Communication has always been a weakness with me. I was never good at it. I also have this desire to always justify myself. For every statement I make I feel I have to bring an explanation and proof, even when nobody asks me. I often feel nobody believes me and started to wonder why is that?
I remember an incident when I was a child and had to spent the summer holidays in a children home. One late afternoon we were all asked to meet in the hall and we were told that there had been a theft and if the person does not come forward the police would have to be called. Immediately I started to tremble and felt guilty like hell. I hadn’t stolen anything or done anything else wrong but I felt that if I was to be interrogated they would think I was the thief.
I believe that this irrational fear had a lot to do with having a choleric father who often would get upset at the slightest provocation. On weekends our mother was always away working and he had to look after us. He would spend most of his time in the living room doing his hobby which for us meant that we had to be as quiet as mice. The living room was dad’s domain and we were hardly ever allowed into it. We also didn’t spent much time in the kitchen because if dad heard a noise he would come out of his living room and shout at us.
I usually spent my time reading in my own room or going out and roaming the streets or spending hours in the forest. Sometimes I got into arguments with my sisters and dad would storm out of the living room and grab me and put me over his knee. He would hit me hard until I struggled for breath, only then would he stop. Not being able to breathe put more fear into me then the pain itself.
My dad never asked who started an argument but as the oldest and being male it was assumed it was always my fault. Maybe it’s better this way or my sisters would have gotten it.
It’s a bit of an irony that outside home my father was widely admired and achieved a lot for disadvantaged people. I also know from my cousins that many of them had a much harder life then I had. My father was unfair and often too hard but their fathers were brutal. My parents grew up during the end of Hitler’s reign in Germany. The emphasis on bringing up sons at that time was on toughening them up and there was very little room for fatherly affection.
There was also attitudes towards foreigners and blacks. Not that they hated people of a different colour but when one of my cousins married a black girl I remember the outrage that was felt by his family. Even my parents who in many ways were much more liberal talked about how this is not natural and won’t last. I was very young then but I do remember wondering about it. I had only met one black man then, he was a student of my fathers who sometimes together with other students visited our home. He often joked a lot with us and we had great fun together. I was about five or six years old then and took us sometimes shopping. We were very curious about his skin colour and he told us that he’s also white. No, we said, you’re not, your black. He then showed us the inside of his hands and we were astonished to see that they were white. Later I read a lot of books about the African-American Civil Rights movement and started to question more and more the attitudes of my parents generation.
There were also other attitudes I questioned. It was for example very difficult to extract information about our history, especially from my mother’s site. She hinted on the dangers that somebody like Hitler could come to power again and it is best not to discuss certain things so that one won’t get into trouble. I never could quite understand what she meant but it made me feel that there was some kind of secret in our family. We often suspected that we might have some Jewish blood and one of my sister made more enquiries into our ancestry later and found some evidence that might point towards it but nothing that could proof it one way or the other. On fathers side however she did find out that his father was likely a member of the Nazi party, she found an old picture where he was wearing a small swastika pin on his suit. I wouldn’t be surprised. He was a violent man, brutal towards his wife and children.
I do wonder if I have inherited guilt. The guilt of my grandparents involvement in Nazi Germany but also the irrational guilt felt by my mother for whatever it was she was afraid people might find out. Guilty of being a Jew maybe or guilty of hiding that fact or whatever it is she doesn’t want to speak about.