Confronting Nationalisms, Cosmopolitan Visions, and the Politics of Memory: Aesthetics of Reconciliation and Selma Meerbaum-Eisinger in Western Ukraine
Selma Meerbaum-Eisinger, an eighteen year old, German-speaking poet, died in an SS labor camp in 1942. She left behind a hand-written album of 57 poems that miraculously survived the War. Selma was from Czernowitz (at the time, Cernauti, Romania and today Chernivtsi, Ukraine), a city famous for its poets, like cousin Paul Celan, as well as for its “multicultural” ethos. Although Selma’s poetry had its first commercial publication in Hamburg thirty years ago, over the last seven years her poems have captured the imaginations of German and Austrian playwrights, professors, students, and musicians; now Ukrainian teachers, students, artists and city officials are discovering her poetry as well. This paper explores the resurging interest in Selma Meerbaum’s life and poetry as part of a project of potential reconciliation with the past -- and for the future. It focuses on memory-work, the social practices and social relations that make the past into a vital part of the present. It connects broad debates over how to – or whether to –publicly represent, atone for, or bury one of the modern world’s most horrifying episodes with current frictions over nationhood, moral obligations, and political vision. The goal is to explore how Chernvitsi residents, living in a city marked by communities with shared and diverse histories -- and diverse histories of facing the past – are creating milieus of meaning, and potential meanings, for Selma’s life and art. Selma presentations and performances are part of an aesthetic negotiation of public memory and embody the discord of unresolved pasts and an unsettled present.
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