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?


Flounce ruffle furbelow frill – the words loll on my tongue, adornments, embellishments, extra. Sewn on cuffs and collars they add a flourish, soften, feminise; without context though the fabric of certain terms is liable to change, will suddenly carry weight – collar someone, cuff around the ears, clip clobber clout club cudgel – curtail curfew calamity, k k k, a staccato of sound and meaning which makes the background music to my writing.

I looked up those almost superfluous f-words while writing my last post, in order to best describe the little collar which has its edges trimmed with a sparse little ruffle, trying out for size the language of wear and tear. Dress leads to codes. Coats. Greatcoats coats of arms sleeves (empty/clipped after war) uniforms. During the Third Reich softness was driven out of children who grew up with, even wore it on their skin, language which entrenched toxic notions of identity, difference and otherness.*

I write in English. I recoil from terms once active and effective in my mother-tongue, attitudes thought spoken put into practice in the fatherland, simmering with hatred and contempt, driving furrows between wide as oceans. I cannot write or say words like ‘racial’ or ‘swastika’ without worrying that I’m perpetuating Third Reich ideas, even here.

My favourite photograph of my dad as a wee boy was overexposed, taken on a summer day in the garden behind the house he grew up in. He is two or three years old and both he and his brother are dressed in loose approximations of sailor-suits (the image you can glimpse above is a different one). What moves me is the photo’s ghostly aspect; with its soft grey/white tones it’s always been on the verge of dis/appearance. The little I know about my father’s childhood teeters on a similar edge. The light, slightly crumply material of his outfit speaks of tenderness and care, not discipline, of comfort for the wearer on a hot day.

Last year I almost bought a postcard showing six children, between one and thirteen years old, congratulating=saluting Hitler on his birthday. In the end I couldn’t bear the idea of having it in the house. This photograph was taken 1936 (my dad would have been ten years old). The picture had changed. Hitler was in power, policies of exclusion and persecution (of communists, social democrats, unionists, the disabled, Jewish people, Sinti and Roma, and more) in full process.

Five of the children are arranged according to age, height and gender; the three oldest, two boys and one girl, are in Jungvolk-uniform. The smallest, younger than my dad in the photo I described, stretches his little body to hand to Hitler, who stands on the second step of a staircase in uniform and black riding-boots and bends down towards him, a posy. It’s not a successful propaganda-pic – the atmosphere is strained, as are the smiles.

The Jungvolk (see last post – one day I’ll have to talk about the organisation of girls) uniform consisted of short trousers, a shirt, black kerchief wound around the collar, and a side-cap with coloured piping designating the unit the boy belonged to. A cloth-badge would be sewn onto the upper-left sleeve, with the white lightning-shaped SS Sieg runes on black, symbolising ‘victory’. In said birthday-photograph Hitler wears a band on his sleeve too, presumably red, with a black swastika in a white circle.

The photograph of my dad with his brother gives nothing away about political currents, nor do any of the photos that follow, until the group-photo taken in 1942 of the boys of his birth-year in G. (aged 16). They stand in front of the entrance of Friedensschule (which translates as Peace School!), adorned with flowers and coloured ribbons tied cross-wise over their chests, bearing the inscription ‘wehrfähig’ (fit for military service). Most play to the camera, with nonchalantly open, tieless collars and a show of bravura and boisterousness; some have a flower or a fag hanging from their lips; my dad’s shirt is buttoned all the way up, his face is closed, serious, and I have no idea what that might mean.

Those wee blurred hands would later bear weapons. The time in-between taxes me. I found accounts on-line of nine/ten-year old boys in their short-trousered Jungvolk-uniforms joining in on the Night of Broken Glass and other occasions, throwing stones through the windows of Jewish-owned shops. Given that his parents sent him to the Jewish ghetto with food-parcels and that his dad hadn’t wanted him to join the Hitler Youth I so very much want to think that he hadn’t been a Jungvolk boy, or involved in similar bullying activities. That there aren’t any images of him in uniform until he was called up for the Reich Labour Service (see post 27 March + 14 April 2014) can mean so many things.

It doesn’t mean he would be free of shame though (which is really what fuels my enterprise – a sense that I’ve inherited a weight of shame which I’ve carried for/with him from an early age). Having grown up during the Third Reich must clad almost everything in a halo of night and I have a hunch that this is one of the reasons why he didn’t much talk about his childhood.

It’s probably clear that I wouldn’t photograph myself standing in a field doing the Hitler Salute, although I do find Anselm Kiefer‘s work raises interesting questions. With their miniscule, intimate scale my pieces may lack boldness, but hopefully do occasionally pack a punch. Not sure about this one: For the little red collar I crocheted a while ago and used as part of my fallen pillar (see post 5 June 2014) I worked from an image of a cuff in a history-of-crochet-book; I liked the pattern, those groupings of small fourfold bumps (like tiny firsts pushing through the material) and the extravagantly curly ruffle-edge and tried to subvert some of its prettiness by using the colours of the Nazis’ flag. Just on the edges you find tiny white and black stitches… I read somewhere that after the war those flags were cut up and the material used to make coats for girls, little Red Riding Hood-cloaks steeped in hateful history. The emblems disappeared.

Elena Thomas** who has in her studio a special pair of curly crochet-underpants sent me a parcel packed tight with shirt-cuffs and collars in manly blues to play with. I did away with the original puffed sleeves and laid out an old doll’s dress with two cuffs folded at 90 degree angles, then did not, as intended, post this quick sketch as one of my An #artling a day-series on @marjojo2004. I try to contain readings and appropriations – don’t want to send images into the ether without the context of my project here. Too squeamish? The shape made from tea towel off-cuts I did post.

