Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Monday, March 04, 2013

II. Things I didn't understand--the mailman

Or think of the mailman.

Everyday, ours stops at the end of the lane to stuff our mailbox with a half dozen letters and cards we'd just as soon not receive.  Only occasionally is there something first-class, something actually penned by a real-live human being.  It probably makes her day to find one amid all that advertising.  It does ours.

It's quite impossible, or so it seems, that she doesn't begin to read a pattern in our stop--our mailbox, and hence, us.  "Well, isn't that nice?--the Schaaps got two letters today, one from Denver.  Wonder if they've got relatives."  Or how about this? Five or six thick ones arrive in big, colored envelopes.  There's a birthday.  She's got to know.  She doesn't have to be gossipy to read the mail.

Now if she were in the Netherlands early in 1941, say, and bringing mail, she would undoubtedly come to the same conclusions.  "Hmmm, the De Jongs have relatives in Den Haag? I didn't know that."

When the Nazi occupation began and resistance groups started moving Jewish people around, no one believed the war would last five years and very few could have guessed the German intent was to kill, in cold blood, 140,000 men, women, and children.  No one could have bent their mind around Auschwitz.

So the mail flowed, and it flowed from the Jews in hiding to Jews in hiding.  Mailmen must have been confounded. The de Jongs suddenly got first-class mail they'd never, ever received before--and day after day, too.  From Amsterdam, from Den Haag, from Rotterdam--ordinary farm folks, dairymen and women with cousins or something from the city.  Very strange.

And then the Germans took out newspaper ads that made it clear to the Dutch populace that anyone who hid Jews would be treated like one. Hide Jews and you'd better hide yourself--and your family. 

Furthermore, ratting meant big bucks. If a neighbor told authorities that the family just up the road had a bunch of odd-looking strangers with dark hair living with them, those good law-abiding collaborators could be rewarded handsomely with their neighbor's property.  

Not only did you stand to make good money and gain good buddies in high places by turning in the neighbors, if you didn't turn in the neighbors you could lose, big time.  By not saying anything, you were putting your family, your farm, your way of life entirely at risk.

Think of the mailman.  He had to know.  Whether or not he ever hid a Jew, he had to know that others were, and the simple fact is he never, ever had to see one.  He'd know.  The flow of mail changed drastically.  He had to know.

Think of the mailman, putting his life--and the life of his family on the line--even if he didn't choose to, even when he'd have much rather just turned around and never noticed. He couldn't help it.  Think of the things the mailman couldn't say.

Think of the him, losing sleep.  Think of the man in his house, middle of the night, his children asleep, the forboding silence all around suddenly broken by the piercing wail of Nazi sirens. Think of his fear.


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