An hour or so before dawn the radio burst into life, reminding me that dawn was about to break on Holocaust Memorial Day. Reminding though, I needed none; for in the previous hour or two I had travelled slowly through the closing chapters of A Train in Winter.
What remained of those 230 French women, and I say ‘what’ advisedly rather than put it into numbers, for they were barely human at that stage, returned to Paris, a Paris alien to them, to try and integrate broken minds and broken bodies into a broken society. Emaciated faces were unrecognised by what remained of broken families. And this was after the Red Cross and the Swedes, the Allies and the Red Army, had tried to put some nourishment back into those wrecked shells, before putting them on transports once again. Three years had passed and the memories of transports remained.
Evidence had to be given at Nuremberg; 45,000 French citizens were yet to be found guilty of collaboration through the years of occupation. The final words of Moorehead’s superbly researched work are worth repeating:
‘Looking at me, one would think that I’m alive …… I’m not alive. I died in Auschwitz, but no one knows it.’
And before that radio announcement I started another journey. It is a journey of deportations, of dismal convoys. First stop Jerusalem, city now of four quarters, Muslim, Jew, Christian, and one other; in the state of Israel which rose from the ashes, the very pyres, of what had gone before. But this journey was in 1915, a mere 30 years earlier. The fourth quarter belongs to the Armenians, and it is their persecutions that grab me know.
This journey though sets off at a cracking pace, for my guide is none other than Philip Marsden and he is at the top of his form. The Crossing Place – A Journey Among the Armenians was published less than 20 years ago. Saddam was in Kuwait, the Americans in the Gulf and all hell was on the point of breaking loose. I left Marsden this morning, having reached Beirut via Anatolia and Aleppo, Venice and Turkish Cyprus, getting back into Lebanon with the assistance of a few bhaksheesh greenbacks, his visa for Syria having been delayed. The Bekaa Valley looms overhead, and I smell the rich velvet of a Chateau Musar.
In the next few days he will take me to Sofia and Cluj, Odessa, Batum and Tblisi, and many places in between. Ararat. Armenia.
Already I learn of displaced Armenians around the world. King Tradt III it was who was the first ruler to adopt Christianity; the first Parisian cafe was opened by an Armenian, in 1672; Gary Kasparov and G I Gurdieff (now there’s a fantastic book) both had Armenian mothers; the green ink of the dollar bill was invented by an Armenian, so was yoghurt and the MiG jet. Heavens, even Richard the Lionheart had an Armenian best man.
This is going to be a journey and half, and I’ll tell more later. Presumptiously it features already on my book list for this year.
But all told these works have me thinking, which is always dangerous. On my Open Orders list with our favourite online retailer is the soon-to-be-published memoir from Richard Holloway. He’s a man with wisdom to share. Once a Bishop, now a Humanist. And it is humanity that brings all these things together, that perhaps allows us to accept the grave deeds done for and on behalf of one god or another, or not as the case may be.
And here’s another thought – if today we were putting 60,000 countrymen on trial, what would the circus become with instant news and lawyers creaming the legal aid system? Let’s just make sure we don’t go there again.