Born Guilty: Children of Nazi Families, by Peter Sichrovsky

What is the mind? What is the mind of a human? What is the mind of the one who investigates the human? Can the human mind understand itself? Can a human mind understand the mind of an other? This is psychology.

Born Guilty: Children of Nazi Families, by Peter Sichrovsky

Postby admin » Fri May 18, 2018 12:08 am

Born Guilty: Children of Nazi Families
by Peter Sichrovsky
English translation copyright ©1988 by Basic Books, Inc.
© 1987 by Verlag Kiepenheuer & Witsch, Koln




Table of Contents:

• Back Cover
• Introduction
• 1. ANNA: The Decent One
• 2. STEFANIE: The Proud One
• 3. RUDOLF: The Guilty One
• 4. JOHANNES: The Innocent One
• 5. RAINER AND BRIGITTE: The Separables
• 6. SUSANNE: The Hopeful One
• 7. GERHARD: The Baffled One
• 8. SIBYLLE: The Orderly One
• 9. MONIKA: The Believer
• 10. HERBERT (A Telephone Conversation)
• 11. EGON: A Dweller in the Past
• 12. INGEBORG: The Conciliator
• 13. STEFAN: The Sufferer
• 14. WERNER: The Mediator
• Postscript: The Misfortune of Being Born Too Late
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Re: Born Guilty: Children of Nazi Families, by Peter Sichrov

Postby admin » Fri May 18, 2018 12:09 am

Back Cover

The author of Strangers in Their Own Land: Young Jews in Germany and Austria Today here provides fifteen haunting and provocative interviews with the children or grandchildren of Nazi war criminals.

"A haunting account of the conflicting feelings of people who grew up with Nazi parents. It shows the terrible consequences of failure to come to terms with the past."
-- Ronald S. Lauder, former U.S. Ambassador to Austria

"Powerfully affecting.
-- Joel Agee, New York Times Book Review

'Sichrovsky's skillful interviews bring out painful, even enraging, evidence of the Nazi family legacy. They also reveal a wide array of psychological and moral responses, all of which we need to know about."
-- Robert Jay Lifton, author of The Nazi Doctors

"A stunning reflection of nationalized naivete and insular emotions in the face of genocide."
-- Patricia Holt, San Francisco Chronicle

"It is remarkable ... how little attention has been paid to the children of the Nazis .... What he learned from the Germans and Austrians with whom he talked adds up to a haunting and depressing catalogue of grief, guilt, confusion, anger, bitterness and evasion."
-- Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post Book World

Peter Sichrovsky, an Austrian Jew born in 1947, is a well-known journalist in Vienna today.

Cover design by Janet Halverson
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Re: Born Guilty: Children of Nazi Families, by Peter Sichrov

Postby admin » Fri May 18, 2018 12:09 am


My RECENT BOOK about young Jews in Germany and Austria grew out of a compelling personal interest. This time I have no such motivation. This book deals with "the others."

Nonetheless, these "others" are not strangers. I grew up among them, with these children of the Nazis. I played with their sons and dated their daughters. We all went to the same schools and probably sat next to each other. Born in 1947 to Jewish emigrants who had returned to Vienna, I was surrounded by children whose parents only yesterday had wanted to murder my parents. Given the small number of Jews living in Vienna after World War II, and the vast number of Nazis in Vienna before and after the war, it is a mathematical probability that in my childhood and adolescence I was surrounded by the children of fervent believers.

However, in retrospect, that subject never came up between us. The children wrapped their parents' past in silence, not necessarily consciously, but apparently they were unable to talk about something they had never been told.

These "others" were not strangers, yet they were alien to me. In the course of my interviews I found that I had been living alongside them, rather than with them.

As regards the parents of my Jewish friends, I was familiar with their past: I knew how and where they had survived. But the history of the parents of those "others" was a mystery. I cannot recall a single conversation with a fellow student in which the role of his parents during the Nazi period was ever alluded to. My reaction to this memory hole was to tell them about the fate of my parents, the drama of my grandparents, as though wanting to establish as unambiguously as possible that my story was unlike that of the majority of the people living here.

The only time the subject was broached was by a German student I met in London. We happened to be staying at the same hotel, and we fell in love. One evening while dancing to the Beatles I suddenly yelled into her ear-the music was very loud-that here we were dancing together while our fathers probably had tried to kill each other. She didn't understand what I meant, and so I explained that my father had fled from Vienna to London in 1938 and had served in the British army.

That put an end to the fun and to whatever plans I'd had for that evening. Edda, that was her name, returned to our table, sat down, and told me that her father had been in the SS. Again and again she asked me about my parents, about their lives in emigration, but she couldn't tell me anything about her father's life during those years. All she knew was that he'd been a member of the SS. She knew neither his rank nor his function.

My preoccupation with the children of the active participants in the deeds of the Third Reich thus was a venture into familiar territory inhabited, as I was to learn, by unfamiliar women and men. I knew little about their cares, their fantasies and problems, which were a burden they carried around with them because of their parents' past.

When I began working on this book I thought about which of two possible approaches to the children of Nazis would be the most promising. Should I get in touch with the children of well-known Nazis, or should I ask around for the names of children of Nazi families? The first approach seemed more direct. One contact led to another, and before long I was in touch, either in person or by phone, with about twenty-five women and men whose fathers might be considered representative figures of the National Socialist era.

Many declined to be interviewed, some because they had built new lives for themselves and wanted to forget the past, some because they feared they would be asked to criticize their fathers, and still others because they simply wished to be left alone. Among those who refused to talk to me was the daughter of Hermann Goring, although I later read an interview with her in a magazine. Not all who agreed to an interview appear in these pages. What I was after was a mixture of important personages and simple fellow travelers. To limit the book to children of well-known Nazis would have given it a nuance I hoped to avoid. After all, the Third Reich was not made up solely of leaders. On the contrary. It was the vast mass of loyal, decent bureaucrats-policemen, officers, mayors, railroad employees, teachers, and so on-that greased the wheels of the Nazi dictatorship. These were the people that interested me. I wanted to know their children: how they grew up, what they knew, what questions they asked, and how they managed to live with what they knew.

In the case of lower-level Nazis I depended on leads furnished by friends and acquaintances. This put me in touch with a group of people who voluntarily referred to their parents as Nazis. Because the children, not the perpetrators, were to be my subject, I did not focus on the deeds of the parents. I was interested in the opinion of the children, whether or not they saw their fathers or mothers as Nazis. I never spoke to any of the parents. The most important criterion was the children's assessment of their parents, how they saw them.

This book does not offer a hierarchy of horrors. The child of someone responsible for the deaths of thousands is not necessarily of greater interest than the child of a small-town mayor who may have merely put some Social Democrats in jail.

When I first approached the children of some not particularly prominent Nazis I made some crucial mistakes. They rebuffed me because they sensed a critical attitude. Formulations that I had thought noncommittal, such as "Wasn't your father a well-known SS officer?" or "Aren't you the son of a prominent Nazi?" were reason enough for many to change their minds about the interview.

I learned that I had to revise the wording of my questions. After that initial experience I would refer to fathers who had been "active during the Nazi era," or who had been "politically engaged." In some cases I even went so far as to offer the interview as a means to refute the charges against their fathers.

The book that resulted is a mixture of interviews with children of the famous and not-so-famous, with men and women who hate their parents or continue to admire them, who think of their parents as murderers or as heroes or as ordinary people, parents like any others. I have made no attempt to categorize or group the children of Nazis, let alone interpret them on the basis of their attitudes. I leave that to the experts. My compilation does not claim to be a scientific sample. It is an arbitrary mixture of the lives of some people in present-day Germany and Austria. Among the forty people I interviewed I found a wide range of responses to the actions of the parents. Yet despite all the differences, I also found a number of similarities.

Perhaps the greatest insight I gained was the fact that the members of the postwar generation had never had the experience of seeing their parents in their heroic Nazi roles. The radiant youthful hero in SS uniform, firm in his belief in Hitler and final victory, belongs to history. His children know him only from pictures and books. Born toward the end of the war or afterward, they have no such memories of their parents. Fleeing advancing armies, bombed out, homeless and unemployed, hiding from the Allied police, arrested and jailed, these parents are remembered by their children as victims of the war, as victims of a lost war.

One woman described her father, a high-ranking SS officer occupying an important post in a concentration camp, as a "nervous, trembling man, in constant fear that the police would get him. Four of us were living in a single room, my father had no work, and was afraid to go out in daytime. Is that what power-hungry monsters responsible for the deaths of millions look like?" she asked. "I could never see my father in that role."

The children of the Nazis never experienced their fathers in an active role, except possibly within the confines of the family. The parents saw themselves as victims, and when they were young the children accepted that view. However, once they became old enough to learn something about the actual role their parents played during the war, the children themselves often became victims-the victims of their parents. Many of the people I interviewed saw themselves in that light, as the victims of a mentality which, even though the war had been lost, fostered a fascistic attitude in the home. The external setting had changed; Germany and Austria had long since become democratic states. But the National Socialist ideology was deeply embedded in the minds of the perpetrators and their henchmen, and so the postwar generation found itself confronted by democratic structures on the outside and fascistic family structures at home.

The following letter from the father of a young Austrian musician to his son, who had fallen in love with a Jewish woman, is a telling example.

Linz, Tuesday, April 6, 1965

My dear Herwig!

There is a reason why I am writing you today. On Friday Ina is going to return to Frankfurt. The days that follow won't be very easy for you. Perhaps you will find it reassuring to know that your problems are shared by me, and that I am judging your situation not only with my heart but also with a clear head. Not only the situation as it appears at this moment, but also the one that might arise. I am urging you to say goodbye in a friendly but noncommittal fashion, and in doing so mention that a written communication will follow. Put off everything still unresolved, all problems, agreements, etc., until a later date. Leave everything open. I'm giving you this advice for tactical reasons. Now to the matter itself, something you and I should talk about frankly.

Much has happened between Ina and you, but also in connection with us. There is much that could be said, criticized, advised, compared, etc. Your mother and I agree when we say that many of Ina's shortcomings could in time be overcome, smoothed over. We also know that you have made a number of mistakes. All this would be grounds for discussion and advice. But now the problem of Ina's heritage has added a catastrophic element. Today I see many things very differently. This problem must be looked at from two completely different vantage points. First the personal one: very regrettable, of course. Ina is not responsible for that. As far as Ina is concerned, this problem must be tackled very tactfully, best of all even ignored for the time being, unless she herself forces us to change our mind and attitude. Out of personal compassionate understanding I agreed to receive and treat Ina politely. I would also like to take Ina to the station on Friday. This ought to tell you something about my objective attitude. To formulate this attitude clearly and unequivocally: your decision is and remains entirely your own, as does mine, which is that my door shall remain closed to Ina once she leaves here.

This dry communication may seem very harsh. But there are two reasons for it. The first rests on the fact that under no circumstances am I prepared to change my basic attitude toward life. The second has to do with you yourself: I know that in the long run, despite your best intentions, you are not capable of bearing up under what is bound to be a psychologically crushing burden. Perhaps not everyone in your world would greet you with reservations and prejudice, but perhaps you would see reservations where none exist. It is my absolute duty as your father to call the consequences to your attention and to tell you without beating about the bush what to expect if you bring someone of Jewish descent into our clan. I have to tell you this, as harsh as it may sound, and in fact is.

I am giving you time and advise you to give yourself time before making a final decision. Should you decide that this episode has been closed for good, then tell me so. I would also like to call to your attention something that doesn't necessarily have to be so, and I even hope that it won't come to pass -- namely, the possibility of legal consequences, which cannot be ruled out. I therefore ask you not to expose yourself in any way. When the first letters are exchanged let me know, lest either out of rashness or ignorance of the situation you put things on paper that might harm you. Since you'll be here for the weekend, we will have a chance to talk about it. Be nice now and don't be rough on Ina. Her situation isn't an enviable one either. But be careful. Don't even mention the word marriage. If push comes to shove you might find yourself dealing with forces that you with your ideas and opinions are absolutely and completely unequipped for.

I therefore ask you to understand my concern; it is the concern of a father for his son.

Regards and love,
Your father

As far as the neighbors are concerned all they have to know is that your Visitor is leaving to continue her studies. Other than that not a single word to anyone!!

Many years later the son ran into Ina at a concert and told her of his conflict with his parents. She told him that she wasn't Jewish, that he apparently had misunderstood something she had said. But it was that "misunderstanding" that gave the son the liberating strength to leave home. Now he is a musician working primarily with groups playing traditional Jewish music.

The reaction to the feeling of victimization by one's own parents varies from person to person. Many see themselves as sufferers. Thus a twenty-nine-year-old student, the son of a concentration camp guard, referred to himself as the Jew of his family. Using the victims of National Socialism as props, searching for reasons for persecution within oneself, reasons which in bygone days would have relegated them to the ranks of the persecuted, is not an unusual reaction of these children to the culpability of their parents.

Those feelings are often intensified when these children of Nazis talk among themselves about their fate. In answer to my question whether they spoke differently among themselves than they did to me, a forty-year-old psychologist told me that I wanted to deny her the role of victim. When she talks about this subject with friends she is talking to fellow victims, but when she is talking to me she is reminded of her possible complicity in the crime.

Another typical reaction is protectiveness of the father. Even when the evidence was indisputable, some of the interviewees reacted vehemently and said they were not about to revile their fathers. Some sought to trivialize the deeds of their fathers, saying they had been small fry or had served in an area where there had not been any concentration camps. Others said that their parents were very ordinary people who had behaved no worse than any other parents, had never abused them, and they therefore saw no reason to distance themselves from them or to judge them. What mattered to them was how their parents treated them, not what they had done in the past.

