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Commentary by John Windsor
| Thursday, Sep 21, 2017

In a small Midwestern town not too long ago, a family gathered at the home of the family patriarch to celebrate his 90th birthday.

His name was Hans Becker, and he and his wife had immigrated to the U.S. shortly after World War II.

His family did not know too much about Hans’ childhood or the country he had grown up in. About all the family knew was that Hans and his wife were born in Germany but had lived in this small Minnesota town for the last 60 years or more.

The family gathered together perhaps to pay their final respects to Hans. Although he was still mentally sharp, his body was broken from working in the steel mill for 40 years.

After the cake and ice cream were served and the presents unwrapped, Hans thanked his family for their love and kindness. He asked the family to gather around him near the fireplace because Hans wanted to tell them a story they had never heard. He wanted to tell them about his life in Germany before he came to America.

One of the younger grandchildren spoke up and asked, “Grandpa, did you live in Germany when Hitler was there?” As the adults tried to admonish the young boy, Hans said, “Yes, and I think it is something that you should all hear.” He asked the young boy to come sit next to him on the couch, and Hans began telling a story.

“It was not a time I remember with much joy, but I hope you can all learn from my story.” Thus Hans began a story his family had never heard, about a time they had only read about briefly in the history books.

“My earliest memories of family life back in Germany were of my family gathered together at the dinner table. I can still remember my mother saying she did not know if she would be able to buy the potatoes and carrots that seemed to make up our nightly dinner. My father worked odd jobs and occasionally would bring home a newspaper or political fliers and read them at the dinner table. I did not know we were poor because it seemed as though everyone in our town lived like we did.

“It was the 1930s, and our country was in a terrible depression. The articles my father read in the newspaper blamed a lot of the woes of our country on the terrible defeat we had suffered in World War I. The newspapers and the fliers he brought home blamed Germany’s suffering on foreigners and immigrants, especially the Jews and the Gypsies. At such a young age, I did not know any differently, so I believed the lies that were spread about the foreigners.

“When the fliers began promising a new and greater Germany, it spread a sense of optimism and nationalism that my parents clung to. My father began attending late-night political rallies and one night came home with a swastika. When I asked him what it was, he said this will be the new flag of our country.

“When I would walk to school, I would see posters on the windows and doors of stores owned by Jewish people. Later the windows would be broken and the stores ransacked. Soon the Jewish people were fleeing or hiding from the gangs of thugs who would attack them and beat them. The Gypsies and other immigrants did not fare much better. It became commonplace to ridicule and berate anyone who was different from us.

“It was in this atmosphere that an evil man rose to power. He held rallies and tapped into the hatred and bigotry he saw around him. My father would come home from these rallies in a frenzy, telling us that if Germany was to ever be great again, we needed to eliminate all of the foreigners and close the borders to all immigration. His followers terrorized anyone they thought was a threat to their way of thinking. Families turned on each other, neighbors informed on neighbors, and soon people were being arrested or would just disappear. The brownshirts and secret police would herd people together and put them on trains, never to be heard from again.

“He was elected to public office without winning a majority of the votes, but it did not matter. The opposition parties were weak. His campaign of nationalism and populism was popular with the police and the army. As chancellor, he immediately began to pass laws and decrees that increased his power. He disbanded the Reichstag, which was our equivalent of the Congress. He fired judges who did not agree with him and installed new judges in their place.

“Among his first orders, upon gaining office, was to close the borders and deport all of the immigrants. When other countries spoke out against him, he severed diplomatic relations with them and closed the embassies. He removed Germany from the League of Nations, which was the United Nations of our time. He threatened any country that spoke against us, first with rhetoric and later with violence.

“He silenced the free press and saw to it that the only news that people could receive would come directly from his minister of propaganda. News organizations that wrote the truth were called ‘false news’ and were discredited and then removed. He held true on his campaign promises to remove all immigrants and others he considered undesirable. Those he could not deport he incarcerated. Soon the jails were filled, and he opened new, secret prisons that he called “workshops.” Rumors of torture and beatings and mass burial sites were whispered but never spoken aloud.

