Looking back at the real historical stories.

I think that I’ve always been interested in looking back. Partly, at the beginning, it was sitting at the dinner table listening to conversations that started with “During the war” or “Before the war”. At the time I didn’t really know what “the war” was. I was born in 1949, so by the time I was able to understand the conversations, the war was in the “olden days”.

The conversations weren’t generally about fighting, bombings, or people being killed. More often they were about family and friends; stories of places visited, difficulties encountered when trying to travel, and of shortages of various types.

When, aged seven, I visited Belsen, I was used to looking back, and the awfulness and horror of the Holocaust was not lost on me. It had a lifelong effect on me. It made me interested in history. Not the history they tried to teach at school, the dry, dusty lists of events and dates, but the real thing. I was lucky that I had a father who felt it was important to teach me what happens when people lose their humanity. He didn’t try to shield me from any of it, and he explained things as we walked round. Especially poignant was the small room piled high with shoes and boots, false limbs, crutches and sticks. I can still picture one shoe, a ladies brown leather shoe, with a strap and a button. It was old and worn, and had been bent out of shape. I could see where the woman’s  foot had shaped the shoe. It really caught my imagination, and it made me cry.

The mass graves, marked “10,000 Jews buried in this grave” were just too enormous to comprehend, but that shoe represented one person. One woman, now dead, who had lived, loved, laughed, and ultimately had suffered terribly before dying before her time.

Now, when given the chance, I like to hear other people’s stories. I’m still not very interested in the history that I was taught at school. How interesting though, to be told about the life of a kitchen maid in a big house, or of a particular soldier’s part in the war.

The war is part of history to our school children now. I’m glad to see that history is taught in a much more imaginative way, with children dressing up for school trips. Even though I knew it wasn’t real, I still got a lump in my throat when I encountered a group of evacuees with their cardboard “gas mask” boxes, and brown name labels. It was made all the more real because I was at Beamish Museum of Northern Life. http://www.beamish.org.uk/. Incidentally, a wonderful place for a day out.

It won’t be long until they start teaching children about the 50s and 60s as part of history. Perhaps I should get together with my friends and relations and start writing down our stories. If anyone has memories they’d be willing to share, I’d love to be able to add them to my own on here…..email me!

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