Six and a Half Guilders per Jew

One of my old memories I can’t seem to shake is of a movie I saw in history class in junior high. Although calling it a “movie” is a stretch, as is using the term “history”. It wasn’t so much a movie as it was a serialized fictional historical docuseries based on Anne Frank’s final days in hiding. And the class wasn’t history per se, as lower American education doesn’t like to present historical facts nearly as much as providing an Americanized historical narrative, i.e. “Social Studies”. And I think this memory resurfaced because for one, it was an unsolved problem that my mind had filed away for future rumination; and two, that the current Israeli-Hamas conflict rekindled my ire for the aforementioned narrative.

The narrative goes something like this: the Jews, long an unfairly hated and persecuted people, became the ultimate victims of Nazi Germany’s “final solution”, wherein they were systematically murdered. America, either ignorant or unbelieving of the genocide, forced the world with Britain’s help to face the truth. Nazi leaders were tried for war crimes at Nuremberg and executed, and the Jews were granted their own nation state of Israel, enforced by western powers.

To question this narrative is to risk accusations of antisemitism.

The problem with this story is that it ends. What’s not taught in American schools is the aftermath: Israeli militarization, persecution of the Palestinians, Israeli-backed political assassinations, Israeli cyber attacks (Stuxnet). Or their ancient history of of violence: Zealots, Sicarii.

To mention this is to risk accusations of antisemitism.

The aftermath revealed more than anything that yes, the Jews are people. But they’re not an overly altruistic people. They’re just people, who now have the upper hand. And people who have the upper hand rarely compromise or forget old grievances. As an American who lived through the entirety of the 20-year Afghanistan War, I see this all too well with my own people.

Did the Americans feel bad for the Jews after World War II and use their influence to finally grant them their own safe harbor, or see an opportunity to exploit Allied sentiment and gain an unconditional friend and forward base with which to secure interests in the Middle East?

And did the Israelis in turn exploit their western backing to rekindle a grievance with old enemies? Did this increased hostility force a backlash and spark the Israeli-Hamas conflict? Some students and faculty at Harvard thought so.

And they were quickly accused of antisemitism.

I’ll leave these thoughts without my own conclusions.

Because I don’t want to be accused of antisemitism.


The movie followed the “adventure” of a neo-Nazi who for some reason visits the Holocaust museum in D.C. alone. I’m not sure who let a skinhead with swastika tattoos into such an exhibit, but whatever. Inside, the exhibitions burst into the surrealistic ether, swirling about Mr. Skinhead, which I presume is meant to indicate a religious experience, further enhanced by a Morgan Freeman-esque character who then appears to explain the error of Skinhead’s ways by sending him to live a simulation as a Jew in hiding with the Franks.

Things don’t work out for him. There’s a “surprising” personality clash and he leaves, gets arrested by the Gestapo, and betrays the Franks who then get arrested. Skinhead feels remorse, thus delivering the heavy-handed message.

The Gestapo captain then tells Skinhead that they normally pay 6.5 guilders per Jew, but where he’s going, he won’t need it; then proceeds to level a Luger at Skinhead’s skinhead before a cutaway. There doesn’t appear to be a historical consensus on who informed on the Frank family, so I guess time-travel isn’t ruled out.

So what’s 6.5 guilders worth? A brief history lesson of the German guilder reveals that its usage was discontinued late 19th century, so I figured this to be creative license. Then I remembered Anne Frank wasn’t living in Germany. She was in the Neatherlands. Turns out the Dutch were still using their own version of the guilder, which still has an active currency code of ANG. So 6.5ANG = 3.63USD. Anne Frank was arrested in 1944, so a little handy inflation calculator tells me that Anne Frank was sold out for $62.56 in today’s money, or $375.36 for the whole family of 6. A nice little sum I suppose?

Closure at last, though I can’t find any reliable account that this was the actual going rate.


And no – there isn’t a conclusion to this post. Just a rambling train of thought based on contemporary events.

