Fic­tion: The Dis­so­nance Quar­tet

Forward Magazine - - Contents - By Hans Keil­son

AYEAR AND A HALF af­ter the Nurem­berg Laws went into ef­fect, my fa­ther left my mother. I could never for­get what he did to us, but I also never stopped think­ing of him as my fa­ther, and now that his mo­tives have be­come clearer to me — a let­ter from him re­ceived through the Red Cross a few months ago has given me proof — the con­flict be­tween us has come to an end. I in­clude him in my griev­ing.

At the time, I was so shocked by his de­ci­sion to leave a mar­riage which had lasted al­most 24 years and was — I hes­i­tate to write the word — happy, that I hardly felt the pain of his de­par­ture: it hurt for a mo­ment, and then it was over, or so it seemed. Be­sides, every day brought so many new de­vel­op­ments that none of us had time to stop and dwell on any­thing. Only once did I see my mother cry. Still, the sep­a­ra­tion was the end of her. She had lost the abil­ity to make de­ci­sions or take ac­tion; she was prac­ti­cally par­a­lyzed.

Since our fam­ily was not in the habit of find­ing cor­re­spon­dences be­tween mi­cro­cosm and macro­cosm, we un­der­es­ti­mated the Party’s rise to power, but of course so did al­most ev­ery­one else. This at­ti­tude, er­ro­neous (to put it mildly) as it was, might have been for­giv­able had it not led, quite apart from all the phys­i­cal de­struc­tion, to the an­ni­hi­la­tion of moral stan­dards in so many peo­ple, my­self in­cluded, across the en­tire globe. It was like the plagues in the Mid­dle Ages, and it will take gen­er­a­tions to de­velop an­ti­bod­ies against fur­ther in­fec­tions. I know for a fact that I, too, suc­cumbed to the con­ta­gion.

Not long ago, I read some­where that the con­flict be­tween fa­thers and sons has shaped the twen­ti­eth cen­tury — but even aside from this the­ory’s clear im­pli­ca­tion that fa­thers and sons are a re­cent in­ven­tion, I can’t help feel­ing that we have made it all too easy to tear off masks and re­veal the truth, and that this su­per­fi­cial propo­si­tion only gives cover to the per­pe­tra­tors of the fu­ture. We all know how sons, in the throes of the vi­o­lence called love, grow up and be­come fa­thers who are fated in turn to make en­e­mies of their sons. What looks like a di­a­logue is in fact the eter­nal mono­logue of a fallen an­gel — a never-end­ing lamen­ta­tion, rail­ing against his own weak­ness and the delu­sion that he will one day be able to mas­ter that weak­ness and re­turn home to the immortal spheres. A book­seller the same age as me, wounded on the eastern front, with whom I struck up a con­ver­sa­tion once on one of my trips to a lit­tle town in the Oden­wald, gave me a book of let­ters writ­ten be­fore the war by a young Ger­man poet from a Protes­tant fam­ily (I can’t think of his first name now: maybe Jür­gen, or Jochen), in which he vig­or­ously at­tacks his fa­ther, a the­olo­gian. I could not en­tirely fol­low his train of thought and lines of ar­gu­ment, but at the same time even I was struck by the log­i­cal con­sis­tency of his tragic life, a course of events that the book­seller de­scribed to me.

We sons are not the younger par­ties; in the se­quence of the gen­er­a­tions we are older than our fa­thers. We par­take of all of their ex­pe­ri­ence, not vice versa. The mis­con­cep­tion that life sto­ries can be told in dates and years, or the mis­guided ef­fort to tie these sto­ries to bi­o­log­i­cal cir­cum­stances like age and youth, crum­bles be­fore the same­ness of the ac­cu­sa­tions and protests, the il­lu­sions, driven by noth­ing but hor­mones, that are handed

down un­changed from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion.

My fa­ther came from an East Prus­sian min­is­ter’s fam­ily in which, since time im­memo­rial, the old­est son be­came a pas­tor. But he broke with this tra­di­tion. He stud­ied clas­si­cal philol­ogy and phi­los­o­phy in Königs­berg, grad­u­ated at only twenty-five from Bres­lau, and met my mother there when she was twenty-three. She was from a pure and unas­sim­i­lated Or­tho­dox Jewish fam­ily near Poznán; he mar­ried her over her par­ents’ ob­jec­tions and took her back to Königs­berg along with the three chil­dren born in quick suc­ces­sion, two daugh­ters and me. He taught in Königs­berg as an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor and later full pro­fes­sor of an­cient lan­guages and phi­los­o­phy, not with­out mak­ing a cer­tain name for him­self.

