So glad to say my hands have much of their mojo back. Coffee gets poured into cups and not next to, I can hold and not drop, and crocheting is a natural part of my (still mostly supine) day again. I had a few anxious months in summer, when side-effects of the drug I took meant diminished function in various places, and the impact on once nimble crochet-fingers distressed me greatly. I tried to imagine a future without making: Nooooooo! As much as I enjoy and value writing, I need tactility (beyond finger-tips on virtual keyboard) and tangibility, need to handle, assemble, produce. As I weaned myself off the meds function slowly returned and I looped yarns around hooks with great concentration, like a learner, building up from a few strained&sweaty stitches, and yes, now I’m all aglow again with the pleasure of making.
I’ve got two small pieces to show you, which I think may be a somewhat curious and utterly incommensurate reaction, counteraction even, to what I’ve been writing about.
Every time I look through my notes this oath – sworn by children on entering the Jungvolk (see last few posts) – sets off a series of implosions in my head: “In the presence of this blood banner which represents our Führer, I swear to devote all my energies and my strength to the savior of our country, Adolf Hitler. I am willing and ready to give up my life for him, so help me God.” Remember, entry into the Deusche Jungvolk was at age ten and all other youth groups were banned. It sets the tone for everything that follows.
I recall bits from a text I read at college, Hal Foster I think, who talked about the ‘metallisation’ of the male body under fascism, a kind of armouring against pain and vulnerability (and, I’m sure, empathy and compassion), which penetrated physicalities and psychologies. That hardening of body and spirit was drilled into children in manifold ways. Picture-books propagated hatred of other races, sports led to military exercises, antisemitism was taught at school etc. etc. (more implosions) but I find myself returning (and wanting) to the Hitler Salute once more, as a hook to hang a few thoughts on. It was supposedly a privileged gesture (for those of Aryan blood). The greeting was often belted out, the arm’s movement brisk – a very angular, clearly proscribed gesture that needed to be done precisely, as it could be used to measure people’s (outward) commitment and adherence to Nazi ideology in everyday life. Persiflage of the gesture or negligent execution was taken as implying criticism. The Swing Kids for example, turned Sieg Heil into Swing Heil and were persecuted for their love of jazz and disrespect to Nazi-lore.
I try to imagine how the gesture would have become part of one’s body language, esp. for those who learned it early (in kindergarden even), how its memory and all it represented became inscribed on mind and body, and in some form or other must have been carried within way beyond the ending of the war (when the salute was forbidden). How would those who grew up under fascism and were not, through parents say, encouraged to have a critical mind, ‘grow out’ of it? Remember the little girl in Triumph of the Will – maybe two years old in 1934, who remains frozen on film in a gesture which she could neither understand nor give more than a wobbly impression of, and which was produced for the camera. She who was effectively made one of/with the masses, and tied in with Third Reich ideology, would have been 13 years old at the end of the war (my mother was 11) – where did all this go? Esp. in a post-war-climate where the focus was on rebuilding, starting over, and not working through what was not history yet. I have an image of right shoulders and arms twitching for years… – there’s a performance piece in here, I think.
In 1939 membership in Jungvolk and Hitler Youth and the Bund Deutscher Mädel (League of German Girls) became compulsory (although there were ways around it). Starting soon after the Night of Broken Glass (9/10 November 1938) the rescue operation we know as Kindertransport took thousands of Jewish children out of Germany, many of whom never saw their families again. Children from occupied countries in Eastern Europe could be used as slave labour or languished in labour camps where they were held with their parents. A child euthanasia-programme instituted in 1939 killed more than 5.000 disabled children (no matter what blood-line). In 1935 the Lebensborn-project was founded to help produce by controlled procreation the ideal Aryan population as Germany’s birth rate had been decreasing.
I am constantly caught in opposite impulses, turn away while looking, scrutinise while averting my eyes. My new pieces are a case in point. While making these fluffy fleecy almost-outfits I didn’t think what, if anything, I was trying to do, just had the urge to use the softest of wools, a shimmering silk/mohair-mixture my first ever and ever so lovely blogger-friend sent me last winter (thank you, Mien!). It’s lovely to work with: using big crochet-hooks these pieces practically flowed from my hands.
Now I wonder if they can’t be read as a kind of retrospective sugar-coating of the candy-floss kind, something that hovers between ineffectual comfort (for myself) and camouflage. That scooping out from history which I’ve mentioned before, of my mom and dad esp., gone balmy… On the other hand maybe the (half-closed) upper body shapes can subtly inscribe and incorporate gestures half-remembered, reduced, re-drawn. On the whole I worry that my sideways glances at history become at best brittle edgeways stances and ask myself if I do enough to question, subvert, stir, sting. Do I need to, and how, develop new strategies?