Sunday, 25 April 2010

Falling in love: The Νightingale’s tale

Once upon a time, a Nightingale, Oscar Wilde wrote, overheard a student that had fallen in love with a young girl. He was seeking a red rose for his beloved, in order to win her affections. That was very difficult, because it was winter and there were very few roses and even those were not red. The Nightingale trieδ very hard to find a red rose. Ιt managed for this purpose to bring to resurrection a dead rose bush. It did so by singing all night long, in order to give life to the half-dead plant, .while a thorn pierced its heart deeply. At the end, a pale rose blossomed, which turned red with the help of the Nightingale’s blood.

The red rose is born due to this mysterious transfusion and the union of the plant with the bird. Oscar Wilde makes us believe that it was the devotion of the Nightingale to the student that gave the strength to the bird to endure the martyrdom of death and to construct with its song an entire rose. This is the miracle that is accomplished with the beauty and the esthetic pleasure derived from music; the way one makes poems from metaphors and names from roses.

Actually, the story is told from the humans’ point of view, who think that birds and flowers and the Nature in its entirety have been created so that they can contemplate at will or show no interest eventually, at will.

What else would be the meaning of “The Nightingale and the Rose” since at the end of the story the girl rejects the student’s love and so he throws away the rose made of blood, which is eventually crushed under the wheels of a passing chariot? At the end of the story, we read with disgust, that the student, disappointed, abandons love and turns to the study of metaphysics and philosophy.

We mourn the poor Nightingale, an extra to a ridiculous love, since the student was ridiculous as well as his beloved, and we all think deep inside, even unadmittedly, reading Oscar Wilde’s the pompous phrases on love, that the Nightingale sacrificed itself for nothing, that it died in vain. It died for the ideal of Love in general. Even the unfulfilled, even the ridiculous.

Nevertheless, things are different if seen from the birds’ aspect. Love is not unfulfilled there, and the Nightingale plays a leading role.
The Nightingale did not care so much for the student, as we initially thought when we read the story. It was secretly in love with the Rose – this is why it became interested in this case when it heard that someone was looking for roses. Its death was the way that bird and plant have invented so that they should be united in love.

The Nightingale is a lover
“…Where the nightingale, spring’s lover,
Sings all night, wild roses cover…”
according to Poushkin in Eugene Onegin…

Poets do recognise that strange love of the Nightingale for the Rose. It was this love that Oscar Wilde tried to cover and to present as a self – sacrifice, due to the love of the Nightingale for the student and the love of the student for the girl.

Whoever heard its song, which is so different from that of the other birds, understands how with one tone, a repeated took – took – took (that’s how Boris Pasternak has transcribed it) it can make every form of vegetation chill from happiness as it succumbs to a languor, as if covered by a magic, paralysing net, in deep recollection. In there, the breath of the leaves, the rustling and the sound of small twigs that break, articulate movements, gestures and feelings that stir the vegetal memory as they are fumbled about by the song that penetrates these depths.

When, during this magic ritual of the sound, the Nightingale turns its song to the other tone, the one composed of two syllables, calling Nature to wake up, those who know say that this is a supplication, a call for everything to wake up. Then, the vegetation responds and returns the images. Its language is awakened and its memory blossoms.

That’s how the rose of the story was born: It is the fruit of love of the Nightingale and the Rose. Every Nightingale dreams of a love such as this with its Rose. A love that is fulfilled by that painful piercing in the heart.

It is not only Poushkin:

“Mati picked a white rose and decorated her virginal chest”, writes Alexandros Papadiamantis, a Greek novelist of the 19th century. “The Nightingale, the sweet voiced singer, noticing this beautiful flower planted on such a “pot”, would fall doubly in love with that charming rose…”

Internet sources :

Posted by Poly Hatjimanolaki

Friday, 16 April 2010

Hami and his falcon: facing the “other” Kabul

In the loving memory of Hami Najafi

“Walk with me”, said the bird. Hami could not distinguish at a glance whether it was a North Gyrfalcon accompanying him or just an Asiatic Saker, like those that his father used to show him in the encyclopedia.

The bird flew low, along with him and kept talking to him. His voice sounded like a thirty – years - old man’s, chirping, in warm waves. The boy’s ears were full of monotonous mournings, recitations of Suras from the Koran and women’s weeping. Hence, he found relief in the indifferent, though reassuring , air of his companion.

