Willem was still just Willem, when his father died. Many still called him little Willem. A far cry from a hurricane in the making. But a young lad who felt deeply ashamed of the thoughts swirling around in his head.
‘You little sneak, that’s just great. Now is really the time to bring this to me. Your deathbed is really the place to bring me this.’
Willem had noticed that Ephraim Cohen, his father and proud owner of Radio Shalom, found it increasingly difficult to find the strength to get out of his bed every morning. And the young Willem knew, as his father summoned him to come closer, that is was going to be a farewell. A last father-son moment, just like there had been a last mother-son moment some years earlier.
“Take care of your father,’ she had asked, and she closed her eyes for all eternity, before Willem could say yes. Willem held her hand and promised that he would.
And now, the same tranquil scene: a house on a rise somewhere lost in a landscape between two rivers, a sick bed in the living room, the scent of disinfectant, a frail being with thick purple grey veins draped over a hastily aged body, an untidy forearm tattoo, a number in the same vague color, the same never-have-talked-to-each other about what happened during the war.
The smothering weight of unspoken years. That’s how Willem was brought up: in deafening silence, lovingly deprived of the holocaust.
“You have to continue my work, it is important that you continue my work.”
Willem became even more ashamed, when he spoke out loud his venomous thoughts. “You little sneak! All this years you play mute about the war. And now all of a sudden I have to continue your work. I don’t know anything about this atrocious war of yours, apart from what I learned in school.”
“That’s enough to suffice’
From under his pillow Ephraim pulled a keyring.
“Radio Sjalom is yours now.”
“And now all a sudden I have permission to enter the barn?”
“Yep, it is yours. Here, take the keys.”
From under the same pillow he also pulled a brown envelope.
“The enclosed matter will protect you.”
“How exactly? Whom from? Against what? For God’s sake, why do I need protection by an envelope? Is this a last joke, dad?”
“I’d rather you don’t know what is in it. But used it, show it, every time Radio Sjalom is in trouble. That will happen much more often than you would like. The war is long gone, but people still don’t like us. We are a people in great danger.”
“Dad, you can’t do this to me. I don’t know anything about our people in danger.”
Teary eyed Willem looked at the frail being that had been through a lot. With a lump in his throat Willem promised that he would continue his father’s work.
“How do I go about it all? Will you stay here just a little longer to teach me? Or will the light go out soon, like mother?”
“You will learn fast. All answers are to be found in the barn. And you’re not alone. I’ve made sure of that.’
It went like with mother. The same stillness. The same day Ephraim’s light went out. Willem was ashamed no longer about his words and thoughts: “Sweet sneak. “Don’t do this to me. Bastard. Don’t do this to me. Sweet, sweet bastard.”
In his one hand the new owner of Radio Sjalom held a keyring, in his other a brown envelop.
There he sat, son of Sara and Ephraim, for hours. All alone. Alone with his grief. The hardest grief there is. Grieve that already has been grieved. Tears that already have been shed.
“Your daddy and I won’t be around for much longer.” Mother had said it often enough: “We are ghosts. Only the irrepressible strength of our youth helped us to survive the camp. But to little remained to continue living life at its fullest. Let us never speak of this again.”