Wednesday, September 27, 2006

What is remembered: Amsterdam, part 2.

In Amsterdam, we were out about town, although it was dark. We ate out, and Mum let me drink cola, although Dad complained. Milk in Holland tasted strange, or rather, behaved strangely. Faint blue-white streaky patterns floated atop it, reminiscent of an oil slick. I couldn't face drinking it.

We visited the Anne Frank Museum on Prinsengracht. My maternal gran had given me The Diary of Anne Frank the previous winter, and I had read it several times. Anne, the child murdered thirty years ago, felt like someone I knew; I admired her, fantasised about her life, her existence, our impossible friendship. Anne's Jewishness seemed exotic, touched by tragedy. In my mind, this made every Jewish person a romantic hero. To my knowledge, I knew no Jewish people. Mum had said that Siiva, a girl at the playground I used to go to, was Jewish. Siiva bit other children. Her Jewishness was not the same, to me, as Anne's, my imaginary friend's, ethereal otherness.

At my local swimming pool I met a girl who was sweet and beautiful and interesting, and whom I passionately had wanted to befriend. (This was probably later on, possibly during the winter following the Amsterdam holiday, possibly a year later.) She told me she went to the Jewish School in Helsinki. Wonder of wonders! Exotique, spirituality touched by otherness, and she was just as sweet and beautiful as my romantically heroic friend should be. I hoped to meet up with her again at the pool, but I never saw her again. I don't remember her name. It is thirty years ago.

The museum at Prinsengracht felt in part familiar from the book and the photographs included in it, and in part strange, "wrong", the way oft-fantasised places do when one visits them. Mum felt a claustrophobic angst and was in particular horrified by the fact that thirty years on, the place still carried a faint odour of urine - the Frank family hadn't been able to flush the toilets during office hours, it would've revealed their hiding place to the people working in the building.

One night out walking we came across a Holocaust memorial: metal slabs the size of doors, enclosing a circle the size of a smallish room. The gaps between the slabs became narrower and narrower until the nearly-eight-year-old me couldn't squeeze through. A searchlight swept the ring of metal slabs every few seconds. I played a game. I imagined I was at a concentration camp. If I could get behind the next slab before the searchlight hit me, the guards wouldn't notice me and I would be able to escape, I would be saved. If the light hit me, I would be shot. Eventually, I didn't make it. I felt strange. I wanted to change the rules of my game - "no, she wouldn't in fact die after all" - but on the other hand, I felt a sharp awareness of my game having been one where the rules could not be altered. This was how they had died - they hadn't made it out of the path of searchlights - and in other ways too.

My mum reminisced for years about how children played "innocently" at the memorial. I don't think she knew how seriously I played.


kurt said...

I like the way you show how children's games and deadly hatred are inches from each other.

Bush & the GOP just passed their (We're tough as Hitler! Just in time for the election!) torture act, and continue to show us how easy it is to turn people into Nazis.

The only good thing to come of this Bush Era is the chance to see who takes which side. I just hope people are held responsible for their actions.

Anna MR said...

Hey kurt, yes, I have always worried about the way people say "never again" about the Holocaust, and with conviction too. I mean, it is surely dangerous to delude ones' self into thinking it was an isolated incident in human history? And I don't mean to demean the horror of it by saying this. It's just, well, it's not the only time we've been beastly towards members of our own species.

nmj said...

I agree, the Holocaust was exemplary in how abominable and monstrous people can be, but I fear nothing has really been learned.

Re. children's games and deadly hatred, I just got a free dvd of Lord of the Flies with weekend newspaper. I've never seen the film version. Maybe now I will.