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Europe at Battle, 1939-1944. International Poetry from Ravensbrück

Constanze Jaiser, Jacob David Pampuch (Ed.): Europa im Kampf 1939 - 1944. Internationale Poesie aus dem Frauen-Konzentrationslager Ravensbrück [Europe at Battle, 1939 - 1944. International Poetry From the Ravensbrück Concentration Camp for Women] 2 volumes in a slip case (facsimile, accompanying book and audio CD with voices of survivors), 240 and 112 pages, audio CD, Metropol Verlag: Berlin, 2005, € 24,00

The songbook with songs sung, collected and written at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp of 1942 has been known for many years. The "Song of the Peat Bog Soldiers" was translated into many languages and, as the first and most popular concentration camp song, became a symbol of the resistance, comradeship and solidarity among the male prisoners' society.

For many years, little attention was paid to women as prisoners of National Socialist concentration camps, especially in historical research. In the GDR, too, the constantly invoked anti-fascist resistance was a matter of male heroism. The Ravensbrück concentration camp for women was overshadowed by the camps of Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen for a long time. Even after 1989, its importance grew only slowly. Meanwhile, a number of very profound research works by young female scientists has been published. They were presented at the Representation of the Land Berlin at the Federal Government in the beginning of December 2005 by Friedrich Veitl, publisher of the Metropol Verlag, Berlin, and Dr Insa Eschebach, head of the Ravensbrück Memorial since May 2005.

The publication to be mentioned first is a collection of poetry called " Europe at Battle, 1939 - 1944. International Poetry From the Ravensbrück Concentration Camp for Women". It is a facsimile reprint of a collection of 47 poems and songs in eleven different languages, secretly produced at Ravensbrück in 1943/44, accompanied by a brochure and an audio CD. Fourteen former Ravensbrück prisoners recite or sing the texts in their mother tongues, accompanied on the flamenco guitar by Jacob David Pampuch. It is a historic document of unique conception and presentation. The brochure includes translations by renowned authors as well as background information and comments for each poem. It also explains the importance and practice of writing poetry in concentration camps, informs about the development of the manuscript and the audio CD and contains biographical data and portraits of the poets and speakers. This research-intensive and complex project became possible only through a great number of donations.

The anthology "Europa u boji 1939 - 1944" ("Europe at battle) was compiled secretly by two Czech women, Vlasta Kladivová and Vera Hozáková. The original was written in ink and illustrated using colours that were stolen from the SS building department under great peril. Vlasta Kladivová, who was brought from Auschwitz to Ravensbrück in the autumn of 1943 as a young woman, started to collect poems and resistance songs, compiling them under the title "Europa u boji" (Europe at battle"). Vera Hozáková, a Czech student of architecture who was taken to the concentration camp by the Nazis due to her communist resistance activities in 1942, wrote down the poems from eleven different nations in calligraphy and illustrated them. Together they organised translations of the foreign language texts into Czech, which were compiled in an appendix. The binding was done using a needle and thread, and for the cover they used fabric from the laundry. They wanted to document the atmosphere at the camp, and the struggle for the ideals of humanity under these conditions. For many decades this self-made book, rescued from Ravensbrück, remained undiscovered in a Prague apartment. The reproduction, very carefully made and coming very close to the original, provides a unique overview of poetic self-expression of women from a concentration camp.

The last of the anthology is a Russian "Ravensbrück song" that was often sung in Ravensbrück and its extension camps. Editor Constanze Jaiser sees it as a camp hymn comparable to the "Song of the Peat Bog Soldiers". Although it was not included in the original volume "Europe at battle", it was added because it fits into the idea of the collection.

In addition to this edition of lyrical texts, we should like to refer the reader to another publication of the Metropol-Verlag: Gabriele Knapp, Frauenstimmen. Musikerinnen erinnern an Ravensbrück [Female Voices. Women Musicians Remind of Ravensbrück]. According to Gabriele Knapp, there were several Ravensbrück songs.

Both publications are greatly recommended for the use in literature and music education not only in schools, together with the collection of poetry by Israelite author and Holocaust survivor Batsheva Dagan: "Blessed Be Imagination – May It Be Damned!" Memories of 'There' Through Life Testimonies".

A review is available from this web site at: [node:7469]

 

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