How it happens

Published by Wreybies in the blog Ponderings of a Pachyderm. Views: 120

I begin to understand.

When I lived in Berlin, I lived amongst the remains of WWII. Not just the physical remains in the form of buildings and memorials, but in the ideological remains because the job I did there answered to 1950's paradigms. I was one of the last to receive an Army of Occupation medal for my time at Tempelhof.

I was a kid, in my early 20's. I didn't have the presence of mind to understand where I was and what I was doing there. It was a job, and it had many aspects to it that made me feel like I was doing astounding things, all which was hush-hush, of course.

The Germans I knew were fun, vivacious, alive, handsome. They were friendly and outgoing. My pal Bob and I would go to clubs and party with Berliners in their homes, invited and welcomed.

It wasn't possible for me to reconcile this Berlin, these people, with what had happened here only 50 years prior because when you're only 20 years old, 50 years in the past may as well be 500. There was no way for me to canalize the knowledge that I regularly walked along sidewalks where firing squads once mowed people down for their religion. I knew it, but I didn't know it. I didn't have the receptors to engage it and acknowledge it and digest it. I was too young and unformed and tragically egocentric.

Most of all, there was no way for me to even begin to grasp how that story started, how the first page of that novel could possibly lead to the last page without someone ripping it in half along the spine and yelling NO! You even hear some people say things today like "Well, if the Jews/Gays/Poles/{fill in the dead of your choice} had been worthier opponents, they should have fought back. They died because they were weak."

You've heard people say that. You know you have.

I don't care if you're rolling your eyes at my Godwin. Sometimes a Godwin is all that's left. Sometimes it's what's actually happening. And it's happening. And I'm beginning to understand how that novel gets written. I'm beginning to understand how Page 1 leads to Page 10 leads to Page 50, etc. It happens because we let it happen. It happens because the thing feels too big, too far away, too untouchable. It happens because we don't want to believe that we're in that novel until it's too late to deny it anymore.

It happens because no one ever believes it could possibly happen where they live, where they are, in their life, with everything around them to prevent it. Every time something like this happens, that's a big part of it. It's not possible to happen here. Are you crazy? This isn't Nazi Germany. Stop with the hyperbole already.

It's a cliché to say those things. You know it is. And as writers, you know how a cliché becomes a cliché.

I lived in what had been Nazi Germany. I lived in a building, Tempelhof Flughafen, that was the epitome of Nazi Era Architecture. Huge. Imposing. Mythic in its stature. I walked the tunnels underneath the building and was shown where the fighter aircraft were stored and sometimes constructed. I saw the 50+ year-old Reichsadler placards that were still in place from that impossible time. In two places it's carved in relief on the walls, like Egyptian hieroglyphic art, meant to last an eternity.

The evidence was all around me that this did happen, but I couldn't make it be real in my head. I slept in a room, every night - fourth floor, H2 Long, Room 408 - that was once the office of an SS officer. But that was illogical. My friends were so friendly and kind and educated. These couldn't possibly be the people who would have let something like that happen. Not them. They would never.

But it did, and I begin to understand how.

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