–Simon

Memories 05

[A continuation of the series where I write down fragments of my life that exist in my memory as standalone instances, still vivid due to their novel or unusual nature]

School busses of my Lubbock childhood didn’t actually go into neighborhoods. Instead, they traveled between the city’s schools. So in order for me to catch the bus to my Junior High, I had to first go to the High School 2 miles away. It was an odd logistical system, especially since my sisters, due to age spacing, attended other schools, and in order to catch those busses, had to in turn go to other schools in the morning. Because the routing didn’t simply send all busses to just one nearby school. Oh no – too easy. Lubbock’s population density was pretty sprawling, too, so it wasn’t as if mom could have just driven us all to our destination schools. Instead, she drove us all to our point of pickup schools. This of course meant that every morning I was trapped in the Chevy Nova with two sisters and a mom. And since mornings always bring out the best in people, the routine wasn’t exactly enjoyable.

Now, I’m fairly certain that my mother hates all human males. As do my sisters. The verdict’s still out on how much, exactly, but they have a lengthy rap sheet of ex-husbands and ex-boyfriends, sooooo…

It’s easier to overlook youthful arguments with my sisters though, since, you know, sibling children always argue. But with mother I always felt that she was taking out her own childhood issues on me, while also trying to groom me into a…something less masculine. It’s not as if she were trying to make me a woman in the strictest sense of the word, but more like I should behave less man-like. As in, stereotypical masculine-like personality traits were tampered: confidence, competitive drive, too big an ego, etc. Traits my father exhibited regularly.

One of the ways she did this was through extreme belittlement if I ever said something unusual/incorrect or used a word wrong – then constantly bring up whatever I said so no one would ever forget and the experience could constantly be invoked to belittle me further (anyone who had a boomer mom talk extra loud to her own mother one the phone so she could be sure you could hear her would know what I’m referring to).

For example, one day I read an article on indoor farming, wherein was explained an experiment to extend the number of consecutive hours of lighting the plants were exposed to, essentially artificially changing the day/night cycle. For whatever reason, that sounded cool to me at the time, and I wanted to share what I read with mom. But I made the mistake of explaining it as: they give the plants 36 hours of light a day, to which my mother interrupted to explain there were only 24 hours in a day so that didn’t make sense. Further attempts to explain were brushed off with commentary on my intelligence, while my sisters joined in with the jeering. Every morning for months mom recounted that story during the morning drive to school.

But that memory isn’t the focus of this post, because I have a weirder one – also a morning drive belittlement attempt.

One morning my inquisitive mind asked what flour was. As in, the culinary ingredient. I was curious because it went into a lot of meals, and all I knew about it was that it made messes in the kitchen and I’d be assigned vacuuming duty. Cue the lesson on using a dictionary instead of asking mom. A normal explanation would have been something like: “It’s ground grain.” Not a completely accurate definition but close enough for a kid. I had already correctly assumed it was made from wheat (which is the most common type of American flour), but mother simply exclaimed “It’s flour!”

The remainder of the conversation went something like this:

“But what’s it made from?”

“Flour!”

“Okay, but it is made from wheat or something?”

“It’s made from flour!”

“So not ground wheat?”

“Flour!”

“So flour is a plant? Flour comes from the flour plant?”

“It’s flour!”

At this point, as per usual, my sisters starting chiming in with the belittling, chanting “It’s flour! It’s flour!” Thus ended my line of inquiry.

What a bizarre experience to have in the 7th grade. I had deduced the correct answer, but rather than simply affirming it, and by doing so validate me, mother turned the conversation into one of her belittling opportunities by denying me the confirmation. And for years after, I was under the assumption the flour was itself an agricultural crop. And my sisters, who probably didn’t either know or care, probably shared belief in that “knowledge” too.

Why would a parent dissuade their own child from the pursuit of information? Or mock the child for trying to independently learn and discuss knowledge? Or, lead the kid into accepting false information? I still think it was as simple as her hating men, and trying to discourage my own development of becoming an independently-thinking man (Down with the Patriarchy!) Whatever the rationale, the conversation still confuses me to this day.

–Simon

Memories 04

Sights were calibrated, parallax was minimal.  A manufacturing quirk placed the impact point slightly high and right, but I was already used to compensating for that.

The hardware: a Daisy Powerline 970

The projectile: .177 lead field pellets.

The target: an aluminum can (identity confirmed).

The range: whatever the width was from the grass to the far side of the tractor garage.

Vicinity was clear, devoid of sisters.  Windage was nill.  Time to engage.

