This Book Drives Me Crazy

Have you ever read a book that very “severely” took over your whole being? So much so that you were grieving for all the countries and all their people involved? That you were fighting a depression threatening to take you down, reducing you to tears at times knowing full well you are reading a history book. You lived during that time in history as a child and could not do or have done anything to change what was to become history. And worst of all, you feel you are part of that history and never knew what was going on behind the scenes.

How was it possible that the wool was so cleverly and cruelly pulled over the eyes of all the people? To only let you know what you were supposed to know? And what you heard on the ‘verboten’ radio stations was just “enemy propaganda”? And learning that for people who suspected something it was safer not to know? But, “they knew enough to know not to know”. (This is a quotation from one of Lynn Alexander’s Schellendorf- books) Ordinary people were trying to survive day by day. My memoir “We Don’t Talk About That” tells what it was like to live under the Nazis until 1945, then, after our eviction, for weeks on the “road to nowhere” with millions of other evicted people – next to the Russian war machinery on their way to victory – surviving rape, murder, starvation, and disease and leaving the sick or dead next to the road. After some kind of order was established during the following years and Germany carved up into four zones (Russian, English, American and French) I lived in the Russian part for ten years as a teenager, enjoying some kind of ‘peace’ until I was driven to escape as so many hundreds of thousands did. And life in the “Golden West” brought its own challenges, new beginnings and living as a second class citizen. And after it was all over I was thinking I had it bad and had nightmares for years.

But these last two weeks, reading the book I mentioned at the beginning gave me the feeling I was a victim. I had never thought of myself that way. Our life was living part of the war but now I see that we also were part of the extortions, concentration camps, evictions. How could a handful of men at the top wreak so much havoc? By reading this book it is hard to understand that nobody was ever able to kill Adolf Hitler, how the people around him were afraid of each other and conspired against each other to get closer to the ‘Führer’? And how Goering, who was considered the ‘second’ man in Germany, could give everything a self-effacing twist during his interrogation at the Nuremberg Trials that one almost felt for him? Gifted with an incredible memory he, for a time, dominated the proceedings and even joked about it. When admonished he burst out “Don’t you see that all this joking and horseplay is only comic relief? Do you think I enjoy sitting here and hearing accusations heaped on our heads from all sides? We’ve got to let off steam somehow.” The culmination of his extraordinary life was cheating the court and the judges by poisoning himself ten minutes before he was due to be hanged as the first of the remaining Nazi officers.

GoeringMillions of people like you and me, we are just “grains of sand” in the larger picture of the world and the people who rule it, no matter where we live. The title of the book I am talking about and that gave me high blood pressure and at times, Parkinson-like shaking that I almost gave up on it is “Goering – The Rise and Fall of the Notorious Nazi Leader”. The authors are Roger Manvel and Heinrich Fraenkel. The bibliography of the research done and the dozens and dozens of diaries, books by other writers and papers fill several pages at the end of this book. If you are a WWII history buff you ought to read it.

Life is interesting – on the ground or in the air

After flying for three hours, landing and walking out of the arrival airport you are surprised by the different type of air you breathe, and, looking around, by the totally different colours surrounding you. It’s March, and you have just left a green landscape, blooming cherry trees, daffodils and some tulips behind. Now, with a slight little shock, even if you knew about the possibility – you look at leftover snow at the edge of the roads, icy frozen heaps at corners where the snow has been piled up and lots of puddles hiding the potholes and nothing but grey cars. You ask me “Why grey cars?” I should have told you, nobody washes their car here during the winter months because of the chance of frozen door locks. In spring, they don’t because as soon as you enter the traffic it’s covered in mud again anyway. I couldn’t believe seeing part of the residential streets looking like rivers. Why is the water not draining away? Are all the drains plugged up with leftover leaves from last fall? Or is it all the sand washed towards the drains and forming little dikes? Only three hours away from almost ‘paradise’ I was still in the same country: Canada. Several time zones across this land and variations in weather make you feel you are somewhere totally different.

Boarding to fly home

I left Vancouver Island by Harbour Air flying with a float plane. With small suitcases and seated tightly together with only a few people you are flying over beautiful little islands and in just seventeen minutes you are landing on a river not too far from Vancouver International Airport. A shuttle bus brings you there and you are lucky not to get lost among thousands of people milling around you. After passing long lineups in the international terminal, I was actually surprised to see how few people were flying to other destinations at the domestic terminal. But don’t be fooled, the planes are full. It’s just that the check-in is very well organized and orderly. There were lots of self-check-in machines, different places for baggage drop-off and other counters for people who can’t make friends with any machine. I am one of the people who prefers a live person!

Checking into the Clarion Hotel in Winnipeg they were so welcoming as if I were the proverbial ‘lost son’, sorry, daughter. The car licence plates proclaim that you are in “Friendly Manitoba” – if you can read it because of the mud covering everything. The next day I got lost in the shopping center across from the hotel. I couldn’t find my way out. I asked an elderly lady for directions. She started to explain but then decided to accompany me as it was easier. We walked through the whole shopping center and all the way across the parking lot, crossed the muddy streets and jumping over puddles. On the way she told me about, and showed me, her beautiful daughter living and working in Hollywood. We stood outside the hotel door until we shivered and I asked her inside. We exchanged e-mail addresses. That is Winnipeg, Manitoba – were the most friendly and helpful people you might ever encounter live.

Intro Forget Me NotAt my book signing at Chapters Polo Park, lots of people were standing around my table. They listened to mine and told some of their own stories and, in two hours, I laughed more than I had laughed in two years! My shopping center rescue lady, Dorothy, was among them. And Audry was there, an e-mail friend, who had written to me after she had read and was impressed by my book. The thought that it might be “healthy” for me to move back to this fair city (Oh yes, thirty-two years ago I had lived there) went through my head. What is the weather, the mud, the puddles and the snow when you are laughing? But I realized that I was the cause for the laughter that evening. Why? Because I was happy. I picked funny stories to read. I am a people person, I like to share my stories and I love the people who listen and react to me by sharing their own stories. We all became part of an extended family. It felt good.

Title slideThe absolute highlight of my trip was meeting the charming and experienced interviewer Dahlia Kurtz at the CJOB Radio Station. She is a rather small and pretty person, but a force to be reckoned with. I would like you to meet her yourself, sit back and listen to our exchange on air. Dahlia has interviewed Nobel Prize winners, world leaders, inventors and many other dignitaries but she is herself, sensitive to the expression of feelings and has a knack of keeping, or getting you back on track.

Here is the link to the YouTube video of my interview: