The featured photo was taken on April 24, 1997, when I was still a Peace Corps Volunteer in Armenia. From October 1996 until August 1997, I lived just across the street from Tsitsernakaberd, the Armenian Genocide Memorial, in Yerevan, Armenia.
I think today’s post will be somewhat short. I’m getting a late start today, and there are still some things I’d like to do that don’t involve blogging. I did want to take a few minutes, though, to recognize Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day. This is a holiday that occurs in the Republic of Armenia every April 24th, as thousands of Armenians travel to the capital city of Yerevan and make their way up a hillside to pay their respects to people who died in the Armenian Genocide.
As regular readers know, I was a member of the third group of Peace Corps Volunteers to serve in Armenia. I was assigned the to capital city of Yerevan. It’s my understanding that Volunteers are no longer placed in Yerevan, because it’s gotten to be so modern and “nice” (and no doubt, more expensive). In my days as a Volunteer, Yerevan was “up and coming”, and I got to see it change a lot in just two years. When we arrived in 1995, Yerevan was pretty rough, but by the time we left, businesses were coming in and expanding. The powers that be had already decided that no more Volunteers would serve there, but would instead be sent out to the regions.
If I had to do it over again, I think I would have preferred an assignment outside of the capital city. However, I did end up having a “real” Peace Corps experience, and Armenia is one of those places where a huge portion of the population lives near the capital. So, there’s a lot of action there…
I taught at a school that, when I was a Volunteer, offered all ten “forms”. One of my former students, from a tenth form class during my second year, now works at Peace Corps/Armenia. I think the school where I taught now only handles kids in the early years of their educations. I also think the system has changed since I was a Volunteer, from 1995-97.
My school was named after a poet named Ruben Sevak, who was one of a million Armenians killed in the Genocide in 1915. Back in 1995, Sevak’s daughter, who was then in her 80s and living in France, came to visit the school. I got to meet her. I wrote more about Ruben Sevak here. He was a fascinating man who died much too young. And it was all because of hatred and a basic lack of respect by people for other people, same as any horrendous human rights violation is. Hitler was reportedly inspired by the Armenian Genocide when he came up with his “Final Solution”.
Isn’t it interesting that I now live in Germany, where there are reminders everywhere about the horrors of the past? Except this time, I live in the place where the perpetrators mostly came from, rather than the place where the victims lived. I’ve learned a lot from living in both places, and I’m very grateful that I’ve the opportunities that I’ve had to see and be influenced by both places. I’m not sure how I got so lucky to have these experiences, since I know that most Americans don’t get to travel abroad, let alone live abroad several times, courtesy of the U.S. government.
Anyway… today, I will try especially hard to take a moment to ponder the biggest lessons that came from the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust. It really disturbs me to see that same trend happening in the United States now. I’ve noticed a lot of negativity in the United States, especially in the era of Trump and the completely bastardized version of the Republican Party that we have now. I just hope it doesn’t come down to the horrors of the past repeating themselves, although given the gun violence problems we have now, maybe things are already heading in that direction.
Well, that’s about it for today’s post. Gotta take Noyzi for a walk and have some lunch… and then, maybe plow through more of my latest book, so I can post a new review. Catch you all later.
The featured photo is a screenshot from Greg Locke’s book burning video on YouTube.
Last night, I finished reading Maus, the graphic novel by Art Spiegelman that the McMinn County School Board of Tennessee decided to remove from its curriculum for eighth grade students last month. As I have mentioned in several recent posts about Maus, I had not heard of this brilliant Pulitzer Prize winning work until it made the news. It was originally published in its entirety in 1991, having taken Spiegelman thirteen years of work to complete. Portions of the book were published sooner than 1991, with comic strips having been published in the defunct magazine, Raw. I mentioned yesterday that the first volume of Maus was published in 1986. Nevertheless, it wasn’t until Maus was banned by a school board that I finally decided to read it. I’m so glad I did that. I have the good people of McMinn County, Tennessee’s board of education to thank for that, as their decision to ban Maus only made it more attractive to me.
