Friday, April 8, 2011

What's in a Name?

I remember my grandmother (Oma), my mom’s mom.  She was smaller than my mother but very forceful.  By the time I came along she had debilitating arthritis.  It was hard for her to walk or even for her to hold on to things.  We lived in Breda, The Netherlands.  Our weather was always damp and cold which aggravated the pain even more.  We could not even begin to guess her physical pain unless we go through it ourselves.  A lesson hard learned by my mother, who now suffers from the same condition.  I remember my mom telling Oma, “you just have to get up and move!”  My mother would get so frustrated with her. “How can I move when every motion is pain. Pain as if you actually have glass in your joints and every time you move it grinds inside your knees elbows, shoulders, hands and ankles.” Oma would reply.  Every motion was a living hell.  This is the Oma I grew up with.  As a child I was oblivious to most of it.  I did feel her love and I always would get away with things no one else in the house could.  My mother’s sister was only 6 years older than I so we played together and she would get jealous of me and I presume I of her. I loved her very much.  I actually was named after her.  No, I mean exactly after her.  We lived in the same house and she was Karin Christine Seuren and because my mother was an unwed mother I was named Karin Christine Seuren.  Apparently this is a habit that runs on this side of the family.  This brings me back to Oma again.
When she was a young mother, she lived in The Netherlands with my Grandfather (Opa).  They lived on a farm outside of Geldrop in the Noord- Brabant province.  She was a proud mother of two boys during the German Occupation of Holland.  Her first born, Rolf was 5 and Freddie was 2.  I believe the year was 1944.  The German’s were occupying Geldrop.  Somehow Oma knew that something had gone terribly wrong.   The details are a little sketchy at this point.  The boys were outside and some young German soldiers had grabbed them and were punishing them for being outside.  The boys were put into separate burn barrels and set on fire.  Fred’s did not catch fire but Rolf’s did.  By the time they were found, Rolf was barely alive.  He died shortly after they found him.  Oma was never the same after that.  She went to soothsayers, fortune tellers and psychics looking to connect with Rolf in the after life.  It gives me shivers every time I hear this story.  I see a picture of Rolf with his white blond hair and silly smile and I wonder what kind of man would he have grown up to be?  Why did they want to kill him?  He looked like a perfect specimen for the Arian race.  His shadow fell over our family for decades and we tell the story so it will not be forgotten on how such atrocities occurred on a daily basis.  Not just in the death camps but every square inch that Hitler controlled.  As for Oma, she learned to live with the heart break and swears that God gave her another son so she could name him Rolf.  So Now we have Rolf who was killed, Freddie, my mom Ingrid, Rolf again and Karin and of course me Karin.   I never asked my Uncle Rolf whether he minded being called Rolf after his dead brother and I am not sure it would be an appropriate question. I always thought I was named after Karin because my mother was too sad to come up with anything else. This is another story for another time.

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