Sounds to kill Jews by

“Then the monsignor left the altar and told us that we could start killing the Jews.”

Few things–even thunder and cannon–can have made more noise than the mob in the pre-industrial age. Shakespeare introduces crowd noise to punctuate and underscore events of great note – Coriolanus “Splitting the air with noise” on his return, Julius Caesar unfazed on hearing that “ghosts did shriek and squeal about the streets” – although I don’t know of any detailed accounts by Our Bill or by any earlier writers of soundscapes of urban disruption. Yet the aural sensation must have been so powerful that the odd echo should not surprise us, and that’s why I want to indulge in some mild speculation re a Catalan Jew-killing ceremony.

The pastoral letter issued by Cardinal Gomá on January 30th 1937 was clear: the Civil War was the fault of the masons, the Jews, the communists. His fervent anti-Semitism was shared by many to the right and left, although the massacres, deportations and prohibitions of previous centuries meant that there wasn’t anyone much left to hate. The role of the Franco regime in allowing Jews to flee France during the war is well known and has, I think, distracted attention from the popularity until comparatively recently of genocidal traditions. Here is FC from Torelló, up on the Vic plain:

Back in 1939, the first year after the war, people starting celebrating the great religious feasts again with a euphoria never seen before. After three years when everything was prohibited it was pretty normal. But, what a disappointment! I was already nine and had heard so much about killing the Jews that my imagination had run away with itself and I thought that I’d see a theatre piece there in church, like a kind of Pastorets. And how I was looking forward to it! This is what happened: they made us girls bring some rattles [roncadores, associated with such events held at Easter around Vic and on the Balearics] and the boys some small mallets. We went on time so as not to miss any of the spectacle. The verger along with young people from the village was hard at work bringing builder’s planks and laying them on the ground. I was eagerly watching what was happening. Then the monsignor left the altar and told us that we could start killing the Jews. And he had all the boys beat the planks that had been brought with the mallets and behind the girls whirling the rattles. The whole inside of the church turned into a thunderbox which, if it had lasted too long, would have left both grownups and children with a bad headache. Strangest of all is that the grownups laughed and shared in that vulgarity. When ten or fifteen minutes had passed, the monsignor came back and said to us, “That’s enough, they’re dead now.” As they were leaving, the neighbours laughed at me because they saw the disappointment on my face. The girl from Can Nana said to me, “And what did you think, little girl?” And I replied to them: “At least they could have put on a little play.” And from then on, I never [took part in the Jew-killing ceremony]. I found it so absurd! They continued doing it for some years, but I never accompanied my little sister.

If intended as a symbolic reinterpretation of the noise of pogrom, then the part played by mallet on plank (or, sometimes, on earth) would be clear enough, but the rattles would be difficult to explain. Without further evidence I’d be tempted to believe that, rather than medieval slaughter, the children were actually recreating machine age violence, the crack-crack and thud-thud of repeating weapons, the chatter of automatics. So was this in fact a nineteenth century invention?

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  1. The rattles are easy. A roncador is a snorer, so what you’ve got is a record of a massacre conducted while the victims were asleep.

  2. Somehow there’s something so sad about this plaintive, ‘At least they could have put on a little play’, although at the same horrible. I couldn’t work out if it was a little boy or a little girl (‘us girls’ … ‘”little boy’)

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