Friday, June 30, 2023

Irreversibly into the abyss

’The Germans play their game cleverly: treason on all sides. Why is it that in no other people drawn into the war is there so much treason as among the Russians? [. . .] The Germans have been able to take good advantage of this characteristic of the “Russian swine.’’ Revolutionary Russia faces the task of either changing its ways or flying irreversibly into the abyss!’ This is from a ‘remarkable’ diary left by Iurii Vladimirovich Got’e, a Russian intellectual and historian, born 150 years ago today.’ 

Got’e was born in Moscow on 30 June 1873 (new style). His father was an upmarket bookseller whose grandfather had founded the family bookshop in 1799, and Got’e was the first eldest son not to take over the business. Instead, he chose to go to Moscow University and pursue a scholarly career in history and philology. Following graduation, he undertook a year of military service, then he taught in schools and from 1903 at the university. In parallel, he worked first for the Archive of the Ministry of Justice before being employed in the library at Rumiantsev Museum, eventually becoming head librarian.

In 1913, Got’e published his doctoral dissertation on the history of local administration. Two years later, he was appointed professor at Moscow University. Over time, he also spent several years teaching at the Geodesic Institute and at the municipal Shaniavski University. From 1919, he switched to teach archaeology, and he participated in numerous excavations in Eastern Europe. His lectures on the region’s pre-history were published in 1925 and 1930. Between 1934 and 1941, he was associated with the Moscow Institute of Philosophy, Literature, and History. Between 1898 and 1930 he was first academic secretary and then assistant director of the Lenin All-Union Library. He died in 1943. There is very little further information about his life freely available online, but see The Free Encylclopedia.

However Got’e did leave behind a set of diaries kept through five years (1917-1922) of revolution, civil war, family tragedy, hunger, and progressively deteriorating living conditions. These were translated and edited by Terence Emmons for publication by Princetown University Press in 1988 as Time of Troubles: The Diary of Iurii Vladimirovich Got’e - see Amazon or Googlebooks to preview a few pages. According to Emmons, Got’e wrote the diary entries on a stool in the doorway of the room in communal quarters where he and his family took refuge after their own apartment had been sequestered in 1919.’ Toward the end, Emmons continues, ‘the entries become noticeably less frequent, mainly because by this time Got’e was afraid to keep the diary at home, but also because of his exhaustion, which was no doubt mingled with awareness that the new regime, having survived the Civil War, the Polish war, and the internal rebellions of 1921, was there to stay: the great uncertainty about the immediate future of the country that had sustained the chronicle for nearly five years had begun to fade.’ 

According to the publisher: ‘Among the few diaries available from inside early Soviet Russia none approaches Iurii V. Got’e’s in sustained length of coverage and depth of vivid detail. Got’e was a member of the Moscow intellectual elite - a complex and unusually observant man, who was a professor at Moscow University and one of the most prominent historians of Russia at the time the revolution broke out. Beginning his first entry with the words Finis Russiae, he describes his life in revolution-torn Moscow from July 8, 1917 through July 23, 1922 - nearly the entire period of the Russian Revolution and Civil War up to the advent of the New Economic Policy. 

This remarkable chronicle, published here for the first time, describes the hardships undergone by Got’e’s family and friends and the gradual takeover of the academic and professional sectors of Russia by the new regime. Got’e was in his mid-forties when he wrote the diary. At first he felt that Bolshevism meant complete doom for Russia, but eventually his ardent patriotism led him to accept the Bolsheviks’ role in preserving the integrity of the Russian state. The diary was discovered in 1982 in the Hoover Institution Archives, in the papers of Frank Golder, to whom Got’e himself had entrusted it in 1922.’

Here are several extracts.

17 July 1917
‘The newspapers are a little better. The hope has been kindled since July 15 that at the cost of yielding all of Galicia and complication of the already disgusting Ukrainian question (since, after all, the whole of the Ukraine lying beyond our borders is again in the power of the Germans), at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives, the idiots will get smarter. Kerenskii’s efforts to create a genuine coalition government, with the exception of the adventurist Chernov and similar adventurists, ideologue-fools, and maybe charlatans, deserves every sympathy, but isn’t it already too late? Haven’t they been screaming and yelling and confusing the unfortunate Russian - stupid, ignorant, and unprepared for any kind of Rospublic (as Ivan Pavlov from Pochep says) - for too long? The Germans play their game cleverly: treason on all sides. Why is it that in no other people drawn into the war is there so much treason as among the Russians? (1) From ignorance; (2) from the complete absence of a feeling of solidarity and fatherland; (3) from the fact that the leftist ideologues have been courting the minority nationalities for a good hundred years now; (4) from the benighted and anticultural deceitfulness that was remarked already by the foreigners’ narratives of the seventeenth century. The Germans have been able to take good advantage of this characteristic of the “Russian swine.’’ Revolutionary Russia faces the task of either changing its ways or flying irreversibly into the abyss!’

