I am waiting.
I am waiting to hear what my first readers have to say about the stories I send them, I am waiting for the snowstorm to arrive, I am waiting for Monday morning when the kids go back to school so that I can get back to writing, I am waiting for my coffee to finish dripping through the machine, I am waiting for the Advil to take effect, I am waiting for my knee to stop feeling like it’s made of wood and stuffed with cotton, I am waiting for the documents from the War Crimes archives in Germany to arrive.
I can cross one thing off that list. The documents are here.
We are hanging streamers and blowing up balloons, stuffing candy in a Pikachu pinata and planning party games. A birthday cake that looks vaguely like Cookie Monster sits on top of the stove. ZooPals plates are arranged around the table, Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Donkey is taped to the wall. I have forgotten to buy drinks, and now Jon has to run to Pathmark 20 minutes before the first guests are due to arrive.
It’s Jude’s birthday party, and the twelve children who we have invited will start filling the living room any minute now. But I am holding a paper in my hand with Seelinger’s signature on it. I run my fingers over it, the neat lines and loops and whorls. The handwriting is pretty, formal, beautifully articulated. I’m an artist–I notice these things.
This is the culmination of a journey I started upon five years ago, the first time I typed the word “Wlodawa” into Google, and followed it with “Selinger.” It’s thrilling, devastating, awe-provoking and intimidating to flip the pages, to see the names and places from my mother’s stories leap off the photocopies. It’s a kind of validation. It all really happened, in this place, at that time, look, here’s a witness’ testimony, it’s all true, and here are the facts.
Here’s the thing. They’re in German, I don’t understand a word. I will have to find a translator. Where, I don’t know. I live in a cute little suburb in New Jersey. Where do I go? The German department in Columbia? The friend of a friend who lives in the city?
There are legal implications to this knowledge. To protect their privacy, I am not allowed to write about what I find until the people in these papers have been dead for 30 years. I puzzle over this. The truth is, I am on a mission of reconciliation. If good has been done, even if it was 65 years ago, I would like to reward it, or at least write about it.
But what if the worst is true? What if he did rat on Falkenberg, a brave man who was responsible for saving 500 Jewish lives, landing him in a concentration camp until the end of the war? What if he did have all the Jews at Adampol shot in 1943 when the camp was dissolved, as I read in one of my books?
He saved my family. He didn’t have to. He did it because he liked my grandfather. He saved many others, as well. Does that make a man Righteous Among the Gentiles?
The doorbell rings, my daughter shouts that the first guest has arrived. He must have a balloon, we must put on the music. The infectious intonations of “The Hamster Dance” pound through the house. Carefully, I slide the sheaf of papers back into the envelope. There will be plenty of time to investigate the past. Right now, it’s time for real life.