"The universe is made of stories, not of atoms."
—Muriel Rukeyser

Guest Post: Holocaust, memory and the lesson of a streetcar by Dave Davis

An empty Polish streetcar is used to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, writes Dave Davis.

An old streetcar with the Star of David, like the one that travelled though Warsaw Ghetto during the Second World War, goes down a street in Warsaw, Poland, in 2021 to mark the anniversary of the liberation of the German death camp Auschwitz. Czarek Sokolowski The Associated Press file photo

I haven’t observed it personally, but the streetcar must carry sounds on its Jan. 27 journey — the ringing of a bell as the streetcar passes by, the rumble and rattle of the car’s wheels on the streetcar tracks. Perhaps, if they listen closely, witnesses can hear the ghosts, the cries of children ripped from their mothers, the shouts of men watching their wives raped and brutalized, the pounding on the doors from the inside of those overpacked, obscene cattle cars.

Perhaps it’s this that pulls at me: long after the end of the second great war, antisemitism has begun its rise again, its slither just below our hearing, as it crawls on its belly across the world, across North America, even into Hamilton, thousands of miles from Warsaw. And, perhaps especially in this January, ever since Oct. 7.

Since that attack on Israeli citizens, and the subsequent response, I’ve been searching for something that would capture how the world sees the Hamas-Israel conflict — a painting, a photograph, a musical piece — anything to move us toward peace.

Perhaps, I think, something like the photograph of the clothes-less little girl, running from napalm, the picture that is credited with bringing home the brutality of the Vietnam War. Perhaps a painting, like Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” a sudden, soundless plunge into insanity. Perhaps music, I think. There are hundreds of pieces that might serve the cause: Mozart’s “Requiem,” Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion,” especially Peter’s aria: “Have mercy my God, for the sake of my tears.”

Brilliant and sad as these images and sounds are, perhaps it is the streetcar that captures the current sadness best. On its circular journey that meets its end as it meets its beginning, carrying nothing more than memory and hope. Ultimately going nowhere. Ultimately very sad. Ultimately hopeful, however: after its nighttime journey finishes, the streetcar is greeted by daybreak.

Dave Davis is a retired family doctor and writer. His novels have won international awards. Visit Amazon or drdavedavis.com.

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