18 July 1917
‘[My] mind turns always to the same (subject). A quiet day without mail. A feeling of complete indifference on the one hand; (on the other] a feeling of regret that a people that could have made something of itself is committing suicide. What will we be - Muscovy, China, or Turkey? Will we have the energy to get on our feet? Although Kerenskii evoked the heavy hammer in the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies, we may be only the glass that splinters. In any case, of all the combatant peoples, we have turned out to be the weakest in nerve, and thus Hindenburg’s thought is true - those with strong nerves will win. So everybody but us will win and logically should make peace at our expense: we will answer for all, and especially for our own stupidity, ignorance, and dishonesty. How often we all think: it’s good to no longer be tied to mama’s apron strings! In any case we are not a match for the Germans: they are unquestionably higher than we are in every respect, and most of all in personal endurance and courage; one can hate them, but it is impossible not to respect them.’

15 January 1918
‘A day without newspapers and with a small quantity of rumors; an extremely oppressive frame of mind, all the same. I saw V. F. Kokoshkin; that ebullient man is completely downtrodden and dispirited, and, in truth, he has cause to be. I His impressions from Petrograd: there everyone is even more dispirited than here. The blacks, led by A. A. Vyrubova, are playing some kind of role, but what kind is not clear to him. I have received information in the last few days from other sources as well that these forces are doing something. But to what degree are all these forces, those and others, organized? Isn’t it simpler to think that everything is happening spontaneously, without plan and with a complete absence of any kind of organization, like everything in Russia?’

20 July 1918
‘At the post office I read one of the bolshevik Pravdas - it seems that all is well in the West; if the Kadets are not adopting a German orientation, they are at least gravitating toward an understanding with them; the Czechoslovaks are squeezing the bolsheviks in various places. Everything else remains unchanged. A letter from Malfi - it seems they are leaving for France today. The good and gentle ideologue - but we will still do something. Work in the meadow all day; we all get dog-tired.’

8 April 1919
‘They have taken Odessa, probably because no one wanted to defend it. All the same, the policy of the Allies seems to me completely incomprehensible; now they start something, now they give it up. In regard to the Russian south, however, I do not see things as hopeless. Yesterday I had to undertake a journey to Iaroslavl’ station and to Mashkov Pereulok, whence I brought home twenty-three pounds of bread, four and one-half pounds of salt, and eighteen and one-half pounds of rye; I had an Alpine sack on my back, and two other sacks in my hands; thus the professor strolls around Moscow. The university question is progressively turning into a big mush. The bolsheviks, that is, Pokrovski! and co., have eliminated both of our history departments and replaced them with some kind of fantastic ones; some kind of further meeting is being proposed, but it all comes down to the fact that whatever straightforward appointment they may think up is better than the fiction of cooperation that was offered earlier. Something completely unimaginable is occurring on the streets of Moscow - one great puddle, which is traversed only by those who absolutely must go out.’

Audience with the King

‘Audience of the King [Edward VII], . . [He] kept me for about twenty minutes, talking about Japan, the Garter mission, and gardens, such as Batsford, La Mortola & Miss Alice Rothschild’s at Grasse. I told him that Okuma had said that if Russia did not evacuate N. Manchuria, Japan would ask for an explanation. He also spoke of the troubles in Russia, and comparing those with the [French] revolution of 1789 I hazarded the opinion that the Russian Emperor’s ministers were better prepared than those of Louis XVI to put down rebellion. He spoke of my not returning to China, but that at present there was no post which could be given me. My services must not be lost. I replied that I had no desire to retire if I could be of use, and he said I must consider myself en disponibilité.’ This is from the diaries of Sir Ernest Mason Satow, a British scholar and diplomat born 180 years ago today, particularly remembered for his role in developing Anglo-Japanese relations.

Satow was born on 30 June 1843 to an ethnically German father and an English mother in Clapton, North London. He was educated at Mill Hill School and University College London, studying languages, and then joined the British Legation as a student interpreter. After training in Beijing, he was posted to Japan, to assist the British Minister Harry Smith Parkes. Satow published an article on the country’s political structure in the Japan Times’ British Policy section, and, once translated into Japanese, proved unusually influential. He became a secretary of the British legation in Japan in 1868.

Subsequently, Satow was agent, and then minister, to Siam (1884 to 1888), minister to Uruguay (1888 to 1893) and envoy to Morocco (1893 to 1895), Japan (1895 to 1900) and China (1900 to 1906) where he handled the Boxer Rebellion. In 1906, having been knighted in 1902, he returned to the UK where he was made a Privy Councillor. He left the Foreign Office, and moved to the village of Ottery St. Mary in Devon, but continued to act as British member of the permanent court of arbitration (1906 to 1912) and as one of the British plenipotentiaries at the second peace conference (1907), both at The Hague. Although unmarried, he had three children with his common law wife, Takeda Kané, in Japan, though one died in infancy and the other died aged 4. Satow, himself, died in 1929. Further biographical information is available at Wikipedia, The Gale Review and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log-in required).