All the people I talked to knew that I was a Jew. I mentioned this fact at the very outset, and I never felt that it engendered any reluctance on their part. However, in the course of the interviews they would refer to the fact of my Jewishness. Most of the time they tried to explain to me that because of my relationship to my parents, which undoubtedly was different from theirs, I could not understand what growing up with Nazi parents was like. Occasionally this took the form of almost aggressive attacks and accusations that in my situation, despite the sufferings of my family, I had had an easier time of it than they, the sons and daughters of murderers. I had to agree. The crucial difference between the children of the victims and the children of the perpetrators is that the former do not have to live with the fear and suspicions of what their parents had done during the war.

What also interested me about my project was the scientific investigation of this phenomenon. Annette Hahn, a young Munich physician, undertook a study of the psychological and psychiatric literature on this subject in German scientific archives and libraries. Her quest ended within days. At most, twenty papers on the psychological problems of the children of Nazis are to be found in the archives of the Federal Republic. The psychologists who proliferated during the 1960s and 1970s valiantly labored to make the Germans happy and serene-and to help them forget their own history. From collective barbarism to collective amnesia. A university professor was asked why so little attention was being paid in Germany to the effects of the deeds of the fathers on their children. He said that it was not a popular subject. But some of these children undoubtedly sought treatment. Among the thousands who grew up in the households of unreconciled Nazis and who sought the help of psychologists or psychiatrists, that phenomenon must have been recognized as the cause of psychic trauma. How did all those "helpers" treat this subject? What did they do with these patients? How could they help if their training and scientific work excluded this central concern?

Perhaps it is already too late. By now the grandchildren of the perpetrators are of college age, and their parents were deprived of the opportunity to learn from the history of their own parents. The silence of the perpetrators can become a time bomb. An entire generation, a generation torn between the reality of an external new democracy and old fascistic family ideals, failed to assimilate the past, and because of this failure it could not forge a new identity, one that would make a recurrence of the past unimaginable. Nearly all of the people I interviewed, regardless of their attitude toward their parents, were convinced that what happened under the Nazis could recur. Their mistrust, their awareness of the traces of the past among their compatriots, coupled with the fear of such a repetition, has not made the children of the perpetrators particularly optimistic citizens.

Not only are the children faced with the inability to right the wrongs of their parents, but they also lack the essential positive identification with their parents. These children were traumatized by the coldness and silence of the parental generation, and if they managed to master the past at all, they did so only with great effort. The much-discussed "inability to mourn" -the parents didn't even mourn for their beloved Fuhrer-typified the mood of the families after the war. The children's view of their parents as "victims" of the war reflects the reality of the children's experience. Those great heroes, the masters and supermen" turned into puny figures who saw themselves as the victims of misfortune, never as the instigators of disaster. Personal guilt and responsibility, let alone shame on the part of the parents, were hardly ever mentioned. The generation of the perpetrators treated their children to lies, silence, and dishonesty. "If my mother even once had said to me that she was a participant," a woman told me in the course of our interview, "that she had made a terrible mistake, that she hoped I, her daughter, would learn from it, I could have become reconciled to her, even if it turned out that she had been a concentration camp guard."

The silence of the parents coupled with the persistence of fascistic attitudes within the family colors the history of the children. So if they see themselves as victims of their Nazi parents, they are not altogether unrealistic.

Many of the children of these Nazis have taken over their parents' role of suffering. This becomes apparent particularly during discussions touching on social and political problems, when disagreements with governmental authorities or political adversaries are seen in terms of the Nazi era. Some liken the Greens to the Nazis and others liken the police to the Gestapo, but in either case there is an attempt to dramatize the situation by comparing the adversary to the Nazis and seeing oneself as the victim.

The biggest failure of the perpetrators is their failure to bear witness. The ugliest among them frequently turn into whining Germans who cannot understand why after all these years they are still looked upon as being responsible for the horrors of the Nazi era. With so much evil in the world, be it the Russians or the Americans, they ask, isn't it time to let bygones be bygones?

Today more talk in the Federal Republic centers on whether history has known tragedies comparable to Auschwitz rather than on how this could have happened in a Christian, civilized country like Germany. Politicians openly state that they, as young officers in 1945, did not feel that they had been liberated, but rather that they had been vanquished, and there is a running debate about monuments to honor all the casualties of the Third Reich as victims of the war, regardless of whether they were murderers or murder victims.

This talk of the innocently vanquished is now supposed to form the basis for a new democratic orientation. Those "old" Germans certainly have not made it easy for the "new" Germans. They shoved things under the rug until the pile of dirt grew so big that one trips over it. In this book we hear from a generation that continues to trip-over their parents' past, over their cowardly failure to talk about this past, over their failure to admit their guilt. Whether this stumbling gait can be converted into a firm step remains to be seen.
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Re: Born Guilty: Children of Nazi Families, by Peter Sichrov

Postby admin » Fri May 18, 2018 12:10 am

1. Anna, The Decent One

My LIFE can be summed up in just a few sentences. Born 1947 in Munich. Childhood in Munich. School in Munich. Nursing school. Married at twenty-eight. Housewife. Mother of two children. My husband works in a bank. He takes care of us and I take care of the household. We're well off.

This part of my story is easy. It can perhaps be summed up as follows: When I was thirteen I found out that my father had not, as I'd been told by my mother, been a combat soldier during the war, but that he'd worked in a concentration camp. And that my mother, also contrary to what she'd told me, hadn't been sitting at home worrying, waiting for news from her husband at the front. No, my father came home every evening, like a man returning from the office. Sat down at the table and ate the meal Mother had prepared for her hard-working spouse. He did his job, and she hers.

When I was still young-I remember it like today, it was in 1959-a letter arrived at the house which changed everything, absolutely everything. But it also left everything as before. I know that sounds contradictory, but that's how it was. However important and weighty that event, it basically changed nothing.

Apparently charges had been brought against my father by former prisoners. You can imagine what went on in our family when that happened. But maybe you with your history can't imagine it. At the time my father was working for the police. He got the job soon after the war. He had his work, we were well off; we were like any other ordinary family. Perhaps we were even happy, I don't know. At least I don't remember being a particularly unhappy child. Fascism? Nazis? Persecution of Jews? That whole business was never mentioned in our house.

"During the war your father fought at the front, like all other men," my mother used to tell me. And I wasn't supposed to ask him about it because it upset him too much. And I didn't ask him. Why should I have? War? That happened long before my time. True, there were all those bombed-out houses in the city, but everything else was just stories, things that had happened to others.

But then came that letter. I don't remember whether it was from the government or from a lawyer; I have no idea. And I never read it. One evening, a few days after the letter arrived, my father didn't come home. I was sitting in the kitchen with my mother eating supper. I sensed that something was wrong. For days hardly a word had been spoken in my presence. My parents walked around with worried faces. My mother even had tears in her eyes. Today I am surprised at myself for not having asked any questions. I saw everything, heard everything, but paid no attention, lived my little life as a schoolgirl, and told myself that Mother will tell me if it's something I ought to know. Of course I knew that something had happened. Father was on the phone all the time and didn't go to work. Every evening men with important-looking briefcases came to the house. The only thing that really upset me at the time was that these men always had their meetings in the living room, which meant that I couldn't watch TV.

One evening I was sitting with Mother in the kitchen having my supper when she raised her head, looked at me, and said: "Anna, you're now old enough for me to have a talk with you." I put down my spoon, looked at her, listened to her, and didn't understand a word of what she was saying. She seemed almost ridiculous to me, and even today I remember that evening as being rather curious. For the first time my mother seemed unsure. She began to stammer, excited and hysterical; it was a confused account interspersed with sobs and these recurrent phrases: "If anyone should ask you about your father, you know nothing. And if they ask you what your parents have told you about the war, you tell them nothing. Do you understand what I'm saying to you? Regardless of who asks you, you know nothing." Then she tried to explain something to me, talked of false reports, of denunciations, of evil people who wanted to take our father away from us. I didn't understand a word. And since I wasn't in the habit of asking questions, I was satisfied with the admonition to say nothing. What could I have told, anyway?

My mother was terribly afraid. At least that's how I see it today. Afraid of everything: me, the police, the trial, the neighbors, and undoubtedly also the survivors.

Life at home became increasingly disorganized. Every evening some men would show up and sit with Father; Mother usually stayed in the kitchen, tearful, and every now and then she'd serve them coffee or beer. I couldn't talk to my father at all. He stopped going to work, spent the whole day at home, hardly saying a word. I stayed out of his way, avoided any contact with him-and strange as this may seem, slowly began to move away from my parents.

This went on for a whole year, until the next dramatic incident. I had meanwhile turned thirteen and become a little more grown-up. I began to fight with my parents about ridiculous minor things, though they seemed very important to me at the time-like refusing to wear what my mother had laid out for me or going for a walk with my girlfriend, the kind of things my own children do without giving it a thought.

One afternoon, shortly before the summer vacation, the telephone rang. My parents had been even more nervous than before. My mother had been sitting next to the phone waiting for it to ring. It did; she picked up the receiver, and except for "yes, yes," her voice growing firmer with each yes, she said nothing. Then she hung up the phone and with tears in her eyes came over to me, embraced me, and said: "Now everything is all right again. They weren't able to hurt your father. Everything is fine again."

Now came my question, the first real question I had ever asked my mother. You can laugh at me if you want, or refuse to believe me, or think I must have been retarded, but that was the first time I asked, "Mother, what's all right again?" And my mother said to me: "Your father has been acquitted; he is not guilty. He's never been guilty."

These words and my mother's reaction were like a vehicle transporting me into another stage of my life. Nervously and somewhat irritated I asked her what he'd been acquitted of, what he'd done, who had brought charges against him, why charges had been brought. Needless to say, my mother didn't tell me anything. She talked in circles, spoke words whose meaning I knew: shameless, denunciation, governmental terror, and -- don't get upset-the Jews. That was the first time that word was spoken in our house. Never before had my parents said anything about Jews; it was a word that didn't exist.

That conversation put an end to my na'ivete and childish stupidity. I began to be suspicious. For the first time I began to sense that something was being kept from me.

Father returned home an hour later with some of his friends. All of them were slightly tipsy. They were flushed, laughed a lot, and embraced and kissed me. I was disgusted. Then beer was ordered by the barrel in celebration of his acquittal. The whole thing is so terrible when I think about it now. I don't feel that I can judge him, let alone condemn him. I don't want to talk about what he'd done during the war. Perhaps they threatened him or put pressure on him. Who knows what I would have done at the time? But why celebrate now? Why act as though the home team had scored a big win? I'm not exaggerating when I tell you that that was the worst evening of my life. And still worse are my memories today, now that I know why my father was brought to trial.

After a few days things returned to normal. My father went back to work; my mother went back to cleaning, cooking, and shopping, and I continued to go to school. But I developed a passionate urge to get to the bottom of their secret. My parents weren't about to tell me anything. And I simply didn't understand the many remarks and allusions, the cynical references by neighbors, schoolmates, and even some teachers. After all, I knew for a fact that my father had been a soldier in the war like everyone else. But two weeks later I knew better.

Today it's easy to say this. And it also sounds so pathetic. How often have I talked about it with my husband. But what is the most important event in a person's life? Mine undoubtedly was the discovery that my father had been head of a guard detachment in a concentration camp and that he'd been accused of murder. I found out about it. And what happened then? Do you think that my discovery changed anything? Should I have run away from home? Or drawn up a private indictment against a mother and a father who for years had lied to their child? They had fed me, clothed me, and at Christmas there was a tree and presents. Do I do any more for my children? A father who was a murderer. What does that sound like? My life wasn't like a Dostoevsky novel. Mine weren't the right type of heroes.

We had a teacher at our school who was a little older than the rest, a friendly, kind man. Regardless of how we behaved in class, he always remained calm. We didn't take him very seriously. But one day after class he took me aside-most of the other kids had already left-and quietly said to me: "Anna, if you should ever feel like talking to someone, particularly because of that business with your father, you can come to me. I will try to help you."

Nobody had ever said that to me. After only a few days I took him up on his offer. He invited me to his house. That in itself was unusual. Why did he do it? I don't know. I never asked him. I went to him the next day, and the day after that, and again the day after that. I'm still in touch with 'him. He is now almost eighty. We never talk about my father. He is a sort of grandfather, and probably also a father substitute. He is such an uncomplicated, solid man. Everything he says is right. I believe every word, and I accept his advice like that of my doctor.

What did he tell me at the time? What could he tell me? Who can imagine a thirteen-year-old girl stupid enough never to have heard of the horrors of concentration camps and na'ive enough to believe everything her parents told her? The first shock was to find out what had happened; the second, to find out that my father had played a part in it. Of course I knew that there had been concentration camps and that 6 million Jews had been murdered. We'd been told about it in school. But I had also been told fairy tales in school, stories like Little Red Riding Hood. And we learned about the Crusades and later, when I was older, about the French Revolution. And still later, about World War II and the gas chambers. But who, for God's sake, had ever told us that our own parents had been there? Or that thousands were executed during the French Revolution? Yes, I remember our history teacher's dramatic depiction of the misdeeds of Robespierre. But who could believe that the baker next door or the English teacher or that nice policeman who stopped the cars at the school crossing or the man at the passport office participated in the murders during the war? And one's own father!

The history class and all those other accounts were stories about events in the past. We were such nice, cheerful children, with our neat skirts and hair ribbons. Sundays my father carried me on his shoulders as we walked in the woods. My parents and I played catch, and the one who dropped the ball would be penalized. Silly, harmless pastimes. Solid and decent to a fare-thee-well.

There were no casualties, no wars, no threats. There was no mourning. That's how it was. Nobody mourned in my family. Nobody had died in the war. My father's brothers survived, and my grandfathers were too old for military service. Nor had any family member died in bombing raids. But maybe that wasn't the reason they didn't mourn.

And then came that afternoon with Horst. That's what I call that teacher now. He himself had been in a camp as a Communist. He wasn't a big shot, and so he was left alone for a long time. But a few months before the end of the war they picked him up, a last round-up of prisoners before that last push to make sure that the final victory wouldn't be endangered. Horst didn't say much about what happened to him. I think he was much more concerned about what the other people-like my father -had done. I don't want to go into details about the things he told me. The most important thing I learned from him was that the cruelties in Germany had taken place not in some remote past but just before I was born. And that the generation that had caused, instigated, and thus also committed those acts was not only living, but living in my neighborhood. And that my own father had been an active participant in the crimes.

Horst was forever talking about his duty to tell me about the past. In that respect he was like my father; he, too, loved to talk about duty.

But if you now expect to hear me say that this led to a great blow-up in my family I have to disappoint you. When I think back on it today nothing much actually happened. Somehow there was nothing there to destroy. Of course we had a big confrontation. I asked my father a question all children ought to ask their parents: "What did you do during the war?" But before my father could answer, my mother intervened, angry, almost screaming, that I should leave my father in peace, he had gone through enough during the war and was glad not to have to talk about it anymore. And when I persisted, saying that in school we had learned about the camps, about the gassing of Jews and the shooting of women and children, and asked whether my father had had anything to do with it, whether he'd been there and participated in those insane deeds, both of them screamed at me. They stood in front of me with angry eyes, one screaming louder than the other, and spoke of their own daughter slandering her parents, of schools that incited children against their own mothers and fathers. Was that the thanks for all their sacrifices and pain, the terrible times they had gone through, the care they had given me? And on and on in that vein. But I didn't let up. I asked the crucial question, whether it was true that Father had worked as a guard in a death camp. At that both of them broke down, cried and whined, and always the same phrases, "That's what you get one's own daughter ... after everything we've gone through ," etc., etc.

Neither yes nor no. No "I'll try to explain it to you." No guilt. No sorrow. No responsibility. There they sat, the two of them, as though I had accused them of something so bizarre that the only response they could offer was despair and tears. And still, as terrible as that may sound, that's all there was. I continued to go to school, to sit down to dinner with my parents, to go for walks on Sunday, and to celebrate Christmas, as though the mile-wide chasm between myself and my parents had always existed. Today I see everything as through a haze where only outlines are discernible. I feel my way through it, seeing the other person only vaguely, hardly recognizing him, knowing only a little about him, seeing only the same indistinct contours. And however close I get to that other person, everything remains hazy, barely recognizable.

Our family was a working partnership that functioned. I sometimes try to imagine what I would do in a similar situation today. Let's say my husband were to be arrested tomorrow, and it turns out that a few years ago he had murdered someone. He isn't convicted but I know that he is guilty as charged. What would change? Would I leave him, separate from him? Would he suddenly be different from the person I had known? Perhaps I'm not so different from my mother and father. What do I expect of my husband? That he earn enough money so that my children and I can live fairly decently, that he spend his evenings and weekends with us, that he not abuse us and not drink too much. I don't ask for much.

Perhaps my mother didn't expect anything more either. Perhaps she thought, as she packed his lunch pail in the morning, what really mattered is that he be a faithful husband, a hardworking, respected man who looked after his family. But I can't buy the story that she didn't know what his job was. And I found the proof a few months later in my father's desk. One evening -my parents were out-I began to look through his papers. My father's desk, that was almost like a shrine. I found everything there. IDs, working papers, documents, court papers, depositions of witnesses, everything neatly filed away. I looked at the photos on the various IDs. A young, slender face, stern eyes, narrow lips. My father. He hadn't changed all that much over the years. A stranger who was obligated to take care of me. I also found their wedding picture. My mother next to him. Both smiling. That's how they also always smiled at me. The two of them were so strange to me, so remote.

I stayed at home until I graduated from high school, when I moved out. I went to nursing school mostly because they offered housing. I visited my parents every Sunday afternoon. For years I went every Sunday at the same time. My mother would bake a cake, and there was coffee with whipped cream. We talked about my work and about the assorted ailments of old people. Once in a while I tried to steer the conversation to the war and to my father's role. It was pointless. I might just as well have talked to the kitchen sink. Every word I said was washed away. Age did not change them; they remained smooth and ice cold. Then my grandparents died within two years of one another. My father's father had been a civil servant in Frankfurt. Decent, upright people, I had always been told. He'd never been like a real grandfather to me. We saw him every two months, and year in, year out, he always asked me the same question: "Well, Anna, are you making your parents proud?" My mother's father worked for the railroad. I don't know much about him, either. The two grandmothers were much nicer. But aside from a few friendly exchanges during our rare meetings there wasn't any contact. In the space of two years there suddenly were four funerals. I had never before been faced with the death of relatives and dreaded the idea of the funerals. Now I discovered how little it meant to me. There was no real mourning, despite the black dress and my mother's tears. For the first time I asked myself whether I, too, was incapable of mourning, whether the death of another person, even of a relative, meant nothing to me. I tried to imagine what would happen if my parents were run over by a car. Nothing would happen. All it meant was that I would no longer have to visit them for our Sunday coffee.

But please don't misunderstand me. I feel neither particular contempt nor indignation toward them. My main emotion is indifference. The family gradually died. First the grandparents, who certainly must have known everything and never said a word to me. Two years ago my father died. He was sick for a long time. He spent a year in the hospital, and toward the end even in my section. I saw him almost daily. But he remained silent till the very end; not a word about his past crossed his lips. He'd repeat the same old litany whenever I tried to find out anything more. For a while I thought it might be easier, because Mother wasn't there. But it was hopeless. True, he did become a little less rigid and often said how senseless the war had been, that it had robbed him of his youth, and that I'm much better off because now there is no war. He hadn't been a fanatical Nazi but only a man who'd made use of the opportunity to better himself, to make more money. For the rest, everything was duty. Sometimes when he was feverish he'd speak of comrades, as he called them, who'd behaved like swine. But I got nowhere with my questions about what they'd done and where they'd done it. All I got were evasive answers.

My mother and I were with him when he died. For the first time the word "perished" entered my mind. Yes, he perished. I was used to seeing patients die. It happened every day. But some patients perish, die miserably, the way they'd lived. That's how my father died. My mother sat next to his bed and cried. I didn't try to comfort her and I didn't feel pity for my father.

At the time I was already involved with my future husband. He was studying economics. His father was a banking executive. His parents aren't very different from mine, only their way of speaking is a little more refined without saying anything. Paul, my husband, also moved away from home after he finished high school. His father was a judge during the war. Who knows what filthy things he'd done. We married when we were twenty-eight and took an apartment. We invited neither his parents nor mine to our wedding. That was the worst thing we could do to them. For days my mother cried, and his father threatened to disinherit him. But we didn't want them around. We wanted to make a fresh start. No witnesses from the past. Since then we've also begun to pay regular visits to his parents like the ones to my mother. We take turns; one month we visit the one, and one month the other. The two sets of parents have no contact with each other, yet they'd make a good match.

But as I get older I often begin to wonder whether we, my husband and I, are really so very different. And always there's that nagging question about how we would have acted at the time. Let's say my husband comes home tonight and tells me he has the chance of doubling his salary, perhaps even becoming a department head, but for a while he'd have to work in the administrative office of a prison camp. The people there are nothing but dirt anyway, and in taking that job he'd be doing something worthwhile. Would I have reservations? Or would I say that he has to do what he thinks best? Would I ask him what he was really doing there or would I behave as though none of it was my business? These thoughts keep cropping up. Can wolves turn into sheep in the space of a single generation? After all, we are the products of the same parents, the same grandparents, the same teachers, the same priests.

Today I live only for my family. I love my daughters. One is eight, the other ten. They are the first human beings I truly love.
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Re: Born Guilty: Children of Nazi Families, by Peter Sichrov

Postby admin » Fri May 18, 2018 12:10 am

2. Stefanie, The Proud One

My OLD MAN is as pious as a monk. Everything is kindness and love. But love like in the mind, you know? The first time I stayed out all night he cried and prayed. His idea of love is kissing the other guy's ass. Always walking with your head bent, eyes downcast looking at the shoes. Some father! At times he can be as sweet as a baby. I've never heard him yell. He's either quiet or he cries and prays. You'll never catch him being rough or losing his temper. But his whining is enough to drive a person crazy.

And Mother? She's not all that different. Both of them are Jehovah's Witnesses, waiting for a savior, and when that day comes only they and their friends will be left. The rest of us will go under. A day in our house goes something like this: getting up-praying-lamenting-praying-crying-praying-going to bed. Exciting, no?

Well, you know why. They executed my father's old man. Right after the war. Sometimes, when my mother goes completely crazy, she tells me that I'm possessed by the same devil as my grandfather. And God will punish me also. That's something to look forward to. But I won't let them drive me crazy. We're not allowed to even mention Grandfather, only in our prayers. They ask God to take pity on him, and they promise to atone for him through their lives. The only question is, how? They're ruining themselves, and me along with them, only because the old man was some kind of big shot under the Nazis. I know him from pictures. He really looked great. The black uniform, the boots, what a guy! And that haircut, those eyes. I bet they were all afraid of him. Not like my old man, who's afraid of everything.

Say what you will about the Nazis, but they looked great. At least the men. You can forget about the women with their blouses and hairdos. But it must have been exciting then. In school they showed us pictures of parades and rallies. What enthusiasm! Tell me where you find something like that today. Yes, I know, it was a bad time. The war, nothing to eat, the bombs, the Jews. We once had a history teacher. Long hair, beard, ski sweater, jeans-the works. Boy, did he carryon about everything. For hours he'd talk about the Jews, the Communists, the Gypsies, the Russians-victims, nothing but victims. He acted as if he'd been persecuted, as if the Nazis were still after him. But what was he? He wasn't a Jew or a Gypsy or a Russian. Maybe a Communist. I never believed the things he told us. Who knows whether it really was so bad.

Once someone asked him in class: "Tell us, where was the madness? Why did all those people shout hurrah and Heil? Why was everybody so enthusiastic? There must have been something to it." He just looked stupid, our dear teacher. He called the boy who'd asked the question a neo-Nazi, asked him whether he had no respect for the victims, and so on. But we didn't let up. At least someone finally said it out loud. We wanted to know what things had really been like. It was like a dam had burst. Always that business about criminals and crimes, always us, the Germans. The whole class was yelling and screaming. It was all idiocy, the things he was telling us, one of us said. We'd seen the pictures. The laughing kids, the glowing faces of the women, the streets filled with cheering masses. Where did all that enthusiasm come from? "You're lying," I said to him. At first he looked dumb, but then he let loose. He screamed at us. Gone was that left-wing softy of the sixties. All hell broke loose. At last we had broken through the facade of this all-understanding, all-knowing, all-explaining puppet. Suddenly no more psychobabble. No more words about being able to understand and even accept my aggressions and all that shit. He now went after me in a rage. What could one expect of me, with a grandfather like mine who'd been executed, a criminal, even worse, a war criminal? Those were his exact words. I didn't say a word. But sitting next to me was my friend Gudrun. She suddenly yelled out that he ought to be glad that my grandfather was no longer alive, because ... That's as far as she got. There was such an uproar that nobody could be heard.

After that our dear teacher really went to pieces. That coward went to the principal. That left-wing hero, always talking about resistance against the powerful, he went to the principal. I can tell you, I know that lying type. The principal then came to our classroom and delivered a long speech. We were covered with guilt and shame, he told us. Maybe he, not I. I didn't murder anyone, I didn't mistreat anyone, I didn't cheer Hitler. If they believe they'd made mistakes, okay. Let them put on a crown of thorns and cry and cry. I'm sick and tired of it. Enough that we Germans are always the bad ones, that we have constantly to be reminded of it. What does that mean-we started the war, we gassed the Jews, we devastated Russia. It sure as hell wasn't me. And no one in my class and none of my friends and certainly not my father. He trembles when he hears a door slam. They executed all the guilty ones back then at Nuremberg. They had their show. My own grandfather was among them. What do they want from me? Every year the same business in school. Movies about concentration camps, pictures of concentration camps, I'm telling you I can't stand it anymore.

Grandma always used to say that Grandfather was murdered. As far as she's concerned there was no guilty verdict and no execution. She's eighty-five now, sits in a wheelchair and talks to herself. She talks about Grandfather only when my father isn't there.

"He was a handsome man," she tells me, "tall, proud, and when he wore his uniform no woman could resist him." Then her face shines. Sometimes she also talks about Hitler. She'd met him a few times. When he walked into a room, she says, they all jumped to their feet and they all were afraid of him, even Grandfather. Unfortunately he went mad at the end, otherwise the war wouldn't have been lost. Well, it all sounds a little crazy, but that's what she tells me. And the Jews, she says, had to be wiped out, to keep them from ruining Germany.

All right, I can imagine what you're thinking. Maybe the old lady is off her rocker, but she's not entirely wrong. Look at the Jews today. They say none survived. But today they're again all over the place. Do I know any personally? Well, not really. But on TV, the radio, the banks, the newspapers, the Jews are everywhere. An example? Let me think. Well, there's Rosenthal and his "Dalli, Dalli." [i] Another one? At the moment I can't think of any. I have to ask Grandma, she knows all of them. She always points them out to me: that one's a Jew, and he's a Jew, and so is that one. When she could still get around, she and I would go for walks in our neighborhood. She'd point out the stores that had belonged to Jews. They really controlled almost everything. Now she always says that the little ones were driven out, but the big fish returned. And now they're even richer than before.

Don't misunderstand me. I'm not a racist. I've got nothing against Jews. They don't mean anything to me. I don't even know any. But to keep on accusing me that I with my nineteen years share in the guilt of all the crimes against the Jews, that's ridiculous. What does it mean, we took everything away from them back then? What have we got today? My father was twelve when they took his father away and executed him. His mother was left alone with the children and little money and no honor. For years the old man sacrificed himself "living and fighting for the fatherland," and the reward is a rope around his neck. My father may be a little nuts, but I can't blame him. I can understand why he turned to religion.