They were surrounded by trees. Planetrees, mulberries, willows, poplars and ash trees…A strange forest into the snow, that under his feet looked black and steaming…Trees of his country gathered together in a giant orchard where they had been walking for a week in order to cross it. The bird perched on his shoulder. Hami took a deep breath. What he really wanted now was to be seen by his sister…

The snow below was black. Puddles and mud were reflecting sunlight, sending back the image of the boy, dressed in traditional costume, wearing a green turban with a golden cameo on his head. The voices tried to draw his attention:

“Hami stop day dreaming! You have to do your homework!”

“Hami, can I borrow your bike?”

“Mom, can I sleep over at Khaled’s?”

“Look what I brought you today! A geography atlas!”

“Mom, I’m scared in the dark. Why is this boat rocking like that?”

“Again we did not make it to reach the city centre in order to get the political refugee papers”

“Mr. Najafi is one of the best teachers. He also teaches young girls”

“Good for you Hami! You are not any longer ashamed to look into the garbage!”

“Oh! I my son is gone!”

“We are going to see it soon”, said the bird.
“What do you want me to call you?” Hami asked. His courage seemed strange to him.
“Morya”, answered the bird shaking its wings but it did not leave the boy’s shoulder.

The trees were now thinning out. In front of him, he could see, far in the horizon, the mountain and at the top, the Celestial City. From that distance the minarets and the walls of the city could be discerned clearly. A thousand reflections from the windows made the city look brighter and fairylike . A splendid city.

“Are we going there?”, he asked, although he was certain that he would not get an answer.

“It is Kabul, the celestial City. She gets her name from the Farsi Ab (water) and gul (flower). The Ptolemy’s Kabura was the Celestial City of Indian hymns, a City of outstanding beauty, where all dreams come true…

Hami, rubbed his eyes and looked around him puzzled. The light of the sun blurred his vision, now that they had crossed the orchard.
The buzz from the voices in his ears was getting quitter.

He started to forget. First he forgot Athens, the neighborhood, their small apartment. He even forgot his sister’s doll. He forgot his parents and his brothers and his sisters. Their remembrance all that time had brought him a painful sensation, a lump in the throat that would not let him find peace.

Then, he forgot what was the most precious. His neighborhood in Kabul. The school, his teacher, the dentist that he had visited to have his teeth checked, the waste ground where children played football.

After that, the Kabul of his childhood was completely erased from his memory. The pandemonium in the streets, the hooting of the cars, women wearing burkas, walking in the streets.
The war, bombs, exile…When they had sold their belongings in order to leave…

To get away from all that...

It was just this mountain. The Celestial City was waiting for him, a City whose beauty made her all the more desirable. It was his destination. He was going to reach it. This time the City would not let him down. He would not be in exile any longer exile….

Morya, the falcon with the human voice, was reciting a Sura from the Koran:

“My beloved.
You have been given Al – Khautar, the river of Paradise to walk along. Its banks are gold and its bed is of pearls. And milk flows in it, sweeter than the sweetest milk…”

But Hami was not yet delivered from all human passions. It was his mother’s tender voice he was listening to. And he was not able to forget that…

P. S.

On Sunday 28 March a bomb exploded in a rubbish bin in a neighborhood of Athens:
It had been placed by a relatively newly formed terrorist organization.
Hami Najafi, a 15 year old Afghani immigrant boy had been rummaging in it and has been killed. His 11 year old sister is seriously injured and there are fears that she will lose her eyesight. The  terrorist organization has been now dismantled by the police and its members are brought to justice.

Images from the internet:

Saturday, 27 March 2010


Thirty seven years today, the 27th March 1973, Sacheen Littlefeather, a young activist from the Apachi tribe, showed up at the Oscar ceremony, wearing the national costume of her people.

She was holding a piece of paper with Marlon Brando’s statement to read out to the audience and inform the press (1) . In her 45 seconds’ speech, that was all the time she was allotted, it was said that the famous actor would not accept the “Best Actor” Oscar for the movie “The Godfather”.

The reasons given were the ill – treatment of Native Americans in the American Movie Industry and the massacre of the Sioux on 29 December 1890 at the battle of the Wounded Knee.

I will not deal with the malicious comments made such as that she was not a real Indian – she is still refuting them nowadays (2) – or with the criticism against Marlon Brando for not having the courage of a confrontation and the ensuing booing, since his opinions in favour of the Native Americans were already known.

