This post is kind of a bummer, although it does have a somewhat happy ending.
I don’t discuss my own family history before my being born all that often – mostly out of privacy, partially out of not having been there, and maybe a dash of “too busy on other subjects”, but I wanted to mention how I changed my mind on something, and maybe others will change their mind too.
I had kind of a thing going, an intention to not really set foot in Germany. It’s actually hard to avoid an entire country, especially once you start travelling nearby, and while I did end up taking a train through Germany, and at one point I had to transfer planes at an airport in Germany as well, I was kind of avoiding the place.
You see, World War II wasn’t all that great to some lines of my family. We lost enough family members through direct, specific murder that in a few cases we don’t even know what their names were. At this point, pretty much all relatives same-generation connected to them are gone, so I’ll mention it, but let’s just set that down here. Really bad situation. entire branches of family hauled off and killed. Sorry, can’t sugar-coat that.
So somewhere along that line, I had come up with some rough decision that that was it for my visiting Germany, Germany had killed quite enough of the family, thanks, and I wasn’t going to go there. Obviously I ended up taking a train through the country on the way to another one and the I transferred a plane at one point. But somehow, going directly there seemed wrong, somehow.
Here it is, 2012, and I accepted an invitation to come speak about Geocities in Germany later this year. Let me mention why.
On my way down to MAGfest in Maryland to do some documentary screening and filming, I found myself at 9am looking for something to eat. So I pulled off Interstate 95, in Aberdeen, Maryland, and looked for a breakfast. As I was driving down this exit road, I spied a barbershop. Well, heck, I could use a haircut, I thought – I was definitely looking scruffy and a small trim would go well with my outfit and efforts to film people at MAGfest.
So that was how I found myself at the All-American Barber Shop. It was a tiny affair, set into a strip mall as it was, and was itself a little run-down, but I’ve had plenty of haircuts, and you can’t judge what you’re going to get just because the old guy with the scissors has a few scant tools at his disposal, versus some chrome-and-rainbows megacut place in the middle of a city. So I caught them as they were opening, and I got to be haircut #1.
It was the barber and his, well, I assume buddy – he might have been another haircut guy who was off-duty or just a bullshittin’ friend who showed up for the opening shift when nobody, at 9am on a thursday, is thinking “man, I could use a haircut toot sweet before heading in late to work”. I can’t tell you much about them except they were full-gray old, and the barber, my barber, was in a suit and the other person was in a tracksuit.
So, the hair’s getting cut and these two guys are chatting, and of course they’re going all over the map based on what the news on the radio is blasting. Some discussion of war hit the radio, and they were talking about this or that, and they mentioned the relatively low casualties of the recent wars. Being a historian, I casually referenced the Battle of Verdun, which, look it up, is pretty astounding – hundreds of thousands of deaths over a small territory in the course of ten months. Oh, you know me – always throwing in where I shouldn’t.
So then, with my hair getting cut in my little plastic sheet that I’m wearing, I hear the tracksuited man reference how there were lots of terrible deaths, except of course that whole “millions of jews in world war II thing”.
Uh oh, I thought, did he just…
So for the next 10 minutes or so, I get to hear these two guys discussing how overblown that killed-jews number is, how most of them just left, that it wasn’t that many people anyway. They went on for quite a while, touching on a pretty wide range of related topics, referencing learned items from some “pamphlets” one of them had – “they tell you stuff you would not believe!” stuck out as a phrase in there. Yes, I am sure I would not believe most of what you apparently read in your literature.
So, I have this very old pair of scissors. I mean, really old. Somewhat rusty, although sharp enough that it has function. They come from my great-uncle Sam, who, I can assure you, had a number tattooed on his arm, who had watched his infant son killed in front of him, who had nearly all his immediate family forcibly hauled off and never seen again, and who, after being processed inside an actual, real concentration camp, scaled the fence and refugee’d himself into the US. I promise you, this really happened. And when he got here, the job he ended up having for many, many years, until he died like someone should die if there’s justice, of a heart attack while shoveling the snow out of his suburban driveway, was that of a barber.
So I keep those scissors, you see, because they went through a lot and yet they still work, and I like to keep him fresh in my mind.
So these two gentlemen, happily denying that anything like that happened, who were tossing off “facts” and “figures” like it was all some sort of distant hoax put on as a prank by some 1940s yids, well, they helped me realize something.
My family wasn’t murdered by Germans. They were murdered by a mindset.
A mindset that really doesn’t know a border, one that doesn’t really tolerate getting out of line, and which, once you dehumanize or destroy something a ways away, be it miles or thousands of miles away, can infest and infect for decades, reducing something very real into the realm of chuckling derision by two idiots in a crappy barber shop called the “All American Barber”.
So I’m going to Germany. I’ll be speaking about Geocities.
You can’t bring scissors on a plane. That’s the only reason I won’t be bringing them.
Categorised as: jason his own self
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