“He appointed his most trusted followers to the top positions in the government, even creating new positions for those who were loyal to him. He instructed the schools exactly what they could teach. Teachers who spoke out against him were removed and never heard from again. He insisted that his version of history be taught and held special book-burning events where millions of books were burned in public.

“Most countries turned a blind eye to what was happening. Many were afraid of retribution from what had now become one of the world’s largest armies. With such a large army and a stockpile of modern weapons, the inevitable temptation to use them soon exploded upon the world. At first, he said he was just reclaiming lands taken from Germany under the Treaty of Versailles; however, any treaties made with neighboring countries were soon broken, and Germany began invading all nearby countries.

“With the early victories, it was hard not to get swept up in the national pride. It seemed as though we could not lose. Soon we were invading Poland, then Czechoslovakia, then Belgium, France and the Netherlands, facing little resistance along the way. Then America joined in the war against us. With Russia on the eastern front and the Allies gaining ground on the western front, the early victories soon became a distant memory.

“I was just a teenager when I was forced into the Army. My parents were both killed by Allied bombing raids. The Army was in ruins, mostly very old men and young boys. When the Americans captured my unit, there were only 20 of us left out of a division of over 1,000. We were treated fairly by the Americans, but they did show us the concentration camps where we could finally see the horrors that were perpetuated on human beings in the name of patriotism.

“After the war, your grandmother and I immigrated to the United States. We loved this country and decided this is where we would raise a family. We raised our children to be loving, caring and thoughtful individuals. We also swore we would never again follow another politician who preached prejudice and hatred.

“Grandson, I believe your parents have also taught you to be a loving and caring individual, and I hope you will speak out against leaders who preach hate and fear. Remaining silent in the 1930s in Germany was my sin; I have regretted it all these years.

“Remember, Grandson, you should never have to fear your government. The government is there to help people, not divide them. The Constitution of the United States guarantees your right to question the moral integrity of your leaders. You have a right to speak out against politicians and a right to protest against injustice. What you cannot do is stand idly by while corrupt politicians attempt to destroy the democracy that this country cherishes.

“I am just an old man. You are the future of this country. I hope you will remember my words and then hopefully, history will not repeat itself.”

With that, Hans thanked everyone for stopping by and explained it was late and he was tired. He kissed his many grandchildren and hugged all of his children and bade them goodnight.

The following day, Jan. 20, 2017, Hans died. He was 90 years old. His children shared his story with me and asked me to share this story with anyone who would read it. It is a history I hope will never be repeated.

 

John Windsor lives in Elizabeth Lake and works in Santa Clarita.

 

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6 Comments

  1. SCgal says:

    Thank you for sharing this personal story. It is hard to ignore the similarities to present day; how unfortunate that hate, ignorance and bigotry still lives.

  2. Gene Uzawa Dorio, M.D. says:

    Thank you for sharing this historic lesson.

    We should all be aware of the present onslaught against freedom, democracy, and the Constitution which is now being perpetrated.

    Degradation of one individual will lead to the degradation of us all. Seek awareness and don’t be a follower. Ask questions.

    Don’t hide, and use your voice to speak out.

    Thank you John Windsor for sharing Hans’ story as we should learn from the past for the future of our country.

    Gene Uzawa Dorio, M.D.
    Santa Clarita, CA

  3. Chris Vila says:

    Regret reading this fiction passed off as fact. Some will think it’s true, that the terrible socialist Nazi era has some connection to a multicultural wonderful place we call America

    • SCgal says:

      Wow, do the world a favor and crawl back underneath the rock you came from. And take all your likeminded cretins with you. Good riddance you ignorant, pathetic sad clown.

  4. DennyNNWofLA says:

    I too thank you for passing this cautionary tale on. The similarities between pre-Nazi Germany are and have been present in this country and are being exploited by the current occupant of the White House. Nationalism, false patriotism and hate all go together. Adoration of the military is on display everywhere you look from sporting events to school campuses. Public discourse has deteriorated to that of dogs barking at each other thru fences.

  5. Is this a real story? It sounds too on topic for today. Maybe Maybe the Tumpa-nvella in DC has made me wary.

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