Yesterday, my friend Mary Beth commented that she, too, has ordered a copy of Maus to read. She read one of my blog posts about it and discussed book banning with her fifteen year old son. It turns out Mary Beth’s boy is a World War II buff, and Maus is about The Holocaust. When Mary Beth told her son that Maus is a graphic novel, meaning that there are many comic styled pictures, he asked her if he could read it. Mary Beth agreed, and she says they will read the book together.
I passed my copy of the book to Bill, and now he’s just started reading Maus. By my count, that’s already four people who have decided to read a book that school board members in Tennessee have opted to ban. Remember when I wrote about the Streisand effect? Looks like it’s happening. Maus is selling like gangbusters, and lots of people are reading it and passing it on to others. We have Tennessee to thank for that. In a way, those school board members are inadvertently educating people well beyond the borders of McMinn County. In their attempts to quash a remarkable work of literature, the school board has only made it much more popular. Mary Beth says that Maus is still backordered. I see on Amazon.de, it’s no longer backordered, but there aren’t many available copies. It may not be long before Maus is out of stock again.
How did I like the book? I loved it. But it wasn’t just because of the story about The Holocaust. I’ve read a lot of books about The Holocaust, most of which were non-fiction accounts of people who experienced prison camps. What set Maus apart from those books, besides the fact that it’s done in comic strips, was the way Spiegelman managed to capture his father, Vladek, and how his experiences during World War II changed him. First, there was the syntax of Vladek’s speech. Spiegelman managed to capture the broken English that often comes from non-native speakers. One thing I’ve noticed, living in Germany, is that a lot of Germans are quite fluent in English. But sometimes, in spite of knowing English well, their syntax is like it would be if they were speaking German. They use certain expressions and constructions that English speakers don’t typically use. For instance, I notice that a lot of Germans say or write “therefore” and “already” more than Americans do. Or they say things like, “I don’t dare to” instead of “I don’t dare”, or they write “who”, instead of “whoever or whomever”. I remember hearing a German tour guide say, “Who wants to go to the WC can do so now.” A native English speaker would phrase it differently.
Likewise, Art Spiegelman manages to capture the voice of someone who isn’t a native English speaker. He had a lot of experience listening to his father, so he knew just how his dad would put things. He doesn’t write the dialogue the way an American would speak, even though his father spoke English from even before the war. He writes it the way a Polish person would speak English. That technique made Vladek come alive for me. I could practically hear his voice in my head as I read. Not only did I hear his voice, but I could imagine the mood, as if I had him in my head, speaking aloud.
Art Spiegelman also captures many of the quirks that would come from someone who had experienced the trauma of losing everything and being force to live on whatever he could find. As I mentioned earlier, I have read a lot of Holocaust stories. One common thread is that many people who survived the Holocaust could not bear to see things wasted. I read one Holocaust account by a man who used to get furious at his children when they turned their noses up at food that was offered to them. Likewise, Vladek Spiegelman drove his son crazy because he could not throw things away… except things that really were priceless. Vladek throws away Art’s mother’s precious diaries when he has a bad day. But he collects odds and ends– piece of wire, scraps of paper, used nails. He is extremely miserly and doesn’t want to hire anyone to help him with odd jobs around the house, even though he’s not capable of doing the work that needs to be done. Instead, he asks Art to help him, even though Art is busy with his own life and isn’t particularly as handy as Vladek was forced to become. Even as Art expresses annoyance at frustration with his father and his father’s constant demands and idiosyncrasies, his love and concern for Vladek comes through in a moving way.
I think the very truthful interactions between father and son, depicted as mice and rendered in illustrations, are what really touched my heart. There are also elements in humor in Maus that make it less grim than it could have been, even though there are many sad and tragic events in the story. There was so much loss and grief that came from The Holocaust, and yet sometimes there were happy and even humorous moments that kept the human spirit alive. The people who managed to survive the camps and lived to tell their tales were endowed with resilience and luck. Or maybe they weren’t actually the luckiest ones. Art’s mother, Vladek’s first wife, Anja, couldn’t cope. She committed suicide in 1968, and Vladek remarried another Holocaust survivor, Nala, who constantly complained about Vladek’s quirks.
