The Crown: Chapter 1

 

the Crown

 

I grew up at a time when World War 2 was a recent memory. It was a part of the collective Zeitgeist

Children played war games, and everyone wanted to be a GI. No one wanted to be a “kraut” or a “nip.” We though being a soldier was considered your patriotic duty and an honor, untarnished by Vietnam and the politics of the post war era.  It was a time when buying a car from Germany and Japan were considered un-patriotic; when goods from Japan were considered second rate, if not junk, and all things Germans, were viewed suspiciously.

The war was real to me. Not in a history book sort of way. I did not know then that 60 million people had died in the war. That even though I knew that Jews had been murdered in camps I had no idea that it was 9 million. And if I had known those figures as a child those numbers would not have meant anything to me.)

It was real because I could walk into my friends home and see souvenirs that their fathers and family proudly showed off. I recall a friend proudly showing me a German helmet with a bullet hole in the temple. Another buddy proudly showed the deactivated pineapple grenade t his father used as a paperweight. Or the German luger that another’s father had liberated from a dead “kraut” and now kept in a locked trophy case. As a very young child I remember telling my father, with great excitement about an American helmet a friend had shown me.  After describing it to him he proudly showed off his firsthand experience by telling me that the helmet was missing its inner liner which was key to keeping it from falling off and then reminding me that GI’s never buckled their helmets else an explosion would blow their heads off.

My father’s mother proudly carried around a fragment from a hand grenade in her change purse that my father had sent her claiming that it had just missed him.

The War was a tangible part of my childhood in other ways. When we went to Europe with my parents in the early 60’s we saw first-hand evidence of the war. The elevator operator at the old Excelsior Hotel on Piccadilly had a stool to rest the part of his leg that remained after a land mine had taken the other part.  The rubble in vacant lots in Rome. The roof of St. Stephens cathedral in Vienna still bearing the damage from allied bombing raids. Even the comic books we bought bore the imprint of the as they were printed in black and white due to shortages.

It was real when relatives told of their escape from the Nazi’s. They told tales of hiding, degradation and deprivation that were scary but so captivating I hung on every word.  Relatives, including my grandparents would tell tales of lost parents, brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, and cousins who were never heard from after the war.  Their sadness and sense of loss was conveyed through spirit more than words for they rarely gave details of their experiences or showed their grief other than a sense of sadness even a child could perceive.

The 2nd World War was the social currency for kids and adults alike.  Either you served or you didn’t. If you didn’t you better have a good excuse like being too young or having a heart condition.  Even then, it would not provide an antidote for the shame of not being a part of the generation that tackled fascism and made the world safe for democracy. It mattered on the playground and at cocktail parties.

Without question during my childhood the US was giddy with the glow of “we did” and the imagination factories of the entertainment industry were turning out epics to remind us of our glory.  “The Longest Day,” “The Guns of Navaronne,” “The Great Escape,” “Kelly’s Heros”, to name just a few, headlined in theatres. At home we could watch, on our 5 channels of programming classic movies such as “Casablanca,” “Stalag 17,” “Run Silent Run Deep.” “Sands of Iwo Jima,” “From Here To Eternity” and so many others that I can see say with  confidence that not a week of my childhood went by without a snip of it World War 2 deposited itself within my consciousness.

Television was equally adept at keeping the coals of our success in the war glowing. My brother and I loved the television show Combat! (the exclamation point being a bayonet)  an episodic television how that recounted the adventures of a platoon of American soldiers fighting Germans in France shortly after D-day. We loved that show so much we would often play “Combat!” with our friends in the neighborhood fighting who would play “The Sarge” or The Lieutenant. Behind a friend’s home there was a dirt “mountain”,  in which we would  stage elaborate battles based on imagination and of course what we learned from television and movies.

