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One day in 1982, I went to see “Sophie’s Choice” with my father. It was a movie that “made waves” that year. So, we sat calmly watching it, but when they started showing smoke coming out of Auschwitz chimneys as part of Meryl Streep’s (“Sophie’s”) flashback interspersed with scenes of post-war reality in which the male lead, “Stingo”, was in love with the post-war “Sophie”, my father got up from his seat and started walking towards the exit, making people in the same row hurriedly get up to let him pass. I followed him, even though I did not know why he was leaving. People sitting on our right and our left whispered at us in a condemning way, I do not remember exactly what they said, but it was something like, “It’s a sacrilege to leave during these scenes, when smoke is coming out of Auschwitz chimneys, you should know this is real, you should know history, etc.” I was a little embarrassed: I did not like being subjected to this whispered disapproval of our neighbors for my father’s decision to walk out of the movie. When we came out into the foyer, my father said that he did not need to see the smoke coming out of the chimneys, because those scenes were a profanation, that’s why he didn’t want to watch them. In the following months some of my friends went to see the movie, and when they praised it, I repeated my father’s words about it: “The scenes with the smoke were a profanation,” without really knowing why my father called it that – I just sensed something, without being able to articulate it, until many years later, in the late nineties – early zeroes, I began digging into our family history and unearthed names and biographies of some forty family members (approximately twenty on each side – paternal and maternal) who had been shot in the forests of Latvia and the Ukraine. Those scenes of smoke on the screen were a profanation to my father in the same way as, say, hearing a stranger go on and on, with fake emotion, about your mother, who is gone and whom he could not have known, is profanation. They are my dead – don’t touch them with your unclean hands.
About Nina Kossman
Nina Kossman is a bilingual poet, memoirist, playwright, short story writer, novelist, and artist. She has published, edited, or edited and translated nine books of poetry and prose. Her work has appeared in over ninety magazines and anthologies and has been translated into many languages, including French, Italian, Greek, Hebrew, Spanish, Danish, Persian, and Japanese. She received several awards and fellowships. Her plays have been produced in several countries.
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