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Letters

Vol. 15 No. 22 · 18 November 1993

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Future Shock

Linda Colley (LRB, 19 August) is surely mistaken when she writes that the Princess of Wales ‘will still one day become King Mother, in fact if not in name’. Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, is distinguished by that title less as ‘mother of the Queen’ (of the same name) than as the widowed queen-consort (whose daughter is now reigning monarch). The title ‘King Mother’ suggests an androgynous head of state, uniting both the male and female principles, like those single-breasted statues of Shiva in his guise of ‘Lord Mother’. Princess Diana, in the event of one of her sons attaining the throne, would have to be called ‘Princess Mother’ – the title by which the present King of Thailand’s mother, who herself was never queen, is known in Thailand.

Harold Beaver
Bangkok

Greater Croatia

In the present propaganda battle among the warring factions in former Yugoslavia the history of the Holocaust is insistently revised with the aim of making the opposing faction guilty of the killing of Jews. This mud-throwing at the local enemy belittles the role of the Germans in the destruction of Jews in Yugoslavia. Thus Attila Hoare (Letters, 9 September) alleged: ‘Equal numbers of Jews were killed in wartime Croatia and wartime Serbia – 24,000 and 23,000 respectively – and the Serbian Nazi quisling regime of Milan Nedic participated enthusiastically in the Holocaust and indeed built its own death camps, such as the Banjica camp in Belgrade, which was staffed by Serbs.’ These allegations contain two incorrect statements and one half-truth. According to research by the Federation of Jewish Communities in Yugoslavia, published in 1952 in The Crimes of the Fascist Occupants and their Collaborators Against Jews in Yugoslavia, there was a great difference in both the number and the way Jews perished in Croatia and Serbia.

In the Fascist Independent State of Croatia, which was Hitler’s ally during the Second World War, not 24,000 but over 33,000 Jews lost their lives, about 21,000 from Croatia proper and 12,000 from Bosnia-Herzegovina, which was annexed to Croatia with Germany’s blessing. The great majority of the 33,000 Jewish victims were killed or starved and tortured to death in concentration camps in Croatia proper run by Croatian Ustashe guards. About five thousand were handed to the Germans to be deported to Auschwitz.

In Serbia, which was under German military occupation, not 23,000 but about 14,000 Jews lost their lives, almost exclusively at the hands of the Germans. About five thousand Jewish males were shot by the German Army in reprisals for losses inflicted on them by Serbian Partisans. About seven and a half thousand widows and orphans of executed males were gassed in a German concentration camp near Belgrade; about eight hundred were taken from the Jewish hospital in Belgrade and also gassed; and several hundred were killed by the Germans in small towns.

The allegation that the regime of Milan Nedic, installed by the Germans in Serbia in August 1941, enthusiastically participated in the Holocaust, is the second incorrect statement in Mr Hoare’s letter. No anti-Jewish legislation was passed by this regime, no death camp for Jews was established or run by it and virtually no killing perpetrated. All that was done by the German Army, police and SS which had almost entirely destroyed the Serbian Jewish population by May 1942 although several hundred Jews were still hiding with Serbian friends. The German police were hunting them and many were caught with the help of police loyal to Nedic’s regime, attracted by the financial reward the Germans were paying. This is all that can be found about Nedic in the published research of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Yugoslavia. The Germans themselves dealt with the Jews in Serbia; the duty of Nedic’s regime was to carry out internal administration.

The half-truth in Mr Hoare’s letter refers to the concentration camp Banjica in Belgrade. It was indeed a death camp and staffed by Serbian policemen, but it was not destined for Jews. This camp was established by German order and the Serbian personnel were subject to the control of the Gestapo. The camp was intended for Serbs who opposed the German occupation, for Partisans, Communists and liberal patriots. Out of 23,697 persons who were imprisoned in this camp only 455 were Jews.

As the former president of the Jewish Community in Belgrade and former vice-president of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Yugoslavia, I plead with the warring factions in former Yugoslavia, and with their respective friends abroad, to stop using Jews in their propaganda warfare.