These games were often augmented by the toys we had been given to us by our parents like Tommy Guns  (like the Sarges).  Children’s combat uniforms including helmets and other accessories.
There were bazookas that “really fired”. Cap hand grenades. Legions of toy soldiers and models by Revel where you could make submarines, tanks and all sort of aircraft.  Our camping gear mimicked what GI’s had been given during the war. The tin mess that folded onto itself that was a pan and plate, the tin cup that wrapped around it, the l shaped flashlight that could be clipped to your belt and often came with a red filter as not to be spotted by the enemy.

Even in the early morning hours, the time between when we got out of bed and when our parents awoke we found our way to World War 2. It was not uncommon for Sunrise Semester or Modern Farmer to lose our attentional, though we did get quite an education on the importance of nitrogen to the soil and Robert Frost’s poetry, and turn to my parents bookshelves. One book we returned  to often was called “Up Front”, a collection of cartoons drawn by Bill Mauldin for Stars and Stripes. It depicted two grizzled GI’s, Willie and Joe, citizen soldiers, as they made their way from Normandy to Germany and their experiences with battle, Army bureaucracy, and life in a war zone. We didn’t understand much of it on a deeper level than a puddle but it made us laugh. One such cartoon, that is indelible to this day,  depicted a US Calvary soldier next to his jeep whose axel is broken pointing his pistol at the Jeeps hood and covering his eyes as if he was putting down a horse. We earned that GI’s spent a lot of time in mud, didn’t shave often, and the beverage of choice was something called Cognac.

There was another book that attracted our attention. It had an army green cover with an image of a Blue Devil holding a shield in one hand and a sword in the other. Titled “The Blue Devils In Italy: A History of The 88th Infantry Division in Italy. We knew this was Dad’s “outfit” and while we either couldn’t or didn’t want to read the book, we looked at the cool photographs and imagined what it must have been for pop. Had we shown more curiosity at the time (I am not really blaming myself as I was child whose reading skills were still with Dick and Jane) we might have noticed that the rosters in the book that listed the men who served in each unit in the division. Had we paid attention to those rosters it might have saved a lot of questions later on.

The war even managed to find itself into our night time story. We knew my father’s story. It was part of our family lore. An immigrant, who escaped Nazi Austria just in the nick of time, was inducted into the Army at the age of 18, fought his way up the boot of Italy with the 88th Infantry Division as a 2nd Lieutenant in the artillery. We were told he was the youngest Lieutenant in his division and that the only reason my mother’s father had accepted my father as a suitor was because he had been an officer in the army.

We would ask Dad about his exploits during the war. He, like many of that greatest of generations, was reluctant to discuss his service. However, at bedtime when he asked what story we wanted him to tell us, he would, from time to time,  share little blurbs of his life in the service. He would tell us about Cookie the pilot of the piper cub observation aircraft that was assigned to his artillery unit. Or was Cookie his driver? Time has a way of eroding childhood stories. In any case Cookie was always doing something interesting like placing sandbags underneath his seat in case they ran over a mine  so it would blow his nuts off. (The word nuts would always make my brother and I giggle.) Or the story of my he told of crossing a bridge in a jeep to see if it could support the weight of 105 mm howitzers when the span collapsed and being saved from drowning when his trench coat, inflated with air due to the fall, had served as a life preserver.

The bedtime story I loved and asked for most often, I didn’t even realize was a war story until much late. The story was of two boys who were walking along the banks of the Danube one afternoon when they happen upon a broken-down old rowboat. They are desperate to leave Vienna because of the Nazi’s, so they scheme to convert the rowboat into a submarine. They could then float past the Nazi’s patrols to the Black Sea and escape to Israel. The stories were episodic, recounting the adventures the boys had trying to get the materials they needed for their ship and avoiding detection by the Germans and those who wished them harm.  Similar to old time movie serials they often left us hanging just before we would go to sleep.

