I advocate that the Wernher von Braun Center be renamed. Perhaps call it the Goring Complex, since Braun and Goring were members of the Nazi party. Goring’s Luftwaffe rained down death over Europe and Braun launched over 9,521 Cruise-like missiles to England, beginning on 13 June 1944. Braun’s membership in the Nazi Party is dated 12 November 1937 and his membership number is 5,730,692. If you need to reference this, use Wikipedia for basic facts. Or, if you require a more substantial historical source, any major work on the rise of Nazism will suffice. The English historian Sir Ian Kershaw is a reputable scholar of note on the period.
As a child of the Fifties I dimly recall von Braun with his affable Mr. Rogers panache, Germans label it gemuttlichkeit, on the Dave Garroway show getting all worked up explaining his proposed space station. There is a photo at the time of Disney and Braun, both in good spirits, enthusiasts. Braun was irresistible; that as a rocket scientist he built his V1 andV2 rockets (V for vengeance in German) at a slave labor camp on the Baltic Sea, Peenenunde, is washed over. The great German artist Kiefer has called such things a “conspiracy of silence.” In Operation Paper Clip the American government brought over Nazi scientists (the operative word is Nazi) to advance our rocketry and compete against the Russkies. The Russians took a helping of Nazi scientists as well. All societies, one philosopher has written, are essentially corrupt.
When I ride past the Braun Center on my way to Huntsville and read the bold letters of the center, I feel much like any black person seeing the Confederate flag beating against a post. I feel debased, forgotten, caught in a web of indifference. We speak of Holocaust deniers, yet those of us who are thoughtful and honorable citizens cannot widen their perspective to see that the von Braun Center as named is one consequence of Holocaust denial. Good people desecrate other good people by honoring a Nazi. I will say it for you – it is an abomination.
Indifference and moral sloth sustain Wernher von Braun in the minds of the Huntsville community. I am sure his memory and “good deeds” are reminiscent of Il Duce who made the trains run on time. What he has done for the citizens, fame and fortune, keep him a cherished personage. He is our “good Nazi.” Pick up a brochure in the center and you will find his past expunged or grossly mitigated. We call this collusion. This is the classic – historic – stance of the herd, always has been.
Having read considerably about von Braun and his vicious Nazi brother, Magnus von Braun, a chemical engineer who died peacefully in Arizona, Wernher expressed remarkable obliviousness to the slave workers who he viewed with total indifference. For they were objects in his mind; he was a base opportunist. Making his way to our country with the help of our government, he merchandised his scientific wizardry in a such a way the community absorbed him as one of its own. I suppose you might say he was a good immigrant. Huntsville metabolized him.
When I arrived two years ago to Alabama and observed my first Passover at Temple B’Nai Sholom in Huntsville, I noticed a police car stationed at the front door. Curious, I asked a woman congregant about that. She answered with an ancient tribal shrug which telegraphed 56 centuries of recorded history and I knew what she meant. Given my history, I would have situated Jewish men about the temple. I have less fear as an American Jew –that is why we are here. I also subscribe to the wise adage that if you forget you are a Jew, the world will remind you of it.
And when Easter arrives this year will you have police cars in front of your churches just in case?
My uncle was in the Battle of the Bulge, a sergeant and meted out swift justice to the SS he came across in the last days of the war. Awarded the Bronze Star, he knew who he was. My family has served in WW11 and Korea. And as for the role of Jews in the South, Jews fought for the Confederacy and Jews were in the cabinet of Jefferson Davis. Judah P. Benjamin, a fascinating character, served as both Secretary of State and Secretary of War. Col. Myers, a Jew, was the Quartermaster General of the Confederacy. And at the Nazi march at Charlottesville, I would know who to side with, Mr. President.
The Wernher von Braun Center is offensive to all of us. A toxic reminder of a Nazi who mingled, associated and appreciated Nazism, Alabaman Jews find it repugnant, insufferable, as I do.
In all his books, Elie Wiesel cautions us against indifference as he finds it pernicious and allows such men as von Braun to avoid condemnation, for he is beyond redemption, thousands suffered and died so he could make his tinker toys. Recently I’ve been informed that on his gravesite there is a marker with a biblical quotation that von Braun favored. Yes, to the end, the ever evangelistic and purveyor of things over men and women, goes boldly where no man has ever gone before (Did he know that Shatner and Nimoy were Jews?).
This anecdote of the first English Jewish Prime Minister, Disraeli, might serve as a coda. In Parliament a representative from Ireland rained down anti-Semitic abuse upon Disraeli. Why? No real reason; anti-Semitism is like mold, always in the air. Nevertheless, Disraeli kept still and when the representative had his say, he replied.