It is interesting though, that the Oscar podium, the brightest ceremony in show biz, became the scene where old scores with the past and the continued injustice of the present required settlement.

Doubtless, the theatrality of the gesture of Littlefeather, even as a show off, a small crescendo, relates, although different, to that of the Sioux Chief, Sitting Bull, when he took off his own person in the famous show “Wild West”.


Pictures from the internet:

Thursday, 4 March 2010

«Dreams in a time of war: Memories of childhood» by Ngugi wa Thiong’o

In 1938, in Kamirithu, a village in the area of Limuru in Kenya, Ngugi wa Thiongo was born, the fifth child of the third wife of his father, in a polygamous family of four wives. He considered all of them to be his mothers.

The first wife had been the narrator, the story – teller, the one who knew how to gather the children around the fire and how to tell stories, real or fictional. These stories lasted for exactly the time that was needed to prepare the meal.
If it was green maize, it took half an hour, confirms  Wangari Maathai (The founder of the Green Belt movement and Peace Nobel Prize in 2004) in her book “The Unbowed”. The same held for yam. But if they had to prepare something that would take more time, they had to invent new episodes for the story, new adventures for the hero to overcome, in order to keep the children awake.
These were stories invented and stories remembered, because they had also sat listening to them when they were children. The modification and the weaving of the stories based on the archetypal myths of their tradition had been the first laboratory of writing for little Ngugi, even before school.

If he went to school, it was because his mother insisted. This woman did not know how to read or write. Nevertheless, deep in her heart she knew that this child – every child – deserved an education.

It is wonderful, it is exciting to the same degree as the weaving of stories and narratives around the fire, that this decision, ie little James’s going to school, affected a life, his life, and affected the history of literature. Little James, who decided to take back his ancestral name Ngugi, received his first schooling near his village and then, after graduating from Makerere College in Uganda, he completed his studies at the university of Leeds. He now teaches Comparative Literature at the university of California at Irvine. The boy from Kamirithu was last year’s candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature (cf Waxtablets: When Ngugi wa Thiongo was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature 2009, i.e. in a different world ) He has been awarded this prize in our hearts.

It is wondrous how international history, the shadow of World War II, affects a country thousands of kilometers away, how the life of a family changes drastically. His family has sent two boys to the war… Everyone’s life has been affected. As if they are connected with an invisible thread, as Father Brown affirms in Chesterton novels. One son survived the war and returned. Kenyan soldiers fought during WWII with the British Army against the Germans. The same was true for Cypriots who enlisted with the British Army and helped the allies in Greece. They were told that they should fight for the Motherland and they did it readily, expecting that they would be rewarded with their country’s freedom.
Many Cypriot women donated their jewelry and their wedding rings in order to collect money to help the allies during the war.
Another brother of Ngugi was killed by a British soldier. He was deaf and mute and he could not hear the soldier ordering him to stop.

The reason for this post is the presentation of Ngugi’s new book “Dreams in time of War: a childhood memoir”, that is being released on the 9th of March. It will take place in the 20th Century Theatre, ( 291, Westbourne Grove, London W11 2 QA)
The event is organized by The Travel Book shop.

Many people believe that there is no need for book presentations since the writer can say all that he has to say in his book. There are writers that escape publicity so markedly that they create a new myth around them, the myth of their non – existence.

I, on the other hand, prefer the conversations and the exchanges around a text, I enjoy all the associations of ideas brought up when reading a book by all our previous lectures and experiences. I would like to meet the writer!

I would have liked to be in London to meet Ngugi. I would like, not only to listen to him, but to express to him my own impression on reading his books and how I understand the interconnection between Africa and Greece. How the decision of his mother, the war and its shadow, the oral traditions of his country, our Homer and the rhapsodist, and the descendants of the Griots of Africa are all linked together..

The shield of Achilles (representation)

Homer and his epic poems are related to Africa, not only because the epic poems were memorized and recited orally. Homer, in the first rhapsody of his Odyssey, mentions the African people with great respect. The are called Ethiopians (Αιθίοψ= the one with a black face) and with this he meant not only the people of Ethiopia, but all the people of Africa.
These Ethiopians had received a visit from Poseidon (Neptune) and they were considered to be his friends.