Apart from publishing several books on diplomacy and foreign policy, Satow kept diaries all his life - from 1861 to 1926. Some 47 handwritten volumes are held at the Public Record Office at Kew, West London, in accordance with his wishes. (Many of his rare Japanese books are now part of the Oriental collection of the Cambridge University Library and his collection of Japanese prints are in the British Museum.) A selection of Satow’s diaries were first edited by Ian Ruxton and published in 1998 by Edwin Mellen Press as The Diaries and Letters of Sir Ernest Mason Satow (1843-1929): a Scholar-Diplomat in East Asia. According to the publisher: ‘Sir Ernest Satow was the doyen of the British scholar-diplomats of the Meiji era in Japan. Satow’s genius made him a colossal figure of his time, deeply respected by the Japanese who knew of his profound scholarship and knowledge of their country, and the desired representative of Britain in Tokyo where he was appointed Minister in 1895-1900. His presence in Tokyo assisted the process of coming to an agreement in the negotiations of Anglo-Japan Alliance of 1902.’

More recently, Ruxton has taken it upon himself to edit, annotate and publish the diaries in a series of more comprehensive editions, most of which can be previewed at Googlebooks. These include: The Diaries of Sir Ernest Mason Satow, 1883-1888: A Diplomat in Siam, Japan, Britain and Elsewhere; The Diaries of Sir Ernest Satow 1889-1895: Uruguay and Morocco; The Diaries of Sir Ernest Satow British Minister in Tokyo (1895-1900); and The Diaries of Sir Ernest Satow British Envoy in Peking in Tokyo (1900-03)

Here are several extracts (stripped of many footnote numbers).

24 October 1895
‘Telegram from Lord Salisbury instructing me to inquire of the Japse Govt, what explanation they have to give of “Thales” [a steamer that had been detained by the Japanese government]. Wrote a private note to Itō to say I shld. speak to F. M [foreign Minister Saionji] this afternoon, and hoping that he wld. be prepared to undertake that full satisfaction wld. be given by the Japse. Govt.

Münter [representative of Armstrong-Mitchell Co. Ltd.] came to call. Gave me the following information about Japse. plans. 4 1st class battle-ships of 15,000 tons; 3 1st class cruisers of 7000, 4 2nd class of 4500 like the Yoshino besides smaller craft. The cost to be 180,000,000 well, the Diet wld. be asked to vote, 50,000,000 being for armaments. He wants my good word. Perhaps the American people, consisting of Dun, Denison and Williams might be placated by giving them orders for the armour plates needed for the battleship wch. is to be constructed in Japan (1 cruiser of each class here also) The Japanese are guided by sentiment of gratitude for protection to Japse. interests during the war, and to [Henry Willard] Denison for his services in negotiating the Treaty of Shimonoseki. Williams has gone back to America to get plans.

Replied to him that I could not tout, as that wld not be worthy of a great Power like England, but wld. drop a hint that the performances of the Yoshino at the Yalu fight had pleased English people very much, and that if the Japanese being of the same opinion as to the superior qualities of English-built ships, go to England for their new vessels, English nation will be gratified at this mark of appreciation of what they can do. So as to let Itō understand that I am not merely proudly indifferent.

Münter said that as far as he could learn the Manne Dept, are all in favour of English ships. The French are quite out of it 1st the Unebi capsized and another built in France could never do her proper speed, in fact the unfortunate Chishima. She was left for a whole year on the hands of the builders, who finally had to make a sacrifice of part of the contract price

(What I said to Münter I said also to Thomson the other day.)

I added to Münter that I could not promise to speak at any precise time, but must watch my opportunity.

Dined with [British railway engineer Charles A. W.] Pownalls.’

25 July 1906
‘Audience of the King, to which I was introduced by Lord Ed[ward]. Pelham Clinton, whom I reminded that several years ago at Windsor he lent me a pair of knee breeches, Saburō having forgotten to put them in my portmanteau.

The King kept me for about twenty minutes, talking about Japan, the Garter mission, and gardens, such as Batsford, La Mortola & Miss Alice Rothschild’s at Grasse. I told him that Okuma had said that if Russia did not evacuate N. Manchuria, Japan would ask for an explanation. He also spoke of the troubles in Russia, and comparing those with the [French] revolution of 1789 I hazarded the opinion that the Russian Emperor’s ministers were better prepared than those of Louis XVI to put down rebellion.

He spoke of my not returning to China, but that at present there was no post which could be given me. My services must not be lost. I replied that I had no desire to retire if I could be of use, and he said I must consider myself en disponibilité. He asked about MacDonald, whether he was still as thin as he was. I said he was fairly well, except sometimes a little stomach trouble. If I might say so, I thought he was the right man in the right place. The Japanese liked his straightforward manners, and a soldier was well-suited to be Ambassador of a country where the military element was so powerful. He then talked of the staff, Geo[rge]. Barclay, who I said was an excellent worker, Francis Lindley & his wife. Then I praised Carnegie & the King remembered that he had a pretty wife. He asked about Jordan, who I said had a good knowledge of Chinese affairs, having been long at Peking before he went to Seoul. He asked me about China, & I was proceeding to say something about her waking up, when he interrupted me by saying that he had read my private letters. Then he mentioned Sir Edward Grey as an excellent Foreign Minister, in which I concurred, adding Lord Lansdowne’s name. So he asked me whether I had seen him, to which I said No, as I thought he was out of town. No, said H.M. he was here last night & spoke in the debate on the Army in the House of Lords, which shows that he is well-informed, for that part of the debate was not reported in the “Times” of this morning. On my going away he said that my services would receive recognition.

