The young boy sat on a sturdy bench and waited for his grandfather to speak. One tear rolled down the elder Herr Gustav’s strong, proud face. He knew he must hurry.
“Joe, as you grow into a man, you will need strength and motivation to hold to what’s true.”
The grandson, whose parents were dead, moved closer to the gentle man he knew as a father. "I have read some of the letters, Poppy."
"But you do not know the reality of the despicable collapse of human dignity. Because of the evil influence of one man, 40 million people died. It is still an incomprehensible mystery that he was able to transform so many decent Germans into his willing victims and push them to their doom, like lambs to the slaughter. I will read from the journal of your great-grandfather."
The boy sat like a statue, afraid to hear, but needing to know. The white haired man cleared his throat and began.
“ March 1933: Adolph Hitler, a desperately cruel man, was granted dictatorial powers by the German parliament. They call it the Enabling Act. The Nazis have been declared the only legal party in Germany. Forced sterilization is being done to those found by the‘ Hereditary Health Court’ to have genetic defects. September: Jews are prohibited from owning land. In one short year, The Fûhrer has named himself The Supreme Law Lord.”
Joe was appalled to learn a few foolish people refused to believe any of it. His grandfather peered over the top of the papers.
“We were herded into a nasty cattle car and forced to stand up for days. I was only seven years old. My sister, Sari, was ten. Papa told us to be brave and to trust in God –always.”
Herr Gustav wiped his nose with his sleeve and then read more.
“Hitler’s mind functions with bold insanity. He has convinced the whole army to respond to his chilling directives to kill vulnerable and defenseless citizens in order to purify the race. He has orchestrated wanton massacres and shameful destruction of property.”
Poppy laid the journal down. “When we arrived at the processing center many had died from exhaustion and lack of water. The stink was horrendous. The sun was going down. We heard some of the SS officers laughing and talking about a dinner break.”
The old man swallowed hard.
“Women and children were pushed to one side; men to the other. If you cried, they shot you on the spot. An agitated voice commanded us to march to the edge of a massive grave filled with hundreds of emaciated bodies. A bored looking man with a machine gun knelt down on one knee, and with a cigarette hanging out the side of his mouth, nonchalantly pulled the trigger.”
Joe gasped, sickened by the image.
“The noise was terrifying. As we flew through the air, blood from my parents and sister covered me. I supposed I was shot, but amazingly, that was not so. I landed on top of cold, dead strangers and became so paralyzed with fear I did not move. I heard one of the flippant, heartless killers say, ‘Let’s eat. I’m starving. We can cover them with a dirt blanket in the morning'.”
Poppy trembled as he relived the horror.
“It was hours before I was brave enough to hoist myself out of the death pit and scramble through the woods.”
Joe interrupted, “Is that when you found the Convent where they took you in?”
He knew about the miraculous rescue and of his grandfather’s adoption by a loving family. He knew about D-Day in June 1944 when the allies landed in Normandy, and that in April 1945 Adolph Hitler committed suicide in his Berlin bunker. What he did not know was this riveting first hand account.
The old man was nearly hoarse. “It has been said before. Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”
He held his head in both hands and moaned. “Deaf ears and blind eyes refuse to admit destructive forces have gradually oozed into the very fabric of our lives. And now, with this new law, we are forced to be criminals.”
The aging survivor grabbed young Joseph and hugged him. “Never forget what I have told you, boy…NEVER!”
Joe whispered, “It’s time,Grandfather.” With quiet steps he moved through the dark to unbolt the church door. A few brave worshippers shuffled to the altar and fell to their knees.
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