Monthly Archives: November 2013

Tell This In Remembrance Of Me: Ela Weisberger and the Stories of Terezin

“I pass, like night, from land to land;
I have strange power of speech;
That moment that his face I see,
I know the man that must hear me:
To him my tale I teach.” — Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Many writers talk about the need to write. The words burst forth; they must be written lest the writer explode. Some stories have to be told. The Mariner is compelled to tell his story, creating wiser but sadder men. Boswell had to journal his life or he felt he had not actually lived it.
Yesterday at church and today at school, I met and heard Ela Weisberger, a survivor of the Terezin concentration camp. She is a modern-day Mariner, a person who has to tell her story, who compels us all to listen.
Ela was 11 when she entered the camp at Terezin. She was best friends with Pavel Friedman, the young man who wrote the famous poem, “The Butterfly.” She played the Cat in Brundibar and performed in The Fireflies. She painted and sang and wrote poetry because her teachers insisted that the children create art, tell stories. Her teacher told her to sign her name in defiance of the Nazis who insisted the children be only known as numbers. “You are not a number. You are a name,” her teacher told her. Of the 15,000 children who lived in Terezin, Ela was one of the 100 who survived. She nearly boarded the train to Auschwitz with her uncle, but she had left the number plaque she was supposed to wear around her neck in the barracks, and they wouldn’t let her board. She lived to become a soldier, a spy, a business owner, a writer, a painter. Forgetting her number allowed us all to know her name.
And now she spends the last years of her life telling her stories. “Remember,” she told us, “remember my friends who died.”
She said that she may not remember what she had for lunch yesterday, but she remembers the events of 75 years ago. “The things that happened…they became a part of my body,” she says. “I cannot forget.”
She tells their stories. She names their names. She shows us their art, their poetry, their music. They live as long as she remembers. As long as we listen and learn and remember. As long as we tell their stories.
When asked in an interview about his Jewish heritage and about his beliefs, Neil Gaiman said, “I believe in Story.” Ela lost her faith in God in Terezin, but she says she believes in good people. “Three things the Nazis could not take away from us,” she says. “The blue sky. The bright yellow sun. And the Invisible One inside us.” Now her Invisible One is the love of good people and Story.
“My sister says, ‘Ela, why do you have to keep talking about this?’ And I say that I have to talk about it. My mother said I was Chosen to tell the stories. And if one of these young people remembers the stories then no one can say it didn’t happen. No one can say the Nazis didn’t commit atrocities on children. It happened and we remember.”
In composition class, we have been talking about why people write, why we tell stories. The Alabama folklorist, Kathryn Tucker Windham, wrote that we tell ghost stories as a way of remembering history; the ghosts are the stories we don’t want to forget. Like the Mariner, Ela is haunted and haunting. With her stories lodged within us, we are both sadder and wiser. And we will remember.
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Posted by on November 25, 2013 in Uncategorized


Salary Inequity: Financial Sacrifices of Teaching

It has been a week of convergences that have me thinking and worrying. Due to a beloved colleague’s departure, we are accepting applications for a tenure-track position in American Literature. Offering the academic holy grail means we already have numerous applications for the position just a week after the ad went live. But as I read through the letters and teaching philosophies of highly qualified, desirable people, all but one of whom we will have to turn down, I am troubled by what happened at a faculty forum on campus yesterday.

The forum was an opportunity for faculty to ask questions about the strategic plan. Some faculty members pointed out that the suggestions crafted by committees to be included in the plan were not there, namely raising faculty salaries to median average and addressing gender and other pay inequities. Other concerns were low morale and suggestions that the strategic plan include more objectives and fewer vague aspirations.

The answers?

1. Information on median average salaries is not available; therefore, we can only strive to raise salaries to average.

2. Erasing pay inequality based on gender is a laudable goal, and we should add that to the strategic plan.

3. We can raise salaries but that will require raising tuition — do you really want to do that to students?

4. Don’t you want to aspire?

First, the information on median average salaries has to be out there. None of us believe that accrediting agencies and university associations do not gather this type of information.  Second, good lord, gender pay inequities — let’s please address this as a nation as well as a university.

The last two — of course, we don’t want to raise tuition on students. They already bear a huge financial burden. But I am so tired of the continual guilt trip that is the discussion of salaries in higher education. Yes, we teach for reasons other than money, but we also have to pay our own enormous student loans and save for our own children to go to college. I looked up our average salaries on the Chronicle site during the discussion. Bleak. We are listed as “far below median” — the average assistant professor salary for my university is listed as $50,000, 9%. My actual salary is less than that. My salary has gone up $4000 since I was hired in 2007. On the flip side, the President of my university makes $349,000 a year.

So I look at these wonderful job applications –the fresh new PhDs and the people who have numerous publications yet have been stuck in adjunct or instructor positions — and I feel such warring emotions. I want to tell them what opportunities they would have here, how they can learn and grow, how they will have so much freedom in how and what they teach. I want to tell them how wonderful our students are, how they will get to have personal relationships with incredible young people who go on to do amazing things. I want to tell them how much they will love our department, about how much we love each other. But I also want to tell them that they will not be fairly compensated for their education and experience. That they can make more money as office managers. That they will struggle to pay loans and mortgages and to save.

It’s such a privilege to teach. But it’s also an incredibly demoralizing financial sacrifice.


Posted by on November 22, 2013 in Uncategorized



It’s November. Thanksgiving Break is next week. After that we have one week of class and one week of finals and the semester is over.

November is a time of panic and tiredness and too many assignments and too much to grade. But it’s also National Novel Writing Month, a sheer exuberance of words, a glory of writers. It’s Thanksgiving, a time of reflection and generosity and gathering. 

My students are finishing their 20% Projects and will give presentations during exam week. The goal is for each student to find his or her passion, the thing that will get them out of bed on cold November mornings year after year.

Right now, though, we are all tired. Break is still a week away and presentation glory awaits in December. Right now, we have to remember why we do what we love, why coming together in stuffy classrooms on cold, November mornings is worthwhile, why writing and reading and communing is an absolute privilege for which we are daily thankful.


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Posted by on November 20, 2013 in Uncategorized