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continued from above

He is one in a long line of soldier-fathers/husbands/
sons who came home and never talked about their experiences, carried their baggage alone, maybe, if at all, shared with other returned soldiers. But he is also apart (hear that chorus!) because he fought on the German side.

When my parents got married my mother found that most nights her husband woke up screaming. He went into therapy for a year, an unusual thing to do at the time, and his night terrors stopped. He never told my mother or us about the war though. The only thing he could say was that he escaped from a Russian POW-camp by swimming across a river with two other German soldiers. Shots were fired, the water was icy and he alone arrived on the other shore, where he was soon picked up by the Americans army, for which he remained grateful until the end of his life. Everything else remained unspoken, but it hangs in my image of family-life like the shadow of the photographer sometimes does in the snaps he takes on holidays, with the sun behind him.

So: there is nothing but huge gaps which I can’t fill in. He fought in Russia, where terrible, unfathomable things were done, as I know from what I’ve read. Actually: How can I say ‘know’? I know nothing. I’ve read a few things, and quickly closed the book or website when it got too much. I am lucky to ‘know’ nothing.

If I am claiming him it’s because I am his daughter. I can’t do more than try to trace my father’s porous outline (threadbare with wounds, fissures, scarred tissue) and thus place myself too in the quicksand of history. With my double-refusal of fatherland and mother-tongue (push), I draw close (pull) through reading, researching, writing. The best I can hope to achieve is a makeshift relationship to where I come from. That also may be the best one to have, wherever you come from.

At times I feel angry at being saddled with this history by my forefathers. And then like a child jumping on the spot, trying to peer over a world of wall. Through my art I only understand my questions, my uncertainties better.

While I was writing this morning I remembered a recurring childhood dream, which must have started when I was maybe eight years old: It’s a sunny day. My whole family, mother, father, brother, and I, are standing in our allotment. I am facing the other three, standing on bare earth, several meters away. We are looking solemnly at each other. My father’s right foot is in a white octopus, no longer than half a metre, and motionless. I know I have to rescue my father from being swallowed up completely, but we are all frozen in our respective positions, and I fail him.

That sense, of failing him, is with me again. It’s utterly familiar, fits like a well-worn shoe.