Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Diana on Hydra, August 1997

I also happened to be on Hydra when Princess Diana visited in her yacht, just two weeks before her death. It was early August, 1997, at the height of the tourist season, and from my rented apartment, I barely noticed the noise of a helicopter circling the island. Airborne paparazzi were keeping tabs on her from the sky, and later than day they caught her strolling along the road to Mandraki, the same road I had walked on the day John Lennon died. The photos of Diana on Hydra were sent out over the internet, and appeared in media around the world the following day. I met a store-owner who said she had come into his shop to browse, but he hadn’t recognized her until someone pointed her out. She and Dodi Fayed had sailed away soon afterward, and the excitement of her visit slid into the back pages of Hydra gossip.

Two weeks later, a few hours before she was killed in the Alma Tunnel, I went on one of my aimless walks along the sea wall. I was feeling decidedly strange that night. I’d just mistaken what day it was, thinking it the night I had agreed to gallery-sit for a friend who had a show of paintings at one of the hotels. But when I arrived, the gallery was closed, so I thought I would go have a beer somewhere and watch the sunset. Arriving at a seaside tavern, which was deserted, before I even sat down I felt a sense that things in the world were about to shift. I can’t quite explain what I experienced that evening. I didn’t see haloes or auras, but nature and the objects in it suddenly appeared flooded by some invisible substance. There was a one-ness about everything, as if I were viewing life through the lens of death. Not “death” in the sense of loss and sadness, but death as the dead experience it: a liberation into a world where boundaries dissolve and things – like the little fishing boat that was chugging into the harbour – merge with their surroundings as if we all partook of the same great Mother. I looked around for someone to share this feeling with, but I was completely alone. I drank half my beer – the feeling persisted. It had nothing to do with an alcoholic buzz, or a sense of well-being. It was rather as if the structure of reality had reorganized itself, or my own brain patterns were being altered by a sudden tidal wave of insight into how things really are. I really can’t put words on it, nor could I then, so I stood up and continued walking, thinking I would pass report this experience to the first acquaintance I laid eyes on. Which is what I did.

Seeing Roger Green at his usual table in the Pyrofani, I invited myself over and said “I just want to go on record this evening, as having had a very strange experience while I was looking at the sea.” He listened and said he’d take note of it. Before I left him to finish his dinner in peace, I added, “I just have the feeling, that some major event, or shift, is about to happen, and we need to prepare for it.”

I woke up the next morning at about 5:30, at the first light. Normally I would have turned over and gone back to sleep, but something didn’t feel right. I went to the front door and opened it onto a cloudless morning. Usually, the local cats were waiting nearby, but this morning they failed to show up screaming for scraps. I imagined the worst: that the neighbours had poisoned them, and now they were gone forever. Not just the cats, I suddenly thought, but everything in my life that had ever meant anything, had now come to a sudden, sad end. It was as if I were staring down the length of a long tunnel that led straight into nothingness. Compared with my sense of lightness the previous evening, this was dark and disturbing, like my dreams during the night which had woken me several times.

All day, I stayed indoors, and saw no one till evening when I was due to meet my friend at the gallery. At the hotel, the television was on and they were showing images of Diana. I soon caught on to what had just happened.

A few days before, I’d been at the magazine stand in the port of Hydra, looking at the headlines from all over Europe and the UK. The British papers, in those days, often carried photos of the princess, but that day there was a computer-generated image of her with her mouth zipped up. One headline screamed “Diana has gone too far!” Diana had been speaking about landmines in the House of Lords that week, and the press was up in arms, it seemed. Along with the rest of the British establishment.

It was the second time in two decades that an earth-shaking death had occurred while I was on Hydra – and each time, I had picked up the signal beforehand.

What was it about that island that seemed – to me, at least – to link it to the sudden, violent deaths of people who proposed to change the world? First Lennon, then Diana.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

First, we take Manhattan

On the day John Lennon died, I was living on the Greek island of Hydra. Hearing “Try to See it My Way” sung by a 20-something girl sitting next to me on the hydrofoil going back to Hydra just last week, I suddenly realized that song – whose lyrics I barely remembered until she started harmonizing with the Beatles on her IPod – had once been important to me.

“Try to see it my way – only time will tell if I am right or I am wrong. Why d’you see it your way? There's a risk that we may fall apart before too long. We can work it out. We can work it out...”

It dawned on me that those half-forgotten lines were woven into my way of looking at the world. And that until John Lennon was shot, it had never occurred to me that things would not get worked out, in ways that did not include putting on uniforms and marching off to destroy other people in distant countries in order to “defend our way of life.” Or the assassination of gentle, confused souls like Michael Jackson.

But all that seems to have changed – at least in the outside world.

On the day John Lennon died, December 8, 1980, I happened to be living on Hydra. I had been in my room for days, reading, writing or trying to write. It was cold and damp and all I had to heat my room was a small electric coil heater, which Leonard Cohen had lent me two weeks earlier. I was afraid to plug it in because electricity was so expensive on that island. So to stay warm, I began taking afternoon walks. A two-hour walk up a mountain would generate enough body heat to last until evening when I could either go out to the only taverna that had a stove, or bundle up in bed and read myself to sleep.

Since the end of September, I had been visiting a few Greek islands, and travelling around Egypt and Israel. In Tel Aviv, in late November, I had hooked up with Leonard and his band, who were performing their final concerts in Israel after a two-month tour of Europe. Now I was on Hydra, and so was Leonard. I was planning to spend the winter, writing a novel. What else does one do on a Greek island in winter, and what better place than Hydra? I knew the island from a 3-month visit the previous year. And this time I had a Canada Council grant, enough to cover rent and food for the next ten months, at least.

I had been living without a radio, let alone TV, since arriving on Hydra in the third week of November, at about the time the weather changed, making it necessary to find permanent shelter and a warm haven to work through the winter.

In the early afternoon of December 9, I had had enough of writing. I needed a break from my tiny cement room, which had nothing in it but the basic necessities: bed, table, frig and hotplate. I decided to take a long walk northeast along the sea coast to the village of Mandraki. At that moment, people in New York were waking up to the news of John Lennon's death, but I had heard nothing.

It was a cold, windy day and the sky was streaked with clouds. Here and there the sun would break out without really warming the earth or the rocks. After half an hour I reached Mandraki, with its beach and scattering of houses abandoned for the winter. At the limits of the village, the road ended abruptly, so I turned right and continued on up one of the hills where I found a goat path to follow. The rocky slopes around Mandraki are known for quartz deposits, and chunks of crystal lie scattered on the ground. It’s said the crystal layer on Hydra is closer to the surface than elsewhere on earth, which gives rise to the idea that the island acts as a kind of radio receiver/ transmitter. People who come to live there often say they notice changes in their patterns of dreaming, or increased sensitivity to psychic experiences.

On that day, I was too engrossed in my own thoughts to notice crystals or rocks, let alone a shift in energy. I was feeling lonely and anxious, wondering how I would make it through a whole winter on this increasingly gloomy island. Once I reached the top of the hill, I sat down on a boulder to ponder the view: sea the colour of iron, stretching all the way to the bleak shores of the Peloponnesus. I could have walked along the ridge all the way to the nearest monastery, but smoke rising from a distant fire told me shepherds were camped up there. I decided to stay put and just meditate for a while.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, I began thinking of John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Where were they? What were they doing? I had not thought about them in years, really not since their “Bed-in for Peace” when they came to Montreal in 1969 and stayed at the Sheraton Mount Royal Hotel, talking to the media and entertaining guests. A friend of mine had gone downtown to meet them, and had spent a few hours in their room.

