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  • Writer's pictureCamilla Maccaferri

My grandmother is a number

My grandmother is a number written on the forearm, on the left arm I think, or maybe it was the right one, I'm not sure.

On my left forearm I have a tattoo with the initials of my grandparents, but hidden in a tangle of brambles, the circle of life, the forget-me-nots: something that if seen from the outside is unrecognizable and, when they ask me what it represents , if I want to feel my eyes burn and my voice tremble, I tell the whole story, otherwise I just say it's a drawing by a dear friend of mine. Which is also very true.

My grandmother is a number that I don't even remember, but in the photo in my parents' house, for a strange coincidence, she wears a robe with vertical blue stripes, which drove me in total confusion as a child, because they told me about when she had been in the concentration camps in a striped uniform. I knew that in that photo she was much older than when she had been in Germany, but that robe, in my head, overlapped the uniform of the inmates and I thought that maybe she was unable to get rid of that fucking uniform for her entire lifetime.

My grandmother looked a lot like me, they have always told me, but I don’t have the only really beautiful thing she had, long black, wavy and silky hair: I have some kind of fine spaghetti, which I then slaughtered with dyes and, since I suffer from when I am a girl with trichotillomania (it means that I purposely pull my hair out when I am stressed, that is practically always), they look even more disgusting than they should.

I carry her name, I have a tattoo where she had it, or at most on the other side (but I can't tell right from left anyway), and I have nothing in common with her, except that hers suffering, distilled, fermented, refermented and aged in a couple of generations, it is still here today that consumes my soul.

For those fucking Nazis in the picture my father had painted and that is in my parents' house, in the large dining room where all occasions are celebrated, where my birthdays were celebrated as a child, those two shitty Nazis trampling dead bodies and, immediately behind, the portrait of my handcuffed grandmother. With the blue striped dressing robe and the sad eyes of a beaten dog, as in the photo in which she struggles to smile.

For those tricolor certificates to the heroes of the Second World War hanging in the living room, the medals, the books, the magazines of the red triangle, the celebrations of April 25 where I had to read, on the microphone, his testimony, with the people watching me, like: “She is the niece, poor thing, she bears her name”.

For my grandmother's grave, far from all family members, far from her parents, from her husband, there, among the heroes of the Resistance, people scattered in the frozen German fields, people passed through the chimney, dead people shot on the forecourt of elementary schools on April 25, the same schools I attended. Unknown, united for eternity by a shitty destiny.

Heroes. Martyrs. Or maybe people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Eternally alone.

My grandmother is the loneliness that she carried inside her whole life, the horror that consumed her slowly, like a toxic mold, and no one at the time planned to accompany her on a rehabilitation path for post-traumatic pain, the return home after what she lived, skeletal, rejected, impure, unwanted by anyone because "who knows what they have done to her, poor thing". We are all poor things, the Camillas of the house.

That loneliness that I also felt when I was studying war at school and I saw her, that blue striped robe and those sad eyes of a beaten dog, and I thought that for others it was just a subsidiary page to learn by heart and for me instead, it was written in blood.

That visceral anger that devoured me when as a kid someone drew swastikas thinking they were funny, rebellious and I felt outraged and at the same time I thought: "But why am I not allowed the lightness of not giving a fuck, why do I have to feel so humiliated and, at the at the same time, forced to feel indignant for not betraying my blood? "

That inner cold when I heard people say: "My grandfather also fought the war", and I just wanted to scream yes, you stupid dickhead, but he wasn't in the concentration camps to see the Gestapo playing volleyball with the heads of the children, he did not see the officers chasing the Jews with an ax and whoever smashed the most skulls won, he was not in the infirmary of a mad doctor with a bug in his ear and he did not hear: "You are lucky because usually those who enter there no longer go out, but you also saved yourself, because while you were away they have gassed your entire dormitory ".

That sense of isolation that I feel when still today someone asks me: "But if you are not Jewish, why has your grandmother been in the concentration camps?" And I also feel guilty for not being Jewish, for not having the right to carry within the legacy of horror.

That sense of extreme unease that I feel every time I feel out of place - that is, every day, every minute, every second of my life - and then I think about how spoiled I am to spit in the face of my white bourgeois privileges, when only a handful decades ago the blood of my blood was rotting in Bergen Belsen and it is only for a million lucky events that I am here, me, now.

It would have taken a second, a click of a gun, a whim of an exalted jerk in an idiot's uniform, a fit of a stirred dog, not to see me here, now. And it's a vicious circle of guilty feelings that graft onto each other like a crazy Tetris, like that joke they told me in junior high about Hitler playing Tetris with Jews by throwing them off the cliff and I laughed, feeling like shit, but I laughed because evil is neutralized only by laughing, right? Like Chaplin in The Great Dictator. But I have never been able to ask my grandmother if he had made her laugh. Perhaps to those who marched in the snow among the dead, in the midst of the ashes of charred bodies, Chaplin was not that funny at all.

My grandmother is a number and, like all numbers, she is one and only. And I am too, the one and only, to tell a story that is not and will never be mine but which, damn God or whoever has allowed all this, still, after almost eighty years, tears my bowels and forces me to take medicines to avoid thinking, to sit in front of a psychiatrist and spend ninety euros an hour (ninety fucking euros that I would like to charge the Goebbels heirs, if there are any) to figure out how to unravel this fucking skein of thread barbed wire that got tangled in my brain.

If I keep staring at the abyss. At the stars. At the tricolor. At the red triangles. At the medals. At the lines. At the forearms. At the numbers.

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