Full Moon Over Cideng


Bert Beynen

When I was nine, we moved to Cideng, our new concentration camp.

The new camp commander, Kenichi Sonei, was a real lunatic: he became a beast whenever the moon was full. He prowled through our camp and attacked anyone he found outdoors, mostly diarrhea patients in search of a functioning toilet. After a night of beatings, he became delirious and our camp doctor had to sedate him.

The doctor was a small, red-haired woman with a fiery temperament, nicknamed cabeh rawit, after the smallest and hottest red pepper. Once someone suggested that she should give Sonei a shot that would give him a heart attack, which would have been quite plausible after such a violent night. She answered – sadly – that the Hippocratic Oath forbade it.

When the moon was full, my sister and I huddled close to my mother. We listened to the screams of Sonei’s victims and tried to find out if he was coming our way. One night, the screams came closer and we were getting scared. Mother told us not to worry: she would kill him if he would dare touch us. Then I became really worried: killing was wrong. Would my mother do something wrong?

Sonei never came, but the screams stayed with me. I started wondering what had upset him, especially because I found the full moon fascinating and enchanting. I even had a pair of sunglasses which I wore so that the sun looked like a full moon at night. Moonlight, and sunglasses, showed me a new world. Why couldn’t Sonei see that?

Eventually, I concluded that Sonei had a warped sense of order. During the day, the sun shines. That makes sense, because we can see what we are doing. At night, it is dark. That makes sense, too, because then we can sleep. But with a full moon, this order is disrupted. That was what drove him crazy.

Sonei was not alone: others, too, become violent when the world does not conform to their idea of order. Some think that people should live, get educated, worship, or do sports only with people of the same race or religion. Others think that marriage should be only between people of the same religion or race. But life is not orderly, and that makes some people violent, like Sonei.

In Anna Karenina, Tolstoy describes the childhood friends Konstantin Levin and Stiva Oblonsky. Konstantin is a landowner who works hard to improve his estate and educate the farmers. He looks down upon the paper-pushing bureaucracy where Stiva works. Stiva tells Konstantin that he understands him:

“…you have a character that’s all of a piece, and you want the whole of life to be of a piece too—but that’s not how it is… All the variety, all the charm, all the beauty of life is made up of light and shadow.”

Sonei would have agreed with Konstantin: life has to be of a piece. I, however, agree with Stiva: let there be variety, charm, beauty and, above all, the full moon.

Bert Beynen

sonei

Kenichi Sonei (1946)

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