Excerpt from Chapter 6: German-Jewish Encounter

One night, however, our plans were irrevocably interrupted.

We were sitting opposite each other at the kitchen table, as we had so often done, drinking tea and sharing stories. Karl casually mentioned that once, when he was a little boy, his father took him to a neighboring town to visit some relatives. On that very day, Hitler arrived at the same town for a visit. I began watching Karl’s face, both in fascination and in horror, as he recounted the incident.

As Karl reconstructed the scene for me, I felt my body grow cold. Karl described how he began playing on the running board of Hitler’s car with some of the other children in that town. At that moment in his narrative, I inadvertently covered my eyes with my hands and slowly my head dropped forward until it touched the kitchen table.

“Oh, my God,” I whispered over and over again. “Oh, my God, oh, my God!”

My mind was still reeling at the image. The man I loved had played on Hitler’s running board. The image of my kind and loving Karl juxtaposed with the image of the 20th century murderer of six million of my people created a maelstrom of emotion in me that I had never before experienced. I felt I could not breathe. Neither could I bear to look at Karl.

Karl jumped up in anger and fled to the living room. He began pacing uncharacteristically, and shouting.

“Ruth, you can’t blame me for what happened. I was just a boy.” He glared at me while I was still sitting at the kitchen table.

“Everyone blamed us Germans,” he continued, fiercely poking at his chest, “even though my father denounced Hitler and took us to Canada. Ruth, I was just a little boy, but they all made fun of me at school. They called me Kraut and tormented me for being a German. It was horrible.” All of his pent-up childhood hurt spilled out like hot lava.

I can still hear his voice in my head even as I write these words today.

“Ruth, it wasn’t my fault what happened to the Jews.”
I rose from my chair in the kitchen to follow Karl into the living room. Tears streamed down my cheeks as I faced Karl whose pale skin was now ruddy with rage, his playful blue eyes now flashing with anger.

“It wasn’t my fault,” he repeated over and over again. “It wasn’t my fault!”

That nanosecond of a moment between us as we faced one another was as long a moment as I had experienced in my lifetime.

We were both caught up in our individual histories of loss, pain, hurt and alienation, brought about by the great forces of history that neither of us were responsible for. I sensed it might be impossible to cross that great divide.