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No answer

Iduna Paalman



My interest in World War II developed in primary school. I turned out to be so persistent that, once I was eighteen, I had no choice but to study German. I loved German language and literature. but in reality, it was really me to do that war. In my studies I thought I could find the answer to the question that had been bothering me for ten years: how could it exist, all that great, untold Evil?


With some history subjects you do not get an answer to such a question, I soon discovered, so I sought refuge in philosophy. There, however, it turned out that more questions were raised, and the answers I found were not satisfying. Maybe I thought I should look closer to home. My ancestors had experienced that war themselves, they had undoubtedly thought about this question.


But my grandparents and great-grandparents - teachers and farmers from the north of this country - didn't have exciting stories or want to say too many words. It was terrible, but we had it pretty good, was the quick conclusion. "An undernourished spindle bone came to us," said my grandmother. "He never said anything and was afraid of the goat, who once pulled the handkerchief off his neck." I was disappointed and ashamed. Was that it? Did I want exciting stories? Was this out of control fascination nothing more than the desire for a recreational escape from my own safe life?


The internet then. When I couldn't sleep, I googled Nazis and zoomed in on their faces. I was trying to see something, a common denominator that explained it all. There are plenty of pictures of SS people in their teens or as toddlers on their mother's arm. Did it already start then? Often I alternated these searches by scrolling through the Auschwitz Memorial Twitter page, where photos of murdered Jews are posted daily. I tried to link one to the other, which did not work. I thought of a line of poetry by Gerrit Kouwenaar: "kill / revive in other places."


Poetry perhaps? I am not yet sure whether it does provide answers, but I feel that I will get close when I read the collection Don't believe me when I tell about the war, by the Palestinian poet Asmaa Azaizeh. She speaks directly to the evil: 'Hey Evil / we follow you stupid and blind like fetuses / and we howl from your womb / I listen to you whine like love songs, I remember your herds fluttering in / my air, I remember the puppies you fed '.


Evil, she writes in the same poem, has no face in particular. Is that why I cannot find the answer, because the origin of evil is always hidden in something else, and thus all the information escapes?


If there is no war, people are safe, houses

are more resident than trenches of veils asters, white

eat alone, only the black one should fast


people are odd in summers like this, dead

evading in other places, eating in words

snows hunger winters as long as one has to read meat


one can alarm the phone, disembark in pills

one can be infinite to diminish


outside in squares falling silence threatens, inside

softer hair strokes, there is no thunder anywhere -


"If there is no war" Gerrit Kouwenaar

From: Owning a ruin,

Poetry International & Querido Publishers, 2005

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