Later in the day, while Bliss was with me, came an official notice from the Clerk of the Council & a private letter also (Almeric Fitzroy) that I am to be sworn of the Privy Council on the 28th which was what H[is].M[ajesty]. meant.

Went on to Emma Sturges, who kept me to lunch: and told her what the King had said about my future. (However it turns out I shall be contented.) Then to Gould, the dentist, to have my teeth cleaned or scaled as they call it: found a young assistant named Sergeant in his absence. Then back to Jermyn Street, where Bliss came & talked in his interesting manner, and then to call on Mrs. Ker at 11 Pelham Place near Thurloe Square. Returning left a card on Count Mutsu at the Japanese Embassy and met Milne Cheetham at the door, and we had half an hour’s talk. He believes he will be sent to Buenos Aires at the end of the year. While he was with me came a note from Mr. John Morley, asking me to name a choice of days in the first part of next week. I wrote back that I was entirely free and would leave it to him to fix the day & hour. Mme. Vieugué has been writing & telegraphing to me to go to tea or dinner, but I am engaged every day.’

2 August 1906
‘Capt. W.F. O’Connor, the trade agent at Gyantse [Tibet], called by appointment. He wanted me to tell him about the Dalai Lama being allowed to return to Lhasa with an escort of Russian Buriats, and the payment of the Tibetan indemnity by China, both of which he considered were valuable cards in the Chinese game. I replied that these were topics on which the India Office could inform him if they wished to, and that as he did not come to me accredited by his own official superiors, I did not consider myself authorized to say anything. He lamented the refusal of H.M.G. to allow an agent to be stationed at Lhasa, and thought we had sacrificed 3000 men for nothing. I disagreed with him, and told him that when the adhesion agreement was published he would see how good our position is. As to the suzerainty question, as it had been omitted from the adhesion agreement, the argument might be used that it did not exist, as was argued by the Boers in relation to the South African Convention of 1884. We could not always expect to get our own ideas adopted by our official superiors, and I had often experienced that myself. He is a tall, thin, sandy haired youngish man of say 30 or 35, very opiniative and given to argufying; was evidently much dissatisfied that I did not at once tell him all I knew and sympathize with his ideas.

To lunch with Sam [Satow]; he has an old attendant who was apprenticed many years ago to old Frederick Toulmin’s dispenser, and knew all the Upper Clapton families of 50 years ago: they kept their carriages and considered themselves aristocratic!

Dropped into St. Paul’s [Cathedral] to have a glance at the decorations. St. George’s Chapel for the order of St. Michael & George did not impress me much, and the banners of the Knights look too new, as they cannot help doing. It seems a useless expense.

Left a card for Sir Edward Seymour at Queen Anne’s mansions, and went down to Chislehurst to dine with Arthur & Agneta [Allen]. A violent thunderstorm broke out just before I left.’

Monday, June 19, 2023

The Golding condition

It is 30 years since the death of William Golding, the great British writer, author of Lord of the Flies. A large literary archive containing two decades’ worth of daily diary entries remains privately held by his family, and only snippets have been made public thanks to a biography by John Carey. However, Carey has claimed that Golding’s diary is unique ‘as an author’s systematic exploration of his unconscious and examination of his conscious life’. What a shame, then, that none of Golding’s diaries have yet been edited for publication, not only for what he has to say about the human condition, but what they have to say about the Golding condition.

Golding was born in Cornwall in 1911, but grew up at his family home in Marlborough, Wiltshire. He studied at Marlborough Grammar School, where his father was a science teacher, and at Oxford University, transferring, after two years, from natural sciences to English literature. He published a first book of poems in 1934, the same year he graduated; and he married Ann Brookfield in 1939 with whom he had two children. He served with the Royal Navy during the war, and, after it, he returned to teaching at Bishop Wordsworth’s School in Salisbury, and to writing.

In 1953, Golding sent a manuscript to Faber & Faber of London, which was reportedly rescued from the trash by a new editor, Charles Monteith. Lord of the Flies was published the following year, and was soon followed by other novels, including The Inheritors, Pincher Martin and Free Fall. In 1958, he and Ann moved to live in Bowerchalke, Wiltshire, where they would remain for nearly 30 years. In 1961-1962, he went to the US as a writer-in residence. The trip brought him some fame and wealth, prompting him to give up teaching on his return. His next novel The Spire was published in 1964, and The Pyramid in 1967, but these books were followed by a fallow and difficult writing period, one which would last until the second half of the 1970s.

From the late 1970s, though, Golding’s literary reputation began to sore, first with Darkness Visible, which won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, then with Rites of Passage which won the booker, and then with the Nobel Literary Prize in 1983. In 1985, the Goldings moved to a house called Tullimaar in Cornwall. Also that year, Faber & Faber published Golding’s An Egyptian Journal, and thereafter it published two sequels to Rites of Passage. Golding died on 19 June 1993, and was buried in Bowerchalke. A little further biographical information is available at Wikipedia, the Nobel Prize website, and at a Golding website run by his family.

