Excerpt 5

In July 2014, my cousin Cecilia found a photograph of our grandparents and Edith while cleaning her late mother’s flat. The photo was probably taken in the late 1930s, in a park in Berlin, where the Robinskis are having a picnic, surrounded by trees. Edith’s arm rests on her father’s shoulders, and they look comfortable together, while my grandmother sits a little apart from them, somewhat excluded from this display of father–daughter intimacy. None of them is smiling, and my grandmother is not looking at the camera. To the right of the frame, near the tree behind them, is a briefcase. From the letters, I know that Edith and her parents would sometimes take a walk or have a picnic in the Tiergarten after dropping off their immigration documents at the South African consulate at Tiergartenstrasse 18.

Again, I cannot help but sense the danger lurking in their surroundings, both in the space of the photo and outside it. I can almost see small shadowy figures moving between the trees, approaching my family with sinister intent. Blowing up the image on my computer makes the effect even more chilling. Like the haunting portrait of Edith that would stare at me from our dining-room table, this photo of an everyday family occasion holds a larger truth than what is seen on the surface. My family photos from Berlin are never innocent.

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