Since then, I had lost track of Lennon and his music, especially after the breakup of the Beatles. I much preferred Leonard’s style of music, and his songs. Still, for some reason that day, I could not get John and Yoko out of my mind. I heard the news of his shooting some hours later, either from the newspapers (which always arrived on Hydra from Europe and America the following day) or through a friend on Hydra who heard it on the radio. And then, like everyone else, I set about absorbing it.

My first thought was, it’s not true. And then: Lennon could not be dead, because I had just been talking to him on a mountaintop in Greece. Forever after, I would associate John Lennon’s death with climbing that hill at Mandraki, and sitting down on a boulder in a clearing on a remote island seeming to float between sea and sky. On the rare occasions on Hydra when I ran into someone of my generation, I told them that story. It made me feel better, to focus on that incident rather than the actual assassination.

Alone in my room, I told myself it didn’t matter that he was dead. His music would live on -- they were playing it everywhere in the cafes and bars that week and all through December. Besides, John had never been my hero, I thought, or even my favourite Beatle. I never had a favourite Beatle. The most I could say was thatI had liked him the way you might like an older boy several grades ahead of you in school, who was goodlooking and performed well on stage. I had listened to him sing, laughed at his quick, ironic wit – my friends and I had absorbed and tried to imitate his Liverpool accent and brand of humour. The Beatles had blown into our lives via the Ed Sullivan Show, and their music accompanied us through puberty and high school and later university, where it lost ground to the darker, more dangerous Rolling Stones. Ten years older than my graduating class, who in 1980 were just turning thirty, the Beatles were still too young to die. Their music defined our environment and values in ways we rarely stopped to think about.

I hadn't been following Lennon’s activities in New York, where he was becoming more political. Whatever I thought about his campaign for “Peace” – which struck me as a bit simple-minded – I never doubted Peace was worth fighting for, in non-violent ways, because it was better than the alternative. War in our time is for robots, not humans -- I still believe that, although ideologies have changed since 1980. What Mark David Chapman did that day was an act of war, and it was fuelled by a massive delusion. Whether or not he was a mind-controlled patsy – I believe he was -- Mark David Chapman failed miserably in his supposed mission. He ended a life that could have gone on to accomplish great things: we’ll never know. But he did not kill John Lennon – he shattered the vehicle in which the soul known as John Lennon was getting around at the time. It was a pointless act that accomplished nothing, unless the goal was to traumatize innocent fans and others, like myself, who were bystanders.

In death, Lennon grew larger than life. He symbolized lost hope, and the images generated by his murder worked their way into the structure of our thoughts and feelings. Thirty years later, I feel I am still processing the effects of that event which coloured the following decade in ways that were hard to fathom at the time.

Lennon’s assassination came a few weeks after the election of Ronald Reagan, about which I felt much cynicism and also foreboding. But at that time I was far from Washington, where schemes were being laid to alter the future. I was on Hydra, a paradise of isolation even in winter when it can be so cold and damp at night, you shiver till your bed rattles.

My bed had been rattling only the week before as I lay alone in my empty room, under a pile of damp woollen blankets, unable to sleep. That’s when I’d got the idea of going over to Leonard’s place for comfort and consolation. After all, we were friends. It wasn’t yet midnight. Maybe he’d still be up, reading. Maybe he would invite me in, make me a hot cup of Ovomaltine – the Greek version of Ovaltine -- as he had a few days before, with his characteristic friendly humour. His place was always warm. He could afford electricity.

I slipped out of bed, pulled on a couple of sweaters and headed up the stone road that led to Leonard’s L-shaped stone house, which stood at the top of Donkeyshit Lane, the main thoroughfare connecting the port to the labyrinth of narrow lanes that form a kind of amphitheatre on Hydra. In no time I was at his door. The upstairs windows looked dark, but I knocked anyway. Several times. I called out “Leonard! Are you there?” Finally, a muffled voice from the upstairs bed room answered, “Go away! I need my sleep!”

I hadn’t expected such blank rejection. I turned, devastated, and ran back home. The run warmed me up. Back in my clammy bed, I felt had blown things, badly. I resolved not to bother Leonard again, not to visit him, or cook him another vegetarian dinner. Instead I would wait until our next chance encounter in the port – which might be days or weeks away. In the meantime, I would keep on running and walking to stay warm. I would get down to business, write my book, survive on my own.

For the next few days I stuck to my resolution. I wrote in my room. I worked at making other friends among the tiny population of winter residents clinging to the rock called Hydra. And I made sure my walks took me away from the town and the embarrassment of another encounter with Leonard.

John Lennon was shot on a Monday. The following Sunday, I was out for another walk, this time through the port, just as a hydrofoil from Athens was pulling away from the dock. Some pieces of baggage were piled on the quayside, awaiting a donkey. And Leonard was just sitting down in one of the nearby cafes. He was dressed in black, and wore dark glasses and I saw he had been growing a beard since I last saw him, 10 days before. His children, Adam and Lorca, 8 and 6 years old, were with him.

His odd appearance, along with the presence of his two young children, made me shy so I paused some distance away. He saw me, and waved. It felt very awkward, but I went to greet him. I had thought he was still on the island, all that time, avoiding the weather by staying in his house. Were those his bags on the quay? Or were they his children’s? Had they just come from their mother’s place in Paris on their own, or had he gone to get them himself? I started to apologize for not coming to see him for over a week. I'd been in my room writing, I said.

He seemed to hesitate. “Oh, so you’ve been inside?” Then he repeated it a different way: "You've been on the inside?"

He seemed to be peering into me, as if trying to pick up on my thoughts. I found his behaviour off-putting. The last time I’d gone around to see him,he hadn't exactly been friendly. Now I wasn’t sure he even remembered shouting at me from the upstairs window to go away.

I thought he looked unwell. Thinner, almost exhausted. Was he recovering from the flu, I wondered? Maybe he'd been starving, all alone in his chilly mansion. He didn’t tell me he had been away, or where he had been. He walked me away from the cafe tables and over to the corner where a closed shop window displayed an old collection of Greek military medals. We stood there for a moment and to lighten the tension, I joked: “Leonard, you look like you deserve a medal!” He seemed startled, as if he read some other meaning into this offhand comment.

Just then the donkey driver arrived. He left me standing there as he strolled back to the cafe where his children were waiting to be taken up Donkeyshit Lane, to the house.

Leonard Cohen on Hydra with his children, Adam and Lorca, in December 1980. [source: the Sunday Telegraph]

A few days later, I ran into him again and we had coffee. It was two weeks since the tragedy in New York, and I had hardly spoken to anyone. I said, “Too bad about John Lennon.” I was expecting him to weigh in eloquently on the deeper meaning of that event. After all, he too was a singer. There but for fortune.

All he said was: “I never liked the Beatles."

He happened to be carrying a copy of TIME magazine, which had articles on Ronald Reagan’s recent victory, paired with news and commentary on Lennon`s death. He had me read the article that quoted a poem Reagan had written in high school. One line rang particularly sappy and ironic: “Life should be a song.” I handed it back. But Leonard appeared impressed, or at least he praised the new president for his support of Israel, his bold new vision, his approach to the economy. Seeing my opposition, he pointed out the cowboy theme in Reagan’s career – this was something they shared in common, because Leonard had been in a cowboy band at one time. He even sang a few lines from “Red River Valley” to make me laugh.

The unexpected news that he was a fan of Ronald Reagan suddenly made me want to cry. Tears streamed down my face and I wiped them away with my fingers. Maybe I was just overwhelmed by the cold and isolation, my general sense of being a castaway on an island in the middle of nowhere, or maybe I was still getting over my mother’s death the previous February.

