Thursday, December 15, 2011

Ripples of Sin


Ripples of Sin

by Otto 

There's a part of me that died as a child. I look at old photos of myself and see a hard look that's still there every morning staring back at me as I shave. I grew up poor and life was hard, but the story of where that edge came from has taken a lifetime to uncover.

My parents are of German decent, though the wide array of countries, some long gone, filter into the various documents I've come across trying to chronicle "who" I am. The foundation of my family's story is turmoil. While German has been the most convenient definition, I find that my family has been defined as German, Russian, Polish, Prussian, and Wolhynien. I may have some French and other nationalities in there somewhere, but I'm not sure how I'll ever untangle it all.

Lots of countries come and go. My family is originally German and one of the founding families that formed the Germanic states. Through genealogy, I've made connections back to the late ninth century. Our history is a long and proud one. Over the years we migrated places, building and developing.

In the tug-of-war we call history, people evolve for good and ill. To say you're fill-in-the-blank is a little odd. Irish? Maybe a little Viking DNA. Spanish? Maybe some Arab Moorish blood. Polish? The list is a little long. It gets to the point where I wonder if anyone really understands their real background.

Genetics aside, this confusion of national identity qualifies our family as typical of the American melting pot. I have cousins who list themselves as Polish, others as German. These days, if asked, I align myself as German in both culture and genetics.

My mother's lineage is less well known, but seems to have started in Germany also, though she always told us that we were half German, half Polish. I find that our "Polish" side is more the effect of land grabs that happened throughout European history.

My parents' stories are similar. They grew up in what is now Poland. My father's family was wealthy, while my mother's were subsistence farmers. Both sides were uprooted in post-WW1 land grabs. Both families were put in Russian refugee camps because of their German, Lutheran ancestry. They were told that their property and homes were forfeit. They were forced to march to a displaced persons camp in Siberia. All they could bring was what they could carry. Neither finished much schooling.

"German Refugees Stranded in Eastern Europe." Wikipedia

My mother turned 90 this year and still talks about having the officials and neighbors taking away what little they were attempting to save as they were marched out of town. The look in her eyes when she talks about this shows that she's been transported back to her childhood and that painful time. What nationality were these neighbors? Polish definitely. Jewish likely; but my parents attributed things against stereotypes, and not necessarily facts. My dad was cheated at one point, and that became The Story of the Jew that Cheated Me. Cheated – a fact, but nothing to indicate the guy was or was not Jewish. Money was involved, ipso facto, Jewish.

My father's stories of displacement and dispossession were similar to my mother's. His adjustment was a bit rougher as he'd come from a very wealthy family. He had farther to fall. Both attributed their troubles to Poles, Jews, and Russians. It's hard to filter through rage and find the truth at this point, though.

I lost three of my four grandparents in the Russian camps to typhoid. My paternal grandfather finally decided to leave. He simply walked out of the gate. He assumed that the guards wouldn't bother wasting a bullet on him since he was old and he'd never survive a walk across Siberia. They didn't shoot him, and he made it back to Germany some months later.

I've only seen my father cry twice. Once was when we visited my grandfather's grave in a small rural town in West Germany. My father was a hard man, not given to moments of emotion, but I still have a vivid memory of the look in his eyes and the stories that must have been replaying in his mind. This moment wasn't about the tears. I'd heard many of the family stories from my earliest years. It was about the suffering and pain that was behind it all, still fresh after all those years. Above all, you could see the hate stirred up.

My father was on his own at sixteen after leaving the camps, wandering and surviving. He found refuge, food, and purpose in the SA, or Sturmabteilung, better known as the Brown Shirts. I'm not sure of the timing but he survived the Depression with what, under the circumstances, would be a benevolent organization if you were alone and starving. Not so much, if you were a victim of Kristallnacht or the subsequent acts of violence leading up to the Final Solution. It's easy for me to see that his past made the latter possible.

SA stormtroopers, Nuremberg, 1928. Source.

I'm not sure whether he believed in Hitler because of brainwashing or because of his past, but he was, for all purposes, a Nazi. He ended up in the Wehrmacht after spending five years in prison for beating up two soldiers.

He spent the war as a corporal in the Afrika Korps, eventually getting shot six times in battles in Libya between Rommel and Montgomery. He was taken to an aide station. His doctor told him that he would have to have his arm cut off because the bullet damage was so bad. He knocked the doctor out, who quickly agreed the arm could stay. He was sent to Italy either to live or die. He survived. He went to the Russian Front during the end of the war.

German soldier in Afrika Korps. Source.

He was captured by the Russians and put in a prisoner-of-war camp where he was beaten and starved by his old nemesis, the Russians. He spoke Polish and Russian, so they put him with a group of Russians who interrogated prisoners. My father was his captors' translator.

One of the few funny stories my Dad would tell about his war years: The group of three men who abused and starved him where Russian peasants. They didn't share what little food they had with my father and they beat him up regularly. They moved into a town and were searching for food. The residents of the town had fled as the Russians approached. The townspeople feared rape and murder. The Russians found some potatoes in an abandoned home. There they also saw a flush toilet – something they'd never seen before. They asked my father what it was. He replied, "Potato washer."

Gulag for German prisoners. From "I Did Nothing Wrong."

My mother's war story starts on September 1, 1939. The woman she was working for sent her to Warsaw to pick something up. That very day, the Germans invaded Poland. When the Poles realized she was of German decent they beat her up badly. It would take her three weeks to get back home. She misdirected Polish soldiers she encountered, and helped German soldiers along the way to find the enemy Poles. To this day she describes having to wander among corpses while trying to stay low to the ground, avoiding being shot. She survived but the story of those years will die with her.

Polish girl mourning her sister, September, 1939. 

After the war ended, my father and my mother wandered and ended up close to where they were born.

They met at a dance and married three weeks later. They had two children in Germany, but struggling to survive, they decided to come to America. The US Army had a program that let Germans work their way across the ocean to earn passage and become farm laborers in America. Many former American farmers had died as soldiers or didn't want to go back to rural living after seeing the world. My father signed up, and was investigated by the US Army. Passing the background check, they came to America, my father working in the ship's engine room shoveling coal and as a machinist.

They were sent to a farm in Minnesota with another family. They had nothing and were barely getting enough to eat. They lived in a one room, dirt-floored shed with a wood stove. My parents were indentured, supposed to stay for two years, but the farmer was angry, cruel, and went out of his way to get even with the Germans. He unfortunately decided to dictate that my father was not allowed to smoke – period. That's right; my father knocked him out.

My mother borrowed money from a relative living in New Jersey so they could leave Minnesota. They weren't educated and didn't know what would happen if they broke the agreement. They were willing to be deported rather than put up with slow starvation and abuse.

Paterson, NJ. Source.

They came to New Jersey where my brother and I were born. They didn't know about public assistance and we quietly starved until my father found a job working with asbestos. Even after he found a job as an iron worker and was working steadily, my family's dynamic was to act as though the world would collapse again at any moment. They both worked and scrimped and saved, but when I was young we were malnourished. I grew up in poverty and was hospitalized for malnutrition and pneumonia at age seven. We didn't spend a dollar we didn't need to. We would buy day-old bread because it was cheaper; meals might consist of milk and bread. Later on it got better in quantity, but my parents never left the time in their lives when they went without. We continued to starve, live in poverty, and live a brutal existence even after circumstances were better.

Socially, Germans weren't popular. When kids played soldiers, we automatically became the Nazis. Goethe, Gutenberg, Charlemagne and other German contributions are gone. Suddenly our identity is only about Hitler. I'm not saying it wasn't horrible, but I had nothing to do with any of it, so I never knew what I was supposed to apologize for. The Italian kids didn't get it, or the pro-German French, Danes, Japanese, etc.

Those were my formative years and I got it from both sides.

Years later as my father lay in a hospital dying of cancer, we talked about things.