“Now Neptune had gone off to the Ethiopians, who are at the world's end, and lie in two halves, the one looking West and the other East. He had gone there to accept a hecatomb of sheep and oxen, and was enjoying himself at his festival”
Translated by Samuel Butler, Odyssey Book I. 22-5

Zeus spent 12 days with them and in the Iliad I, they were called divine. Divine Ethiopians have something to tell us. The Greeks of Homer recognized to them the privilege to eat with the Gods.

I would discuss with him the Gicandi, the oral epic poem of Kenya, the one with the 127 stanzas, made up of riddles and Kikuyu proverbs. Ngugi mentions the Gicandi in his novels. His “Devil on the Cross”, although prose, is based entirely on metaphors and proverbs.

The Gicandi
This epic poem was engraved with mnemonotechnic symbols on a gourd, a writing similar to the Egyptian hieroglyphs and was recited by the minstrels. These sacred gourds were destroyed by the missionaries who wanted to eliminate idolatry, ie to separate a whole people from its tradition and its beliefs. They wanted to erase the people’s memory.

The Cypriot gourd (Koloka)
“Writing” the stories on the back of a gourd, I would also wanted to tell Ngugi, was a very common tradition in Cyprus. The story is told in the form of Painting and Decorating (Πλούμισμα) a gourd, as was done with Achilles shield in Iliad.

“…And the monk started painting on a gourd…”Georges Seferis (Nobel Prize in Literature 1963) writes in his poem “Details in Cyprus”

George Seferis, had a collection of gourds and he wanted to name his poetic collection for Cyprus KOLOKES (gourds in the Cypriot idiom).

Later on, it appeared that, apart from the gourds, our two peoples had more things in common:

Mau Mau suspects in Kenya (State of Emergency)

School children held as suspects in Cyprus (State of Emergency)

Two pictures taken at about the same time, at the end of the fifties: One in Cyprus, one in Kenya.

State of Emergency: to account for the reduction of political freedom in both countries by the British “occupation” forces. Both countries were colonies of the British Empire. In both countries the fight for liberation had just started and any participation of the population in it was considered a terrorist action.

In the case of Cyprus, the suspects are little pupils.

A reminder for the friends of Waxtablets: The event is on Sunday the 7th of March at 7 pm.

We will have more to say about Africa and its magic gourd,

Pictures from the Internet

Posted by Poly Hatjimanolaki, Athens, Greece

Friday, 19 February 2010

Travels in the scriptorium: when Fernando Pessoa met Paul Auster

One night of March of 2011, Paul Benjamin Auster, the writer that has also been a poet, dreamt that he had woken up in a different room than that of his house in Vermont. In the beginning, it appeared to him like a hospital room, with its windows sealed and the sheets white. A small table with a stack of papers in the corner caught his eye. He knew that they were waiting for him to write his apologia. Then he realized that his bed was a bunk in a ship and from the porthole that was now open, because it was almost dawn, he could see the port outside.

“Over seven hills, which are as many points of observation whence the most magnificent panoramas may be enjoyed, the vast irregular and many-coloured mass of houses that constitute Lisbon is scattered…”

He sat on the edge of the bed, holding his head in his hands. Hence, he did not see the Tower of Belem and the lighthouse as the ship was manoeuvring. He lagged behind a little bit. Then he got up and dressed as usual in his jeans and a RAF blue sweater. Only that now, he also wore over it a sailor’s jacket and a white cap.
“I have been a sailor, indeed…”
he said to himself and he collected his papers from the table.
With the sailor’s travelling bag heavy on his shoulders, you see he always carried his typewriter with him, he noticed the tramway 29 rails that went as far as the port. He walked past some porters that were shouting coded words of command among them in order to lift – all three together – a big trunk. He got out of the ship unnoticed, and he got onto the tram, putting the travelling bag down between his legs.
The bag was now the cardboard box that his uncle had given him thirty years ago. A box full of books, all of them read by now. Just as the door of the tram was shutting, a stray dog of the port jumped onto the tram. A woman in her fifties sitting in front of him was reading one of his books. He searched instinctively for a pencil –
“she might ask for an autograph”.
He fumbled for the instructions of the card game – he always carried it with him in order to sell it in hard times. After a while, as the tram was turning in order to take the steep ascending road, he thought that he was in Paris.

