Tiny Lights for Travellers by Naomi K. Lewis

Tiny Lights for Travellers by Naomi K. Lewis

Author:Naomi K. Lewis [Naomi K. Lewis]
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 9781772124750
Publisher: The University of Alberta Press

In When Paris Went Dark: The City of Light Under German Occupation, Ronald C. Rosbottom asks why so many Parisians kept journals during the German Occupation, recording sentiments and actions that could have seen them punished or killed. “In a world where there has been a short-circuiting of normal connections,” he suggests, “blank pages can offer the freedom that one misses.” Opa waited until he arrived in Lyon to record his illegal and dangerous crossing, but then he packed the journal in his small suitcase and kept it with him, fleeing Vichy France before the Germans occupied the whole country in November 1943. He crossed Portugal and Spain, then ended up in England. He met Betty, they married, he left again for the Netherlands, where, days after the birth of his first child back in London, he drove into Delft, and straight to his brother’s house, where his young nieces mistook him at first for an official come to arrest their father. All that time, he kept the thirty-page journal with him.

He’d written that account, and kept it safe, because he wanted to record what happened before his memories faded, while they were still true—that was the reason he gave. I so wished he’d recorded more than just facts and actions, and included more of his memories. Even references to his own emotional reactions came only in tiny accidental-seeming bursts. He recorded no anecdotes about his childhood, no reflections on his relationships, on the war itself, on his convictions, on anguish about the people he left behind. He never even referred to the Occupation or to his own status as a Jew, and certainly included no reflections on what his identity meant to him—oh, if only! If only he’d written with the desire to be known. If only he’d lived with the desire to be known. He’d never said a word about himself, or about the war, or about Judaism, except to Oma. I’d learned everything I knew about Opa through Oma. And how much was she repeating, how much was she guessing, how much was she inventing? On the train to Valenciennes, I read Opa’s entry of July 22nd in frustration. I kept trying to see something between the lines, to see his heart.

I did understand the impulse to record events, to preserve the facts in the face of everything that will try to distort them. I was a compulsive diarist for years. I never received a regular allowance as a child, but sometimes one of my parents gave me a few dollars. “From now on, you’ll get ten dollars a week,” my dad would say, and then forget about it again for a few months. When I did have a big enough bill, I walked up the five blocks to Sunnyside Avenue, a block past where I normally turned to get to school, a block into the wilderness, to the corner store. They sold notebooks at that store, and I stood in the aisle turning through the blank


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