måndag 6 mars 2017

Our names carry our history

- But Stefan Lindmark is not a Jewish name, she said, my Christian friend.
- So what is a Jewish name then? I asked her.
- Well, she said, Braun, Weiss, Goldstein, Einstein, Levin, you know, names like that? she replied.
- Yes, and Cohen, she added, the priest name. And first names of course - like Moses, Aaron, Isaac and David - yes, names like that.

- So how did the names become Jewish names then? I asked her, - Do you know? I mean names such as Gold, Braun, Weiss and so on. They are no biblical names, right!?
- Oh, I really don’t know, she admitted. She looked questioningly at me, perhaps realising that she had not thought of it earlier. - How did they do it? How did they become Jewish names?
- The authorities of Austria-Hungary once decided that all Jews should have a last name, and not just their Hebrew names. They had to pay money for the nice names of course, and those who could not pay enough or were too poor were given the names that were left over; simple names, like Weiss for example, which was my grandmother's maiden name - or offensive names, like Einstein, ”one testicle”.
She looked at me, a little surprised and seemed unsure if she wanted to giggle or be dismayed. I continued:
- After a few generations you now associate those names with being Jewish - but the purpose was the exact opposite. Einstein is not exactly a name with negative connotations nowadays - don’t you agree? She nodded.
- But the origin tells a story, for those who want to know.
- Yeah - but what about ”Lindmark” then? she said. Many thousands of Swedes are named Lindmark. It’s a very Swedish name! And "Stefan" is as Swedish as it gets! she exclaimed.
- That's right, I said, and that's exactly the point!
- Really!? she said in surprise, - There is a point?

- I, like all Jews, have a Hebrew name, I said. It’s ”Shaul ben Itzhak". Saul, the son of Isaac. Isaac was my grandfather.
- But what about Lindmark? she asked.
- I could have taken my mother's maiden name, which is more Jewish-sounding, but I kept the name Lindmark, which was my father's name, I said.
- Why? she asked.

- Well, this is how it is, I said. - I am the son of a survivor from Auschwitz-Birkenau. My mother arrived in Sweden as a 23-year old human wreck after 14 months of captivity on planet Hell. Her whole life was destroyed. Everyone and everything she ever knew was gone. My mother, the daughter of a Hasidic mother and father. My mother, who witnessed several hundred thousand Hungarian Jews executed in the gas chambers located 30 meters from her, where she kept sorting clothes belonging those who who were being exterminated, while she day in and day out could hear their desperate screams. My mother, who Dr Mengele experimented on and my mother, who one day arrived on planet Sweden, where everyone was nice to her, but no one understood or knew anything about the hell of planet Auschwitz-Birkenau. How could they? Sweden was the country that stayed out of the war, which saved the barely 8000 Jews who lived here. Although the list was drawn upp and ready; the Swedish Nazis had everything prepared for deportation when the war ended.

- So, what choice had the young girls who came here? I said. - The survivors of hell had now ended up in what may have been perceived as Paradise, at least on earth. How would they continue to live on now? How could they? After what they had witnessed, the horrors they had lived through and somehow miraculously survived. How?
Many killed themselves and many others became psychological wrecks - but some of them did manage to start over. They built up a new map of life, in order to orient themselves forward in the new life they had been given on this new planet where there was peace and prosperity. They slowly began to go from surviving to being survivors. Life must go on.

- Finding a young Jewish man was not easy and for many of them impossible - and some of them found a decent Swedish boy. - So it was for my mother. Ingemar Lindmark came from the most northern parts of Sweden - so far north that even he had never even seen tomatoes in his entire life before - that’s how far.
Eventually they moved to a small town in central Sweden and together they built a new life. They had no relatives nearby; they were on their own. Then came the children. I, who should never have been born. And my siblings came; and with us, a new generation. And they protected us by making us as Swedish as possible and thus hide us - if the hunt for Jews were to start all over again. It was effective up to a certain limit! I grew up full of questions about all the things about our family I couldn’t understand. And there was a lot. For who can forever hide their appearance, their depressions, their headaches or the tattooed numbers on your arm?

- To make a very very long story short:
When I was in my 30’s I had finally seen through my parent's clever scheme and decided to start living a traditional Jewish life, and thereby my name became an issue. Some of my contemporaries - who had also Swedish names like me - chose to take their relatives' names.
- However, I felt that my last name is too part of the Holocaust, or rather the way back to life  after the Holocaust. I have all my life felt that the Nazis did not want to kill my mother for what she had done, but for who she was. If the jewishness died in just one generation, the Nazis would have had succeeded - and I did not intend to let that happen.

- So - what you ask is exactly what I want the Jews (and others) to do in future generations, to ask: - How did Lindmark become a Jewish name? Then my answer would be the following.
- Of the children of the survivors about 10-15% have been diagnosed with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) due to being raised by severely traumatised parents. The road back to a vibrant Jewish life was sometimes lifelong. They had to work hard for it and fight for it, in order to dare to be Jews and to dare to raise their children to be Jews. History and experience show that it takes about seven generations before the shadows from the past are gone.

- Today, the name Lindmark - and Svensson and Pettersson and Karlsson - are also Jewish names, as a reminder of the struggles people who bore them - and still do - lived through, in order to carry the banner forward. If they could, then we can also do it. Each generation must struggle in order to find their own identity. And keeps it. All generations must struggle with Anti-Semitism when it once again rears its ugly head - and it always does - and everyone has to decide for themselves - am I brave enough, do I have the strength to live a traditional Jewish life - or should I not?

Then our names will remain there as a monument for those who protested by safeguarding life and who resumed the life that existed before the Holocaust wiped out 1500 years of European Jewish life and culture. Those who fought against the Nazis by standing up for the values ​​that made us, and made us even more a living people, 4000 years after we became a living nation.
- Those who struggled to restore all the victims of the attempted and nearly complete extermination of our people. Those who refused to give up, talking and shouting to us through their names, that we also have to take responsibility - that is my wish and my hope.

- Oops! she said then, my Christian friend. You are a stubborn lot, you are.
- Yes, we are, I said. - We protest by being there, I said, and we live in our history. - We are a part of our history and we have taken our place there again.