The tram was travelling through Monmartre and it was night. It was the spitting image of the night when he actually had been there. He noticed the stairs in front of Sacre Coeur and he bent over the cardboard, awaiting something to happen. Nevertheless, the image of Paris dissolved, and the tram was now travelling in Rua do Arsenal past the Town Hall in order to head in the direction of Praça do Comércio, After that, he was sure, as sure you can be in a dream, that the rails went up at Rua de Ouro and from there came to an end at the Rua dos Durafores.
“ The city of Lisbon wakes up later than the others. It wakes up in Rossio Square, in Rua de Oouro at the doors of its café, and among them the station that never sleeps,
Like a heart that beats the same in its wakefulness and its sleep”.

The tram stopped just outside the spacious office of the Rua dos Duradores and Paul Auster stepped out. He knew that the boss there was called Vaskez, the cashier was called Borghes and the accountant Moreira.

« But suddenly, as I was creating my own dream in a café during my humble midday break, a feeling of sadness overwhelmed my imagination: I felt that I would feel sad about something”

Paul Auster went up to the second floor. The assistant bookkeeper Soares was expecting him in his office that was also a café. He invited him to sit at a small round table, like the ones at the café Brazileiro, and when he offered his hand for a handshake said:
“ Fernando Pessoa, en personnes(*)”
Paul Auster had been expecting him to be just like that, with his glasses, with his hat – that he wore even when in the office. He glanced out of the window as he was sitting down. The assistant bookkeeper Soares poured them coffee and said:

La tabacaria”, the tobacco shop. This is what I sit and watch all day long from my desk
 “If the shop owner would appear at the door and stand on the doorstep…”

Paul Auster noticed Augy Wren (**) emerging from the tobacco shop and looking around him. It was five past seven in the morning. The time that he would always take his photo tripod outdoors in order to take a picture of Atlantic Avenue and Clinton Street.

“Rua dos Duratores is Brooklyn. He will leave his shop sign behind him, and I will leave my verses”
 He looked at assistant bookkeeper Soares in amazement.
"A man entered the tobacco shop in order to buy tobacco…”
“Once, Pessoa was summoned by his teacher Caeiro”,
said Soares.

“He had called on him to tell him that in him he would recognize the deeper part of himself. His darker part. After that, Pessoa keeps dividing himself forever, and creates around him a fraternity of heteronyms, in order to exist as a poet.”

“Fernando Pessoa”, en personnes
“ I know that”,
answered Paul Auster.

I also know that I have something to do with that. Your poem about the tobacco shop and my Christmas story with Augy Wren…”
“Alvaro de Campos’s poem and my own place in front of the tobacco shop, observing it until the death of the tobacco shop owner, who will leave his shop sign behind as I will leave my verses. This not the only thing that we have in common. I would like, if you don’t mind, to draw your attention to that.”

“Let us light a cigarette”,
said Paul Auster.

“and let us taste in the cigarette the liberation from all our thoughts… the liberation from every reasoning”,
Pessoa added

“You capture the flow of time with the camera of your friend, Augy Wren, who is a shop owner and observes the outside world. On the other hand, I myself, confined in the office of Rua dos Duratores, watch the sign of the tobacco shop and the discomfort of the soul of the shop owner… The real world is outside and the poet at the window…”
“An interesting coincidence",

Paul Auster remarked.
“The camera of Augy Wren is a window to the outside world.”
“You have lived the consecutive lives of the student, the adventurer, the sailor, the cook, the poet, the translator, the script – writer and the film director”,
Pessoa said and he continued:
“I divide myself in order for my heteronyms to exist in the life of the sensational engineer, the shepherd, the royalist surgeon and the riddle - maker…”
Parts of me break away and sometimes they talk or exchange letters among them, because I am not able to exist as a poet in one person. I have already explained and you have already understood that the birth of my heteronyms is due to personalization and pretension as well as to the need that I had from an early age to be surrounded by imaginary people. A life divided into many lifes. On the other hand, you…

Paul Auster already knew.
Fernando Pessoa continued,
“not only have lived your lives, but you absorb your fictional characters into your person, you absorb all the lives, all their properties. You are the narrator Aesop in Vertigo, but you are Sir Walter Rayleigh as well, you are the deranged poet seeking for his master, you are the detective and the missing actor. You are your image of the future in Travels in the Scriptorium….

