Filed under fragments of memory, (most likely because of the trauma…)
So it’s hot. It’s summertime and I’m not in school. I’m 5 years old and have very recently learned to ride my bike, which I’m pretty pleased about.
My parents bought the entire series of large-format, bound Time-Life history books back when we lived in the US and I used to sit on the floor flicking through them. One part of those books was WWII and there were quite a lot of photos of Nazis.
For some reason I was fascinated by the swastika symbol. I was practising typography from an early age (my dad had me drawing Poster Bodoni from sample books from the time I could hold a pen) and so I practised drawing swastikas.
On this particular day (as I remember it - ie in fragments - I’m reconstructing here…) there was a bicycle race going through our town (Vaucresson, a western suburb of Paris) and crowds of spectators had gathered on the pavements out on the main road (we lived in a sort of residential estate off the main road). So, being keen on bicycles I decided I’d ride my bike out to the main road to see the race. I had seen races before, and I knew that bikes (or cars more likely) had number plates with big numerals on them.
So, my five-year-old brain decided the thing to do would be to carefully draw a big swastika and tape it to my bike’s handlebars.
I did a really good job, and felt quite proud about getting all the complicated lines exactly right. Feeling pleased with myself, I cycled out the drive and onto the main road.
This is where the actual memory is engraved in my mind.
I waddled my bike through the crowd, looking to see if I could see the racers, but all I could see was faces looking down at me. All of them looked angry. Extremely angry. Like I had done something terrible. Like they wanted to kill me.
I don’t remember how long I was out there in the crowd. I don’t think anyone took it on themselves to grab my ear and drag me away. As far as I can remember I got the message that me and my swastika were not welcome pretty quickly, and I retreated back into our estate.
At this point in the story, I have no recollection at all.
I must have pedalled home and run into the flat and probably cried a lot and was freaked out but none of that is retrievable for my memory. I don’t know where my Mum and my sister where at the time. I don’t remember talking to my Mum after that or getting support or explanations. I don’t know if there were repercussions - did my parents get a visit? Were the neighbours impacted? I guess I’ll never know.
But the faces looking at me I remember.
Or probably more accurately, I can feel the crushing weight of their stares to this day.