Forgetting the Holocaust
Forgetting the Holocaust, Ron Charach, Poetry, ISBN 978-1-897181-46-1, 96 pages, Paperback, 6″ x 9″, $16.00
Forgetting the Holocaust has poems rich in history both familial and general – “Synagogue,” alive with the hoofbeats of Polish cavalry, “Hecla Island” with its memorably powerful ending, and, in a change of scale, a bunch of lovely lines on a 12-year-old Lab. Among these and many others runs a skein of bodily humour worthy of “The Two Ronnies,” a comparison which, let me insist, is (as they say) no small compliment. —Don Coles
Ron Charach is a poet with a storyteller’s gift for characterization and anecdote. His new poems resonate with memorable personalities: Bandler, the caustic school janitor; Clifton, the gruff handyman; and Ludochka, the seductress. Charach reaches his poetic height in the evocative “Jewish Grain,” and the heartbreaking “March of the Innocents.” His work is stylistically varied yet consistent in its devotion to humanism and in its moral objective – rare qualities in poetry these days. —Kenneth Sherman
“Ron Charach…demonstrates how contemporary Canadian life is nuanced by the lingering presence of the Holocaust. Charach’s poems focus on a humanist and often-anecdotal engagement with Jewish culture and tradition, locality and place, his professional relationships as psychiatrist, and his role as poet. Yet, in many of his poems, through metaphor or peripherally, the Holocaust resurfaces, illustrating its ever-present haunting. For example, Cancer of the Vulva offers a sad and intimate portrait of a patient whose medically performed genital mutilation has left her sexless, reminiscent of Nazi experimentation. And Tattoos questions the contemporary cultural value of marking one’s body with ink, leaving the reader to extend the comparison to prisoners numbered in concentration camps. Charach seamlessly interweaves Holocaust signifiers into personal episodes so that their intrusion becomes almost subconscious. Thus, he attests to the Holocaust’s presence even amidst the act of Forgetting the Holocaust and attempting to carry on life in contemporary Canada. In For the Polish Poets, Charach writes, If history isn’t over until its effects are gone, / God knows this story isn’t done. His collection of poetry is positioned as an exploration of the resurfacing of the Holocaust in contemporary Canadian consciousness.
Charach’s poetry is complex and detailed, straddling the personal and the universal. Through his well-tuned storytelling, he reveals a diverse cast of characters who share different relationships to the Holocaust.
Characters he meets in childhood include his melancholic Holocaust-survivor choirmaster and the bombastic Turkish Jew, Joe Bendit. French Holocaust-survivor Jacques in Caesarea is a figure of resistance and self-assurance, while Dov and Daouda Feltzner, the Israeli/Palestinian couple, share an electric idealism and love that is enough to reshape the world. — Canadian Literature, 2012″
In the words of Mr. Bandler,
janitor of our parochial school.
as our learned, portly principal,
Rabbi Théodore Gorlick, strode by,
half-crescent glasses on a cord,
“It’s eezy to forget Da Holocaust
if you’re a Yeuro-peean intee-lektual
who’s never been beat up!”
And Gorlick, raised in Paris after the War,
master of the art of showing no sign of having heard,
ignored his proletarian critic, now paused in mid-sentence
to let the “Da Learn’d Rabbit” pass.
Bandler smacked a bristling fist
into his bear-trap of a hand
and whispered invectives
into the ear of his beloved German shepherd, Blackie,
who sniffed the schoolyard for
anti-Semites and self-contented Jews.
What could I know of Mr. Bandler’s Lager,
his run-ins with the horrors
recounted by poets—Levi, Améry, or Celan
—learned suicides all!—and other Jewish writers who struggled
their names into anagrams of their old identities
to fit among a people who don’t
have pogroms and The Shoah behind them.
This night brings a vision of Mother,
alevah hashalom, truncated by depression,
half alive/half dead—horrified
at her slipping grip on life,
with a ‘doctor-for-a-son’
unable to save her.
As she vanishes, I consider
my thinning thighs.
Forty years from Rabbi Gorlick and Blackie,
I’ve become a stick person,
the kind of “bahn-deet intee-lektual”
that Bandler despised,
my muscles, like my arguments,
caught in a fatal dissolve.
From other Lagers there emerged many witnesses
more damaged than Mr. Bandler,
who quietly swore that reality
would never again be the same.
We were kids. Mr. Bandler’s
unbridled rage echoed our own
at the life-sucking boredom
of eight-thirty-to-five-o’clock Hebrew School.
How we loved it when he mocked:
“ Rabbi Gorlick. . . Rabbi Gorlick. . . Rabbi Gorlick! . . .
You know vat iz da troble wit Rabbi Gorlick?
Never been beat up! ”
But what did Mr. Bandler gain by being beat up?
He, who eluded Nazi fire and left behind
“da vine-tasting Yeuro-peean bon vivants,”
the ones who ignored the arbitrary arrests
and vast disappearances, an entire continent
who disregarded the long nightmare
of The Others, Les Autres,
and kept on savouring the aroma
of pungent cheeses and butter-crusted bread
that smelled so much sweeter than the foot
of a sleepless, hidden child.
This is what he gained: he could tell you which of all
the possible sad ends of any story
would be the one to come true:
“ Viet Nam, Viet Nam, Viet Nam . . . ”
Mr. Bandler growled, rising above the local
and the personal history,
“ You know how Yoonited States vill come back from Viet Nam?
Vithout da pants! Vithout da pants! ”