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一本相册的秘密

 翻阅一本厚厚泛黄的家族相册,对年轻的我来说,是一次发掘家族历史的新奇之旅;而对年迈的母亲而言,却是再次碰触一段莫可言说的苦痛回忆。

 

 

一本相册的秘密

 

By Werner Gundersheimer

郭嘉 选/阑珊 注

We dance round in a ring and suppose, 
But the Secret sits in the middle and knows[1] 
—Robert Frost

More than half a century ago, my mother gave me, as a college graduation present, an album of photographs illustrating my life from infancy through high school.[2] The first page depicts my grandparents—my father’s parents, shown together early in their marriage, probably around 1902. In this photo, the young Sophie gazes to her left at her gorgeous new husband, Samuel, resplendent with handlebar mustache and elegant white bow tie,[3] as he looks off to his left into the middle distance. Below them on the page are small, separate images of Mother’s parents, Anna and Siegfried Siegel, in middle age, looking directly at the camera, engaging the viewer with their solemn expressions. Their pictures were taken around 1940. The next pages depict a standard middle—class European childhood, except that the scene keeps changing—from Frankfurt to London to a village in the English countryside to Cambridge to Weekapaugh, Rhode Island, then on to Wolfeboro, Ossipee, and Henniker, New Hampshire, and eventually various places in greater Philadelphia.[4]

Surrounding the carefully mounted photographs that chronicle that odyssey are brief texts in my mother’s hand.[5] The tone is light and humorous, as if she were describing her own progress toward adulthood in a placid[6] German village. “First sunbath,” “Isn’t life beautiful?” “You are learning to walk,” “What fun with mother’s gloves,” “We have a picnic,” “Your first girlfriend,” and so on. It’s as if what actually happened had never happened. Reading through this lovingly constructed, almost idyllic narrative of a beautiful childhood, one would be hard—pressed to deduce that our little nuclear family had gotten out of Germany by the skin of our teeth in August 1939, lost just about everything but our lives, lived as transients in England through that first bitter winter of war, arrived in New York in May 1940 with exactly $30; or that in the course of our first American summer, my parents somehow persuaded themselves to place me in foster care with a Congregational minister in New Hampshire for a year while they went to Pittsburgh, my father as a guest lecturer, my mother as a domestic servant.[7]

I was deeply touched by this gift, so lovingly and thoughtfully constructed. This was the childhood my mother wanted me to think I’d had; and it is indeed a version of my actual childhood. But Mom’s own memories were so devastating and so close to the surface, that I couldn’t bring myself to point out to her the irony of creating such a sanitized version of the past for a son who was about to head off to graduate school to become a professional historian, a child who—perhaps because of the denials and evasions of his early attempts to understand things—had an incurable itch to get to the bottom of those things.[8] We all know that memory is selective, and that the mind blots out what it can’t bear to retain.[9] But that wasn’t Mom’s problem. For her, the past was always present, and the only way to keep it at bay was to steer clear of it.[10]

That wasn’t so obvious to me when I got the album. I saw it as a product of her choice—the way she chose to have me understand my childhood. Only later did I come to recognize that, for her, there had been no choice. She had to bury her past, and mine, along with its grim realities, its dreadful secrets. For example, the album’s basic plot line is genealogical—it starts with the “begats.”[11] Yet after the first page, the grandparents practically disappear. On page three, there’s a passport—size photo of Samuel, and one of Siegfried holding one—year—old me and my teddy bear. A few pages later there’s a 16—line poem for my third birthday written and sent to me in England by my mother’s parents in Germany. Composed in rhymed couplets, it conveys an almost fatalistic sense of resignation that they might be forgotten, despite the photographs they enclosed with the poem.[12] Indeed, that was their last appearance in the album. They simply vanish, like Grandfather Samuel, who had died in September 1939 of a botched[13] operation at a Jewish hospital in Frankfurt. Grandmother Sophie reappears briefly a bit later, in the fall of 1946, at the age of 71, having spent the intervening years in Jerusalem, now an old lady in black with a somber black hat.[14] That’s it for her—she’s never mentioned again, nor is there any allusion to the fact that she lived with us for three years and then spent the rest of her life with my aunt and uncle in London. Why had she come, and why did she silently vanish?

Some survivors can talk freely about their experiences; others prefer silence. Whether you fall into the first or second group has nothing to do with wanting to get on with your life after the trauma is past.[15] Everyone wants to get on with life, even though the trauma is never past. Mother read Elie Wiesel and Primo Levi, but she couldn’t imagine doing what they did—talking and writing about the experience of having survived, or evoking and re—presenting the attendant losses.[16] Those were her private, even secret, griefs. Had she known them, she might have loved those great lines in Richard II in which the king realizes that there’s nothing more that anyone can take away from him:

You may my glories and my state depose, 
But not my griefs; still am I king of those.[17] 
(IV.I.192—93)

Mother got a postcard sometime in 1943. It reported that her mother, whose letters from Frankfurt had stopped coming toward the end of 1941, had died on December 16, 1942, in the Theresienstadt concentration camp[18]. It wasn’t until long after the war had ended that Mother found out what had happened to her father. He survived Theresienstadt only to be shipped in a transport to Auschwitz—Birkenau in May 1944. Further details were unavailable.