I’m happy that I read Maus. I’m glad others will read it. I’m heartened to know that I influenced at least three people to read the book through my blog, even as I was influenced to read it because some people in Tennessee decided it should be banned. It just goes to show that actions have consequences, but sometimes the consequences turn out to be good things. As I sit here marveling at what I’ve just read, again, courtesy of a school board in right wing Tennessee, I also shake my head at the news that came out of Mount Juliet, Tennessee yesterday. “Pastor” Greg Locke, head of Global Vision Bible Church, is in the news again. This time, it’s because he hosted a massive book burning last week.
I’ve written about Greg Locke a couple of times. A few years ago, when I was still running my Blogspot version of The Overeducated Housewife, I wrote about how Greg Locke cried on camera after he got disgraced in the wake of divorcing his wife after cheating on her with her best friend. Locke called adult film star Stormy Daniels a “hooker”, as he reminded everyone that Trump was still president. I reposted that entry from 2018 last summer, when Locke was in the news again. In July 2021, Locke was in the news again for demanding that his followers attend services unmasked. Locke vowed to kick out anyone in his congregation who showed up wearing a face mask. Then, halfway through one of his videos, Locke launches into an absolutely bat shit crazy anti-liberal rant.
Well, Greg Locke is in the news again because last Wednesday, he invited followers to burn their copies of Twilight and Harry Potter books. Locke claims that the books, as well as any young adult fantasy books, tarot cards, crystals, and voodoo dolls, are of the occult. Locke said,
“Bring all your Harry Potter stuff. Laugh all you want haters. I don’t care. IT’S WITCHCRAFT 100 PERCENT,” Locke said in an Instagram post Monday. “All you [sic] ‘Twilight’ books and movies. That mess is full of spells, demonism, shape-shifting and occultism.”
Why anyone with sense listens to this hateful moron, I will never know. But again, it’s Tennessee, land of Trump love. I mentioned in previous posts that these are the people who clutch their pearls at the word “God damn” in Maus, but will enthusiastically endorse a man who obviously disdains the poor and brags about sexually abusing women. They claim to love Jesus Christ, and yet they behave in ways that are not Christ-like. And they denounce books about supernatural fantasies and creatures, as they believe in the Bible, which is full of stories about violence and supernatural occurrences, and has led to many people being killed in gruesome ways. See Maus for a lesson on that, as Jewish people died for their beliefs.
I was glad to read that there were counterprotestors who showed up at Locke’s book burning. At least one person threw a Bible into the fire. It’s not that I support burning books of any kind, nor am I an atheist. I just think book burning and banning is stupid, and simply leads to the dumbing down of populations. And as I learn more about what’s going on in Tennessee, I realize that in a way, it’s kind of a sophomoric place. You know that word, sophomore, right? It stems from Greek. The word is a blend of sophos, which means “clever or wise”, and moros, which means “moron or fool”. The news out of Tennessee has made me smarter and enriched my life by prompting me to read Maus. And it’s also making me shake my head as I consider the stupidity of a supposed “man of God” live streaming his event that highlights burning books.
“We have a constitutional right and a Biblical right to do what we’re going to do tonight,” Locke said in the livestreamed video. “We have a burn permit, but even without one a church has a religious right to burn occultic materials that they deem are a threat to their religious rights and freedoms and belief systems.”
Indeed… and how interesting that this comes up now, as Tennessee has made news over Maus, a wonderful book about a man’s experiences in The Holocaust. Many people who heard about Greg Locke’s book burning were reminded of Nazi Germany, where books were routinely burned. It’s no secret that Greg Locke is a huge supporter of Donald Trump and his ilk. And it’s not lost on me that Trump works a room much like Hitler did, back in the day.
I know people get offended by the comparison of Trump to Hitler. They think it cheapens the horrors that people like Vladek Spiegelman endured in the 1940s. But dammit, Hitler didn’t start his madness by murdering people. He started by whipping up “us vs. them” sentiments and hatred, promoting other-ism and ignorance, and making people think they had the right to be destructive and divisive. Hitler got his start by throwing a figurative lit match into a seething inferno of disenfranchised people who feared losing power and were pushed to the point of murdering those people they considered “undesirable” in the most vicious, horrifying, and brutal of ways.
