'But I want to go to the zoo'

  • May 15, 2010
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Lost childhood

From reader Karin Gordon:

“The one scene in the book, Is It Night or Day?, that stays with me is the young boy who lay curled up on the deck crying he wanted to go to the zoo. I was without my parents for several years during the war.

“The Germans walked into Denmark in 1940 when I was two years old. When I was four, the Germans took our house, the Resistance movement bombed the milk factory where my father worked. (The Resistance bombed anything that could be of help to the Germans, in this case, milk and butter.) No one could take in a family of four so we were scattered like unwanted puppies.

“For three years, I stayed with different aunts and uncles and once with a friend of my mother’s. Some treated me well, one undressed and beat me for no reason – I was so sick at that place I couldn’t eat but threw up constantly (while they taunted me). My father came one evening on his bicycle, saw my condition, put me on the crossbar of his bike, but had nowhere to take me, so he dropped me at a cousin’s house on the way to the town where he had a room. I had no idea where the rest of the family were. I saw one of my parents on occasion. No one wanted to talk about it afterwards.

“We were united in a flea-infested flophouse near the end of the war in 1945. The other lodgers were pimps, whores, black market racketeers. the owner was a witch. My mother broke down and continued breaking down resulting in long stays at a sanatorium. This led to me being farmed out again, to a lovely aunt, but I was desperate for my mother.

“I remember how terrifying it was not to know when I’d see my parents again. My aunt once told me I’d get to see my mother in ‘two weeks,’ but I didn’t know how long that was.

“We were not united with our family in our own apartment until I was 11, but my mother remained threadbare, unavailable.”

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