books,  history,  politics,  the ethical life

Tales From a Child of the Enemy

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With Remembrance Day (and Veteran’s Day) coming up tomorrow, I find myself drawn back to a book I picked up a couple of years ago. It is a book of poetry called Tales from a Child of the Enemyby Ursula Duba.

Ursula Duba was born in Germany at the outbreak of World War II and the first few poems describe her childhood in the war. She writes of wondering where the carpets were in a carpet bombing, and about dreaming of travelling to a continent with no war. She writes about the emotions and anger that her father would have been feeling, as a man unable to adequately feed his family in a scary, scary time, and about how he took those emotions out in abuse towards his children.

The poems then move on to her teenage years, and her learning about the Holocaust and atrocities committed by the Nazis, and then to the stories she heard of Holocaust survivors and of Jewish people in her Eastern European neighbourhood in Brooklyn. As an Avon saleswoman in America she would be questioned as to who her family was by Jewish people still hoping to find their long-lost relatives. The poems are simple and heartbreaking.

History is not over. It doesn’t end. War is not just the domain of soldiers but of whole generations. Events have ripples that move onward through one generation to another.

Tales From a Child of the Enemy grapples with questions of responsibility. Does not knowing free her parents of responsibility? How could they have not known? She’s honest about the fear that they were wrapped up in, the stresses that would have worn them down, and yet at the same time she’s still forceful, still appalled at their complicity.

they expressed no sorrow
at the suffering inflicted on others
and couldn’t understand
the shame she felt
the horror
of having grown up
among murders.

As I read about the parents hardships, I  think about the comments I hear today, about why people do not have the time nor energy to work for justice. People are busy trying to keep their own families afloat, they don’t have time to take actions that will probably be ineffective anyway. I can sympathize with the business, the exhaustion, the lack of resources, and yet I wonder, will our children? Will they care that we were too busy living our lives to worry about climate change? To allow inequality to grow? To allow our governments to participate in the occupation of other countries?

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