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DIVIDED LIVES


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I look in their faces for signs of this country twisted in their eyes. Sitting in my place around the table amid Kaffee und Kuchen, a German woman's hospitality, the microphone black and silver and large rests out of place, a long chord into the recorder. I look around their homes for signs of their stories--a canvas embroidered with a collage of menorahs dangles from the wall, a pen and ink drawing of a death camp victim, an oil painting of a murdered peasant, an uncle. Inevitably, there is some sign. Often, it is books--the Holocaust, the Jewish "situation"--because the women believe they can learn by absorbing others' words and opinions of a time they experienced, books describing or explaining Hitler's reign. They lived it. But they falter to describe it.

I look in the women's faces for signs of this country twisted in their eyes. Some cry over their lost childhood, a child contorted to fit into rules that adults could not comprehend nor explain to them. They ask themselves rhetorical questions; "Can I retrieve lost time?" And who can say No. Some play house now--crying over dead or Nazi husbands, choosing the wrong man again and again, too many divorces, no husbands at all, no children, estranged children, no friends--like the beginning of life again but it is towards the end. They kick their feet under the table, stab the traditional rich pastries and cakes with their forks, slurp coffee--all seemingly tasteless. And they rant. And I sympathize. And record.

No one will forget what trauma human beings inflict on each other. The women are pulling at their collars, thumbing buttons in and out of buttonholes, twisting their hair, necklaces around their necks, rings around and around their fingers; clacking their dentures, tapping their pencils, rustling then clamping then smudging their notes, pulling down their library shelves full of Third Reich texts or texts about the Third Reich--tossing volumes on the table before me, dragging out old photo albums with black and white or sepia-toned pictures framed by four glued squares that loosely hold these "before Hitler" memories--and then full, framed pictures of their Jewish grandfather or beloved grandparents hidden in boxes under beds, wrapped in multiple layers of brown paper to protect them and themselves from potential scrutiny. Still so much secrecy. Fear flowed through the walls.

Women whispered to me, covered the sides of their mouths when recalling Nazi propaganda. One woman asked me if my German friend was a Nazi--als Sie leben noch, und werden immer, wahrscheinlich (as they still live, and probably always will). And when extremists blew up a government building in Oklahoma, a fervent voice calls to tell me she has changed her mind; she does not want her picture taken. The "New Right" in the United States might look her up and find her if she appears in my book. And I understand her fear--things break loose, chaos. Reminiscent of the Third Reich. It creeps everywhere.

Click here for the excerpt from Bosselmann's Story

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