I believe it was 1996 when the freeway was in the process of a new makeover as Utah would be holding the winter Olympics in 2002 and the city needed to get ready for the mass transportation that would be involved.
I was working downtown and had chosen to ride the bus to my destination. Often I would catch a bus which ran along State Street, but every once in a while I managed to catch the one that went by way of the freeway. Either way I had my nose in a book during the ride.
I recall one day in particular I was reading the autobiography of a World War II survivor from Poland. He was only a boy when the invasion started and described the horrific scenery – which to him was not so horrific - as he thought the dirt pits and piles and military transportation vehicles offered some sense of adventure – only he learned that the “adventure” was grotesque and inhumane and not at all what he had set out for.
As I was reading the book, I happened to glance out the window. My mouth dropped as I looked at the dirt piles and holes in the freeway – like the rubble that had been described in the book. But instead of German vehicles, there were yellow caterpillars – no soldiers, (but no construction workers either). It was actually kind of eerie.
I hate Hitler. I hate the very thought of all the tragedy, all the crime, all the needless punishment. I have no Christ-like compassion for Adolph Hitler – perhaps a few of his followers. There was so much brain washing and fear. There are not enough words in my vocabulary to describe all the hatred and anger and remorse that I feel each time I read or watch or discuss anything related to all that senseless political crime. So why do I continue? I admire the strength of the survivors who stayed true to themselves – who pass on their stories and experiences. I would hope that we may take into our hearts their pain and their experiences and learn and NEVER EVER repeat that piece of history. (But then perhaps we already are – or perhaps it already exists)
Currently I am reading a piece of historic fiction, “Someone Named Eva” by Joan M. Wolf. She introduces a part of history I hadn’t learned before. Girls with blonde hair and light colored-eyes were considered the “elite” and regardless of whether they had been born in Poland or Czechoslovakia, they were “stolen” and forced to take upon a new identity and become the Aryan – the best of the German girls.
I am horrified at the events that took place. In 1942 the Nazis (or Gestapo) went into the homes and ordered al l family members to leave. They were given only a few minutes to pack. I have read so many accounts of being allowed to pack. For what purpose? Their possessions were confiscated almost immediately. Almost everything they had was taken away. Some were able to hang on to their identity. Many others were not. They were caught up in Hitler Youth or the Gestapo or the Brown House or whatever – saying “Heil Hitler” first out of fear and then out of habit. Brainwashed. Becoming numb. Saying but not feeling.
Some were actually so caught up in it, they willingly accepted the harshness to be a part of their lifestyle (if you can indeed call it living) to become great bullies themselves. To actually support the cause. To praise evil.
The girls in this story were “stolen”. Two had been removed from Lidice along with their families. And then they separated. The men were taken in one direction and children with mothers and then separated again. Milada and Ruzha were put on a bus that took them across the border into Poland. They didn’t know why. They didn’t speak German.
Another bus carried twelve girls. They didn’t speak Czech. They didn’t speak German either. Finally a pretty woman translated for all fourteen girls. It was the one and only time that she would ever translate, for they were forbidden to speak in their native tongue. German would be their new tongue. They’d be accepted as German girls.
Each morning they were expected to give the “Heil Hitler” salute to a poster. Once they learned the German language they’d be introduced to German history and mathematics. The youngest one (Heidi) was having too hard of a time keeping up. She spoke in another tongue and was whipped for it. Sometime later she disappeared. When Heidi’s sister gave up on the German education, she too disappeared.
Whether or not their whereabouts had been explained to the other girls wouldn’t have made a difference. They had fed them so many lies that it was hard to know what was truth. Ruzha (whose name had been changed to Franziska) had hardened her heart. She was a bully and worked hard at getting the approval of the adult bullies.
Milada worked just as hard to separate what she’d been taught from who she wanted to be – NOT a Nazi. She was ashamed when people thought she was. But that’s what the Aryan wanted. And when the war was over, couples from all over Germany were called in to “adopt” the girls.
So now Milada (who is called Eva) is in a fancy house with a new brother and sister and mom and dad. All blonds. All beautiful. Her description of a horrible smell reminds me of the horrific smell described in “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” – a discovery that makes me cringe and cry and stirs up all these emotions of pain and dismay. How could so many people have let things get out of hand the way they did?
Milada remembers her own family. And that is where I am in the book.
Survivors allow emotion. Bullies forget emotion. I must be a survivor.