You know, sometimes I wouldn't mind being one of those poor little Jews. At least today, not back then of course. But now? Everybody would feel sorry for me, always the big victim. They'd shove the money up my behind because of all that bad conscience, and all doors would be open to me. Restitution? That really gets me! Who helped us? Four of us lived in a miserable apartment, in three rooms. Meat once a week. And there was no spending money for the movies or any other fun. What they gave to them they took from me.

Yes, I have a sister. I don't like to talk about her. We don't get along very well. She's three years older than I, and the exact opposite in every respect. Always doing good. Always that gentle manner, enough to make you sick. She's studying medicine and plans to become a psychiatrist. "I live in order to help" is her constant refrain.

Once she almost came to blows with Grandma. They're always at each other's throat. Brigitte, that's my sister, is always on my Grandma. How was it possible for Grandpa to have participated in those crimes? Didn't she have any influence on him? That poor old woman doesn't know what to do. She becomes red in the face and gets very excited. Really furious. "He wasn't a criminal," she says. "He was a hero!" She was and is proud of him, and even though they killed him she will always love him. Then Brigitte gets crazy. They always follow the same script, like roles in a play. And Brigitte also always acts as if it had all happened to her, as if she'd been there.

You can't imagine all the things she's done to rid herself of that great guilt. Atonement, reconciliation-ridiculous. For what? What business is it of hers? I don't understand what she wants. She's just one big crybaby, that's all. Every year she goes to Israel to work in a camp without payment. She's a member of the Committee for Peace, the Committee for International Understanding, the Committee Against Xenophobia, the Committee for Judeo-Christian Amity. She really gets on my nerves, I can tell you. One of these days she'll even form a Committee for Asslickers and appoint herself president.

You ask why I'm so mad at her? It's people like her who destroyed us. The big sister as my model. Don't make me laugh. What should I learn from her? If someone spits at her she offers him a drink because she thinks his mouth is dry. She'll let someone throw a glass of beer in her face and pretend it's raining. She and her friends have no pride. They're worse than the Salvation Army. Are these the new Germans? The future elite, college-trained, our future political leadership? I don't call that humaneness, I call it bad conscience, crawling and afraid. Of course I'm not in favor of a repetition of everything that happened back then. But in that case we need really strong types to prevent it from happening. But my sister and her friends? If they should ever gain control here I'll emigrate.

Where would I go? It doesn't matter, only out of here. Away from these whiners. Given a choice I'd go to a country that hasn't lost a war, or at least not in the last fifty years. For once I'd like to live among victors, not among eternal losers. Look at the French, how proud they are of their country. Or the English, or even the Russians. Would it occur to any of them to hide their nationality when they're in a foreign country? My sister speaks only English when she visits another country so that she won't be taken for a German. Imagine!

You have no such problem, you're an Austrian. First you sent us Hitler and then you were invaded by him. You really arranged it very well, I must say. Today we're the bad ones and you're the victims.

By the way, my mother comes from Austria. From Salzburg. Her parents are still alive. They're very pious. My mother was the one who got my father into Jehovah's Witnesses, to save his soul. But I was left by the wayside because of all that soul-saving.

By the way, I just remembered, I did know one. He was an American soldier. I met him in a disco, and afterward we went to a friend's place. He was wearing a star on a chain around his neck. What do you call it? Star of David, I think. I asked him what it was, and he said that he was a Jew and did I mind? Of course I didn't. Well, that's all there was to it. He wasn't any different than any of the other Americans. Maybe the German Jews are different, I don't know. How can I tell? Nowadays so many dark types are running around here: straight noses, crooked noses, Turks, Italians, Yugoslavs. How's one to tell who's a Jew and who isn't?

How do I think one can tell? You mean by looks? Well, that's a dumb question. Like from pictures or from TV. They probably wouldn't look like my grandpa.

What am I doing now? Nothing. I'm alive. Isn't that enough? I was kicked out of school a year before graduation. It didn't really matter because I never was there anyway. I was already going with Peter. The first thing I did after they kicked me out was to leave home and move in with him. I can tell you, it was crazy. In Peter's dark room I felt I had more space than at home. Then we got married. Real old-fashioned. Peter bought a used Mercedes sports car and we went to Italy. We had a ball, driving around in a convertible. But that, too, had to end. Back in Berlin I tried to find a job. Nothing. The garbage they offer me at the labor office. They're nuts. Am I a Turk or what? I'm bored by it all. They don't find me a job because I didn't graduate. And in school the teachers get on my nerves. It's more than anyone can stand. Well, now I'm sitting around waiting for Peter to come home. He opened his own shop with a friend. No boss. He has the right idea. Maybe I'll go and work with him if I don't find anything else.

Do you think that back then they were as frustrated as they try to tell us? I'd like to feel as proud as they did then. Head high and belief in the future. Even if things fell apart, but until they did it must have been quite something. I'd like to feel that good. And let me tell you, I will. At any rate I won't be like my father. What became of this old officer family? In Grandma's photo album all the men are in uniform. Not only Grandpa, but his father and his father's father also. All of them looking great. We were somebody. General so-and-so and spouse, Field Marshal so-and-so and spouse, and so on. Grandma and Grandpa lived in a villa in the Grunewald, [ii] not like us, in three rooms in Moabit. [iii] They had a chauffeur and six servants, Grandma says. And there was excitement. Tea with a minister and his wife, Baron so-and-so for dinner, balls, receptions. I don't know if everything Grandma tells me is true, but it sure sounds great. Maybe the old man, as they were stringing him up, thought that it was all worthwhile. What had he done that was so terrible that they hanged him? Nobody has been able to explain that to me.

Over and over again I've asked my old man that question. And always the same answer: "He was an evil man." And that he was possessed by the Devil, has millions on his conscience, brought disaster on mankind, and so forth. Not a single simple explanation, at least not any that I can understand. Who was he? A sorcerer? A circus magician who could make people disappear? I don't know. Maybe I'm too stupid to understand any of it, or maybe it's the fault of the people who are telling it to me.

But most of the time I got no answer at all. As soon as the topic turned to Grandpa, my old man and old lady immediately began to pray. But let me tell you, nobody can convince me that it's shameful to be German. That time is over. Peter and our friends agree with me. Those bleeding hearts of the sixties can go to hell. Let them move to the country, plant vegetables, eat mush, and raise free-ranging chickens. I don't like the Greens. They don't have any of the new pride. They're afraid of atomic war, of chemical industries, of dying forests, of the census. Every day they tell us that all of us will soon die. Stand around in Parliament in their jeans and preach the end of the world. They're like my parents.

Do I have any particular ideal? How do you mean that?

Can you name anyone here in Germany that I can admire? Who are our models? Yesterday's old Nazis? Or the new Greens? Or people like my parents who are wasting their lives in fear? Who do you think are the models for people in my age group? There's nothing. Nobody.

We're the last of the Mohicans.

Who do I think is great? I'm great!



i. Hans Rosenthal, a popular West German game show host, urges contestants on his show to "Dalli, Dalli" ("Hurry up").

ii. An upper-middle-class section of Berlin.

iii. A working-class district of Berlin.
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Re: Born Guilty: Children of Nazi Families, by Peter Sichrov

Postby admin » Fri May 18, 2018 12:10 am

3. Rudolf, The Guilty One

FIRST OF ALL I must tell you that I'm haunted by guilt. And people who are guilty are punished, if not here and now then in another place. My turn is sure to come. There's no escape. But you'll learn nothing from me. Not a word. What they did will remain a secret. No one will find out. Their deeds, or rather, their misdeeds, shall not be mentioned anywhere. Not a single word, except the guilt now rests on my shoulders. My parents, they're already roasting in hell. They died a long time ago; it's over for them, this life. But they left me behind. Born in guilt, left behind in guilt.

The dreams are worst of all. Always at night they come and get me. Always the same dream. I know it like a movie I've seen a hundred times. They tear me from my bed, drag me through the room, down the stairs, and push me into a car. They're men wearing striped uniforms. The car races through a city. There's noise all around. People shout "Hurrah," yelling and screaming. Sometimes I think we're driving through a street in which the people cheer us. We arrive at a house I don't recognize. I'm pushed down the stairs into a cellar, they rip my pajamas off and push me into a room. The door closes behind me. Do I have to tell you what room it is?

There are showerheads on the wall, and through the openings something streams out with a soft hiss, like air from a defective bicycle tire. I have trouble breathing; I think I'm choking. I rush to the door, try to open it, rattle it, scream, my eyes are burning. Then I wake up. Usually I then get up and don't go back to bed. I can't sleep anymore. As soon as I close my eyes it starts all over again. They tear me out of bed, and so on.

There was a time when I had this dream twice a week. Then again I didn't have it for months, and then it would start all over again.

Doctors? I've been to dozens. The ones I liked best were the ones who asked me what I thought the dream meant, why I think I have the dream. Are they crazy or am I? Should I tell them that I ... Shit!

Sometimes I imagine that I'm murdering someone. I choose somebody I don't know at random, murder him, and then turn myself in to the police. Everything would then be over. I'd spend the rest of my life in prison, where I belong, to make up for my father, who didn't go there. They would torture me, beat me, and all day long I'd have to do some idiotic work. But all that is preferable to what I have now. Just look at me. Innocent, I am living the life of a guilty person.

My parents escaped to South America. New name, new passport, a new beginning in the "free world." But not anonymously, oh no. Among lots of friends and fellow soldiers. We moved from city to city, and everywhere we were expected, called for by car, friends welcomed us, a new house-everything was there, and a new life began. Until we left once more and were received someplace else. We were expected wherever we went. I was born in 1950. By the time I was ten we had moved four times. After that things calmed down. We stayed in a South American country; apparently they'd stopped looking for us. Or at least they didn't find us. You won't believe it, but later we got our German passports back.

Today I am a German, a German bearing the identity of the son of a criminal. A life sentence. Reason: son of a murderer. Sentenced to parents who'd led the lives of butchers. How do I know what they'd really done?

Perhaps my dear father sent the women that he took from the camp at night into the gas chambers the next morning. Or perhaps he kept them and helped them. And maybe my darling mother sent her driver back to hard labor because he didn't polish the car just so. And then she got herself a new driver.

He hadn't done anything. She hadn't done anything. After all, what's all the excitement about? Driving the truck into a Polish village, rounding up Jews, taking them to the cemetery, the men here, the women there. The men dig a long trench while the women and children strip and neatly pile up their clothing and jewelry. Once, one single time, my father was drunk enough to talk about it, how terrible it had been, that time they had to shoot the children one by one with a handgun because those idiotic soldiers had aimed their automatic weapons too high above the heads of the adults.

Oh my God, my dear papa. What a good man! He cried when he talked about it. What bad times those were, he whined. Thank God it's over. But there he was wrong, my dear papa. It'll never be over. Do you know the song "They're Coming To Take Me Away"?

I keep on humming it to myself. Let me tell you, one day they'll come. They've already gotten my parents. They were killed in a car accident in 1968. In a second it was all over. They were burned to death beyond recognition. It was gorgeous, like an atomic blast. Unfortunately I didn't see it, but I would have liked to. Both of them were buried in Argentina, even though my father in his will said he would like to be buried in Germany. I didn't do it. I prevented it. None of his wishes were to be granted once he was dead. No more orders, no more edicts.

The night after the funeral I went back to the cemetery and pissed on his grave. I trampled on it, went crazy, cried. It was terrible. That was my farewell. I never went back there. And when I die I don't want to be buried there.

Why did they get that insane notion, after everything that had happened, to make a child? To pretend to be a family. To live like devils and die like angels, how is that possible? We were always well off, we had everything. There was always enough money. "Project Reinhard," does that mean anything to you? In our neighborhood there were a lot of Germans, many with a past like my parents'. All of them were doing well. Big houses, swimming pools, servants. The money came from "Reinhard." All of them had taken their little packets with them from Germany.

When I was ten my old man opened a real estate business. He brought all his old comrades into the neighborhood. Many of them were already there. Everything around us was German: German schools, German stores, church on Sunday, followed by beer at the tavern. German friends, German jokes, and German papers. Yes, of course, also Austrians. But for the rest we were among our own. German victors. Not a trace of defeat. We knew the bombed-out houses only from pictures. Here things were always in bloom. Eternal spring, fertile soil, a victor's paradise. Why was I born? Does this question mean anything to you? It was asked by Jodl [i] after he was sentenced to death. Quite a question, no?

I've read everything that was said at that trial. Frank [ii] was the only one who voiced any regrets. I have often tried to imagine what my father would have said. I don't think he would have voiced a single word of regret, not a single word about his guilt. When he was sober he was a hero. A victor. His voice was always a little louder than that of others, always serious, decisive. He never just smiled; he laughed outright, loud, and then immediately again became serious and businesslike. Above all, just and consistent. If the cook was ten minutes late he'd fire her. He checked the lawn after it was cut. When a new maid was hired she was told how to line up the glasses in the wall cabinet.

Punishment was administered ritually. I had to stand against the wall with raised arms. Then he would hit me across the rear end five times with a thin bamboo stick. My mother would stand next to him and watch, after which she'd take me into her arms and console me. Father would leave the room. Afterward I had to go to his room and apologize. After all, I had hurt the poor man's feelings.

Once some money was missing from a bowl on my father's desk. Not much. He used to keep small change there for tips. He decided to show us how such matters are handled. After dinner he called the servants in. The cook, the maid, the gardener. Striding back and forth, he told them they had an hour to report the culprit or they'd all be fired.