My par­ents’ mar­riage rested on a courtly un­der­stand­ing be­tween these two peo­ple who had out­grown their tra­di­tions and, with­out hav­ing fully re­nounced their re­li­gious back­ground, found them­selves at the cen­ter of a hu­man­is­tic, purely sec­u­lar cul­ture. (But were they truly at its cen­ter?) In our house we felt bound to both their re­li­gions and be­holden to nei­ther. Mozart, De­bussy, Stifter, and Heine, not to men­tion Bu­ber, were our house­hold gods; my read to us from the Bi­ble and now and then, when he was in a good mood, im­pro­vised a trans­la­tion from the Sep­taguint. The dis­cus­sions that fol­lowed were grip­ping and had, es­pe­cially for us chil­dren, sur­prises in store, due to my mother’s ex­ten­sive He­brew ed­u­ca­tion. I had been cir­cum­cised, a fact which was ex­plained to me on purely hy­gienic, med­i­cal grounds. Maybe this was just a trick on my mother’s part?

My hap­pi­est child­hood mem­o­ries are con­nected with va­ca­tions on the Curo­nian Spit, in Ros­sit­ten and Nid­den, along the Baltic shore. Once, when we were trudg­ing back and forth through the hot sand in our san­dals, the taste of the sea on our glow­ing faces, hang glid­ers silently swoop­ing be­hind us held in place by winds from the hill­tops be­fore dis­ap­pear­ing into the depths and spi­ral­ing back up in the broad chan­nels of a corkscrew­ing breeze — a Lat­vian sol­dier stepped out of a lit­tle guard booth hid­den in a sand­pit, bay­o­net fixed, as though the sun had hatched him then and there, com­plete with his weapon; he waited un­til we reached him, took our pass­ports in si­lence, mutely re­viewed our head­count, af­fixed his stamp, and van­ished with­out a word back into his shack; we caught the boat in Sch­war­zort. The weekly mar­ket in Memel, where lo­cal farm­ers sold the ex­act same pro­duce you could buy at the mar­ket in Königs­berg, was nev­er­the­less a kind of fore­taste of an­other world. My fa­ther was Thomas Mann’s guest two or three times, there in his house in the dunes, hav­ing writ­ten glow­ing ar­ti­cles about him.

This un­usual back­ground may have made me es­pe­cially sen­si­tive to the di­ver­gent forces that my par­ents tried to bind to­gether in their mar­riage. And when I think of the love and re­spect they main­tained to­ward each other and around us chil­dren, I have no doubt that their ef­forts were suc­cess­ful — even if his­tory even­tu­ally un­der­mined them. Now that it has all come to noth­ing, the fact that they tried—that they re­fused to play it safe by act­ing like ev­ery­one else and in­stead, by their bold ex­am­ple, re­jected both na­ture and the so­ci­ety in which they lived — might well be writ­ten off as a mis­take, as a scan­dalous provo­ca­tion. But who can ex­plain the deeper lay­ers of un­der­stand­ing be­tween the per­se­cu­tor and the per­se­cuted? Who can bring to light the buried long­ing in the hate that pre­vailed be­tween my mother’s an­ces­tors and my fa­ther’s, down through the cen­turies, and not just in Ger­many? At the univer­sity, my fa­ther al­ways praised the work of Thucy­dides, whose book on the Pelo­pon­nesian War was the first to treat his­tory-writ­ing as a sci­ence; he saw his­tory not as the re­sult of some in­com­pre­hen­si­ble fate, ful­filled some­where up in the sky be­yond the var­i­ous races and na­tions, but rather as a prod­uct of hu­man fac­tors. It is to my fa­ther’s credit, to a cer­tain ex­tent, that he un­der­es­ti­mated or failed al­to­gether to rec­og­nize those hu­man fac­tors when they ap­peared in their cru­elest and most hor­ri­fy­ing form. On the other hand, this fail­ure also dis­proves the al­leged ob­jec­tiv­ity and un­prej­u­diced view of events that he prided him­self on. He be­lieved in the Good, in

kalok­a­gathia, the ideal of no­ble and beau­ti­ful char­ac­ter, in the

vis me­di­a­trix nat­u­rae — but he had mis­in­ter­preted the con­cept of Na­ture, and mis­un­der­stood Ger­many as well. He had no way to come to grips with the con­flicts in which he fi­nally saw us en­tan­gled, and him­self as well.

