pass on the message
Updated: Mar 25
embracing your own story can be an important part of processing traumatic experiences
lately i was asked to contribute to a series of interviews with contemporary witnesses of world war II. in this context i interviewed a man who was born in berlin in 1928. as he turned 14 the wehrmacht forced him and his class mates to build trenches for tanks in poland. since he was a tiny boy with a sweet face organization todt discovered his talent to be a secret messenger. the 14 year old managed to silently creep out of his duty several times and visit his mother in berlin. his mother was brave enough to hide him every time he came. and so she did when he eventually deserted in january 1945.
while talking about his mother and his extreme experiences throughout the years of war tears overwhelmed the old man time and again. i actually didn't ask many questions. as i listened the story just started melting out of the old man's heart. and while he was talking he couldn't stop his tears from running down his cheeks.
the lesson the man drew from his childhood in nazi germany and his service to an inhumane state was never to join any party. he had seen too many people fanatically falling for the nsdap. a party that built its power on oppression of free thought, fear of being "different" and annihilation of the "other".
when the russian army conquered berlin in the first days of may 1945 the shooting and bombing suddenly ended. "it was over, just over", the man told me. his voice broke. his eyes were filled with tears. the 17 year old man he was in may 1945 didn't even know what peace meant. when power was handed to hitler in january 1933 he was a four year old toddler.
the young man became a free spirit. he spoke his mind throughout his entire life. he never wanted to be a pleasant guy. his outstanding capacity of observation which he had had to train as a young boy in order to understand the rules of survival made him an impressive radio journalist in his adult life. a painter for the ears.
amidst all the stories of others he passed on as a journalist that man had to turn 92 in order to tell the story of the 14 year old boy he had once been. it is just a few weeks ago that he was able to embrace his own message and send it out.