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.
Now – coincidence or not – in 1962 something terrible had happened to our family, and especially to my father. He suddenly went into the Allan Memorial, in early December of that year, just after the Cuban Missile Crisis, and that was a very scary time for me as an eleven-year-old. Because my dad was gone for six whole weeks and all of a sudden he was “mentally ill” although really, apart from sometimes having a bad temper, he was a totally straight type of guy, a high school teacher, never missed a day of work, didn’t drink or do anything. A super-responsible, if somewhat distant, family man. I do remember he was under a lot of stress in those days, as was my mother.
When he came home from the hospital six weeks later, he seemed not to remember us at first, or he seemed a bit confused as to who we all were and what we were supposed to be doing all together as a family. But he recovered quickly and went right back to work – unlike many other patients of Dr. Cameron, who were reduced to a vegetative condition with drugs, electroshock and other methods that were being tested on unwitting people.
Now you might think those traumatic events in my childhood would have dogged me for years – but I very quickly forgot about them. Like the rest of my family, I minimized them, put them in storage, never mentioned them, because they were not important. They were just an anomaly that didn’t fit into any picture we had, from before or after, of who we were, which was: a normal, middle-class Canadian family who were “successful” according to the standards of the fifties and early sixties. That time when my dad suddenly went into the hospital, and certain other very peculiar things that were happening during those months, just seemed totally disconnected from everything else about us, and our lives, and the world we lived in. Who could I talk to about all that? I had my image to keep up: I was bright at school, popular, athletic – all those attributes that people valued then. I simply went on growing up and living my life in the belief that whatever had happened, back there, we had survived, so why think about it? In fact we had only partly survived – my father had lost his short-term memory and had to quit teaching, and my mother had come down with a crippling illness. But when you’re young, you can overcome everything.
So at age thirteen, when a guidance counsellor asked me if I suffered from any fears or bad feelings or had any personal problems that I would like to confide, I told him my biggest personal worry was that we were not trying hard enough to get along with the Russians. I delivered quite a long speech about that before leaving his office. That year I also read the Communist Manifesto and wrote a term paper about Vladimir Ilyich Lenin as “The person I most admire.” I don’t really know where all that came from, but that was where my thinking took me. I was very sincere. It seems I had dissociated from a traumatic reality that was too close to home, and substituted a parallel, artificial one.
So forty years later, in 2002, I suddenly had the time and the means to investigate what had been going on in my environment, in Montreal, the city we lived in during those years, at the beginning of what they call the Quiet Revolution in Quebec, and in the outside world it was the height of the Cold War when people were building underground bomb shelters in case of a nuclear attack. As a “creative writer” of fiction and poetry, I thought I disliked libraries and research, but suddenly I was reading twelve hours a day and more. Thanks to the internet I could access thousands of pages of documents and information. That winter of 2002–3, I read continuously for months. Much of what I read was about something called “Trauma-based mind control.” Whatever that is, lo and behold! Dr. Mengele practised it, and had been doing it to people in his clinic at Auschwitz.
I suddenly felt I had the key to unlock some pretty dark, but definitely bizarre, closets that seemed to be lurking in my past. That was when certain memories started surfacing, and making sense – some of which I had been aware of, consciously, since early childhood, and had even written about, as fiction, such as being in an underground laboratory with other children. Other memories arrived as real, physical flashbacks, where suddenly you are a little girl on a table surrounded by doctors, and you can hear them talking about what they are about to do.