I no longer feel those con­flicts my­self but I still re­mem­ber the anxieties of those cru­cial years when I was grow­ing up, the con­f­u­fa­ther

sion and ex­haus­tion that would sud­denly over­whelm me when I least ex­pected it. My state of mind did not es­cape my mother’s no­tice, and she tried again and again to cheer me up with lit­tle kind­nesses, as though driven by guilt, as though she felt there was some­thing she had failed to do. The mem­o­ries of her that re­main etched into me through the fog of her death — in all their mul­ti­plic­ity: her dark eyes, the glass of milk she brought me in bed at night — make up a sin­gle, ten­der thing, scat­tered to the wind. But in my fa­ther’s case, I have stopped be­ing able to bring his im­age to mind the way it was: whole and un­bro­ken. I am no longer even sure what he looked like, not sure of his size or pro­por­tions, and every per­sonal mem­ory I have of our ear­lier har­mony feels shat­tered by my doubt as to whether it ever re­ally ex­isted.

I was raised in a cul­ti­vated, hu­man­is­tic en­vi­ron­ment and for a long time I wa­vered be­tween sci­en­tific and artis­tic in­cli­na­tions, un­til I even­tu­ally de­cided to pur­sue mu­si­col­ogy at the con­ser­va­tory, along with — to my fa­ther’s great de­light — the cello. When the di­vorce pro­ceed­ings took place both of my sis­ters had al­ready left the house, the older one mar­ried to a lawyer who was a dis­tant rel­a­tive of my mother’s. The pro­ceed­ings must have been ter­ri­bly em­bar­rass­ing, and they dragged on for some time due to the in­trigues of the op­pos­ing lawyer, who tried to ex­ploit the cli­mate of the times against my wealthy mother for fi­nan­cial gain as well.

My fa­ther did not be­lieve in this new era we kept hear­ing about, as he as­sured me over and over again when I was be­gin­ning my stud­ies. Nei­ther did his aca­demic col­leagues: One in twenty pro­fes­sors, at most, were Party mem­bers, at least to hear them tell it. The rest mocked and scoffed at the “hot­heads,” and saw the whole thing that was tak­ing place be­fore their eyes, with its ban­ners and fan­fare as though all the bat­tles had al­ready been fought and won, as noth­ing more than an ex­pres­sion of youth­ful blind­ness, which, even if the masses suc­cumbed to it, could never have any his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance, though nat­u­rally it might lead to cer­tain dif­fi­cul­ties. When our con­duc­tor ar­rived at or­ches­tra re­hearsal at the con­ser­va­tory one day in a Party uni­form, and in­sisted on play­ing, af­ter a

con­certo grosso of Han­del’s, the na­tion­al­ist Horst-Wes­sel Song, he sent me and the two other play­ers who de­murred, both vi­o­lin­ists, out of the room. The rest played bravely along. My fa­ther lodged a com­plaint, in vain. The in­dif­fer­ence of the col­leagues he con­sulted left him stranded. They all felt it in­ad­vis­able to take any fur­ther steps — this would only give what they all de­scribed as “a pri­vate mat­ter” greater and more gen­eral sig­nif­i­cance than it de­served.

In a study of courage I read once, I came across this sen­tence: “Vi­o­lent, rev­o­lu­tion­ary fac­tions owe their suc­cess not to any mute panic in the un­or­ga­nized masses but to the par­a­lyz­ing power of the dom­i­nant ide­ol­ogy.” It may well be that schol­ar­ship and sci­ence, as con­ducted in the uni­ver­si­ties, have ex­er­cised — and will ex­er­cise — a

sim­i­lar par­a­lyz­ing and de­mor­al­iz­ing in­flu­ence on their dis­ci­ples, in the long run. None­the­less, the naïvete that my fa­ther and his col­leagues showed that day — as though all of hu­man destiny lay tucked away in Mozart’s quar­tets, in K. 465, and noth­ing re­mained to be de­cided — this naïvete does not mean that they lacked in­sight, or courage; their in­dif­fer­ence merely ex­pressed a deeper im­po­tence, which at the same time was all that could jus­tify and re­deem them.

Only for a mo­ment did I see my fa­ther as a cow­ard and feel the wave of con­tempt that such char­ac­ters evoke; to pre­serve my own self-re­spect, I could not see him as weak un­der­neath his mask of strength. In the ar­gu­ments we had in my imag­i­na­tion, I lev­eled ac­cu­sa­tions that let me feel strong and self-sat­is­fied, and thus I could de­flect in turn the suf­fer­ing and hu­mil­i­a­tion of the destiny un­fold­ing be­fore me — a destiny we shared, in truth, and which joined us to­gether rather than sep­a­rat­ing us. I knew that the first time the new laws de­manded he leave the fam­ily, he re­jected the very idea of it. But then, in the end, he left us af­ter all. It struck me as the start of a kind of public self-im­mo­la­tion. I do not know the con­ver­sa­tions that took place be­tween my par­ents be­fore the sep­a­ra­tion; I never once heard a judg­ment pass my mother’s lips. Her stiff, al­most pet­ri­fied look was one I would later see again, in peo­ple who had wit­nessed the suc­cess­ful sui­cide at­tempts of close rel­a­tives or loved ones: those who had ab­sorbed the sui­cide’s strug­gle, and de­feat, into the fea­tures of their own faces.

Af­ter all that has hap­pened, it seems taste­less now to ex­am­ine my­self for traces of my fa­ther’s or mother’s pre­dis­po­si­tions, and to spec­u­late about how much my mixed ori­gins had to do with my spe­cial sen­si­tiv­ity to the outer world. As a child, I once saw a pow­er­fully built, healthy look­ing man on the street step on some­thing slip­pery, lose his bal­ance, and, try­ing in vain to catch him­self, flail­ing his arms in the air, fall so badly that he lay there stunned, and from the ex­pres­sion on his face it was clear what ter­ri­ble pain he was hold­ing back — he had bro­ken his leg. This un­ex­pected trans­for­ma­tion of a man, one mo­ment stand­ing tall and con­fi­dent and the next mo­ment wracked with pain and help­less on the pave­ment, stuck with me. The am­bu­lance came, the man was care­fully laid onto the stretcher and car­ried away — an ev­ery­day event, one would say. Since the law clas­si­fied me as a Jew and cel­lists were in de­mand, I had lit­tle trou­ble, af­ter the for­mal­ity of a try­out, in find­ing a po­si­tion with the Jewish Kul­tur­bund in Berlin. I rented an apart­ment in Friede­nau and my mother gave up the lonely house in Königs­berg and moved in with me.

It was in Berlin that I saw my fa­ther for the last time. Af­ter a per­for­mance of "The Bartered

Bride" un­der Józef Rosen­stock, an event wor­thy of com­par­i­son with any per­for­mance on any stage in the world, which for a few hours left ev­ery­one who took part in it in­tox­i­cated, mu­si­cians and spec­ta­tors alike — in­tox­i­cated with the magic po­tion of a world where every dis­so­nance only serves to en­hance a higher har­mony — sud­denly, as I was leav­ing the the­ater through a side door, there he was. Af­ter a short, cool greet­ing — we did not shake hands — there was si­lence, sharp and painful as the stab of a nail. Since he stayed in the shad­ows, I saw only the fa­mil­iar out­line of his form.

As ev­ery­one knows, a per­son’s voice does not change, any more than the whorls on his fin­ger­tips. Still I was star­tled when he sud­denly said: “You still here? Make sure you get out.” Strangely, those words he blurted out, in such a brusque, curt tone, did not make me feel the least bit an­gry; all the anger seemed to be within them. He had dragged his im­age into a kind of ob­scu­rity or con­fu­sion, mak­ing him­self in­com­pre­hen­si­ble to ev­ery­one around him, maybe even to him­self; these words only deep­ened that ob­scu­rity. I took a few steps to the side, to see him bet­ter. He looked ragged, gone to seed, as though he had been spend­ing nights on the street; he was un­washed, un­shaven, his cloth­ing shabby; I had the im­pres­sion that he smelled. It is only re­luc­tantly that I write down these ob­ser­va­tions, since they might seem to prove that I held a low opin­ion of him and even en­joyed a cer­tain schaden­freude. Per­haps these feel­ings did well up within me for a frac­tion of a se­cond. The good Herr Pro­fes­sor, once so well-groomed and civ­i­lized, so con­cerned, not with­out a cer­tain van­ity, about his out­ward ap­pear­ance. But I quickly re­gained my com­po­sure and said, “But Fa­ther....”

Be­ing called this must have made him feel even more con­fused. He in­ter­rupted me: “Shut up, you don’t un­der­stand what’s go­ing

My mother was not the sort of per­son who could cross a bor­der know­ing that she would never come back.

on.” Then he turned around and walked away. My cello clamped un­der my arm, I walked in the op­po­site di­rec­tion. And I never told my mother about see­ing him that night.

There is not much to say about the years of my em­i­gra­tion. They meant tak­ing leave not only of my mother; the older of my sis­ters had al­ready gone to Am­s­ter­dam with her hus­band and two chil­dren, and af­ter the Nazis in­vaded the Nether­lands they were de­ported to the camps. My mother and other sis­ter met their fate in — — . Even now I blame my­self, sense­lessly, for not hav­ing been able to force them to leave the coun­try. My mother was not the sort of per­son who could cross a bor­der know­ing that she would never come back.

I left Europe with noth­ing but my cello, but once I ar­rived in the U.S. it no longer gave me any plea­sure to put the Bach gigues and bour­rées I had prac­ticed in Königs­berg and Berlin on a mu­sic stand in Kan­sas City too. I dis­cov­ered my gift for mas­sage by ac­ci­dent, and started to use the trained strength and dex­ter­ity of my hands for dif­fer­ent ends: not try­ing to turn notes on the page into mu­sic (the fact is that with all my ef­forts, I had never got­ten far­ther than be­ing an or­ches­tral player, third chair), but push­ing and pal­pat­ing the par­a­lyzed mus­cles of chil­dren with po­lio. Af­ter Salk and Sabin de­vel­oped their vac­cine and the epi­demic died down in the States, my work came to in­clude the phys­i­cal ther­apy and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of ac­ci­dent vic­tims of all sorts.

For many years I could not un­der­stand why it was so easy for me to aban­don the cello, un­til I saw Casals on TV, in the class­room with his stu­dents. They were prac­tic­ing Bach. He let them play, in­ter­rupted them to say some­thing or play a pas­sage for them, his pipe in the cor­ner of his mouth, and I dis­cov­ered — as the fi­nal con­fir­ma­tion of my own loss — that the old mas­ter was not ini­ti­at­ing his stu­dents into the clever tricks of in­stru­men­tal tech­nique. He was giv­ing them, with the cello, a new fa­ther­land.

Af­ter the end of the war there be­gan for me a time of griev­ing with­out end. As long as the hos­til­i­ties lasted in Europe, I could hide my grief in the dim light of in­con­sis­tent hopes and con­jec­tures about the fate of my mother and sis­ters, but I soon re­ceived re­ports of their cruel and mer­ci­less end, which at least gave me the cer­tainty of suf­fer­ing. Those with a bet­ter de­vel­oped sense of hate may be luck­ier — they can con­tain and limit their sad­ness. Those who are de­prived of memo­ri­al­iz­ing graves en­counter the dead ev­ery­where: when el­e­va­tor doors close, when traf­fic lights turn red, when catch­ing sight of the sea. I was over­come with ner­vous ag­i­ta­tion. It took an­other eight years, in any case, be­fore I de­cided to travel to Ger­many. The repa­ra­tions pro­ceed­ings gave me a pre­text to go, and over the next ten years I vis­ited Europe twice more, with France and Hol­land as my orig­i­nal des­ti­na­tions; I crossed the Ger­man bor­der at Stras­bourg and at Aachen.

The coun­try I set foot in was no longer the land of my mother, and the “iron cur­tain” that di­vided it in two ran through me as well; I felt its pres­ence even in Cologne. Be­hind the cur­tain lay Königs­berg, Bres­lau, the Curo­nian Spit with the dunes near Ros­sit­ten and Nid­den be­tween the La­goon and the Baltic Sea. I read their new names on a map: Kalin­ingrad, Wrocław, Ry­bachy, Nida; like the mem­o­ries of my fa­ther, ev­ery­thing there had be­come noth­ing more than a story, a tale be­gin­ning “Once, long ago…” — but strangely for­eign, as though torn from an ear­lier text that I no longer un­der­stood.

Since I had Amer­i­can­ized my name when I was nat­u­ral­ized and Michael Sch­wabe had be­come Mike Shoap, since I signed all my pa­pers and doc­u­ments with this new name, there must have been some con­fu­sion among the author­i­ties about my iden­tity. That is the only way I can ex­plain why it took so many years for me to re­ceive a let­ter that was writ­ten to me in the last months of the war, be­fore the Rus­sian troops took East Prus­sia. The sender had en­trusted it to the Red Cross. From the of­fi­cial let­ter that ac­com­pa­nied it when at last it was de­liv­ered, I learned that my fa­ther had prob­a­bly died in the course of the fight­ing around Königs­berg. Although his body was never found, the house where he had lived for five years, ac­cord­ing to the po­lice registry, lay in the part of the city that the Rus­sian ar­tillery had thor­oughly bom­barded. The street name meant noth­ing to me. And my fa­ther’s name was not to be found among the thou­sands in the great treks of those days from East to West.

On the en­ve­lope, in rushed hand­writ­ing: “To my son Michael Sch­wabe.” In­side, he wrote: “Since I never gave you an ex­pla­na­tion of my be­hav­ior, and you never asked, here it is in brief. Leav­ing you and your mother might have seemed like ei­ther a vil­lain­ous deed or a

pa­tri­otic act. It was nei­ther. When it was too late, when I started to un­der­stand my own hubris, I also saw my weak­ness: I could not save both you and my­self, so I chose you. By leav­ing, I wanted to en­able you to get out of the coun­try in time, the coun­try you loved as much as I did. Some­thing ter­ri­ble had to hap­pen to you, had to hit as close to home as pos­si­ble, to strike the mon­strous blind­ness from all our eyes. Your mother re­fused to leave. She trusted me to pro­tect her, but I knew that when things went bad I wouldn’t be able to. And at my age, I could not face the prospect of play­ing the mar­tyr in a for­eign coun­try. The way the lawyer con­ducted the pro­ceed­ings, against my will, ended up ru­in­ing me. Un­til my early re­tire­ment I never changed any of the for­mu­la­tions I used in my lec­tures, even though I knew that kalok­a­gathia had re­duced us all to hang­man’s as­sis­tants. I had no al­lies. I could never find out what my col­leagues re­ally thought. My be­hav­ior was also meant as a sig­nal for them: if the age de­manded atroc­i­ties, I did not want to with­hold my trib­ute; I wanted to bring the dic­ta­tor’s in­hu­man­ity into public dis­cus­sion, and I could not do it any other way. I wanted ev­ery­one to see how I — who loved your mother and you and your sis­ters so deeply, as ev­ery­one knew — met my public demise. I wanted peo­ple on the street and in the univer­sity to point their fin­gers at me when I walked past. You saw the re­sults for your­self, that time in Berlin. It didn’t do any good. At best peo­ple saw me as an id­iot or a clin­i­cal case. They’re com­ing, the Curo­nian Spit is in their hands al­ready. I couldn’t do any­thing to hin­der the be­gin­ning and I won’t sur­vive the end. There is such a thing as Fate. I have reread my Thucy­dides again and again but he doesn’t give me the an­swer. Have I been mis­read­ing him all this time? In the years to come there will need to be new sci­ences, new knowl­edge, un­til one day his­tory can be writ­ten and taught again. The his­tory of Ger­many is the his­tory of my im­po­tence. It is some con­so­la­tion to me that you be­came a mu­si­cian: dur­ing the night, let mu­sic be what saves us, don’t for­get. What­ever hap­pens I am stay­ing in Königs­berg. If this let­ter ever reaches you, then there is no one else I can ask, in­clude me in your griev­ing.”

The more time passes, the more I know that my fate means noth­ing — it is hid­den in the fog of an age of de­struc­tion, a fog that no new Thucy­dides has come to burn away. When I think back to my fam­ily home, my mem­ory is the echo of an echo while the orig­i­nal sound has been lost. The his­tory of my par­ents and our fam­ily is the his­tory of a pow­er­less world, whose glit­ter­ing vic­to­ries now seem to have merely held the seeds of even more ter­ri­ble de­struc­tions. What re­mains is grief. If peo­ple still trust, still go about their daily busi­ness be­hind lev­ees they wrongly be­lieve to be safe, the treach­er­ous wa­ters of the ocean will none­the­less sur­prise them in their sleep and flush them like rats from their homes.

To judge my fa­ther would be a be­trayal of my mother, who al­ways bound her­self to him in love. Even if the world should mock him, or con­sign him to obliv­ion, I, his son, shall cast no stones to raise higher the moun­tain of rub­ble un­der which he lies buried in the city whose new name is his epi­taph.

1944 Di­ary by Hans Keil­son, trans­lated by Damion Searls, was re­leased by Far­rar, Straus and Giroux on June 6, 2017.

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