Skip to content
For literary responses to COVID-19 from writers around the world, check out our Voices from the Pandemic series.

High Noon in Linz

By Arnon Grunberg

I grew up without weapons. While nobody in my family was a vegetarian—or ever thought of becoming one—I was taught that hunting was a pastime for those who despised science and art. The philosopher Roger Scruton would have vehemently disagreed with my education, but no matter. When I was eight, I had no clue who Roger Scruton was.

Twice a week my mother and I went to the kosher butcher. While waiting for our steaks, sausages and lamb chops, my mother would say that she could see the future: I was going to be a mathematician or a lawyer.

When I turned eighteen, the draft still existed in the Netherlands and at that time I was seeing a psychiatrist. I had refused to continue my education and my parents thought that I was mentally ill.

The psychiatrist asked how often I masturbated, and when he heard that I had been drafted into the army he said, íI'm not sure if a son of holocaust survivors should join the Dutch army. I'll write them a letter.ë

That's what he did, and four weeks later I received a telegram from the Dutch Armed Forces. Even in times of war, the kingdom of the Netherlands would not count on me.

This came as a relief. Not that I was pacifist, but I didn't feel secure in all-male surroundings. My best friends at that time were older women.

Later I traveled to war zones and I reached the conclusion that a certain interest in human beings must also unavoidably mean an interest in their violence.

This spring I met a gun dealer in South Carolina who told me that all men in New York were slaves because they were not allowed to bear arms.

And this week I traveled to the Austrian city of Linz where I spoke for three hours with the instructor of the Austrian anti-terror unit Cobra. He also gave me shooting lessons.

The shooting lessons took place a few kilometers outside the concentration camp Mauthausen where my mother was liberated in 1945. I thought that this was ironic, but maybe ironic is not the right word.

The instructor said that the most common error was that people shot too early in stressful situations. íIt's hard to not shoot,ë he said.

Then I got a pistol and with the loaded weapon in my hand, I felt the fear that I would shoot too early as well.

Only then, while I aimed the loaded gun at a torso made of cardboard, I realized the incredible lightness of killing.

Published Nov 21, 2007   Copyright 2007 Arnon Grunberg

Leave Your Comment

comments powered by Disqus
Like what you read? Help WWB bring you the best new writing from around the world.