Hitler’s Taste Testers

Geist - - Findings - CATRIONA WRIGHT

From Ta­ble Man­ners. Pub­lished by Sig­nal Edi­tions/véhicule Press in 2017. Wright’s po­ems have ap­peared in many pub­li­ca­tions. She won the 2014 Lit­pop Award from Ma­trix mag­a­zine. She lives in Toronto.

Me and four­teen other girls. After months, years, of saw­dust and ground acorn cof­fee, ran­cid mar­garine and bis­cuits that re­quired a chisel, it al­most seemed a gift.

I am dis­gusted now to ad­mit I was one of his yel­low-feath­ered things, but there it is. On that first day I shoved fresh veg­eta­bles into my mouth. As­para­gus scep­tres en­no­bled with hol­landaise, sweet roasted pep­pers, let­tuce,

rice, rich clear broths. No meat or fish. He was a veg­e­tar­ian or pre­tended to be. It’s dif­fi­cult to de­scribe the solem­nity of see­ing each meal as your last. We cried with relief when our bow­els moved blood­lessly.

But I was hardly a me­dieval court taster. I never even met him. We were kept in a sep­a­rate room, a forced soror­ity. For­bid­den from see­ing our fam­i­lies, we slept on hard beds in a con­crete bunker.

At night Anna and Irene an­a­lyzed lovers and broth­ers and other tyrants. Mar­lene and Ruth de­bated bel­ladonna ver­sus ar­senic ver­sus hem­lock. Our cy­cles be­gan to align. We laughed from time to time.

In­grid did her best Lola-lola, a blue an­gel fall­ing in love again while Ilse gig­gled, em­bar­rassed, cheeks hot. Ur­sula swept our hair into aris­to­cratic knots and swirls.

I can’t ex­plain why all fif­teen of us had to test his meals or why we were all women. Helga thought him hand­some, def­er­en­tial to our frag­ile bod­ies. Gertrud punched the wall un­til her bones went limp.

Equally im­por­tant was that we be of up­stand­ing Ger­man stock as though we weren’t just tast­ing his food, but di­gest­ing it too, his out­sourced in­testines.

We were lab rab­bits twitch­ing in our cages. Karin won­dered if our shared diet made us more like him or he more like us. Hy­drangeas with the same blue hue dic­tated by acidic soil. I still can’t eat E in top for Grießk­löß chen suppe.

Frieda con­cocted bold es­capes. Eleonore re­cited verses from the Book of Job. Lotte found her faith. Sonja lost hers. We wrote each other’s obituaries, full of lewd jokes and ac­co­lades.

It went on that way un­til one night when a sol­dier who was sweet on me dragged me from bed and pushed me through an open mouth in the fence. The Sovi­ets got there soon after

and shot the other four­teen while the new­ly­weds dined on cyanide.

mak­ing a com­mu­nity of friends, how­ever far-flung.

Love, Jane

De­cem­ber 10, 1995

Dear Rick:

I’m very glad I wrote “Teach­ing Sex­u­al­ity” when I did and that it can be re­cy­cled on the in­ter­net now. Though I don’t al­ways agree with Ger­ald, I think of him as one of the few who can keep us hon­est, in­sist­ing that we look at what re­ally is, to avoid noth­ing, to think through to some sort of sense. The dis­hon­esty, hypocrisy, and vin­dic­tive­ness aimed at him now sim­ply en­rage me, and he’s so damned vul­ner­a­ble as a part-time instructor and a free­lance writer.

You are ab­so­lutely right in say­ing that we have to take the def­i­ni­tions away from those sim­ply out to rant and smear. What a bad name they give moral­ity.

The only plea­sure in it all is for you to be re­united with that fine bunch of peo­ple, older now, more ex­pe­ri­enced, work­ing so well and quickly to­gether. I wish my side­line weren’t so far away so that all of you could hear me cheer­ing. And what an in­cred­i­ble amount of work you’ve got through in so short a time. You must be ex­hausted.

The book for Lit­tle Sis­ter’s is be­ing launched in Van­cou­ver to­day. That dear bunch didn’t even in­vite me, know­ing that I might feel pres­sured to get into town for it. In­stead they sent me a copy of the book and a bot­tle of sin­gle malt scotch. The roy­al­ties go to the Lit­tle Sis­ter’s Fund.