I really hope an event like The Holocaust doesn’t happen again, but when I read stories like the ones that have been coming out of the United States lately, it really makes me fear for the future. I worry so much about where our country is going, as obviously terrible people like Donald Trump are put in power. Otherwise decent people ignore how terrible he is, just because they get a few extra bucks in their paychecks and, maybe, a lower gas bill at the pump. They ignore his history of fucking people over and being hateful to anyone who doesn’t do his bidding. But what makes me even more frightened is that even if Trump isn’t re-elected, there is no doubt someone younger, more handsome, and much more intelligent waiting in the wings for the right time to emerge. And people like Greg Locke’s followers will be all too ready to embrace that person.
Don’t believe me? Consider that Adolf Hitler got his ideas about The Holocaust after seeing how the world ignored the Armenian Genocide. Armenia, as you know, also has a place in my heart due to the two years I spent there. I had never heard of the Genocide before I lived in Armenia. I now live in Germany, where Hitler carried out his monstrous plans for world domination. If we don’t learn from the atrocities in history, we are doomed to repeat them. See below:
I hope that people will remain vigilant and keep reading good books… and not necessarily the Bible. Resist movements that discourage thought, compassion for others, and personal growth. Book burning is not an activity that kind, intelligent, compassionate people engage in doing. It’s certainly not “Christ-like” behavior. As NBC News points out:
Locke’s book burning event comes amid a growing effort to ban certain books from schools. Books about racism and sexuality are being pulled from Texas school shelves in record numbers — a majority of books targeted feature LGBTQ characters or explicit descriptions of sex. Some of the books that aren’t explicit include picture books about Black historical figures and transgender children.
Why is this happening now? Why are schools being targeted? It’s the movement of so-called Christians who want to take over the country. These people– so-called Christians– are really only Christians in name. They aren’t behaving in merciful, compassionate, and kind ways. They are promoting hatred, ignorance, and violence in order to push their moronic agenda.
I mentioned that I think Tennessee is the “sophomore state”. I think there are wise people in Tennessee who can stand up to this craziness. Unfortunately, Tennessee also seems to be a hotbed of people like Greg Locke, who encourage book burning among those who seriously need to read a lot more. Locke and his ilk just want people to be stupid, so they’re easier to manage. So I would certainly advise everyone to keep reading. And yes, I think you should read Harry Potter and Twilight, if that’s what you like to read… and read Maus, too, while you’re at it. I have provided a handy link below. You’ll learn more from reading almost ANYTHING than you ever could from listening to Greg Locke.
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Last night, as Bill and I were enjoying the cool evening sundown in our backyard, I suddenly remembered what I had wanted to write about yesterday. Lately, I’ve been noticing a lot of connections between people, events, and other things I’ve run into, like books, videos, and music. A few days ago, we had a memorial for a guy I knew in the Peace Corps. My former colleague and I served in Armenia, which has been in the news in recent years as the people there try to get the Armenian Genocide recognized by the international community. I am now living in Germany, where people have been trying to make amends for the Holocaust, which took place during World War II.
The other day, I was watching YouTube videos and happened to see one about The Holocaust. It was very well done and informative. I’ve read a lot of books about people who survived The Holocaust, and I’ve watched many videos about the experiences of people during that time. But, for some reason, this particular video made me think more about what happened than the others had. Or maybe this idea popped up because I have been talking to people I knew in Armenia, and Armenia is more on my mind than usual. It occurred to me that I’ve lived in Armenia, where people are descended from victims of genocide. And now I live in Germany, where I am surrounded by people whose ancestors had a part in committing genocide. It definitely offers a unique perspective. Or, at least I think it does.
Before I lived in Armenia, I had never heard of the Armenian Genocide. In fact, I barely knew anything about Armenia. The only reason I’d even heard of it was because my fourth grade teacher was of Armenian descent and told us a little bit about his heritage. At that time, Armenia was part of the Soviet Union, so as a nine year old, I never thought I would ever get to visit there, let alone live there. My teacher did not speak about the Genocide. He told us about how Armenians were Christians and that most people’s last names end in “ian”. He said Armenians were very proud of being Christians, hence the “ian” at the end of their names. Now I know that’s factually incorrect, but it sounded good to me when I was nine.
