“Should I mention that I saw Anne Frank in Belsen? Do you think they’d be interested in that?” I was in my late teens when my mother was first asked to give a talk about her experiences as a German refugee and Dutch Jew in the Second World War. Until the late 1970s, people rarely asked her about it, and she didn’t want to be a bore.
Then things began to change. Within a few years of her first speech, she was giving lectures in schools quite regularly. She was invited to Downing Street and talked with the prime minister about knowing the Franks, and about her father’s work fighting fascism and his encounter with Hermann Göring. The BBC made a documentary in which my mother met the daughter of a prominent Nazi. She was forever telling her story.
No one, however, ever asked Dad to tell his. The interest in what happened to him never came. It still hasn’t come.
Yet my father was the victim of one of the war’s greatest crimes: Stalin’s attempt to eradicate the Polish nation by murdering its elite and scattering its leadership. It was a crime that saw hundreds of thousands of people expelled from their homes and deported to become slave laborers, and saw hundreds of thousands more imprisoned in terrible conditions. It’s a story little told, often denied, and, even now, to most people, entirely unknown. My father’s story is one that history has half hidden.
Decades later, we are living with the consequences of this occlusion. [Continue reading…]