dedalus Posted September 25, 2009 Share Posted September 25, 2009 People say I write stories, that I don't write poems, and I can see why they say so: but in a story you have to explain a lot of things, set up the background, write descriptions, walk people through what you are seeing. I don't have time for that: it's just not necessary. You could spend months of research and cautious writing and in the end it's all for what? You should never tell people what to think (and the best stories never do); all you need are the images and the key conversations, paring down to the truth. Sometimes fiction is closer to the truth of what happened than the events themselves: no, that can't be, because it's not real! It's more real than the banal events themselves, it explains them. My first contact with this tension, this ever ongoing political tension (because all politics, like the movies, depends upon suspension of disbelief) was ... BEEP - Poem Starts -- ... was when I was about ten years old and my family moved to Germany. This was a few years after the end of the Second War and the country was crawling up from its knees, from its despair, and every grown-up person you saw had been part of that time, whether in the armed forces or part of the civilians at home, and that's when I met Juergen. He was twenty, I thought he was a god. Juergen, when he deigned to speak to me ( a 10-year gap is huge for kids), had been in the "Ha-Yot", the Hitler Jugend, and he made it sound so cool. They had these fantastic uniforms, armbands, and marched around the streets and went on camping expeditions and hikes and had a fantastic great time. As far as I could see, that's just the thing I would have wanted to be doing myself. I was green with envy. All we had were the Boy Scouts with knots and silly manuals, and these lads were marching around with knives and real rifles that could shoot! Jeez, it would make you think! I was sorry Germany had lost the bleedin war, I could never join the Hitler Youth and Juergen would always look down on me! That's how you think when you are ten years old. You do. Juergen had some photos and the badges and even a couple of the old flags. God, it was so cool! To be honest, the War to me was a total blank. Our history classes in school had just about reached the 16th century and they never want to tell you what is happening around you, even now. I was at a "good" Boarding School: keep the boys dumb and silent, feed them loads of carbohydrates, send them out to the afternoon fields for violent sports and push them into the Army when the next war comes along. This was Ireland, of course, so most of our Old Boys got blown to shit in the First World War; when the Second Round came along we officially (more or less) opted out but a number of our lads bit the dust with the RAF and the African 8th Army. You never heard about that, of course; it was all swept under the rug, concealed, the very notion of wearing a British uniform, saving the world from the Nazis! So I didn't know much about this stuff when we first went to Germany. It took me two or three years to figure out Hitler was a right fuckin prick and had landed the whole of Europe into an unbelievable, horribly destructive war; it was only then that I first heard about the Jews and concentration camps, and it wasn't the pleasant Germans I'd grown used to who told me about them, you can be sure of that. Did you know about the Jews, I asked Juergen, and he pooh-poohed the question and said they were anti-social elements and so of course they had to be sent away before they infected the Pure Germans, although the word he used was "das Volksgemein" ... the united ethnic Germans. But do you know what happened to them, I persisted. " Nee, is' mir egal ... "hat mit mir garnit zu tun". Nothing to do with me, pal. Their problem, not mine. Round about then (I was 11 going on 13) I lost my shine for the uniforms and badges, and Juergen, now 22, was sucking up to the Yanks for a job in the Officers Club. The whole German thing started to look tawdry and cheap and squalid ... and scary. I was beginning to understand the extent of what had really happened not only here but throughout most of Europe, the real threat the Nazis had presented to the world. I began to understand the hitherto inexplicable cold hatred of my father's friends, Jim Lyddon, the ex-commando, whose wife and kids had been killed in the London Blitz, who cut throats on raids for revenge; or Charlie Lauer, the Air Force bombardier, who had survived fifty bombing missions and seen so many friends go down in flames: they wouldn't even speak to Germans, not even waiters or the fawning shopkeepers, barking at the people as if they were dogs. I hated that. Even when I started to understand I still hated it. It's not as though these people were totally innocent, I could see that, but I actually knew some of them, in the way that a kid makes friends with adults. and I could speak much better German than Jim Lyddon or Charlie Lauer, or just about any of these ex-soldiers or any of the Brits and Yanks who'd been hurt or harmed by the war. The Germans were being humiliated in front of me, people I had talked to a day or two before, adults who'd been kind to me, showed me tricks, played silly games, and I could not in all honesty join or become part of the cold disdain and hatred shown against them, no matter what they were supposed to have done. Most of them were ex-Wehrmacht, army guys, conscripted and thrown into the war as if they had any choice. One or two were diehard Nazis, this was obvious, because their brains had been cooked since they were kids; not all that different, say, from US Marines today, indoctrinated so-called killing machines. Defeat and total humiliation, a country driven down to its knees, perhaps deserved; but the victors were not so benevolent, now I recall, when I see those pale German faces, preserve those moments, remember. It's been a long road back: re-unification after 45 years: the War generation gone, both the victors and the vanquished alike, and what, after all, remains? Well, Juergen, for one. This summer when I travelled back an e-mail came in to ask if I was the son of such-and-such a man who had lived at such-and-such a place, and if so, would I please get in touch? There was a telephone number: I rang. It was my old friend Juergen. He was a grandfather now, retired, apparently happy, and I said, Look, I'm in Germany, I have a Rail Pass, can I come and see you? And he said, "Nein, besser nicht" -- better not -- and then he said, Bernd (they could never say Brendan) I just wanted to let you know, I am so sorry, I did know, all those years ago, what happened to the Jews. Quote Drown your sorrows in drink, by all means, but the real sorrows can swim Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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