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