“Yes, I am a Jew, and when the ancestors of Right Honorable Gentleman were brutal savages in an unknown island, mine were priests in the Temple of Solomon.”
Change the name!
1) Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into writing?
Never begin a sentence with “well.” [a writer should break rules.]Well, writing, for me, was characterological. It was a consequence of a repressed and depressed childhood and adulthood. It was the spume of a discontented and directionless youth, of misspent energies and unclear goals. It was the product of an outer directed self. Aimless, un-fathered and un-mothered, I was benign neglect incarnate. There is much truth in the adage that we grow old too soon and smart too late.
2) What inspired you to write your book?
All of my books are not inspired; they are made from moving trends in my own personal reflections. When my thoughts founder upon a reef, I take the wreckage and begin to make order from disorder. A writer shapes experience. This book is a second memoir; the first was youth and young adulthood, lunacy, foolishness and recklessness; a land of mischief and misbehavior. The second memoir is more reflective, an older man’s thoughts, hopefully wiser, perhaps not; we are all fools until the day we die.
3) What theme or message do you hope readers will take away from your book?
In my memoir I carry on an imaginary conversation with Thoreau; however, he says nothing as I speak to him about the issues of my life. I keep Thoreau silent, for the questions I ask and the answers I get are solely of my own creation. The latent message of this literary conceit is awareness, or the awakening of intelligence, to cite Krishnamurti. Thoreau, as I see him, was consumed by the meaning of experience, of how to live an aware existence. In many ways he was a scold, hectoring us, berating us, pushing and shoving us into assessing what we are doing as human lives from moment to moment. I have been obsessed, if that is the word, with understanding who I am, and how to deal with existence since a young man. And so my affinity for Thoreau. This is an old man’s memoir filled with a young man’s ardor and exuberance.
4) What drew you into this particular genre?
I am free. [“I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.”—Kazantzakis] I took an arrow from my quiver and it read memoir and I tried this genre free of whatever memoirs are supposed to be.
5) If you could sit down with any character in your book, what would you ask them and why?
All the characters in my stories and essays and novel and memoirs emanate from me., at the very least are projections of myself. The essential questions I ask are ones of meaning, intention and purpose in life. In the last essay of my memoir I ask all the questions I have ever asked of myself to an imaginary Thoreau. I would hope the reader attaches his kite to mine and sets flight.
6) What social media site has been the most helpful in developing your readership?
I am not interested in my readership. I have deconditioned myself from that. I have no interest in twitter and all the rest. I try to get my books reviewed or seen without going nuts over it. I write for my pleasure, to divine who I am. I write for no one else. To write for others is a kind of emptiness, or outer-directedness. Who said I had to have readers? Who said I have to be read? What is it I want is all that matters. I sell a smattering of books and engage a few people in literary discussion such as this piece, but that is all. I march to a different drummer.
7) What advice would you give to aspiring or just starting authors out there?
Advice is generally used or secondhand; use it sparingly. It must always be questioned. With that caveat, I’ll say the following. Constantly reference yourself; look up quaquaversal which appears in my memoir. It is the source from which other things emanate. Trust yourself. Techniques can be learned and schools can teach that; but since you are the last of your kind, and no one will be like you ever again, it’s best to discover all you can about yourself through mentors, philosophers, therapists and most importantly the awakening of intelligence. Continually decondition yourself of state, religion and authorities of any kind. When you are free, your writing will be a song.
8) What does the future hold in store for you? Any new books/projects on the horizon?
I may have written my last book. I am not sure. I hear fragments in my mind that may turn out to be stories. To wit, “It is here. Oh my…Oh my….” Strikes me ominously. I’ll see. I have no future. I have the moment, so why waste time on a future tense.
And Then I Am Gone: A Walk with Thoreau tells the Story of a New York City
man who becomes an Alabama man. Despite his radical migration to simpler
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.One of the most thought provoking memoirs in recent years challenges readers to examine not only the world around them but how they are living their lives in author Mathias B. Freese’s novel And Then I Am Gone: A Walk With Thoreau. Here’s the full synopsis:
And Then I Am Gone: A Walk with Thoreau tells the story of a New York City man who becomes an Alabama man. Despite his radical migration to simpler living and a late-life marriage to a saint of sorts, his persistent pet anxieties and unanswerable questions follow him. Mathias Freese wants his retreat from the societal “it” to be a brave safari for the self rather than cowardly avoidance, so who better to guide him but Henry David Thoreau, the self-aware philosopher who retreated to Walden Pond “to live deliberately” and cease “the hurry and waste of life”? In this memoir, Freese wishes to share how and why he came to Harvest, Alabama (both literally and figuratively), to impart his existential impressions and concerns, and to leave his mark before he is gone.
