Son Of War

I am sitting in the chair reading, and hear a group of people talking on the street. A woman enquires whether anything is known about the family living at number 30. “They were taken away” a male voice remarks.

“Good” is the reply that follows, and then another from the group says “Yes, good riddance I say. Well, have a nice day all of you.”Tuesday 13 July 1943

The ‘‘I’’ in that first sentence is my father, and the family at number 30 is his family - and therefore mine. My father was nineteen at the time. I am now twenty-six. I can’t bring myself to read on, even after a bottle of wine. I uncork another and wander over to the window, where I listen to the voices in the street below. I try to imagine my father, but I can’t. I stare outside, not even noticing when night falls. By then I’ve polished off the second bottle.

When my parents died, my brother and I had to empty their house. Again and again, we stumbled on unexpected finds: My mother’s bridal bouquet, a fragile bundle – little more than air – wrapped in crêpe paper, more than seventy years after the ceremony. The menu for their wedding dinner. We also found a diary – a thousand pages of tissue-thin paper, a ‘‘Diary of Life in Hiding,’’ as the title puts it, covering the 685 days from 18 June 1943 to 3 May 1945.

We had no idea this diary existed. My father never talked about his feelings, just as he kept a lid on the entire war. I turn a page and for the first time in my life see an actual Judenstern , a six-pointed star made of pale yellow fabric, with the thread that once attached it to my father’s coat. It is stapled to the page. I slam the diary shut. It is 9 December 2015. I don’t dare to open it again until 8 January 2017.

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