Thursday 28 May 2015


Your most effective method of education (it had an effect on me at any rate) was verbal: abuse, threats, irony, evil laughter and – oddly – self-pity…

I was terrified by your threats, for example: “I’ll tear you to pieces like a fish”. I knew of course that you would not follow up on it (as a small child, however, I did not know that), but the words matched my idea of your power, so that I thought you might be able to realize even that threat. It was terrifying also when you ran around the table, screaming at me, pretending you wanted to catch me (even though you had no real intentions), and my mother finally had to “save” me…

There were cases, where I was entirely in favour of your mean irony, that is, when it was directed toward others, for example, [my sister] Ellie, with whom I was on bad terms for many years. It meant a round of gloating and malice for me when you said at almost every dinner: “She has to sit 10 metres back from the table, my fat gal!” and when you imitated her pulling back your own chair without the faintest trace of good-natured chafing. Like a bitter enemy you exaggerated what was so very distasteful to you in her manner of sitting at table…

That is how you suffered, and how we suffered. In your eyes you were fully justified grinding your teeth and giving out that gurgling laughter (which made a fiendish impression on me as a child) and saying in a bitter tone: “What a bunch of people!”

...It is true that you rarely beat me up, but your shouting and your red face, and the hurried unbuttoning of your garters, which you hung over the back of a chair to have it at the ready – that was almost worse than a beating. The feeling was like that of a man about to be hanged. If he is actually hanged, he is dead, and the whole thing is over. But if he is made to witness all the preparations for the hanging and is told of his pardon only when the noose is already dangling in front of his face, the experience may make him suffer for the remainder of his life.  In addition, there were all those incidents when you made me understand very clearly that I deserved a beating in your opinion, and that I narrowly escaped it on account of your mercy. Collectively, these occasions gave me a profound feeling of guilt. Whichever way you looked at it, I was in your debt.
(Source: Letter to my Father, text at; my translation)

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