Stop Donald Trump (before it's too late)

Float in the Dusseldorf Carnival parade, 2016

More than two and one half decades ago I wrote a collection of essays based on conversations I had with German women in their mid 80s. This week I had another conversation with a German woman in her mid 80s in the retirement community where I live in northern California. This woman told of her days in grammar school when they were required to stand when the teacher entered the room, throwing their right arms into the air while they sang Heil Hitler in unison. She told of how they were fed constant propaganda about the superior nature of the master race and the wonderful infallibility of the Fuhrer. Then she turned to me to say, “I hate this man Donald Trump!” She explained that she feels today, in watching Donald Trump, a chilling reminder of her childhood in Hitler’s Germany.

This afternoon a casual acquaintance started spewing Trump propaganda. I asked her if she really thought a man who uses the F word so freely was fit to occupy the Oval Office. She walked away mumbling. That’s when I decided to resurrect this version of my essays, “Speaking Into The Silence.” I am haunted by a phrase shared by most of the German Women I interviewed more than two decades ago. “If only we had stopped it before it was too late!” 

SPEAKING INTO THE SILENCE

When I first visited Germany in 1986, two of my best friends had died from AIDS in San Francisco just weeks before. I had come on a pilgrimage to discover my heritage and insure I would not be on my deathbed counting unfulfilled dreams. I brought with me the memory of my grandmother singing "Stille Nacht" to me as a child. My very strong but innocent American sense of what it means to be German immediately created problems. The very core of my beliefs about human nature, good and evil, and life and death were about to be challenged in ways I never dreamt possible. As an American I had a detached sense of the Second World War. I would soon discover that this conflict had left scars on the German population that were still not healed. 

Over the years I came to understand the complexities of the German culture and its people. As an outsider I struggled with the overwhelming power of the system and rules that many in the world saw as "the German Problem." As a German American I struggled to get beyond my naive American belief that all humans are essentially good. I tried to get in touch with what my German friends called my dark side. They warned me that to keep it a stranger is the most dangerous thing one can do! Because of my German roots I believed I had a responsibility to understand what had happened and to be a part of assuring it never happened again. I wondered what I would have done had I been there. I wanted to believe I would have been part of the resistance. I wanted to believe I would have died for my principles. The more I talked with people the more I was unsure exactly what I would have done! 

Many of the old women described how they woke up each day hoping that the nightmare was over. Each day they told themselves that someone was going to rise up and save them from the Hell they were descending into. In fear, they turned their backs on the suffering of their neighbors and denied that their own people were capable of such atrocities. Then one day it was too late, because the knight in shining armor never came to rescue them. Those in power had reached a place of absolute power. Without boundaries their atrocities became even more grotesque. Those who nurtured the dark side of human nature set upon the masses and no one was safe. And everyone wished they had stood up against it in the beginning, before it was too late. 

I wanted to help those who had secrets to say everything that was forbidden to say, because I knew that would be the true healing. Many of those I interviewed told me they would never say what they revealed to me to Germans in Germany. That is why I titled my book, "Speaking into the Silence." 

For all of the Germans I love and for my grandmother I hope that this work can be a small part of the healing.

THE SILENT VICTIMS

for Kriemhild

The half-century nightmare

Again I see the sunken eyes

The emaciated ghosts

Marching to Buchenwald

Death on my doorstep

I watch from behind my curtain

My forbidden act of courage

Struggling to free myself

From the fear which paralyzes me

I hear the footsteps in the hallway

Do they come for me this time?

I hear my friends, my neighbors cry

I remain silent in terror

The terror which I now breathe

It feeds me, it is familiar

Always there

I must survive to see the terror end

I will do anything to survive to see the terror end

But it never ends

We pass it on to our children

And they despise us

They say it will end when we die

They ask the question

Where were you, what did you do to stop it?

Again we remain silent

We must teach the vow of silence

The only way to end the terror

But in reality the terror lives

The ghosts are everywhere

We must never forget say the children!

No, we will never forget

Those of us who still breathe the terror

We will never forget

We scream the deafening silence

We are afraid to be proud

Afraid to speak the truth

We the despicable Germans

The good Germans who said nothing

If the world ever finds the courage to forgive us

We will find the courage to speak into the silence

And we the silent victims will say

We forgive you too“

My partner Rob and I with Kriemhild in Weimar, East Germany. 

