Family History - Fritz
Imagine being a 10-year-old boy when the annexation occurred. Imagine having your games of war amongst friends not only condoned but openly encouraged by the government. Imagine standing in huge crowds, screaming your lungs out, planes roaring overhead, the city bathed in black, red and white flags. And now imagine that the leader of this whole spectacle says that you, a 10-year-old boy, are the core and future of this grandiose movement. Imagine, in that troubling, confusing time when you are just starting to branch out from your family and are looking for a place to fit in as an individual, you are finally given a purpose greater than yourself, a club to which you belong. It’s not that hard to imagine really, every gang provides the same enchanting aura for its new recruits: the chance to be accepted. And as a young boy, who wanted desperately to be accepted, Fritz very merrily rode the rising tide of Nazism until, finally, he was completely unable to extricate himself from its undertow.
For the first few years of the annexation Fritz was not yet old enough to join the Hitler Youth (HY); rather, he joined the German Youngsters in the Hitler Youth. However, upon reaching the ripe old age of 14, Fritz was outfitted with a snazzy uniform and, most importantly, a Hitler Youth dagger. Engraved on that dagger? “Blut und Ehre” or “Blood and Honor”. Now, when he walked the streets, dressed up in his fine uniform, people looked at him with respect, with awe, maybe even with envy. On a social level, for a boy who was entering the tumultuous years of male puberty, Fritz had the difficult chasm of shared interests dramatically paved over by one common cause: to promote and protect the Nazi ideology.
One day, Fritz ran into a friend from whom he had distanced himself because he wasn’t of the right background. That friend had a black eye and a bruised lip. In an awkward encounter Fritz asked what happened, knowing all too well that his misgivings would be confirmed. Fritz carried that guilt home to his parents. Home to a mother who wore the Nazi pin. Home to a father who, even despite his own disdain for the party, did nothing to condemn it. Home to two parents he loved and obeyed. And there he was met with silence acquiescence. Well then…if his actions were sanctioned by the government and not condemned by his parents…then maybe he was right to brush aside his guilt as a momentary lapse of cowardly weakness.
The same went for the anti-Semitism that was everywhere at that time. The things that were said about the Jewish people were at times so outlandish that Fritz, in his later years, angrily claimed that he never believed in that nonsense. The blood rituals, the ability to literally transform into demons, I mean…come on, what sane person would believe such phantasmagoria? But…Fritz would say, while all that was obvious nonsense, it made the other rumors not so hard to believe. Jewish people did always seem to be doing rather well for themselves. They always had thriving shops, lavish cars, and maybe, maybe it wasn’t so crazy to think that even if there wasn’t some hidden cabal controlling the economy, they did have an undue influence on the world’s money supply. Then it may not be such a crazy leap to think that such an undue influence on the world’s money supply could lead to the precipitation of wars. I mean how crazy can it be if almost everyone around you believed that and even the government, the newspapers and persons in positions of authority (your teachers, your parents, maybe your doctors) constantly drummed these conspiracy theories into your head?
So, Fritz stayed with the HY and as the years progressed, he was more and more indoctrinated. HY had begun to take over Fritz’s life (and the indoctrination continued in the schools), making it easy for Fritz to embrace the Nazi cause. Whereas at first he was troubled by the violence, he began to view it as a necessary means to enforce the goals of the party. By 1943, at just 15, Fritz was ready for war. However, there was one major and very unexpected obstacle in his way: his mother.
His mother, who up until the Fall of 1940 had championed the cause, had served the cause, was wavering in her loyalty. It began gradually, but Fritz noticed. One day she came home and said that she had quit her position as district overseer. She said that it was taking up too much time and she wanted to focus on her family. She did not overtly say anything against the cause, but Fritz noticed. Then, as the years progressed, and he finally got to join the HY in 1942, he noticed that his participation in the HY did not draw the same admiration from his mother as his erstwhile joining of the Hitler Youngsters in the Hitler Youth did back in 1938. Rather, it was met with indifference and mild smiles. Then in 1944, there was a seismic shift in how his parents, particularly his mother, began to act with regard to the war and the party cause, and this Fritz most definitely noticed.
Although his father’s view had always been that of haughty skepticism and disdain, his mother’s view progressed (or in his mind, regressed) from supporter, to mute observer, to outright detractor. All of a sudden there was talk about moving out of the city. In particular, there was talk of moving to the southern province of Carinthia where they had a summer villa. Both of Fritz’s parents could see that the tide had inevitably turned against Nazism, that defeat was imminent. His mother’s subtle abdication of her duty to the cause turned into outright fear creating a necessity to abrogate any involvement with the cause whatsoever, in particular, her son’s involvement.
Fritz refused to abandon the cause. Urli began to plead with him. Fritz bludgeoned her with her past endorsement of the party. The realization that she was going to watch her only son be thrown upon the funeral pyre of a dying cause unless she could convince him to flee with her became a stark reality. Now it was she who was feeling the full consequences of her prior embrace of the party and its ideology. Now she was feeling the full brunt of a cause that cared nothing for individual human lives. Now she was the one who was being forced to flee.
Fritz reeled in the face of this hypocrisy. How could SHE of all people say this to him? She, who had gotten just as wrapped up in the cause? Just because she was weak and couldn’t stomach what had to be done? Now, all of a sudden, HE was one of the brutes that his father despised?
There were a lot of arguments during this time but eventually Fritz’s love for his mother overcame his dedication to his duty. He could have been like other children who denounced their parents, but he didn’t. I will never know why he went one way and not the other. My grandfather Fritz died in 2005, three years after his mother.
He viewed the move to Carinthia as a betrayal. He would speak about it bitterly. Perhaps this is because the benediction that had been blanketed over his actions was rudely ripped away. All of a sudden those cheering him began to rescind their approval.
Near the end of the war, when all was lost and defeat was virtually certain, his father took him out onto the lake in their wooden rowboat. It was very, very early in the morning when the mist was rising off the water and the clouds from the nearby mountains were hanging low. There was no one on the lake, which was the point. In the middle of the lake, they stopped and for a moment stared at each other. Then his father uttered two words: “do it”. Fritz hesitated for a moment, then he picked up his HY dagger and tossed it into the great beyond.
“Somewhere down there,” my grandfather said to me, pointing out to the lake as we sat on the terrace on a warm summer night, “you’ll find a whole bunch of daggers, I guarantee it.” And with that, he shook his head, got up, and went to sleep.