Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Click on image to enlarge
I took this snapshot in 1985 of a work of art in the courtyard of the main synagogue in Budapest. It was financed by American actor Tony Curtis, who has Jewish Hungarian roots. Aside from the aesthetics of this silver weeping willow, there are thousands upon thousands of silver leaves, each one bearing the engraved name of a Hungarian Jew who had been murdered in the holocaust. A far better photo of the sculture can be seen here. I have returned several times to Budapest over the years, and often to go to this memorial.


William Hayes said...

In the 60s, while attending university in New Brusnwick, New Jersey, I rented a room from a Hungarian woman. Many Hungarians had settled in the area after escaping from their country in 1956. I never had a serious discussion with my landlady, but just last summer I did chat on several occasions with a Hungarian man who had escaped to Canada in 1956.

At some point in our conversations, my acquaintance, who was a young boy during WWII, acknowledged that the Germans had treated the Jews badly. At the same time, he spoke more favourably of the behaviour of retreating Germans than of the behaviour of advancing Russians.

Compared to his experiences, my youth, which was spent entirely in North America, has been unutterably privileged.

Wally Keeler said...

During the 70's the RCMP Security Service intercepted and withheld my mail, they wiretapped my phone, they caused me the loss of employment, caused me to be evicted. All of this was smoking pistol documented. There is circumstantial evidence that they had set fire to my flat. They couldn't tell fact from fiction.

The Peoples Republic of Poetry and its caustic satire was better understood by poets and artists on the other side of the Iron Curtain, than in Canada. In the early 80's I developed many contacts with assorted dissidents.

Understanding that I spent my entire life enjoying freedom for free, I decided that it was worth taking the calculated risk to travel into the Warsaw Pact countries. My first trip lasted 3 month. I was doing a considerable amount of smuggling in and out as well as from one to another of the Warsaw Pact countries. I got arrested in Poland, guns pulled on me in Ceausescu's Romania, and other exciting phenom.

Canadians, an incredibly naive and sheltered people, often asked me why I was so anti-communist, especially in light of the fact that the RCMP did the same sort of things to me that is done on those totalitarian countries.

Well it took many years, but I was part of the MacDonald Royal Commission looking into RCMP activities. I was able to lobby for redress of grievance, obtain publicity in the media for my just cause. Try and do that in the countries outside the Free West.

The 20th century saw the defeat of National Socialism, and communism. The 21 century is now beginning with the theological totalitarianism is Islam. From what I can see of it now, the emasculation of Islam as embodied in the Ku Klux Koran, will be a greater challenge for freedom.

William Hayes said...

It was a pleasure to read your remembrance and your comments. You tell an interesting story in an engaging manner and, in the process, you are an indefatigable supporter of free speech. Without any hesitation and with great pleasure, I say, "Good for you, Wally."

At the same time, there are other values that, in my view, ought also to be celebrated with as much vigor. Two such values are charity and justice. They are both worthy of passionate promotion, but they are not values about which most of us are equally passionate.

American theologian William Sloane Coffin was famous for pointing up such value dichotomies. Here are a few of his quotes:

"The world is too dangerous for anything but truth and too small for anything but love."

"Every nation makes decisions based on self-interest and defends them on the basis of morality."

"To be avoided at all costs is the solace of opinion without the pain of thought."

"Hope is a state of mind independent of the state of the world. If your heart's full of hope, you can be persistent when you can't be optimistic. You can keep the faith despite the evidence, knowing that only in so doing has the evidence any chance of changing. So while I'm not optimistic, I'm always very hopeful."

"Many of us are eager to respond to injustice, as long as we can do so without having to confront the causes of it. There's the great pitfall of charity. Handouts to needy individuals are genuine, necessary responses to injustice, but they do not necessarily face the reason for injustice. And that is why so many business and governmental leaders today are promoting charity; it is desperately needed in an economy whose prosperity is based on growing inequality. First these leaders proclaim themselves experts on matters economic, and prove it by taking the most out of the economy! Then they promote charity as if it were the work of the church, finally telling us troubled clergy to shut up and bless the economy as once we blessed the battleships."

Perhaps none of this is new to you. It's just my way of paying homage to your own passionate advocacy.

Wally Keeler said...

It is new to me, and thank you for posting those remarks. I especially liked, "Handouts to needy individuals are genuine, necessary responses to injustice, but they do not necessarily face the reason for injustice. And that is why so many business and governmental leaders today are promoting charity;..."

I will be taking this under my hat. I suspect it will gradually seep into my soul. I am cognizant that handouts can have the unfortunate consequence of perpetuating injustice, but this added nuance by Coffin adds some good meat.

Likewise, Bill, I highly appreciate your articulateness and point of view.

I'm moving to Cobourg from Montreal this coming weekend so my emailing will be interrupted. In Cobourg I can be spotted as the fatso riding a chrome bike.