Ostriker shares opinions on Holocaust

By Greg Laudani
On April 25, 2014

An older gentleman stood up slowly after leaning on a rickety, wooden chair for balance. 

"I do not have words to describe how much you have moved me," the man said while holding back tears. 

He sat in the front row of the Murkland Hall auditorium Wednesday night to see Alicia Ostriker, a poet, critic and activist, speak about her opinions on post-Holocaust literature. 

Ostriker stood tall on the green tile floor in front of a crowded audience of students, parents and faculty. She spiritedly discussed conflicting opinions about whether writing poetry about the Holocaust, an inhumanely cruel event in history, is appropriate or not. 

"Poetry, fiction and drama can deal with trauma and evil in a way that history and sociology can't," Ostriker said, "because it can use metaphor that goes more deeply into reality."

Ostriker also spoke about Nazi Germany's rise to power leading up to World War II, in addition to the unspeakable cruelty Jews faced. She did not even need a microphone. Once she started speaking, her contagious energy echoed throughout the room. 

"Her vivid language painted a picture of what victims went through," sophomore Tyler Boutilier said, who attended the event. "It showed her passion for the subject matter."

The lecture's origin stems from talks to honor Hans Heilbronner, a former University of New Hampshire professor and Holocaust survivor, who passed away in 2011. 

Heilbronner lectured at UNH for 37 years, joining the university in 1954 and retiring in 1991. He collected several teaching awards and was selected twice as chairman of Faculty Council at the University. 

He was born a Jewish boy in Memmingen, Germany in 1926 and lived through the persecution of Nazi Germany from 1932 to 1939. 

His brother and him escaped from Germany to Switzerland in March of 1939. After his father was freed from the Dachau Concentration Camp, (the first Nazi torture facility opened in Germany) they moved to England.

However, they arrived only one day before the start of World War II. The Heilbronners finally arrived in the United States in the spring of 1940, where Hans peacefully lived the rest of his life.  

Twice a national book award finalist and author of 14 poetry books and eight works of literary criticism, Ostriker does not believe in silence after tragedy. She continues writing to help readers "recognize the struggle" that Jews like Heilbronner endured during the Holocaust. 

"To stay silent is to surrender to it," Ostriker said, holding her fist tightly in the air. "You must have joy and beauty after these horrors."

Most Holocaust poetry is from the victims' perspectives, Ostriker mentioned. However, Ostriker and her family were not personally impacted by the Holocaust. 

"I think because nobody in my family was traumatized, there must be a difference in that the suffering and pain in my poems is different than those who had to endure it themselves," Ostriker said. 

Even though she did not experience the tragedy, Ostriker is still able to portray its events with elegant metaphor and detail.

"You can have suffered and be a great artist," Ostriker said. "You could not have suffered and be a great artist as well." 

Ostriker uses her ability to write about the Holocaust to send a motivational message to young writers. 

"I think everything should be written about," Ostriker said. "I feel that very strongly."

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