Post image for Father’s return

Father’s return

February 2, 2011

A car stopped outside the school house where we lived and the man got out slowly and painfully. We’d rushed to the window as we knew Papa was due back today. Maman raised her hands to her face and gasped. She yanked the door open , rushed toward the gate but stopped short. He kind of lurched forward and fell into her arms. Then, very slowly they edged their way back to the house.

As they were approaching, I reached for my brother’s hand. He too was shaking. The dark, skeletal silhouette filled the door frame and we recoiled in horror. Could that person be our dear Papa we had been waiting for so excitedly? Maman had told us to expect him not to be very well and to be kind to him and quiet. We weren’t ready for the sight of him….surely, this couldn’t be our Papa?

My father

1939, my father, enlisted in the meteorological section of the French Airforce

We hadn’t seen him for nearly nine months and at the tender age of six and five, our memory of him could have been a bit confused. This man seemed to be half the size of dear Papa whom we remembered was so strong he could lift us up in the air and catch us on the way down. He was great at football and could throw a javelin further than any one else. He could even lift Maman and carry her up the stairs running! And he laughed, made every one laugh…but this man was expressionless and awesome.

He sat down awkwardly on the straw chair and leaned heavily on the kitchen table, head bowed and slowly swinging from side to side. His eyes didn’t focus, his mouth half open…you could see some black holes where some teeth were missing. Slowly, he slid onto the floor into a foetal position and started to cry.

My brother and I had retreated into a far corner of the kitchen, horror struck. We found ourselves crouched on the floor and gazing fixedly at the physical wreck lying there a few metres away. He was so thin we could see through his skin great patterns of veins throbbing like twisting snakes. The hands were shaking convulsively and the nails were partly missing. His clothes seemed to belong to a much bigger man (my mother later told me he weighed thirty five kilos!). We couldn’t bring ourselves to look at the face and yet I remember the sunken dead eyes, the patchy scalp, the hollow temples and the rictus that seemed to threaten us.

Suddenly the kitchen door opened and our uncle came in, followed by two or three friends. They found us in the corner and whisked us out of the house. It was weeks before we could go back home. Life was never the same, we never laughed and laughed, we always had to be kind to him, and quiet.

Later, we began to learn about Resistance, Gestapo, concentration camps and the horrors of war. Life was never the same….


Unpacked Mummy February 4, 2011 at 6:48 pm

Heartbreaking. We remember the 6 million killed, but we don’t talk about the survivors and the reality of their lives post concentration camps

Thank you for giving them a voice and making others aware of *all* the victims of the Nazis, not just those that died

Annie Thom February 4, 2011 at 10:41 pm

I presume that the word *all* you use here also embraces the families and friends of those victims, their lives changed for ever.
Thank you for your comment. A.T.

Nathalie Demêmes February 5, 2011 at 9:23 am

En lisant, les larmes me venaient aux yeux…
C’est super de partager ces moments privilégiés, si riches et si émouvants et de rendre hommage à Tompé et Tamé.

Annie Thom February 5, 2011 at 6:57 pm

Cela fait des années que j’essaies de motiver Tamé pour qu’elle écrive son histoire, ou leur histoire. Rien à faire pour l’instant… “ça viendra quand je prendrai ma retraite”, dit-elle. Malheureusement, à l’age de 93 ans, sa mémoire commence à lui jouer des tours, qu’elle l’admette ou pas, et je pense que sa santé ne lui permet plus de concevoir une telle oeuvre.

Mike Reed February 7, 2011 at 7:52 am

An extraordinarily moving post, told with such compassion. Thank you for sharing this, it’s so important to remember the countless families left so deeply scarred by the atrocities of the war. I imagine this must have been very difficult to write, and again I’m amazed by your vivid, unsentimental but incredibly affecting writing. Thank you.

Annie Thom February 7, 2011 at 9:12 pm

Hey Mike,
Thank you for your comment.
It wasn’t too difficult to write as it has been simmering for a long time!

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