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Buy this book

The Memory Man
Lisa Appignanesi


Dave Hallsworth

My generation is overwhelmed by books such as The Memory Man. They allow us to wallow in nostalgia and to describe everyone today, especially the young people, as not a patch on those of our day, incapable of copying our steadfastness and sheer guts.

The Memory Man tells of the period from the 1930s until the end of the Second World War, and today, of a Jewish family smashed and slaughtered as the German army rolled into Austria and Poland. It is the story of Professor Bruno Lind, a neuroscientist of international renown, who specialised in the memory section of the brain. Born in Vienna, he migrates, after the war, firstly to Canada, then the United States and finally Britain, and now returns to his birthplace to address a conference on memory. His own memory drags him into scenes in the past he would have preferred to forget.

As a young Jewish boy of 13 he was dragged and thrust into the frightening conditions created by the German occupation of his country and their policy against the Jews. His father was shot and hung from a lamp-post in front of their house and left for three days. When his middle class family fled to the farm of his grandfather in Poland, the Germans followed, bringing their anti-Semitism with them. His mother and younger sister were machine-gunned down by German soldiers under his eyes as he hid on a hillside nearby. His grandfather fled to Krakow and was then trapped in the ghetto. Bruno had a hard schooling in life, scavenging the countryside, and then in the camp of some amateurish partisans.

At the age of 18 he was: 'a lean, hardened and filthy youth who hadn't changed his clothes in months ….A wild youth, who knew about guns and knives and explosives and hatreds'. Also one who had walked, hid, fought, and hungered, having eaten even cow-pats for sustenance. The boy had become a man, like tens of thousands of others with him. He and his grandfather stood tall in their determination to retain control of their lives. They were certainly not the 'victims' we hear so much of today.

The Memory Man captures the desperation of those years of occupation and misery. Have people learnt anything from those days? The Poles have had a further trial, life under the puppets of Stalin, which must have taught them something. One thing the ordinary folk of Austria learnt from the smashing of their allies the Germans was to pretend, as did many in Britain, that they are not anti-semetic.

Here in Britain society itself was poorer, those working in industry forced to turn out during the night to spend shifts 'guarding' their factories from German incendiary bomb , then back to work next morning, living on meagre rations of food whilst the rich carried on dining in their clubs and expensive restaurants on the fat of the land to enable them to oversee our efforts. Would we do this today?

Books such as this, whilst highlighting a particular historical period as a background to a story about relationships, allow us, as do the D-Day celebrations, to see ourselves as heroes. The reality was we were the dupes of yesteryear who today, like those in 1919, march around clanking our cheap medals before going home as they did to tightening financial conditions and unemployment of the 1920s slump, we to the debts and feelings of insecurity and helplessness and loneliness of today's society. We, as did our fathers before, us died in our hundreds of thousands, indeed millions, to defend the wealth and power of scoundrels.

Not all Jews gave themselves up meekly to the camps and gas ovens. Those that survived determined never again to allow themselves to get in the position the Jews of Europe were in, abandoned by both the Left and the Right to the mercies of the Nazi war-machine. Wresting land from the downtrodden of the Middle East they have built themselves a fortress nation, armed with the mightiest of weapons.

The Memory Man is a powerful book that opens a window on a time, and peoples, few today remember.

 
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