Keep Saying Their Names by Simon Stranger
English | 2020 | General Fiction/Classics | ePUB | 1.6 MB
On a street in modern-day Norway, a writer kneels with his son and tells him that according to Jewish tradition, a person dies twice: first when their heart stops beating, and then again the last time their name is read or thought or said. Before them is a stone engraved with the name Hirsch Komissar, the boy’s great-great-grandfather who was murdered by Nazis.
The man who sent Komissar to his death was one of Norway’s vilest traitors, Henry Oliver Rinnan, a Nazi double agent who set up headquarters in an unspectacular suburban house and transformed the cellar into a torture chamber for resisters, a place to be avoided and feared.That is until Komissar’s own son, Gerson, and his young wife, Ellen, take up residence in the house after the war. While their daughters spend a happy childhood playing in the same rooms where some of the most heinous acts of the occupation occurred, the weight of history threatens to pull the couple apart
A for all that will disappear and slide into oblivion. All our memories and feelings. All our property and possessions. All that makes up the framework of a life. The chairs one used to sit in and the bed one used to sleep in will be carried out and placed in a new home. Our plates will be laid out on the table by new hands and the glasses raised to someone else’s lips, who will sip the water or the wine, before resuming their conversation. Items once loaded with history will lose all their meaning and be transformed to mere shapes, like a piano might appear to a deer or a beetle.
One day it will happen. One day will be the last for all of us, none of us knowing when, or how.
According to Jewish tradition everyone dies twice. The first time is when the heart stops beating and the synapses in the brain shut down, like a city during a blackout.
The second time is when the name of the deceased is mentioned, read, or thought of for the last time, fifty, or a hundred, or four hundred years later. Only then is that person really gone, erased from this world. This second death was what made the German artist Gunter Demnig start casting cobblestones in brass, engraving them with the names of Jews murdered by the Nazis during the Second World War, and embedding them in the pavement outside the houses where they once lived. He calls them Stolpersteine. They are an attempt to postpone the second death, by documenting the names of the deceased, so that passersby will look down in decades to come and read them, and in doing so, keep them alive, while ensuring that the memory of one of the worst chapters in Europe’s history is also kept alive—as visible scars on the face of the city. So far sixty-seven thousand Stolpersteine have been laid throughout Europe.
One of them is yours.
One of these stones has your name on it, and is planted in the pavement outside the apartment where you once lived, in the central Norwegian city of Trondheim. A few years ago my son knelt beside this Stolperstein, brushed away the pebbles and sand with his mitten, and read aloud.
“Here lived Hirsch Komissar.”
My son turned ten that year, and is one of your great-great-grandchildren. As is my daughter, who was only six years old that spring. My wife, Rikke, stood beside me. Also in this circle of people, was my mother-in-law, Grete, and her husband, Steinar, all of us gathered as though for the burial of an urn.
“Yes. He was my grandfather,” said Grete. “He lived right here, on the second floor,” she went on, turning to the building behind us, to the windows where you once stood looking out, in another age, when people other than ourselves were alive. I knelt down, and my daughter hung her arms round my neck, while my son continued reading the bare facts etched into the cobblestone.