“We used to play this in the concentration camps,” he says. “We didn’t have any other toys.”
We continue to play the game, pinching the string together and turning it under, but my father’s comment is not forgotten. I am eleven years old and a voracious reader. Through books like the Diary of Anne Frank and The Hiding Place, I understood that a few decades before I was born, there was a war in Europe and that Hitler had put the Jews and other people he didn’t like in concentration camps where many of them died.
But my Dad isn’t Jewish, he’s German. And he was only a young child during the war so I ask why he was in a concentration camp.
“The Poles put us in camps,” he said. “It was after the war.”
As I grow up I begin to pay more attention to my relatives and their stories. They were settlers in Poland who still used horse and wagon in the 1940’s. My grandmother’s hair went gray after she was interrogated. Her grandparents had attended their wedding in a four horse carriage. She spun flax and made her boys linen suits. My grandfather was conscripted into the German army and taken prisoner of war in Russia.
As an adult I realize the importance of recording these stories. At every family gathering, I scribble notes on scraps of paper. But as I write a family history, I realize I have no context. They do not seem to be able to explain their experiences in light of history as I know it.
I piece a narrative together into what I hope is chronological order and insert a few snippets of historical information that make sense to me. I don’t want my generation or my children’s generation to forget where they have come from or the threads of faith that bind us together.
What I really want is to write this incredible story as a novel. It begs to be told and
I need to know more in order to do the story justice.
Eyes glazing over, I stare at the library stacks. 940.5318. Two shelves stuffed full
of books about the Holocaust and accounts of Allied soldiers. The cruelties inflicted upon human beings are heartbreaking. I denounce the evils of Hitler and his followers, but the shelves do not easily reveal this other story that I am seeking—an explanation of what my father’s family went through.
Few survivors of the German expulsions have properly expressed their suffering, at least not in the English language. Some chose not to pass on hatred and bitterness to their children. Others did not want to relive the pain and shame of the time immediately following the war. Certainly fear of being called a Nazi must have also crossed their minds.
Maybe this is why history is written by the victors.
I discover only a few books through interlibrary loans. Christian Graf von Krockow’s Hour of the Women, and John Sack’s controversial An Eye for an Eye. This book was blacklisted for a time, because it revealed a truth that few people were willing to accept.
The concentration camps were not all closed after the war. Many of them were re-opened and used to imprison and mistreat ethnic Germans women and children. James Bacque’s Crimes and Mercies, reveals Allied policies toward German survivors as considerably less than humane. Later I find Alfred de Zaya’s A Terrible Revenge, which sheds light on the tragic events following the conferences at Potsdam and Yalta.
Even as in Canada we face some of our shameful past by allowing the survivors to speak, so I too will fill in a few blanks of history, even if some people don’t like it, because truth is important and the only starting place for real understanding.
Much of the story in Threaten to Undo Us, takes place behind the Iron Curtain, as communism was established in Poland. The Western Allies set a series of events in motion when they redrew the map of Europe which allowed communist governments free reign. Stalin is reported to have said, “you can’t have a revolution in white gloves.” According to Lenin a reign of terror was a necessity in order to attain victory. (The Cheka: Lenin’s Political Police, 1981, p. 57)
Whether or not victory is well-deserved, whether or not one political system is better than another, terrorizing people is wrong. Incarcerating them without fair trial is inhumane, even if you are on the “right side.”
It was difficult to portray this suffering and inhumanity in my novel. At first, I avoided it to a large degree. My characters were too close to being the “real” people that I knew and loved and I didn’t want to hurt them. But deeper into the writing my characters took on lives of their own, and as the story grew in fiction I believe it also grew in truth becoming representative of a larger group of people.
A people who suffered and have a right to tell. Listen, learn and understand.
Book Cover – courtesy of Rose Seiler Scott
Guest Author Bio
Rose Seiler Scott
Since fifth grade, I wanted to be a writer, but that career path took several turns and I’ve been a piano teacher, a home business owner, a bookkeeper and mother of four. As a family story unfolded over the years, I set out to make it into a novel. During the process I have realized that not only is truth stranger than fiction, but truth can also be told through fiction. “Threaten to Undo Us,” is my first novel. I’ve been married to Andy for 30 something years and live in Surrey, BC.
Buy The Book From: Promontory Press