Once,  when I brother and were both in single digits,  we were playing on the street with a bunch of friends, a kid threw a piece of wood that had an nail sticking out it. The stick hit my brother in the back of the head. I still remember the wound, a bloody whole surrounded by scalp. I am sure at the time that I thought it penetrated my brother’s skull but in retrospect I don’t think so as I saw no bone or gray matter. I am not sure why it fell to my father to treat the wound nor why I was included in that triage.  To comfort my brother he told him how he used to be bullied on his way to school. How they would call him vile names and try to beat him and how he too had a spear hit him in the head.

Or when visiting Vienna in the early 60’s with my parents we visited with my father’s boyhood best friend Paul.  They delighted in telling my brother and I stories of their gang and the trouble they got into while growing up on the streets of Vienna. We especially loved the story of how my father and Paul had gone into the sewers to go beyond police lines to see the fire that was burning at the site of the old World’s Fair.

Although I did not know it then many of the stories were from the time when they Nazi’s denied Jewish boys the ability to go to school.

As we grew older, more of my father’s life, the World War and his life in the service became known to us and incorporated in our family’s mythology.

My grandparents, through the intercession of my grandfather’s brother Max, has managed to get visas to enter the United States three months after the war began and a year after Kristallnacht. A night in which my grandfather was arrested, and jailed for a week. The night the synagogue my father and his parents belonged was burned to the ground denying my father the opportunity to become a bar mitzvah. A sadness he carried with him for the rest of his life.

Part of the story of his arrival here was his first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty and how it made him feel like he was finally safe and how the darkness of the past years had been shed.  He bestowed on her the honorific “ladily”, perhaps a bastardization of the little English he knew at the time, which he would call out to her whenever he saw her. Even 70 years later he could tell you the make and model of the car his Uncle had picked them up (Buick)  in and how on that first meal on American soil he ate a pound of butter because he was hungry and he thought it cheese.  America was a land of plenty.

When I first heard this story as a child I had no concept of hunger. What real deprivation was all about… We were not a rich family but I had never missed a meal or lacked anything I needed so I had no real understanding of what it meant to escape and find safety; to know deprivation and hunger and suddenly have your fill. But what I did know was when my father told these stories I knew what it meant to him. Not because he was melodramatic or overtly sentimental about it but because of the joy in which he told this story. It was a hallmark of the optimistic spirit that was a part of him until the very end.

We were told that we he entered the Danbury Ct school system at the age of 14 they initially placed him elementary school because of his lack of English skills. He found this humiliating so he focused on learning English. He claimed he learned much of his English by going to Ronald Coleman movies and reading a dictionary,  facts borne out by a slight English accent when he spoke and the fact that he often used words so obscure that most native speakers would never  have uttered them. And once the English hurdle was overcome he moved through the grades quickly because of his intelligence and excellent Viennese schooling. (This is even more impressive when you consider that he had not attended school since shortly after Kristallnacht as the Nazi’s were denying Jews access to a secondary education.) Remarkably, perhaps incredibly, he graduated at 17 and entered Syracuse University as a Freshman just three and half years after his first glimpse of “ladily.”

We were told that my father was desperate for an education and to get a college degree. As a consequence, instead of waiting until the fall semester and enter with the majority of the class of 1947 he matriculated that summer. So by the time he appeared before his draft board in December of 1943 he had already completed his Freshman year of college. Drafted into the US Army. He served basic at Ft. Wolters Texas where he was naturalized and went on to Ft. Sill Oklahoma for OCS and Artillery school. On completion of his training he was shipped to Italy where he became a member of the 88th Infantry Division, The Blue Devils, who fighting their way up the boot of and ultimately being stationed in Gorizia, north of Trieste, a little less than 300 miles from Vienna where his adventure began.

