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Part two of an interview conducted by Ross Merriam, web editor for Geist, with Ann Diamond, who is working from the Greek island of Lemnos. You can read the first part of this interview here.
Ross Merriam: When you say “Life has taught me that wherever there is a sense of ‘nothing happening’ or a blank space, there’s usually something being hidden,” are you saying that gaps in people’s memories are covering up some kind of deeper, hidden truth? Also are these memory gaps necessarily dark by nature, or is it possible to have repressed happy memories?
Ann Diamond: Well, most of our lives probably disappear from our memories, although some people remember much more than others. I have met people who say they have total videographic recall of everything that ever happened to them, and they can access these memories at will. That’s pretty unusual and it can be more of a plague than a blessing, to remember everything. Forgetting is probably a protective mechanism that allows us to imagine a future, instead of drowning in the past.
I have a twin brother who remembers our childhood in much more detail than I do. Twins grow up closer together than siblings whose births are further apart. Twins start school at the same time, for instance, and tend to be at the same stage developmentally, so it makes sense that they would remember the same events in similar ways. My brother and I do share certain memories. A few years ago when I started reconstructing my childhood, as opposed to “our” childhood as “we” remembered it, to my surprise, it seemed there were gaps, periods when I was “gone” – it was as if I hadn’t witnessed certain events or experienced the same continuity of family life that he recalls. So, I started to ask, where was I? That became the question. I wasn’t expecting anything like the answers that I started finding.
So, to answer your question: I can’t really see why we would have to “repress” happy memories. Some happy memories simply evaporate, or get replaced by other happy memories. Traumatic memories, on the other hand, can hang around and haunt us, or we can dwell on them too much. But when there’s nothing where others remember something — a blank space, where you can’t really say anything about a period of your life – that suggests something happened that your conscious mind has decided not to recognize, for any number of reasons.
RM: How do you find out what happened in those memory gaps? And as you find things out, does that make you feel less “artificial”?
AD: I don’t know how other people investigate memory. Psychotherapy would be one way that seems to work. Or hypnosis. I only tried that once in 1998 and it took me back to ancient Egypt and then to a past life in 1942 in occupied Poland. Far, far away from the world I was born into, which was Canadian through and through. It was incredibly vivid, just like being thrown back to wartime. It’s what I imagine people mean by “videographic” memory – except I wasn’t just watching the video, I was inside it. And I died at the end. That was quite something, too, because after death I flew down a long tunnel that was like a long windy wormhole all the way to Canada and the parents I had in this lifetime. And they were dressed exactly as they would have been in 1950, when my mother got pregnant. Some people find that kind of story “flaky” even though having an experience like that can really be life-changing. What this strange and intense experience suggested to me was that my birth, and my childhood, were closely linked to the Second World War in Europe – even though I was born in Canada and never went to Europe until my late twenties.
In 2002, I was living in Vancouver and happened to read a novel: The Good German, about Nazi scientists hiding in Berlin who were being recruited by the OSS – the precursor of the CIA – just after the Second World War. It wasn’t a great book, but I became obsessed for a while with “Operation Paperclip” – the secret program that brought Nazi scientists to America after the war. And I began wondered if some of the scientists might have been medical people. Earlier that same year I had been to Auschwitz as a tourist, and I had seen Doctor Mengele’s clinic, which stands next to the Wall of Death where the Gestapo used to execute resistance people and so on.
I started following Mengele’s tracks and as synchronicity would have it, he started to show up magically, everywhere, like the White Rabbit – except more monstrous. I met a kid on the internet who claimed to be Mengele’s reincarnation, and for a month he bombarded me with emails. An old friend suddenly turned up miraculously after twenty-five years and invited me out to a movie that turned out to be about Dr. Mengele’s assistant. And so on.
I was motivated by historical curiosity, plus a feeling that Mengele was somehow “familiar.” This was nothing new – I had always had the feeling I had lived during the Holocaust, even though I wasn’t born until 1951. What did this have to do with my childhood? Absolutely nothing! I had always been afraid of asking personal questions, like “What really happened in my childhood?” As far as I was concerned, my childhood was not worth investigating. Whereas Dr. Mengele, the Angel of Death of Auschwitz, was.
Since I suddenly had unlimited time and internet access, the first question that came to me was: “Did Dr. Mengele ever work for the CIA?” And my first Google search took me straight to the Allan Memorial Institute in Montreal, and the year 1962. The first article that came up said Mengele had actually been there that year, and had worked for the CIA. And there was plenty of information in other searches that seemed to support that bizarre assertion. The real story of the Allan Memorial has never been told, in my opinion, but it’s well known as the Montreal mental hospital where the CIA funded some very heinous experiments from about 1953 to 1964, with help from the infamous Dr. Ewen Cameron.