Seeing my fragile state, Leonard tried another line of argument. According to the Kabala, he said, the Messiah would arrive either in a time of light, or of great darkness. This almost made sense. It sounded like the Leonard I knew, and calmed me down like a magical formula. I took it to mean that Reagan’s victory was a catastrophe that would end up generating a powerful reaction toward the light. Perhaps things would turn out well, in the end. Perhaps what we all needed was a jolt of Reaganomics, a return to fundamentals, a visit from the Headless Horseman to scare us into shape. Maybe my generation was spoiled and lazy. Maybe that was why John Lennon had to die...

The more I thought about it, though, the more I felt Leonard was panicked about his finances, grabbing at straws, supporting a charlatan like Reagan. He told me he was seriously embracing orthodox Judaism, and suddenly suggested I also convert – especially if I wanted our relationship to continue. A strange thing to say, I thought, and it made me uneasy.

I later heard he had started hanging out with a group of drinkers and gamblers on the island. One was a former mercenary who, when drunk, would boast of killing blacks in the Congo in 1962. It was easy to see why such people would seek out Leonard’s company, but what could possibly draw him to theirs? By then, I had made other friends to help me through the terrible Greek winter. I saw Leonard rarely, and feared our relationship was over. Part of me wanted it to be. He used to read me snippets from the libretto he was composing for Lewis Furey, who came for a visit later that spring.  He often reassured me that this peculiar situation on Hydra was only temporary, and that I should just be patient and wait. Wait for what? Meanwhile, other women sometimes stayed at his house, and kept coming and going all winter.

I survived the next several months,alternating between hope and misery. When I stayed away from Leonard, and just wrote, things went back to normal. But social life there was so sparse, I often withdrew into my own world, and in such places that can be dangerous. I was turning 30, having to face many unpleasant truths. I saw Leonard occasionally, and he would talk, or rather lecture, on various subjects: the Bible, the Kabala, Sufi poetry. Once he said the world was created 6,000 years ago, from a collision between black and white fire.

He never told me about being in New York on the day John Lennon was shot. If I brought up the assassination, he changed the subject to Ronald Reagan’s victory, how it signalled the start of a brand new era.

“I never liked the sixties," he said, although his career began in that decade. Or was he the anti-Beatle? Had he come along to lead a lost generation back to the straight and narrow path of religious and political orthodoxy? I found that thought embarrassing. I lay awake, sometimes, asking myself what sort of future awaited me with a man who adored Ronald Reagan.

It was 15 years later that I reviewed Ira Nadel’s biography where I found a line stating that on December 11, 1980, Leonard Cohen had been in Manhattan, “putting on phylacteries” and attending a religious ceremony. John Lennon’s assassination that same week is not mentioned. In 1995, when I reviewed the book, I thought the biographer had got his facts wrong. I was a witness to the fact Leonard could not have been in Manhattan, because he was staying on Hydra at that time and I saw him often.

I forgot about the second week in December, when I hid out in my room, writing, purposely avoiding Leonard, or the odd encounter in the port a few days after Lennon’s death, when I saw him arriving with his children from some unknown destination – possibly Athens airport, or Paris, as I imagined at the time.

And why would he leave Hydra and travel to New York that week, when his kids were living in France with their mother? Unless he had some special business in New York.

Sylvie Simmons, in her 2012 biography (I'm Your Man) puts Leonard in a room at the Algonquin Hotel on Central Park, 2 km. from the Dakota, on December 11 1980. She has him buying candles in preparation to celebrate the holiday with his children. The problem with that alibi is: in 1980 Hannukah began on December 3 and was over on December 11. 

Most of all, I wonder why he kept his New York trip a secret? Unless he did not want people to know he was there when Lennon was shot. On Hydra, where any item about Leonard was precious currency, such tantalizing news would have been the talk of the island. Leonard in Manhattan on the day Lennon died? What a coincidence. Like the time he was in Cuba just in time for the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. Or in Israel two weeks ahead of the Yom Kippur War (said to have been a "surprise attack" but possibly orchestrated ahead of time by Henry Kissinger.)
Over Christmas, Alberto Manzano visited Hydra and interviewed Leonard. He also took photos. I have one he took of me at Kamini beach on a cold, windy day in December 1980, and also the one I took of him, using his camera.

I kept a notebook in those days, where I sometimes recorded encounters with Leonard and others on the island. It was mainly an exercise to get me working on my novel. I lived just down the lane from a man who used to be such amusing company, but seemed to have lost his sense of humour. Now he was pressuring me to change my thinking and climb on the neo-conservative bandwagon because “Money is the long hair of the eighties.” Sometimes he hinted he might soon be creating his own religious movement, and wouldn’t mind having me as a disciple. It seemed we no longer had a personal relationship, or perhaps I had imagined that -- although he implied we would again if I would quit being a child of the sixties, and grew up. I could help take care of his children, and gain readmittance to his household. But even that would not erase the 17-year age difference that separated me from his generation, and its way of thinking.

All these questions and differences played havoc with my mind. As winter dragged on, I began having nightmares, and what seemed an intense flashback to my death in a past life in Nazi Germany. It was as if time were shifting backwards. A huge gulf had opened between my old life in Montreal, and the one I was living on Hydra. The shift began with John Lennon’s death, which was a turning point. It was as if a crack had opened allowing much darkness to flood my world – although Leonard might have preferred to call it “light.”

Thursday, March 5, 2009

On the subject of Decapitation and "Who is responsible?"

There are a number of details in the story suggesting Vincent Li, the man who decapitated Tim McLean and then ate his victim`s flesh on a Greyhound bus last July, may have been a mind-controlled, programmed assassin:

His zombie-like behaviour after the killing, and the fact that he doesn’t recall his actions — suggest he was programmed and/or in a hypnotic trance at the time.

Hearing the voice of God: he may in fact have been hearing the voice of a handler communicating with him in a number of different ways, including an actual “voice to brain” electronic transmitter.

An early report mentioned that in June, Li had disappeared from his job, delivering newspapers for CanWest, for an entire month.

By a strange coincidence, Li’s CanWest supervisor’s brother in law just happened to be riding the Greyhound bus on which McLean was murdered.

Li had left Edmonton on a Greyhound two days before, disembarked at the Manitoba border, and waited 24 hours for the bus on which Tim McLean was a passenger. Was Li waiting for his handler to arrive in the company of the designated victim? Was this scenario pre-arranged?

Was Tim McLean, who was a carnival worker in Edmonton, chosen to be a sacrificial victim in a ritual killing with racist undercurrents. Tim McLean was a 22-year-old Metis man whose nickname for himself was “Jokawild.” He had posted a photo of himself on MySpace, made up like Heath Ledger’s Joker character in the film DARK KNIGHT.

Ten days before Tim McLean was murdered, on July 20, an article appeared in the Edmonton Sun about a noted ethnologist who had written a book on the Windingo: a mythical, humanoid creature with an insatiable appetite for human flesh.

“Windigo Psychosis” involves a fear of being possessed by the spirit of this creature, and going on a cannibalistic killing spree.

It’s not impossible that the newspaper article in the Sun was part of whatever triggered Li to commit this bizarre crime in front of a busload of horrified passengers.

It’s also not impossible that Tim McLean’s MySpace page played a part in his being selected as the victim in a crime that involved decapitation, which is what the Joker does in DARK KNIGHT.

Was this a Satanic ritual killing, designed to traumatize not only the victim, his family and friends, and witnesses on the scene — but Canadian society as a whole, and perhaps most particularly aboriginal Canadians?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Letters from Josef

Back in Canada, I felt worlds away from war and the un-wept tears flooding Germany and Eastern Europe that summer. I was convinced that I had somehow resurrected my own corpse, over there in Poland, simply by returning to the gas chamber and walking out of it alive. I was finally, totally free.
Of course, I couldn’t talk to anyone about this. I read the books I bought at the bookstore in Auschwitz-Birkenau, and waited for something to happen. It seemed logical to think that, having visited the place where I had died in my last lifetime, I had smashed a barrier, shredded a veil, taken a walk between worlds. This event would resolve some ancient issues, and help me gain new perspective on my life. Maybe, magically, something would surface that would light the path ahead of me.

