People sometimes ask me what I remember of those four years in the camps. “Surely,” they say, “a five-year-old is old enough to remember things.” But no matter how hard I think, there are only a few moments, a few occasions that I do remember. Mamma kept Paula and me away from all the scary things, all the cruelties that took place on a daily basis.
The moments I remember had to do with intense fright, jubilant joy or physical pain.
The first one: a soldier pierced the bamboo fence right next to my face with his bayonet. I screamed for Mamma. I was four.
Number two: one of the old men that were transported into our camp during the last months of the war gave me a little brown metal truck, like a Dinky toy. Oh joy! A real truck! I can remember the place on the square where we stood when he gave that truck to me, smiled and walked away. I was five.
Number three: when the lights went out in our little room one night because of curfew and I, on the top bunk, had just undressed my doll, bed bugs crawled out of her clothes and onto my body. Mamma gave me a rag to kill them with. It was during the final months of the war and because of edema in her legs she could no longer climb on the bunk bed to help me. In the dark of the night I could not find all of them. The following morning I was covered in welts.
This incident came with a lasting memory of the smell of dead bed bugs. Three years later, the copper front door bell at my grandmother’s house in the Netherlands had an identical smell. Twenty eight years later, when we lived in California, I smelled dead bed bugs in the supermarket and discovered cilantro. It took years to get accustomed to the taste and smell and use it in cooking
Do you have any memories, good or bad, of your childhood years? Did you know what a dead bed bug smells like? Leave me a comment!
Until next time,