One of the stories my father used to tell us about his service was his struggle to get to Vienna at the war’s conclusion. It was no secret that the Nazi’s had been carrying out atrocities against the Jews, although the extent of it was still not fully known, and my father was desperate to go to his native city to see his family and those few friends he had left behind. He was stymied in his attempt by his commanding officer who my father often described as a “son of bitch,” no doubt an expression he had picked up in the army. Eventually, after many repeated requests being denied, my father had an opportunity to speak with the commanding general who overruled my father’s superior officer and granted my father leave in Vienna.

The route my father took to Vienna is unclear or is just not remembered by me. But it was by rail and there were many stops and several places where he need to switch trains. At one of these stops, he had decided to walk around the town to stretch is legs and perhaps scare up a little breakfast when he came across a British Army office bent over examining something in a store window. My father called out “Walter!” and the man turned around and was in fact my father’s cousin Walter and to my father’s last breath he claimed that he recognized him completely by the outline of his derriere.

It was usually there that my father would cut off his stories about his return to Vienna. Or if he were to discuss he would just tell us that he found no one. But details about those days he spent in Vienna were harder to come by than a fact at a Donald Trump press conference. And for the most part I was willing to let it go at that.

February of 2006 found me at Byrd Library on the campus of Syracuse University. I had to come to the campus, as I had most winters since my graduation in 1979, to see a basketball game with a group of guys with whom I had gone to Syracuse. It was our annual trip into the way back machine where we could relive much of our college behavior such as eating slices of pizza at the Varsity or late night donut runs to satisfy the munchies brought about by other behavior we had enjoyed in college or going to crowded bars and pretending that we were still a part of the mating dances that occurs in speak easies near college campuses. These weekend’s always left me nostalgic about the very good times I had a college…I had a hard time remembering the bad…and often a little sad as my life didn’t seem as well planned or lived as my friends who were by and large happily married, raising kids, and doing well in their respective careers. And while I had a good job, was in a steady albeit stale relationship, I still had the niggling feeling that I was not living the life I was meant to live. I knew I was not living the life that I wanted to live.

Shortly before I left for my trip, my father and fellow SU alum, had asked me to see whether I could find for him a poem he had published in the campus literary magazine….The Tabard shortly after he had returned to Syracuse 60 years previously. So while “the boys” had taken off on a self-guided tour of the new buildings on campus and to smoke a joint on the quad I took a walk to the Library to see if I could find a copy of this lost poems of my father: Bar Adriatic. The woman at the research desk was very helpful. Yes, they did have copies of the Tabard from 1947. Yes, I could look at them. And was there something in particular that I was looking for so I told her. She told me to wait and within a few minutes I was handed an actual, not digital, copy of the The Tabard’s Summer 1947 issue. Calling a magazine would be generous as what it was a collection of verse mimeographed on colored paper and stapled together but it clearly meant much to my father.

I had copies made and went to a carrel to read.

Bar Adriatica by Ernst Rothkopf

Their Streets are narrow, dark, and full of people.

Strange people,

Saying what I cannot understand.

Their Virgin Prostitutes, their children dirty,

Full of strange deals, crying to me:

HEY JOE, CIGARETTES TO SELL, JOE?

 

And in the shadows of their great cathedrals,

On the sidestreets , in the parks,

Their misery bears fruit for me.

In a night’s entertainment,

ME MOLTO GOOD JOE, SLEEP WITH ME.

The day is coming to a close.

The sentry watches

As soldiers streaming to the city

Pass by his lonely post,

The chilly, windswept road is endless.

And lined with strange facades.

NOT AT ALL LIKE AMERICA

 

Where are going, Al?

The passing soldier hails me,

And, not knowing the reply, I answered “The Bar Adriatica”

And so we joined in our Journey…

TO FORGET.

 

On the outskirts of the town is a tavern,

Full of lights and a band blaring.

The Cognac good

The women pretty

Not a bad place to forget,

Here on the Border.

 

Now out I look from the Tavern’s window

And see,

That the streets are filled with howling angry people,

Crying for what might bring

What they have not,

And hating all which is not them.

