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Strange Fruit

Art and Europe's Refugee Crisis

Syrian refugees are reflected in a puddle as they wait for their turn to enter Macedonia at Greece's border, near the Greek village of Idomeni, September 11, 2015. Yannis Behrakis / Reuters

In a stirring dirge for victims of a lynching, Billie Holliday mourns the strange fruit borne by Southern trees. “Blood on the leaves, and blood at the roots” she laments, “Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze.”

Centuries of desperation, frustration, and anger over racial crimes and injustices are distilled into Nina Simone’s evocative cover of the song, in which a raw vocal pours over the simple strains of three chords: A hollowed out musical structure that echoes the moral vacuum in which lynching became common in America’s South. “Strange Fruit” reveals perfectly the true power of art. By stripping superfluity and presenting the ugly, what remains is devastating to the core and impossible to deny. 

So too are the jarring pictures of the bodies of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi and his five-year-old brother Galip, who were found last week on the Turkish coast. In a series of disturbing

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