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The Fiftieth Gate

 

The proliferation of holocaust literature in recent years is partly due to most survivors approaching their life’s end so we are eager to hear their stories before they are lost forever and we are determined to prevent the amnesia that allows repetition –that this could happen again.


It has been stated; variously ascribed to Santayana, Hegel, Voltaire and others that “those who fail to understand history are condemned to repeat it”.First as tragedy, then as comedy” that wag Marx added. But what about the third time, Karl? The fourth, fifth, sixth?  The problem is that each time the price goes up.  Holocaust purveyors are attempting  to avert this, yet events in Pol Pot’s Cambodia, Rawanda’s Tutsi Tutu massacres, Serbia’s ethnic cleansing and Russia’s attacks in Chechnia don’t auger well for the future. The  Rohingya in Myanmar are some of the world's most persecuted people and many believe we are witnessing another attempt at genocide. 

 Written by Mark Raphael Baker, an Australian Historian, The Fiftieth Gate deals with victims of trauma and how they deal with “unspeakable” memories that diminish their lives.  Today this phenomenon is known as Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (Disorder), PTSD.  Many survivors of recent wars on both sides were and are undiagnosed sufferers of PTSD but their close friends and family witness the damage the wars have done to their psyches in diminished social, interpersonal and family relationships. Debilitating and caustic, their minds have been scrambled and their cognitive functions diminished.

Mark Raphael Baker recognised that all was not well with both his parents (holocaust survivors); his early attempts to gain access to their memories were met with failure and frustration.  It is only when he researches the limited documentation of their past and travels with them back to Poland, the Ukraine and Israel that the memories which have tormented and smothered their inner lives are gradually released and they begin a slow healing process of transcending their pain. 

The Title The Fiftieth Gate is based on Talmudic Literature (Jewish writings) and refers to access of spiritual enlightenment.  Baker claims Moses is said to have only reached the forty-ninth gate because of the sin of hitting the rock which prevented him from entering the Promised Land.  Baker uses the metaphor of gates to signify the number of sections which make up his family’s collective memory and the 50th one represents full comprehension, enlightenment and acceptance of yourself and your memories. 

The Role of Memory

Early attempts to discover the youthful experiences of his parents are derided by his father Yosel Bekiermazyn (Joe Baker) as merely “fecks, fecks” therefore not real or as relevant as his memories of his experiences during the holocaust, the extermination of six million Jews by the German Nazis.  The book contrasts memory and historical documentation and finds both wanting. 

“We can seldom be certain about anything. People want infallible answers; only liars or politicians have answers. Art should ask the right questions”.               Michael Haneke, Film Director 

Father - Yosel Bekiermazyn (Joe Baker)

 -      Father’s memories are fading and Mark is worried that they may become lost.

-      Father doesn’t want to remember – too traumatised.

-      Fathers often talks about past as if it is the present.

-      After visiting the toilet at Auschwitz, father realises that things have changed and he is now free.

-      Visit to Buchenwald revives his memories of his father’s death there, but also his connection to the Buchenwald Boys who help him establish a new life.

-      Yosel has abandoned traditional Jewish laws and beliefs – perhaps because he no longer believes in God, or because he is afraid to identity with them because  the suffering he has been through could re-occur.

-      The Buchenwald Ball signifies their overcoming their past and celebrating their new life. 

Mother – Genia  (nee Krochmal)  - Baker -  Born 1934 to Leo and Rosa Krochmal 

-      as a young girl (5 when the war started), Genia is the sole survivor of her village, Bolszowce,  hiding out in the Ukraine by a Christian family.  Since she was never in a death camp there is no documented evidence of her suffering and we are limited to her memory.

-      Genia’s memories are subject to misconceptions and lapses.  As all people she requires triggers to stimulate memories of specific events.  Yet we are confident that the gist of what she conveys is reliable and genuine.

-      Genia has moved on more successfully that Joe in that she appears to have accepted her Jewish culture and retains her religious beliefs.

-      The document (note) by Leo Krochmal must be viewed with a degree of scepticism as he may wish to glorify his past and deny elements.  It illustrates that historical documents are always reliable. 

 Son – Mark Raphael Baker  

Quotes:

  “Does history remember more than memory?”

  “You read, you read.  Books, books, everywhere. But do you know how it feels? 

Testimony of Russian apparatchik investigating the atrocities of the German Fascists in the Bolszowce district: dated 9 March 1945. 

 “Among 1380 people, one family survived by chance. They were Leo Krochmal and his wife Rosa who witnessed the shootings. 

Links:

 http://www.holocaust.com.au/home.htm

 

Study Guides:

http://www.novelguide.com/a/discover/rghl_01/rghl_01_00329.html

http://www.harpercollins.com.au/author/authorExtra.aspx?isbn13=9780732258047&displayType=readingGuide


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