 

You, crowd, jamming the Main Street,

Serb and Croats,

You have tilled your poor, ungrateful soil.

Education is the privilege of your rich,

The burden of your Poor.

HOCEMO TITO!

 

Your hunger and your cry for self-respect

Need Something,

And across the border they will say:

Comrade, let us be your guide.

All others hate you, dwell under our star and cry:

ZIVEL TITO!

 

Plato and Aristotle lived on more fertile plains.

Ignorance is a horrible disease

And yet without pain.

And through the ruins of the world are shivering

with memories and balcomies,

Your own soil soaked with blood.

You cry:

WE WANT TITO! WE WANT JUGOSLAVIA

 

Italian Youth in the Side Street,

Laugh not,

Your hunger weaves a different, equally horrid pattern

You have a marble God that does no wrong,

A marble God, a State

VIVA ITALIA

 

Glorious regiments, Queens of Battle,

Colors bright and waving

The mutilated dead are but monuments,

The ruined villages, crossed swords on History-maps

DEATH TO BOLSHEVISM!

 

That extra wrinkle in your mothers face

Is called Tunisia

Long ago, rouge has covered the sorrow on

Your brothers window’s face.

And the rattle of the guns is remembered only

In the need that their destruction has created,

And yet you shout,

VIVA ITALIA! DEATH TO BOLSHEVISM

 

They meet on the corner,

Insult each other,

Lie, then shout, then stones hurl through the air,

Clubs, Tear-gars, Pain and Screams

The scene, familiar as a summer-storm approaching

Brings all the long forgotten sorrows to my ear.

And behind THIS window the band plays,

A WALTZ.

 

No longer could I stand the noise around me.

Their cries of hate,

The laughter of their women,

I drained my glass and flow into the street.

Cringing.

For I knew my friend would say

WHERE ARE YOU GOING, AL?

 

Reading the poem I knew It described the part of his military experience that had to do with the occupation of the Trieste region of Italy and the post war arguments that the Italian’s were having with Yugoslavs over the border. I knew he was trying to describe what it felt like to be a member of an occupying army and trying to keep the peace. I knew that like many soldiers he was trying to describe experiences and emotions that civilians can’t really appreciate. I knew that he wrote well and that at the time his poem must have resonated with those who read it.

And the poem resonated with me as well. Just in a different way that the author had intended.

When my father had written this poem, he was barely 21 years old. Yet by that time he had survived a childhood of poverty and depravation in Vienna; He had survived Kyrstalnacht and the fear hatred and persecution of the Nazis since the Anschluss, He had immigrated to a new country mastered the language and the schooling well enough to attend a prestigious University. He had fought a war and survived and returned to a quiet campus in upstate NY where the war was fought in factories and students main concern was how to remove salt stains from their shoes and pants. I wondered if he could share his experience with other returning GI’s or was his experience so unique that it could only be expressed through poetry or was it part of a code returning soldiers adhered to do where silence about your experience was part of the experience. We did what we needed to do so let us move on. The stoicism of the greatest generation personified. Maybe this is why he had been quiet about his experience all these years.

What I didn’t notice at the time was a clue about his service which had I noticed would have prompted me to ask him many questions that perhaps  there would not be such a big mystery after his death. But for now I was happy to find the poem for him, I knew he would be delighted to have unearthed it from its tomb in Byrd Library.

The drive home from Syracuse the following morning was rough. The “boys” and I had spent the evening practicing college drinking habits on nearly 50 year old livers and the result for the following day included the need for massive quantities of coffee and Gatorade, and an intolerance for food and noise of any kind.  This was exacerbated by the fact that Central New York was producing one of its most famous products, snow, causing the highway to become two black tracks where car tires had cleared the snow and produced a deliberately slow driving experience despite my Black Grand Cherokee’s four wheel drive. A focus on the road, a cerebral cortex recovering from alcohol, the quiet of being alone in a car without radio or passengers, was as good as place as any to be reflective and the uncovering of my father’s poem the day before provided fodder for thinking of his life and mine.

