i have a deep, somewhat fading obsession with world war 2. technology, warfare, movement, empires, philosophies, catastrophes, the movies, flappers, zoot suits, computer games, big band music…it’s almost pathetic. almost.
sometimes i connect better with my grandparents and even great grandparents more than the ones who were actually involved in my seeding. yes, mom and dad are so real, so tangible, that my own dementia brings upon daydreams of baghdad, iraq, uzghorod, the czech republic, hungary. when i lived in italy i was prone to scramble and hunt for nazis among the alleyways of antiquity, peering from the tops of cobblestone arches making sure that those deadly kraut mg42s that killed broxman the week before was nowehere in sight, the coast clear for me to jump across and continue to my objective. or i’m playing the tarbouka with my grandfather ezra on a patio in the jewish quarter of baghdad, circa 1936, the sun elongating silhouettes across the cityscape, domes and mud buildings ignited with gold. there’s food cooking, there’s always food cooking in this arabic house, and i get a nod from my grandfather. he smiles at me, blows out smoke and shisha, because life is good.
my grandparents fled iraq in 1952 after al-Huseini went the way of hitler. i think he was beat up, his wife also arrested for zionist activities. put in jail for 2 weeks for believing in a state for jewish people. in the european theatre, matters were much worse, my grandparent’s families simply – what’s the word – destroyed. people, fathers, mothers, children, were put to death because of faith, a farce, a deranged criminal in a deranged time.
my inquiry? my holocaust? i remember. i’m16. my gravitation towards all things nostalgic draws me towards our bar, where my family keeps the pricey alcohol it never drinks, an pictures pictures pictures, weding photos, trips to hawaii, bar mitzvah shots, my dad’s bar mitzvah invitation, report cards from when i was 7.
and i see this list. it’s my father’s family tree, compiled in 1987. and it starts way way back, to the late 1700s, retelling the story of the neuman family, where they came from, names i can’t prounce. and some names are roots of families, branches of children extending, location and professions of distant relatives whose names I’ve once heard. but then are the gaps. names that dead end, a premature death, their existence and their being shattered early, histories and lives collapsing into a dark place of nothingness.
people were erased. 68 out of 72 people in my grandmother’s family were erased.
today on yom hashoah, holocaust rememberance day, i try and remember those 68.