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Saturday, May 18, 2013

Cyber Alexandria by John von Daler

     I never met my grandmother. She was the
widow of an Austrian general who served under
Emperor Franz Josef.
     Her son, my father, left Austria some years
before the second world war to work in South
America. He never saw his mother again.
    During the war this exceptional woman used
her apartment to house and hide refugees fleeing
from the nazis. After the war knowledge of this
reached my father, who by then lived in the
United States. Later, he was always plagued by
not knowing exactly where, how and when his
mother died. He only knew that she was gone.
    My father was no fan of computers or the
internet. When I showed him how I used a keyboard and a computer to compose, he just snorted back that Mendelsohn had not needed a computer. Happily I had done some reading and could retort that Mendelssohn's parents had frequently hired an orchestra to play his newest compositions in the family living room. Since my parents had not done that, I had to make do with the computer - and a backseat to Mendelssohn.
    After my father died I inherited his longing
to know about my grandmother's fate.  For many
years it did not occur to me to use a search engine
to find out about her. Talking about her with a
close friend one day got him to suggest that I
search for her name on the internet. We went
to the computer right away.
    My friend and I stood in front of the little
screen and wrote her name and abruptly a
three-part picture appeared, my grandmother,
torso and head, facing left, right, and center
like some house-thief. She had on a black dress
and a white blouse with a round collar. Her face
was long, sad, proud, haughty. Incongruously,
her ears were decorated with small, gay, pearl
earrings; she had obviously not been expecting the
uninvited guests who had captured her in her home. In front of her torso the gestapo had placed a sign with the date and time of her seizure.
    The Austrian resistance had published her
"mug shot" on the internet. She had been a heroine. She died in Auschwitz three months after the picture was taken. Why had I not looked this
up years before!
     Not since the Alexandria Library has so much
knowledge been collected in one place. Remember
to use it while it is still free and available. You know, the Alexandria Library burned down.

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