The day after D-Day (70 years later)
Today, 70 years plus one day after D-Day, I turned to The New York Times Arts section and found three stories directly related to World War II and our ongoing processing of that horrendous time. Being a hopeless addict of historical ephemera was immediately drawn in to a review of “The Power of Words and Images in a World at War,” an exhibition just opened at the Grolier Club in Boston. On display are the iconic and memory tweaking images, posters, propaganda items as well as photos and other materials from the era. Just the kind of thing I can get lost in for hours.
Below that article I saw a photo of the writer Kurt Tucholsky, under the headline “Giving a Satirist of the Third Reich the Last Laugh.” Now, Kurt Tucholsky has been one of my favorite writers since I was a child, not because of any Nazi satire he wrote, but instead for his masterpiece “Wo Kommen die Löcher im Käse her?” (“Where do the holes in the cheese come from?”) My parents owned a recording of this short story—written almost entire in dialogue—that documents the hilarious descent of polite dinner party conversation into name-calling, disinheritances and dissolutions of business contracts over the replies to a little boy’s innocent question about his piece of Emmentaler cheese. I listened to it so much that I can still recite entire passages of it now. It is a brilliant take on conventions of politeness and manners, relationships among family members and friends, and our general social structure.
Of course the Nazis hated Tucholsky. He had them so perfectly figured out and his biting wit seared their hateful bombast and pretend culture. They burned his books and stripped him of his German citizenship. He fled to Sweden, where he committed suicide in 1935 at the age of 45. Happily, his works are now being translated and published in English by Berlinica, so I may no longer have to attempt to translate the hilarity of explaining where the holes in cheese come from to my perplexed and only slightly bemused husband.
Then, before I had even finished my tea, I found another short piece about a case of Nazi looted art – specifically two paintings by Lucas Cranach the Elder that were taken from the Dutch dealer Jacques Goudstikker. The paintings are now at the Norton Simon Museum via a long story, but the dealer’s daughter-in-law persists in reclaiming them for her family. A court has now ruled that the case may proceed. True fact: in the first draft of The Roses Underneath, the painting of note found in the stolen stash was to be one by Lucas Cranach the Younger, but I changed my mind and opted for Philip Otto Runge instead. Just because. That’s one of the fun things about writing novels
It struck me that on June 7, 2014, 70 years removed from the allied invasion and 69 years after the end of the war, these three articles about World War II on a single day, related and yet not, were still imbued of life and activity – a court case, a new publication and a new exhibition— all advancing our attempt to comprehend and come to terms to with history. I know the stories of World War II will never run out, as long as we keep telling them.