I was twelve at the time. It was an important day in my life. I screamed at my father to leave them alone, that I was the one who had taken the money. Enraged, my father sent the servants away, all the while yelling like crazy. Do you know why? Because I had said it in Spanish, had humiliated him in front of the servants. My first puny triumph over him. I was proud. I'd made the great hero lose his temper.

Not far from us lived a group of Jewish emigrants, all Germans. Half of the kids in some of our classes were Jews and the other half non-Jews, mostly the children of old Nazis.

But outside of school there was no contact. On the contrary, there were frequent fights, real gang activity. I was never a fighter. I was a pudgy child, ate lots of sweets, and was always the loser in fights. A real officer's son. But the others had formed a gang and played war games. They'd attack one of the Jews and beat him up, and then the Jews would get one of ours, and so it went, back and forth. I was never really part of this; they didn't want me, and anyway, they got on my nerves.

And so I had no friends, neither among the ones nor the others. I kept to myself. Like a stillbirth being kept alive artificially. An artificial kidney, an iron lung, and a plastic heart, assembled and supplied with arms and legs.

The last three years before their deaths I made my parents' lives hell. I was eighteen when they died. When I was fifteen I began to hang out with other men and boys. When my parents realized that I was gay they wanted to kill me, or maybe first me and then themselves. Perhaps their car accident wasn't really an accident.

"Back home they would have pinned a pink triangle on you," my mother shouted at me. She had to know. But those days were gone. There in Argentina, with my blond hair and blue eyes, I was a hit. I could have anyone I wanted.

So, as you can see, their planned rebirth didn't work. The new beginning of my dear parents in South America turned into a dead end. And at first it had all seemed so promising. A new beginning in a country without a war. The success, the lovely house, the friends, the Christmas tree, the children's choir, Hitler's birthday, all the feast days and holidays. They weren't afraid. Not after 1960. It was all forgotten. Life was back to pre-1945 Germany, that is, until my mother found gay pornography under my bed, until they got something from me that they'd never suspected. I caught them unawares and they collapsed. These upright, indestructible people collapsed and disintegrated.

It was all over for German honor. Once they realized that I was gay they drew back. They never discussed it with me. As a matter of fact, there was very little conversation of any kind. No more visitors, no beer in the tavern, no honorary positions on the carnival committee. They crawled into their shells like snails. They were ashamed of me, the poor souls. For the first time in their lives they were ashamed.

Once I realized how vulnerable I made them I became completely uninhibited. I brought my friends home, dressed like a fag, and in front of visitors talked like a fag. I really let them have it.

You should have been there. Within months my parents changed completely. Then I was kicked out of school for sexual molestation. My father was called to the principal. I hope it was the worst day of his life.

I am convinced that anything, even being charged with murder, would have been preferable. But his son a fag?

I must not have any children. This line must come to an end with me. What should I tell the little ones about Grandpa? I lived with my parents too long, who knows what evil I carry within me? It mustn't be handed down. It's over, our proud noble lineage. If anyone should ask, the "von" [from] in my name at most means "from where." But soon there'll be nobody to ask.

The last few years before my parents' death I just hung around. I'd been kicked out of school, didn't look for work, and my parents no longer bothered about me. I read a lot, especially about the Third Reich, everything I could lay my hands on. And over and over again I came across my father's name. I don't want to mention it here; it must remain a deeply buried secret. But I can assure you that anyone who knew my parents knows exactly who is meant. Won't they be shocked! I can't wait to see their faces.

I soon found out who my father was, yet it was as though I had always known it anyway. Actually I learned nothing new. All I got was a confirmation of my assumptions and suspicions. A picture began to take shape in my mind, a combination of the things I had read and the things my father had talked about. And also my mother's occasional offhand remarks. Everything suddenly fell into place. Maybe I killed them. Maybe they drove into that tree on purpose. But why wasn't I in the car with them? After my parents' death I sold everything and came to Germany. After all, I had a German passport. And all the money I needed.

The last few years I haven't done a damn thing. I don't have to work, at least not as long as the money lasts. I can't go to college because I didn't finish high school, and I don't feel like taking makeup exams. I haven't done a thing for fifteen years. I am a professional failure. I was programmed to fail.

At times I wish it were all over. Hanging around and waiting makes no sense. I hope they come to get me soon.



i. General Alfred Jodl, executed at Nuremberg.

ii. Hans Frank, the Nazi administrator of Poland, executed at Nuremberg.
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Re: Born Guilty: Children of Nazi Families, by Peter Sichrov

Postby admin » Fri May 18, 2018 12:11 am

4. Johannes, The Innocent One

I DON'T THINK yours is the right approach. Today it's no longer a question of whether the past has been overcome or whether it lives on in someone like me. What matters now is whether you, I, and all of us together are willing to get rid of the hatred that lives in all of us and replace it with love, understanding, and oneness. Communality, coming together, mutual understanding is our only hope. But for that to happen we must put the past behind us once and for all, bury it. Together. Let us jointly turn toward new goals. Peace, justice, equality of the sexes, the foreign-worker situation, unemployment, disarmament- there are enough insoluble problems to keep us busy for a long time. Why go on living in the past? After all, there are more important things we Germans must do. Let's visit the past in museums or read about it in history books. We mustn't allow it to rob us of the energy for the here and now, let alone the future, for we will need all our strength to save Germany from new disaster. Still, let us not condemn those who continue to live in the past. We must try to enter into their minds, to feel with them, and above all, to be frank with each other. One day love will conquer all. Love is the only power, the only true power."

How do you like this little tract? I prepared it when I knew you were coming today. That's how I thought I'd talk to you.

But now let's be honest. I'll tell you about myself, candidly and openly. My parents were evil, vile. There was poison in their blood, their breath reeked of sulphur. Yet they didn't have vampire teeth and they didn't have horns. They looked no different than the resistance fighters who were executed. Same looks, same faces, same dress, same haircuts. They weren't marked on the outside, and as far as one could tell, not on the inside either.

My father worked for the railroad. Before the war, during the war, and after the war. A petty bureaucrat of high position, a man who'd started on the bottom and worked his way up to the very top, but who nonetheless remained a petty bureaucrat at heart. Decent, respectable, incorruptible. First he was a member of the Communist party, then of the Nazis, and at the end of the Social Democrats. A steadily rising career without any surprises, without flaws or unexpected hitches. His railroad system transported striking workers during the Weimar Republic, hikers during the thirties, soldiers and concentration camp prisoners in the forties, and when the war was over, hikers again. Anyone who paid the fare was allowed on the trains, regardless of destination. His work was his life. To him job performance was a physical concept-a given amount of work within a given amount of time. Merely doing a job was not enough. He took pride in the way he did his job, in not being a mere machine. Actively doing rather than just functioning, a human switch in a circuit. The amount of work to be done within a given time period was the law by which he lived. Can you imagine what it was like having such a father? It was like looking at a modern nonrepresentational painting. You stand in front of it and think you can make out a form and yet you can't understand what it means. Still you don't give up. You want to understand it. For years I tried to understand my father. I had almost given up, when a chance occurrence brought me insight into him.

I was fourteen at the time. Like every year, we were spending our vacation in Italy. My parents loved Italy. We always went to the same campsite on the Adriatic. The only difference this time was that we were mugged and robbed. A harmless business. A couple of motorcyclists stopped our car as we were coming back from a restaurant. They made us get out of the car, took our money and cameras, and let us go. The whole thing took at most two or three minutes.

And my father? What did he do? He went down on his knees before them and cried in fear. He pleaded and sobbed, begged them not to hurt him, to take anything they wanted, only not hurt him ....

I was fascinated by his fear, his disintegration, his cruel cowardice. Boundless fear, that was his dirty little secret. He always had to be on the side of the strong. What else could he do?

His life was an object lesson in survival. He saved every membership card of every organization he'd ever belonged to. When I went through his desk after his death I found them all. He was fully paid up in each of them. His was more than a case of simple adjustment. It was a sort of dissolution of the ego, a denial of the self. He always turned into that which seemed to pose a threat.

He never criticized anyone. I never heard him rail against the Nazis or against the left or the right; there were no adversaries, only like-minded people, like-minded superiors. It was a system that functioned because of his transformation into what was expected of him before an order was even given. He had the gift of anticipating the needs of those about to take power and to prepare for them. He did the same thing with me. I can't recall a conversation between us when I didn't feel as though I'd been caught unawares. He knew how to hand on the fear that consumed him. His relentless bad conscience made my life hell. My childhood fantasies centered on how to become a criminal without being caught. I dreamed of robbing a bank, of mugging people without being caught. I was fascinated by the idea of the undetected crime. The eternally hounded, never apprehended perpetrator. To be constantly hunted, almost caught.

At school I began to steal. When I was fifteen I systematically went through the lockers of the other kids and took everything I could put my hands on. Combs, bus passes, pencils, marbles, and, of course, money. I had quite a cache in my desk at home. I set aside two drawers for my loot and divided it into neatly labeled categories. You see, I started early. The way you see me here today, on this special visit, is how I began early on. A seamless career, just like my father's. But right now let's get back to my school days. The things I took I saved, and I spent the money. They never caught me. Everyone of course knew that there was a thief among us. Once the principal even called in the police and they questioned us. They asked us where we were at a given time, when we left school, but they didn't have a chance of catching me. I lied like a trouper. And they believed every word. There was never the slightest suspicion that I might be the culprit. Anyway, nobody would have believed it possible. I was an ordinary child, skinny, nondescript, neatly dressed, modest, and undemanding. But behind that facade there was steel. I personified the fine line between harmless and innocuous. Apparently nothing complicated lay hidden underneath the simple surface. But not so. This guise of naivete and innocence was the most exciting outer appearance I could devise to hide the simple, petty thief underneath.

At the time this adventure seemed like a triumph. To go unpunished yet not be acquitted. Without expiating, and free of guilt or recriminations, I continued to steal. My technique became more sophisticated; I stole more and more, and my cache grew bigger and bigger. That is, until I got bored. Superiority can also become boring.

When I was eighteen my father retired. Three months later he died. My mother is still alive. She lives quietly by herself on my father's pension. A small, slender, nice lady. She talks to me the same way as to the local shopkeeper, the taxi driver, or the child that happens to sit next to her on the bus. A year after my father's death my mother told me that my father wasn't that nice, decent man I may have thought. She told me about the transports of Jews, journeys to extermination camps. She spoke of participation and joint responsibility, and even of shared guilt. She meant well, but it was too late. What could still be rectified? There had been silence for too long. He was dead, the perpetrator was dead. And there was nothing I could do; I couldn't confront him with it.

My mother meant well. She became nicer, and sometimes even affectionate. Still, the closer she tried to get, the faster I ran away. I found her newly discovered love for me, her son, intolerable. I was disgusted by her belated attempt, now that her husband was dead, to start a new life with me. My father had slipped out of reach, and my mother wasn't enough for me. But my own life? I don't know, it's hard to say. I remember so few details. Everything always went like clockwork. Every day the same routine-school, coming back home, dinner. There was never much conversation. My mother's recurrent phrase was "You know." "You know that Father doesn't like this. You know that Sundays we always eat at seven. You know that we work this hard to make a better life for you."

I knew it all. I knew of their good intentions. Their determined effort for a better future was touching. I believe that my father really meant it, say what you will about him, about his blinders, his coldness, his methodical life. Every day, every move, every action had to be exactly like the one before. That's what made him happy. Still, he wasn't malicious, at least not intentionally. It's not that he wanted evil, but he was afraid to do good if it involved even the slightest resistance to authority. I think he simply didn't recognize the difference between good and evil. I believe it was the writer Erich Kastner who said that there is no such thing as good in the abstract, only doing good. In the case of my father, this would have to read that there is no such thing as good in the abstract, only the failure to do good.

For Christmas I always got homemade toys. Father would spend weeks making something, a car or a wheelbarrow or some other wooden toy. The actual giving of the gifts tended to become extremely strenuous. My parents would stand there, eyes fixed on me, mouths open, waiting for me to open the huge package. Then some lacquered monstrosity would emerge from the paper, and, you won't believe it, I actually loved it. Yes, really, I was thrilled. At least till I was around twelve or thirteen. Other festivities also followed the same routine for years. Easter, for example. It went according to a strict plan. Some colored eggs, chocolate, hidden all over the living room. Both my parents would stand in the doorway and watch me hunt for the gifts, and whenever I found something they smiled. After that everything was put into a basket and I was allowed to have a piece a day. It would never have occurred to me to take a second piece or eat it all up in one day. Only years later, in my adolescence, did I begin to wonder about this senseless repetitive behavior. But what was so special about all this? Nothing, absolutely nothing. I couldn't even tell you that my old man ever said anything nasty about anyone. No racism, no vilification of blacks or Jews or gays.

He was a little shorter than I, with dark hair which he wore combed back, plastered down like a helmet. His shoulders were a bit rounded, and when he walked he seemed in danger of tripping. But he never did. He changed his underwear every other day. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday my mother laid out a fresh pair of socks, shorts, undershirt, and shirt for him, and he put on whatever she'd laid out, never changing a thing. Every May he went with Mother to buy a summer suit, and in September a winter suit. I knew every item of clothing he wore. Every movement was predictable. There were no surprises, except for that incident in Italy I mentioned. If it hadn't been for that I'd never have seen that other side of him.

I often tried to imagine how the two slept together. Their bedroom was next to mine. A heavy wardrobe stood against our adjoining wall in my room to cushion any sounds. However, if I opened the wardrobe and put my ear against the wall I could hear what the two of them were doing. And it was as regular as everything else in their lives. They did it every Wednesday. I would count the squeaks of the bedsprings. By the time I got to twenty-five it was all over. No moaning, no groans. Twenty-five times squeak squeak, and then quiet for another week. And he died as he had lived. One day after dinner he lay down for a nap. When my mother tried to wake him an hour later-he favored an hour-long after-dinner nap-she found him dead. No screams, no desperate effort to get out of bed. He just lay there and was dead, leaving this world, this small, nasty world which he handed on to me.

