Dearest Adolf

I had a math professor once, whose first name is Adolf and who grew up during WWII in Germany. He was 10 years old when the war ended. At a department party, whilst drinking his beer out of a plastic cup (you see, he had chipped the brown glass bottle trying to open it) he told me a few stories from his childhood during the war. The following are not exactly quotes, but are true to the details he shared with me.

The boys in the Hitler youth would wear strings around their wrists and if someone cut the string, then that meant they were dead. A neighbor lady saw mine once and said, “That’s too tight! It’s unhealthy!”

He also had frequent experience with going to air raid shelters. Train stations, perhaps? I’m unsure.

When they first started, I would rather have died than be woken up to go in the middle of the night. I had a twin sister, and one time, after the first siren, we met an older girl who told us interesting things. Then I started to look forward to it, so I could hear more things from her.

He even had an embarrassing story for me from the era.

My father was a drunk. He was a drunk until the day he died. When we would go to the shelter, we would take what were the valuables in our house. We didn’t have jewelry and necklaces and the like, my sister had to carry a suitcase with two bottles of brandy in it. One night she dropped it and one of the bottles broke. I kept pestering my mother at the shelter about the smell. Eventually she shut me up, but I was so naive.

I commented that it must have been so hard on him, but he disagreed with me.

I lived in a rural place, so we didn’t have such a hard time. I was never afraid. I didn’t feel like I was in danger. Sure, there were things I wanted to eat, but couldn’t. I had this idea that once things got better, I could eat a whole sausage, just by itself. But that never happened: they were too expensive.

This whole conversation came up because I reminded him that he had told us once at the beginning of class that he had really wanted to be in the Hitler Youth. That seemed like an off-color remark, but we knew how very sweet and kind (if a bit naive) of a person he was. And he was quick to explain that as a child he didn’t know what it stood for, just that it was like what the boy scouts are to us.

He suggested we throw a party together at the end of the year, and I think we might. I still have the little piece of paper he wrote “beziehungsweise” on for me, explaining what the abbreviation “bzw” stood for.

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