Gallery displays

by Nicole Vulcan

Instead of facing execution by a firing squad during the Holocaust, poet Steven Klepetar’s great-uncle, a Hungarian Jew, flung himself into the Danube River and escaped.
It’s images like that which inspire Klepetar’s Holocaust poetry. Klepetar gave a poetry reading Wednesday afternoon to a handful of people at the Nash Gallery in Willey Hall as part of the gallery’s Absence/Presence exhibit, which focuses on holocausts through art in various forms. This event was preceded by readings on holocausts from Francis Yellow and Richard M. Johnson, both Native American writers.
Klepetar, a professor of English at St. Cloud State University and an established poet, is a child of Holocaust survivors. His mother, originally from Czechoslovakia, was a prisoner of Auschwitz during World War II. His father escaped to Shanghai for the duration of the war.
Klepetar focused his reading on interpreting the experiences of his parents, as well as other survivors he and his parents knew.
Much of the focus for survivors today, Klepetar said, is the idea of absences and presences; of the silence lost loved ones have left in survivors’ lives.
“This (exhibit) couldn’t have been named better,” said Klepetar, adding that while in concentration camps, “people would ask where their relatives were, and people would point to the smokestacks.”
The titles of Klepetar’s poetry are indicative of their content, such as “Who Can Hear Us Now,” and “Buried.” He said his sentiments were best expressed in the words of the first poem he read, “The Country of Silence.”
In thinking about the Holocaust of World War II, his father said, according to the words of the poem “Ich verstehe die Welt nicht mehr … I no longer understand the world.”
Late in the reading, the discussion moved to the role of art in the healing process. Stephen Feinstein, director of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University, said there is an “implicit element of warning” in the Nash’s current exhibit. By giving people the opportunity to see the dangers and repercussions of holocaust, it can more possibly be prevented in the future, he said.