Please click on an article or scroll downwards to read this month’s Featured Writing:
An encounter with Eva Schloss
and Nic Careem
By Frank Huzur
(A Kavita Media Presentation. Please email comments here.)
"... in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquillity will return again." - Anne Frank
In a grey dapper suit slinking down his robust fifty years old shoulder, denim jeans and a black ray ban slunk over his slender nose, Nic Careem comes across as a blithe spirit, wide in strides and smiles, which occasionally drift into roaring guffaws. His deep, timber voice in London cockney accent is a throwback to ginger streets of Beatles. In his teens days he crooned Beatles’ rhymes and proudly proclaims Paul MaCartney as his bosom pal. So much so when Paul punched in his face over his quip over Heather Mills in an evening bash in London, Nic treated the Beatle blow as undeserving of reaction, as Mike Patel, British Asian tiger businessman would swear by the intense moment of hilarious tip-off. He is a trapeze artiste in swapping causes, noble and aesthetic, by any standards. Among his illustrious list of friends, he rattles out names of all spectrum on the rainbow bow from Barrack Hussain Obama, Nelson Mandela, Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, Kofi Annan, David Cameron to legendary holocaust survivor and step-sister of Anne Frank, Eva Schloss. Ever since my first rendezvous with Nic at an Indian restaurant near Wareen Street in West London, my curiosity about the man and his methods only grew wider and wider. I was amused to learn of his Asian descent, his birth to a Yemenese Christian father who was a diamond merchant in Sri Lanka or Ceylon and a Muslim mother who came to England to raise little Nic Careem in their chosen land of promise and prospect. However, much interesting to me was Nic’s latest cause celebre, his directorial and producer role in staging of historical play, And Then They Came For Me-Remembering the World of Anne Frank, in intellectual collaboration with Eva Schloss. The play has been heart-rending production in UK over the past year or so, and it has raised sufficient eyebrows in the British Muslim community over the radical collaboration between a British Muslim and a legendary Jewish character.
Nic Careem relishes the debates and discussion panning out in various corners of England. He wants to raise the roof of acerbic conversation, as he likes roof-raising as much as he loves the British breakfast tea. His moment of reckoning arrived after his maiden encounter with Eva Schloss. The meeting with Eva changed his focus. Eva was a trustee on the Anne Frank Trust. When the Anne Frank exhibition came to UK from Amsterdam, Nic was an adviser to one camp in Camden. Tony Blair had opened the exhibition. Nic says, “I was fascinated with Anne Frank. There were, however, series of trouble during the exhibition. Eva gave me a copy of her book, Eva’s Story. She also gave a copy to my children to read. It was in 1986 when the first exhibition opened. However, I was fully involved during the Camden exhibition in 1997. I was advising the Israeli developers of the exhibition. The maiden encounter with Eva took place in the July of 1997. It was a six-week-long exhibition. Eva spoke there, charming one and all. Until then, the Jewish culture centre knew little about her phenomenon.”
For a British Muslim, it was a huge challenge before Nic to convince sceptics across the religious spectrums about the compatibility between Islam and Judaism at a time when majority of Muslims all over the world eat, drink and breathe thousands of conspiracy theories, all attributed to Zionism. To top it all, he is using arts to promote tolerance and understanding among faithfuls at war for centuries. Nic was entering a demonic territory where he risked wrath of fanatic Muslims. Nic, however, was unnerved and bubbling with confidence. He was a fanatic foot-soldier in the Labour Party a few years ago. He turned corner post 911 and 77 London tube bombings, spewed venom against Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s New Labour policies, and termed it anti-Muslim. He now campaigns full throttle for the David Cameron ascension to the 10, Downing Street, and raises the banner of the Conservatives.
|Photo: Robert E. Jones
Through his collaboration with Eva, he sniffed an opportunity in his crisis to demonstrate the possibility of religious cohesion between Judaism and Islam. “Judaism and Islam are sister faith. All religions are interconnected. A few months after meeting with Eva, I co-founded the Anne Frank pledge in 1998. The Pledge was signed by Nelson Mandela, Kofi Annan, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Roman Prodhi, to name only a few world leaders. I found Eva a fountain of positive energy. She has forgiven the German people for the Holocaust. However, I wouldn’t have been able to do that. I would want to kill everyone. What Hitler did by killing six million Jews—he actually killed future scientists, lawyers, doctors who might have discovered cure for AIDS. Some of the cancer patients might have been cured if they were alive. Hitler in his madness, evil madness, to create a master race, killed everyone who was mentally and physically disabled. It is appalling to think one third of entire Jews population, about six million of them, died in the Holocaust.”
In 1999 Nic and Eva attended a signing ceremony at the United Nations HQ in New York accompanied by the late Mo Mowlam, then secretary of state for Norther Ireland.
