papers, papers please.

I am sitting at my desk with my feet propped up on the bed. Everything I do joggles my knee, which is still sore at me about the whole torn-miniscus-surgery thing. Downstairs, my daughter is having a birthday party with boys and pizza and a movie and makeovers. Earlier today, I limped up and down Pathmark’s aisles looking for animal-shaped paper plates, those mustard, onion and honey pretzels that we are all addicted to, a cake with blue flowers on it made from cupcakes, lots of soda. Now, sitting in my room with Family Guy blaring in the background, I am typing up questions to submit to the archivist at the Bundesarchiv in Ludwigsburg, Germany, where they keep the Nazi War Crime records.

Dr. Herrmann has found Selinger. His name is actually Seeliger, Willi Seeliger, and he will be happy to help me research him after I fill in these four forms. I download them. They are in German, like his emails, with a rather intimidating Germanic eagle dominating the top of the paper.

I run the forms through Google Translate. With a speed that takes my breath away, they come up in English, sort of. It’s a little like someone throwing all the words of a particular sentence into a blender and turning it on. They want to know who I am. They want to know what my interest is in this person. They want to know how I will use this information. They want to know my address.

There is something positively haunting about a form in German that is asking you for personal information. I tell my husband, I tell my sister. Independent of each other, they both tell me that someone official in a black leather coat will be showing up at my door the next day, saying, “Papers, papers please. I see. Will you come this way, please?”

I realize I am dragging my feet in responding, in filling out the forms. I’m so used to thinking of Selinger as a kind of failed Schindler, as someone who wanted to do more. A good man living in bad times. Like Anne Frank, I need to believe that people are really good at heart. What would I see in those files? What if all the worst charges are true?

I think about one man sending a wagon to another man so that he can save his children from other men with guns. I think of him warning my grandfather to hide in the forest. I think of him stopping the Aktzia with a phone call. I hit the print button on the computer screen, the forms start pumping out of the printer. I want to know more. I need to know more.

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