My story starts in a cold apartment in Paterson, NJ. So cold I can remember frozen water inside the house as a very young child. I recall that we had to wear winter cloths and hats inside the house. Food was a luxury, good food rare. Needless to say there were no luxuries like entertainment. Anything other than necessities would not be allowed since they were a waste of money. We were also expected to be independent from a very early age. As the youngest of four, I wore only well-worn hand-me-downs that had clothed at least two previous siblings.

We all had to eat whatever was put on our plates. We had to do chores. That's not a bad thing, but playtime was frowned upon. Christmas was usually nonexistent. I remember lying about what presents I had received to the other kids. Even before me and my siblings worked for money, we worked to provide for ourselves, knowing that our parents wouldn't help or would get mad at us for being frivolous. You could never tell where that would end.

Discipline meant getting beat. For clarity of terms, I mean beat and not spanked. Spanking did occur but it usually crossed the line.

Buckle reads "Gott Mit Uns."
There are entire discussion forums on the web devoted to Nazi belts and buckles. Source.

My father had hands that were as hard as the labor he did. He was the hardest-working guy I ever met, and well-muscled. They hit us with an old army belt my father had kept. Fists, brooms, anything convenient. Getting hit by my father was of course worse than getting hit by my mother. Verbal abuse and denigration were always present. All their pain, suffering and frustration were in every blow. All the things that my parents had gone through became the fabric of family life.

My father finished the eighth grade and my mother finished far less than that. They could offer us no help in school. Notes sent from a teacher would be one of the worst things that could ever happen. I was left-handed when I started go to school and a teacher sent a note home discouraging that. She didn't know I would get an incredible beating for that. I quickly became a righty.

Another world-class beating came from a note from a teacher saying I was having a problem with arithmetic. I was confused by a couple of things in the times table. I got hit so hard, the belt marks were still visible a few days later when I had to return the signed note and the teacher asked if my parents understood I needed help and I lifted my shirt a little.

I grew up knowing that I was on my own and that I had to take care of myself. I cannot remember not working. Paper routes, snow shoveling, running errands, baby sitting, collecting bottles for spare change. I started working for a paycheck a few weeks after it was legal. I would get into trouble for working more hours than I was supposed to by law. I also worked with my father.

I grew up hearing how lazy and stupid I was. It took me years to realize that that soundtrack drove me incessantly. I am a workaholic and still feel like I don't achieve enough. "If I'm breathing, I'm working." I have worked more than eighty hours a week at my primary job and used my spare time on other projects. For example, I have worked four days straight, gotten on a plane to Seoul, and worked the next four days straight there, only sleeping on the flight. I have driven myself to near death in order to gain approval that will never come, self-worth that's always countermanded by echoes of being called stupid and lazy. "Good enough," is not good enough and neither am I.

Being a family of immigrants, extremely poor, and Germans to boot, we never fit in. Strangers in strange land. For me it was always being the skinny kid, dressed funny, not able to fit in. My social skills never developed properly. I grew up feeling rejected by others and maybe more importantly by my family. I now know that they were frustrated and desperate to overcome poverty by working hard and gaining the American Dream. Failure was not an option, so if it meant a kick in the pants, figuratively and physically, well it was supposed to be for our own good. I could take a punch. Practice makes perfect.

I grew up expressing myself through rage and fighting. By the time I was sixteen I'd been stabbed, broken my nose four times, broken all of my fingers at least once, both wrists, dislocated my shoulders and hips, broke some ribs, and an assortment of other injuries too numerous to recall. The roots of this violence were to be found in events that preceded my birth.

The point of this is not a lesson in comparative misery. It's about observations and lessons learned.

How does it all stop?

At a young age I realized that the baggage was there. I also realized that there were some good lessons to learn. It took a long time to figure out how to separate the wheat from the chaff. Some things were better forgotten and some things important to hold on to. I think people believe I should have some inherent guilt about what happened during World War Two. They try and use it as leverage during discussions on the topic, as though winning an argument is more important than facts and finding the truth. (Truths.) It's a complex topic, but the short answer is, I pick through my history and see what is good and what is harmful. I drop the baggage by understanding how it occurred.

