One day after I first wrote about him (which you can read here), my mother received confirmation of his death with scant details. This is what she sent me:
He was brought to Kalmenhof on 4/13 and died two days later. The official causes of death were: born with idiocy, TB and malnourishment. It was common for the children to only live for two days once they were brought there. They weren’t given much food during that time and the TB and malnourishment were likely cover ups because they couldn’t just say idiocy. They have no idea where all of the bodies are buried. Parents were not allowed to say good bye and all received letters that their children had acquired a severe sickness and then the death notification came following that. They were killed with either morphine or luminal injections. They wanted to hide how many kids they killed and that’s why they had mass graves rather than return the bodies.
I wrote about you a couple weeks ago, and just one day after that, we found out what happened and where you last were. But …your sister (my grandmother…) says that you were away from home for a lot longer than just the two days you were at that horrible Kalmenhof. Where were you before? And how long?Wherever it was I’m sure you were scared. Wherever it was they didn’t feed you, or at least not very much. You must have been so hungry. We don’t know anything about you so I wonder all the time about what things you might have liked. What was your favorite food? And is that what you were thinking about when your belly rumbled with emptiness? Or were just too lonely for your mum and sister and brother and father?
My grandmother told us something else about you: you had quite a head of blonde hair. I often close my eyes and try to picture it, and the rest of you along with it, trying to conjure you from the thin air of my imagination….your soft head of blonde hair followed by your face and eyes (what color were your eyes?), then your arms and body and legs. What were you wearing when they came to the house to take you away? Maybe a sweater and long pants at least since it was probably the winter. What did they have your mother pack to bring with you? Not that would have mattered: I bet they didn’t let you keep whatever it was. But I imagine you anyway, yet again, perhaps clutching a teddy bear, and having that taken away. You might not have cried because I guess you were very quiet at home, and sat in a play pen all day, staring off at something in the distance that no one else could see. I cry and my heart squeezes so tight when I think of you all alone.
I think of you every day, Werner. I want to bring you home. I want to know you; I want the world to know you. But I can’t see you. I only see a worn out teddy bear, hanging in space.
I promise to write again.
Note: The featured image is of the Kalmenhof, and superimposed over that is the name of my uncle, his birth and death date, as he is listed among the victims of the euthanasia program at the Kalmenhof.
I was going to hold off on publishing this now in light of what is happening in the world with the Covid-19 pandemic. But on second thought, I suspect that all of us will have many dark thoughts in the coming months and weeks as we reflect during self-isolation, and in order to get to a lighter place, as well as make peace with the shadows that haunt us, one must give form to the darkness and the ghosts carried inside. Words have that power–for not only do they spring from our minds and hands, once they are on paper we can hold them, and so can others.