Jasa Almuli
London N3

Down with incest

When I wrote that incest occurs ‘often tragically’, I was using my words carefully, contrary to Michael Cotsell’s opinion (Letters, 4 November). There have been survivors of child abuse, and for the sake of the victims themselves, it seems to me important to remember that it is possible to survive, to keep in mind that their story isn’t ineluctably destined to end in tragedy. This isn’t to condone abuse or abusers, but to avoid stigmatising the abused as irrecuperable. The point of medieval romances like that of Apollonius, and of fairy tales like ‘Donkeyskin’ is that they unfold ways of escaping, recovering, making another life – that they offer hope that the incestuous parent may not be all-powerful and indeed fatal to the child.

Marina Warner
London NW5

de Mania

I was struck by David Bromwich’s observation (LRB, 7 October) that Paul de Man could find in Wordsworth’s ‘Mutability’ an ‘attainment of the right degree of epistemological doubt’ while overlooking that except for ‘the last few lines … the writing is as hackneyed as any specimen of the poet’s duty-ridden later manner.’ Of course de Man was eager to reach the pretext for problematical musings by his very temperament, as Bromwich convincingly shows. But there is also the notorious instance of the problem de Man made out of the last line of Yeats’s ‘Among School Children’: ‘How can we know the dancer from the dance?’

There are two conditions about the de Man case not sufficiently stressed, even here. First of all, English was probably de Man’s fourth or fifth language. He probably grew up speaking Dutch, German, French and perhaps Flemish. De Man published in Flemish. It would be enlightening to know whether he wrote that article himself or whether he needed to have it translated for publication. In any case de Man was deaf to the nuances of English, and therefore found it easy to take refuge in irrelevant problem-making. The other factor is de Man’s sense of cultural exile. My guess is that his acceptance of German hegemony in the historical continuum was based upon a conviction of the superiority of German culture and its language. He could feel only a condescending and limited curiosity about English experiments in what were essentially Continental movements.

In his fascinating – and neglected – study, The Triumph of the English Language, R.F. Jones notes that English antiquaries of the 17th century ‘were indebted to a more or less conscious movement in most of the Germanic countries, a movement slightly prophetic of the Nazis’. ‘The Germans and all things German’ were ‘extravagantly praised’ by first of all citing Tacitus on the virtuous German character. This movement reached its peak in the work of John Van Gorp, a Flemish physician (1518-72), who went so far as to claim that the language spoken in the Garden of Eden was German, and that the Old Testament was first composed in pure German, only to be muddied by Hebrew translation. No doubt de Man’s necessarily troubled admiration of German poets and philosophers was more soberly based, but it was pervasive nevertheless. What Bromwich calls de Man’s ‘odd deficiency of verbal tact’ in his readings of English writers does not seem – at least to me – at all odd.

Richard Harrier
Columbia University, New York

Hard Work

Peter Clarke asserts that ‘the idea of a “labour party" ’ made sense only ‘on the sub-Marxian postulate that capitalism could be superseded by socialism through class war’, in which ‘organised labour was to provide the shock troops, fighting for the working class as a whole’ (LRB, 21 October). Fair enough, as long as it is recognised that sub-Marxism has little to do with what the Old Man himself thought. Marx insisted throughout his life that the working class had to emancipate itself, always resisting the idea that a vanguard either from within or from without could discharge that task. Moreover, this class was constituted for him not by the horny-handed of so much Marxist tradition, but by all those who were constrained (rather than choosing) to sell their mental and physical energies on the market. Now that constitutes a very large section of the population, and there has never been a visible political party whose raison d’être was to represent the interests of people as so described, above any other consideration.

Professor Clarke says that if a ‘labour party’ did not exist it would be unnecessary to invent it. But it is surely plausible to say that all those who (to put it bluntly) are dependent on the necessity to work for their well-being constitute a significant interest group. It is even possible, though more contentious, to hold that what unites them under that description is of more fundamental importance than what separates them via cleavages of ethnicity, language, gender and so on. When the traditional Labour Party and the particular section of working people with whom it was closely associated, manual workers, have faded into history, these difficult questions of political identity and interests will remain.

