Descendants of those affected by the world wars keep memory in cells, although perhaps not always in consciousness. So, at least, it has happened to me forever. Since I was little, I have had a strange relationship with secrets, as if they called me and asked me to look for something in the ashes, something between the decades, what one ancestor lost, what another cried, or what simply fell by the wayside.
Today, January 27, 2021, amid a pandemic, there are practically 107 years that are separate us from July 28, 1914, when the first Great War began. My great-grandparents traveled to Mexico in the 1920s, by boat. Over the decades, we descendants have lost more than the German language, or what could have been of people or places dear on the other side of the sea. That is to say, of course I understand basic German and French, and I have traveled and I know family and people I esteem… However, it is not the same as if we had never left, we are already others, although the memory between my veins remains. I remember that about twenty years ago, I walked among the cemeteries of Germany, knowing that although I did not specifically recognize the graves of my lineage, I had dead ones in that place in the Black Forest. Although I dared to visit the forest and the streets, I religiously avoided entering the Holocaust museums. Just thinking about it a chill ran through my senses, and it was not the cold of winter or snow, it was perhaps, that which travels in the time that reaches us, but we could not name.
This week I saw the movie “Tree on the Wall” (El Árbol de la Muralla), a documentary that featured Jack Fuchs, a survivor. He relates that if the war had lasted two more days, he most likely would not have been able to tell it. He and the other young men at Auschwitz already were practically skeletons. However, he managed to stay safe. He knew he had family in Argentina, but he did not feel like looking for them, it was the survivor’s fault. He went to New York for a season, and then finally he looked for his family in Argentina, where he married a French woman. Jack is a lucid, warm grandfather who talks about what he manages to remember, and also talks about how there are things he prefers to forget to protect himself.
My grandfather Franz – affectionately known as Don Panchito – is currently over a hundred years old, but he does not remember or tell stories of war, he was very young when they brought him to this side of the world. Not only did he forget German and French, but he also learned to speak some of the Chamula language to communicate with the farm workers. I remember that when I visited him and he invited me a drink, it could well be that he served me a brandy or a simple glass with posh, a state drink, a kind of Schnapps.
Air is the raw material of life and language; breath, the metaphorical space of memory. By naming what we remember, suggesting what we hide, we build bridges between epochs, organisms, and atomic particles. The exiles are no longer from their place of origin, they have lost that color that gives the daily coexistence with the place and its people, but they are not from the place where they arrive… they speak differently, they have a peculiar savoir vivre. And it is not that its roots have been cut, as I came to think in my adolescence when I was lost, looking for the meaning of my identity among social cells in which I could not fully belong. No, the roots are not shorter, they are even longer, extended, interdimensional, like an inverted palm tree with some mist and many birds that sing in different languages. This is how my roots are, a deep babel, they go through the horror of wars, but they also penetrate far beyond the lost, the disappeared, the victims or perpetrators, the survivors, the wounds, the armories and the bombs… they sink to the bottom, in the beginning of time, they drink from the boiling heart of the Earth, they know, they have learn the stories that the mountains sing in dreams. Thus, perhaps, the fragment of darkness of the Holocaust hurts less, embraced between centuries with sundials and polyglot agendas, decorated with rainbows and glitter of butterflies.
My great-grandmother arrived in Mexico through the port of Veracruz. It took her 28 days by boat, and upon landing in Mexico, unfortunately most of her luggage was stolen. Currently we could travel from Mexico to Paris in 10 hours and 35 minutes, and then take a taxi to get to the hotel in 27 minutes, 11 hours in total. In the 1920s, it took my Oma 15 days to cross the roads between the port of Veracruz and the city of Tapanatepec, and another 15 days to reach San Cristóbal, Chiapas. Two months between vomiting, dizziness, uncertainty, courage and integrity. Opa was an electrical engineer, so he built a light plant to provide that service to the people and make a living from it. However, after settling down, my great-grandparents suffered the violence of agrarian conflicts in the state. Sometimes their house was burned, on another occasion their business was expropriated.
It is difficult to imagine all that our ancestors may have suffered, before, during and after wars… It is not easy to summarize what it means to be human. When I asked my grandfather why didn’t he return to Switzerland, Germany or France? His response was immediate. -I have nothing there, I don’t know anyone, the ones I once knew have already died.
I managed to understand or visualize some needs or details when I saw the movie “Out of Africa», because although Mexico and Africa have great differences, the history of the baroness and her loves allowed me to peek into the past. This movie starring Meryl Streep is already 35 years old, and I’m not getting any younger. Maybe one day, I will also be a memory, if I am lucky, and someone ever tries to remember, to try to understand this time in which I live, which in a hundred years could be difficult to imagine. They say that the guardian angel of each one of us not only takes care of us and accompanies us, but will also help us in due course to deliver accounts.
To face our deeds… To think if in our personal balance weight more virtues or vices, inclusion and compassion or racism and all forms of intolerance that can lead to violence. Days like today invite us to remember the liberation from the shadows of the Nazi extermination of Auschwitz-Birkenau. It is time to bless and send light to those who have left, and remember together that commemorating freedom and brotherhood is a commitment to keep alive respect for human rights and peace.
Thank you. Love, grace and transcendence blessings
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