I also remember my Armenian fourth grade teacher played Jesus Christ: Superstar for us. I didn’t hear that music again until I moved to Armenia in 1995, where it was everywhere. People in Armenia LOVED Andrew Lloyd Webber’s famous musical. I even bought a bootleg cassette of the album and quickly became familiar with it. Andrew Lloyd Webber was very popular in the 80s and 90s, anyway, so I don’t know if Armenians always loved that show or it just became popular during their sudden independence in the 90s. Bill and I finally saw a production of it in Washington, DC in 2004.
The Armenian Genocide, which occurred from 1915-1917, resulted in the mass murder of over one million ethnic Armenians by Ottoman Turks. The murders were achieved through death marches into the Syrian desert and mass executions. Many Armenian women and children were forced to convert to Islam. When I was in Armenia, I worked in a school in Yerevan that was named after a famous Genocide victim and poet, Ruben Sevak. I see that it’s now an elementary school, but when I was teaching there, there were students of all ages, and I taught kids who ranged in age from 7 to 16 years old. During my first months at that school, Ruben Sevak’s daughter, Shamiram, who was then in her 80s and lived in France, came to Yerevan. She attended a party thrown for her at my school. I tried to keep up with all the toasts and got very, very drunk. That was probably the drunkest I’ve ever been in my life!
While searching for Ruben Sevak’s daughter’s name, I found this fascinating blog post about Sevak and his family. I learned that Ruben Sevak (Sevak translates to “black eyes”) was actually a pseudonym. His real name was Roupen Chilingirian, and he was born in a city called Silivri, located about 37 miles from the city now known as Istanbul, but then called Constantinople. His family was wealthy, and Ruben was well educated. He became a physician, having studied in exclusive schools, including medical school at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. He met his wife in Switzerland, Helene (Jannie) Apell. Big surprise– she was from a German military family! Their respective families objected to their romantic affair, but Ruben and “Jannie” finally got married in Lausanne, and later had a religious ceremony at the Armenian Church of Paris. The young couple had a son named Levon in 1912, and then their daughter, Shamiram, was born in 1914.
Ruben Sevak became politically active, joining the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. He was a prolific writer, and his works were published in literary journals and newspapers. He wrote a book of poetry in 1909. It was titled The Red Book, and the works within it recalled the Adana massacre— an event in which Armenian Christians were killed by Ottoman Muslims. He planned to write more poetry and political works in more books. He would never get the chance to fulfill that dream. Clearly, Sevak’s writings were threatening to the Ottoman Turks. He was one of the million people killed during the Armenian Genocide, having been conscripted in 1914 and serving as a military doctor in Turkey. In June 1915, Sevak was arrested, and though his wife and her parents tried valiantly to save his life, even involving the German government, their efforts would be in vain. Ruben Sevak was murdered on August 26, 1915.
If you’d like to know more about Ruben Sevak, I highly recommend following this link to the blog post I mentioned earlier. I wish I had known this story when I worked in the school named for Ruben Sevak. It actually blows my mind that I was once in the same room with one of Ruben Sevak’s direct descendants. I’m sure she’s gone now, but how amazing is it that she visited the school where I worked in 1995? What are the odds that I, an American from a small town in Virginia, would one day work in a country that was once part of a larger country that was pretty much off limits to Americans until 1991? And then I would attend a party held in honor of the daughter of a famous poet and doctor who was murdered in the Armenian Genocide? Fate is an incredible thing.
I had heard of the Holocaust when I was growing up, but to be honest, I think it was because I had seen a made for television movie calling Playing For Time. That film aired in 1980, and my parents let me watch it, even though I was 8 years old. I remember the movie starred Vanessa Redgrave and Jane Alexander. It was about young Jewish women in a death camp who were musicians tasked with playing music for arriving prisoners and entertaining Nazi bigwigs. I’m not sure I totally understood the film as I watched it. I do remember thinking it was interesting and I never forgot it, but the horror of what it was about didn’t dawn on me until years later. And I honestly don’t remember learning about what actually went on during World War II when I was in school. Of course, that was many years ago. Maybe I’m mistaken. But it seems like there was so much that had to be covered during those years that we didn’t spend a long time talking about one specific incident in history. U.S. schools, at least in the 80s, covered world history in ninth or tenth grade, U.S. history in eleventh grade, and Government in twelfth grade. Prior to that, we had civics in eighth grade and social studies in seventh grade and below. I’m not even sure if learning about the Holocaust was considered age appropriate in those days.
