Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Babi Yar

Babi Yar Park, Denver, Sunday, September 28, 2008

“No monument stands over Babii Yar. A drop sheer as a crude gravestone. I am afraid.”
With these words of complaint, Yevgeny Yevtushenko the great Russian poet opens his mournful and grief-stricken poem about Babi Yar. He bitterly and bravely berates the Soviet Government for not putting up a proper memorial to commemorate the civilian massacre during World War II at a ravine called Babi Yar near Kiev in the Ukraine.

Soviet Russia built no monument to memorialize this Nazi atrocity.

In contrast, the city of Denver has had for many years a most fitting and proper memorial to remind us of this tragic inhumanity.

Babi Yar Park at Parker Road and Havana in Denver.

I was honored to attend a very solemn ceremony last Sunday, September 28, 2008, at Babi Yar Park. The ceremony commemorated the 67th anniversary of the 1941 Nazi murder of over half of the Jews of Kiev. For two days, the Nazis slaughtered Jewish men, women and children, with the vast majority being women and children, at a deserted ravine called Babi Yar, outside the city. For a long time thereafter, they murdered “others:” gypsies, Ukrainians, over 100,000 in all. Rabbi Richard Rheins of Temple Sinai here in Denver reminded us that later the Nazis returned and had prisoners dig up the dead and destroy their bodies in order to eliminate the evidence of their atrocities.

Midway in the program, Maria Verizhnikova emotionally read Yevtushenko’s poem in Russian and translated it into English. Maria’s reading, a symphonic requiem of sound and fury, reminded me of a project I assigned in my Mass Media class which I taught for many years at Regis. The text for the class was a media workbook by Marshall McLuhan, and Eric McLuhan, his son, entitled, Media, Messages and Language: The World as Your Classroom. Many of the exercises suggested by McLuhan’s text probe the nature of ground/figure analysis in relation to various media. The exercises helped the students understand the nature of the different media.
One exercise illustrated the power of spoken language, this time a foreign language, Russian, expertly proclaimed by Yevtushenko to communicate the powerful themes of his poem to those who knew no Russian. I would ask my students to listen to a recording (ancient technology) of Yevtushenko reading his poem. Though they knew no Russian, I then asked my students to listen carefully as Yevtushenko recited his Russian words in the poem and write down what images or thoughts came into their minds as they resonated to the harsh sounds of his voice and the gloomy tones of his words. Students in every class over my many years of teaching wrote down words like “Anger, terror, death, sadness, destruction, and fear.” Yevtushenko’s deep voice proclaimed for my students the litany of sad emotions he wrote about in his poem. The experience allowed Yevtushenko’s words of the poem to become a new figure to a unique sound ground. I recommend that readers try the same exercise and listen to Yevtushenko reciting this poem. Let his words flow into you like a mighty stream.

The wind gusts blew down one of the flags at the ceremony. Someone wearing a yarmulke up righted the flag and stood by holding it against the wind. The long prairie grasses at Babi Yar’s Denver Park rustled in the dry hot wind.

“The wild grasses rustle over Babii Yar.
The trees look ominous, like judges.
Here all things scream silently,
and, baring my head
slowly I feel myself turning gray.
And I myself am one massive, soundless scream
above the thousand thousand buried here.
I am each old man here shot dead.
I am every child here shot dead.
Nothing in me shall ever forget.” (From the poem).

Julian Bonder, architect for the newly refurbished Babi Yar in Denver, gave the keynote address. Bonder spoke of Emanuel Levinas, the renowned French--Jewish philosopher who probed in his writings, “who is the ‘other in our lives, who is our neighbor?” Levinas asked this question in light of the atrocities like Babi Yar committed in World War II. How was it that so many could kill “other” human beings? It was fitting and proper, after hearing Yevtushenko’s poem, that Bonder reminded us that Levinas wanted all human beings to commit to an ethical relationship with any “other” as soon as one beheld the face of the other and looked into the other’s eyes. Levinas at that moment asks us to be compelled at that special communicative moment to realize “the other” is a human being like ourselves. Apologies for such a brief summary of Levinas theory here but you get the drift.

Gerard Manley Hopkins, the Victorian Jesuit poet in his poem “As Kingfishers…” suggests the face of the “other” is indeed the face of God himself.

Yehoshua Hoffman, son of Lillian Hoffman, who fought for many years in Denver to allow Soviet Jews to leave Russia, said Kaddish for all who were slalughtered at Babi Yar.

The noon day sun beat down on the huge black marble monuments at the entrance to the park. The yellow leaves rustled in the wind offering a promise that winter and cold was on the way. People left to go on park tours or head for home.

