Friday, November 27, 2015

Maria Egel writes

A Young Girl's War and Peace - Part Two 

My first teacher, tall and blond, with a Swastika on her starched, white blouse, told us that our Bavarian greeting of “Gruess Gott” was no longer allowed, and that from now on it would be “Heil Hitler” to honor our great Fuehrer. We practiced this new greeting until we all had the salute's right angle and the right height. I was a first grader.

Our teacher told us that the sacrifices the German people had to make was due to ”them.” They betrayed the goodness of Germany, they became rich at our expense, they trampled on our trust, they had no other name, they, of course were the Jews.

She told us one day that she would make us strong and brave, worthy to be Hitler Youth, children who had no weaknesses or fears. One method of turning us into this strong and powerful new race was to start our education as soon as possible. On a dark and cold night, she had us, the primary classes, stay in the forest all night. The feeling of fun and adventure turned quickly into terror. She assigned each one of us to sit under a tree, far apart from each other, so we would feel swallowed up by the giant forest, rely only on ourselves. We were not allowed to leave or to speak to anyone all night.

Mom asked me to watch over my 5 year old sister, who had just entered Kindergarten. But where was she now, I wondered? “Dear God," I prayed, "let her fall asleep, and don’t lead the teacher her way.”

The familiar daytime forest soon became a hostile entity. The total blackness, the cries of the owls, the wind whistling through the tree tops, small animals scurrying through the woods, a fox creeping around a tree, all of it became the enemy, ready to devour us. By morning, fear had plastered us to our tree and we were soaked with our own urine and sweat, too exhausted to care whether we would be able to master the next feat.

Our teacher knew that none of us could swim, but that was no reason not to have us cross the wild mountain river on wet, slippery boulders. She made us stop halfway across to look into the deepest part of the churning water and commanded us “to defy death.” We all defied death by sheer luck.

Perhaps our teacher taught some of us bravery, the fourteen year olds, who were later sent to defend the bridges and borders of the Fatherland, the Fatherland, whose core had collapsed a long time ago. What did she teach me? Hatred and Fear!

One day, she made me stand for hours in front of the Fuehrer’s picture, my arm raised in the Hitler Salute, because I did not correctly answer her question, ”How far has our brave army advanced overnight?" So, I stood. My woolen stockings itched behind my knees, but I was not able to scratch. I remembered how wrinkled and not so clean my skirt was, now a show for the whole class. To keep my thoughts from having to go to the bathroom, I counted all my ugly freckles, pretending they were soldiers marching toward the enemy, my teacher.

A peculiar mix of emotions wormed itself into our lives. The excitement of marching bands, soldiers in grey uniforms and shiny black boots, singing songs of comradery, and colorful banners flying in the wind was covering the anxiety of ever more young men finding their graves on foreign soil. 

While we children ran alongside the soldiers, throwing kisses at them, the grown ups watched behind closed curtains. Later, when I described such an event to my mom, she asked me, ”What if those marching boots were after you?” From that moment on, without knowing it, a part of me was always on the run with every Polish, Gypsy and Jewish child. Much later I found out that they all fell under the merciless heels of the Nazis and that I alone survived.

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