I was right. Something did surface. Of course, it was not quite the “resurrection” I had in mind.

One evening I browsed the internet in search of holocaust memoirs. I came across a website belonging to a young man in Pennsylvania who said he was the reincarnation of Dr. Josef Mengele.

The website, which was dedicated to “the greatest war criminal of the twentieth century,” had been up for a few months. I was curious

A 22-year-old man in Pennsylvania, Joseph Muller, was claiming to be the reincarnation of Mengele. I can think of very few novelists who could spin a convincing story out of something so outlandish, even trite. Here, however, was a 22-year-old who had put together a documentary, including much detailed research, archival photos, and his own personal writing about being Mengele. It took all evening to read from beginning to end and was almost a book in itself -- well beyond what one would expect from a young man in his early twenties.

Not that parts of it were not disturbing, to say the least. If it had not rung at all true, it would have been a terrible waste of creative energy. What was so odd, was that this boy obviously believed he was Mengele. He also seemed, at times, to be fully aware of what that meant, in terms of the need to explain himself. Quite clearly, he was trapped in the overwhelming irony of having to account for deeds which, at their core, were unspeakable.

As I read, I recalled how the clinic at Auschwitz remains closed to the public, an indication of how little we really know about this man and his ugly career. But here was some kid living in Nowhere, Pennsylvania, trying to bring it out into the open. At times, he might have been writing from Transylvania. Part of him was a cartoon, yet even that part bore a disquieting resemblance to reality.

Joseph Muller was obsessed with details of Mengele’s life. He seemed to bask in the reflected notoriety of a man everyone hated, whose crimes were beyond imagining and perhaps were best kept secret and hidden from humanity.

Stubbornly, with an air of preaching, he spelled out his politics in prose which could be colourful, pompous, or dry, depending. He was not a neo-Nazi, he said, and had no respect for those who embraced the ideology of the Third Reich without having lived through its madness.

One thing was certain: he was not kidding. Whatever his shortcomings as a writer, Joseph Muller never slipped out of character, or veered too far into caricature. He always came across as exactly what he pretended to be: a young man in Pennsylvania, burdened by memories of having been a notorious monster.

He opened his autobiography with a photograph of Mengele’s son, Rolf, as a little boy, and a letter asking for forgiveness and understanding in language that conjured all the defensiveness and self-pity of an ageing war criminal, who nevertheless suffers from the fact that his own son has turned against him.

He went on to relate how he was born into this lifetime out of wedlock and unwanted by his mother, a young nurse in Pennsylvania who eventually placed him in a foster home. How, at age 11, in 1991, while his history teacher was talking to the class about the holocaust, he first saw a photo of the famous war criminal and found he somehow knew more about the man than was normal for a kid who, until that moment, had never even heard of Dr. Mengele.

Afterwards young Josef began writing poems and making drawings which seemed to unearth buried details from what, in his mind at least, could only be a past life as a doctor at Auschwitz.

He could call up horrific scenes, including memories of a field hospital near Stalingrad where, as a young doctor in 1942, Mengele dodged bullets on the battlefield while performing operations to save the wounded and dying. Awarded an Iron Cross for bravery in combat, he describes how as a 30-year-old SS doctor, officer and decorated war hero, he underwent a terrible transformation after the disastrous defeat of the German forces in Russia.

This, he writes, was when he lost his personality and became the embodiment of evil, totally indifferent to suffering and bloodshed – probably as a result of post traumatic stress. Having witnessed so much death and destruction, he lost the ability to feel anything for anyone. By the time his superiors in Berlin dispatched him to Auschwitz, in the spring of 1943, he was a psychopath, albeit a high functioning one. How could he care about trainloads of Jewish refugees filing past on the railway platform, on their way to a quick death? He had already seen so much suffering, their lives meant absolutely nothing to him.

Many people would recoil at the spectacle of a “reincarnated” war criminal trying to excuse himself by invoking a plea of insanity. At the beginning of 1945 Nuremberg trials, psychiatrists weeded out those deemed too deranged to stand trial, but Mengele never stood trial – his American captors released him supposedly by mistake.

Here is the reincarnated Mengele, who escaped justice for over 30 years, using a term, PTSD, that gained currency decades later, and using it in self-defence. And although I took young Muller’s confession with numerous grains of salt, and often with a shudder of distaste, I could not completely dismiss it. People who have never lived through violent combat are in no position to judge others, who have.

Of course, Josef Muller hadn’t really been in combat, either – unless you believe in the possibility that traumatic experiences can be transferred, or recalled, from one lifetime to the next.

What gave Josef’s story a touch of extra credibility at the beginning, was a testimonial by Eva Moses Kor. A former Mengele twin and Holocaust survivor, whose twin sister perished in Mengele’s clinic at Auschwitz, Kor is the founder of C.A.N.D.L.E.S. holocaust centre in Minneapolis, and has an international reputation as a writer and advocate for healing through forgiveness.

In her statement, published on Josef’s website, she describes their first contact, her initial reactions and questions, and how she gradually came to believe that Josef Muller might well be who he claimed to be.

Another “note of authenticity” came at the end where Josef included his e-mail address at, a combination of letters and numbers drawn from Mengele’s name and a certain model of BMW which Josef liked to drive at high speed around Pennsylvania -- at least until his accident.

I decided to see if this address actually worked. I wrote a message, and fired it off.


Subject: Dear Dr. Mengele
Date Tue, 25 Jun 2002 203314 EDT

Today I found your website, and after reading almost all of it, I have just come across your e-mail address. I was Visitor Number 101. To my surprise, I found I was quite moved by your story.

I am 51 years old, and have been having flashbacks to my death in the holocaust since childhood. I have just returned to my home in Canada from a trip to Poland, where I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau, and in particularly crematorium I, at Auschwitz. This gas chamber is identical in size and shape to the one I found myself in during a hypnotic regression in 1998. I believe I arrived in the hospital wagon of a transport from (possibly) Breslau in the winter of 1941-42. Something tells me it was in mid-February.

I was a woman of about 30, and I had been involved with a group of young Poles from the cities who were blowing up German trains carrying supplies and soldiers en route to the Eastern Front. As I had been attacked and beaten in the train station, I could not walk and was taken immediately to the gas chamber. I was alone at the time of my death, and I remember noticing that the interior walls of the chamber had just been freshly whitewashed.

I am just beginning to write my own story, about my past life as a young German/Polish woman who was connected with the resistance. Like you, I am coming to terms with the effects of that lifetime on this one.

At Auschwitz I bought Dr. Nyiszli's book, I was Dr. Mengele's Assistant, and finished it about a week ago. The photo of Mengele in that book surprised me, as it did not seem to be the face of an evil man. I sometime give creative writing workshops. I believe writing is the most effective therapeutic tool for healing trauma.

Your memoir is very impressive. I believe it will help a lot of people to forgive themselves. Thank you for writing and publishing it.
Ann D.

After hitting “SEND,” I waited nervously. At hour later, his reply was in my mailbox. It was as if I had pressed a button on a coffin, and out popped Count Dracula.

