Meeting people in Agonda is simple; daily we hear all kinds of interesting stories personal and otherwise. Last night over dinner we met a 71 year old German lady from Frankfurtwho, without provocation, launched into a tale of her childhood completely disrupted by war. Lydia’s father served in the First World War and refusing to serve in the second, was imprisoned by the Nazis. As she related horrific first memories of Frankfurt being bombed and stepping over dead bodies lying in the street, it suddenly struck us that we were hearing yet again the impact of the War from another perspective.
|Maria and her daughter, Christina
Isn’t this so familiar to what we heard three days ago from our Polish friends, staying in our guesthouse? Over dinner Christina and her mother, Maria, talked about the horrors of occupation first by the Germans and then the Russians. Maria’s husband was imprisoned by the Nazis; then after the war served briefly with the British Artillery Corp, was repatriated back to Polandand thrown into jail by the Russians.
A few days before this, we heard Audion’s chilling family history of his father’s collusion with the Germans during the French occupation. Audioin’s great uncle became the Secretary of State under General Petain in the Vichy Government, opening the door for Audion’s father to follow suit.
Lydia’s first memories in Frankfurt are of the city library being bombed just before she was going to enter the building. Up until it was rebuilt in 2005, the remains of the arched entryway to the library remained as a ghostly reminder of that day. She could never get the sight and smell out of her mind. How could one forget such terror at only four and a half years old? Maria in Poland, now in her early 80s, who was robbed of a marriage, now refuses to speak either Russian or German, even though she knows the languages. Even her daughter, Christina, who is quite multinational, has a difficulty with the Russians in spite of loving the culture. Audioin was born long after the War in France, but grew up in a family of denial because no one wanted to admit to his father’s collusion with the Germans. This was compounded by the fact that his mother fought in the Resistance, festering an air of dysfunction in the family which resulted in a complete breakdown of communication.
It’s amazing to us that even after 60 years people are still carrying the burden of World War II. For Gerard, Vietnam has had its impact – although quite distant – and to meet contemporaries that are still playing out the effects of WW2 seems amazing. I was less impacted than some British families because due to my father’s blindness he didn’t serve in the war. Nevertheless, I still have strong memories of bombsites and rationing and my father’s stories of his experience during London bombings. But for these people, it’s more like a wound that’s never healed. Public, political and national tragedies, after all, consist of a multitude of private, domestic and individual tragedies.