigrated to Palestine in 1939. Freudenheim confides that while living under Nazi persecution, he “struggled against feelings of hatred in myself. Like a prayer, I had repeated over and over to myself: no hatred, hatred strikes inwards. No thoughts of revenge: patience, patience, patience…”
For her part, Vienna-born actress Margarethe Neff was coached before a Nazi interrogation by a friend who worked in a governmental office. The friend gave Neff instructions before the life-or-death performance, advising: “Never say: ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I can’t remember.’ That makes a bad impression.”
Taken together, these survivors’ voices bring the focus back onto what is essential: human lives, their preservation and loss. Disasters hardly need metaphoric names, especially not labels with a paltry poetic ring. Does 9/11 need to be called anything but 9/11? “September 1, 1939” is the title of a poem by W.H. Auden, a far better writer than whoever invented the term “Kristallnacht.” Written to mark the outbreak of World War II, Auden’s poem finds dignity in the dry-as-dust citation of a month, day and year. Those who remember the sufferings of Jews in November 1938 might consider doing likewise, and simply refer to November 9–10, 1938.
Benjamin Ivry is a frequent contributor to the Forward.