Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Valued Freedoms

The walking has been wonderful and everyone has shown a super spirit. This is what community is all about! I am so grateful. I have to thank Jeremy Schonfeld in particular, because, when I mentioned the idea over tea one Shabbat, instead of telling me I was meshuggah, he said “I’ll come with you”. He did, bringing his immense erudition on all things Jewish to enrich our journey.

I read to the group from Lisa Fittko’s account of how she guided Walter Benjamin over the border. Alte Benjamin, she called him, though he is only 48. His old school manners, and charm, are matched by a determination which offsets his dubious health. He rests every 10 minutes before he becomes exhausted. Lisa urges him to leave his heavy briefcase behind. But he will not be parted from the manuscript it contains. This, he insists, is “...more important than I am, more important than myself”. They reach the summit and Lisa does find a moment to appreciate the scene: “ The semi circle of Catalonia Rousillon, with its vermilion coast and autumn landscape with innumerable hues of red and yellow gold. I gasp for breath I have never seen such beauty before”.

They make it into Spain. But a few days later comes the news that Benjamin is dead. The Spanish border authorities have told the group they would be sent back (a policy rescinded almost at once). This was more than he could take and Benjamin took the morphine pills he had kept with him just in case. His aim had been achieved. He and his manuscript were beyond the reach of the Gestapo.

The work was never found. The records of the Spanish police refer to the briefcase and papers of unknown content.

There are freedoms which people value more than their own life.

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