My view of history is that it's not as simple as A is true, or A leads to B. I think it's an intersection of Chaos Theory and historical facts, rather than just taking a slice of dates and facts that suits one's purpose. Life is complicated, and if we're to really prevent future events we need to be able to look at the wider picture, openly and honestly, if the aim is an evolution in human thinking rather than the gratification that comes from scoring points in a debate. If we're to "never forget", it will be based on real understanding so we don't repeat the same mistakes of the past.

For me it's about enduring things and being a better person for it. For example, my great-grandfather was a sheriff killed in "Poland," defending his property from a thief. I could be an idiot and say something stupid about how Poles are thieves, or I could focus on my great-grandfather as a man of character, honest and strong, and he helped people.

When it's cold and dark, when I'm scared and things are going wrong, I think about the life-threatening hard times my ancestors lived through so that I could be born in Paterson, NJ. Kind of a Jersey equivalent to " What doesn't kill us, makes us...eeeehhh...stronger, ya know."
 

34 comments:

  1. I thank you Otto for your generosity. I relate very closely to your story, but I have been less successful than you in finding the good; perhaps there was, in fact, less good to be had in my story than in yours, but this 'is not a lesson in comparative misery'. The point of it is in the sharing of the stories; I am not ready to share mine, and I thank you for sharing yours, as the sharing of yours is in fact the sharing of mine. I believe the world is a better place with this, your story, Ripples of Sin, in it. Thank you. Arno

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  2. Thanks for posting this on your blog Danusha. We need to be reminded of how much the German people suffered during both world wars - and of the terrible revenge that was taken on German civilian populations in the wake of WW2. A revenge taken in defiance of our Creator's command to leave any vengeance to Him. As the poet, Christopher Logue, said: "O come all you faithful, here is our cause, all dreams are one dream, all wars civil wars."
    I am of English and Polish ancestry - my father fought in the Free Polish Forces during WW2.

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    1. Yes, Sue and Otto, I often correct or inform people that all Germans in WWII were not evil. and your Father's account of the Brown Shirts is a perfect example of German's in Germany having no choice, My friend, Herta, married to the Fritz, the Swiss Counsel in San Francisco, when I met her, told me how she joined the Hitler Youth- they al had to. Your paragraph of "A is true, A leads to B" sums up my view of history. It is far more complex than common folk would like it to be. People often need certainty. Finding certainty, takes a lot of open-minded research, and a look from both sides of a culture.
      Otto, I am 68! Old enough to know what it means to wish you peace of mind: I give you here the praise you need to hear: you have earned my admiration for your hard work- the compliment should be taken to heart. You did not deserve the suffering, nor did your parents, who did the best they could under impossible circumstances. You are a real man- having gone through so much, which is quite something in the world of adult-adolescence this entitlement generation has raised. Yhank you so much for sharing your story. It was a gift to us.

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  3. Arno, thank you very much for reading and commenting. Sue Knight, you too.

    I'm using a public computer and can't say much more, but I am very glad and grateful that you both read and commented.

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  4. Arno, and Sue as well, if you ever want to share your stories, I'd be honored to post them on the blog.

    the blog doesn't have many readers, but I think the sharing is important, no matter how small the audience.

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  5. Thank you. It's not an easy topic to discuss. D's started something special that I think will not only help individuals realize some individual peace, but help with a broader understanding of what went wrong. Making sure it never happens again starts with understanding.

    Otto

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  6. It is almost impossible for Poles to perceive Germans as victims after all the atrocities in 1939-1945.

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  7. It was an interesting story on many levels. Thanks for the post Danusha. Beyond the German histories that are probably better known to this blog community than to the broader public, it shows the general level of difficulty faced by most of our Bohunk ancestors in settling in the US. We did not have Govt promoted ethic mouthpiece support groups or preferential quotas for employment and higher education. But, out of that crucible came people like Danusha, Otto and many others.

