Fourteen years earlier…
The door to the small room opened and I quickly stood, clasping my hands behind my back. I stood there, fighting a rising panic, as three men entered. The first two were low ranking soldiers but at the sight of the third man I snapped to attention.
“Leave us.” He ordered the other two men. They exited the room, pulling the door closed behind them.
The third man turned to face me and I felt a cold drop of fear run down my back.
“You disappoint me, Hoffman.”
“I am sorry, sir, but I had to do it.”
“Yes sir. It was a matter of conscience.”
“Conscience.” The other man snorted. “What does the life of one Jew have to do with your conscience?”
I dropped my gaze and scuffed the toe of my shiny boot on the hardwood floor.
The man sighed, clasping his hands behind his back as well. “Tell me why you did it, Hoffman.” He demanded.
“It was just a child, sir. A helpless little girl. Surely one Jewish child is not a threat to our Führer.”
“How naïve are you?” He snapped. “The Jews, all of them, are our sworn enemy. Hitler has ordered the imprisonment of every Jewish man, woman and child.”
“Have you ever asked yourself why that is?”
“They are racial impure.”
“Simply because they are not German? If I can speak frankly, sir, neither of us is the “perfect Aryan” either. Neither is Hitler.”
“Regretfully you are correct, Hoffman. That is why Hitler is trying so hard to create the perfect race and eliminate other, less desirable, races from the world. Like the Jews.”
I shook my head and turned away. “What gave him the right to decide who is ‘desirable’ and ‘racially pure’?”
“He is the Führer.”
“Of Germany. He is not the ruler of the world, or even Europe.”
The man sighed and shook his head. “You are such a disgrace, Hoffman. I thought you had what it took to be an SS officer. Now, you are speaking treason. Questioning your Führer is dangerous, Hoffman.”
“I know, sir.”
“You know there is nothing I do for you, correct?”
I took a deep breath. “Yes sir.”
“You have a visitor.” The officer said, turning towards the door.
~ * ~
I stopped by the window near the door and watched the crisp autumn wind make the thick layer of multicolored leaves dance across the yard. My sisters came running around the house and into my view, chasing the leaves. I laughed just as I heard someone walk up behind me.
I turned to see my brother Seaton.
“Hey, Seaton, I was watching the girls.”
He leaned against the wall next to the window, reaching into his pocket.
“Father and I picked this up for you in town.”
I turned to see him holding out a letter.
“For me?” I asked, reaching for it. “Is it from Michael?”
A teasing grin crossed my brother’s face. “Something like that.”
He held it out to me with the flap side facing up, hiding the name of the sender.
I snatched it from him, flipping it over quickly. The name written on the return address line was not one I was expecting but it sent a shiver of excitement down my spine.
A good friend.
“Thank you, Seaton.” I said, turning towards the hall leading to my room. “I’ll go read it now.”
Seaton straightened up, the teasing smile still on his face.
I wanted to wipe it off.
Annoying little brothers
I shook my head at him and hurried down the hall towards my room.
~ * ~
The man that walked through the door was not who I expected to see. The officer left, closing and locking the door behind him, leaving me alone with my visitor.
The man sighed. “You have embarrassed your family, Dietrich.” The man said, looking around the sparse room.
“That was never my intention.”
“Of course not. You did not stop to think about your family.” My father turned to face me, his gaze cool.
“I did not have time to think, sir. It just…happened.”
“You should have thought about the consequences your actions would have. Look at you,” he waved a hand towards me in disgust. “You are locked in a room in the SS’ main office waiting for someone to decide your fate. You have men like Heinrich Himmler here working out to do with you.” Father said, motioning with his hand towards the door to signify the high officer that previously been in here, who now probably waited somewhere outside.
I dropped my gaze to my boots as he shook his head. “I thought I raised you better then this, Dietrich.”
I closed my eyes with a sigh. “Please, father, listen to me…”
“No. You did not listen, that is what got you into trouble. Now listen to me. As foolish as you were, I can not let my own son face death over a careless mistake. I spoke to Hitler about your case-”
“I do not need any special favors, sir. I am willing to face whatever sentence my superiors deem appropriate.”
“This is not the time to play the hero, boy.” My father snapped. “Even if what you did is worth a harsher sentence, how would that look on us? On the rest of the family you forgot about?”
Of course…he is not worried about me…he is worried about the family’s image.
If his fear of his reputation saves your life…is that so bad?
If I get my freedom…I want it clean……
“Like I was saying, I spoke to Hitler about your case. Your fate will not be as severe, and far less public, then it could have been. It will be taken care of quietly – no press, no cameras, nothing. Understood?”
I suppose I should thank him…he did just save my life…even if it is not the way I wanted…
“Thank you, sir.” I said, looking up to meet his gaze.
He raised his chin to glare down his nose at me.
“Do not thank me, Dietrich. I did not do it for you.”
With that he spun on his heel and knocked on the door. The guards unlocked it and let him out. He left without another glance at me and the door slammed shut behind him, sounding hard and final.
He had saved my life…by saving his reputation.
I was sure that if my family’s image had not been mixed up in this, he would have turned a blind eye to whatever my fate would have been.
Are all families as cold as mine?
~ * ~
I tucked the letter from my childhood friends, Jasper, under my pillow and walked to the main room. I dropped into the settee and stared out the window at the dull red leaves of the Oak tree outside. A squirrel scampered about its branches, busy storing away nuts for the coming winter. I sighed; it would be the third winter since the war started. The third Christmas since the world was shrouded by the dark evil of Hitler’s Nazi Germany.
My elder brother came to mind as I thought about the war.
At twenty four, Michael was the oldest child and the only one we had away fighting. Father was to old and had been injured during the First World War when a piece of shrapnel was imbedded in his leg when part of his ship exploded after a hitting a mine.
In honor of his father, Michael had also joined the Navy. In his last letter, he said his ship was running injured soldiers from the battlegrounds of Europe to Allied soil and bringing new recruits back to fill in the gaps.
Everyone hoped and prayed that Michael would never be among the injured returning home.
~ * ~
General Heinrich Himmler returned later that day with a small group of soldiers. It seemed they had finally decided on my punishment.
I knew what should be happening, what I should be facing.
For such a high ranking officer, like I was, to disobey a direct order to defend a Jewish child should have resulted in a firing squad or some other serious sentence. However, I knew my father would not let that happen. Somehow, I would be sent away to fade from existence and perhaps get killed in the process.
General Himmler’s next words confirmed my suspicions.
“I understand, Hoffman, that you have received your pilot’s license?”
I stiffened to attention as he stopped before me.
“Yes, sir. I was considering joining the Luftwaffe when my father insisted I join the SS.”
“Good. Then you are officially sentenced to serving the remainder of the war as a pilot in the Luftwaffe in Cuxhaven, Germany. Also, you are officially demoted to a sergeant in the Luftwaffe for the remainder of the war.”
Kicked out the SS and demoted to a non-commissioned officer.
I was right – sent away to fade from memory. Sent to the front lines where I could be killed in action and spare them having to do it themselves.
Would my own family bother to remember me?
Could this be a way I could get away from Germany for good?
Thank you for reading!
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