Monday, May 23, 2016

Lilly Brett and the contemporary resonance of the Holocaust

Leaving You
Lilly Brett

It has taken me
a long time to know
that it was your war
not mine

that I wasn’t
in Auschwitz

that I have never seen
the Lodz Ghetto

or Stuthof
or a cattle wagon
or a selection queue
I thought
I knew

I thought
I had lived
with fear

ration cards
with work permits

I thought I knew
what bodies gnawed by rats
looked like

and how
the mattresses

and what
it felt like
to fill your lungs

from flesh

with death

I have had
leaving you.
Lily Brett is an award-winning German- born, Australian novelist, essayist and poet who has lived in New York City since 1988. She began writing profiles of rock musicians in the 1960s for the Australian music magazine Go Set. Brett has published seven volumes of poetry, three collections of essays and six novels.

Brett is recognised as a distinguished Jewish poet of the Holocaust, along with poets like Paul Celan, Dan Pagis, Primo Levi, Hayim Gouri, and Jerzy Ficowski.

Brett was the daughter of Holocaust survivors. Her parents survived six years in Polish ghettos before being transferred to Auschwitz concentration camp where they were separated. At the war's conclusion, they searched for six months to find each other. Brett's parents lost their whole family in the Holocaust-brothers, sisters, grandparents, uncles, aunts.

Lilly Brett was born in a displaced persons' camp in Germany in 1946 and emigrated to Melbourne in 1948, aged two.

Brett is currently in Australia to deliver the 2016 Yom Hashoah Communal Commemoration lecture for the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies to honour Holocaust survivors who migrated to Australia.

In a recent interview she expressed concern about the ways that contemporary politicians are exploiting the politics of hate and demonization for political gain, likening it to tactics used by the Nazis:

"...racism is dangerous. That bigotry is dangerous. It doesn’t matter if you are talking about Jews or anyone else, we cannot allow bigotry. And hatred of other people has become acceptable again. And it is becoming acceptable. Look at Donald Trump. The way he talks about Mexicans, and Muslims. His tactics are the same as any despot in history. It’s the politics of hate. That’s how people operated in the Nazi era, and when politicians do that it makes other people think it is acceptable.
“I have heard Australians — people I like enormously — talk about asylum-seekers in a way that makes me want to cry because we were refugees. And if you look at any community that has taken refugees in, they have enriched those communities."

A conversation between Richard Fidler and Lilly Brett on the ABC program Conversations with Richard Fidler is here.

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