Among the Snowdrops

My flash fiction piece “Among the Snowdrops” has been published in the Journal of Microliterature:

http://www.microliterature.org/among-snowdrops-lori-schafer#

Story Commentary:

Imagine waking up one day and learning that your mother or father was a serial killer, a torturer in the employ of a brutal dictatorship, or a violent criminal whose “work” has led to the death of innocent children. There must be many such sons and daughters confronting such horrifying realizations, and, for the German generation that was born in the final years and aftermath of the Third Reich, it must have been a common story indeed.

In addition to the Nazi leaders whose names are well known, thousands of ordinary men and women were employed in the massive bureaucracy that engineered and managed the Holocaust, and much study has been made of their motivations, of the means by which they morally justified their actions, and of even of their eventual reabsorption into post-war German society. Yet comparatively little has been said regarding their children, each of whom, must, at some point, have discovered that the man or woman they loved and respected had been a participant in arguably the greatest tragedy in history. How does a child reconcile the image of a parent they know as gentle and doting with the picture of one screaming “Schnell! Schneller!” at starving concentration camp inmates while wielding a whip? How many young people have listened to their elderly grandparents regale them with tales of the “good old days” only to later discover that they meant the Nazi regime?

Although the image of Magda Goebbels poisoning her six children in the bunker beneath Berlin as the Russians invaded fills us with pity and horror for the innocent victims, one can’t help but wonder what kind of lives they would have led, growing up in the shadow of the crimes of their father. What life would have awaited Hitler’s sons and daughters, if he had had them? Would they have defended or even glorified their father, like Gudrun Burwitz, daughter of Heinrich Himmler, who, seventy years later, is still a staunch supporter of Nazi ideology and a hero of the neo-Nazi movement? Few, I think, could maintain such a stance. Most, I suspect, would prefer to simply forget the troubling history of the older generation, because the participants in the massacre we know as the Holocaust were once so ubiquitous and so widespread that their children could not have rejected them, as Gretchen in this story rejected her mother. The former low-level Nazis were rarely shunned or ostracized by their society; by and large they returned to their lives, as did their parents and brothers and sisters and yes, even their children.

Somewhere in Germany a very old woman sits and examines a photograph of herself or her young husband in uniform and remembers those days as the best time of her life. In so many ways, she is no different from any other elderly lady who fondly recalls her era of youth, and this is what we must find so disturbing. Because she does not look like a criminal, and she does not seem sadistic or evil; she is merely an old woman who works in her garden and has tea with her neighbors, and her “colorful” past has been graciously forgotten. But sometimes let us stop, let us look at her and remember how easy it can be to forget, how much more comfortable it can be to disregard what we don’t wish to remember. And let us take flowers from her carefully tended garden and place them on the graves where they truly belong.

Snowdrop

28 thoughts on “Among the Snowdrops

  1. Ariel Bernstein

    Congratulations on your publication!

    I’m not sure how children and grandchildren of parents who did unspeakable things deal with the knowledge. It’s certainly no fault of their own, but it must be a hard thing to process.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  2. angeldown15

    I live in Switzerland. There are many elderly Germans here; I wonder what their individual stories would be. Maybe I should ask! I wonder if they would tell me, truthfully.

    Alaina – thanks for the book reference. I will definitely look out for that. What a story!

    Fascinating post!
    Angela Zemp

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. lorilschafer Post author

      Thanks, Angela! I’m all in favor of pursuing the real-life stories from that generation because we’re really running out of time in which to do so, and I think that trying to understand the perspective of the perpetrators or participants is just as important as comprehending that of the victims. Indeed, it might even teach us more about the workings of human psychology, because that is what’s frightening, how incredibly “normal” many of these people seem.

      Like

      Reply
  3. TanGental

    lovely, Lori and as you and Alaina have discussed in the comments the world is full of many similarities to other situations where people find themselves in dreadful situations. And behave awfully. As fro neo Nazis or similar It is impossible to understand such minds.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  4. nickiuppa

    As a guy whose father was part of the American force that liberated the first concentration camp that was discovered toward the end of the war, a doctor no less who had to treat the survivors, and the son-in-law of a very Arian – looking man of German descent who was bullied all through the war as “one of the enemy”, this story has special resonance for me on both sides. Beautifully told, thought provoking, and touching.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. lorilschafer Post author

      Thank you, Nick. I actually have a Jewish ex-boyfriend whose grandfather participated in that liberation! I can’t imagine the emotion he must have felt – and a great deal of pride, too. Being myself of German descent, I’m no stranger to the guilt of being German, and strange as it sounds, I have occasionally encountered prejudice because of it. In the 19th century, Germany was known as the nation of “poets and philosophers” – but I think it will prove difficult ever to replace the legacy of the Holocaust and World War II in our collective memory.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
      1. Alaina

        My paternal grandmother’s maiden name was Eisenhour. German. I grew up believing her story about being distant cousins of Ike Eisenhower, although my genealogy research so far says that’s not true. But yes, the guilt is there for me, too…. though who can choose their ancestors?

