Repairing an injustice
Today I googled my father’s name. Although it was almost impossible to find anything about him, I still gave it a shot. You see, my father was born in Paris when the survivors could still hear the bombs and smell the gun powder of the First World War. He survived the 2nd World War and Hitler’s Jewish extermination plans. As a young man – despite being raised in a bourgeois environment, he believed in communism only to celebrate Ceaucescu’s fall years later. Even after the murdered president came into power and life got harder in Romania, he chose to stay although my mother urged him many times to go to Israel or France and ask for political asylum. It was not because he feared losing my mother (she is twenty years younger) or he was the passive type. But because he wanted the best of us: peace and stability (something that, in his opinion, Israel kind of lacked in the 80s) and humanity (he disliked Jewish for being stingy). And Romania provided it for us.
My father was an engineer but had an artist’s soul. He was very gifted with his hands: he made wonderful drawings and paintings as well as small objects of wood. He put together some pieces of furniture for my dolls and some cabinets for our bath room (they still hang on the wall). He was also an avid reader and a talented writer. I remember that each time he came back from work, I used to look into his briefcase because I knew that most of time, a brand new treasure would wait for me inside. A brand new book, with white pages still smelling ink. In my early childhood, Romanians had access to only two national state owned TV channels and a daily two hour program. That left plenty of time for other forms of entertainment. My parents took me to the theatre and Opera. They read a lot. Our house was full of music and friends. My mother would cook wonderful food and my father would entertain the guests with jokes and subtle conversations. I would spend my free time outside, playing with other kids or riding my bicycle.
My father sang to me “Frere Jaques” to put me to sleep. He made me French fries. My father gave my first driving lesson.
After December 1989, my father got to live only eight years as a free man, in a democratic country. He enjoyed the new TV entertainment and driving his blue car without restrictions. He almost cried with excitement when he got the airplane ticket to France, his birthplace, that he had left 73 years ago and had never returned since. He underwent three surgeries and had one near-death experience which inspired him to write some short stories. They were ran by a weekly magazine focused on paranormal. He lost his lifetime savings because, despite the common preconception that Jews were good with money, he never imagined that the Romanian currency would depreciate in no time. He died suddenly, aged 78, of a heart attack.
I wonder what my father, a great admirer of the French political man Talleyrand, would say about today’s Romania? Would he vote in the presidential campaign or not? Would he let himself be manipulated by the press or not? Would he be chosing based on his apparent self-interest or by looking at the bigger picture? Would he be staying in Romania or rather go to Israel?
Today, I’m repairing an injustice. From now on, Gabriel Billig can be googled.