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By Etgar Keret


Translated from the Hebrew by Miriam Shlesinger




On Holocaust Commemoration Day, our teacher, Sarah, took us on the number fifty-seven bus to the Vohlin Memorial Museum and I felt really important. All the kids in my class had families that came from Iraq, except me and my cousin and one other kid, Druckman, and I was the only one whose grandfather died in the Holocaust. The Vohlin Memorial Museum was a really fancy building, all covered  in expensive-looking black marble. It had a lot of sad pictures in black and white and lists of people and countries and victims. We paired up and walked along the wall, from one picture to the next, and the teacher said not to touch, but I did. I touched one of them, a cardboard photograph of a pale and skinny man who was crying and holding a sandwich. The tears running down his cheeks were like the stripes on an asphalt street, and Orit Salem, the girl I was paired up with, said she'd tell the teacher on me. I said that as far as I was concerned, she could tell everyone, even the principal, I didn't care. That was my grandfather, and I could touch whatever I wanted.


After the pictures, they took us into a big hall and showed us a movie about little kids being loaded onto a truck. They all choked on gas in the end. After that this skinny old guy came up on the stage and told us how the Nazis were scum and murderers and how he got back at them and even strangled a soldier to death with his bare hands.


Djerbi, who was sitting next to me, said the old man was lying, and from the looks of him, there wasn't a soldier in the world he could beat up. But I looked into the old man's eyes and I believed him. There was so much anger in them that all the attacks of all the hot-shot punks in the world seemed like small change by comparison.


In the end, after he was finished telling us about what he'd done in the Holocaust, the old man said that everything we'd heard was important, not just for the past but for what was happening now too. Because the Germans were still living, and they still had a country. The old man said he'd never forgive them and he hoped we wouldn't either, and that we should never ever go visit their country, God forbid. Because when he and his parents had arrived in Germany fifty years ago everything looked really nice and it ended in hell. People have a short memory sometimes, he said, especially for bad things. They prefer to forget. But don't you forget. Every time you see a German, remember what I told you. And every time you see anything that was made in Germany, even if it's a TV, because most of the companies that make TVs, or anything else, are in Germany,  always remember that the picture tube and other parts underneath the pretty wrapping were made out of the bones and skin and flesh of dead Jews.


On our way out, Djerbi said again that if that old man had strangled so much as a cucumber, he'd eat his T-shirt.  And I thought it was lucky our fridge was made in Israel, cause who needs trouble.


Two weeks later, my parents came back from abroad and brought me a pair of sports shoes. My older brother had told my mother that's what I wanted, and she bought the best ones. Mom smiled when she handed them to me. She was sure I didn't know what was in the bag. But I could tell right away by the Adidas logo. I took the shoebox out of the bag and said thank you. The box was rectangular, like a coffin. And inside it lay two white shoes with three blue stripes on them, and on the side it said Adidas Rom. I didn't have to open the box to know that. "Let's try them on," Mom said, pulling the paper out. "To see if they fit." She was smiling the whole time, she didn't realize what was happening.


"They're from Germany, you know," I told her and squeezed her hand hard.


"Of course I know," Mom smiled. "Adidas is the best make in the world."


"Grandpa was from Germany too," I tried hinting.


"Grandpa was from Poland," Mom corrected me. She grew sad for a moment, but it passed right away, and she put one of the shoes on my foot and started lacing it up. I didn't say anything. I knew by then it was no use. Mom was clueless. She had never been to the Vohlin Memorial Museum. Nobody had ever explained it to her. And for her, shoes were just shoes and Germany was really Poland. So I let her put them on my feet and I didn't say anything. There was no point telling her. It would just make her sadder.


After I said thank you one more time and gave her a kiss on the cheek, I said I was going out to play. "Watch it, eh?" Dad kidded from his armchair in the living room, "Don't you go wearing down the soles in a single afternoon." I took another look at the pale leather shoes on my feet, and thought back about all the things the old man who'd strangled a soldier said we should remember. I touched the Adidas stripes again, and remembered my grandpa in the cardboard photograph. "Are the shoes comfortable?" Mom asked. "Of course they're comfortable," my brother answered instead of me. "Those shoes aren't just some cheap local brand, they're the very same shoe that Kroif used to wear." I tiptoed slowly towards the door, trying to put as little weight on them as possible. I kept walking that way towards the petting zoo. Outside, the kids from Borochov Elementary were forming three groups: Holland, Argentina and Brazil. The Holland group was one player short so they agreed to let me join, even though they usually never took anyone who didn't go to Borochov.


When the game started, I still remembered to be careful not to kick with the tip, so I wouldn't hurt Grandpa, but as it continued, I forgot, just like the old man at the Vohlin Memorial Museum said people do, and I even scored the tiebreaker with a volley kick. After the game was over I remembered and looked down at them. They were so comfortable all of a sudden, and springier too, much more than they'd seemed when they were still in the box. "What a volley that was, eh?" I reminded Grandpa on our way home. "The goalie didn't know what hit him." Grandpa didn't say a thing, but from the lilt in my step I could tell he was happy too.



Etgar Keret is a celebrated Israeli fiction writer and film director.

Shoes By Etgar Keret -
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