These are not the kinds of events one would want to incorporate[19], or even think of including, in a beloved child’s photo album. But one might suppose that a moment could arrive—perhaps 30, or 40, or 50 years later—when it would feel right to speak to one’s children of these tragic matters. Mother lived to be almost 94, but for her, that moment never came. Hers remained a secret, unshared pain. Over the years, when I asked her about the fate of her parents, she just said that they had died in Theresienstadt. But eventually I went there and found in the archives exactly what had befallen each of them, and when.[20] By then I was in my 50s, and she was about 80. My impression was that Mother wasn’t fully apprised[21] of the facts I had turned up and would want to know them. So after my return from the Czech Republic, I told her that I’d found the full documentation for both of my long—deceased grandparents.[22]

“Yes,” she said. “I know all that.”

“Even the train and boxcar numbers of Siegfried’s deportation?” I asked.[23]

She thought she had seen that information. It was clear that this wasn’t a subject she wished to pursue.

August 7, 2010, would have been mother’s 100th birthday. She was born under Kaiser Wilhelm[24], well before the First World War. When she was a little girl, her father fought in that war and came home to his wholesale wine business as a decorated veteran.[25] She grew up in Weimar Germany[26], remembered the great inflation, endured the moment when Jewish girls were segregated out of high school, witnessed the rise of Nazism, suffered the destruction of home and family, married and had a child in the face of all that, and then managed to get out at the urging of her parents, who knew full well there would be no place for themselves outside Germany[27]. That was a burden she would carry in silence all the days of her life, a burden she chose not to share with her children. After her death, I found in the filing cabinet in her apartment a collection of letters from my grandparents to my parents. The series begins on September 15, 1940, and ends with a postcard dated November 24, 1941. There is also a letter from my parents to my grandparents, dated December 19, 1941, which never reached its destination. It was sent back with the notation “Service suspended—return to sender.”[28] America had entered the war. There was to be no further contact. Although she preserved them scrupulously[29], my mother never mentioned these letters. They document the growing hardship, terror, and longing of a single, aging couple in just one German city, a moving folder[30] in the secret archive of this very private woman’s past.

Vocabulary

1. 我们转着圈地跳舞并猜测,奥秘坐在中间什么都知道。——罗伯特•弗罗斯特(1874—1963),美国的著名诗人,作品以朴素、深邃著称。

2. illustrate: 表明,说明;infancy: 婴儿期。

3. gorgeous: 十分好看的,衣着光鲜的;resplendent: 灿烂的,华丽的;handlebar: 八字胡;bow tie: 领结。

4. 本句提到的均为欧美国家的地名,在此不一一加注。

5. mount: 裱贴(照片等);chronicle: 记载,载入;odyssey: 远行,漫长的行程。

6. placid: 宁静的,平静的。

7. idyllic: 田园诗般的,平和欢畅的;narrative: 叙述,讲述;hard-pressed: 迫于压力的,被催逼的;deduce: 推论;nuclear family: 核心家庭,小家庭,基家庭(只包括父母和子女的家庭);by the skin of one’s teeth: 恰好,刚巧;transient: 暂住者,短期居留者;foster care: 看护,抚养;Congregational minister: 公理教会的牧师。

8. sanitize: 净化(陈述、报道、新闻等);evasion: 逃避;incurable: 不能治愈的,无可救药的;itch: 渴望,热望。

9. blot out: 抹去,除去;retain: 保持,保留。

10.对于她而言,过去也往往就是现在,唯一不让它近身的方法就是对它敬而远之。keep sth. at bay: 不让……靠近,截住某人的去路,遏制;steer clear of: 避开,绕开。

11. genealogical: 宗谱的,家系的;begats: 子孙后代。

12. Compose: 创作;rhymed couplets: 押韵的对联、对句;fatalistic: 宿命论的;resignation: 听天由命;enclose: 附入。

13. botched: 笨拙的,拙劣的。

14. intervening: 发生于其间的,介于中间的;Jerusalem: 耶路撒冷;somber: 忧郁的,黯然的。

15. fall into: 属于,归类于;trauma: 心灵创伤。

16. Elie Wiesel: 埃利•威塞尔,犹太作家,1986年的诺贝尔和平奖得主,其作品主要围绕关于大屠杀的记忆;Primo Levi: 普里莫•列维(1919–1987),意大利籍犹太化学家和作家,本人是纳粹大屠杀的幸存者;evoke: 产生,唤起;attendant: 伴随的。

17.你可以抢走我的荣誉和王位,却不能夺去我的悲哀;我仍然是自己悲哀的君王。——出自莎士比亚的历史剧《理查二世》。

18. Theresienstadt concentration camp: 特莱西恩施塔特纳粹集中营,位于捷克波希米亚地区北部。下文的Auschwitz-Birkenau是奥斯威辛集中营,位于波兰。

19. incorporate: 包含,并入。

20. archive: 档案文件;befallen: 降临到(某人头上),发生,遭遇。

21. apprise: 告知,通知,告诉。

22. Czech Republic: 捷克共和国;long-deceased: 亡故已久的。

23. boxcar: 货车车厢;deportation: 驱逐出境,驱逐。

24. Kaiser Wilhelm: 凯撒•威廉,即威廉二世,德意志皇帝兼普鲁士国王【1888—1918】。

25. wholesale: 批发的;veteran: 老兵,退伍军人。

26. Weimar Germany: 魏玛共和国德国,形容1919年至1933年期间统治德国的共和政体,是德国有史以来第一次走向共和的尝试,但1933年因希特勒与纳粹党上台而结束。

27. in the face of: 尽管,不顾。

28. notation: 标记;suspend: 暂停。

29. scrupulously: 小心翼翼地。

30. folder: 文件夹,纸夹。

(来源:英语学习杂志)


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