Tag Archives: Proust

From Grandfather’s Diary: WWII, Ulysses, and Proust

31 Jul

This is how things look and feel when the world is falling apart. In this case the falling apart was the run up to World War II and into the War. Not so different from now, is it? Life goes on. But for how long?

My paternal grandfather, Axel Benzon, was a Dane. He and his wife, Louise, immigrated to America early in the 20th Century. He was educated as an engineer and knew Greek sufficiently well that he wrote poetry in Greek. He ended his professional career as chief engineer, I believe, of the main US Post Office in Manhattan.

And he kept a diary, the pages of which are generically entitled: “Leaves from my diary.” It’s not a handwritten affair, kept in one of those blank books one can buy at a stationary store. It’s typed on ordinary 8.5 by 11 paper. I’ve got a photocopy of much or most of it, but, judging by his index, not all.

Here’s the opening paragraphs from the entry for 14 April 1940:

Sunday and cloudy with occasionally a little snow-a good day to remain indoors and listen to the war news from Europe. These news are coming in frequently but are most confusing and it is difficult from the british and german dispatches to a form a true picture about the situation in all parts of Norway.

The Danish goose is cooked – there the germans are in possession of all parts and are now fortifying points of vantage, especially the northernmost part of Jutland from where they can dominate a great port of Skagerak and Kartegat.

The invasion of Norway was a masterstroke, no matter how it turns out. It gave evidence of the usual german thoroughness and precision and coupled with the fact that the german navy is so much inferior to that of the English it has been most successful and must have taken the English by surprise.

As you can imagine, his reflections are much occupied by the war. But not entirely so. For example, he also talks of his fondness for the game of golf and playing it on public courses in New York City—he lived in Jackson Heights at the time. I rather imagine that THAT land has long since been given over to building of one sort or another. In fact, at one point he mentions exactly that. Continue reading