I read, with a mixture of disbelief, fascination and irony:

Dear Ann,

Thank you for the compliments. I would like to go back to Auschwitz-Birkenau, and Eva and I do plan on returning there in the upcoming years. We also plan on visiting my hometown of Gunzburg. I did intend on going back into medicine and science, but with the way HMO's are treating people in America, I do not wish to have my hands tied behind my back when I must save someone's life. What many of these people do not realize (the ones who choose to limit what a doctor can and cannot do) is that they are only hurting themselves in the end when it will be their turn to receive medical care. Also, my dream was to correct congenital defects while in utero, so that the woman won't need to bother with an abortion, and that a healthy baby will be born. This way I would create a win/win situation. Yet, I'm limited there as well due to the "Religious Right". Since medicine is not medicine anymore (with the exception of rare circumstances), and scientists have too many restrictions, I chose to focus on teaching the Holocaust. Back in April, I believe, I noticed in the paper that there are Ph.D.s for Genocide studies. I figured that, since I tend to be a bit "overqualified" for teaching the Holocaust, I might as well utilize my experiences to teach other people. In the end, I would like to become a "Holocaust Professor".

I might as well make the best use of being reincarnated, and I really couldn't think of any better way. I keep in touch with another reincarnated 'victim' of Auschwitz. Our friendship has brought in many ideas, and has done much healing, despite the fact that we're on opposite ends of the Atlantic. If you'd like to keep in touch with me, feel free to do so. And if you have any questions about the camp, experiments, or things related, don't hesitate to ask. Ironically, I've gotten along better with reincarnated 'victims' than one of the other reincarnated Nazis, who was a member of the Einsatzgruppen. I know, it's strange but true.

I'm still working on my book, and since I've become the official field doctor for a Feldlazaret, you'll start noticing photographs of me with the German Red Cross nurses (DRK nurses) popping up. I already have a collection that I will add next month from this year's WW2 re-enactment in Reading, Pa. Personally, my book will never be 'completely' done since the memories will go on forever. Currently I'm trying to finish getting my 1938 Inaugural Medical Dissertation on the book. I only have a few more pages to go, tends to be a pain in the gluteous maximus, if you know what I mean. I'm glad that you find my memoir healing. Writing it helped me understand myself better, and I believed that I just could not die and not have done this since I know that it will have a big impact on many. I would like to have more than just a tombstone to my name when I die. I don't intend on re-reincarnating either. I've had enough, and seen's nothing against the good people I've met, but I would like to spend my "spiritual life" back in Gunzburg, and with my brothers who I really miss. Therefore, I fully intend to make the best use of this time on earth.


He was certainly a complicated fellow, prone to operatic mood swings, hypersensitive to anything that could be taken as a personal slight, unforgiving if crossed: traits that also applied to the real Mengele. He boasted of having super-human powers: he could murder people just by focusing on them, mentally.

In my second e-mail, when I was still uncertain how to approach this correspondence I had flirted with his darker side:

Really, apart from my fear of rejection (as an older woman, I have to worry about such things), I'm also afraid that if we got involved and it didn't work out, you might give me a lethal injection. …Oh, I forgot to mention that I am a twin in this lifetime.

Perhaps he took this as a come-on. His reply was definitely peculiar:

I would have no reason to give you a lethal injection. Cripes, my criminal record is clean...well, at least this half is, and I'd like to keep it that way As an SS officer, we were not to have criminal records at all Therefore, all this SS discipline does pay off in the end.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Misericorde Hospital

I have been researching and writing about the dark side of psychiatry particularly in relation to secret Cold War LSD experiments on children in Montreal at McGill and elsewhere across Canada.

I have a photo of Doctors Ewen Cameron and and Heinz Lehmann standing with a group of other doctors outside the Misericorde hospital in Montreal in 1959. This was a hospital for. unwed mothers and also an orphanage. At the time Lehmann was directing the research institute of the Allan Memorial. What are two Mc Gill psychiatrists doing in a group photo on the steps of this hospital? What legitimate reason would they have to be there?

I am guessing the secret reason is they are setting up an agreement to get children for use in experiments. We know there were orphans living in a sealed off wing of the Allan in those years.

Cameron and Lehmann were key figures in what appears to have been a eugenics program operating out of McGill. Lehmann had trained in Nazi Germany at precisely the universities where the infamous T4 eugenics program was developed. He came to Quebec in 1937 and was soon placed in charge of a major psychiatric hospital known as a place where patients were zombified with drugs and ECT.

There was also a link with New York and Massachusetts hospitals and military bases like Plattsburgh AF base known to have used trafficked orphans from Quebec in classified experiments. Some of this information comes from surviving orphans.

Cameron worked with Dr Nolan D C Lewis from the NY Psychiatric Institute where a Nazi doctor Franz Kalman had run a eugenics program since the 1930s. Lewis worked with Cameron giving LSD to children in the 1950s at McGill.

They needed a lot of children in those days and Quebec was a baby factory, with the highest birth rate in the western world.



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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Allergic to Gas

May 30, 2002
I didn’t plan on visiting Auschwitz on the 59th anniversary of Mengele’s arrival at the clinic there. If such had been my plan, I could have waited another year, and then it would have been the 60th anniversary, a more significant marker. Not that that occurred to me – and even if I had known of it at the time, I would not have chosen to commemorate the Angel of Death’s first day as medical director of a death camp. And anyway, I was marking my anniversary, not that of the “Angel of Death.”

The day I went to Auschwitz -- May 30, 2002 -- also happened to be Corpus Christi, or Feast of the Pentecost. Not a holiday I normally celebrate at the scene of a mass grave. In fact I never celebrate it at all, although I have no trouble believing the Holy Spirit can descend on us at any time and cause us to speak in tongues, or no human language . Looking back, the timing of that also seems appropriate.

Dr. Anna Novak, the cousin of a friend of mine, came along with me to Auschwitz that day. Anna is an allergy specialist. This was one of those odd coincidences because in a roundabout way, my allergies had brought me to Poland. For much of my life, I had suffered from respiratory problems. Childhood pneumonia at age 3, followed by chronic bronchitis at 11, and later, allergies.

Anna proved very open to my eccentric notion that some of my lingering respiratory issues stemmed from my death in the gas chamber at Auschwitz in 1942. Allergic reactions, she told me, can be triggered by all sorts of things – even a photograph of a plant or flower to which one is allergic. So it made sense, to Anna, that I was allergic to gas chambers. Especially if I had died in one.

Because it was Corpus Christi that day, and Poland is a devoutly Christian nation, the road that wound through the countryside after we left the main highway from Krakow, was strewn with flowers from a procession that had passed an hour before. We drove those last few kilometers over fronds and scattered petals. Overnight it had rained, and clouds still hung overhead but you could see the sun trying to break through the curtain of mist in places. I remember I had a sense of floating in the dampness of a dull yet dreamlike landscape. Anna was driving, and I was gazing out the window, trying to make something of the scenery, which was lush, chaotic and formless -- nothing like the disciplined German vegetation I was more used to.

We came to the town of Chrzanow – familiar through a friend whose mother was deported from that village, along with her six sisters, none of whom survived the war. My friend had asked me to look out for that place-name on the way to Auschwitz, and here it was.

As we cut through the shabby centre, I looked for signs of a cemetery, or other remnants of the pre-war era, but there was only post-communist greyness and decaying modernity as in a project which has been aborted or abandoned. There was life, but I knew it was nothing like life had been back in the days when it had been her mother’s village. That old life was gone like the people, and existed only in photographs like the one I found on a wall later that day in one of the buildings at Auschwitz, showing men and women of Chrzanow being led away by German soldiers in caps and steel helmets. It looks like a morning in early spring, and the people wear their coats unbuttoned as they file to the train, unaware that they are leaving this familiar world, forever.

Anna and I had been on the road since yesterday morning. Our sightseeing trip had taken us from Anna’s home in Wroclaw the day before, over to the capital of Warsaw to visit a government office where she was applying for a visa to Canada.