I was no novice at this.  Taking too deep a breath would cause imbalance–too shallow and natural muscle twitches would be exacerbated.  I inhaled slightly more than a standard breath, held it, took approximate aim, and let the sights fall onto target as I slowly exhaled, squeezing the trigger in time with alignment.

The crack of expanding air indicated discharge.  The round, as expected, impacted the can with the standard ping, knocking it over.  More pumps would have increased velocity, preventing the can from falling.  But that was unnecessary at this range.  The target was down.

One shot.  One kill.  Time for exfil.

***

The average human reaction time is .215 seconds.

Along the projectile’s path, I noticed a small gray dot.  The dot became larger.  And in less than .215 seconds, the pellet I had just fired impacted my right cheekbone.

Yep

You’ll shoot your eye out with those things.

The lesson: check your background.  The barn siding was corrugated steel.  Some things only need to be learned once.

–Simon

Memories 03

So many required school readings are assigned at the wrong age.  Their impact is muffled beneath the page grind for the sole purpose of absorbing just enough so as to pass any potential quizzes the next day.  Furthermore, when taught at such a young age, the pupils don’t question the teacher’s authority, and so are limited to the teacher’s summary review of the story, even if it’s wrong.

For me, one such example is the novel A Separate Peace.  If you haven’t read it, then consider this the spoiler notice.

The story distills down to an event: a boy causes his friend to fall out of a tree and break his leg, ultimately proving fatal; and the core theme: why did he do that?  The protagonist revisits the series of events, as well as the scene, years later, to try to understand his prior actions.

And so we are led through the journey of a boy’s loss of innocence, stemming from an inferiority complex and jealousy (with the looming War in the background, to drive home the “loss of innocence” part).  The event, ultimately it is judged, was not an accident.  That was the conclusion of his peers, and it was the matter-of-fact conclusion of my teacher (I’ll note here that I did indeed dare to disagree with her on this at the time, but was promptly shot down).  So that was the lesson: make peace with yourself before you lash out (and don’t argue with your teacher over literature, I guess).

But it’s also wrong, or at least incomplete.  A simple lesson, fit for an adolescent.

We act out of our own insecurities, sure.  But while those actions might be visceral responses, they don’t necessarily reflect our desires.  They also begin a chain of unanticipated causality which leads to consequences we never wanted.  We blame ourselves for our mistakes, but also give ourselves huge allowances of forgiveness.  Time heals wounds because we both forget and minutely alter memories in our favor, and at some point the recollection of a life event is too corrupted to ever again realistically represent the truth.

The protagonist never achieves peace with what he did, and he understands that he never will.  It isn’t peace, but closure.  And sometimes that’s all we can hope for.  It’s enough to move on.

***

I stabbed a kid in high school.

Okay, that was dramatic.  But it brought me back to this book.

One particular day during band class, the various instrumental sections broke out into individual practice sessions, as was the norm.  Adjacent to the main room were a series of green rooms.  No, really.  Well, maybe changing rooms is more accurate–small partitions illuminated with those cinematographic Art Deco mirrors surrounded in spherical incandescent light bulbs (most of which were burnt out).

The goal, I suppose, was to allow each section to focus on their individual parts of the symphony.  In reality, I think the band instructor just wanted an extra hour break time.  He was a terrible instructor, but that’s another story.

Of course, during these sessions, most of the students just took a break themselves.  I played trumpet.  This is important because, as other band nerds might be aware, trumpet players as a whole are largely dicks.  So, irrespective of my own debatable magnitude of dickishness, I was stuck in a small room with several other dicks.  And dicks, locked in a room with other dicks, engaged in the expected assortment of dickish dickery directed towards other dicks.  A real dickfest, it was.

On this day, one of the dicks grew weary of the usual intellectual discourse.  Unexpectedly, he seized a mouthpiece cleaner.  This is niche knowledge, but a mouthpiece cleaner is essentially a short and wide pipe cleaner, but much stronger.  The bristles are interwoven with a central braid of 14-gauge wire.  And the wire, where clipped in manufacturing, was rather sharp.  By modern TSA standards, you would definitely not be allowed to take it on a plane.

For whatever reason, said dick decided to throw it at my face.  My reflexes, being honed by that point to account for dickish actions, responded adequately, and the implement bounced off the mirror behind me.

