Did you know that underneath the new European Central Bank towers there is a memorial to the deported Jews of Frankfurt? Probably not, because it does not confront. It is integrated into the buildingscape. In the cellar of the former market halls of the Grossmarkthalle, which has been left exactly as it was, the people were herded together, their property and valuables confiscated and left for days without food and water. Left there until the train came to take them away to the killing factories in the East.
A very subtle, fragmented memorial has been placed here, 70 years after the fact, in which the trees, the concrete, the interspersed texts, the cellar and the stairs leading up to the railway symbolize the annihilation of a people which very nearly was successful. Easily missed if you do not know it is there. In the subtleties of these final traces of the hunted you can hear loss, guilt, forgetting, hate and remembering.
Human history speaks. It is in the silence, in the fragments, in the wind or the absence of wind, in the pain or the joy carried in the bones of the future. It is there if you listen. In these times where people’s sense(s) are shaped by marketing and media these whispers can fall onto barren ground.
I am glad that I have learnt to listen, and am learning still. Learning to listen and look at words from different perspectives. To really listen to places and people. And listening brings me more and more into contact with stories. This past week I had a series of spontaneous ‘listening’ meetings.
In Haarlem I met up with Zusje and Jacqueline of the van Boeckel clan. It was a joy to listen to the memories and stories caught in words and silences. Fragments which once again offer me the riches I need to further compile my book on Jan van Boeckel. A meeting with cousin Marj. provided me with yet another perspective for my quest for Jan van Boeckel.
A surprise visit with a friend and teacher filled me with ancestral stories of Jewish survival and death in the face of the holocaust in Romania. Once again it proved how important it is to seek out and listen to the past and the people from the past to make the future complete. And how important testimonies are.
And I keep learning how vital meetings are. Meetings which lead to in-depth exchanges. Long ago the conclusion of one of my theses at university was that understanding and overcoming racism and prejudice can only be achieved by friendship, by learning to know the ‘other’. A meeting this week with a friend confirmed that once again. She, as a Dutch woman who carries the wounds of the German occupation, has come to see Germany in a different light by walking its streets and listening to the whispered stories of German suffering in the aftermath of the war.
History speaks and ancestors teach us the values of life. You only need to learn to listen. This also drives me in my quest to return Jan van Boeckel from the shadows. And so, after this busy intermezzo of listening and meetings, I am returning to the writing of the book which is growing and growing. Inspiration overload.