Listening to the Noise: The Connections between Milada Horáková, Anti-Semitism, and the Black Lives Matter Movement by Ivy Helman.


20200627_112934This month more than most, I feel like I have so much to say that I don’t really know where to begin.  It doesn’t help that next door they are remodelling an apartment and, outside my window, there is a crew drilling up the sidewalk and another roofing the house across the street.  The noise and its echoing are overwhelming on Prague’s narrow streets.  

Perhaps the best place to start is with a similarly loud occurrence.  On June 27th, Prague commemorated the 70th anniversary of the execution of Milada Horáková using the city-wide intercom system.  Minute-long excerpts from her trial and execution were broadcast throughout the day.  Horáková, the only woman to be executed during the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia, was a long-time proponent of democracy and  women’s rights.  In the field of women’s rights,  she focused on the status of women and children, spending considerable effort on women in the workplace and reconciling their work with family responsibilities.  She was also an outspoken critic of the Nazi Regime, having spent time as a political prisoner in Terezin.  When the war ended, she joined parliament, but resigned right after the communist take-over.  After continuing to speak out against the Communists,  she was arrested in September of 1949 and charged with attempting to overthrown the government.  She along with 12 others were interrogated and tried.  Four of them, including Horáková were sentenced to death.  She was publicly hanged on the 27th of June 1950.  Eighteen long years later, she was posthumously exonerated, and in 2000, the Czech Republic unveiled a commemorative tombstone for her in the National Cemetery at Vyšehrad Castle.  In 2017, a film was made about her life and legacy.

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“Murdered by Communists”, a gigantic poster advertising the commemoration of her execution. Photo taken by author.

The noise from the excerpts of her trial and execution were broadcast louder than I’ve ever heard the system used.  Normally, the intercoms interrupt the day once a month to play a prerecorded message and a warning siren, much like the emergency broadcast system in the United States.   In small towns, I have heard similar systems announce community happenings.  They even broadcast a selection of instrumental music early on in the COVID-19 lockdown.  

One of the deafening excerpts was interrupted by a sound that took me by surprise: the crying of my partner.  The noisy words triggered in her memories of her grandfather and his depression.  LIke my partner, he too was Jewish.  He and his brother survived the Holocaust by hiding in Vienna.  Shortly after Horáková’s trial and execution, subsequent show trials took place in Czechoslovakia, most of which tried and executed predominately Jews.  The most famous was the Slánský trial.  It seems Russia had put pressure on Czechoslovakia to root out its so-called “Zionist conspirators.”   This state-sanctioned anti-Semitism of the communist regime reminded my partner’s grandfather of the Nazis, and sunk him into a depression that haunted him for the rest of his life.  He never felt safe and, most of the time, actually wasn’t.  

As the noise on the streets builds to a crescendo yet again, it is echoed by the noise in my head.  Then, suddenly the street goes quiet, and sitting open on my computer screen is an article from June 30th.  In it, Czech president Miloš Zeman says that the Black Lives Matter slogan is racist because all lives matter.  The realisation hit me like a truck.  Of course, the authoritarian power of communism that could execute Horáková and escalate anti-Semitism is part of the patriarchal system that causes the death of Black people in the United States.

Now the drill outside starts up with a vengeance, and I’m fighting the urge to scream at it all.   No one is disputing that all lives matter!  What the Black Lives Matter campaign is saying is that racism impacts the lives of Black people in many ways, one of which is being murdered by the police.  This movement started in 2013 after George Zimmerman was acquitted of Trayvon Martin’s death.  It’s goal is “to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes. By combating and countering acts of violence, creating space for Black imagination and innovation, and centering Black joy, we are winning immediate improvements in our lives.”   Of course, it only makes sense that people cannot flourish when their lives are constantly under threat.

As a Jew, I support this movement.  How can I not?  Jews are gunned down at synagogues and grocery stores, targeted by white supremacists, and have seen Nazi symbolism used on presidential campaign posters, and, even pepperonis in the shape of swastikas on pizzas.  The anti-Semitism we experience is directly connected to the racism Blacks experience.  

Yet, it is not the same experience.  I do not understand what it is like to “drive while Black.”  Jews are not jailed at considerably higher rates for lesser crimes.  I could go on, but I’d rather not as I do not understand many Black experiences.  I would rather leave space for them to speak.  At the same time, I know that Jews have anti-racism work of our own to do, especially in predominately Ashkenazi communities.       

As I sit down to sum this up, the monthly test of the emergency system starts, and I am struck by the irony of it all.  The noise of the street, the noise in my head, anti-Semitism, and racism.  As I’ve said before and will repeat here: patriarchy connects everything. 

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Another advertisement on the Rudolfinum, photo taken by author.

This blog started out influenced by the noise produced while memorializing Milada Horáková, the Czech feminist and advocate for democracy and is ending with a noise that is meant to protect us from harm.   Let’s take all this noise as a warning.  We know what is wrong with our system.  We have to work together to fix it. 

 

 

Ivy Helman, Ph.D.: A feminist scholar and faculty member at Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic where she teaches a variety of Jewish Studies, Feminist and Ecofeminist courses.  

 



Categories: authority, Death, General, Jewish Feminism, Justice, Racism, Slavery, Social Justice, Violence

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

7 replies

  1. Uggghhh. Imagine how all that noise itself, as well as the content of fear and power, programs small, new people as well as triggering older ones with past experiences. Wishing you all peace and resilience.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Brilliant post! The struggle for justice also connects everything!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I think you’re very brave not only to live in Prague (which, despite its history, must be a beautiful city) but also to write about contemporary noise and the loud reminders of the woman who was executed by the communists. How brave she was! I’m glad she’s been exonerated. I have several novels set in Russia during the Stalinist era. Life was terrifying, the books are terrifying, memories of life in any communist country must be terrifying. I also had a friend (now deceased) who had several relatives who were survivors of the Camps. I met them several times but was never brave enough to ask very many questions.

    Yes, of course, there are parallels between then and now. I’m convinced that Trump wants to be president for life, just like some of his friends are. Black lives do matter, Female lives matter. And, yes, all lives matter. That includes elephants and bees and rain forests, too.

    Many thanks for writing this pertinent and thought-provoking post. Brightest blessings to us all!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ivy, thanks for this history lesson and for explaining the connections between the oppression of Jews and the oppression of Black people, and how it all is linked to patriarchy. I hope things quiet down there. All that noise would drive me up a wall! May blessings!

    Like

  5. “Of course, the authoritarian power of communism that could execute Horáková and escalate anti-Semitism is part of the patriarchal system that causes the death of Black people in the United States.” Goddess help us all. . . .

    Like

  6. Will there be no end to the separating humans into “us” and “other?” Are we hard-wired that way. Hasn’t this same battle been fought since time immeasurable? Each time it appears to change the backlash seems like it is even more intense. Look at what is going on here in the US.

    I feel that the work that so many do on this site offers a roadmap, a sense of possibility that it can all change. That it has to change. Thank you for a post that illuminates yet another side of this harrowing puzzle.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s not human nature, it’s the primary tool of dominators — divide and conquer. They have to work constantly to get people to hate their neighbors and/or people they’ve never seen, to turn new soldiers into killing machines.

      If we all don’t cooperate, they have no power. They are terrified we’ll finally stop believing & cooperating right now. Naive or not, the only way to get them to relax may be to send love, not animosity, with every thought; distasteful as that is.

      Like

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