Illumination

die mauerBefore the Wall fell, Anna and I once took a train across East Germany and Poland from Berlin to Moscow. But to get on that train, we needed first to get past a Dutch-German Intourist agent, Hendrik Grave who, it seemed, was the only one who could book us a berth, but in Berlin something went terribly wrong, the reservations were not complete, the seats unavailable. We would have to delay. But no problem. We would stay with Hendrik, he said. But instead he put us up in a friend’s flat, but that friend stole our luggage and so we were forced to remain with Hendrik day after day, waiting for something to happen.

And always the patter of Hendrik, telling us about Die Mauer, about the twisted psychology of Berliners, of the unfolding of life and of self-understanding. Driving through the streets of Berlin, Hendrik would proclaim apropos of nothing and everything, “All ist gut, All ist klaar.” And always referring to himself in third person, Hendrik, he said, would take care of everything.

Over the days his story unwound. How his father had been part of the SS and had been a Reich officer. Of how as a boy during the war, he was told that his mother had died and he was sent off to live with a relative. He grew up without mother and father. Nazi exultation. The Reich’s collapse. Loneliness. And then as an older boy, a woman appears. She holds him carefully outside his home. People tell him that this is his mother.

But how could this be his mother? She is dead. She died during the war. This is not his mother. He pushes away and runs. The strange horrid woman was a ghost. And if not a ghost, then the adults around him were monsters for telling such a lie.

How had a war neutered a generation from it’s past? Who was Hendrik’s family and what deeds and lies had they all perpetrated, he would ask.

One afternoon sitting in Hendrik’s flat, the golden midsummer’s light casts his sharp features and white mane of hair in profile. He listens to Mozart’s Requiem.  Turning the volume to full, he drains a glass of white wine, head tilted back. All ist gut, Hendrik  says, eyes shut. All ist klaar.

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Eriks Ievins 5.18.30 – 8.31.09

Eriks

You were a crucible for memory now extinguished.

And you once said that one could only stand so much in a battleground, no matter who you were, before you were damaged.

You left Poland on January 22nd, 1945 in the late afternoon or evening. There was snow yet on the ground, minus 20 degrees Celsius. Your sister, my mother, sat in the wagon or was walking. You walked and drove the wagon all night long. At dawn’s light you stopped in an abandoned village and found food. You ate frozen bread and sausage from Gneisen. You stopped and rested the horses. It took 3 days and 4 nights to get to the Oder. All roads were clogged with soldiers and refugees, all of you fleeing Soviet artillery. The world itself was burning.

The air smelled like California, you said. You would later see it yourself when the flames tore through the chaparral in Pendleton. Smoke and fires and explosions.

In some way you muddled along hoping the bridges across the Oder would not be blown by the time you reached them. You crossed near Gistrien along with other refugees coming in from Prussia and others out of Poland.

Across the river, one of the Sulcs relatives pulled your father Julius aside. Well Julius, he said, you need to get out of range of the artillery and away from the river. Go south of the main road, the village will already be abandoned. On the road you had lossed Valja and Janis. Behind you, you had left your mother’s grave. Here though, you managed to get the horses in a barn and get yourself under some sort of roof. You had food, vegetable soup it was. And here, you found rest.

Thy portion is the goat: with heat consume him: let thy fierce
flame, thy glowing splendour, burn him.
With thine auspicious forms, O Jātavedas, bear this man to the
region of the pious.

The Sun receive thine eye, the wind thy spirit; go, as thy merit
is, to earth or heaven.
Go, if it be thy lot, unto the waters: go, make thy home in
plants with all thy members.

Away O Agni, to the Fathers, send him who, offered in thee,
goes with our oblations.
Wearing new life let him approach his offspring, and splendid, be
invested with body.

-from the Rigveda