Ich heisse Gerhardt Schmidt. Oh, I’m sorry. My name is Gerhardt Schmidt. I’ve been doing that a lot lately—maybe two years now—reverting to German. That can’t be good, can it young man? No, I’m afraid the mind is slipping.
Who knows what I’ll be like in a few more years. Good thing you asked for this interview now. I still don’t know why you want to talk to me. But I’m glad for the company. You see, I’m a very lonely old man. I don’t try to hide it.
My life has been a sad one. I suppose it didn’t have to be. Maybe a better man could have found joy. But I couldn’t. I have just … what shall I say … wallowed in my loneliness and numbness.
But, now you’ve asked me to tell you about one of the happiest days of my life. Ja, bestimmt. There were few happy days under the Nazis. You may not believe this, young man, but most of us hated the Nazis. Did they ever tell you, in that fancy college of yours, that no more than 10% of the German people were ever members of the Nazi party? And most weren’t true believers.
Oh, I know, you’ve seen the newsreels of the frenzied women in the crowds. I can’t understand it. Mass hysteria, maybe. But it was not like that in the country, in the villages.
Only the mean, the crazy, the outcasts, joined the party. I had a great-uncle who was a Nazi. But I also had an uncle and a great-uncle who disappeared at the hands of the Nazis. Ach ja, everyone knew it. Too critical of Hitler. Never seen again.
Me? I was in Hitler Youth. Most of us were after the Nazis banned the Boy Scouts. Ja, the Nazis led it. They tried to indoctrinate us. But we were 10, 12, 14 years old. What did we know? We loved the camping, the parades, the gymnastics. Even the military training seemed fun.
But then … then Hilter began to run out of soldiers. Ja, when the war turned bad, he completely militarized Hitler Youth. I ended up on the Northern Front. We surrendered to the English. Those we hard days. We were penned up on the North Sea. No food. We ate grass. We climbed the cliffs to get raw seagull eggs.
But, when the war ended, we saw the difference between the Americans and the Russians. The Russians were still our enemies. Oh, I know—they still had the madman Stalin. Ja, ich weisse: Like the Germans, most Russians weren’t party members. But, listen, they took half our country; they divided Berlin.
But the Americans—they helped us. The Marshall Plan. The Berlin Airlift. Soon many Germans wanted to go to America. And we did!
Meine Katarina und ich, we came to America. And those were my best years.
Aber … even then there was sadness. Katarina could not have children. But we loved each other very much. Always.
But when she died … the long lonely years began. I had no one.
But then … then came the day! Maybe the best day of my life—besides my wedding day and the day I walked out of that POW camp. The day you want me to tell you about. Ach, ja. That is why you are here. Already getting stories for your big article on the 20th Anniversary? Ja, that will be November 9. The day the Berlin wall fell!
I don’t mind telling you, young man. I cried like a baby. Oh, I know. Official reunification did not happen for another year. But the symbolism was so strong! Can I make you understand? Nein; you are not German.
But listen! I can still hear the great President: “Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall.” Do you understand what that meant to Germans? Hope! But did we dare to hope?
And then to see it come down! You see? I weep again.
Do you believe there is a God in Heaven, young man? I do. The Soviet Empire is gone! Not just Germany. The entire Iron Curtain has collapsed. And it didn’t take a war. Explain that to me, young man.
Do you know that the belt buckles on the early German uniform said “Gott mit uns”? Well, God was not with the Nazis. But, young man, God was with the German people in 1989. And I hope you put that in your story.
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