Why didn't I ever punch him in the mouth, even once? But my life went on. After finishing high school I went to work in a bank. I got the job through a friend of my father's, naturally. I liked working with figures, percentages, dividends, checks. A leap from my little world into the big world of finance. A single signature of an officer could move more money than I could make in ten years.

To be honest, even then I was obsessed by just one idea: the best way to dump on these types. What interested me wasn't so much a big bank robbery but rather how to break into the computerized money transactions. I became a workaholic. My superiors were enthusiastic, my mother was impressed, and everybody predicted great things for me. And my career did indeed take off. I continued to move up the ladder, to ever larger desks and more comfortable chairs, to more expensive suits and cars. I was a success. When I became a branch manager I began to embezzle money with the help of a complicated yet simple system. Every month I managed to transfer around 10,000 OM to Switzerland. I don't even remember exactly what I did with all the money. Trips, gambling, occasionally in the company of a lady friend. Every other month I took off for a long weekend. On Friday morning I'd go to Zurich to pick up the money, and from there to Nice or Rome or Monte Carlo. For three days I was in control-a gentleman, a prince. I'd tip a doorman more than I made in a day.

These few days were my new life. Here I became a new person. No one asked where I came from, who my parents were, what I did for a living. Money bought complete anonymity. I didn't renounce my past, but I paid a fortune to be rid of it for a few days. I paid with everything I had-with money and with my freedom. But it was worth it. Do you know what it means to live without a past? I extinguished my past. I paid the people I came in contact with to ignore me, to refrain from investigating where and whom I came from. I never had the feeling of wronging anyone. The law? Justice? What ridiculous notions. All I had to do was take what I needed. My disguise was of course expensive, but it was essential to me. Naturally I was caught. I confessed and I got eight years. I've already done three, and in view of my good behavior I'll probably be let out sooner. I'm already allowed out every other Sunday.

The question is what does all this have to do with my father's life. He never broke any laws. On the contrary, he was the personification of probity. Whoever his superior, whatever the system, he was a model citizen. It was my mother who a year after his death tried to tell me that he was rotten, that he'd been the helper of butchers and murderers, a man who would hand the rope to the executioner after checking its strength. Chief of the materiel section, responsible for technical problems, not for human beings. Today I have the luxury of deciding whom I despise more, my father or my mother. How lovely it would be, a life without a past. Sometimes I wish that both of them had died while I was still small.
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Re: Born Guilty: Children of Nazi Families, by Peter Sichrov

Postby admin » Fri May 18, 2018 12:11 am

5. Rainer and Brigitte, The Separables

RAINER: I'm Rainer, and this is Brigitte, my sister. We're the children of a Nazi family. Our father was-

BRIGITTE: We're not the children of a Nazi family, but of a military family. I know that we don't agree about our parents, but maybe we can agree on terminology.

RAINER: Have it your way. I really don't care. You can stick to your version. As far as I'm concerned, ours was a family of Nazis, or perhaps better still, a family of war criminals. Not every Nazi was a war criminal, but our father managed to be both.

BRIGITTE: I won't cooperate if that's how you're going to start. I don't feel like being put on the defensive by you from the word go. In that case let's forget about the interview altogether. Anyway, I think it's stupid to air our differences about our father before the whole world. Either we skip the personal interpretation or I leave.

RAINER: All right, let's be completely objective. Our father -how should I put it-was a high-ranking officer in the German army. He and his fellow officers on the General Staff planned whatever measures were needed to do away with the subhumans. He created living space for Germans, brought back wheat from the Ukraine, oil from Rumania, and coal from Poland. For him war was a game played with colored pins on a map. A few divisions to the north here, a few to the south there, planes on the right, tanks on the left. And victory was tantamount to pulling off a successful business deal.

BRIGITTE: Your cynicism won't do you any good. He was your father! I can still see you sitting on his lap while he read to you or played soccer with you in the garden or took your hand on walks when you got tired. He was your father, your ideal and your hero. You didn't know anything about his past, and you wouldn't have cared. You were born after the war, you didn't witness the final months of the collapse. What do you know about bombing raids, about fleeing from the Russians, about our panic when Father was arrested? And then came his prison sentence. Our neighbors, all those good friends-suddenly they all turned into dyed-in-the-wool anti-Nazis. Mr. M., that swine, still lives in his "Aryanized" villa nearby. But at the trial he testified against Father. Our father spent four years in prison. Can you tell me why? Millions went off to war with enthusiasm, thousands participated in the persecution of the Jews and profited from it. Our father behaved decently throughout. He never took a single item of confiscated Jewish property. He paid for his house out of his own pocket. He never had anything to do with the SS, nor with concentration camps or the execution of women and children. He was a soldier, not a criminal. I don't understand how you can talk about him like this.

RAINER: He wasn't simply one or the other, either my father or a criminal. He was both. And that's what I hold against him. How could he play ball with me as though nothing had happened? What other games was he playing simultaneously in his lifetime? General, father, husband, and finally bank executive, his last, respectable position. I can remember when I was little, Mother always ordered me not to bother him, not to disturb him. Later, when I went to school, she asked me not to tell him when I got poor marks, for that too would only upset him. And still later, when I took part in student demonstrations, I was again warned not to upset him. I always had to spare him, not bother him with my problems, my concerns, but only bring him joy-a playful, happy youngster. Was he ever a real father to me? He was like a household pet entrusted to our care. All that caution and consideration, that don't-come-too-close-to-the-poor- man business. That's the way we sidestepped all conflicts, all frank discussions. One word about the Nazis and Mother would stare icily and launch into her litany: "Leave Father alone! He's gone through enough! Seven years of war and four years of prison is more than enough for one lifetime." And he'd just sit there listening like a stuffed doll.

BRIGITTE: That's not how I remember your childhood. I remember you as a six-year-old, coming home proudly with your first report card and your swimming medals, or the two of you going off to the movies on a Sunday afternoon, or you asking Father to read to you. Do you think a little child can be lied to? He loved you and was a good father to both of us, you as well as me. I think your hateful tirades are really directed more against yourself than against him. The things you've done to turn yourself into a victim! You're terrified because you're the son of someone who committed a crime, and that fear has done terrible things to you. Don't kid yourself, you are and will always be the son of a German officer, and neither your stay in a kibbutz in Israel nor your disquisitions about fascism at the university can change that. You'll always be the son of a German officer, even if you get involved in street brawls with alleged· Nazis. I remember that there was a time when you even toyed with the idea of converting to Judaism. What's all that supposed to mean? Do you think that this sort of thing will help you throw off your past? Can't you understand? You're the offspring of German officers, and that's in your blood, just as it is in mine. And even if you were to become a rabbi it wouldn't change a thing.

RAINER: You talk as though you'd never been troubled by any of this.

BRIGITTE: I wasn't because I was proud of our father. He had the courage to join a movement that held out the promise for a better future. I always defended him because I understood him; I defended him in school against the lying teachers who overnight had turned into antifascists, against so-called friends who thought it would be exciting to go to bed with the daughter of a well-known Nazi, and against all those others who wanted to bring back the past and thought I was their ally. I know what happened back then. You don't have to act the schoolmaster with me. But I also know that when my father joined the Nazis in the thirties he did so enthusiastically, convinced that what he was doing was right. But reproaching him or me won't turn you into something you aren't.

RAINER: Stop it! It makes me sick to hear you talk in these generalities. What do you mean that he believed he was doing the right thing, that he acted out of conviction? Couldn't he see back in 1933 what they were after? Couldn't he have pulled back after the Kristallnacht? Couldn't he at least have joined the 20th of July group? Do you want to know what our father was? A coward! A criminal coward! A milksop! A puppet with pension rights! His enemies weren't the Russians or French or British. His enemies were the Germans, the Germans in his own country. And that's why he hated me so toward the end of his life, because I was like those Germans he thought he had exterminated with the help of his party. He hated me because I was able to say no. He hated me because I wasn't as scared as he. He always believed that the war and the party would create a new type of German, or at the least that Germans would be the only survivors. But he was the old type of German. And I hope this old type will soon become extinct.

BRIGITTE: You're just as scared as he, only you're scared of different things. You don't know how much alike you are. That same fanaticism, only now in the opposite camp. Your implacable righteousness is inhuman. Just listen to yourself when you talk about political enemies. I've often thought that back then Father must have sounded just like that. Perhaps it's sheer accident that you're on the opposite side. I think I'm very different. I try to understand people, why they act the way they do and why they are what they are. But you want to live in an either/or world, a world of either friends or enemies. That's how it was back then. Tell me, what is the difference between you and your father?

RAINER: My fanaticism, not your impotence or so-called understanding, will prevent the resurgence of fascism. Yes, I'm waging war on the German past. I long for the day when the last survivor of the Third Reich will be dead. I look forward to their extinction. Perhaps then we'll finally get a chance for a new Germany.

BRIGITTE: You're dreaming. Nothing will change. If you were in power today you'd hang the others. Your concentration camps would be just as full as those old ones. You and your friends can't fool me. For two hundred years the men in our family were officers. But until you came along they at least were real men. Even after he came out of prison Father held his head high, and emaciated though he was he carried himself with pride. You're not the new, wonderful breed you think you are. Your left-wing enthusiasm was nothing but spite against Father. Just think of how you decorated your room. Ridiculous! A Mao portrait here, a Lenin picture there, a Marx bust on the desk. Later that Star of David on a neck chain, and after that a Palestinian shawl draped over your shoulders. What other disguises do you still need? Do you want me to go on? Just look at yourself!

RAINER: I've always tried my best to become a new type of German, not to be like my father. What's wrong with that? But he wouldn't help me. He harped on the neutrality of soldiers. All he cared about was obligation and duty. He gave his allegiance to whatever government was in power. But what about the duty to disobedience? That meant nothing to him. Only once, toward the end of his life, did he talk more frankly about those times. He told me that his fellow officers said among themselves that the war had to be won before Hitler could be overthrown, that they had every intention to try and build a democratic society after the war. After the war! What a mixture of na'ivete and madness! He really thought that the war could be won. I still can't believe it.

BRIGITTE: You don't know what you're talking about. Or you do and are distorting the facts. It was the General Staff that warned Hitler against marching into Austria, against occupying the Rhineland and Czechoslovakia, and they even tried to prevent the war against Poland. In 1938 Jodl even said that Hitler had the entire country behind him except for the General Staff. But you acted like a beast, trampling on Father even when he was already old. What kind of heroism do you call it, insulting an old, sick man?

RAINER: Stop kidding yourself. Father was the last link in a chain of generations of order-takers and masochistic obeyers, officer after officer, from Prussian to fascist, following orders. I'm proud to be the one who's breaking this tradition. For two hundred years the men in our family handed on to their offspring a tradition of unconditional obedience. I, thank God, have broken the chain, the first nonmilitarist in maybe a hundred and fifty years. No more moving around divisions on drawing boards, with a few thousand casualties here and another handful there.

What do you think went through his mind? Actually you're right, toward the end he'd turned into a nice old man. I don't understand how he could have done the things he did.

BRIGITTE: Tell me, do you honestly think he was a mass murderer? Or is it all a farce? Did you see him hanging around with concentration camp guards and SS murderers? I can't believe you. Your indignation is so ridiculously hysterical, so forced. You shout and rave, smash things. What is it all supposed to mean? You should have seen yourself, how excited you used to get. And your women! Unbelievable. Sometimes it was almost funny, those last surviving hippies coming out of your room dressed in panties and nothing on top, smoking pot. I was always tempted to ask you whether you were doing this for our benefit, to show Father how unconventional you were? Or did you want to shock us with that glimpse of bosom and behind? Rainer the scourge of the bourgeoisie! Laughable! Why didn't you move out? Why didn't you refuse to take the money? Why didn't you leave the family and start from scratch someplace else? That I could have understood. But your protest was underwritten by Father. Every Mao tract you bought was paid for by the bank where Father worked. And even the grass for your funny cigarettes came from him. You never earned a single penny. I feel sorry for you.

RAINER: Spare me your pity. It's nice to know that you feel sorry for me. But it won't do you any good, nor me, because I still hate him even though he's dead. All those ridiculous things I did were an attempt to defend myself against him. At least I tried, unlike you. Your whole life was an exercise in accommodation, a desperate effort not only to please him but to follow in his footsteps. Just look at your husband! A poor replica of Father. He, too, works in the bank, and who knows, he might even become its president if he continues to kiss enough important asses. When you sit at the table with Mother and your husband I can see Father sitting next to you. Nothing has changed. You talk like him, act like him, and even read the same books. You can be proud of your life, that senseless rerun of a senseless life. But basically you're right. I've lost my battle. All my ridiculous efforts, as you call them, to become someone else have been in vain. But do you know why I've failed? Because Mother and you-and I hold you primarily responsible, because Mother after all was married to him-didn't help me. I suddenly found that I had to fight not one but the three of you, and for that I was too weak. I've become resigned. I'm too weak to begin again; I live at home like a child and am afraid of being kicked out. My battle is over, my goals are shrouded in mist. I have lost. My future? I don't want any, it doesn't interest me. If Father can't be vanquished then there is no future for me. Because his life is not a life I care to live. Or do you think I should apply at the bank?

BRIGITTE: Stop whining. Again that victimization. You're not a victim of your father. At best, you're the victim of your bizarre demands and objectives. I don\t care whether or not you go to the bank. Do whatever you want, but do me one favorstop crying. Neither of us has it easy, I know that. We more than most others come of a family that lost the war, because ours helped start it. All of us, not only you, lost. And it is not all that simple to pull oneself up out of this nothingness, this abyss. We were vanquished, and like a defeated fighter we drag ourselves to the locker room and try, slowly, to regain our strength. The scars of that fight are visible on and in us. Some healed and some will never heal, and perhaps will even be handed on to our children. But that's our fate, a hard fate for us, the children of those who caused and started it all. But perhaps it's also an opportunity. I don't know. And I don't see it. I really don't want anything more than to be left in peace. Let our children make a better job of it.

