A few days ago, the Zundelsite received the following letter from someone who did not identify herself in her e-mail. We bring it here slightly rearranged as to paragraphs to make it more readable, and we have shortened it a bit. But the flavor and the content of this letter are untouched.
". . . A few weeks ago, I found your site almost by accident - I was actually looking for my "roots" somewhere out there on the information highway. As a newcomer to the internet, I was exploring every possible avenue and discovered your zgrams. I read each and every one of them (and everything else located there) and now look forward to hearing from you every day. You are very courageous and an inspiration to all of us.
I don't know if you ever get to hear the perspectives from my age group - the "forty-somethings" - who grew up in Canada during the 1950's. If I may, I'd like to offer some insight here on what the post-war atmosphere was like in Canada for a young girl of German origin.
Referring to the recently released Goldhagen book, "Germany's Willing Executionsers, this writer goes on to say:
It seems to condemn all Germans - past, present and future. Germans are once again depicted as monsters and denied any history of their own. The parts of history that would be most interesting to us are ignored in the history books and by an indifferent and often hostile media. Perhaps the internet is the only place left - where Germans can tell their own story.
I learned the history of my own family only in bits and pieces. When my parents had the time, they would sit with me and tell me the stories of my grandmother - how she had to leave her homeland in that bitter winter of 1945.
To survive she would have to leave her homeland near Koenigsberg, East Prussia and follow one of those sad "Fluechtlingstrecks" - hoping to make it somehow to a safer haven in the West. She had to take her own mother (my great grandmother) away with her - by force - for that poor woman wanted to be buried beside her husband and did not want to believe the horror stories told of the advancing Red Army.
The reins were quite literally in my grandmother's hands. In addition to her mother, she had to take care of 3 children and an ailing younger sister - and of course, those poor horses. The suffering, the hunger, the cold, the unnecessary bombings - even today, this tragedy is incomprehensible to me.
But my grandmother lived through it somehow. Against all odds, and by the grace of God, they made it to the relative safety of Poland.
My mother's fate was different. She had been working in a neighbouring village and had missed her chance to flee. Just before her 17th birthday, she was taken away by Russian soldiers to one of many "work camps" in Siberia.
When I was older (and somewhat more able to grasp the complexity of that time) my mother told me that she survived only through pure will and determination not to die in Russia. She wanted to see her homeland, and her family again. The living conditions at the camps were so wretched and food was so minimal and poor that when she was released four years later (1949) she suffered from severe malnutrition and many related health problems.
But she never thought of herself as a victim because she believed that, in order to survive, she had to put the past behind her.
It was not until 1957 that my mother and grandmother were reunited in the new West Germany. Each had thought the other dead and it was a joyful reunion, though not for long. They had barely a week to tell the story of what had happened during those 12 years, for by then, my mother had already met my father and had already made preparations to leave for Canada.
For the next ten years or so, neither my parents, nor my grandmother had the money for a plane ticket, so I did not have a grandmother except in my imagination. To fill in this void in my life I began to write imaginary letters to "Oma."
I was not able to communicate with my grandmother in the German language, because there was no opportunity to learn to write in German. My parents were very occupied with their own struggles in the "new country" and they simply did not have the money for special lessons or tutors.
When I started school, I soon realized that my grandmother was very different from the grandmothers of my classmates. They had never heard of a grandmother who had to drive horses through blinding snow and scrounge for food in the woods. Embarrassed, I soon stopped telling my "stories."
It was not always pleasant to be a child of German origin in the 1950's. By the time I was seven years old, I realized that it was better for me to be more like my classmates and I tried very hard to disguise my "Germanness".
The language was the first to go, of course - I soon refused to speak German to my parents when I came home from school. German music especially became somehow abhorrent to me. The television set became my best friend and I was very quick to mimic the appropriate expressions and mannerisms. I pestered my mother until she agreed to chop off my braids were so that I could look "more Canadian."