In 2009, there was a resurgence of media interest in Golding when Faber & Faber published a first biography of the writer, by John Carey, professor of literature at Oxford University. Initial publicity for the book focused on a revelation, found in the archive, that Golding considered he had attempted, as an undergraduate, to rape a 15-year-old girlfriend - see The Guardian, or The Independent. The biography, though, has been much acclaimed. William Boyd, reviewing the book for The New York Times says: ‘Carey [. . .] writes with great wit and lucidity as well as authority and compassionate insight. Perhaps because he has had the opportunity of reading the mass of Golding’s unpublished intimate journals, he brings unusual understanding to the complex and deeply troubled man who lies behind the intriguing but undeniably idiosyncratic novels.’ He concludes by calling the biography ‘superb’. Much of it can be previewed at Googlebooks.

Golding’s diaries - 5,000 pages of them written every day for over 20 years - are part of the Golding archive, which is still kept privately by the family. Carey was the first researcher to be given access to this archive. Of the diaries, he says this: ‘Besides being an intimate account of his private life, and a treasure-house of memories of his childhood and youth, the journal is a behind-the-scenes revelation of the writer’s craft, reporting each day on the progress of whatever novel he is at work on, tracing its origins, trying out alternative plot-lines, and criticizing, often violently, what he has written so far. Further, he began the journal as a dream diary, and though his waking life gradually came to dominate, he continued to record dreams almost to the end, together with his interpretations and identification of the incidents they recalled. As an author’s systematic exploration of his unconscious and examination of his conscious life, Golding’s journal is, I think, unique.’ Carey’s other main source was the correspondence between Golding and his editor at Faber & Faber, Charles Monteith.

Although the biography relies so heavily on Golding’s diaries (and there is a long list of diary dates at the back of the book provided as information sources), Carey rarely uses significant verbatim extracts: here and there, one can find phrases quoted to illustrate a point, but there are less than a handful of longer extracts. There are, however, further insights into the journal. From 1971, Carey says, when Golding found himself unable to work on a new book, he occupied himself with various displacement activities, and one of these was keeping a journal, ‘which he wrote up every day, usually before 10am, recording everything from metaphysical speculations to the weekly trip to Salisbury for Ann to get her hair done’.

Carey continues: ‘He realized that the journal was “little but an effort to relieve the sorrow, the grief, the pain” of not being able to write a book, and its pointlessness often dismayed him. “I don’t seem to do anything else”, he fretted. He invented comic nicknames (“Pewter” and “Bolonius”) for the “ridiculous and wearisome” everyday self who filled its pages with reams of mundane detail. But at least his daily stint made him feel he was still, in some some sense, a writer. At the present rate, he worked out in April 1972, he would clock up 182,500 words in just half a year, “the equivalent, more or less, of all the books I’ve written”. Eventually, the journal stretched to two and a half million words.’

Golding published one so-called journal in his lifetime - An Egyptian Journal - but as Carey notes this was not actually a diary text at all: ‘It is natural to imagine that An Egyptian Journal is the journal he kept while in Egypt. But that is not so. The journal he kept day by day on the Hani is cursory, consisting of disjointed notes with occasional outbursts of impatience (“One feels really more and more like giving up”; “My God. The silly sods have run out of fuel.”) An Egyptian Journal was commotion recollected in tranquility. Turning his notes into a book took months. He talked it over with Ann, and decided that what was needed was “a sort of complex sewing-job”, amplifying his jottings, and interspersing new material to “make it vivid”.’

A very few extracts from the journals are available online at the William Golding website and at Faber & Faber
Here, though, are two extracts from Golding’s diary taken from Carey’s biography. The first, dated 10 April 1972 I think, consists of some recollections about the poet and Faber man, T. S. Eliot; and the second is an extract included by Carey in his postscript, though I cannot work out its date.

‘Eliot was fairly impressive in a Donnish sort of way, but not excessively so. Charles [Monreith] led Ann and me to see him as to a god. We sat fairly mum while he talked of umbrellas and rubber trees. Later he informed me that Simon in Lord of the Flies must be cut to the bone. ‘We cannot portray a saint, Mr Ah. But for evil we need only to look into our own hearts’. The silly old twit. As if I hadn’t known that. Another time at a Faber cocktail party Frazer [G. S. Fraser] the Anthologist cannoned into my back so that I bowed forward and spilt champagne down Mr Eliot’s trousers while he was saying, “No, no, no” to Arthur Koestler. Thus I not only worshipped at the god’s shrine but poured a libation, not to say an anointment. He leapt back with an agility startling in one so mummified, striking out at his salt and pepper Edwardian trousers. I cannot say that we were intimate friends.’

‘One day, if my literary reputation holds up, people will examine my life, and they will come to the conclusion that I am a monster and possibly they will finally say tout comprendre and all that. They will think they know all but they won’t. No matter how deep they dig they won’t reach the root that has made me a monster in deed, word and thought. No one but I knows that, or suffers it. This is not guilt, it is self knowledge.’

In the postscript to his biography, Carey asks, ‘What would [Golding] have thought about his private journals being made public, as it is in this book?’ He answers his own question by suggesting that Golding knew at the deepest level that he was writing for an audience, and that he knew some parts would cause pain and embarrassment. Carey also tries to give a sense of the Golding he found in the diary: ‘How, then, would I characterize him as he comes across in the journal? The emotion he felt most vividly and often behind his disguise was, I think, fear, on a scale varying from mild anxiety to terror. He had been a sensitive, frightened child, and he grew into a sensitive, frightened man.’

