Monday, July 06, 2009

Valkyrie: If Only

I saw Valkyrie last night and again today when Peter and Aleks watched it. 
The IF ONLY aspect of the whole thing has been haunting me and I finally realized why (other than the obvious).  Two of my grandparents, my father’s father and my mother’s mother, were killed by bombs in Germany, both toward the end of World War II – my grandfather in March, 1945 and my grandmother in April, 1945.
(In fact, this is a commemorative plaque in my mother’s hometown of Traunstein, in memory of its citizens who were killed in the war.  My grandmother is Mathilde Reiss.)
Had Stauffenberg and his team been successful, there’s a chance that I would have known my maternal grandmother my paternal grandfather.
I called my dad when I realized that I might have known my grandparents, had the attempts on Hitler’s life succeeded, and he told me two additional interesting stories.
My father’s father (pictured below), a prominent banker in his hometown of Chemnitz, was a Jewish man married to a non-Jewish woman.  The Nazis didn’t really know what to do with these so-called “privileged mixed marriages” and so, in many cases the Jews in those marriages were not treated as were other German Jews and, although life was certainly made difficult for them (my grandfather was told he could no longer work at the bank and my father and his siblings were forced to withdraw from school), they were often spared transport to concentration camps. 
My father told me that in his research (he’s planning to write a book about mixed marriages in World War II Germany) he discovered that in April of 1945 fifty-three Jews were taken from Chemnitz to Theriesienstadt, a German concentration camp. As my grandmother had already died of a brain tumor in 1944, she was no longer around to “protect” my grandfather.  So they mystery is why wasn’t he taken?  Why was my grandfather, a German Jew, NEVER taken by the Nazis?  It’s a mystery that remains unsolved today!
The irony there is that had he been taken, he would likely have lived, as all 53 of those people were liberated from the camp and  survived the war.
Interesting story number two:
My Uncle Rainer, my father’s older brother, had a scar on his left arm until he died in 1995.  Today my dad told me how that scar got there.  On July 20, 1944, the day of Stauffenberg’s assassination attempt on Hitler’s life, Rainer was with his girlfriend Renate (future mother to my cousin) in a crowded Munich restaurant.  When the news broke that an attempt had been made on Hilter’s life, Renate was so excited that she began to scream out in glee but stopped herself – on Rainer’s arm!  To stifle her exuberance, she bit him so hard that she drew blood!
How many more stories are there that need to be told?  My dad has done his best to tell us about his experiences as a “mischling” in World War II Germany (even writing a book that I wish he’d publish!), but how many more stories – like the one about Uncle Rainer’s scar that my father was reminded of only when I suggested he see Valkyrie – remain untold? 

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Jen said...

As to why your grandfather was never taken, Nazi Germany was a bureaucracy first and foremost, and as in all bureaucratic systems, mistakes were made. Thank goodness.

There were many, many of those stories, I'm sure.

Margaret said...

Because of his social position before the war, he possibly had contacts higher up and that may have protected him. My husband's paternal grandparents came over from Germany after the war but we know little about them. He shares his grandfather's name and I have the same name as his grandmother (weird) but that's about it. And they shortened their name from Fentstein to Fent. My MIL swears they were Catholics, in spite of the name.

Goofball said...

there's so so many if only stories in the war.
eg if only Anne Frank had lived a couple of more days, she would have survived (but probably never become famous).

it's all intriguing to hear. I hope your father gets to publish his stories. We can never learn enough form that period.

My grandparents met because of WWI as my grandfather's family were refugees near my grandmother's family.

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