RAINER: So you're also resigned, just like me. That almost reassures me. I always thought you were much stronger than 1. Strange, but now I feel connected to you, more than ever before. Suddenly I don't seem to care how you feel about Father.

BRIGITTE: I'm sorry to have to disillusion you, but you're just as much of a stranger to me as ever. I don't want to share in your suffering. I manage things differently. I don't crawl and don't turn myself into an innocent bystander by pretending that I, along with thousands of others, am the victim of my father. I don't want that, can't you understand it? I don't want to be someone to be sorry for, and no one except I myself am responsible for my fate. And if my life with my husband is a continuation of my parents' life, it still is my own decision, my own will. And I've never relinquished it, regardless of who my father was and what he was guilty of. I am not the child of a perpetrator. I am not the child of a Nazi. This whole interview is stupid. I don't want to be pressed into a mold. I am not willing to live out the fantasy of psychologists who see in me the twisted child of a Nazi big shot. I consider myself a human being responsible for her own actions. What I do is my own will and decision, and if that sounds ridiculous or pathetic, so be it. I never witnessed the Third Reich, I wasn't in the Hitler Youth, my neighbors weren't deported because they were Jews, I didn't amuse myself watching Jews scrub the sidewalks with toothbrushes. I never participated and I never looked away. I've never done anything to harm anybody. Am I an individual or a footprint in the sand? I must distance myself from you because you live in the past. I want to see as little as possible of you because your incompetence and helplessness get on my nerves. I can't help you, and I really don't want to. If! were to take the hand you're holding out asking for help you'd try to pull me down with you. You say you want to stand up, but you're afraid of your unsteady legs. I don't intend to lie down next to you. If you want to you can lie down in the mud, but don't let it rub off on me.

RAINER: For just a moment there I thought that we might become reconciled. But you're right, it's useless. Your way of dealing with weakness is in the best family tradition. The desperate are stepped on and the strong are praised. It's the well-tried system of praise according to ability, not need. It worked in the past and it still works with you. The proud, upright fighter who returns with head held high, even from prison, and who never was able to shed a tear over the disaster which he helped engineer. No hint of an apology, no admission of guilt, not a single word of regret. You can really be proud of that model, a father who manages a bank as matter-of-factly as an army, a universally valuable and useful man, except in situations demanding even a minimum of feeling and sensibility. Yes, he played games with me and read to me and consoled me when I scraped my knees when I fell off my bicycle. But what about later on when, full of dismay and inner doubt, I didn't know where I belonged? When his war crimes drove me, as you so aptly put it, from one camp to the other? When I tried to become a different German than he. Where was my father then? I had the unique opportunity of learning from someone who'd played a major role in the catastrophe. He could have explained to me why he had submitted, why he hadn't offered resistance, or at least why he hadn't called a halt in time. I heard nothing from him, not a word. And that's why I hate him, because in addition to messing up his life he missed the opportunity to let me profit from his experience. It might almost have been better if they'd executed him along with some of the others.

BRIGITTE: That's enough. I can't go on. Let's stop this conversation. It's pointless. Nothing in our relationship is going to change. On the contrary: our expectations of our father are diametrically opposed. I'm glad that he didn't burden me with stories about the past. I knew what had happened and I also knew about his role. What should he have told me? Having a father sit before me and confess his guilt? What a terrible thought. I can do without such a father, a father who weeps and feels sorry for himself, a father who whines and tells me about the mistakes he'd made. No thank you! Is that your idea of a historic opportunity? I'm glad that our father didn't do this, for I would have lost all respect for him. He settled matters within himself, and I am sure that it wasn't easy for him. After the defeat, while in prison, he had four years to think about where he'd gone wrong. Thank God he spared us. And in doing so he made our life easier, not harder. I don't see that as a negative. Of course he changed. After the war he no longer believed in National Socialism. He didn't join any of the rightist groups, and he steered clear of all those reunions of old Nazis. He became a true democrat. And that was enough for me. I didn't need any ridiculous admissions of guilt. He was capable of change, and that presupposes an awareness of having erred.

This has been terribly taxing, and now I'd like to stop. The real tragedy probably is the fact that my father's life elicits such disparate reactions. The catastrophe of the Third Reich and its collapse live on in our family. As a family we have failed. Everything you say and believe in is alien to me, as though you'd never been my brother. When I look at and listen to you I can't believe that we're the children of the same parents, that we grew up in the same house, that we played together when we were small. I am backing away from you. As a matter of fact, I really don't want to see you again. At times I feel that my little brother died long ago and that the man standing before me is a stranger. And often, when you talk about Father, I instinctively ask myself, "What does he know about my father?" And then I remember that he was your father as well. That may be the only thing I hold against him, the fact that his background is an obstacle to normal family relationships. As long as we live his fate will follow us, even though he died a long time ago and will be dead for even longer.
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Re: Born Guilty: Children of Nazi Families, by Peter Sichrov

Postby admin » Fri May 18, 2018 12:11 am

6. Susanne, The Hopeful One

JUST LOOK AT ME sitting here in front of you. My face, my eyes, my mouth, my nose. What do I look like to you? Tell me, what do you see? Suppose we were to run into each other at the supermarket on the check-out line. I turn around and you look at me. There's nothing special about me, right? And now here we are, talking about whether I'm the child of murderers -incredible! What does the child of murderers look like? Tell me truthfully, what did you think I'd look like? Did you have any mental image, any preconceived notion, what somebody like me would look like?

I was conceived in 1944, maybe at the very moment your grandmother was killed in a concentration camp. Or perhaps later that same day, after office hours. Father comes home from work and gets on top of Mother, probably after dinner. I really don't know why I should talk about this with you of all people. But I have to begin with someone.

Actually, you're the first person willing to talk about it all. Probably this is going to turn into one gigantic agony.

We had some teachers at school who were willing to talk about it. One of them was an emigre who'd come back. He went to London with his parents in 1938, and he returned in 1945, hoping, so he used to tell us, to help in the rebuilding of a new Germany. He tried so hard to describe the horrors of the Nazi era for us. But all he accomplished was to make himself miserable, not us. When he talked about it he would tremble from head to toe and turn away to wipe away his tears. We sat there stoically, like Sunday at mass. All the pictures and films he showed us, the stories he told-they meant no more than anything else we learned in school. The bell rang, he came into the room, opened his briefcase, set up the projector, inserted the film, and the pictures appeared on the screen. He read from a book and showed us photographs. I was fourteen at the time. When the bell rang at the end of the hour we rushed out, ate our sandwiches, and got ready for our next class. And a few minutes later we were listening to our math teacher talk about straight lines and curves.

We were busy trying to solve math problems, not problems of history. It was all very meaningless.

In 1948 my father was sentenced to ten years, and he was released after two years, in 1950. I was three years old at the time he disappeared for those two years, and I never noticed it. I was five when he returned. I remember it like today. Suddenly he was there again. None of this was ever discussed at home. My father is still alive. He's almost ninety, a tall, proud man with a shock of white hair. His left hand is missing up to his wrist. He has an artificial hand covered by a black glove. It's inflexible and the fingers are slightly bent. He tends to extend his left arm slightly, as though about to shake hands. Strange, I always see this hand when I think about him. I don't see him as being evil. On the contrary. He never hit me, never yelled at me. He was calm and understanding, almost too calm.

"I'll tell you everything you want to know. Just ask me," he used to say to me, and invariably added this admonition: "And also tell your children. It must never happen again." He was making me responsible for the future, and it was up to me to shield my children against repeating his mistakes. The only problem was: What mistakes? All those historical revelations, those stories, were always so vague.

Mr. Stern-that was the name of the teacher who'd come back from London-once invited my father to school, and my father accepted. That morning he was very nervous. The upshot was that from then on the two met regularly at my father's suggestion. He was eager to see and talk to Mr. Stern. He was looking for understanding. And to this day I find it puzzling how he could talk so often and for so long with Stern, who after all had been one of his victims. When I was older he used to tell me: "We wanted to win at least this one war. We already knew in 1943 that we would lose the war against the Allies. But the Jews, they'd have to die."

He tried to explain it to me over and over again. Very calmly, no undue excitement, trying to win me over. He told me the story hundreds of times and made it all sound so simple and logical, even the most horrendous cruelties. Like stories about a vacation trip. Most of the time I just sat there listening, not saying a word. My thoughts tended to wander, or I would look past him out the window and think of something else. He talked in a soothing monotone, all the while looking at me, and I often felt that I was going to have to listen to him forever, for all eternity.

When I was sixteen he took me to Auschwitz. He knew the camp; he'd been stationed there at one time. We latched onto a German-speaking group. The guide was a former German prisoner. I'll never forget that day. There were many young people my age in our group, the only difference between them and me being that they were the children of victims.

My father didn't say a word during our guided tour. Later, in the car going back home, he began to tell me where he thought the guide had been wrong, which of his explanations were in error. He spoke about the selection at the unloading ramp and said that between 60 and 70 percent of the prisoners were sent to the gas chamber. The rest were put to work. It seems that the guide had said that all but a handful were exterminated immediately. And throughout it all my father was completely calm. And at the end he asked: "Can you imagine how horrible it all was?"

In retrospect, the terrifying thing about him was his objectivity. His reports and descriptions, his careful recapitulation of events. I never saw him shed a tear, never heard him break off in the middle, halt, unable to continue talking. Only these monotonous litanies, almost as though he were reading from a script.

I was raised by my father. I never knew my mother. She was killed in a bombing raid when I was a baby. Later we had a maid who took care of me and the household. He treated her very well. He was, as I already told you, a serene, friendly man. He believed that everything could be explained, and he followed his own logic. Once people were made to see the reasons why things happened, then all barriers to understanding and outlandish ideas would vanish. According to my father, everything that had happened back then was just a matter of cause and effect.

His father was an officer, and so he too became an officer. His parents were enthusiastic Nazis, and so he too became a Nazi. His entire family was involved in it from the very beginning. I never knew his father, he was killed in the war; he even knew Hitler. My father told me that in the early days, between 1930 and 1933, he often saw Hitler personally. "One couldn't resist the force of his personality," he used to say.

In his opinion the horror that unfolded during the war years grew out of the existing conditions and situations. However, in all honesty, my father never glossed over anything. He used words like "murderers" and "criminals." He never offered excuses and never claimed that the things we read about in the papers or books weren't true. But as to guilt, he never considered himself guilty. He never, not once, said that he had made a mistake or that he had been partner to a crime. He was simply a victim of circumstances. And I, I always believed everything he told me. I believed his assurances, believed him when he said that what happened had been a catastrophe, and I never suspected that he might be one of the guilty. But everything changed when my son demolished my view of the world. But more of that later.

After my graduation from high school, in 1962, I decided to study psychology, but later changed my mind and went into education. My husband and I met at the university. We married in 1965, and in 1966 I gave birth to my son, Dieter. Horst, my husband, teaches German and history.

One day about three or four years ago Dieter came home and told us that he had joined a study group to trace the history and ultimate fate of the Jews of our city. Wonderful, I said, and I was proud of him. And Horst also said he would help him in any way he could, with advice or books or whatever. Both Horst and I were quite ingenuous and really proud that our son would undertake something so important.

Dieter and his friends met regularly in the homes of one or another's parents, including ours. They dug through the municipal records, wrote letters to Jewish communities, and tried to find former residents of our city who had survived.

And then, after a few weeks, everything suddenly changed. I began to feel uneasy. Dieter was hardly ever at home anymore; every free minute was spent with his friends. And I was beginning to feel somehow that the more time he was devoting to his project the more estranged he was becoming from us. He hardly ever discussed his work with us; he stopped confiding in us and became more and more secretive.

One evening at dinner-Horst and I tried to talk to him and asked how his group was coming along-he suddenly looked up from his plate, stared at me, and in a rather aggressive tone of voice asked me: "Tell me, what did Grandfather actually do during the war?"

I thought to myself, I'm glad that he's showing interest, he's got a right to know what his grandfather did back then. And he asked me to tell him what I knew. By then my father was in an old age home, about fifty miles from here, and we visited him once or twice a month, usually without Dieter. So I told Dieter what I knew about those days, a past I knew only from my father's accounts. I tried to explain, describe, interpret, and report about a world which, as I now know, had nothing to do with reality. My son listened to me for a while without looking up. Suddenly he jumped up, threw down his knife and fork, which he had been banging on the table while I was talking, looked at me angrily, and shouted: "You're lying, he's a murderer! You're lying, you're lying! My grandfather was a murderer and is a murderer." He didn't stop until Horst got up and slapped his face. At that I began to scream at both of them. It was dreadful. Dieter ran to his room, slammed the door, and didn't reappear.

Something broke in that boy. Over and over again I tried to talk to him, to explain what had happened "back then," that damned "back then." I might just as well have been talking to the wall. He'd sit across from me, stare at my knees, wring his hands, and never answer. It was no use. He wouldn't listen to either of us.

Some weeks after that he came home, took some papers out of his bag, and threw them down on the table. They looked like old documents.

"Do you know a family by the name of Kolleg?" he asked. "No, never heard of them," I answered. "Here," he pointed to the papers in front of me, "they once lived in this house." "You mean, in our house?" I asked, trying to read one of the documents. "Yes, here, where we're living now," he said. I didn't know what he was after. "Yes, and what are you trying to tell me?" I asked. "Nothing important," he answered, and then went on very calmly: "The Kollegs were taken from this house in 1941, and in 1944 they died in Auschwitz. Your dear father moved into this house with your dear mother the day after they were taken away."

