Friday, November 02, 2007

I'm Not Creepy, Part Deux (Saving Pictures Of Hitler)

I realize after this post that I'll need to do some cleansing 'round here; you can't have a Hitler post right after cemeteries and skeleton cookies before the whole joint reeks of death & depression. (And I swear, I really need to replace that 'taupe' listing on the sidebar -- while it originally amused me to see all the mis-named taupe shades, it's now utterly depressing. Not 'Hitler depressing', but still sucky.)

Anyway, I was reading at Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog, when I spotted this post, A Young Hitler & Evil At The Piano II. First of all, if you've never been to Alex's blog, you're an idiot. (OK, OK, maybe you're just ignorant -- but seriously, his link's been on the sidebar for months.) His blog has some of the most beautiful, poignant posts -- unexpected twists & whimsical detours. I just love it. His post got me, as usual, thinking.

He wrote:
The day before yesterday when I was in my H,I,J files looking for the negatives for Friday's blog I was jolted, as I always am by the file labeled Hitler. And every time I file them away again and conveniently forget about them. I am not even sure these negatives,I copied an original photograph, represent an authentic one. But this blog offers me some sort of justification for showing the picture.
Why do some people save photos of an evil man, even if they aren't certain of their authenticity, yet some folks won't save a cherished childhood memory?

I'm not drawing into question Alex's humanity (that's all over his blog and work and so there's no dispute there), but rather the choices we make. What stays? What goes? I'm not even talking about monumental decisions made in the rush of crisis, but of those little ones, the ones without much thought. Or maybe they have much more thought than we realize?

Alex also wrote, on the subject of a visit to a boyhood friend's house:
I had no concept of Jews or what being Jewish was all about. In Mario's house I spotted a portrait of a fat Mario on the wall. I smiled and pointed it out to Mario. Mario said, "That is not me. That is my older brother. He died in Auschwitz during the war." I asked how he was killed but Mario never said anything more. It was quite a few years later that it dawned on me what had happened and how the Hertzbergs had somehow survived without that one son (Mario had two much older brothers who lived with him) and moved to Argentina after the war.
I can imagine the horror of such a discovery. You wish you could go back, remove the foot from your mouth, the toilet paper from your shoe... You tell yourself you were but a child; that your friend would understand. But did he? He must have wondered how you could be so unaware, if not insensitive. Is that wound what compels the filing away images of an evil man? Is that history larger and more meaningful even than the bigger footprint of a man who rode roughshod on our collective memory?

Are negative memories more valued, more compelling than good ones -- like how we go on & on & on about how horrible a restaurant is, but just tip well at a good one and leave it at that? Or is it just the artist, the photographer, in Alex; the practical side tossing an old damaged book?

The decision to toss a ripped book, even if the memory is in-tact and pleasant. The choice to file away photos of I-think-it's-Hitler, when the memory is sour. These things challenge me today.

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