My Uncle’s face looks at me from the screen, a moment frozen in the picture. He is much younger than the man I remember. He must be nineteen or twenty by the look of it. It is in black and white, but the tone of his olive complexion, the swarthiness comes across through the various media captures that have placed his likeness here. He has a moustache here and not the beard I remember from the man in life, but it is the essential him, nose, eyes, lips the same.
And yet it cannot be him.
This man wears a frogged military coat and the name on the caption is not my uncle’s. There is no date but the style of the photograph and uniform is from before my uncle was of military age, probably before he was born. Unless something supernatural is going on this, despite the facial likeness, is not my uncle. My uncle was in the army, but the British Royal Mechanical and Electrical Engineers in the 1950s, not a pre WWII Polish cavalry regiment.
Of course I know it is not my uncle. My uncle played cowboys and indians with me around the sofa and sideboard. He took me eventing and show jumping, and we tramped around the castles of North Wales and Northern England together. We went to Jazz clubs in Manchester and argued about Ancient Egypt, the French Resistance and the role of Parliament in Elizabethan England.
The photo on the screen, transmitted electronically from a server somewhere hosting the Yad Vashem site was taken years before my uncle’s birth. Before someone found it in their wallet after the war, after the Shoah, and scanned it into a database as an act of remembrance. An act to say that my uncle’s distant relative, with the family name before it was changed in Britain, left behind in Cracow, would not be forgotten, would not be consigned to ignorance and the convenience of history’s sweeping up of events it would like to forget.
He will not be forgotten simply because he was a Polish serviceman who was defeated by the Third Reich’s panzers, simply because he was a Jew or because somewhere in a Polish forest near Lvov, in a killing line called Belzec he was deemed sub-human and his life extinguished in an act of industrialised murder.
He is, and will be, remembered.