by Susan Warsinger
I always marvel at the ability that my friends and colleagues have to remember the small details of their childhood. I, too, want to see the world the way I experienced it when I was a very young girl. For me, it is just so difficult to recollect, a demand on my mind. I am sure that it is not because I want to erase it due to what I went through. I just worry because I cannot remember. It makes me feel good when my daughter, Terese, assures me that it is “because there is just a lot to remember.”
Just recently I found a black-and-white picture of myself. It was probably taken when I was about four years old. My father, who is also in the picture, is pointing at something for me to look at. We are walking in a park or a garden, and I’m wearing a white dress embroidered with flowers. It must have been taken shortly after Hitler and the Nazis came to power. I am sure that it was at the time when Jewish stores were boycotted and my father lost his linen store in Bad Kreuznach where we lived. I want to remember and see the world the way I saw it when the picture was taken. I close my eyes in order to see. I mostly see black and white. I am trying to embrace the landscape. I am trying to see colors. We were in a garden that was bordered by large linden trees that had glossy dark-green leaves with heart-shaped long pointed tips. The bright sky shone through a tunnel of branches. Was the sun warm on my back? The lindens were in bloom with yellowish flowers and had an odor so fragrant that I can smell it now. I look at my picture again. A flicker of remembrance thrills me. The white dress enveloped me like a cloud and the flowers embroidered on my dress matched the apricot, lilac, crimson, and violet flowers that were all around us.
I remember that there was an ice cream cart nearby with a white canopy splashed with purple and gold. Since I was too young to read, I could not make out the letters that were inscribed on the cart. A middle-aged lady from behind beckoned to me to come closer. I was very shy, and even though I was very young, I knew that Jews were not allowed to buy from Gentiles. My father encouraged me to approach the ice cream cart. To my great happiness, the lady came forward to greet me with a smile and asked me if I wanted my ice cream in ein Schiffchen oder ein Hütchen (in a little boat or in a little hat). She explained in German that the cost of the Schiffchen was five Phennigs and the Hütchen was ten. I felt a pulse in my throat and understood that this lady made a choice to sell her ice cream to a Jewish family even though the community of Bad Kreuznach forbade such action. I turned to my father to ask him which ice cream container I should purchase. He suggested that I make the decision. I had to struggle with this. I learned that the Hütchen was bigger and was filled with a scoop, and the Schiffchen was filled with a spatula. However, I was sure that my father had to be economical with his money and, therefore, I chose the less expensive Schiffchen. I watched the lady pile my “boat” full of ice cream and I knew that I had made the right decision.
When I open my eyes, I think that I should be distraught about remembering how the Nazis slowly and gradually began their terror of the Jewish population when Hitler first came into power. I think I should be troubled about my father’s struggle to provide for his family. But instead I feel tenderness for this lady who chose not to follow antisemitic laws and to do what she thought was right. What if all Germans at that time had not been complicit with the Nazi regime and acted the same way she did?
Did I edit some of my memory because I saw my black-and white-picture? A few years ago I visited the Kuhrhaus Hotel in Bad Kreuznach with my brother, Ernest. It stands in the park where the ice cream purchase took place. Could this trip to the town where I was born have helped me remember? I also ask myself if this first touch of my past is important in my personal history now? Does it affect the way that I see or conduct my life today?
I know that I do not want to erase my past and I do not want to reinvent the past and my part in it. I do want to remember details that I can see and touch and smell and remember the person I was. I look forward to the roads that I still have to travel but want to look back on the ones that I have journeyed.
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