The old lady crossed
when she mentioned the “poor family” and then lit
don’t you tell me
about him,” I said. That, after all, was the whole point of
project. That was why the old lady had come to the University on a
winter’s afternoon. To put the record straight and record
as those who
had lived at the time saw them. To record them before it was too late.
course, you know I
grew up with him. He was a few years younger than me and lived at the
our street. His father was a policeman too and we all knew he was going
one when he grew up. It was what he always wanted. All of us children
play together, so I knew him quite well when he was young. When I
working, I still lived with my parents, so I used to see him then and
became a policeman, he was always coming home to see his mother. So,
you see, I’ve
known him all his life.
“He was the one
that led the
raid when they took that poor family away”, she continued,
again. “Such a shame, with the liberation so close. Not that
knew it at the
time, although we could all tell that the end was coming. They rounded
up and took us down to the police station where he interrogated me.
on his own.
“I thought I
was done for,
you know. After all, we had been sheltering them since the beginning.
course, I told him that I knew nothing about it. I just worked there, I
didn’t know what went on. I pleaded ignorance. How could I
there was a
“But of course,
he was no
fool and I knew that. And he knew that I was no fool too. And
you’d have had to
have been a fool not to know something was going on, not know that a
living in hiding. Even if I had had nothing to do with it, I must have
and knowing and not telling was just as much a crime during the
“When the end
interview came, well, I just couldn’t take it any more. I
I was a dead
woman. A firing squad if I was lucky, or worse still, off to the camps
family. We all knew what went on in those camps, even if most people
they didn’t. Anyone who lived through that time and says they
didn’t know is a
lair. So I thought a firing squad would at least be quicker.
“Anyway, I let
him have it –
told him what I thought of him. I stood up and thumped the table.
you!’ I said. ‘You’re nothing but a
After all, I didn’t think I had
anything to lose by it.”
didn’t like that. He
stood up too, fists on the table, leaning over at me. I thought he was
down!’ he shouted
sat down, I can tell you. He was still a young man then, and could be
frightening when he wanted to be. But then it seemed to pass and
thought he looked like an old man; tired, drawn, but no longer angry.
traitor, am I?’ he
with half a smile, sitting down too. ‘Perhaps, but then where
would we be
without traitors? Someone had to keep order at the start of the
Maybe the government had capitulated, but a city like this
doesn’t just run
itself. You remember what it was like. It was chaos! What were we
do? Run away like the politicians? You know me. I’m a
I had a job to
do and I did it. Do you think I had a choice? It was that or be a
besides, would the
alternative have been any better? If we hadn’t been here,
would have taken over things, I
mean, the day-to-day things. Do you think that would have been better?
what they’re like. You know how little they think of us. At
we never shot
anyone on the street just because we could.’
me in my
tracks. I’d never thought of it like that before, but I knew
Living through the occupation wasn’t nearly as bad as I
it would be and
looking back, I’m sure our police played no small part in
insulating us from
the worst of it. I can just imagine it: ‘We’ll look
our own – you don’t
have to worry about us’ and they didn’t. Generally
didn’t make trouble and
were content to get on with our lives. Maybe he was a traitor, but if
he was, then
so were the vast majority of us in those days. We just wanted a quiet
at least he and his fellow policemen did their duty and they had to put
the scorn of the rest of us for their troubles.
wasn’t enough for
me. I wasn’t angry any more, not at him, anyway.
about the family,’ I
demanded of him. ‘How could you do that, knowing what will
“He looked even
more tired than before.
I have a choice? They knew,
you know. I did what I had
to do. If I hadn’t organised the raid, they
would have and we all know where that would have led. You
wouldn’t be sitting
here now, would you? You’d be dead, your friend would be
the owners too. They wouldn’t
you with questions; they’d
have shot you
it matter?’ I
‘I’m going to die anyway!’
to go. It’s clear you knew nothing.’
“I looked at
him stupidly, slowly
taking in what he had said.
on,’ he said.
Please, before I change my mind.’
“I quickly got
up to go, but
when I reached the door, I had to ask him one more question. There was
something I had to know.
told you they were
it does. Someone
shaking his head. ‘No-one betrayed you. You just
clever as you
thought at hiding your tracks. If it makes you feel any better,
I’ve known for
over a year.’
told you. They
found out. And no, don’t ask me
how, I don’t know. Probably found the same clues I did. They
always were a bit
slow,’ he said with half a smile. ‘Don’t
you see? I
didn’t have a choice. Look,
I’ve done what I can for them and for the rest of you.
You’re all free to go
and I’ve put them in the processing centre. I know it will
buy them a week
and then it will be the camps for them, but I can’t do any
Please, go now.’
“And so I went,
another word. And you know what? I never even bothered to thank him.
not since. So, don’t call him a traitor.”
And then the old lady
The following day, after
typed up the interview, I checked the archives. The policeman had been
shortly after the liberation and tried for war crimes. He was found
executed by firing squad.