This was one of the most unique and creative memoirs I’ve read in recent years. The story of the author’s journey in his later years in life allow us as readers to take the time to appreciate not only our own lives, but challenges us to think critically and take the time to find meaning in our lives. It does a marvelous job of using past life experiences, history, humor and classic pop culture references to contemplate the current state of our world. From the rise of Donald Trump as the United States President and what it says about the mentality of the nation as a whole to the hours spent on subjects like religion and life views that end up dividing us when there’s no need for it, this book is a perfect read for anyone looking to find meaning and purpose.
Written almost like a diary entry or an actual conversation between the author and the philosopher Henry David Thoreau himself, this story exudes insight, psychology and honesty. It shows the power of hope in tumultuous times, while also showing the history of the world and the threat of being doomed to repeat it in our modern times. It’s as much a reflection on our society as it is on himself, and despite the title’s ominous overtones, this story is not one of loss and hopelessness but one of learning from our own pasts and finding the will to reflect on our lives and come to terms with it. It’s a story of love, loss and life itself, and deserves to be read. If you haven’t yet, be sure to pick up your copies of And Then I Am Gone: A Walk With Thoreau by Mathias B. Freese today!
Book Review: And Then I Am Gone-A Walk with Thoreau by Mathias B Freese
Posted by bookishjen in And Then I Am Gone, Baby Boomers, Book Reviews, Books, Culture, Faith, Family, Henry David Thoreau, Inspiration, Love, Marriage, Mathias B Freese, Memoirs, Mental Illness, New York city, Non-Fiction, Nostalgia, Politics, Self-Help, Uncategorized, Walden Pond, Writing
There is one thing people realize once they come to their “twilight” years. They have more of a past than a future. This is a time when they often take stock of their lives – good, the bad and the ugly. Writer, teacher and psychotherapist Mathias B. Freese is one these people, and now he shares his journey in his thoughtful memoir And Then I Am Gone: A Walk with Thoreau.
Thoreau, of course is Henry David Thoreau author of the classic Walden Pond, which many of us probably read back in high school. For Freese, Thoreau is a muse who guides him during his journey of self-examination. Ultimately Freese is asking himself, not the cliché “What is the meaning of life?” but “What is the meaning of my life.”
And Then I Am Gone is divided into two parts. Part one sets up the tone for the book and provides several chapters focusing on moving to Alabama, finding happiness with Nina, a past love affair, his relationship with his children and his own childhood, his thoughts on Trump, writer Norman Mailer, the movie Citizen Kane, and Thoreau as therapy. Part two focuses on Freese’s new life in a new home, his journey with Thoreau and coming to grips with his own mortality.
Born and bred in New York City, Freese is a secular Jewish man now living in Alabama with his southern belle, Nina, an Irish-American Roman Catholic. Not surprisingly, Freese finds country life below the Mason-Dixon line a complete cultural shock and often has difficulty navigating a world so different from the hustle and bustle of city life. However, it does force him to come to grips with his past. Freese has had success with his professional life, but his personal life was often in shambles. Childhood was difficult with a mother suffering with mental illness. Freese has been married and divorced a few times, and is also estranged from his daughter but is closer to his son Jordan.
Okay, Thoreau. Just what is life all about, hmm? Freese wants to know, You wrote a damn book about it. Surely you’ve got the goods. Now pony up!
Freese has questions and Thoreau provides answers, which often leads to Freese having more questions. Needless, say this can be quite maddening, which often leaves Freese feeling downright pessimistic.
But as I kept reading And Then I Am Gone, I thought to myself. Well, maybe we’re not always meant to have all the answers to our questions after we ask them, whether we ask Thoreau, our best friend, a therapist, our horoscope or a stranger on the street. At times those answers will leave us not exactly happy or more confused than before. Or sometimes we will find clear, concise advice or wise counsel in a time of confusion (especially in one of the most messed times in our nation’s history).
I found Freese’s book to be a true inspiration as I go through my own journey of self-exploration and after year of great difficulty, self-care. There are times I look for answers and feel nothing but despair and at times I feel true joy. We’re not supposed to solve the mysteries life and just accept things are going to be murky. At times we live life to the fullest and at times we are slackers on the couch. we should just live our lives the best we can before we are shuttled off this mortal coil.
I also appreciated Freese’s vivid style of writing. He can be a curmudgeon but he’s also wise, funny, a true storyteller. And Then I Am Gone is a treasure of a book.
Now if only I had kept that copy of Walden’s Pond….