BUCHENWALD CONCENTRATION CAMP

Weimar, Germany

Do not weep for me

There is no virtue in HELL

My heart was blackened by the stench

You must forgive us all

Forgive yourself

For the vile things you would do

When sentenced to this nightmare

Of calculated humiliation

Do not point your finger

To assuage your guilt

The blame is universal

The horror

The indignation you feel

Is the denial of your own dark side

The resolution will never be achieved

As long as you continue

To deny the possibility

Of your own complicity

FORGIVE

WORKING IN THE CAMP

I never wanted to work in the camp

I had heard stories whispered about

Horrible, unbelievable stories

I never believed them

I didn’t want to believe them

But then I was sent to work in the camp

And I knew the stories were true

My first months, perhaps years

I spent trying to cope with what I saw

With what I was asked to do

It was so unfair, the choices

I could obey or die

I chose to live in the hell

I was a coward, I became part of the evil

I left tiny children locked in rooms

Left to play on the corpses of their parents

For weeks they were left as the bodies decayed

I stopped feeding them

The stench was too much for me to bear

They were going to die anyway

It wasn’t my fault

I was just doing what I was told

I had nightmares in the beginning

But I learned to detach myself from that world

I became insensitive in order to survive

If I continued to care I would die

I would have to kill myself

After all, my life was worth something too

I had the right to live also

I had to look out after myself

I was lucky when the enemy came to liberate the camps

I had been moved to another job

I was able to live in a place where no one knew

I blended into postwar Germany

It was not too difficult

After all, who would tell?

Who was without shame and guilt?

Who was without their own secrets?

UNWANTED CHILD

I had decided to never have children

When I saw children, I remembered the children of the camp

What kind of mother could I be?

But somehow a child came

I let down my guard, believed in love

Became blind by the idea that hope existed

And I was left alone with a little boy

He looked like his father

I hated this man who had done this to me

Then left me alone with his child

I hated the sight of this boy

I beat him, locked him in the closet

Sometimes I withheld food from him

He was just like the children from the camp

I had my own life to look after

Finally, I gave him up to a Catholic orphanage

I had a right to have my own life

ORPHAN

My mother gave me up to the Catholic orphanage

When I was too young to remember

I wanted to see her, to know her

I wanted to know about my family

The only story I knew was of my uncle

He had moved to South America after the war

Finally, when I was 14 years old

I was allowed to visit my mother for a weekend

On the first day she locked me out of the house

I spent the whole night on the street

When I came to the orphanage and told the priest

Who took me by the hand

And led me back to my mother’s home

There was my mother with her arms open

Crying real tears

She told the priest I had run away

When the priest left, she beat me

When I returned to the orphanage

I told the priest my mother had beaten me

He beat me for telling a lie

THE PROJECTOR

for Birgit

Sometimes I dream I am a child again

Such innocent eyes

Soft eyes filled with laughter

My mother and my grandmother

Hold me with such love

But then the soldiers come marching

In perfect rhythm

Swastika blazing on their arms

I hear the movie projector behind me

That slow hum of terror

Teaching me the truth of who I am

Hitler’s voice replaces my mother’s

The masses of people cheering in the streets

Children waving their Nazi flags

That wonderful, horrible energy

Which is ever so pervasive

And always I am seated before the projector

This is who I am, I am told

This is my life I watch on film

I am responsible for this

It must never happen again

Then as I become older

It is decided FOR me

That I may now see the real truth

Now I am shown the concentration camps

The dead decaying bodies

Stacked in piles like garbage

You are responsible for this

Says the voice from behind the projector

It must never happen again

I want to scream NO! this is not true

I am a good person

But this is forbidden

I am forbidden to turn around

How can this have happened, I ask?

How can it be that so many did nothing?

I would not obey, I tell myself

I am good, I would not obey

I turn to the projectionist and scream

I WOULD NOT OBEY!

The soldier

Behind the projector

With the swastika blazing on his arm

Tells me to turn around and be quiet

Everyone around me stares with anger

AND

I obey

THE DREAM

I was walking on the road near my grandfather’s farm

I said hello to my friends Helmut and Vera as we passed on the road

Just then we heard gunshots from and automatic weapon

We saw Nazi soldiers killing people at the edge of the road

They made them line up in groups as the others were made to watch

They pushed them into a large grave which had been dug behind them

We hurried quickly along our ways, careful not to be seen

I saw Helmut and Vera a few days later

When I mentioned what had happened they pretended not to understand

They said they had not been on the road and had not seen any shooting

I was astounded by their reactions

We had been friends since we were children

Why would they lie to me, of all people?

