Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Brass Oil Lamp

Early in the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands in World War II, capable men were gathered up and taken for forced labour in Germany. At the age of thirty, my father was transported to Mannheim to work in the ammunition factories, leaving behind my mother and two daughters aged five and two.

The indentured labour forces sabotaged as much as possible in the factories, and the trouble makers were shipped out as farm labour. My father ended up on a farm outside of Mannheim owned by the mayor of the community. The family was sympathetic and supplied him with paint and brushes and kept him safe for the following five years.

My mother, on the other hand, was surrounded by troops; the coastal dunes where she lived had become a hive of activity. Bunkers were build and radar stations were sunk deep into the dunes. On one of her outings my mother spotted a black object sticking out of a garbage can, and upon closer inspection, she saw it was a heavily sooted oil lamp. Just like Aladdin, she took it home and polished it and it turned to brass. No genie appeared, but one day a soldier came to her door with a large wall clock and ask her to keep it for him. He never returned. 

Through the occupation, belongings were stolen, houses were looted, items were transported and forgotten. When the whole village was evacuated and moved further inland, my mother hid her belongings and the clock under the floorboards. Among the things she hid was this oil lamp.

At the end of the war, when villagers were permitted to return, most found their belongings intact. We never knew were that clock came from and no one recognized it. The clock was sold half a dozen years later before we immigrated to the Union of South Africa, but the brass oil lamp travelled with us.

The oil lamp now sits on my Vancouver window sill. It is missing a few parts and has a few dents. Its origins are still unknown, but it seems to like to travel.

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