“When I Was Someone Else”
Excerpt from From Chapter 3. The Encounter
I’m on retreat in Peru and I have the intuition that I need to be still, stop moving and listen to my deepest feelings. I stretch out on my little wooden bed and let myself fall into reverie. I’m lying down with my eyes closed and my mind begins to wander. At the beginning I don’t quite know what to do and then I imagine that I’m an eagle, flying. Suddenly I think of my brother Thomas as well as my father and I find myself on a familiar path facing them. Thomas is standing and with a hand gesture he designates the space in front of us. I don’t understand. Is there a message? What is he showing me? Gradually, I’m flying again. I visualize in my thoughts the valley where I am, as if my point of view were that of a bird, one of the eagles that are certainly at this very moment above me. I can make out my little hut from high up, then I glide toward the river, as if my spirit were flying over it at a good height.
At this moment I am quite aware that I am the one imagining this vision. And then something unexpected happens. An image surprises me and imposes itself very precisely. I’m still flying above the river but suddenly I’m observing men moving forward – people walking in the river. From this height they are little black dots. Are they Indians who used to live in this forest? Conquistadors? As I descend toward the ground the vegetation disappears, the river disappears giving way to a landscape that is uniformly white, as if covered in snow. I’m at their level now, on the ground. It’s very surprising: I see an assault tank and men advancing, protected behind it. They are soldiers. They’re German. It’s war. They’re advancing, sheltering behind the tank. What is totally strange is that I am one of them. An SS officer. I see a face yelling at me. I’m in a demolished village and I’m going to die, wounded in the throat from the burst of a shell that has severed my jugular. I die.
I am enthralled and stunned by the intensity of what is taking place.
I am lying down with my eyes closed but completely awake and conscious, on a pallet in Peru, and in the same moment my mind has been catapulted into another time, another place. Suddenly I know this man’s name. His first name, Alexander, has just come to me out of nowhere and imprints itself on me. I can’t make out his face very well, just that he has light brown hair, almost blond that is cut very short on the sides and at the nape of the neck, but longer on top. I see him walking in this scene of desolation strewn with cadavers. Everything is white as if covered by plaster dust, or snow. The silhouettes are black. Faces screaming. My throat is dry. He’s wearing a long dark coat. He is tall, thin but well built, his muscles finely chiseled. The scene of his death repeats.
This is too incredible, too powerful. It cannot be possible… I ask for an element that I could verify afterwards, and I see appear what seems to be an identity card written in Gothic script. I can make out “Herman” where the family name is written. He’s called Herman, Alexander Herman. In the same way that I knew that his first name was Alexander, I know what his officer rank is. “Obersturmführer” sprang into my mind. And me who doesn’t speak one word of German. I am assailed by several other visions -like scenes of life that come crashing in behind my closed eyes. Some scenes of his civilian life. I see a playful little girl – blond, smiling, joyful. She must be between two and three years old. He is with her. Is she his daughter? And then once again death, screaming faces and suddenly he is near a lake in the countryside and it is summer. He has his shirt off and another man is lying on his stomach beside him – a man a little older whose face I can make out quite clearly. There is a strong connection between them. Once again, a ruined town or village and the feeling that it’s named Bagneux or Bayeux – actually neither of those two names but a name like that. And then the little girl is there again in the countryside scene in the company of Alexander and this other man. After that, I see Alexander in Paris, on the upper part of Gay-Lussac Street in the 5th arrondissement. He turns around and looks at me with a certain mischievousness in his eyes, as if he’s amused by my astonishment. I can see his face then quite distinctly. Then I see him once again collapsing, blood spurting from his throat, pouring over his collar and out onto the ground. He holds his neck. His life is slipping away. His look flickers out. The white dust covers him. The earth is pulverized by explosions that throw out snow and fire, fury and cold. He is dead. He is me. His body is my body. When the vision ends a half hour has gone by and I am blown away. The experience is totally unexpected, incomprehensible, and stunningly powerful. Did I imagine all that? But why? Who is this man? What just happened? Later in the day, and the next day, the images of this German man do not fade. He appeared out of the depths of darkness, he penetrated into my reality, and he’s still there as if he were living in me. Once again I see the sinister landscape, the death, the violence, his look… but not for one second do I imagine the explosion that was coming after my return to France. When I discover that this man really existed.