Monday, September 22, 2014

DON'T WATCH THIS!: "Remember Us"

That was the name of the 1960 documentary that as an impressionable kid I was not supposed to watch. The screen was only about a 12-inch window, one of the first console TVs--a blond-wood box with green leather surrounding the minuscule screen, the height of 50s elegance and technology. Maybe there were little holes poked in it, the better to let the sound escape.

There they were staring back at me in their striped pajamas--emaciated stick-bodies dominated by gigantic, dark eyes that had seen far too much. It's a wonder they got to see anything ever again, and they would not have, had the liberators not come in time.

When my religious doctor dad caught me staring back at them, he did not know what to say. I felt that I had been caught doing something shameful, and in truth I never got over it.

But now, six decades later, I know that it is something that should never have been gotten over. And although well-intentioned, my father's plan really backfired. A lifelong hoarder who justifies her pathology by saying she sees the poetry in everything, I have never stopped thinking that I could be on the next train to Auschwitz.

My dad loved his work--wanted to die on the job with his boots on, and to a certain extent, he did. A devoted doctor who loved his work, he often, despite a heart condition, saw as many as 50 patients a day, probably working through a number of mini-heart attacks  to do it. His own doctors, when they saw the autopsy report, could not believe how a man with so little evidence of heart function could have had any heart left to give to his patients.

ARBEIT MACHT FREI. He was a believer.

While remembering the forbidden "Remember Us," I remember him.

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