Kate Barry

Seeking closure

My Oma’s beliefs in Nazi rule were so deep that she thought Germany was winning the war even as her village burned. For 80 years, she has tried to make sense of it. Now, we will need to do the same for this acutely terrible phase of history.

A thought I have not been able to shake for the past week has been the culmination of stories my Oma has told me many times, since I was very young in fact, about what it was like to live in Germany through the rise of Hitler, and the collapse that followed WWII.

She was 17 in 1945 when her village of Hanau was bombed and the Americans marched through. She was 5 when Hitler came to power, and Nazi rule was all she had ever known. She and everyone in her village believed that Germany was winning the war up until the day they were bombed. The Americans gave her starving family food, which she threw into the river because she was convinced it was poison.

Her own father tried to tell her the truth and she didn't believe him. He was a political prisoner at Saschenhausen-Oranienberg, he had been turned in by a neighbor who reported to the Gestapo that he was feeding Russian prisoners of war from his garden in the nearby labor camp. The only reason he was able to survive, and eventually escape, was because he had been a war hero in the early years on the French Maginot line, decorated with the Iron Cross by Hitler himself. So he was spared the random daily killings. He told my Oma about what was happening at the camps - the gas chambers, the torture, the medical experimentations. She didn't believe him, convinced he had gone mad, and that he must have done something to deserve being in the camp.

You can talk to her now about that time, she's read voraciously on the subject for 80 years, and she will tell you facts and dates and how she was brainwashed from age 5, how...

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