Keith Graham
University of Bristol

Turning the other cheek

Patrice Higonnet has obviously not read my At the Heart of a Tiger: Clemenceau and His World (LRB, 21 October). Instead, he writes his own essay on Clemenceau, dipping into some very old textbooks and repeating phrases from the socialist canon of the Twenties and Thirties. Here is one example. Professor Higonnet pulls out the chestnut about Clemenceau telling ‘some strikers’ in 1906: ‘You are behind a barricade, I am before it. Your way of action is disorder. My duty is to make order.’ This is old syndicalist propaganda. In my book you will find what Clemenceau actually told Victor Griffuelhes, Emile Pouget and Alphonse Merrheim in April 1906: ‘My role is not to ignore the existence of the Confédération générale du travail on which I have an opinion different from that of all my colleagues and which I keep to myself [he had insisted, against his government colleagues, that the organisation not be outlawed] … I cannot ignore either that there is going to be a First of May and my role as minister of the interior is to take the measures susceptible to the assurance of order. We are not on the same side of the barricade. I have to fulfil my functions as member of the government.’ These words are reported by Victor Griffuelhes himself. ‘At no moment,’ said Griffuelhes, ‘did the minister declare that he was before the barricade, nor that he treated us as an element of disorder. That would have been a language little inspired by the circumstances.’ In what other way could a Minister of the Interior have rationally responded to an organisation which actively sought civil war?

Nowhere can I find any documentation supporting the other old chestnut that Clemenceau ‘jokingly referred to himself as “le premier flic de France" ’. Somehow, this just doesn’t sound like Clemenceau. He was not actually a man of hatreds – many of his opponents were.

Professor Higonnet is in search of the ‘working class’. I showed you their cellars, I took you down their mines, I even shared a few moments in the trenches – I walked you around Verdun, I took you along the Chemin des Dames. I brought the crowd to the fore, the Paris crowd, the crowds of Ferfay, Merles, Bruay and Ostricourt (Higonnet doesn’t even know where they are), the silent, terrified lines of men at Coincy, Hartennes, Montdidier and Bar-le-Duc (if you are tied to Massachusetts, then look on a map); Professor Higonnet could see nothing. Professor Higonnet requires footnotes to guide him.

In 1914, under no provocation, France was invaded by seven massive German armies. What could the French do but fight back? They held out for four years. 1918 wasn’t a victory? Shame on anyone who denies it. Professor Higonnet speaks of Clemenceau as ‘the evil genius behind the destructive peace of 1919’. Presumably Professor Higonnet prefers 1945, when Germany was destroyed, occupied and eventually divided in two. There was no treaty at all.

I must emphasise that I feel no anger or bitterness when I read essays like those of Professor Higonnet. Rather, that a man of such apparent learning – and we both began our careers with the study of peasants – can write such stupidities saddens me profoundly. But then, we have come to expect this ignorant, dogmatic type of demagogy from places like Harvard: arrogance, blindness through theory, laziness, narrowness, superiority through money and rank; guaranteed salary for life, guaranteed medical care for life, guaranteed housing, huge retirement benefits, connections with every useless publisher in the world, ‘social conscience’. Shame on it.

Gregor Dallas
Anet, France

Duw, Duw

I thoroughly enjoyed Lorna Sage’s account of her childhood in the last three issues (LRB, 7 October, LRB, 21 October and LRB, 4 November. I would like to correct her on one point, though. The ‘Dew, Dew,’ uttered by her Welsh grandmother is spelt ‘Duw, Duw’ and means ‘God, God!’ not ‘Deary me!’ Welsh is singularly short of any non-religious expletives – one reason my poetry could never translate successfully into that language. When in need of a swear-word, most Welsh men and women resort to ‘Duw, Duw!’

Fiona Pitt-Kethley
Hastings, Sussex

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