But, all we really have in the public domain of Golding’s vast diary is the information and sparse quotes as filtered through Carey. And these few actual snippets only serve to whet one’s appetite for more. It seems a shame, a great loss indeed, that there is no project - as far as I am aware of - to edit or publish his diaries. While I can understand the family’s wish for privacy, and, perhaps, to control the world’s image of Golding, there are several excellent reasons, surely, why his diaries ought to be published. Firstly, and foremostly, he was an acknowledged, world class, great writer and so in all likelihood there is a lot of great writing in them.

Secondly, the diaries contain far more of Golding’s thoughts about the world and the human condition than he polished and crafted for the novels. Thirdly, there must be many an insight about literary creativity in general, and, more specifically, about the creativity behind his novels (though, admittedly, Carey has mined this vein fairly thoroughly).

Fourthly - most fascinating of all - is that, like the most interesting of all diaries, Golding’s are personal, intimate, and self-analytical, not written (at least directly) for publication, which means they are likely to give a fascinating and deeper insight into the man. They may not give us all of the root that made him ‘a monster in deed, word and thought’, indeed the reverse is likely to be true, but they will tell us far more than we already know about the Golding condition.

This article is a slightly revised version of one first published on 19 June 2013.

Monday, June 12, 2023

People murdered in martyrdom

‘The tombs and graves of people murdered in martyrdom are ever increasing all over the country. Every village and town, every forest abounds with graves looming from a distance as a historical lesson and a warning. Once the living witnesses are gone, then those graves will speak volumes. They will accuse the whole world with an eloquence a hundredfold mightier, of having committed or having failed to act against the crudest of crimes.’ This is from a short prison diary kept by Samuel Golfard, a Polish Jew, before being shot - 80 years ago this month - by the Germans and then buried by a friend in the forest. A fully comprehensive and annotated edition of Golfard’s diary was published in 2015 and is considered to be an important addition to the Holocaust literature, 

Golfard was born circa 1910, and grew up in the Radom district of Poland with three younger sisters. He fled, with one sister Mania, to Volhynia in late 1939 where he found refuge, at least until the German attack on the Soviet Union starting in June 1941. He travelled to Peremyshliany in July where he found shelter with the family of Dr. Jacob Katz (where he met Jacob Litman). Litman described him as social, well-spoken, urbane, suave, and witty, with a lean figure, high forehead, copper-blond hair, moustache, and left-liberal convictions.

Golfard was sent to the Iaktoriv (Jaktorow) labor camp some time in late spring or summer 1942. Mania was able to bribe the Jewish Council to release him from the camp, perhaps by exchanging him with another Jew from the ghetto. Golfard then secured a job as a scrap collector in the early months of 1943 (perhaps for the German Equipment Works). This “privileged” position gave him the opportunity to secretly write a diary. 

After the Peremyshliany ghetto was liquidated in May 1943, Samuel hid at the Nebenlager (labour camp) for three weeks. He secured a gun, and planned to escape to the forests in Czupernosow with Litman. On the eve of their escape, in June 1943, the camp was surrounded by SS and police, and prisoners were forced to line up outside. Golfard pulled out his pistol, and aimed it at the German commander, but the Germans responded with a hail of bullets, killing him and several prisoners nearby. Litman buried Golfard in a nearby forest.

Almost nothing else is known about Golfard other than that revealed through a prison diary that he kept between January and April 1943, and which survived the war. A first English translation of the diary from its original Polish was completed by Litman in 1983. A second translation was completed by Magdalena Norton in 2006. The Diary of Samuel Golfard and the Holocaust in Galicia by Wendy Lower was first published by Alta Mira Press in 2011, largely following the Litman translation, and then reissued in paperback by Rowman & Littlefield in 2015.

In her introduction to the book, Lower states: ‘Through the pages of Golfard’s diary, we can glimpse how a Jew marked for annihilation viewed the outside world and its failure to affect the course of the Holocaust. By expressing his “contempt for the worlds cowardice and heartlessness,” he spoke for other Jews who were just as outraged that the Allies did not intervene to stop the Holocaust. Perhaps Golfard assumed that the Allies should have known better or were morally superior and prepared to act. His view of a post-Holocaust world was not one of reconciliation, but one plagued by vengeance and haunted by the landscape of mass graves. In his diary he wrote on 11 April 1943, “The tombs and graves of people murdered in martyrdom are ever increasing all over the country. Every village and town, every forest abounds with graves looming from a distance as a historical lesson and a warning. Once the living witnesses are gone, then those graves will speak volumes. They will accuse the whole world with an eloquence a hundredfold mightier, of having committed or having failed to act against the crudest of crimes.” ’

‘Golfard’s diary is remarkable’, concludes Alexandra Garbarini, Professor of History and Jewish Studies at Williams College. ‘It is searing, moving, emotional, yet also analytically sophisticated. [It] will make a substantial contribution to several fields of study, including the history of Jewish responses during the Shoah, the perpetration of genocide, and Holocaust literature. Lower has done a beautiful job of framing the diary entries so that the reader gains a broader perspective of the unfolding history. This book is a most welcome contribution to the existing body of published source materials, illuminating a lesser-known dimension of the Holocaust that is at the forefront of recent research being conducted in the field.’ Some pages can be previewed at both Amazon and Googlebooks.