        A terrific memoir about this is entitled When I Was German, written by… I forget his name, duh, but his mother was German, a Helga type, and his father was Jewish. Which made for one insane childhood.

        Liked by 2 people

  5. Alaina

    Wow…. Among the Snowdrops is superb. Having read your memoir, I can certainly see where the idea for that chilling story came from.

    Lori, you have inspired an impromptu true short story of my own:

    About twenty years ago I lived in a close-knit urban neighborhood in Pennsylvania. We had frequent block parties and took turns hosting potluck dinners in our tidy rowhomes.

    In the center of this social activity was Helga, an elderly widow who had immigrated from Germany with her husband and their young daughter shortly after the war. Now living with her daughter, a divorced middle-aged woman who had never had children, Helga, with her hearty laugh and heavenly cooking, her gray hair tucked neatly in a bun and the old-fashioned apron she always wore over her ample bosom, seemed like the quintessential grandmother, despite having no grandchildren of her own. Why her daughter was so quiet and solemn, in sharp contrast to the elder woman’s jolly outgoing nature, I could not imagine. My own mother was so crazy — I would have given anything to have Helga as my mom.

    …..until the day Helga invited me for coffee, and over a steaming cinnamon flavored brew and melt-in-your-mouth homemade muffins, sitting in her cozy kitchen decorated with a collection of cheerful roosters, Helga told me how good Hitler had been for Germany’s failing economy, how the press had unfairly maligned him, and how the rest of the world had failed to appreciate his great genius…..

    Brrrr. Still gives me the shivers.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. lorilschafer Post author

      Yeah, no kidding, right? I’m still stunned by the existence of Neo-Nazis – I just find it impossible to believe that ANYONE could support that ideology without feeling like the biggest jerk on the planet – yet they do. It’s like Helga – they’re somehow able to take the few positive aspects and completely ignore the many millions of disastrous ones. Very interesting commentary on human nature.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
      1. Alaina

        So sorry, it looks like my comments are taking over this page, eek, I will stop after this. I just want to say, as hard as it is to fathom there being evil people like this in the world, the fact that there are, is why I have… maybe temporarily… made my blog private to just me again.

        I feel like such a wimp. But on May 14 I was going for a relaxing drive, enjoying the spring day, when I saw a chilling sight: a train, about 1 mile long, stopped on the tracks 40 miles from Texas and heading that way, loaded with approximately 100 armoured tanks and other military vehicles. I pulled off the highway, took pictures, and posted some on my blog.

        Within 2 hours a helicopter was circling low over our house. Then… other weird and scary things happened. My PTSD does not need this, so I shut my blog down, and I am now hard at work trying not to lose my mind.

        Like

  6. Norah

    Great post, Lori. Though, sadly, the link didn’t work so I didn’t get to read your story. The commentary itself was interesting though. Recently I read a YA book “Hitler’s Daughter” by Australian Jackie French http://www.jackiefrench.com/hitlersd.html which raises many of the same issues you raise here. It is definitely a complex issue and I am constantly horrified by what one human can do to another and wonder with what sense of righteousness they are able to condone their actions. Fortunately for me, I have never been put in a position where making such a choice is necessary.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
      1. Alaina

        You’re welcome. Lol… I started to “like” this comment and then I thought that might seem like I am agreeing about being “the best.” Not. But thanks. :-)

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Alaina

        \(@¿@)/ — me again, throwing my hands in the air and rolling my eyes. (Yeah, I know, I am also an emoticon genius, lol.)

        Like

  7. Hugh's Views and News

    Great piece of writing, Lori.

    I don’t know if you are aware but there is case going on at the moment involving a Solider who was a book keeper at Auschwitz. He is on trial and it is thought this could be the last ever trial of a Nazi from WWII.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s