When I was a kid I never grew tired of listening to my grandfather's
stories from the second world war, or rummaging through his closets looking for forgotten artifacts that could help me understand why the stories were so fascinating. The one thing I could not get my head around was the relative lack of real action – Tigers, Spitfires, Commandos, flamespitting battle ships, all the expected elements that war is made of.
Still, the stories were about minute decisions, great courage and enormous risk. And about saving other peoples life. My grandfather was a student and a border guide, and smuggled 25 jewish refugees from nazi-controlled Norway to neutrality and safety in Sweden. His name was Hans Christen Mamen, but the name in his fake border passport read "Leif Holm".
One of the few artifacts that did survive is the old leather jacket that Hans Christen was given by the swedes. While my father is no longer here to tell his version, my guess is that he viewed his father as somewhat "larger-than-life" in his youth.
No wonder, Hans Christen was a imposing figure; tall, firm and not always willing to listen to anybody but Hans Christen. So when my fathers shoulders were broad enough, he started to wear the old leather jacket, and wore it ´till he himself became a father. Then the jacket was once again put in the closet, only to be rediscovered in the mid-eighties. By myself.
Of course I was not permitted to use the jacket. And of course I nicked it at every possible opportunity. Not only did the jacket have a very special presence – the scars and wrinkles all contained mysteries – but it was unlike anything else I had ever seen. It made me feel connected to my grandfather and with the choices he had made. It made me think of how we all are responsible for our actions, not only in our own time but for future generations. And it made me feel cool.
Last year I made the decision to retire the old jacket. The leather was way beyond repair, three generations of abuse had left its mark. So instead of putting it in the closet, we took it to Simmons Bilt in Selkirk, Scottland, possibly the best leather tailors in Europe. Their enthusiasm for the craftmanship and unique shape of the original combined with great skill have made it possible to duplicate the details and character that makes it so special.
The new jacket is baptized "Leif Holm" in honor of my grandfather and his work for equality and human rights, but the future is, as always, all up to you.
- Helge Mamen