    A side note of interest for those on the blog regarding anti-Semitism claims are the recent condemnations of the two biggest US Democratic Party think tanks by the Wiesenthal Center, over perceived anti-Semitic remarks. One link is here and it also leads to the original WaPo story on the matter:

    http://www.commentarymagazine.com/2011/12/13/wiesenthal-center-slams-cap-media-matters-over-israel-comments/

    As with the recent Radio Maryja discussions, political points of view seem to have been one of the main drivers that led to accusations being leveled at the Center for American Progress (headed by ex-Pres. Clinton chief of staff John Podesta) and the equally prestigious Media Matters. The oddity in the current US case is, of course, the Left of Center political orientation of the accused organizations. This is one of the few times I have ever seen anti-Semitism so publicly pointed out in a US Democratic Party organ and I think it is good to see the anti-Semitism issue raised, just as anti-Bohunk stories should be made equally infamous, no matter where they originate.

    MB

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  8. Hello Danusha and Otto,

    Otto yours is one of the millions and millions of untold stories of WW2 (and WW1). I'm glad you are able to tell it, painful though it is. And I hope that all those you loved who were killed are sleeping safe in "the everlasting arms", with a wonderful awakening ahead of them into the restored earthly Paradise.

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  9. This is such a moving story. I think it shows so well the moral ambiguities of those times. We have been brought up to see it simply in terms of 'good' and 'bad', but so few people know the suffering in Germany and in Eastern Europe in the pre-war years, and we don't, therefore, learn the real story that history has to tell us. In my novel, The Forest of Souls, one of the characters, a survivor of the horrors in Eastern Europe during the Nazi occupation, says 'To us, the Nazis came as liberators at first.' And it's true, they did. The damage goes down the generations. The war did not have a happy ending for millions of people and in many ways, it is still not over. Thank you, Otto, for your story.

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  10. From Antony Polonsky:

    During the First World War, the Russian High command deported some 300,000 German peasant settlers from the western part of the Tsarist Empire. Some of them, as in this case, came from Volhynia. The subject is fully discussed in Lohr, "Nationalizing the Russian Empire" and Gattrell, "A Whole Empire Walking." Like many other tragic events, this has somehow got forgotten.

    Thanks for the piece, which is indeed, very sad. It does show how most of the disasters of the twentieth century had their origins in in the First World War.

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  11. Here is a tough comment from a scholar who works on related issues and does not want to be identified publicly:

    My fleeting impression is that all of his life Otto has suffered the consequences of systemic naivete and ignorance, as in the price he paid for his parents' naivete and ignorance; as in the price he paid for the naivete and ignorance of a system that didn't remove him from harm's way, even when it became clear at school (and undoubtedly at the hospital) that he was neglected and abused at home, and also in the price he paid for the collective naivete and ignorance of whole populations incapable of critical thought, easily manipulated into carrying out the megalomaniacal fantasies of madmen.

    This age, for all its warts (and I concede that there are many) is relatively enlightened. Naivete and ignorance are less endemic to the United States and Europe than they were before WW II. They still prevail, and leave nothing but casualties behind, as usual. But not as pervasively, not as regularly, and not as unrestrainedly as when Otto was growing up. Its better now than it was, and will probably continue to improve.

    I think its not to Otto's credit that he doesn't value how far he has come from the example set by his parents. Their whole generation was muscularly trained to be incapable of critical thought--it was a sin, for crying out loud! He was raised to the same standard, but the vaccination didn't take: he isn't inacapable of critical thought. He's thinking critically throughout his whole essay. That's the dividing line between those that remain naive and ignorant, and those who strive for insight, and thereby get good at contributing, rather than detracting from, the quality of life.

    Otto is what he is--I really have no way of knowing. But he obviously came this far inspite of the circumstances of his life (not because of them, like most achievers). He should realize that. I'm surprised he doesn't. Maybe he just hasn't got the perceptive muscle to get past the weight of the old, naive and ignorant influences on him.

    To me, that's a 'win' for the bad guys. Personally, I'd die fighting before I'd let the bad guys win.