Here are two further extracts.

25 January 1943
‘I am not composing these words for myself. They are intended for those who will survive and who might quickly forget what they had lived through not so long ago. Let these words refresh in their memory the moments of horror, the bloody scenes that took place before their eyes, the black night of savagery. Let it [open?] wounds already healed.

In embarking upon this notebook, I am not motivated by a writer’s ambition. I am subjected to an unspeakable burden by every word; every reminiscence hurts cruelly; contemplating present-day events fills me with despair. I realize that these words will not alleviate my own suffering, but since I do not want to spare others, it is fair to have no regard for myself.

Outside the window there is a shroud of sparkling snow. A dazzling whiteness strikes the eyes. Total stillness reigns, but in my heart a storm is raging. I see beloved faces with a mute reproach in their eye, The image of thousands of murdered - children, boys, and girls - appears before me. Among them I see the tormented face of my dearest sister. With her hand m the sling, she sat cowering in the square among hundreds of other victims. I did not manage to give her a sign. She noticed me briefly, she looked startled and frightened as I was being brutally driven away and was denied the chance to exchange another glance with her.

What did she think of me? Did she know that I ran to save her. In vain. I distinguished her screams among the cries of others, swollen with despair, and coming from the truck as I, dazed and unaware of what was really going on, desperately begged for help. I reacted with a fierce shriek, which did not seem to come from my mouth. And the cry of my little sister amid that of others faded away into the darkness. But I still hear it. What did she think about on the way! Perhaps the pain in her hand, recently operated on, dulled her fear for her life. Did she know that she was on her way to Zloczów to die a horrible, tortuous death? Could she believe this until the very last moment? My dearest Maniusia [Mania]! Forgive your brother for leaving you on your own, that he did not share your fate. Perhaps if you were with me, it would have been easier for you to die. Mania, I was paralyzed with despair. Even now I am shaken by sobs at the thought that terror robbed me of my will, the will to die together with you.

You had enough time to draw up the balance sheet of your young life. They seized you, leaving your brother in a camp from which there was seemingly no way out, your beloved parents having apparently been murdered in faraway R., your siblings seized and most probably put to death as well. And with all that the terrible pain in your finger.

What had your life been? Full of devotion to our parents, to me. Your patience and angelic goodness did not make life easier for you. After a day’s hard labor you walked barefoot many kilometers to the camp in Jaktorow, bringing me greetings from the world of the living with a forced timid smile. You witnessed how they beat me and tormented me. You lived through hell before you could see me at home. And you underwent all this alone, surrounded by indifference and hostility. When you were no more, people told me that during my stay in the camp you regarded even those who wished me well as foes. You thought that no one should laugh, eat, or walk while your brother suffered.

When they snatched you away from me, you wore a brown silk blouse, the gray jacket that I myself had bought for your birthday before the war, and on your feet - summer clogs. Oh, how cold you must have been.

I must stop writing now. My hand is trembling, and sobs are ripping through my chest. Before me I see only you and the gray pavement. My ears are filled with the sound of your cry for life fading in the misty night.’

2 April 1943
‘Now there is no longer a universal date of good fortune, each day brings us a new tragedy. Yesterday’s “prima aprilis” [April Fools’ Day] passed by under the sign of terrible news.

200 girls from the Szwartz military factory in Lwow were shipped away. The girls wore the “W” emblem, which was supposed to protect them from being killed. The number of victims has been estimated at 1,500.

On Thursday in Zolkiew, 600 Jews were carried off during the so-called Überprüfung (reexamination) administered these days. After a few days, an action was set in motion in which the remaining people were rounded up and murdered in the ghetto.

It seems that the last moment is drawing near. The insanity has again assumed blood thirsty forms. We just received word that a mass murder began in the ghetto of Zloczów and that the executioners may drop in here any minute.

I no longer despair. Despite the fact that from a certain point a new feeling has bloomed in my heart, I abhor life. I no longer mourn for my sisters and parents. I no longer weep over them, just as I no longer lament a friend whom I have lost recently. He luckily died in convulsions, having not regained consciousness. Died a rare civilian death - sick with typhus - at the age of 30.

It was pining for Mania that induced me to write these notes. Now I have in front of me your one and only photograph, the last trace of your existence, since all your things have been stolen. I do not believe in life beyond the grave, but if there is such a thing as an immortal soul that manifests itself in man, your, your soul must be blessed beyond words. You appear to me every day as a moving and acting who substitutes for you and to whom I become attached ever more strongly so.’

Saturday, June 10, 2023

A field of purple lupins

Some 80 years ago today, Philip Mechanicus, a Dutch journalist who had been arrested and imprisoned in the Westerbork transit camp by the Nazis for being Jewish, was writing eloquently in his prison diary about lupins: ‘Around the camp, just behind the barbed wire, there is a majestic field of purple lupins in full bloom. It is a refreshing sight to the eyes of thousands of battered men, women and children who walk the barren streets between the lifeless barracks; a glimpse of nature for those who peer out the fogged windows of the filthy laundry sheds.’ Only very recently have parts of Mechanicus’s diary - which testify to the profound suffering of Westerbork inmates - been published.