Even the chest…”
Paul Auster bent over the cardboard box with the books that his uncle had given him when he was eighteen.
“This chest of yours was given to you as a gift in the beginning of your literary career. You have opened it and you have read its content and you have created. It was the cause of your creation as a writer. For me, “The Chest” has been the end. It is a closed chest where all my works have ended, to stay there, in eternity, as works of other people.”

Paul Auster got up and looked out of the window. Augy Wren was smiling at him from the other side. The tram was waiting for him to take him from Rossio to Prasa de la Figueira. He wanted to wander around before he woke up. With his sailor’s jacket, he looked just like Corto Maltese.

(*) Fernando Pessoa, in person(s).
(**) Augy Wren is a character from Paul Auster’s “Auggie Wren's Christmas Story”

(1) Lisbon: What the tourist should see,
(2) Maritime ode, Alvaro de Campos (Translated in greek by Maria Papadima)

(3) Fernando Pessoa, The book of disquiet (Tranlated in greek by Anny Spyrakou)
(4) Antonio Tabucchi, Dreams of Dreams, (Translated in Greek by Antaios Chryssostomides)
(5) Antonio Tabucchi, “Baule pieno di gente” (Translated in Greek by Antaios Chryssostomides)

Pictures from the Internet:

Posted by Poly Hatjimanolaki, Athens, Greece

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Making paper hats: Sam Nechama tells his story and beats death for a second time

Thirteen year old Sam entered the library with hesitation, taking special care not to be noticed by those who were already gathered there. He hid behind a pillar, waiting for them to sit around the tables to listen to their guest. Then, his gaze turned to the back of the room. He had noticed a child.

He refrained from shouting:

“Halt! Who is there?”

And then:

“This way, Norman! Cover me! Behind the pillar! Let’s hide in the Tower!”

Then, he took a seat on a library bench, behind the audience.

Despite his thirteen years, he had gone on playing cops and robbers with his little brother, their favourite game, ever since the time they had been hiding in a house in Halandri, in 1943 when Italy surrendered, Germany took over Greece and things got worse.

  It was then that his father came home with false identity cards and told him that from now on he was going to be called Aristotelis Karavokyris (Karavokyris: ship’s captain)

“Aristotelis, a gentile name, so that you won’t be confused when they ask you when your name day is”

This was a strange game indeed: Karavokyris - the one who leads the ship and travels in the open sea - had to be confined in a house at Halandri and then for eight months in a mud house without a toilet in the neighborhood of ROUF (in Athens, Greece),

Sam used to travel with his head buried in a hole of the old couch, his nose pressed against the cold springs, listening to the conversations of the adults about the Jews of Thessaloniki hiding in Athens. Now, the time had come for the Jews of Athens to hide as well.
Or had they better present themselves to the German authorities and get their families registered?
There was no question about it; they had to hide.

And Artemis? The girl that he had met at the Karagiozis (Karagiozis: traditional shadow theater) performance? Her name, a gentile name like his, made him wonder: What was her real name? Hanna? Esther? Rachel?

And now this man down there giving a talk, insisting that being a prisoner at Auschwitz did not make him a better man…

A prisoner? So he did not avoid being arrested by the cops! They got him too!

It was not a game any longer, when at four o’clock in the morning, a torch beam fell on their faces in the court yard of the mud house in the neighborhood of Rouf, and woke them up. It was hot and they had been sleeping outdoors when this had happened. It was not a game, when they took them to the building of Merlin Street (the headquarters of Gestapo). It was not a game when the German officer asked him to pull his pants down.
For what reason?
And then the slap. He was different and now they would know. The mark of the rite of passage, the trace that the circumcision had left on his body, the indelible engagement ring with his race was there, a stark reminder that he could not deny his people. He did not intend to. Sam was a man now. This is how he felt when he answered the SS officer who had questioned him and his mother.

- Where is your father?
- I don’t know.
- Who does he send you money with?
- With a different person each time.
- Where is your brother hiding?
- I do not know.

And then, the whip in the hands of the SS officer wrapping around his feet and little Norman asking:
- Did that hurt Sam?
What would he answer?
Do real men feel pain?

Little Sam had become a real man when he had told his mother:

- Mother, don’t worry, I will do the talking.

“ At that moment, became the man of the house”, he thought.