“My need is that we gaze into each other.” (From the poem).

Friday, September 26, 2008

A Long time Ago

A long time ago, Sr. Margaret Loyola Scanlon, S. L., my beloved principal at Holy Family High School in North Denver once said to me:

“Dennis, we all have to operate in an atmosphere of Internal Control. Even our church bingo has two sets of hands and eye’s counting and reviewing the money, and someone else makes the deposit. We even assign two students to count the proceeds for tickets sold at the Senior Prom. Internal Control is the key to good economics.” Every time I hear the words “lack of internal control,” and we hear those words a lot in our audits of Denver’s agencies, I think of Sr. Margaret Loyola and her wise words. If she is ever canonized, she will be the patron of Auditors and Internal Control.

While the legislation changes moment by moment, perhaps the most egregious weakness of the proposed $700 Billion bailout of Wall Street proposed by the Bush administration is a total lack of internal control. That the administration has asked Congress to hurry up and hand over $700 Billion to one individual, with no other set of hands and eyes to be accountable for the distribution of those dollars is the total and unconscionable lack of internal control. Sr. Margaret would be furious.

Forty four years ago Robert Kennedy told us in The Pursuit of Justice, “The problem of power is not to achieve its responsible use rather than its irresponsible and indulgent use—of how to get men of power to live for the public rather than off the public.” If Congress rushes to give unbridled power to one individual the nation will mirror what Edmund Burke warned five years before our Declaration of Independence, “the greater the power, the greater the abuse.” And the powerful will continue to abuse our patience.

The folks that got us in this mess and now want the bailout should have heard what else Sr. Margaret Loyola shared with me about internal control. “Dennis, I will not always be around to make sure you practice proper personal and financial internal control. But, remember, Dennis, God is always watching and knows whether you are exercising internal control.”

In this time of trial will we be able to find those who live for the public rather than off the public?

Monday, September 22, 2008

A depression story appropriate for today

On the way up in the elevator to the Denver Auditor’s Office early this morning, with the largest Us Government financial bailout, yes, the very same 700 billion bailout of our financial crisis on everyone’s mind, someone asked me, “Auditor, are we heading for a 1929 Depression?”

I told him we are in for a lot of major economic pain and it will be very depressing.

I thought of my mother and her parents who lived at 2528 Hooker in North Denver. I always think of that house when the Great Depression comes to mind. The house sat just west of Old St. Dominic’s Church at West 25th and Grove Streets. When the Dominican Friars ran out of food for the homeless during the Great Depression, the 1929 Depression, they would say “Go over there to Mrs. Flaherty, she always keeps sandwiches in her ice box.” I remember that ice box, with heavy wooden and metal doors, and I often enjoyed slamming the doors, loud clanging thunder.

My mother told me she once asked her mother, “Mom, why do we give those guys from the roads and rail yard the sandwiches?

She answered that in Ireland, the place of her birth; it was customary to give strangers and travelers food without question. The legend had it that it could be a test by God to test the charity of an individual for which one could be accountable on the final day of reckoning.

“You know, Nellie, one of these men from the rail yards, could be St. Joseph in disguise to test our charity and to text our faith,” my grandmother added.

One day, my grandmother heard my mother slam the kitchen door on a solicitous traveler.

My grandmother rushed into the kitchen from the small dining room and asked, “Nellie, why did you slam the door on that poor man?”

“Momma, that man was no St. Joseph, that man had the smell of liquor on his breath,” my mother responded indignantly.

Without a pause, my grandmother shouted to her, “Nellie, go get that man and bring him back, it could be St. Patrick himself.”

At all our family reunions, the air was thick with Depression stories, depressing orphanage stories, years of painful homelessness and families divided.

I was hoping my son, Daniel, and all his many cousins might be spared the anvil test of a Great Depression. I was hoping they might not face a painful economic reckoning and depressing stories at family gatherings. Now I am not so sure.

Friday, September 19, 2008


Welcome to my blog. I am Denver's Auditor, Dennis Gallagher and as such I thought it important to share thoughts with you - and receive yours- regarding audits, accountability and all things Denver.

We have entered a new era of accountability in Denver and an expanded and enhanced performance audit role for the Denver Auditor's office. But it is not enough to do audits and share the information with City Council and the Mayor, the citizenry must be aware of our findings as well. That is why televise our audit reports as they are presented to the newly independent Denver Audit Committee and that is why I have started this blog; as another way of reaching out to Denver residents to help provide them with the information they need to make good decisions about Denver's government.

So again, welcome.