What must have been like for my father to return to Syracuse at the beginning of his junior year? I had no doubt it was different from mine.  During the summer previous to my junior year  my beloved father had read me the riot act about my grades. While I was not in any danger of flunking out I was struggling academically. Mostly C’s with an occasional B and D to keep things interesting. My father’s message was that there were far less expensive institutions in which I could have an average academic performance and that if I didn’t get my act together that is where I was going to end up. I had returned to campus with a focus I had not had before. I set up a routine. Morning classes. Then working at an on campus restaurant, The Rathskeller, from lunch through dinner and then on to the library where I studied from early evening until 9 or 10PM. It worked. C’s turned to B’s, no more D’s and the occasional A.

When my “pops” had returned to campus before his junior year for the winter term in 1947 had he gone directly from the Army to school? Had he taken time off to decompress or had he plunged back in? How had he coped from the regulations of the army to somewhat more free spirited academic life. Had he just considered himself just another GI returning to the states from Army service or had he felt like he had done something special. What must of it felt like coming back to a college campus untouched, except the building of Quonset huts, after spending the better part of the past two years in a place ravaged by war…after seeing the city he was born in rubble, its populace used to confections and pastries, reduced to begging GI’s for chocolate.

Wasn’t my father’s true year junior year spent fighting in Italy and experiencing a continent pull itself back from the brink of Armageddon. And it shamed me to realize while I had blithely navigated the stacks at the Byrd Library hoping my father would not pull my ticket on school he was navigating Army bureaucracy and a destroyed Europe trying to find his way back to Vienna to find out whether his family and friends had managed to survive the Nazi’s and the war.

By now dawns first light had turned the black and white of driving in the snow into a uniform grey. Snow had begun to fall a little harder and a difficult drive became harder.

Perhaps one of the hardest thing for anyone to do is to recognize one’s shortcomings. I am no different. Most of the time I move through my life without as if I were devoid of faults or foibles. It takes triggers for me to realize my shallowness and lack of introspections. For example, on 9-11 I was living in NYC, had heard the first plane fly overhead and seen the second plane crash into the second tower with my own eyes. I had seen both buildings collapse and had to walk home while fighter jets had circled overhead. That night as I lay in bed and watch CNN play the collapse of the towers over and over I fell into a fitful sleep marked by dreams of people unable to tell those they loved their final thoughts, apologies for unintended slights, or express their gratitude for the love and kindness people had shown them.

When I woke I called my Dad. I told him that I had never really thought much about the sacrifices that he and my mother had made to raise me and to put me through school and how grateful I was for the life they had given me. He had initially tried to downplay my gratitude telling me that they were happy to have been able to give me what they could. But I persisted and when eventually he told me “your welcome” which made me feel as if, at least in a small way, had become a better person for showing gratitude where only acceptance had been shown before.

I realized on that snowy, hungover, painfully slow drive home that one of the things I had never done enough of with my father is ask him enough questions about his time in the army. The 2nd World War had been a central theme of my childhood. My father’s service and his history had been a source of pride and even wonder all my life yet other than a story or two I knew nothing deeper than a very few times, and places. I had no idea of his feelings and his emotions. For reasons I can’t explain except for perhaps the sense of storytelling that I possess I fixated on the return of my father to Vienna. I wondered what it must have been like for a boy of 14 who had fled his home fleeing from religious persecution, personal violence and war, to return a foot taller and officer in the conquering army. It was beyond anything that I could comprehend and it was a story that I not only wanted to know but one that I would love to share.

It was a week before I could make it out to my parents’ home to give my father the poem he had written 60 years before.  As it was a Saturday, and I wanted to grease the skids for a favor I was going to ask my Dad I stopped at Barney Greengrass, “The Sturgeon King” on my way out of the city to buy some of my father’s favorite foods: Smoked salmon, sable, Natches Herring, chopped liver and bagels. My father love to eat, perhaps because of a childhood of deprivation, perhaps because he could support it with his 6’2” frame but it seemed a good idea to ensure good favor with good flavor.