Nic discovered a common thread in the holocaust tragedy to give clarion call to Muslims in Britain and elsewhere to bond with Jewish people. Inspired by Eva’s presence, he urged the vast majority of British Muslims and representative body, Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) to support Holocaust Memorial Day on January 27 each year. He echoes the sentiment of Simon Wiesenthal that the holocaust was not only a Jewish tragedy, but a human tragedy. “Unlike other genocides the holocaust was the systematic and industrialised process to eliminate the Jewish race and others Hitler and the Nazi’s considered inferior human beings, including Muslims, people of African and Asian origin, gays, the disabled and people with an opposing political ideology. More than 700 million people have died needlessly since the holocaust and many millions are still dying today because of their race, ethnicity or faith. Unless the insidious and pervasive nature of irrational prejudice and hatred is challenged, in whatever shape or form it shows itself, it can quite easily become part of normal every day behavioiur and history has shown where this can lead to. Turning a blind eye to the suffering of humanity is a denial of our own humanity.”
|Eva Schloss and Nic Careem
He believes Eva’s story will be a wake up call to all of us on how easy it is for hate and prejudice to take a foothold unless we challenge it and nip it in the bud. “This is not political correctness, it is political sense.
I also have plans to take the play into prisons and dreams of it being performed in both Israel and Palestine with a mixed cast in front of a mixed audience. Later, he offers exotic destinations in India and Pakistan before Eva and the cast of characters of the play.”
The most horrifying and shameful period in history of the mankind—the holocaust—intrigued my senses as much as it has intrigued children of holocaust survivors. So, when Nick offered me a conversation over coffee with Eva Schloss, I couldn’t believe my luck. As luck would have it, in my third visit to London, I had never imagined even in my wildest dreams to speak to the step-sister of Anne Frank, the 80 years old strapping, stocky Eva Schloss, who betrayed deathly instruments of Auschwitz, and ended up surprising herself.
Nic joined me at the Warren Street tube station to take me along on the Jubilee Line to the St. John’s Wood station. Until we knocked at the door of Eva, Nic kept tossing up exhilarating anecdotes about his magical duet with Eva. Eva with Zvi, her husband for 57 years, welcomes us with her large-hearted smile and open arms. Looking at her wrinkled-scarred joyous countenance, it is difficult to imagine the anatomy of the Auschwitz death camp still sears her heart. The conversation takes off in flash of smiles and tears. Eva effortlessly recalls the moment of tyranny from the nugget of her memory.
|Eva Schloss with her husband Zvi and Frank Huzur
“Then they came for me. A policeman in green uniform (Grune Polizei—German) took me into a sparsely furnished room that had a picture of Hitler hanging on the wall. I was made to stand in front of two Gestapo officers seated at a large desk. They both looked at me intently for several seconds until one of them spoke to me in polite German.
‘Tell us everything we want to know and you will see your mother,’ he said.
“I suddenly began to tremble violently. I couldn’t stop myself as they started to interrogate me in German, one after the other firing questions at me in quick succession. I was absolutely terrified of them.”
Eva recals the horrors of her 15th birthday on 11 May 1944 when the Gestapo knocked on the door of the attic in Amsterdam to capture her and the entire family. She was in hiding for the past couple of years. It was Tuesday. Eva recalls she woke early. She could hear the birds chirping, the sun was streaming through the window and Eva lied there for a long time with her hands behind her head watching the trees outside the window and feeling good to be alive. Alas, the freedom was hurtling to its sudden death for Eva, her pappy (father), Heinz (her exceptionally talented musician, painter brother and Mutty (mother).
“Adolf Hitler was creating employment out of armaments. Arrest and betrayal was as frequent as dawn and dusk. I was betrayed by a Dutch nurse. The whole group of people were working to get the name of Jewish people. Every week people were taken. There was an organised network. When you were arrested, everything went quickly. Nazi officers would put ace on the paper for those who will be killed. I was in Auschwitz within a week of the arrest. They put me in Westerbrooke, a holding camp in Holland first. There were 560 Roman gypsies also who were picked up along with Jews on the same train, but not in the same carriage.”
A triangle was put on the chest of Jewish people to identify them. Some groups were killed immediately on arrival. No reasons or answers would be put forward. It was mystery to me. Hitler saw German as white supremacist, Germanic race—blonde haired and blue-eyed. They stole children from Norway. If someone looks old, he will be selected for the concentration camp. Anne Frank’s father, Otto, was a tall, robust figure. So, he passed through, and was put in the labour camp. In the camp when you became week, you will be killed.
The diet in the Auschwitz was liquid, watery soup inmates were forced to sip in chipped tin mugs. Nothing will be offered in the day, not even water. In the evening, dusted black bread was only offering. People would queue in the last to get solid food.
In the barrack, all hair on body was shaved, and women forced to stand naked. Tap water was not potable. Rats, lice and bed bugs cling on your body, sucks your blood and the body was full of boils. Hairs, glasses and gold teeth were taken out.