… Mon­day

I’ve now had a chance to reread “The Body Politic and Vi­sions of Com­mu­nity.” I do think it’s a won­der­ful es­say which should have a wide read­er­ship. A his­tory of the pa­per be­comes a his­tory of ideas. We see where we’ve been and where we might be go­ing. We see the re­cur­ring prob­lems which may al­ways be with us for each gen­er­a­tion to grap­ple with in its

own con­text. We see the great dan­gers of both ex­clu­sion and si­lence. And through it all our great strength has been lan­guage through which we can ex­press our grow­ing un­der­stand­ing of our­selves and each other. That’s why Ger­ald has been so im­por­tant for us, his an­cient mariner in­sis­tence that we stop and lis­ten to where he’s com­ing from no mat­ter how de­layed we may be upon our own busi­ness. That’s why it is so im­por­tant we find the ways to de­fend him now, not al­low

the me­dia to dis­tort his po­si­tion to con­vince the pub­lic that even a dis­cus­sion of sex­u­al­ity in children is child abuse. The fear and shame and moral out­rage fo­cused on him are the same weapons used on children in the name of pro­tect­ing them from the evils of sex­u­al­ity. The choice should not be be­tween sell­ing children into sex­ual slav­ery and keep­ing them in ter­ri­fied ig­no­rance of their bod­ies. We have to lis­ten to our­selves long enough to know how to teach them to be­come

sex­ual adults, knowl­edge­able and re­spon­si­ble, and the only way we can ac­com­plish that is to keep chal­leng­ing those who would si­lence us.

It’s in­ter­est­ing how of­ten in­clu­sion be­comes the so­lu­tion in your his­tory, not al­ways be­cause a con­scious de­ci­sion is made. Some­times it is an event like the protest against the bath raids which sim­ply demon­strates that we are in it to­gether. I feel a won­der­ful en­ergy in your voice and a clar­ity of pur­pose.

Talk­ing with a friend the other day on the ferry, I said I didn’t re­ally miss writ­ing, only some­times didn’t know what to do with the habit of spec­u­la­tion about hu­man mo­ti­va­tion and emo­tion. Some­times I think, too, I wrote through some of my own feel­ings which now I carry around with me as heavy, use­less bag­gage, per­haps not hav­ing de­vel­oped other more or­di­nary skills at liv­ing rather than writ­ing through them. Per­haps some­times I sim­ply es­caped into writ­ing, let­ting the in­ten­sity of that con­cen­tra­tion shut out the trou­bles of the day. I’m cer­tainly less good tem­pered than I used to be, but I sus­pect that is part of ag­ing, pa­tience wear­ing as inevitably thin as the skin does.

I’m some­times nearly over­come with pity for He­len’s poor frail flesh, the dozen times a day she nearly falls, the moments of con­fu­sion and failed mem­ory which make stay­ing with a con­ver­sa­tion more and more dif­fi­cult, her deaf­ness adding to the dif­fi­culty. I’m not an­gry at He­len but an­gry at age about which I can do noth­ing. I’ve been an­gry since my fa­ther’s death in ways that em­bar­rass and shame me be­cause I find it so hard to con­trol and so ir­ra­tional and un­ac­cept­able. I’m used to health­ier angers I can put to use. How have I come to the age of ap­ply­ing for a pen­sion with­out such ba­sic skills as ac­cept­ing with some grace what is in­evitable? I’m rel­a­tively pa­tient and sto­ical about my own phys­i­cal fail­ings. Why hasn’t that taught me the same at­ti­tude for He­len? And that’s not some­thing you can muse with me about be­cause He­len looks for­ward to your let­ters as much as I do. I some­times sus­pect that what I can’t en­dure is fear and mask it in im­pa­tience.

Win­ter is a harder time for dis­tract­ing plea­sures. No bod­ies at the pool to give my eye ca­sual plea­sure as I look out my study win­dow, only the pool un­der its weight of win­ter leaves, and the last killing frost took the late blooms from the gar­den. There is an abun­dance and va­ri­ety of berries, dark pur­ple, bright red, white, to feed the win­ter birds and soon dec­o­rate our houses for the hol­i­days. But the best thing about this time of year is that we are less than two weeks away from the short­est day, and even on Christ­mas day the hours of light will be length­en­ing to­ward spring.

Love, Jane

From Mor­ton: A Cross-coun­try Rail Jour­ney by David Col­lier. Col­lier is the award-win­ning au­thor and artist of sev­eral graphic nov­els, in­clud­ing Hamil­ton

Il­lus­trated and The Frank Ritza Pa­pers. He lives in Hamil­ton, ON.

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