I promised a series of posts about my Dad to memorialize him and as a therapeutic outlet for me. Here is the first installment. I’m really not sure how many of these I will write or how often I will write them, but this is the start.
Dad was born on the Fourth of July, but it wasn’t a national holiday in his country. He was born in northern Germany in an area that for centuries had been in dispute between Denmark and Germany. My Grandmother attended Danish schools and had a Danish maiden name. By the time her children came along, however, the region was firmly German.
Dad was born between WWI and WWII. During those years the German economy was in crisis mode. Consequently, so were German politics. They were continually forming new governments because nobody seemed capable of addressing the crisis. Dad was just a kid when Hitler came to power.
Dad always held that everyone knew that Hitler was a nutcase. But Germans figured that since every other politician had tried and failed, they’d let him have a chance. If Hitler failed like all the others, many reasoned, at least he’d shut up. But Hitler was able to employ the ruthlessness of NAZI elements to impose order that actually did improve the economy.
By and by, government control of many facets of private industry and individual lives expanded. Hitler was iconized as a messiah-like figure. The main qualification for many jobs — especially government jobs — became the level of loyalty to the NAZI Party and especially to Der Führer.
This extended throughout the nation. Dad lived in a small community on the coast of the North Sea. But even there, positions from Postmaster to dog catcher were turned over to loyal NAZIs. One by one, the teachers in Dad’s school were replaced by NAZIs, many of whom had no teaching qualifications whatsoever. Dad frequently said, “The only thing they knew was how to beat the hell out of you.”
Dad’s class had the particular misfortune of having the same awful NAZI teacher moved up along with the class from grade to grade for several years in a row. Years after the war, Dad went to the local town beach one afternoon. Upon arriving, Dad saw this former teacher frolicking in the surf with his family. Dad was surprised at the angry feelings that swelled up inside of him. He said, “It was all I could do to keep myself from going over there and standing on that guy’s shoulders to keep him under water until he drowned.” Dad found he could not enjoy the afternoon in this man’s presence, so he left the beach and went back home.
During my Dad’s early years, he enjoyed playing soccer with his friends. But they took soccer very seriously. He said that when you played certain teams, you had to plan an escape route before the game because they were very sore losers that would beat the tar out of you if they lost. This was apparently just considered normal behavior for boys in Dad’s town.
Dad was not above pranks. Once on a dare, he crept into the beautiful walled yard of the local (state-paid) priest. They knew that he always napped at that time of day. Per the dare, Dad carefully scaled an apple tree and inched out ever so slowly and quietly toward the biggest apple he could see. Not wanting to make any noise, he carefully twisted the apple to cause it to gently release from the limb. This limb was about even with the second story window.
Just as the apple released, Dad looked into that window and saw that the dour priest had been watching him the whole time. As soon as eye contact was made, the priest started yelling. Dad dropped from the tree and was just getting over the top of the wall when the priest exploded from the door of the house. Dad’s companions scattered. The priest blew through the gate as Dad rounded the corner. He was surprised at how fast the old priest could run. But after about two blocks, Dad finally managed to elude the cleric and hide.
Dad had a friend named Fritz. My Mom tells of meeting this man a few years ago. Per Dad’s telling, Fritz was a continual source of mischief. Dad was forever getting into trouble when he hung out with Fritz. Among their many adventures was the time Fritz claimed to have permission to use a man’s boat to do a little fishing off shore. But it turns out that no such permission had been given. The boys got into pretty serious trouble for their little joy ride.
That’s enough for now. I’ll write next time about my Dad’s World War II experiences.