When I questioned them they became angry and left

Vera sent a note saying they would not see me again

She wrote I should not make up such lies to discredit Germany

The truth was, there were no soldiers, no shooting

I see things in an entirely wrong way

I should reconsider the lies I was telling and tell the real truth

I was confused about the certitude with which they presented their fantasy

I wondered if I was crazy and really imagined the shooting

Perhaps it was a dream that was so real I believed it

I couldn’t accept that telling the truth was wrong

I couldn’t bring myself to say it was a lie

I knew it was no dream, it would only be easier to say it was

I never spoke to Helmut and Vera again

PUNISHMENT

Yesterday I spoke the truth

Today my process of punishment will begin

Already some of my friends have pretended I am invisible

Their silence will last until they decide how to shame me

They will speak among themselves when I am not there to defend myself

Collectively they will decide how to cut me off

They will isolate me from vital needs

If my truth was big enough they will try to make me lose my job

Or they will make my life so difficult I will quit my job

I will be labeled weak and irresponsible

And unable to get another job

But all is not as hopeless as it sounds

I always have the option of admitting I was wrong

I must simply say the truth is not the truth

Then everything will be forgiven and forgotten

They make it so easy to redeem myself

SURVIVOR

I saw them overcome, one by one

My friends, my neighbors, even my family

They were mesmerized by the black magic

It was easy to just give in to it

Only the strongest were able to resist

Their reward was torture and death

I remember my own struggle with the dark side

Those momentary lapses of conscience

I would catch myself believing the lies

Then some unconscionable act of inhumanity

Some violent, inexcusable evil

Would awaken me back into the nightmare

Some have called me lucky to have survived

With only a number embellishing my skin

But this number is seared onto my soul

It will follow me through eternity

For I too was dragged to the edge of the abyss

Where I saw the face of eternal Hell

MAGIC

It was like living in another world

As though I were under a spell

Like stepping into a mirror

To a place where I was untouchable

I felt strong and powerful

This was all that was important to me

So much of my life I felt small

Then suddenly, one day I am big

In the beginning I felt guilty

But guilt is a sign of weakness

I needed to become stronger

To become feared and respected

I had separated from feelings

Feeling nothing was safe

I did not have to judge my feelings

I only felt what I was told to feel

Then all of the rules changed

I was freed from the chains of guilt forever

I was allowed to take my place

My rightful place of power, as master

It’s like killing a chicken

You feel a rush through your body

In the other world you say no

This feeling is wrong, bad

But then I was allowed to feel

I enjoyed killing the chicken

I was God, master over life

To kill became the ultimate orgasm

And each time I killed

Each time I performed the ritual of death

I became closer to God

Closer to the powerful magic

FORGIVE

for Heiner

Forgive

What an absurd idea!

If we forgive it absolves responsibility

Then after we forgive, what then?

Do we all sit around coffee telling secrets

The secrets we have protected for fifty years?

We all have secrets you know

I will tell you my secret

Then you will see how absurd it is

To believe we can forgive

I will never forgive myself!

There was a woman in my village

A very beautiful woman

In her house she was hiding a Jew

I knew this and I was silent

I kept this secret for a very long time

One day I saw her talking to my husband

They were laughing together

I became jealous, but again remained silent

I imagined many things and began to hate her

One day I became so angry

In my moment of anger I told the SS

They took her away with the Jew

No one knew who told the SS

Only I knew this secret about myself

And you want to talk of forgiveness

Do you understand how many secrets there are?

Do you understand the implications of forgiving?

Don’t you understand that it is easier

If we take our secrets to our graves?

To forgive is too painful

We will never forgive!

Let us suffer the pain we deserve!

Views: 203

Comment by JMac1949 Today on February 28, 2016 at 11:02pm

Overloaded with the power and pain of this post, I will return to read again tomorrow.

Comment by koshersalaami on February 28, 2016 at 11:04pm
Wow
Comment by nerd cred on February 28, 2016 at 11:41pm

Wow is right. The Projector.

Comment by Heidi Banerjee on February 29, 2016 at 5:41am

Robert,you have done an excellent job by digging into the horrible night mare of Nazi Germany.

I grew up in post war Germany.

What I didn't know then and came to realize much later in my life is this: The Nazi spirit was lurking everywhere. Nobody spoke of the war but the treatment I received through some teachers and - mainly- by nuns - was so "menschen-verachtend" that once you have experienced it, it will never leave you. Later in life, there have been people whose behaviour followed this old pattern.(even if those people were too young to have been active during WWII). What is happening in the Eatern section of Germany is that there are the remnants of that era. 40 years behind the Wall kept the "Nazi Gedankengut" at a safe place where it has had best chances to thrive. My last encounter with Nazi doctrine was in 201-2004. Would you believe that this man who displayed it functions as a minister of church?

Comment by Heidi Banerjee on February 29, 2016 at 5:43am

2001- 2004.

Comment by Heidi Banerjee on February 29, 2016 at 5:46am

A holocaust survivor who has lived in France for more then 30 years, after the Paris Attack said: "Now we are all Jews".

Comment by Robert Starkey on February 29, 2016 at 6:07am

The point of my piece is not to compare Trump to Hitler, but to compare the people who support him to the followers of Hitler. This is not about Hitler, it's about Fascism and the different elements that make it work.  

Comment by Robert Starkey on February 29, 2016 at 6:46am

Joisey, For my own sanity I have to believe you are right. But history, especially this history, tells us not to be too complacent. We need to stop the false equivalencies, like giving truth and lies, opinions and facts equal weight. Fascism is evolving. We need to be sure we can stop it before it morphs into something that is possible here.   

Comment by Heidi Banerjee on February 29, 2016 at 8:13am

That has been my point as well. I have translated an article about the author I've mentioned.She is too young to be a survivor.

It must have been a false notion on the radio this morning.

Comment by JMac1949 Today on February 29, 2016 at 11:54am

"...But it never ends

We pass it on to our children

And they despise us

They say it will end when we die

They ask the question

Where were you, what did you do to stop it?

Again we remain silent..."

Again these poems have too much power and pain I can't finish reading.  Perhaps tomorrow.

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