A different dick remarked, to his credit, that throwing it wasn’t a good idea as it was sharp.  I concurred, after examining it, and promptly threw it back at the face of the first dick, remarking in the process that it was sharp and to not be a dick and throw it at people.

The first dick also dodged and, apparently feeling the need to escalate, threw it back at my face with renewed gusto.

So in an instant, I responded with extreme escalation.

I retrieved the cleaner, held it as a shank, advanced on the first dick, and brought it down in a stabbing motion.

Now, I recall that the action was not meant to follow through, but rather intimidate.  Trouble is, I don’t remember for certain, and I think that was just me twisting memory in my favor, because I don’t recall what followed post-adrenaline dump, and things were in grainy tunnel vision.  The wire came down, dick put up his hand to block it, and the sharp points dug into his hand severe enough to warrant sutures.

As a post-Columbine high school student accustomed to zero-tolerance policies on violence, I fully expected expulsion, but I never heard about the event again.  Apparently, every one in that room had kept quiet.  All I can say with certainty is that it was the first time that I felt rage to the point of not understanding my own intentions, acting automatically without good judgement, and not remembering the followup.

It’s a far cry from killing, granted, but the desire was there and I took action counter to my higher cognitive functions, and I remain somewhat conflicted, trying to understand what I was actually going to do in that moment.  It was brief, and when he blocked, I stopped attacking.  But in that moment alone, had events transpired slightly differently, the results could have been so much more severe.

Did A Separate Peace‘s protagonist intend to kill his friend?  Probably not to that extreme, but the action held the violent intent, and we’re not meant to know how conscious or subconscious it was.

And the protagonist, and myself, will never fully know, either.

–Simon

Memories 02

During the Lubbock years I had a healthy relationship with girls as a whole, once I got over that awkward period of novel emotions and endless jibing from my parents, and accepted the naturalness of physical attraction.  Of course, in those early days, consorting was limited to hand-holding, sneaking hugs, and private conversations; but at the time, such simple actions held profound meaning.

So when we made the move to Toledo, and disrupted my friendship circle, and forced me into a vastly different culture (the Midwest is very different from West Texas), my solitude and slowness to adapt didn’t earn me too much positive attention from the Ohio variety of girl, which spiraled me into a new form of loneliness I had never before experienced.  A couple years of general sexual rejection would certainly be a rough spot for anyone in their adulthood, but it was especially tough during adolescence.

But there was one evening I was at a small gathering.  I had some friends by that point, and while the group was never terribly wild, it was still a nice respite from the overly-controlled atmosphere at home.  And there were girls who would talk to me.

I ended up alone with one particular girl, a pretty and flirtatious redhead, homely yet her eyes hinted at something enticingly troublesome.  She was, however, a freshman, and in those high school days that was strangely important to not be seen with an individual of such low social class, however falsely fabricated the concept was.  That image of status was sufficient to prevent me from pursuing her, for better or worse, though rather silly in hindsight.

But on this night, we walked together in the fading light and found ourselves alone, behind some trees.  We loitered there for a moment, facing each other.  She looked at me expectantly.

To this point, gentlemanly conditioning or pure cowardice had limited my physical involvement with young women–at least the ones who didn’t reject me outright.  But for the first time since Lubbock, I didn’t feel those reservations.  And I was older than I was in Lubbock.  Social activities had advanced beyond simple hand-holding.

Girls were also more developed by then.  I distinctly remember the pleasant novelty of my hands on her waist, pulling her feminine curves against me.

The rest of the experience requires no elaboration, suffice to say it was still restricted to educated white middle-class upbringing and expected social norms.

After that night, I still saw her at other gatherings, but I don’t remember talking with her much.  And eventually, as what happens to so many acquaintances over time, she faded away.

This memory is, unsurprisingly, very vivid to me, as I’m sure most of us have a similar story.  But…

One day I was organizing the basement and found my high school yearbooks.  I thought I’d look her up and see how well my memory matched the photo.  Except…I couldn’t find her.  She didn’t exist in any of the 3 yearbooks from my time there at that school.  It’s possible she attended the other high school in the city.  Circles of friends often overlapped districts.  But it is odd that I wouldn’t have remembered that part.

There’s a bit of a mystery here, possibly hinting at my level of sanity in those formative years, but I think I’ll just leave the mystery alone.

–Simon