*For a while members of the Hitler Youth were issued with their uniform a sheath knife, bearing the inscription Blut und Ehre (blood and honour).

**Elena also made audio-recordings for me of her latest blog-posts as eye-problems are currently making the deciphering of texts extremely difficult. I can tell you: this is better than reading! She does voices and should be on radio.


A couple of weeks ago I bought a second-hand crochet piece on-line, half bib, half collar. I wanted to add it to my small collection of outfits&objects that help me explore, call into, fall into, the time my dad was a child. While I declare some of these acquisitions stand-in heirlooms I remain unsure how much I’m following sentimental impulses, and how much this is a valid approach. I’m thinking a bit of both, incl. a half-knowing, half-wistful indulgence which is immediately checked, but there all the same. In the end it depends on what I do with these objects, how I place and contextualise them.

I like the collar’s simple shape, that it’s delicately made, and sparsely embellished with its ruffled edge. It is still almost too precious (I don’t see its wearer romping and roving outside, getting dirty), and may well say something about (middle) class aspirations. I tend to lay my acquisitions out next to me on the floor (after three days in the freezer – moth-worries…), look for relationships and interplay with other objects I’ve got around me. When I came across strips cut from a piece of pink half-transparent paper I knew what I wanted to do: infuse it with (learned) memories of a cross-roads point in German history.

I’ve long been staring at a chart used to explain the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 (my mom wasn’t yet two years old), which enshrined the Nazis’ racial politics in law and made the accident of birth, and categories of ‘pure blood’ and ‘mixed blood’, the major determinants of a person’s life. Anyone with three or four Jewish grandparents, no matter if they practiced Judaism, or had converted to Christianity, was defined as Jewish. Citizenship and civil rights were defined along bloodlines. Between 1933 and 1945 2.000 anti-Jewish decrees were passed.

With some disquiet I photoshopped elements of said chart to make paper bands which I’ve placed on the collar (once folded). Too simple almost, and still troubling. I seem to be averse to committing myself, assemble objects, fragments of photographs and such like, but don’t fix, glue or sew on, as if I needed to be ever ready for new configurations/combinations.

When my dad was in secondary school the Law Against the Overcrowding of German Schools and Universities (1933) was passed, which limited the number of Jewish children to 1.5 % per school (they made up 5 % of school-aged children). 1942 all schools were closed to Jewish children. What was taught at school was defined by the Nazis too. Love for and obedience to Hitler was drummed into children from an early age. History was about the greatness of the so-called master-race, geography about the need for expansion of territory, the domination of ‘racially inferior’ (I find it almost impossible to enunciate these toxic terms) people, etc etc. ‘Racial hygiene’ and purity were central. Any subject was co-opted – imagine learning the rule of three through arithmetic problems where the costs of caring for x disabled persons are set against the needs of y ‘hereditarily healthy’ families, or where pupils calculate the amount of fuel needed for x airplanes to throw this or that amount of bombs on ‘the enemy’. Children were prepared for war in all kinds of ways in and outside of school – we all know about the Hitler Youth for 14-18 year olds; 10-14 year olds were expected to join the Jungvolk (Young Folk), and there were even groups for younger boys, the Pimpfe, and military exercises and fascist indoctrination were part of them all.

I was struggling with the thicket of notes for this post when I found that Michael Rosen‘s The Benjamin Broadcasts (see post 28 May 2014) was on the radio again. Finally I could breathe! Here’s a point in time I don’t want to move away from, when such intelligent, thoughtful and politically astute broadcasts for children were commissioned. Walter Benjamin took his young listeners seriously, expected them to be curious about the world, think and engage critically. The opposite of what happened under the Nazis, when everything became about discipline, obedience, limited mindsets, the creation of soldiers.

Since I’ve begun my project I’ve peered at so many photographs of my dad and marvelled at the multitude of faces I’ve become acquainted with – of a baby, toddler, child, youth, soldier, PoW, adult, professional, for forty odd years my father, and last, indelibly burnt into memory, his dying, then dead face, strange, familiar, stony – of which no image exists but in my mind. I’ve lately come to feel a kind of wary gratitude to him, for having gifted? charged? challenged? me with the weight and compass of this project. It gives my stationary&supine life purpose and meaning beyond myself, keeps me engaged and learning without bodily stepping into the world. Last week I lost two whole days to overwhelming pain and fatigue, and during the rest made small stretches of half-intact time count over and over. I rail against the tiredness, my body’s and mind’s constraints, which extend into every part of my life, but wonder if the leaden pace fatigue dictates doesn’t serve me well in this case – my stop and go-processes offering a kind of protection, giving time to process (by which I may well mean forget), to pick myself up, to dare the next sideways glance.


I’ve started a little twitter adventure, trying to post a pic of an ‪#‎artling a day @marjojo2004. Found a bit of text I wrote years ago, which I’m afraid still applies: “I spend most of my days here on my floor-bed as I don’t like lying in bed during day-time if I can help it. The mess of having everything around me can drive me crazy. But art-making is my life-spark. At its worst, the illness is a blunting instrument. During these times I hang on to a positive sense of life literally by a thread. I need to have even the tiniest thing on the go: one squiggly line describing a knee on the back of a bill, a thin strand of hair threaded through the eye of a needle, a small dress cut from an autumn leaf, its curly stalk making it dance… Or I defer and write a note, put to paper the flash of an idea, which I might or might not take up when I feel a bit more energy.”