After having coffee in a famous cafe, we continued south to Krakow – a circular marathon through countryside flooded in many places from the heavy rains that year. Along the way, we stopped to buy strawberries from local farmers at a roadside stand. For a few zlotys, you got a large basket of the juiciest, most delicious fruit imaginable. But here on this small rural road, which had just seen a religious parade go by, there were no fruit vendors. It felt like Sunday although it was Thursday. In no time, it seemed we had left the mist behind and arrived at the village of Oswiecim – less than 2 km from the infamous death camp. I remember passing the abandoned slave labour factory that had once been IG Farben’s, at the edge of the village where the rails veer off to the left.

Parallel to the tracks, the road ran to the entrance to the parking lot of Auschwitz. We were at our destination. Walking away from Anna’s car, I almost ran to the Arbeit Macht Frei gate. I had expected it to be enormous, but it was much smaller than I had imagined.

I had brought the wrong clothes, thinking the weather would be hot, but in defiance of all the predictions it remained wet and freezing. In the photos Anna took, my hair is flying out from my head. I’m dressed as if for a camping trip where bears made off with my clothes leaving me in my pajamas. In some photos, I seem detached from surrounding reality. Often I am smiling, as if actually “enjoying Auschwitz” although that was not my intention. The truth was I didn’t want to be photographed and would have preferred to drift around the place, invisible, just taking it in.

In a way, I was glad to be “back.” Sixty years had passed since the day in February 1942, when a transport arrived carrying hundreds of Polish workers, labour organizers, intellectuals and resistance fighters to their deaths. The Final Solution had been formulated by Himmler at the Wannsee Conference one year earlier, and it would be four months before mass deportation of Jews from their ghettos to Auschwitz began the following summer of 1942. Before it was used to exterminate the Jews in their millions, the system had first to be tested on other enemies of the Reich who were being rounded up in great numbers at that time.

That transport had left Wroclaw on Valentine’s Day, 1942, and arrived late the same night at its destination. Had “I” been on that train? The full horror of that trip had surfaced four years earlier during a past life regression, back in Montreal, and was hard to dismiss or ignore. Under hypnosis, intended to pinpoint the source of certain fears and unconscious phobias that were interfering in my life, a few faint images had coalesced into a nightmarish physical reliving of a ride in a freezing box car that ended at the gas chamber.

When it was over, there was no doubt in my mind that what I had just relived was real. I was sweating from every pore, as if I had just run several miles. In reality, I was lying on a mattress on the floor, the therapist next to me pounding on my back and urging me to cough out all the gas that remained in my lungs from that other lifetime.

More details came up as I researched the period. Further flashbacks took me back to wartime Europe. I saw myself as a woman in her twenties in a long black trench coat, bicycling from place to place delivering money and papers to people in the underground. Some were young people from the city, who had moved into the woods and were blowing up German trains with homemade explosives. I saw myself involved with a young Wehrmacht officer who was helping the Resistance by providing information about things like Nazi troop movements and plans. We would meet in a small single-room building near railway tracks in the countryside. In fact, these small buildings, which might be storage facilities, can still be seen beside the railroads in Germany and Poland. That life had come to a sudden end in a train station in a city which might have been Wroclaw, where we were rounded up early one February morning and shipped to Auschwitz.

On a quest that became an obsession, I decided to travel back to Poland and retrace that long day’s journey sixty years earlier. I would go there in my new, or slightly “used” 50-year-old body. There would be much to catch up on and explore.
We began with the photographs of thousands of camp inmates, attached to identity cards lining the walls of the first exhibit. I stared into one face after another, thinking one of the faces might trigger another memory or flashback.

There is much to see at Auschwitz. A day is barely enough. There is the famous room with its glass display of shoes and human hair. Outside are the trademark guard towers, the encircling barbed wire fences stretching into the distance, and the endless rows of barracks. Auschwitz is a ghost town with its own literature and history, and of course its own architecture of repression and torture stretching back into the nightmare that gave rise to Nazi Germany.

I had my limited, personal agenda. I wanted to verify a number of peculiarities from my regression, four years earlier. I wanted to walk the same route I would have travelled in 1942 as an injured woman on a transport carrying hundreds of others. By my reckoning, it took less than two hours to be hauled out of the hospital wagon and straight to the gas chamber, in a small cart that ran on rails alongside the train tracks.

The first thing I looked for at Auschwitz was that small set of rails running parallel to the main tracks where the transports unloaded their passengers. They were there. As for the cart, I found one at Birkenau later that day.

The former kitchen was in a large building now housing an exhibition of photos dating from the war. I was reading the captions and moving from photo to photo, when I came to a halt in front of one. At the centre of the blurred photo, a small ragged band of Jewish partisans were gathered in the woods. Some proudly displayed their guns. Many were smiling for the camera. All of them were likely long dead. Oddly, I began reacting to the photo before I had even made out what it was. Tears welled up, and a feeling of sobbing and choking – which made it hard to decipher the caption before I bent forward to see the faces.

Outside, I pulled myself together. It seemed I had just met my old friends. Continuing my walk through the streets with their brown brick buildings, built by slave labour, I came to the Wall of Death, which stands to the left of the Gestapo prison also known as Block 11.

Next door to this bleak courtyard where prisoners were shot after being interrogated and tortured in the prison on the right, is Block 10, the infamous clinic operated by Auschwitz’s “Angel of Death,” SS Doctor Josef Mengele.

A black sign with white letters, reading “HOTEL KRANKENHAUS -- CHIRURGISCHE – ABT,” marked the facade behind which experiments were done on dozens of children, many of them twins. They’ve since renovated it, remodelled the steps, painted the door a rusty brown, reopened the two small windows which were bricked in the day I visited, and removed the black and white signs. The day I visited, there was also a No Smoking sign – I’m not sure why -- and the street number 21 was clearly posted out front. The clinic remains closed to this day. The horrors that went on inside, considered beyond the pale of the imaginable, exist in a category of inhumanity defying description or inquiry.

In this photo, taken by Anna, the door behind me appears to be standing half open. It seems possible to look inside, or even enter the building although I remember it being permanently closed to visitors. Until now, I never looked carefully at this photo, never noticed the half-open door or the reddish fog spreading down from one corner of the roof. It looks as if blood is staining the branches of the tree and the brick wall of the building. On the left is the digital date “5 30” – day of Mengele’s arrival exactly 59 years earlier. If you look closely, a figure like that of a doctor with a handlebar moustache, wearing a two piece suit, seems to be peering out of the left-hand second floor window. In the window on the right, skeletal faces and bodies are pressed against the glass.

But of course, these are all mere illusions, tricks of light or bad film processing. Holding my guidebook, posing for Anna on the steps, I am oblivious to whatever is behind my back. I look unreal and almost transparent, in contrast to the building which seems tortured and alive, its mismatched bricks and glaring windowpanes bursting with secrets still trapped inside. Even the shadow of the tree on the cobblestones seems to be pointing a scissor hand at the entrance to this house of horrors. Though much of the reality of this medical torture chamber was unknown to me at the time, I felt the need to stand there marking the spot. Looking at the photo, I am reminded of all that happened later.

The last detail I hoped to verify was the gas chamber. At the climax of my hypnotic regression, I had found myself lying on a bare cement floor. The room surrounding me was small, no bigger than a one-car garage, and the walls were shiny and wet from recent whitewashing. I also noticed a small round object just overhead, which fascinated me, until the gas began to pour in and I began choking. As the air became deadly and un-breathable, I abandoned my body on the floor and went hurtling into space. (And strangely, once again, as I type this description I find my lungs becoming congested and I am sneezing – not the first time this has happened!) I t turned out these details, too, were correct, down to flakes of old whitewash that still clung to the walls. I touched them, but took no photos.
The Crematorium was right next door. I had no memory of that room – after all, I would have been already dead when I entered it. Like countless others who ended there, had I gone up the chimney as smoke?