Are my clothes alright?
Who said I cannot wear a worn jacket?
And my belt?
His belt was an old leather belt which had been given to him by a prisoner at Auschwitz, in exchange for his bread ratio. He had exchanged his food for a belt. He would not wear his pair of trousers fastened with a string…

“This helps me restore my humanity”, he replied to his protector who had told him:
“I will cut off your feet if you will ever exchange your food for anything again! Anything!”

He had done this before. He had exchanged his food for a spoon!

And this man with the lively voice and tired body was speaking just like his protector.

“In order to save yourself you have to stop hoping!”
You have to forget bread, trees, flowers, colours, dogs, their barking. Women…
You have to confine yourself in a cocoon that is called concentration camp and do not hope. Just fight…Just fight… Who said that hope is the last to die?
Hope must die first!

If you want to survive.

Why should I want to live?

Sam needn’t ask himself why he should live. He ought to live for little Norman and for his mother who had been led into the gas chambers as soon as they arrived in Auschvitz.

He cannot erase from his memory the prisoners with the inscrutinable gaze, the Jews of Thessaloniki who welcomed them as they arrived at Auschwitz.

They say that at the end of the tunnel, when you have crossed the border between life and death, you arrive at “The light”, at the land of death and your people are there, to welcome you. Auschwitz was indeed the valley of death, wasn’t it?
And these were his people, welcoming them, without big words, in a hurry, trying to separate young mothers from their kids before it was too late.

- Is there an old aunty to hold this child?
- Is there a granny?
The mothers, numbed, did not understand.
These people did not explain.
Nevertheless, there was a system and organization in the camp. The Germans wanted the vulnerable groups, mothers and children, had to die first.
This is why the Jews of Thessaloniki were trying in a hurry to save as many young women as they could. The plan was simple. They separated them from their children. In that way, they sentenced to death the ones to whom they designated the guarding of the children.

Who can talk about this?
How can one speak about the new executioners – saviors?
How can one refer to the new role that the merciless mechanism of the camp had cast upon its victims…

Primo Levi had said, “I want to survive, in order to tell the story”.

This is exactly what the man with the tired body and the young voice was doing.

In telling his story he keeps his audience, seventeen – year - old - students, captured, all ears to listen to him.
The narrative…The way to beat death…Like Sechrazade of the fairy tale that would escape death every night, by telling her husband a new tale, like the Hassidim Rabbis with their stories and their parables, teaching their people the meaning of life and giving them strength to go on…

If you remember my story, he tells them, I will still be alive…

Sam with the tired body, ios telling his story…

From Merlin street to Haidari camp and from there to Auschwitz on the trains of death.

He recounts his tribulations and those of his co – detainees, without breaking his voice… He describes the new structures that the system has created in order to entangle its victims. The prisoners – gaolers, the protectors, the degenerates that have given up on everything…

The worst torture was the deprivation of their humanity… Of their self respect…The hysterical endeavour of making lists of items and people, the tattooed number identification system on the prisoners’ wrists…

The absurd rules of discipline that confuse you and excaust all the power from you. The daily call in the snow… Nevertheless, in his own words “in our effort to abide by these rules, we escaped fear…”

“What is the meaning of my life? I have been deprived, from an early age, of the right of asking existential questions.”

“I have seen death in such a quality and quantity that you cannot imagine…”

“However, I have kept three good things for myself: Family, friendship and love…”

Where is his lady? Where is his beloved?

She dead… With a leap my lithe girl she went off…


Little Sam steps down slowly from the library bench. He feels that he is holding little Hanna - Artemis’s hand. “My love how beautiful she is…” (From the Song of Songs)

The children gather around Sam while he is studying his family tree…

His ears are filled with happy voices from the Song of Celebration. Hava Nagila. Time for dance he says. I will dance with you.


    • Artemis – Hanna and the Karagiozis show are mentioned in Lili Zografou’s book (in Modern Greek) “Jews once upon a time ” (The text can be found in:
     Mr. Sam Nechama addressed the students of the International Baccalaureate of The Geitonas School in Athens, on Thursday the 26th of November. I feel honoured that I had the opportunity to meet with the eternally young Mr. Sam Nechama and listen to his story with the colleagues and students of the IB. I would like to thank with all my heart, Mrs Elisabeth Wahler – Athanassiadis, the Educator, in every meaning of the word, due to whom all this was made possible.
    The above text is dedicated to “Aristotelis Karavokyris”, the captain of his childhood.
    Poly Hatjimanolaki
    Pictures from the internet :