Wednesday, June 21, 2017
What can't be lost
I'm not sure where it came from, or even what relative gave it to my parents, but tucked away in a bank vault in Sioux Center, Iowa, in a strongbox under our name, is a cloth banner--just a small one, maybe eight inches square--adorned with an eagle, wings unfurled, above a small, black swastika. I'd show you, but it's locked up.
When I was a kid, I thought it was an armband, but if it were it would have to have belonged to a child. It's the size of the numbers marathoners pin to their shirts, no bigger.
I'm not sure why it's in a bank vault, but I know why it isn't down here among a thousand other artifacts--Dutch books, old Bibles, yellowing pictures, and even a samurai sword my dad took home from the South Pacific in 1945. That one Nazi artifact is not here, framed and up on a wall, because putting it up somewhere down here, seventy-some years after Auschwitz and Dachau, still seems obscene.
Back in grade school--I couldn't have been older than ten or so--the teacher asked us to bring in things from the war. All of our fathers went, after all. By the time we'd lugged our stuff to school--I'm sure my samurai went--the back counter was full of swastikas, even a German flag as big the any Stars-and-Stripes the school owned. All of that Nazi stuff is, I'd guess, still tucked away in Oostburg attics sixty years later. Nobody'd toss it, but only very scary people would unfurl a Nazi flag across a wall as den decor.
So it's not surprising that Argentinian officials had to step through a hidden doorway and make passage down a secret hallway to find a stash of Nazi artifacts unlike any in size or character since 1945. According to yesterday's Washington Post, the objects included "a bust relief of Hitler, magnifying glasses embossed with swastikas (as well as a photo of Hitler holding the same or a similar instrument), a large statue of an eagle above a swastika, silverware, binoculars, a trumpet and a massive swastika-studded hourglass"--75 items in all, and not just any grunt's war booty.
Some big names--Eichmann, Mengele--slithered away to Argentina in the final days of Third Reich, several of them taking up residence in the neighborhood where the collection was located. Included were photographs of Hitler holding some of items, as if to authenticate their value.
School kids who visit the Sioux County Museum can't help but notice backward swastikas on a wall-sized, horsehide Native American painting. They adorn a wigwam under siege during a battle between the U. S. Calvary and the Sioux, the Battle of Slim Buttes. Bloodied Natives and soldiers are all over, but inevitably some mystified kid will raise his hand and point at the swastika. That symbol remains powerful, even today, even with kids so young their great-grandparents were born after the war.
The only item from that incredible Argentinian collection I'd ever think about owning is the hourglass. Even though 75 years have passed since a little mustached man determined the world would be a better place if he ruled it and the Jews were all dead, someday--maybe a hundred years from now--maybe der Fuhrer will be forgotten. That would be a good thing.
But I don't know that we should ever stop tipping that hourglass over, that we should ever forget what happened. Losing our fear of him may well be a blessing, but we do ourselves wrong by ever losing track of the darkness in each of us, the pride at the heart of our fallen humanity.
When we forget our need of grace, we need to take that hour-glass and turn it over once again. We always will.
Posted by J. C. Schaap at 6:46 AM