In the regression, I experienced what people often report in near-death experiences: hurtling down a long tunnel at high speed, I couldn’t stop laughing at how simple and funny it is to leave one’s body. At the end of that long corridor, as if from the wrong end of a telescope, I saw a round image of my future parents. My father wore wire-rimmed glasses; my mother’s hair was long, dyed black and parted in the middle. They seemed taken aback, as if they had just received notice of a pregnancy. For them, it was 1950 and they were not expecting twins. We arrived a few months later.

Had my trip into my present lifetime with these parents begun in this crematorium? Were death and life so intimately connected that we can step out of one body and into a new one, almost as easily as shedding our clothes? As I stood looking at the ovens, other tourists were coming and going, taking photographs of the room where so many lives had been reduced to ashes before their time.

Anna was waiting for me outside when I emerged. We had lunch in the car: sandwiches and juice.

Then we drove the short distance to Birkenau, a huge, desolate expanse which swallows up visitors as it swallowed inmates in the past. The sister camp to Auschwitz, with its wide gate perpendicular to the train tracks, is familiar from photographs. I walked back and forth for a while on the siding where Dr. Mengele used to stand in his uniform to meet the trains, calling out “Zwillinger, Zwillinger” as he scoured the crowds for twins and other victims for his experiments. While Anna waited in the car, I ran inside, following the signs directing visitors to barracks and gas chambers. A few minutes were enough.

I joined Anna for the long drive home to Wroclaw that would take us north through the coal mining region of Silesia.

In the bookstore, I had bought two books. One was I WAS DR. MENGELE’S ASSISTANT. I carried it with me back to Canada and read it in one sitting the following week. I had the whole summer to read and go for walks and bike rides – and look for another teaching job. It turned out no job materialized. The following autumn, my belongings would go into storage as I began a process of investigating themes that had surfaced for me at Auschwitz. I had left Auschwitz behind, but a ghost had followed me home.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Latter Day Zombies

I rarely go to church but last Sunday in Vancouver I attended the occupation of Saint Andrew's Wesley United Church by survivors of Canada's residential school genocide.

About twenty aboriginal men and women entered the church just as I was sitting down, and lined up in front of the altar holding a banner calling for the return of the 50,000 missing children's remains, and a proper burial.

The church, which had been humming with pre-service chatter, suddenly became silent. After conferring quickly, the minister and one or two other robed officers approached the group and talked with them. For a few moments, the atmosphere was tense and uncomfortable.

Then the minister addressed the congregation and welcomed "our friends" who had a message to deliver. He did this in a superficially friendly and grandstanding way that showed he was on top of the situation and knew exactly how to deal with it.

The native men and women stood holding their banner. In contrast to the minister, none of them were smiling. They looked as if they had just absorbed another insult. No one in the congregation moved or responded. All eyes were focused on the visitors and the minister who stood awkwardly rubbing his hands together in one of those ritualized gestures expressing benevolence and Christian tolerance.

The church seemed suddenly filled with the disappointment and anger of the native people. I felt tears welling up, inside and around me.

When they all slowly turned and began silently filing down the aisle towards the front door, it was as if they had had enough of this place. I felt like running after them, but a family had just sat down next to me, blocking my exit.

Once the natives had disappeared, the minister was all smiles again, calling on the congregation to "wave your hands wildly" and shout requests for favourite hymns. The heavy mood had lifted, and now we were going to be entertained by the Holy spirit. For the next hour, I squirmed in my seat as he nimbly ran through his scripted Sunday routine. First came a children's pantomime about Christ healing a paralyzed man, performed with stuffed bears and children led by the pastor. Next, a sermon about his weekly struggle to make his sermons relevant to parishioners.

At times he raised his arms and threw back his head as if receiving inspiration from heaven. He digressed briefly into a commentary on the "guests" who had interrupted the service, and from there he talked about "illness" and the case of the paralyzed man who was saved by the holy spirit descending through a hole in the roof. He talked about "sin" as the root cause of sickness -- an ancient belief that still has meaning today. Never once did he address the theme of guilt, or atonement for crimes against humanity. The United Church has nothing, apparently, to say about that.

When we were asked to turn to the people around us and shake hands and greet one another in the "spirit of the Lord," I was forced to look into one smiling face after another. As mouths repeated the ritual line, eyes told another story. They were eyes I would instinctively have avoided, filled with coldness, fear, secrecy.

I started to think there was something strange about this church and its congregation. I turned my head once or twice to look at them, standing in their rows, astonishingly alike in Sunday clothes, as if they knew what was expected of church goers. In his struggle to be relevant, the minister seemed almost like a marionnette, calling on us to stand up again and make a "joyful noise to the Lord." It was, he said, our time to "rock." The guitars came out and the middle-aged choir put on a pathetic show of belting out a few "contemporary expressions of faith." The minister joined in the rapture, shaking to the Muzak, letting it all hang out for Jesus.

How people manage to go through these motions week after week without choking, is beyond me. It takes a stronger person than I to take part in an orgy of phoniness, and walk out feeling at one with God's love and light.

By the time it was over, I understood my place in the universe: out on the street with the native people who must know by now to expect nothing from a church that has been taken over by latter-day zombies.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Loving thy neighbour

I have been watching a slow change come over some of my friends. It has probably been happening over decades. and it's connected to the political evolution of the state of Israel.

I actually used to defend Israel, back in the 1980s before the politics of that country hardened into present-day policies that now seem to include genocide of Palestinians. While Israel was drifting towards extremism, my friends were drifting into the psychological equivalent of gated communities. Many now live behind their own version of the Wall that separates Israel from Palestine. For some, children of holocaust survivors, it's a well-earned state of peace.

Psychologically, it also can be a no man's land where if you squint, you can see barbed wire and heavy artillery. An arid landscape that does not lead to flourishing friendships. So these days few people I know ever bring up the subject of Israel.

When the war in Lebanon was raging in 2006, communication was often reduced to e-mails calling on me to "defend Israel" from rising anti-Semitism. My position by then was: Israel needs no help in destroying its image as a bastion of democracy in the Middle East. Shelling civilian populations in Lebanon and Gaza have pretty much accomplished that goal.

Some e-mails even suggested the bombing of Lebanon was really a "feminist" campaign against a medieval culture that mistreats women. Rather than inspiring me to join the clash of civilizations and defend western culture against radical Islam, these mass maiings were making me sick to my stomach, triggering unpleasant flashbacks as well as doubts about the moral IQ of the people sending them -- people I thought I had much in common with. Now I began to wonder.

Even back then, dialogue was almost extinct. When I replied to one woman, a kind and generous person (in the past), she was shocked and sent me an URL about the oppressed Jews of Iran. Nobody was bombing and shelling them at the time, none of their women and children were being buried under rubble. I had a friend who happened to be an Iraqi Jew. He also was no Zionist and told me the Iranian Jews e-mail was a propaganda hoax, discredited some months earlier. I asked my friend why she found that community's history worth sharing at a time when Israeli rockets were pounding civilian villages in the south of Lebanon?

She explained that all these dead children were nothing more than "human shields," and switched to an interrogative tack. "Do you or do you not think Israel has the right to exist?"

It was like talking to someone who is using a handbook. Were we in kindergarten? I spelled out my answer: The right to exist is not the right to wage war on innocent people. When did existence become synonymous with mass murder?

This woman was not Jewish. She was a Scottish Canadian, a former nurse and one of her great qualities is empathy. Put this woman in a Gaza hospital, and she would be racing around saving Palestinian lives. But her friends in Montreal were telling her Israel was being attacked, and that the horrific images on TV were manufactured in some Hezbollah PR office at the UN.

