At the age of seven I had seen a PBS documentary
about concentration camp
s. The main image that sticks in my head was of a painfully thin man, standing outside a building, ankle deep in what looked like a river. The river was liquefied human fat, which the man scooped out as it drained out from the massive ovens
. This fat was used to make soap
. Sadly, the scooping man was one of the "lucky" ones, but they most likely kill
ed him too. This left an impression that has never left me. I could not believe that anyone could be like Hitler
. His capacity for cruelty
was astounding and left me sad and depressed for months. My whole head seemed filled with the sadness of that image. However, I did not recognize the swastika
or learn the term “Nazi
”, somehow I missed the connection.
In sixth grade I dressed up for Halloween in a ridiculous mix of cast off, ripped up things. I think the intention was to look “punk”. Right before I left the house I drew a swastika on my forehead in black eyeliner. I was going for the punk rock look and I thought a swastika would complete the picture. I did not know it had anything to do with Nazis. I went out and no one really said anything to me about it, except for one man.
I stood on his porch and rang the bell. He had a happy face, reaching into his big candy dish. He stretched out his arm and I stretched out my pillowcase. He was about to drop the candy in, then he looked up at me and his face changed. His eyes watered, nostrils flared, and slowly he rolled up his sleeve and turned his arm. There was faded black number. He looked at me with such disgust that I was afraid. He gave me a good long look, then dropped the candy in my bag and shut the door. I did not understand what happened. I could not guess how I had offended him, made an old man go from happy to tears in a few seconds.
Years later I remembered that man. I wish I could find him and ask him to forgive me for being such an asshole. It makes me cry to think of him, to imagine his face crashing. If they could brand his arm, what must his heart look like? I always think of him along with the scooping man. It might have been him, or his father, best friend, brother... I never meant to hurt him. It was one of the worst things I have ever done.