I have a dream of a better world based on intelligence, not superstition or greed.
In America, the teacher in the classroom next to mine was a German immigrant. Strangely enough, she taught German. I taught Biology and Science. She was very friendly.
One day we were sitting in the canteen talking and I asked her what made her come over to the States. Her eyes went a bit glazed as she stared out the window for a long time as if staring into the past.
Eventually, she told me that she had been a fourteen-year-old girl living in Berlin at the end of the war. She said it had been terrifying. There was no food. The city had been bombed to rubble. Horrendous stories circulated. They were petrified that the Russians were going to get to them first. They’d heard that the Russians behaved like depraved monsters. As it turned out it was the Americans that ‘liberated’ them. On such moments are the fates of individuals determined.
She went very quiet for a long while before continuing.
“The Americans were fresh-faced kids.” Her eyes met mine. “By the end of the war they were drafting seventeen-year-olds, the older veteran soldiers had all been killed. They had called up all the available men. They were drafting in boys.” She gazed thoughtfully at her hands. “They were boys, younger than the boys I teach.”
She proceeded to talk in staggered sentences in a neutral tone, as if looking inside herself to relive the past.
“Those boys had fought through Germany…………….. They had seen sights that boys shouldn’t see……….. That people should never have to see……… They had seen their friends killed………. They had seen people dying in agony……….. They had had all their innocence and security stolen from them. They had seen how fragile life is. They had experienced all the emotions imaginable………. They had been so terrified they were emotionally blank. They didn’t think of hope, or an end to this madness. The war had become their life. They lived it. Their faces were fresh but their eyes were old.”
She lapsed into silence, all turned in on herself. You could see her mind turning over those old memories. She didn’t tell me any details of what had happened when the Americans moved in. I realised later that she had never really told me anything about why she had come to the United States – yet she had. Perhaps, she had come to put her ghosts to rest?
After a bit she looked up and her eyes met mine.
“If the mothers of those boys had known a fraction of what those boys did in Berlin ……………….. they would never have let them back in their houses again,” she whispered and then looked away.