My family came from Greece and moved to Berlin in 1938, when my grandfather got a job in Germany. He was a highway engineer. At this time, the Germans were building the autobahns and were at the forefront of highway technology. My grandfather (Opa) and mother were Greek-born, while my grandmother (Oma) and Aunt Hellas were German-born. Needless to say, moving to Germany in 1938 was a terrible strategic decision.
My mother and Hellas went to school. My mother remembers that girls and boys were separated by a barbed wire fence. The teachers were very strict, and everyone had to rise and say, "Heil Hitler." She also remembered seeing Jewish people wearing the large yellow stars on their clothes. A correspondent from Germany wrote that jews in the Reich were forced to wear the yellow star as late as September 1941 (I thought it was much earlier). Jews of German origin were first deported in October of 1940 in south Germany, and mass deportations were as late as October 1941.
|School class portrait, 1942? Mobile phone scan from paper print in album.|
|Opa in his office, 1943 (photographer and exact location unknown)|
For 18 months, the Allies bombed Berlin day and night, and for most nights, residents had to shelter in the cellars. But Opa had to remain hidden upstairs even during the bombings. One day, a bomb fell through the bathrooms and the tub from above crashed through the ceiling. Luckily, the bomb did not explode. She remembers Opa listening to the BBC on a wireless receiver with a blanket over his head to muffle the sound. Listening to foreign radio was an offense that would lead to execution.
Late in the war, Aunt Hellas and other school-age girls were evacuated to the woods of Prussia to escape the bombing. But she and a young actress or opera singer knew someone important in the Goebbels propaganda organization and they secured travel permits to return to Berlin.
This is a map of Soviet advance from:
Their destination was a small town in the Schwarzwald (southwest Germany) named Reichental, where the family had vacationed before the war. Everyone with any sense tried to flee to the west, away from the Soviets. The train ride was terrible. When allied planes flew overhead, everyone got off and sheltered in ditches or fled into fields because the planes strafed the trains. People were packed tight into cattle cars.
Dear Readers, this was only 72 years ago, in what had been one of the most urbane, educated, and developed countries in the world. So many millions of innocent people suffered and died. But despite the lessons of history, many people are still susceptible to the hollow promises of demagogues and frauds. Consider the 2016 election in the USA and the scammer who entered the White House. Note how he adopted the classic techniques of fascists to ferment discord within the nation, feign victimization of a particular demographic, and then make hollow promises that only he can save the nation.