Luckily, as a skinny, shy, and unassuming girl, I was dismissed as non-threatening (and virtually nonexistent, I suppose). Perhaps too, there was less violence among and against girls in those days. But there were "incidents."
I remember, in particular, when a German boy was beaten up for being "NAZI". Another boy came to his assistance and probably got the worst of it for helping a "NAZI." Ironically, it was a Jewish boy who came to his defense. He was actually the most popular boy in the class - and the best friend of the German boy.
Of course, not understanding the concept of "irony" at the age of 7, all I could think of ". . . but what is a NAZI?" It must be something vile and ugly, I thought.
The chasm that separated me from my classmates became more evident once the subject of history was introduced. Our teachers did not know the stories of my family (and others of German origin) and most likely did not care to hear them. Though I had been very quiet, almost invisible, I thought, there was no avoiding the truth when the dreaded "history lesson" came up.
I could not hide my "German sounding" name. And when those unspeakable horrors were presented to us in unnecessary and excruciating detail, I wished that I could disappear completely. The humiliation was unbearable. A non-German will never understand what happens when a young child is made to feel like a war criminal and responsible for all those horrible "crimes against humanity."
I knew that chronologically this was impossible. The war began in 1939. The war ended in 1945. I was born much later. How could I be to blame for such atrocities?
Ý Part of me wanted to ask the teachers "what about Koenigsberg ... what about THOSE people ... they also suffered, didn't they?" I wanted to tell them the story of my brave grandmother... how she survived by her wits and ingenuity in that harsh winter of 1945 - and how she tried to save those poor horses who had to suffer so much for nothing. But of course I could not. Even if I had been less shy, the atmosphere and tone of the class would not have permitted it.
To children of German origin, memories of that era must still be quite clear. We were mocked with endless "Sieg Heil"s, "sprekken sie deutsch...droppen sie dead" and "Ve haff vays of dealink vit you" enduring these embarrassments by telling ourselves this was just in jest . . . sometimes laughing a little because we instinctively knew that not to laugh only reinforced that German stereotype - i.e. that Germans are rigid and humourless.
I cannot really say that I was a victim of persecution, (it was often very subtle, veiled in a guise of "we're just having fun") but the experiences were uncomfortable for me. If our teachers were cognizant of any "racial slurs or injustices", they did not let us know and remained uninvolved.
We knew we were alone. Respect, courtesy (how often do we hear that word today?) discipline, and desire for order and neatness were ridiculed. Over and over again these attributes were portrayed as German ... as character traits that lead to simple-minded obedience . . . "Germans like to be told what to do..." etc.
I do not believe that my response was unique. As soon as I was able to, I discarded my "German sounding" Christian name as if it were just excess baggage that I did not want. My parents may have been saddened by the fact that I wanted a more "Canadian sounding" name but it did not matter to me at the time.
When I was at an age where I began to date, I purposely avoided anyone whose origins were "too ethnic . . . too German." They all seemed too awkward. . . too disciplined. . . too respectful. . . too polite. . . too rigid and of course - too "unpopular". Why did I consider these traits so negatively? Subconsciously, even then, I knew that I did not want to admit, ". . . why, they are exactly like ... me!" Despite my rebelling, my parents had succeeded in planting these character traits into my personality.
When I married a non-German the transition was complete. With a "Canadian sounding" family name, I was at last, fully assimilated - "a real Canadian."
Eventually, in my early twenties, I realized what a hollow victory that was. I had cut myself off from so much, trying so hard to fit into someone's pre-conceived mold of what was "proper" - stifling any ethnic traits I may have still had - that I was no longer sure of who I was.
I realized that I had never really stopped loving the music, the language, the culture, the literature and the people. I had only denied this love in an effort to be admitted in a wider circle. I had been separated from this love for so long that a reunion felt like trying to approach an old flame. You know that the love is there, but you are uncertain as to how to proceed.
This is why I found that (book review) so disturbing. Once again the atmosphere is becoming poisonous. ". . . indeed the only appropriate general proper name for Germans who perpetrated the Holocaust is 'Germans' ."
I am "German".