So there I was a few days ago, watching the above video about the Holocaust, which had popped up randomly in my YouTube queue. I listened as the narrators described the conditions the Holocaust victims encountered as they arrived at Auschwitz. I tried to imagine the terror and extreme horror of it on some level. I thought to myself that I probably wouldn’t have survived, if I had been among the unfortunate people who went to Auschwitz or the other death camps. Hearing about it and seeing the footage is one thing, but actually living through that– watching friends and loved ones being marched off to be executed, freezing in filthy, inadequate clothes and shoes, starving while being worked to death, getting deathly ill or badly hurt and being forced to keep working… being treated as worse than the lowest form of life. It’s just so hard to reconcile that reality with what I’ve seen in Germany, having now spent about nine years of my life in this country. It amazes me that such decent people can be reduced to treating other human beings the way Holocaust victims were treated. I can’t imagine sinking so low… and yet so many ordinary people did.
Then I thought of our present day situation. I read that Donald Trump is being encouraged to run for president again. He “handily won” a straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference. I have mentioned before that I see some similarities between Trump and Hitler. No, he’s not yet having people rounded up and sent to concentration camps to be murdered, although some people have compared the situation at the southern border of the United States to the Holocaust. I’m not sure I would go that far, as many of the people in that situation weren’t necessarily rounded up from their homes and forced to march to detention centers. And I don’t think there’s really anything that quite compares to the absolute sickness and sheer awfulness of the Holocaust. At least not yet.
The similarities I do see between Trump and Hitler have to do with the way both men worked a crowd, as well as some of the historical events in Germany that led to Hitler’s rise to power, and the actual things that both men say– which are things that most narcissistic types say. The narrator in the above video describes how Germans were caught up in fear, poverty, and bigotry. The public were frustrated and looking for scapegoats on which to blame Germany’s depressed economy. Hitler exploited people’s fears, humiliation, anger, and ignorance to get common citizens to accept him as the only person who could make Germany great again. Elections were suppressed, and soon Hitler became a tyrant who murdered millions of innocent people. If you listen to Trump’s speeches and compare them to Hitler’s speeches, you hear a lot of the same kind of stuff. No, they aren’t exactly alike, and they never will be. But I do see similarities that disturb me, and I am not the only one.
I have watched from afar as people in my country have become more and more radicalized and unreasonable. I have seen a lot violence and heard a lot of disturbing rhetoric. I believe a lot of Americans think of Trump as their savior. They ignore the many disturbing signs of his extreme narcissism, as well as the obvious efforts of Republicans to suppress votes from people who won’t vote for them. People are very polarized and some have forgotten their basic sense of decency and compassion. I actually worry less that Trump will be re-elected than someone younger, smarter, more charismatic, healthier, and crueler might be waiting in the wings, ready to take over when Trump inevitably meets his end. I have noticed a lot of vocal Republicans who are rallying disenfranchised and ignorant people to support them in their quest to reclaim power.
Maybe I shouldn’t be writing blog posts like this one. Maybe I will end up being rounded up and killed. I’m sure the people who perished in the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust had no clue that one day, they would face the horrors they faced. But I can’t help but think of Spaniard George Santayana’s quote, “Those who cannot learn from the past are condemned to repeat it.” So I hope and pray that enough of my fellow Americans open their eyes and demand decency and compassion in our leadership.
If you’re supporting a politician who is beloved by the KKK or Neo-Nazi groups, you may want to re-evaluate your choices. Do you really want to be lumped in a group of people who are driven to hate and kill others? Isn’t it better if we come together in peace and moderation? Is money and power really worth more than other people’s lives? Think about it… and all of the exceptional people who have died because of extremism and the desire for power, money, racism, and religion.
So ends today’s blog sermon… Gotta take Arran and Noyzi for a walk before the rain starts again.
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