He then tore the paper out of my hand and shouted at me: "Do you want me to read it to you? Should I? Here, here it says, 'Here lived Martha Kolleg, age 2, Anna Kolleg, age 6, Fredi Kolleg, age 12, Harry Kolleg, age 42, and Susanne Kolleg, age 38. Arrested on November 10, 1941, deported on November 12, 1941. Official date of death of the children and mother, January 14, 1944. Father officially missing. Place of death: Auschwitz. Cause of death:-' Do you want any more details, Mother? And you want to tell me that you knew nothing of all this? Your father never told you any of this?"

I said nothing. I fidgeted, not knowing what to say to him. My father had never told me that we were living in a sequestered house. I assumed that it had been in the family all along. And damn it all, what should I have said to my son? Form an alliance with him against my own father?

I tried to talk to Horst about it, and he promised to have a talk with Dieter. But that didn't help matters. On the contrary, our son now also turned against his father. And Horst also didn't handle things very skillfully. He is a dedicated adherent of the Greens and considers himself a leftist. In his opinion our problems today, namely the ecology and atomic energy, are unique to our time. And he tried to persuade Dieter of this. The problem facing young Germans today, he insisted, wasn't fascism. The past was past and should be laid to rest. The critique of fascism was the province of philosophers, not teen-agers. Today young people ought to demonstrate against atomic ·plants, against the pollution of the environment. Everything else was socially conditioned and would have to await social changes, and then there would be no more fascism, and on and on with this theoretical twaddle. Dieter sat there, shaking his head, trying to get a word in edgewise, but Horst wouldn't budge.

Dieter finally gave up, but Horst kept talking. I tried to interrupt and asked Dieter how he now felt about it all. He looked at me, looked at Horst, and all he said was: "What on earth has all this to do with the fact that my grandfather was a murderer?" He then got up and went to his room.

The next few weeks were horrible, nothing but arguments, fights, tears, and accusations. Dieter and I were on a collision course, like people of different religions and different truths. Horst took refuge in TV and refused to mix in, except that every now and then he surfaced with senseless advice-telling us to stop and not take things so seriously. But that wasn't of much help. On the contrary: Dieter took everything very seriously.

I feared that I was about to lose my son. I hadn't broken with my father despite all the stories he'd told me. But now a breach between me and my son became a real possibility. I found myself in the dreadful position of having to choose between my son and my father.

Before being forced into that choice I of course tried to reason with Dieter. We had not spoken to each other for about two weeks when one evening I asked him to listen to me one more time. I tried to make clear to him what my father had told me of his work, mentioned our trip to Auschwitz and other incidents of my youth. I wanted to make him understand what I'd been told of my father's past and of National Socialism, how I'd reacted to these accounts, and to what extent it affected my life, if at all. I also tried to make clear to him the difference between our two generations. When I was his age it would never have occurred to me to join a study group investigating the history of our town under National Socialism. Compared to today's youth we were stupid and na'ive and uninterested, or possibly the subject was still too loaded then.

That conversation was very important. Dieter, no longer so resentful, listened to me very calmly and asked many questions. But I think the most important thing, as far as he was concerned, was my telling him that I was not going to defend my father at all costs, that his grandfather must not be permitted to come between the two of us, and that he must not think of me as an ex-Nazi clinging to faded ideals. I also made him understand that it is not all that easy to condemn one's own father as a murderer if one has never seen or experienced him in that role and if he had never shown me that side of himself.

Well, yes, basically what I did was to ask my son for forgiveness and, beyond that, for an appreciation of my situation. I left no doubt about my own rejection of the past and my father's deeds. That probably played a crucial part in our reconciliation.

In the days after our talk something wonderful happened to me. I forged a bond with my son-against my own father. Increasingly I began to take an interest in the work of his group, and he showed me everything he and his friends were collecting and digging up. His study group frequently met at our house, and I would sit quietly in the corner and listen to them. I was fascinated by the way young people today approach history. This generation is far less self-conscious and less fearful and inhibited than mine.

But this doesn't mean that everything was okay. I continued to visit my father every week, and every time before I went I planned to talk to him, but I never did. He had trouble walking, his hearing was bad, and I usually spent my time with him wheeling him around the garden of the nursing home. I simply couldn't get myself to ask him about the circumstances surrounding his acquisition of the house in which I now live.

I tried to persuade Dieter to come with me on one of my visits and to talk to his grandfather. He refused. "He's your father," he told me. I also thought that he would find a talk with his grandfather unpleasant.

Eventually I was able to persuade Dieter to come along. My father was happy to see his grandson. He hadn't seen him for almost a year. He asked him about school, and the two talked like old friends. I thought that perhaps Dieter had dropped his original plan. But I was wrong. After chatting about this and that Dieter came to the point.

He asked my father the same question he had asked me, namely, whether he knew the Kollegs. No, my father told him, he'd never heard of them. Dieter persisted and asked him how he'd gotten the house in which we lived. He bought it, my father told him. From whom? Dieter continued. From a real estate agent, my father answered. Did he know who had lived in that house before? Dieter asked. No, he didn't, my father replied.

.And so the talk went back and forth without Dieter actually attacking my father. He asked him simple questions, and my father answered in his customary straightforward manner. I began to think that perhaps my father really didn't know anything. But Dieter, in his penetrating prosecutorial fashion, didn't let go, until my father lost his patience. "What is it you're trying to find out?" he asked Dieter. And so Dieter told him about his study group and the documents about the house they had dug up, about the proof of the deportation of the Kollegs, the people who had lived in our house.

But my father denied everything. He hadn't known it, he'd bought the house in the usual way; this was the first time he'd heard that Jews had lived in the house before him. Dieter didn't believe him, but he refrained from starting a fight with his grandfather. He whispered to me that it was pointless to talk to him about it. And we left it at that.

On that day my father died as far as I am concerned. I no longer know the man I continue to visit, and he's no longer of interest to me. We talk about meaningless things as I push his wheelchair around. Since that crucial visit we never again have had a personal talk. I had found out that my father was a liar. And I didn't want to think about all the lies he'd been telling me all my life. Nothing was certain anymore, everything I'd been told may have been either half-truths or distortions.

Now I visit my father only once a month. Dieter has never again gone back with me, and I've never asked him to. I am now on his side and all my hopes rest in him. He is not influenced by my father's generation, and that's good. He is growing up far freer than I, and also far less in awe of authority. But the crucial experience in regard to my son is my alienation, with and through him, from my father. The old man living in that nursing home is a complete stranger to me. Someone else could be sitting in the wheelchair I keep on pushing around in the garden, and I wouldn't even notice it.
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Re: Born Guilty: Children of Nazi Families, by Peter Sichrov

Postby admin » Fri May 18, 2018 12:12 am

7. Gerhard, The Baffled One

IT'S GOOD to have a chance to talk to you about it here. Over the years my father's been accused of all sorts of things, and not one of them is true. Now I have the chance to straighten it out. Between 1940 and 1945 he was the mayor of this town. My mother was a guide in the BDM [League of German Girls]. My father's family were shopkeepers. His parents had a butcher shop, very small, nothing very much, just enough to support themselves. I still remember my grandparents. My mother also comes from here. She never really knew her own father; he died in World War I. He was a worker. My grandmother, that is, my mother's mother, took in sewing.

My father was born in 1910, my mother in 1914. As far as I know, both families have lived in this town for generations. My father is dead, and so is my mother. My father died in 1979, my mother in 1982.

My father joined the Nazis in the very beginning. I don't know exactly when, but he always said that he was in it from the start. That's where he and my mother met, at some party affair. Things must have been nice back then. Both of them were always so full of enthusiasm when they talked about it. Apart from his shop he gave as much time as he could to the party. He always said that he gave his all for his ideals. Mother was interested in the young people. She always liked children.

There were four of us children at home. Mother was always the most important person in our household. Father often got mad at us and also hit us, but in the end it was Mother who called the shots. I have two brothers and one sister. Stefan is the oldest one. He was born in 1936. Then came Gudrun, born 1939, and Anton, born 1941. I am the youngest. I was born in 1946, after the war.

Stefan became a plumber and now has his own business. Gudrun is a housewife, the mother of two; her husband works for the post office. Anton works in a garage; he's a foreman. I have my own butcher shop, not my father's old store. He sold his business when he went into politics.

I'm married and my wife works with me in the store. Our son, Gustav, is twelve, and goes to school. We're doing all right, except for the time when my father was involved politically, which later on was held against him. They kept on attacking him. After the war, long after he stopped being mayor, they kept going after him. Since he'd sold his business, he wanted to, actually had to, look for work, and that wasn't so easy. But thank the Lord the owner of the lumber yard-he'd always been on his side-hired him. They knew each other from before and helped each other when times got bad, just as my father had helped him when he was mayor. Thank God he was able to keep his lumber yard after the war and so could help my father. My father then became an executive in the business. That was good because it helped us get many things cheaper. After the war Father built a new house, and he also helped me with my shop. I now live in that house, and lots of the things in it are made of wood.

Mother stayed at home after the war. What with all the children she probably had to. She also took in sewing, just like her mother. For a while she tried to work in the kindergarten in town, but they didn't let her. Somebody there was sore at her. Why, I don't know. What did she do? Back then she played with kids and took them on hikes. What's bad about that? But probably some people revenged themselves in order to get some advantages.

Father didn't really have any difficulties after the war, except that he could no longer be mayor. The other political parties didn't nominate him, which meant that he also couldn't work in the town hall anymore. From one day to the next they took everything away from him. Long after the war he often said that the same people who'd given it to him took it away from him. I guess some were mad at him, but to this day I don't know why.

When I was little I was also blamed by some people. Your father was an old Nazi, one of the worst, a teacher once said to me. But thank God it was only that one teacher. He really hated me. When he saw me in a fight with another kid he'd yank me away and say what else could one expect of me. My father always said that he was nothing but an old Red who couldn't forget. He was a real enemy of my father. Even when they met on the street they didn't look at each other and didn't greet each other. Both of them looked the other way. According to Heinz, the teacher's son, my father was supposedly responsible for the teacher going to prison. Heinz is a year younger than I and was in the class below me at school, but not in the same school I went to, because he was the teacher's son. Our families lived near each other, but Heinz and I were never friends. He was angry, like his father. My father has hundreds of people on his conscience, Heinz once told me, and other crazy things like that. I got mad at him and told him to get lost, to leave me alone. He yelled back at me that I should ask my father what happened to the Jews here in town. So I asked my father, and he told me that they all emigrated to America and were doing all right there. They're probably better off there today than we are here. At least they weren't bombed and didn't have a war there. Years later some people from America actually came here, two old people and two young ones, about my age. And they came into our town in a big black Mercedes, walked around, and were received by the mayor. They didn't look like people who had everything taken from them. Only my father had everything taken from him. And they were welcomed and shown around, real guests. When talking about what things were like under the Nazis my father used to get really furious. When he heard talk about all the deaths and about the crimes of the Nazis on TV, he'd get very excited: "They always want to blame us for everything," he'd say. Or: "Lies, all lies." Or: "They always make us look bad, always only bad."

We children never really understood why he got so excited. But we knew that it was better not to talk to him about the war. And so we didn't. Mother used to tell us that at the beginning things were wonderful, but then they became terrible, and that we ought to be glad not to have been around then. My brother Stefan was already nine when the war ended. Stefan and Gudrun used to tell me about the American soldiers who gave them chocolate. Stefan can remember the time when the Americans came. They were always so friendly; even when they came to pick up Dad they gave the kids chewing gum and chocolate. But Dad came back home soon. They couldn't do anything to him, he'd only been mayor.

Well, what else can I tell you? I've never been politically involved, and I don't belong to any party. It wouldn't have done me any good, they can't do anything for me. I'd rather not get involved. Yes, I vote, but I don't join anything, I mind my business. That's the only thing that interests me. Even though -and this sounds funny, because they've always criticized my father so-I might have had my chances. All of them, all the parties, often asked me whether I wouldn't like to become active. They even would have made it possible for me to get a seat on the city council. But my father was against it. He always said if they don't want the one, they shouldn't get the other one either. They wouldn't take him anymore, and so I didn't get involved.

Still, we often had a hard time of it. Once my father stopped being mayor we had many disadvantages. Look at Reimer, for instance, whose uncle later became mayor. He also has a butcher shop, and he got a location in the pedestrian zonet -- hat's the best location in town. Everybody who passes by shops there. He's doing all right, selling prepared foods in addition to sausages and meat, and he's also gotten permission to put up three tables. And what did I get? This ridiculous little store by the road. Only because his uncle is a Red, and also the mayor. Do you call that justice? Is that the new town, the new times our teacher used to talk about, which began after 1945? What's the big change? And my father was also elected, just like the other one later on. Back then there was a majority for him, just as later there was another majority for the other one. I ask myself how could somebody elected by a majority be guilty? The upshot of all of this is that Reimer has his shop in the pedestrian zone and I don't. When I think of all the things I heard in school and on TV about the victims of the war. But it was always the other ones who were the victims. And what about us? Nobody talked about that. My father's brother, for example, was a prisoner of war in Russia and never came back. My mother's two brothers both died in the war. A half dozen of my father's relatives in Munich were killed in a bombing raid. We found out what war is like. Thank God, not I. But our whole family suffered under it. But they never gave us a penny, only the others. Who knows who all the people were who got things after the war, and what had really happened to them? What happened to us is clear: my father lost his job.

But there was a new beginning. Working together we helped in the reconstruction. Ten years later we again were a respected family living in a nice house, and Father again was respected in our town, even though not the mayor, but an executive in the lumber yard. And nobody said anything against him. Except the old teacher, of course.

Father always said we were a decent family. He was proud of his children and what they managed to achieve. Only he wasn't allowed to be mayor. And that's too bad, because maybe then I'd have a shop in the pedestrian zone.
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