My father was a a contradiction in many ways. He was a slim man who liked to eat. He was optimist even though he had every reason to be a pragmatist… to name just a few of the contradictions that defined him. One of his incongruities was that he was both guarded with his feelings and capable of expressing great emotional simply but powerfully. For example, when I came back from visiting Auschwitz, a place where many of our relatives had been murdered including my grandfather’s sisters, I  brought him a stone from one of the camps crematoria. I didn’t say anything and just handed him the stone. He looked at it and his face became tight with an understanding of where that stone had been and as he placed the rock in his pocket he said, in a choked voice, “thank you” and with that simple expression and phase I knew all that it meant to him. Years later this was confirmed when after his death, I discovered it in his bedside table.

Sitting in his office I watched as he re-read his opus magnus from his return to academic life, a poem he liked enough to send me looking for and whose publication quite probably stirred the fire of the writer he always wanted to become. I watched as the emotion streamed across his face like a creeper on at the bottom of all news channel. I could see pleasure on his face akin to finding a five-dollar bill in a pair of pants you have not worn in a while. I saw reflection in the way an 82 year old man looks back on 60 years…the roads taken and the paths not followed.  The opportunities lost and memories found. I wanted to tell him what the poem had meant to me but sensed that the timing was not right. The moment belonged to him so I said nothing.

Eventually we made our way to the kitchen where my mother had laid out all the goodies I had brought from Barney Greengrass. My parents have always been the people I enjoy talking to the most. Both are highly intelligent, engaged with the world and read the ink off the NY Times on a daily basis. So, while I cannot remember what we discussed that day I have no doubt the conversation was lively and engaged but eventually the conversation turned to my upcoming 50th birthday and how I would like to celebrate it.

I told them that I didn’t want a big huhu over my birthday. Turning 50 was not necessarily a milestone that I wished to dwell on. However, there was something that I did wish for.  I looked at my Dad and told him that I wanted to go to Vienna with him. He said “Why the fuck would you want to do that? “

I told him that his poem had made think about a lot of things. How despite what I knew of his army service I really knew very little because he didn’t talk about it very much. That while I knew about his arrival in this country I knew very little of his departure from Vienna nor his return 6 years later.  That the poem had inspired in me the desire to understand what it was like to flee a city as a boy, a refugee from hate and terror,  and then return a young man, and officer of the conquering army and that I didn’t think it was something that I could understand by just talking about it at the kitchen table or his office.

For me to truly understand what that experience must have been like I needed to go there with him.

His response, was pretty typical for him. “So what? A lot of people experienced the same sort of thing. What I did was not that special.”

I said “We can agree to disagree on whether your experience is unique. No matter what it is unique to you and to our family. But are you asking what is the point?”

“Yes. What’s the purpose? What are you going to do with it other than have some kind voyeuristic understanding of what I went through.”

He was being difficult but I knew what he was driving at. My father always wanted me to write. He thought that I had a gift and he thought I was wasting it by trying to earn a living in the advertising business. I replied “I want to write a story about it. I want to understand what it must have been like because I think it is more universal than just your experience. I think that what you went through and how it ended up for you is something that people not only can relate to and I do think it is special  but I also think that is a story that is fading fast with time and deserves at least the chance to be told. “

He shook his head, a Mona Lisa like half smile on his face, untranslatable but I took as him feeling complimented by my desire and a wish to make my desire a reality but a reluctance to relive those experiences again. For a few moments he was silent and said “Let me think about it.”

About 34orion

Winston Churchill once said that if you were not a liberal when you were young you had no heart, and if you were not a conservative when you were older then you had no brain. I know I have both so what does that make me?
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