The discussion ended when she struck me from her "support Israel" e-mail list. The next time I saw her, she was as friendly as ever. We talked about everything but Israel. By then of course the Wall had been built. It has served a symbolic purpose in hiding unpleasant realities that don't jive with a self-image, built up since WW2, of the Jews as a suffering people with a deep sense of ethics.

This may still be true of many Jews, but it is definitely not true of the Israeli government. This disconnect between historical suffering and present-day criminal policies, really needs to be addressed for the sake of our sanity. But no one seems to know how to initiate an inquiry into how whole nations end up sleepwalking toward mass murder.

I have many Jewish friends and for the most part they are moral people, or they could not be my friends for very long. Lately, though, some of these friends have dropped me. Others have suggested I should be less vocal, mainly by quietly un-friending me on Facebook. Israel's human rights violations, which some are calling war crimes, are not a polite topic on the street where I live.

In a way, Jews are collateral victims of every new Israeli offensive, with its echoes of Second World War atrocities in European cities and villages. "Collective punishment" is something I take personally, especially when friends try to justify it by pretending it isn't happening.

It's as if they're saying: "Love thine enemy. OK, we tried that, and it doesn't work!"

Collective punishment on the other hand, works. I guess that makes it a desirable weapon when you are wishing for a world of peace. It silences resistance by destroying everyone in an area where one's enemies are thought to be operating. It makes no distinctions of gender, age or political affiliation. Anyone can become a human shield without volunteering, and be made to pay equally for the actions of a few, whose bodies need never even be identified.

A few years ago, my former neighbour told me that universal collective punishment for the holocaust is justified, even inevitable. He predicted a time was coming when all of humanity would end up paying for the crimes the Nazis committed against the Jews. It was, he said, part of a divine plan revealing the ultimate purpose of human history. God was angry about the continued suffering of his chosen people, and how world opinion was turning against Israel. So, when the time was right, He would commence revenge killings and destroy all life on the planet. In those days, there would be a great trouble, followed by victory for the chosen.

He seemed to be presenting me with a choice: you are with us or against us. Speechless, I went home to think this over. It could not be a joke, because it had the quality of religious conviction rooted in poisoned emotions. Later these kinds of statements were made by some evangelical Christians and neo-conservatives leaders. And certain Israeli politicians. And of course, extremists.

You don't debate such statements, and there is no answer for them. They come from a fenced-off zone of total negation, roamed by uniformed children with automatic weapons. They have the ring of fanatical racism, and lead to methods which have been shown to work when you are terrorizing a population and preparing the ground for mass murder.

To hear such a statement coming from a former friend is the kiss of death. If not retracted, it erodes all trust, and defeats every possibility of dialogue. Maybe some families can function without dialogue. But a friendship, no. Friendships are based on choice, unless they're friendships of convenience.

"Kill or be killed" is not a human choice but it's an increasingly popular worldview shared by the criminally insane. Like secret abuse, it punishes the innocent, turns supporters into hostages and collaborators. So almost overnight, I lost a friend. And I left town.

A criminal gang have made it clear they believe in collective punishment as the key to their own survival. No exodus is possible in this closed-in world. Inside this walled enclosure, genocide is simply a fact of life because humans by their nature are genocidal. Faced with encircling evil, what choice does a "democracy" like Israel have?

Kill or be killed.

The indiscriminate killing of Palestinians is not only inevitable, it's also insufficient. It evokes international rage and condemnation -- which only reinforces the lonely path of "self-defence" that Israel is following. And once on that path, there is no going back. You don't embark half-heartedly on war crimes. Just ask Hitler. Once unleashed, Blitzkrieg imposes the necessity of carrying on to a conclusion. So in the end, Germany was reduced to smoking rubble, along with the neighbourhood. Logically, inevitably.

The same thing could happen to Israel. If it does, it will be the working out of the same "collective punishment" doctrine that decrees we all must die for the crimes of a few.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Letter from an Israeli friend (verbatim)

I received this letter about a week ago, i.e. mid-January, at the height of the Israeli bombardment of Gaza. I am putting it here, verbatim, while I think it over. What can one say? I did reply, as quietly and reasonably as possible, but my response came nowhere near dealing with the core of M's message. Clearly, she believes Israel is defending itself from terrorists, and that no one in the outside world can possibly understand what her people are experiencing. She also seems to believe that Israel's "humanitarian aid" to Gaza has gone ignored due to "human nature." Clearly, she feels herself to be living in an island of sanity in the midst of an ocean of evil.

I am reminded of how the people of Nazi Germany were conditioned to think of themselves as totally isolated, surrounded and under attack by evil enemies -- when in fact their leaders were using mass media and deception to build support for acts of extreme aggression against their neighbours.

I just don't know where to begin in trying to make sense of this, so I'm starting here.



Dear Ann

I deeply appreciate your reply and thank you for mentioning my emotional approach.

The numbers are so horrifying because the Hamas use the people and the children as a source of shelter. They shoot the rockets from homes, hospitals and know that Israeli attitude (even as hard to believe it now) is NOT to hurt civilians in any case.

I am so so so sorry for all the loss of people on both sides, but the Hamas have been sending rockets for years!!! The South of this tinny country lives in constant terror, The farmers say for years that they feel like in a "Russian rulet" every day while working in he fields, people died lost houses, what about all the walking bombs we fear constantly - is that OK?The world seems at peace with that, WHY?? is it OK to kill Israeli people? Is it Ann?!,,,and many more stories and reasons for the strong action that you and the world are seen. You know that they have the headquarters under a Hospital - How sick can people be??? Apparently very (and you know that).

I get very upset when I see that people as you only see one side of the picture.

Do you really think I feel safer or good knowing that so many people/children lost their lives? Well I don't but we can not live with so much daily fear of s bloody deadly rocket falling on you in the country (they reach most of Israel between the Hezbollah in the North and the Hamas in the South), enough the danger along the borders.

I just think that you see one side and take a side with out really understanding that it is about human nature and not Hamas/Israel/Hezbollah /Iran/Bosnia/Tibet/..... and so many other countries.

How come this was makes you so active and not other wars?

what about horrifying situations in so many other parts of the world?

Why Israel vs Palestine?

Is it sexy to take part here?

Have you heard of the idea that Gaza is entirely bomb trapped: homes (with family's inside, schools even the animal cages in the zoo!!!!!I mean come on...and you know why? well that Hamas may be a big bunch of bully's but they know that the Israelis have a human heart within, no matter what and they starved the people and animals - knowing wed fall into the trap, while giving supplies and aiding.

Of course you never hear of the help; the ceasefire so they can get water and food supplies(including the Hamas), no rape, no beating up or cruelty towards the people face to face.

Give one example of a nation who does not hurt the civilian's? rape, kill, rob.....while in face to face contact? You know that the Israeli soldiers give them food and water? the hospitals treat whom ever shows up , even at a time of war because we understand that they are lead by a bunch of Hamas bullies/

So I may send you some stuff may not- as I am so tiered of explaining ...but that may be a small part that I need to do, since I am not fighting nor sitting in a protected room, as thank God the rockets have not reached the area I live in.

So think before taking such strong sides for or against -- and of course do what ever you want to. My approach is the human weakness, how cruel humans are towards each other....

Tell me Ann: How can an armed man take a child as use him as cover?

I hope it will soon end - the war, but the Hamas and the Hezbollah are still arming and look around the world...see what is happening.

You want to help - no shortage of places and people.....why spread hatred towards any side? Do you really think that will improve any thing?

Any how

Do what ever you think is right for you.

As always

Take care and be safe and happy,

in peace