18 January 2014

Where were you...?

Drancy Concentration Camp
Source: Wikipedia via Ghetto Fighters' House

Where were you when the trains left Drancy?  How do 45 trains carrying altogether more than 40,000 children, women, and men of all ages, classes, occupations, convictions, dispositions, and origins, leave the station in the northern suburbs of Paris without notice over the course of ten months in the year of 1942?  Sometimes one train left every day packed with more than 1000 people, 1000 future dead bodies.  A daily event.  The routine of death warmed over.  Where were you?  Did anyone notice?  If so, what did he do? What did she do?  What was going on that day when the train left the station?  What were people doing while Germans and Frenchmen were busy assisting nearly 1000 people into cattle cars, bound for “the east”—destination unknown?  What was going on in the world at that very moment? What happened that the names of these men, women, and children were inscribed on the scroll of death?  What were Parisians thinking at the time?  Where were they?  What did America do?  What were Americans doing in Paris? Watching the trains go by? Waving perhaps?  Another cattle train.  My, there is a lot of activity on those tracks.  What were Americans thinking when 12,000 Jews were rounded up in Paris on the 16th and 17th of July?  Were they even friends with those Jews?  The foreign Jews, that is, the ones that the French Jews didn’t really like.  The party spoilers.  Who among the Americans was strong enough to understand what was taking place in Paris at the time?  Was it even possible to understand what was taking place in Paris at the time?  Could one be a witness? An eyewitness? And if so, what was one to do? Except watch? Try not to think? Bury the head in the sand? Shrug the moment off as a bad dream, something inevitable. Blame fate. Blame the Jews, they brought in on themselves, blame the French, they’re such anti-Semites.  Why are you friends with them in that case? Yes,  you, Florence Gould. You, the managers of the Chase Bank, of the Morgan Bank, of the other banks, of the companies, and the galleries, and the businesses, you, the tourists, the writers, painters, sculptors, you the inventors, the secretaries, the students.  What were you doing on the day that they took these children away, and their mothers and their fathers and grandparents and uncles and aunts, their classmates, their teachers, their nurses, their bakers and tailors, and butchers?

What were you doing? I don’t know.  I can’t recall.  I can’t remember.  My mind is drawing a blank.  That’s strange.  It was.. was it a beautiful day? Was the sun shining? Was it hot and steamy or hot and dry?  I simply do not remember.  Where was I? did I have breakfast? Did I go to work? Did I read the newspaper?  What was I doing? What was I thinking? Was I with anyone? I don’t remember.  You say a train left Drancy and went east.  East to where? Nancy? Meaux? Where was it going? You say it rode through Paris?  Did I hear the rumble of the packed cattle cars on the tracks along the Seine and across the river? Did the train cross the river? Was that just my imagination?  Honey, do you know what this gentleman is talking about?  I frankly can’t remember anything.  How droll!

The apartments.  Did they take the apartments before they left or after they left? When did they meet with their lawyers?  What paintings did they prefer, place settings, rugs, furniture? Did they like the room with the view?  Did they buy the buildings after the owners fled or did they not hesitate to humiliate them into selling for less than their worth or their hide?

Do deportation trains whistle in the dark?  Or do they slumber along on the tracks sounding a somber cadence that puts me to sleep as I stare out the windows of my berth watching the cypresses in the distance serrating the crests of hills like bread knives, fields of wheat in the foreground announcing a bounty of a crop not for everyone, though.  I stare out the window, dreaming of a forlorn past, wishing that today had never happened.  Yes, today marks the anniversary, the numberless anniversary of the day that the train left for the east with more than one thousand children, women, and men.  I look for their ghosts in the midst of the white wisps of clouds high above the train that takes me to the mountains, to my seasonal enjoyment on the slopes of the Marmolada above Bergamo and below the Austrian frontier and the Tyrols, last holdouts of Nazi butchers, frosty escape routes for fleeing fugitives carrying inside their jackets a lifetime insurance of protection against capture, prosecution, imprisonment, and execution.  What sweet sinecure awaits these husky SD and SS operatives, these AMT sixers and AMT fours and AMT threes, these fake stalwarts, radio operators, smugglers, two-bit murderers and thieves, men who do not hesitate to dangle impaled babies on their bayonets outside Jewish cemeteries in the Ukraine.  Brave men of the reich, the crumbling reich, and here I am watching from a distance whence they came like cowards stealing through the starry nights the milky way’s hundred million stars oblivious to the agonies and shrieks that dotted the landscape of Europe for ten long, terrible, mind-bending, suffocating, inhuman, beastly years, thirty thousand days and nights of suffering.  How can anyone possibly survive these calamities brought upon by our fellow man, my dear fellow who sits across from me, dressed in green tweed, maroon corduroy, an academic no doubt, let’s see his shoes, earth shoes? What year is this anyway?