-> continued from above
My heartstrings are stretched like tightropes, as I think back and forth between him and Benjamin who believes he will be handed over to the Gestapo in Vichy France. As much as I want to scoop my dad from history, I want to call out to Benjamin (like a child watching a film where a villain suddenly appears behind the protagonist): wait, wait! because I know the next day he and his group will be allowed through. Then I think of Paris, where Benjamin wrote the final version of Berlin Childhood, which only re-surfaced in the 80s, and remember Marguerite Duras‘ La Douleur. Finally I fall off the tightrope, with the present as my safety net.
My tongue forms but after but. No! Not but, and. In the first photo of my dad in RAD-uniform, still bar of any insignia, he looks serious, pensive. There follow photos, clearly a while into training, probably after the tour of France, where I come upon a different face. This person, half boy, half man, laughs a lot! I find this difficult to behold, struggle to comprehend that these things exist next to each other. 1943 war was raging in many parts of the world. The year contained the end of the Battle of Stalingrad, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and the building of several new gas chambers in Auschwitz, to name but a few. And this group of boy-men laughs, incl. their only slightly older commander. Some smoke fags, some pipes, and banter and tomfoolery is in the air. I shouldn’t be surprised. Here is a group of 17 year-olds, with a sense of camaraderie and adventure (still safe from direct war-fare). How much they knew of what was going on all around I cannot say. And yet…
The difference in gaze and holding between the young soldier-in-the-making and the still young, now dazed-looking PoW two years later, is striking. Photographs tend to survive of ‘better’ times, of stories that can be told. My dad’s album shows nothing, nothing at all, which would allow me an insight into those experiences to which he’d return later, night after clamouring night.