One dark chapter of history. A rewrite for the Twisted Tales May contest.
|The Great Scribe in the Sky knows how hard I tried to create a story around that hateful word and the connotations of evil and cruelty instantly springing to mind. But the word STALAG flashily dominated — harsh, painful — as if struck by a laser beam in the deepest, blackest hole in the universe. Erratic feelings continued to surface, but I can’t say why. I wasn’t even born until near WWII’s end, with no first-hand knowledge of a STALAG (note how the name insists on bold letters, becoming more staccato and harsh each time, like the guttural ACHTUNG! ACHTUNG! German command).
I have no personal stories of loss or pain suffered by myself or anyone close, yet my heart aches with sorrow whenever I read that word... STALAG. Could it be I’m an ‘old soul’? A person who’s lived previous lives; gone through different stages of self-knowledge? This has been suggested to me more than once when I’ve experienced an unexpected empathy with situations and feelings I have no ‘real’ knowledge about.
Perhaps I was Clair Cline, the imprisoned fighter pilot who spent three months carving and creating a violin from bed slats, with only a penknife and a piece of broken glass. Or maybe one of the Allied airmen in that hated STALAG LUFT 1, who painstakingly scraped excess old glue from chair joints; grinding and melting the powder down to create new glue for that precious violin. That would explain my lifetime passion for recycling, way before it was trendy. A lifetime of being a farmer and having the need to recycle every possible thing, has demonstrated the truth of the old adage, ‘necessity IS the Mother of Invention’.
Was I the white-haired German guard of the barracks on Christmas Eve when Clair Cline, a self-taught violinist AND a clever creator, played the beloved carol, Silent Night on that treasured violin? He was not ‘away in a manger’, but away in the background, that guard who was heard to sing it in German, tears filling his eyes. Is that why the ‘voice’ of a violin brings a tear to my eye? And my love of the violin, despite coming from a non-musical family? Maybe Clair Cline’s teaching of his children and grandchildren to love and treasure music and the story of his violin has somehow seeped into my being? When WWII was a distant but dreadful memory, the chief violinist and former concertmaster played this special violin at a performance by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. From the humblest of beginnings came the power to lift hearts and souls to unimaginable heights…
In another ‘nightmarish’ moment I wonder if maybe I was a hopeful tunneller, eternally trying to escape the hated STALAG?. One of those poor unfortunates who died underground like a trapped rat? That could explain my morbid fear of going below Earth’s surface and my crippling claustrophobia. I’ve attempted to overcome and control this fear. Tried… and still needed to beat a hasty and gasping retreat from even quite shallow caves. There IS a time one could reasonably expect to be underground, but cave exploration is definitely NOT that moment for me!
After I read ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’, it was not difficult to imagine being her; the young Jewish girl hiding in a secret annex for over two years. Not in a despised and feared official STALAG, but a prisoner nonetheless — cruelly incarcerated, living in abject terror of discovery. Final exposure and arrest ended her brief life in one of the worst STALAGs, the nightmare that was Bergen-Belsen. She died in the same month I was born, but where I write with pencil and computer, Anne Frank wrote with her heart’s blood.
In another situation altogether, I think of a local sculpture Memories In A Suitcase commemorating the contribution of migrants to nearby Mount Gambier. The artist created a large scale granite suitcase with relief carving on its side of a migrant couple and a baby. The inscription explains its creator’s vision of the suitcase as ‘a symbol of transition for many migrants from an old life to a new life—carrying everything of value from the past to a new future’. Every time I see it, I whimsically wonder if this small family were among the persecuted and displaced Jews, fleeing with one suitcase of treasures; representing those sad souls who most often lost even those painfully few possessions, if not their lives? Hidden within their hearts (and that suitcase), there could be the explanation of my love of old things and antiques; and my deepest reluctance to part with them. Some call it hoarding. Some just don’t understand. It’s so strong. Right up there with ‘Freedom’.
Wishfully, was I the heroic Schindler, saving 1200 Jews from STALAGS with countless schemes and clever deceptions? I picture scenes from the film of that amazing story of what one man can achieve, and I think of the wonderful words repeated in a speech by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 —
‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’
My eyes fill with tears. Would that I had anywhere near that kind of courage. But possibly it’s why I’ve been a rescuer of small, vulnerable creatures, handmade toys, and sorrowful hearts and souls—all of my life. Although it’s a minor difference in the overall scheme of things, it surely was everything to each of these recipients of a loving forever home. I only know it’s a passion I could never deny.
This is a can of worms. Pandora’s Box. My mind races with possibilities and I’ve barely scratched the surface. Clearly the word STALAG is far too dangerously charged with emotion for me to create a story around.
Ohh, hang on… I think I just did!
Author's Note: This story was first submitted for the April contest, but when I saw in the rules it could be resubmitted, I tweaked, edited and rewrote parts of it to resubmit here in the May contest.
I hope I have handled this new submission correctly.