Friday, February 06, 2009

My grandfather was a Nazi

So, I was reading Roger Ebert's blog -- it's excellent, BTW. I think it's the second-best written blog I know of, after Grace Undressed, which I wrote about on Blogroll Amnesty Day, and has the best comments, often with responses from the Great Man himself, which is pretty unusual for someone of his stature. Anyway, I was reading his blog and he wrote about the movie The Reader, and how it isn't a "Holocaust movie," it's a movie about a moral dilemma. And that reminded me of something I'd written before, but never put on my blog:

My grandfather was a Nazi.

My grandfather was a schoolteacher in Bochum, Germany, during the Nazi regime. By law, all public employees, and schoolteachers particularly, were required to become members of the Nazi party. Opa, however, didn't join for several years. Ordinarily, a teacher would have been presented with an ultimatum -- join the party immediately or lose his job -- shortly after the rule went into effect.

My grandfather, however, was protected by his status as a World War I vet -- he lost a leg in combat, was awarded the Iron Cross Second Class, etc. Essentially he was a war hero, the German equivalent of a Purple Heart veteran, a type of person for whom the Nazis professed great respect. By 1942, however, things were coming to a head. Some of Opa's friends learned there was a movement to have him fired. A delegation of his friends went to him and told him what would happen if he didn't join the party.

Opa had never been a believer in Nazi ideology, and he was no anti-Semite. My mother has a vivid memory of him angrily telling her never to talk that way the only time she repeated an anti-Jewish remark in his presence. But he was 45 years old. His disability rendered him unfit for manual labor, the only kind of work he would possibly be trusted with -- if he avoided prison -- if he were fired for refusing to join the party. He had a wife and four children under the age of 10 to support.

So he joined the party. He became a Nazi in 1942. Nothing else changed; he didn't go off and work as a guard in a concentration camp or anything, he just went on teaching school. As a member of the Nazi party.

What would you have done?

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