Phantom Germans (II)

Early on this blog, I mentioned Donna Barr‘s intriguing proposition that she, and I, and any number of other women around our age, harbored the transmigrated spirits of soldiers killed waging the wars of the Third Reich, who had returned to earthly life swearing to wage peace, and resist the death-drunk totalitarian impulse that fuels wars of nationalism and conquest.

I suppose you could start with giving someone a good massage.

I thought about it last night when a late-evening client began talking about her mother, who’s also been on my table — a tiny lady who banged up her back on a holiday visit not long ago. “Mom tells me about what it was like when she was in school, when the Germans took over the town,” she said. They were on the border between two occupied territories of Eastern Europe, and at first the Wehrmacht simply staked the place out and billeted themselves on the residents: “Mom’s parents had to put up this gay lieutenant” [shades of Barr’s Desert Peach!] “who would play the Marseillaise on the piano, until the other officers warned him he could get in trouble.” At first it was only the Wehrmacht — “only” is relative; later it was the SS, of whom even the Wehrmacht officers were afraid. People who had crowded into an open-air market might find the market randomly blocked off, everyone inside it ordered to board a train to a work camp, and their families wouldn’t see them again.

Because of that war, I was born. There was nothing else that would have brought a hornplayer from Nebraska deep into the American South to meet a local girl who was doing war work. I used to meditate on the oddity of being a legacy of war — an antecedent I share with countless people all over the world — long before the occasion when Frau Barr offered me her Phantom German theory.

And here in this brave new century, writing dates on my checks that figured in the futuristic science-fiction of my schooldays, I loosen the shoulders and relax the neck of a small-boned woman who once watched her parents cope with booted men in gray uniforms, striding through the parlor, appropriating the household treasures.

Did I wear a uniform like that?  It would make a good novel. All I know is, Time is not a straight line. It’s a spiral or a helix, doubling back on itself, like our DNA.


10 thoughts on “Phantom Germans (II)

  1. What an interesting concept, time being a like our DNA. I like it.

    What a wonderful story, and the sort of time line reflection that I occasionally get to muse on. For me, the WWII connection that was the most poignant was when I got to massage a woman who had the concentration camp numbers tattooed on her wrist.

    BTW, I loved the turtle story below!

  2. All I know is, Time is not a straight line. It’s a spiral or a helix, doubling back on itself, like our DNA

    That is interesting. And I too like the DNA idea. I know little about all this, but it is known there’s something in the latest theories of physics … my friend Extropian knows all that is uncommon about science (if he only liked blogs a bit more …)

    This transmigration thing fascinates me. I think of it often now that I am studying ancient texts that reflect wisdom lost in the mists of prehistory.

    Since, – this idea of the body as a prison for the soul which jumps into different bodies for immense spans of time until …. – could be hundreds of thousand year old, much before writing arrived.

    Does it all also connect to a non linear time conception? The hardest to me – or to most of us – to know, unless one is really into physics, like Extropian is.

    One thing little know though is that many Romans – my obsession, I’m sorry – at the apex of Rome’s success (when Carthage was defeated and later destroyed, the only power about to annihilate them) – believed in transmigration of souls (since so did many Greeks).

    Suffice it to read Somnium Scipionis (Scipio’s Dream) by Cicero modelled on The Myth of Er by Plato. Both talk of reincarnation, and are just soooo beautiful …

    Off-topic, why do I always have to use the darn dictionary when I read you lol? 😉

  3. It’s OK, back when I wrote a newspaper column, the copy editor would complain about using the dictionary. I am afraid I fall in love with words very easily.

    I consider the jury out on all cosmologies, since they are by definition unprovable from the position of day to day life. But I grasp from Einstein (I got a copy of Einstein For Dummies, really) that time is relative. And some mystics have described reincarnation as simultaneous — living all your lives at once from a viewpoint that transcends four dimensional spacetime. What a thought!

  4. “Suffice it to read Somnium Scipionis (Scipio’s Dream) by Cicero modelled on The Myth of Er by Plato. Both talk of reincarnation, and are just soooo beautiful ”

    I have a wonderful translation of this work. I’ve often mentioned this work while discussing the state of scientific knowledge of the day in the Roman world.

  5. I read about twenty-odd years ago that many people who had suffered childhood abuses were prone to having recurring nightmares about Nazis, clearly identifying with the victims and not the soldiers. But why Nazis? Especially for people who were clearly too young to have had any personal experience of that time.

    • I think dreams seize on readily available cultural metaphors — and there was a time when you couldn’t swing a stick without knocking a book about the atrocities of the Third Reich off some shelf or rack…

  6. @Sledpress

    Don’t worry about words, it is useful to learn: I have learned ‘wage’ , ‘stake out’, ‘billeted’ etc. etc. etc. etc. 😉

    Nebraska, Mid-West merged with South, THAT fascinates me! It is deep America which I saw only in movies – and in some people (one man and a woman) from Kansas and a bit more up north (the woman) who taught me a lot.

    I consider the jury out on all cosmologies …

    Very well said. And those mystics and reincarnations as simultaneous: ALL so freaking interesting, if one can say that – I lack slang in this language: in Italian I like to mix all registers while I write, but in English I can’t 😦


    I have a wonderful translation of [Somnium Scipionis]

    Good the translation is good, in order to appreciate such a wonderful ‘tale’. But you are right, it is much more than a tale, it is the scientific description of the universe model the Romans thought possible taking it from Pythagoras (and his Orphism). Pythagoras – not to mention Orpheus – was like a mystical Socrates plus scientist & musician of Magna Graecia (Southern coastal Italy) and whose influence on Plato was great. The connection universe – music I find fascinating. I am preparing a lot of posts on this, wonder if I’ll ever be able to really post the,

    Well, Cicero is a bag of wind, but his contribution is fundamental, plus he moulded Latin to express philosophy, which was a good service to all Middle Ages thence to all of us.

    I am also a baf og wind. I talk too much 🙂

  7. My mother (who was in a small farm town high school during the war — I almost wrote “that” war but it is still The war) once let loose that we are all reincarnated out of time as a means of reaching a better undserstanding. My interpretation is that to her this was comforting, for it meant that her firstborn, who died young, was still alive in the spirit shared by us all who are living around the event of his death, experiencing it from different angles — as a parent, as a brother, as others.

    I suppose this means we are the soldier, we are the woman who survived, we are the person who did not, not only then but surrounding the equally horrible events that have gone on since. Personally I find this neither compelling nor believable but it’s a good kick to the imagination and besides, if these ideas resonate with a person, then they should explore them fully. Who knows.

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