The barrack was long and narrow, about five hundred of them in the Auschwitz. It was a horse stable where I was housed with 500 other inmates. Each side of the barrack was surrounded by electric wire. They were divided into A, B and C and etcetera. The barracks were low and sort of chimney blowing out cloud of smoke in the middle. No bedding or mattress was allowed. People were sleeping in cages. The women’s barrack was in Birkenau.
“Auschwitz was only 10 square miles in the area. Two years in hiding and nine months in Auschwitz—stark barren landscape, no blooming of trees. Everything seemed deserted, damaged and devastated, derelict. Piercing, penetrating eyes shining with piety and pity, curiosity and conflict
Torment and horror of the concentration camp was appalling . Surviving on makeshift bed of blanket and rags. Many were openly crying as I told them of the gas chambers and ovens at Auschwitz”, remembers Eva.
“The Germany surrenders unconditionally on 7 May 1945 and on 8-9 May, Guns cease firing in Europe
The Russians organised the best treat that they could for us. At the end of the week a troupe of opera singers, ballet dancers and musicians arrived. They set up a stage in the ballroom of the mansion and gave a magnificent performance. We sat on the floor completely enthralled. It was the first ballet performance I’d ever seen and I’d never imagined anything so pure and wonderful could exist. The audience, which the performers must have found one of the oddest they’d ever played before, rose as one and gave them possibly the greatest ovation they ever received. Our cheers and clapping resounded for ages and tears of joy streamed down even the most hardened faces. It was an evening I shall never forget”, Eva writes in her autobiography, Eva’s Story.
Eva turned 16th on 11 May 1945. The sun shone the whole day. There was no party but Eva was so happy. Peace was the best present, but she received a delicate necklace of shells from the beach and a huge bar of chocolate. The news of Pappy and Heinz, father and brother, was far in the horizon.
The racial hatred is raising its ugly head in Britain today, like in several parts of the world. Leaders like Nic Griffin of the British National Party, are pushing the hate agenda on the prime time debate. Nic feels people like Nic Griffin should speak to Eva Schloss. There are only 15 million Jews in the whole world, and there is trouble to them. The Jews were blamed for the death of Christ, so they were persecuted for 2,000 years. There is a strong sense of justice in Jewish intellectuals. Anti-Jews propaganda, anti-Semitism and anti-Islam propaganda post 911 is ridiculous. The Christians did terrible things to people in Spain. Hitler was not a Muslim. Trueman who bombed Japan was not a Muslim.”
Eva advocates peace between Palestine and Israel. However, she doesn’t want the Arab world to issue veiled threat to wipe out Israel. “I can’t accept the notorious talk of wiping out Israel from the face of the Earth. Nobody wants war in Palestine. You can’t denigrate the entire religion for the evil action of few. Innocents are condemned as it happened in Gaza. I find suicide bombing an outrageous act against humanity. The Jewish people value their life very much. They will never make suicide bomber. The Koran is badly misinterpreted. Heaven lies at the feet of our mother. Why can’t we separate culture from faith? All Muslims are not war-monger. Innocence is the casualty of war. I want people to become a better kind of human being. Those people who say Holocaust should be forgotten don’t know what they are saying. Education about the holocaust is important. I feel touching when Muslim children run towards me after the play to hug me.”
Eva rubbishes Samuel Hutington’s controversial theory of Clash of Civilisations. “I don’t subscribe to this. Islam will spread and become more powerful in future. However, it depends how Western world accepts it. When Europe was wild, China and India were more cultured. We were living in caves, they were living in castles. The Christian world will have to realise Islam is not a threat to their homes and hearths. But if Muslims start saying, ‘America and England become Muslim nation, then there will be problem. Islam says everyone borne in the world is a Muslim, later they grow up to practise different faiths.”
Nic and Eva have come together now through the groundbreaking play, And Then They Came For Me-Remembering the World of Anne Frank—to create hate-free zone. Nic is excited about the increasing success of the idea. Just as we can enforce smoke-free zone in public places, we should strive to create hate-free zone in the British society. In Richmond alone, about 2,000 people voted for British National Party. Time is ripe now for accelerating the hate-free campaign. Quoting from Edmund Burke, whom Nic calls the father of modern Conservatives in England, Nic echoes all it need for bad people to succeed is for good people to do nothing.
Eva finds it puzzling that someone like Hitler who was a failure is still drawing admirers in certain parts of the world. “The world protected Hitler at the beginning of his ‘Final Solution’ because of communism. It is true in Afghanistan, too, where Taleban were created to vanquish Russians. Hitler ruined Europe. I am curious to find why Hitler is still popular among Indian youths. People who buy Mein Kampf should know if they were taken to gas chambers and used as slaves what would have become of them.”
(Frank Huzur is an author, poet and journalist based out of New Delhi-London. His forthcoming book, Imran Versus Imran-An Untold Story (The official biography of Imran Khan) is due in few months from Falcon & Falcon, London, www.falcon-falcon.co.uk. He is available at email@example.com)
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