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History that is forgotten is destined to be repeated

Posted by E on November 11, 2011

This time of the year, around Remembrance Day, I get more emotional than usual. I search through my genetic memory and reach for my dead, faceless grandfathers. One was a captain in the Austro-Hungarian army during WW1, the other died in battle during WW2 while my mother was an infant. I never knew either of them. I never saw a photo of either of them.

War is a brutal, awful thing. It destroys photographs, it curls up the edges of memories and leaves only a hollow longing in its place.

My mother’s father was shot through the head in the Romanian battlefields at the end of the Second World War, in 1944.  A bullet smashed through a gap in his helmet and entered through his left ear just as my mother, an infant at the time, fell from a great height and shattered her tympanic membranes, rendering her deaf in the same ear.

My father’s father was a highly-decorated captain who met my grandmother Anna in Transylvania, where his troops were stationed. She eloped with him to Hungary, where she had her baby. But his family, because of Anna’s lack of dowry (my great-grandfather denied her inheritance because she’d ran off with a Hungarian), intercepted the marriage. My poor grandmother, all of eighteen, was put out on the street with a baby in her hands. A baby who ended up deaf, the villagers gossiped, because Anna had kept him a secret throughout the pregancy. But my father would never know his own Papa, because my grandfather would be killed in battle only two years later.

Even though I’ve never known, much less seen a mere photograph of them, both my grandfathers are here with me today. Their courage flows through my bloodstream. The untold horrors they must have faced in open combat claw at my consciousness.

We live in a world where so many people my age take for granted the freedoms we enjoy, the personal liberties that surround us, the fact that we can sit back and write sarcastic quips on the internet mocking this war and that one, but we lack the understanding that sometimes war is necessary for survival. That sometimes picking up a weapon is not an option, but a need. That is courage. What those naive, red-cheeked young people who entered battles for the love of country, for the love of all that was right, and met with hatred, and terror, and death. Who came home — if they were lucky — scarred in psyche and in body, their innocence ripped from them by the savagery of war.

War is in my blood, and whether you deny it or not, it’s in your blood also. You can’t run from it. Its legacy, for better or for worse, is all around us. We are the descendandants of several millenia of bloodshed and revolutions. The fact that we are here signifies that our lineage is built on the triumph of the victorious. We are the ones who survived, and we did so because of our ancestors. Because of the countless wars and savage battles they fought to give us our freedoms today, as frought with uncertainty as they are.

So let us remember our grandfathers and grandmothers and all those brave souls who were forced to grow up way too fast, and whose innocence was robbed well before their time. For if we forget the greatest treasure they gave us — our life and our freedom — then history is destined to be repeated.

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2 Responses to “History that is forgotten is destined to be repeated”

  1. Greg said

    Good post, Elisa. I always think of my grandfather around Veterans/Armistice/Remembrance Day. He survived the hell of WWII to marry my grandmother and have three children, the oldest of which is my mother. Though he fought the Japanese during that war, he paid for my plane ticket to Japan fifty years after the war ended, and died during my last year there (at age 90), a mere month after I had last seen him.

  2. KarrieFoesenek said

    Beautiful words!!

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