Mechanicus was born in Amsterdam in 1889. His family was poor but large - he was the eldest of eight brothers (though three died young). Both his parents worked in the rag trade, but his father was a drunk. Aged but 12, his headmaster helped him get work on the socialist newspaper Het Volk. He rose quickly, from fact checker, to reporter, and by 17 was a member of the editorial board. All the while, though, he continued studying at night classes organised by the Social Democratic Workers’ Party. He did national service with the Dutch military, and thereafter secured a posting on the Sumatra Post in Medan (then in the Dutch East Indies). In 1913, he marred a Jewish woman, Esther Wessel, and they had two daughters.

On returning to the Netherlands in 1919, Mechanicus was employed by Algemeen Handelsblad, where he remained for over 20 years. He divorced Esther in 1922, and three years later married Annie Jonkman. This relationship led to a third daughter for Mechanicus, but it too broke down, with divorce in 1929. In 1941, at the behest of the Germans, Mechanicus was fired from the newspaper, and the following September he was arrested for not wearing the Star of David. He was transferred to Westerbrok transit camp in Drenthe; and subsequently he died in October 1944 at the Auschwitz concentration camp. Although there is a Wikipedia entry on Mechanicus, it is only a very brief one, with a few links.

Mechanicus has been brought to public attention thanks to a book compiled by Nina Siegal - The Diary Keepers - and just published by William Collins (though, bizarrely, I can find no reference to it at all on the publisher’s website). In her book, Siegal has woven extracts from seven Dutch diarists - Jews and Nazis alike - ‘into a braided nonfictional narrative of the Nazi occupation and the Dutch Holocaust’. These diaries - all unpublished - are housed at the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genbocide Studies in Amsterdam. Mechanicus managed to write 15 diaries during his time at Westerbork, and to smuggle them out thanks to his ex-wife (though only 13 survived the war).

The publisher says of the new book: ‘Siegal provides the context, both historical and personal, while she tries to make sense of her own relationship to this past. As a “second-generation survivor” born and raised in New York, she attempts to understand what it meant for her mother and maternal grandparents to live through the war in Europe in those times. . . Searching and singular, The Diary Keepers takes us into the lives of seven diary writers and follows their pasts into the present, through interviews with those who preserved and inherited these diaries. Along the way, Siegal investigates the nature of memory and how the traumatic past is rewritten again and again.’ A review can be read at The Washington Post.

Here’s two extracts from the diaries kept by Mechanics as reproduced in Siegal’s book.

29 May 1943
‘I have the feeling that I am an unofficial reporter covering a shipwreck. We sit together in a cyclone, feeling the ship leaking, slowly sinking. Yet, we’re still trying to reach a harbor, though it seems far away. Gradually, I have developed the notion that I wasn’t brought here by my persecutors, but that I took the trip voluntarily to do my work. I’m busy all day long, without a second’s boredom, and sometimes I feel as if I have too little time. Duty is duty; work ennobles. I write a great deal of the day, sometimes beginning early in the morning at five-thirty, sometimes I’m still busy until the evenings after bedtime, summarizing my impressions or experiences of the day.

I play chess a few times a day, read the papers attentively, speak with various people, with doctors, nurses, and other patients. I visit the camp in the afternoon hours, and smoke my pipe. What more does a man need to spend his time in this Gypsy camp?

Chief Rabbi Dasberg was sent back to Amsterdam today. One of my friends also received a letter from his wife, dated Wednesday afternoon, in which she writes that since Sunday she has been imprisoned in the Jewish Council building on Nieuwe Keizersgracht in 

Amsterdam. The children had been left to their own devices all that time. Last night, a transport of about 450 people arrived from Amsterdam. The commander has decreed that, during working hours, Jews are no longer allowed to go for a walk on the middle path of the main street, the Boulevard de Misères, and must only tread along the sides, and very quickly at that. Today, the commander was riding his bicycle and kicked a Jew in his backside, while he was loading a train, saying that as the man had his back turned toward him, he didn’t show the proper respect. That’s not such an easy thing to do.’

10 June 1943
‘Around the camp, just behind the barbed wire, there is a majestic field of purple lupins in full bloom. It is a refreshing sight to the eyes of thousands of battered men, women and children who walk the barren streets between the lifeless barracks; a glimpse of nature for those who peer out the fogged windows of the filthy laundry sheds.

Between the lupines, there are guard towers every hundred meters or so, where military police with grim-looking helmets on their coarse heads and armed with frightful carbines keep watch, ready to shoot anyone who tries to escape. Along the barbed wire, more military police, also with their carbines slung over their shoulders, are patrolling the fences. The lupines are also under strict surveillance: anyone who is not allowed out of the camp to work should not think of picking one of the pretty lupines. Nevertheless, the camp is teeming with lupines. There are bouquets on the rough wood tables in the resident barracks, they are in old tin cans on the windowsills. They add a little color, beauty and fragrance to the dirty beds that are crammed together, to the stench of unwashed clothes and sweaty bodies. Toward evening, when the young men and women return to the camp from the heathland, dusty and sweaty, marching apace, aware of their vigor and unquenchable thirst for life, they carry bunches of lupines, which they picked as a reward for their hard day’s work.’