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  12. Poet Robert Champ left this comment on facebook:

    Danusha, I found this story very moving, and much of that because it showed that ordinary Germans, individual Germans, suffered from the Nazi dictatorship. This is not a story one hears very often, and it is time that it came out.

    People seem to think that all Germans of that time were Nazis and that they collaborated with the Nazis because they agreed with their philosophy. To read stories showing how wrong this idea is strikes me as helpful.

    As to the pictures, I like them, but think there might be too many of them.

    Thanks for passing Otto's story along to us.

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  13. Re the comment from anonymous scholar, sadly I am not at all sure that this age is relatively enlightened. Aren't we (the children of Adam) as easily fooled and set against each other as ever we were? I am thinking, for example, of the way Polish troops were sent to join in the Shocking and Aweing of the exhausted sanctioned country that is Iraq. And yet don't we know only too well what its like to be invaded and occupied by a Superpower? We - the human race - have started a new millenium by re-starting the Crusades.
    Re the interesting point raised by Dr.Polonsky about how the disasters of WW2 had their origin in the horrors of WW1, I have a poem by Thomas Hardy written in April 1915 that I will try to post if i can find a moment.

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  14. Sue, of course i agree with you.

    I'm Catholic and you are JW. We have some theological points in common.

    I don't think that education is the answer. I think Christ is the answer. At least for those who choose Christ.

    Very educated people have managed to do very bad things.

    Many of us agree that the Iraq war was a mistake, and it was given to us by "the best and the brightest" to use a quote from another era in which very well educated people gave us another disastrous war: Vietnam.

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  15. And thank you Sue for thinking of poems. This blog entry brings to mind, for me, Auden's "Shield of Achilles" and "Dover Beach" and Allen Ginsburg's poem about Love.

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  16. Sue, I'll mention that your dad was a combatant in WW II, and that he is the author of this lovely poem:

    http://bieganski-the-blog.blogspot.com/2011/05/simply-fine-poem-by-jan-kot.html

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  17. Otto really should write a book. This is absolutely absorbing.

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  18. I am ethnically Polish on my mother's side, but ethnically German on my father's, though his ancestors had been in the US since the 1840's. I recall being told the choices given to a relative in Germany, when she was about 16. She could work in a munitions factory, become a nurse or be sent to a labor camp. She became a nurse and was sent to the Russian front. She met her future husband there, a draftee of about the same age.

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  19. Thank you Otto for your story, and Danusha for posting. I wish I could protect little Otto, give him a big hug and help him navigate such a tough childhood.

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  20. To everyone who expressed the wish that they could protect me. Thanks. I moved past the pain and anger and I've been happily married for 22 years and have three wonderful kids. I wrote what I wrote partially because I lived it. Not looking for a shoulder to cry on, but if you were moved by anything I wrote, please do whatever you can to make sure it doesn't happen again.
    Fight things like slavery throughout the world, the million of missing girls in India and China killed or sold into slavery, and a ton of things we know are wrong, talk about, but do little about.
    "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." The attribution of that quote seems to warrant a blog unto itself.

    Otto

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  21. Hello Otto, thanks for letting us know where you are now, and i am glad it is such a positive place. And thanks again for telling your story. I am truly sorry that any Poles were involved in the suffering your family went through. I come back to the thought of how easily we (the children of Adam) are turned against each other. If you look at Genesis, you can see how quickly brother was persuaded to kill brother once our first parents made that fatal choice to cut themselves off from their Creator. But I believe with all my heart that the true God, the God of Abraham, will soon act to restore the earth to the Paradise it was alwaye meant to be. Which is why I go door to door with my Bible, and hope to be out again tomorrow. People need to know that God requires we treat others as we ourselves would wish to be treated - with kindness and respect.
    And thanks again Danusha for posting my dear aged father's poem.

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  22. Still wondering about Hansel and Gretel...

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  24. I just want to thank everyone again for reading and posting.

    For the record, I must say that I think that bad things will happen again, and that our best choice is to be a decent person with other people, and to reject revenge. I see that as a Christian message. I got a private email from a blog reader saying, no Christianity is not the answer.

    I don't see why "Love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself" is not the answer ... ?

    I don't think education is the answer, as the unnamed scholar I quoted, above, argues. Very, very well educated people did very bad things.

    Anonymous points out that it is hard for Poles to see Germans as victims.

    I wish people would sign their posts. How do you have a dialogue with someone who doesn't want to be seen?

    I am Polish American, and I do find it hard to see Germans as victims, and that is my failing, and i need to work on it. Readers unmoved by Otto's essay ... I would hope that they would think long and hard about that. Otto did nothing wrong. His grandparents did not deserve to be sent to Siberia. Poles did take advantage. It happened. It's real. Closing your eyes and heart to these realities doesn't do anyone any good.

    In "Struggles for Poland," Polish veterans of border campaigns talked about killing defenseless Germans and Ukrainians. This stuff happened, people.

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  25. MB, thank you very much for your thoughtful and interesting post, and the link, which I did check out.

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  27. From facebook:

    Stuart Balcomb

    Powerful story! I agree, we tend to lump all Germans of WWII into the Nazi camp, not thinking about the conditions behind each story. Also, compare Otto's growing up with that of our kids today: I've seen teenagers go ballistic over not getting the latest iPad or iPhone. I would offer that O has a healthier and deeper appreciation for the important things in life than the chubby, Happy Meal-fed, middle-to-upper-class brats who spend most of their time on Facebook and playing video games.

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  28. From a reader who prefers to remain anonymous:


    Powerful stuff. Otto should develop it into a book -- there's certainly enough here for expansion into a book-length treatment of many of the topics he touches upon.

    One small point that especially resonated with me was his tale of always being the Nazi at school. My daughter is half-German. Her mother was born in Wuppertal and came here when she was a young teenager. Despite our daughter having Irish first and last names, she probably spoke up once too often regarding the Germans, etc., and was soon labeled the Nazi and all that. What added to the irony of it all, was that it was the Jewish girls in the middle and high schools who tortured her this way AND the fact that several of her dead ancestors had suffered for helping Jews. To round out the absurdity of the situation, she learned several years later that her maternal grandfather was still alive. She and her mother visited Germany. The hoped-for reconciliation between my Ex and her long-absent father was a disaster, and she told our daughter after they'd left Germany who "Uncle" Hermann actually was. She remembers him as a nasty old man who proudly kept a photo of him in his Wehrmacht uniform on the wall in the living room.

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  29. Your blog raises many issues surrounding such matters as the German fifth column in Poland during the 1939 war, as well as the deaths and other fates of the German expellees. I have studied these matters in considerable detail. For an annotated list of my self-reviewed books on this subject, please paste-in, or click on:

    http://www.amazon.com/German-Revanchism-and-Myth-of-2-Million-German-Expellees-Dead/lm/R27PHYE9M0ZA6P/ref=cm_lm_byauthor_title_full

    I have also studied the bombing of Dresden and other mainly-civilian targets, in considerable detail. For an annotated list of my self-reviewed books on this subject, please paste-in, or click on:

    http://www.amazon.com/Allied-Bombing-Efficacy-and-Morality-Confronting-the-Revisionists/lm/R9TEKKPNDFZ83/ref=cm_lm_byauthor_title_full

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  30. A very good essay--I wish Otto peace. He carries burdens no good person should have to.

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    1. here's 1 of john's poems:

      http://open.salon.com/blog/john_guzlowski/2008/12/23/what_the_war_taught_her

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  31. Thank you for the kind words John. I wish the same for everyone impacted.

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  32. Thank you Otto for the story of your history and how it affected you throughout your life. Especially touching was the fact that you had received two beatings due to notes sent home by your teachers. I could feel the teacher's shame when she saw the belt marks on you.

    This period in America's history was a time of growth and learning for the children of immigrants; not so much for the parents. I feel as though we are heading for a repeat of history in our country and the world and I can feel the anger growing in myself because of the fear that our children and grandchildren will never know the America that was once a great country that helped liberate millions of people.

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