Guest post by Jonathan Zimmerman
I am a haunted man. Each and every day, ghastly apparitions from times gone by besiege my consciousness. Often it seems only I can see them. But I know there are others out there just like me, living in a state of constant vigil against an enemy whose name we dare not speak, for we know it would be met by a chorus of unsympathetic shrugging by our brethren. â€œIt was so long ago,â€ they’d say, sipping on unsweetened iced tea, â€œEverything has changed since then. Move on.â€
They are right, of course. There is no rational reason to behave like I do. I am not proud that when I am at the dog park I actively avoid associating with the German Sheppard owners. I am not proud that every time I see two or more Mercedes driving down the street, I reflexively turn my head to make sure Leni Riefenstahl isn’t behind me with a camera. I am not proud that I still get shivers when I think about the time I had to fly Lufthansa Airlines and they made us stop-over inâ€”gasp!â€”Frankfurt.
I don’t want you to think that this is who I am. I was raised to have love and respect for all nouns, be they people, places or things. But I was also raised to believe that some of those people from some of those places want to do horrible things to me. I have been trained to feel violently ill, if not outright violent, toward the ineffectual nebbish caricature I am supposed to embody. As a kid, I witnessed more than a few polite dinner conversations ruined by the graphic tale of what my father would do if he ever got his hands on a real, live Nazi. â€œI’d gouge his eyes out with my thumbs,â€ he’d say, â€and place them high up in dinning room so every holiday he’d have to watch a bunch of Jews celebrating.â€
I too have a burning Nazi bloodthirst, though it has been somewhat sated by Wolfenstein, the mid-90s computer game that allowed you to kill endless Nazis in all sorts of rewarding ways (OK, they were more like Nazi zombies, but lets not split perfectly blond hairs). Even though the game’s final bossâ€”robo-Hitler with rocket launchersâ€”was little more than a 16-bit blob with a mustache, spreading his digital guts on my computer screen remains the most therapeutic moment of my life.
They have always appeared in the most surprising places, the apparitions. I am a young film student enthralled by the work of Billy Wilder, only later discovering his escape from Germany and his family’s subsequent demise. I am enjoying an indie rock recordâ€”â€œIn An Aeroplane Over the Seaâ€ by Neutral Milk Hotel â€” when a friend informs me that the lead singer composed the songs in a fever-dream obsession with Anne Frank. I am stunned to learn that in South Korea they have Nazi-themed bars and skin care commercials with Hitler as the spokesman. I share this with others and they seem nonplussed.
These revelations do not ruin, confirm, diminish, enhance, alter or inform anything. They are the background noise to a life that happens to be lived in the â€œpostâ€ section of the most important chapter in my people’s history. These apparitions, as I call them, are more like ripples from a rock that has already sunk to the bottom of the pond. It just happens that I am more acutely aware of them than others, but this does not make my reality any more valid. The ripples will eventually fade; another rock will take its place.
At times I think I’ve moved on. My fiancÃ© wants us to visit Berlin on our honeymoon; they have wonderful art, she says. She was a public art student but ended up taking a job at a museum outside the art world. Can you guess what type of museum? We moved to an apartment complex across the street. Whenever I look out the window, I see six black obelisks stretching into the sky. I go jogging in the park and pass the museum with every lap. â€œNever Forgetâ€, the sign out front says with each pass. â€œDuhâ€, I reply.
The apparitions do not haunt my fiancÃ© despite her dealing with them directly every day. Her job is to organize and present history, to institutionalize and compartmentalize it. When she leaves the museum they remain in the same box she left them in. She sometimes has nightmares but they are always of specific images or stories, which she can point to in a text or audio recording. There is comfort in that.
I don’t find comfort in the books and institutions, the holidays and remembrances. I don’t even find comfort in killing zombie Nazis anymore. I find comfort in these words from, who else, Billy Wilder: â€œThe optimists died in the gas chambers; the pessimists have pools in Beverly Hills.â€ From my apartment in mid-city Los Angeles I can see the Beverly Hills mansions I’d like to own one day and the replicated gas chambers I can’t escape now. As long as Billy’s pessimism surges through me I know that I will always remain haunted. But in the end, I’d much rather die in a Beverly Hills pool than live in a gas chamber.
Jonathan Zimmerman is a writer and recent graduate of the MFA film program at the University of Southern California. He has written for many online publications including The Los Angeles Review of Books and Indie Wire. Follow him at https://twitter.com/#!/TheRealZimShadi where he will be tweeting from his upcoming hike on the Appalachian Trail.