Sunday, June 18, 2006

Father's Day

My father lived an unusual life. He was born in Germany and was only four when Hitler took control of the country. He turned ten when Hitler started World War II and he was sixteen when the war was over. He narrowly escaped with his life, since he left Dresden the day before the Allies firebombed the entire city. Some of his friends didn't make it. I especially remember a black and white picture of a wooden cross from one of his photo albums, with the text beneath "Ich hatte ein Kamerad." I had a friend.

Then the Russians came in and took over his village. Like so many other young boys at the end of the war, he had just been given a uniform and an old rifle and was guarding a local bridge. When the Russians came he ran home and buried the uniform and the gun deep in the dirt in the field outside the small farm he lived on. That way he avoided being shipped to Russia as a prisoner of war, which many Germans didn't survive, perhaps not surprising considering what Germany had done to the Russians.

The Germans secretly admired the Yankees and resented the Russians, whom most Germans perceived as barbarians. One of the jokes about Russian soldiers who occupied Germany was about the ones who'd never seen a water closet. The Russian soldiers didn't know what to do with the WCs, so they washed their potatoes in the toilets, when one of them accidentally pulled the lever. The potatoes, of course, disappeared and the surprised Russian soldiers screamed SABOTAGE! The Germans found that joke very funny.

My father's father was a school teacher in the small village they lived in. Early in the war he managed to offend a local Nazi bigwig and to save himself from the possible consequences of this transgression, he took refuge in the German Luftwaffe as a cook.

That became my father's lucky break, because after the war my grandfather was interned in the English zone. So to be closer to my grandfather, the family made the trek over to what later became West Germany and were safely on the Western side when the border to East Germany closed down.

My father's family had humble origins. They worked as coal miners for centuries. Things changed when my grandfather became a teacher and my father was the first one to study all the way to a medical degree. That was something my grandfather was immensely prod of, and he insisted that his two sons, (the other became a lawyer) put their titles on the wreaths at his grave. They were all very poor after the war, and going to university meant big sacrifices. So having two sons getting advanced degrees soon after the war was not only an achievement, it was a minor miracle and a source of eternal pride.

My father met my Swedish mother in romantic Heidelberg, where they both studied medicine, and when he'd finished his studies he married her in Sweden and stayed in this northern country where I was born a year later.

He drove a scooter and suggested the baby (me) could go in the back, however, my mother refused, which led to them buying their first used car, a small VW Beetle. I still remember lying in that alcove behind the back seat, which could fit a small suitcase or a very small child. Seatbelts were not considered essential in the back seat of a car in the 60s.

Many in my father's family got stuck in East Germany, and this colored the political discussions at home. He resented all "isms," including fascism and communism. Once he told me how, as a child, he'd seen a group of concentration camp prisoners on the train station. His father told him to look the other way, but he didn't. He never forgot their faces, completely devoid of hope.

I still remember when I asked what a communist was, and my father told me that was something very bad. One of our relatives in East Germany assisted someone who had plans to escape but the whole thing was discovered and my relative almost got caught. Everyone in the family in the West was instructed not to call or write this man, so that we wouldn't further jeopardize his situation.

At home my father ran things with an iron fist. At work he ran things with an even stronger fist. He finally became his own boss as head of a medical clinic. Now he only had to report to the politicians, in the Swedish society with socialized medicine, and he disliked many of those politicians immensely. He was a Republican, but very practical, and soon determined that many of the local Republicans were idiots and the Social Democrats were people he could do business with. As the head of the hospital clinic he had this position for life, just like some US judges, and for many years a form of détente existed between him and the politicians who allocated money to his hospital.

At home a form of détente also existed. I was just as strong-willed as he was, and I spent many years at home restraining myself. I figured eventually I'd move out and do whatever I wanted.

But when I turned eighteen something happened that changed all that. I fell in love with a girl whom I had actually known and taken out when we were just eight years old. (She is now my wife.) Anyway, I was fed-up with holding back. The result was one of the most tumultuous years in my home and ended when I moved out of the house when my father was away on a business trip.

It took many years to repair the damage that was done during that one year, and I'm not sure it was ever completely repaired. But I had finally broken lose from his rules and fetters. I went on to a career in business which I enjoyed immensely, but which also required that I kept my mouth shut for many years, until I finally couldn't take it anymore and simply had to speak up.

Then, my father died, five years ago. He'd lived by the sword; he fought his entire life for what he believed in, never afraid of a confrontation, actually loving a good fight. Many of those fights made it into the newspapers and on to television. I had always thought I was a smoother person and that I would prevail with diplomacy. I guess over the last few years I've learned that we weren't so different.

I also learned that in spite of our different opinions and the fact that he'd made me furious and I'd probably made him just as mad, there was a void when he left. Suddenly a lot of action was gone, and family gatherings missed the spark without him. All in all, he did it his way. And suddenly, I'm finding myself doing the same. The irony is that I'm the one who is surprised.


Anonymous said...

I just read your blog, having come to it from The Guardian,, and was disturbed by the viciousness of the Huffington Post Techie, as well as the dishonesty behind it all. This is the tip of the iceberg in regard to the internet blogs, I feel. The internet claims to be democratic, but, there is, in fact, much control over commenters.

Trolls are an unpleasant fact of blogging life. However, dissent from the views expressed in a blog are not necessarily coming from trolls. At FDL, for instance, my reasonable criticisms of Jane Hamsher's foul language sparked even more vile language, directed to me. I do not visit the site anymore, as it doesn't seem to me to represent what could be an important forum for democratic discourse.

Your post about your German family recalls my own family. My father was from the Harz mountains, and left Germany in 1929, but his entire family remained behind. Miraculously, because my grandfather was a coal miner and former cavalry hero from WWI, living in an isolated village, my grandparents survived the Nazis and the destruction of war. My uncle was a musician and too old for military service, except towards the end when every male was being conscripted.He hid from the authorities and escaped to the American front. He was punished in the early days of Nazi rule by having to appear every day before the local Gestapo, and make the salute and say, "Heil...etc."
He even spent 3 months in Buchenwald as additional punishment, or, perhaps, because he had "an attitude" of complete disdain for totalitarianism of any kind. A brave man, and a lucky one, as were all my family there.

I have bookmarked your blog, and find it interesting.

Anonymous said...

Not to defend Hitler, but why don't we discuss the Jewish Bolshevik Communists (like Trotsky and others) who hijacked Russia from the Russian people and conducted a genocide which was much worse then what happened to the Jews of Europe at the hands of the Germans? Now we have the neo-Bolshevik (JINSA/PNAC) Neocons some of whom were followers of Trotsky as well (as Pat Buchanan conveys in his 'Whose War?' article below):

Scroll down to the 'Thinking about Neoconservatism' article near the beginning of the following URL for more about these neo-Bolshevik (JINSA/PNAC) Neoconservatives who pushed US into the quagmire and are trying to get US to attack Iran for Israel as well:

“Hawkish Israeli Lobby Wants War with Iran next!”:

Anonymous said...

Scroll down to the 'Thinking about Neoconservatism' article near the beginning of the following URL for more about these neo-Bolshevik (JINSA/PNAC) Neoconservatives who pushed US into the IRAQ quagmire and are trying to get US to attack Iran next for Israel as well:

The Sun Never Sets on AIPAC:

“Hawkish Israeli Lobby Wants War with Iran next!”:

Anonymous said...

I got banned again minutes after posting the following at via and other blog entries there (incredible censorship still going on as mentioned prior):

JINSA/PNAC Neocon Richard Perle: Why Did Bush Blink on Iran?: