Perceptions / Spiral of Time

PERCEPTIONS/ SPIRAL OF TIME

By Maria Diotte and Patricia Carley

 

Maria:

Perceptions

How do you perceive me now?

 

Patricia:

There was a time I thought we’d never end.

Tomorrow was today and every hour was you.

 

M:

Jazz jam session

Black boots with heels, jeans, black sweater

Italian bracelet and ring

Curly dark hair

Lounging and writing

 

How do you perceive me now?

 

P:

But somehow we got separated

I was lost, you were not near.

 

M:

Perceptions

When it comes to Symbol systems

Like language

Words with connotations

Each word with its infinite meanings

Derived from the life paths of individual Beings

And webs of interactions

That keep weaving

 

P:

Have we been traveling through the Ages

Trying to find one another once more?

Sometimes I think ‘Ah, it’s you!’

At others you seem so strange.

Can you be the love I’ve longed for

Or are you just a substitute?

 

M:

“Did you ever love me?” he questioned.

She did love him

But to him it was a lie

because she meant something different by it at the time.

 

 

P:

Sometimes so much in tune with one another

I’m frightened.

Sometimes so out of sync

I’m frightened, too.

 

M:

And as the time changes

So do our minds

It is what it is

In the moment that it is

In the place where we are

In the place where we are not

When we want to be there

 

P:

We weave in and out of

Our self-made maze

Trying to make some sense of this life.

We meld together into a perfect blend

Only to clash head-on again.

 

M:

When we long for the one we are thinking of

And smile at the faces in the room to transport ourselves

Out from our minds

And into the space we are in

 

And we continue on

We decide to live

Because wherever we are

We have ourselves

We know ourselves

We won’t settle for what we don’t want when we don’t want it

 

P:

I suspect we both have much to learn

Before we end this cycle of life

The Spirit within each of us

Will have to work hard

To help us harmonize our lives

 

M:

Be where we are

And stay with what we Feel

Which may change

With the winding ways   of the passing days

 

P:

Meeting and parting in a never-ending spiral

One moment, connecting

the next drifting on and apart.

 

M:

Suns

Moons

Stars of the Sky

 

P:

Twirling and whirling through time and space.

 

M:

But the sun today will be the sun tomorrow

And the moon above me will be the moon above you

 

Are you seeing the stars I see?

Or are the lights shining differently for you now this night?

 

P.

There was a time I thought we’d never end

 

Perceptions

How do you perceive me?

 

M:

Maybe not at all

Maybe that’s how we fall.

The Singing Bowl

THE SINGING BOWL   By Malcolm Guite

 

Begin the song exactly where you are,

Remain within the world of which you’re made.

Call nothing common in the earth or air.

 

Accept it all and let it be for good.

Start with the very breath you breathe in now,

This moment’s pulse, this rhythm in your blood.

 

And listen to it, ringing soft and low.

Stay with the music, words will come in time.

Slow down your breathing. Keep it deep and slow.

 

Become an open singing-bowl, whose chime

Is richness rising out of emptiness,

And timelessness resounding into time.

 

And when the heart is full of quietness

Begin the song exactly where you are.

It all began with a sound.

It all began with a sound.

 

The ‘Big Bang Theory’ of how our Universe began.

The opening line of the Judeo-Christian Bible – ‘in the beginning was the word’

Practitioners of Islam pause 5 times a day to bow and say prayers to Allah.

My Buddhist friend, Jun-san, beats her drum and chants ‘Na-Mu-Myo-Ho-Renge-Kyo’ as she walks around the world and back. She believes the sound of the drum beat will change people’s hearts and bring peace to any situation. I have been a witness to this transformation.
The Greek philosopher, Pythagoras, showed us how numbers, colors and musical notes are inter-connected bringing us the Music of the Spheres.

Hindus intone the word OM which symbolizes the original vibration that created the Universe.

Indigenous peoples around the world drum and chant ancient sounds during their rituals.

Anyone who has been in the audience at a Riverdance performance knows how the sound of all those tapping feet drives right into your soul.

 

I could go on with examples, but here are 2 quotes I want to share with you:

The first by musician Dave Brubeck:

‘One of the reasons I believe in jazz is that the oneness of man can come through the rhythm of your heart. It’s the same anyplace in the world, that heartbeat. It’s the first thing you hear when you’re born – even before you’re born – and it’s the last thing you hear.’

 

The second by Jan Richardson, artist/poet, who wrote this ‘Heartbeat Liturgy’

‘In the beginning was rhythm. The beating of the heart. In our bones, in the beating of our heart, we carry the sacred cadence that brought us into being. Within each of us is a rhythm that enables us to thrive… May the rhythm of your life restore and renew you this day.

 

And so we, the members of Fulton Street Writers and Rhythms, offer you a sound experience through drumbeat, percussion instruments, Tibetan singing bowls and our voices.

Rhythm and Writers Sampler

The Fulton Street Rhythms and Writers have created a Sound  Experience  for our listeners at our upcoming performances.

We will be performing at the Fulton Street Gallery in Troy NY for ‘Café Night’ throughout the year.

Here is a sampling of the poems and stories we are currently performing. As the Writers recite their poems, the drummers offer Rhythms as background enhancement to the written words.

Enjoy!

The Three Muses of Sweet Dreams

My two artist friends, Carolyn Abrams and Debbie Fowler, and I were having lunch last December and talking about how we have become Muses for one another as we pursue our artistic endeavors. Carolyn is an amazing painter, Debbie loves to sew, paint and write and I enjoy all of these things. At our lunch Debbie said we ought to do something with our talents that will make life a bit easier or brighter for women suffering stressful situations. She suggested we sew special pillowcases for a women’s shelter so they have something made just for them, to know they are cherished by someone in the world.

So, we decided to launch this project and give our first dozen pillowcases to the YWCA residents in Troy, NY. Carolyn offered to make tags to go along with the pillowcases sewn and embellished by Debbie and myself and I wrote a poem to be inscribed on them.

Now we needed a name for our project. Debbie’s grandchildren call her Sweet so we adopted that name to become ‘The Three Muses of Sweet Dreams.’

The poem scripted on each postcard tag hand-painted by Carolyn reads:

 We offer you this pillow
to lay your head upon
may if bring you peace and comfort
from nightfall until dawn.

               Love, the 3 Muses of Sweet Dreams

 

The Home Front

Today, December 31st, is my Aunt Frannie Broderick’s birthday. She would have been @95 years old.  She sent me this photo with the added title many years ago. Now that I am writing stories about my father’s experiences during WWII, I thought today was a fitting time to share this poem about American women’s perspective of that time. Maybe some of their stories will emerge….stay tuned.

 

 

The Home Front

She stepped out her kitchen door

and onto the factory floor

to ‘man’ the jobs

the armies left behind.

‘Rosie the Riveter,’ she was,

the symbol of her country,

her commitment to

the wars of man.

She picked up her tools

and husband’s lunch bucket

and proved her worth each day.

This, in a country still believing

her only place was in a house

with dustrag and frypan in hand.

Her Home Front became

the Industrial Front.

Her kitchen, the assembly line.

Her apron, coveralls.

Giving her all

to the call

from her country.

But soon was discarded and banished

to the house once more

to clean and make meals

and new babies

for her man newly home

from his Front called The War.

 

 

Wintering-over in Lindenhof on the Rhine River


Inside of card

Outside of card

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

December, 1945

Dear Duchess,

I know this is a pretty awful Christmas card, but the Army gives them to us for free and mails them back to the States for free, too. And anyhow, we have nowhere to buy a real Christmas card in this bombed – out city. I put a checkmark near where I am, outside of Mannheim on the Rhine River. Germany is divided up into zones now occupied by different Allied countries. I’m lucky to be near the French zone and not the Russian one. The Russian soldiers are so crazy and weak from hunger and cold they are stealing from the rest of us when they can. They are not organized as a unit like the U.S. is. The French are just grateful that the war is over and they can get food and fuel from us and the British troops. Our Generals say we are ‘occupying’ Germany now and we must help the people put their lives and cities back together again. But the German people are so sad and walking around in a daze. I don’t know how to describe them……

 

He puts the pen down, leans back against the wall of one of a thousand ruined buildings. He cannot even tell what most of the buildings once were. Houses? Stores? Taverns?

The thought of putting this city back together again is so overwhelming he doesn’t know how anyone would start. He tries to picture his hometown looking like this. His childhood home, his father’s restaurant, his relatives’ and friends’ homes all destroyed. Big craters in the streets where bombs fell from airplanes. He wonders how it felt to be the crew on those planes who dropped bombs through the clouds onto people and buildings below. They were flying away before the bombs hit the ground. They could distance themselves from the destruction they made. But he, he was right here in the middle of the chaos and grief. He watched old women pick through the piles of bricks looking for something, anything from their former life. Life before the American and British airplanes began flying overhead and dropping their payload on their heads. He has witnessed and taken part in such horrors since last April, as he and his troops walked across Germany from Dachau, across the Danube river to Ulm and on up to Mannheim on the Rhine River, his head aches with it all. In fact, his head aches so badly some days he can barely keep his eyes open against the blazing sun and feels sick to his stomach all day long. He can eat only small bites of his rations, which are not too appealing in the first place. He is starting to resemble the inmates of Dachau. The thought crosses his mind that he is starving himself on purpose in sympathy with those inmates. Or maybe God is punishing him for not helping them more. For not helping the German people left behind by their retreating Nazi Army. He did what he could. Gave his rations out when he could. Gave away his blanket and extra socks. All he has left is his helmet, his weapon, the gold and blue teacup from Lisle and the knapsack filled with his dead comrades’ dog tags.

From a nearby building one of his men yells out, “Hey, it’s the Christmas season. Let’s do something for all these kids standing around looking sad. We can’t give them gifts, but we can give them some fun!’

Everyone agrees they should do something good for the people of Lindenhof. The guys who can speak passable German ask the kids if they have any ice skates at home. A few nod ‘yes’ and off they all run into the destroyed town. Within a half hour they are back with a few pairs of skates, none are a matched pair, but no one seems to mind. They trade and trade until about 6 of them have skates they can wear without falling over. Some are wearing 2 left feet, but manage to get out onto the icy river.

As he watches the kids squeal and twirl with delight, the blue-eyed soldier starts to grin, then laugh out loud at their silly attempts to race and chase one another. He gets an idea and goes up into the woods where he breaks middle-sized branches off the trees that have fallen onto the ground. He strips off the small shoots and fashions hockey sticks by tying smaller branches at right angles to the long ones with shoe laces and string he found along their trek through the countryside. He looks around for something to use as a hockey puck and remembers the biscuit he didn’t eat at lunch. It will do just fine. He takes the crude hockey sticks back to the icy river, sends one of the guys back to where they ate lunch and has him bring as many biscuits as he can find. He returns with 20. No one could eat them. He and his buddies slide around the ice on their boots and shoot the biscuits back and forth with the sticks he made. The kids jump up and down and squeal with delight, begging to get a turn. He has the kids line up into 2 teams and selects 2 of them to face off for possession of the puck. He drops it on the ice and all hell breaks loose. They swing the sticks and hack away at one another trying to swat the biscuits into the goal which is a washtub turned on its side. One of the soldiers blows his whistle to stop play and get the teams organized again, but it is fruitless. The kids are skating and falling and screaming and laughing. They have hacked all the biscuits to pieces in 20 minutes and skate, as a unit, over to the river’s edge. They call the soldiers over and pose with them for a photograph. The company clerk has his camera with him at all times to snap photos of the destruction they are witnessing on a daily basis. But today, at this moment, he snaps a roll of film capturing happy kids, GIs smiling in their MP helmets and one wary dog skittering on the ice, having the time of their lives.

Suddenly, there is the blast from an air raid horn slicing through the merriment. Everyone looks to the sky, but since the war ended and ‘occupation’ began, this horn means it is 20 minutes until curfew. The kids stop laughing and have wary looks on their faces. The soldiers pick up their weapons which they have carelessly left on the river bank. They all trudge back into Lindenhof. Back to the town where they are the victors and the vanquished once more.

The blue-eyed soldier returns to the building he was leaning against earlier and picks up his pen to resume writing his letter home.

A nice thing happened today. We played ice hockey on the frozen Rhine River with local kids. They disappeared as the sun went down and I don’t know where they live. We hardly see any adults around here. Maybe they are too scared to come out or maybe there just aren’t any. It will be Christmas in another couple of weeks. I expect the Army will send a good dinner and maybe we can find some local beer to go with it. We aren’t allowed to have alcohol but my guys manage to barter candy for beer with the same kids we skated with early. I’m ending this letter so you can get the card by December 25th. I’m on MP duty tonight and rotate through the night shift again in about 2 weeks. We have to watch out for locals breaking curfew.

Merry Christmas Duchess. Oh, and thank you for the jar of maraschino cherries you sent. They  taste wonderful!

Your loving husband,

Rudy

       Taking local kids skating.

 

Christmas Eve, 1977   Lindenhof, Germany

The old man lies dying in the hospital, his 17 year old grandson by his bedside. The boy holds his grandfather’s hand, the skin so thin he watches the blood slowly pumping through the veins, thinking each breath will be the last. But after a long outbreath, another gasping inbreath follows again. The old man’s mouth is moving and he looks like he is trying to say something. The boy leans in and asks, Grandpa, what are you trying to say? After a few moments the old man gestures for the boy to raise the head of the bed up. He does this and the old man’s breathing becomes easier. He starts to talk and his voice is stronger than it has been in weeks.  He begins to tell his grandson a story.

“I have never told this to anyone. Not your mother, not your uncles, not even your grandmother. This is between me and you. Understand? The boy nods, Yes.

A long time ago when I was a young lad just like you, a miracle happened. I didn’t deserve this miracle, but God or whoever, gave it to me anyway

I was living in this very town. Both of my parents and my little sister were taken away by the Nazis and I never saw them again. I told your grandmother my parents died from influenza in the early years of the war. No one knows I had a sister. Your grandmother was not from this part of Germany so she didn’t know anything about my family, except what I chose to tell her. I kept this secret and many others my whole life because I couldn’t bear to think that I could have done something, should have done something, to save them. I chose to save myself and in the end I don’t feel very ‘saved’ at all.”

The boy squeezes the old man’s hand as tears leak out the sides of his eyes and onto the starched, white pillowcase.

“It was Christmas Eve, 1945 and although the war was officially over the nightmares and panic and extreme hunger were with us still. I was living in a bombed-out building in the section of Lindenhof that was off limits to civilians. The United States Army patrolled the area because it was known to harbor snipers. There were Nazis around town who wouldn’t surrender. The High Command had surrendered, but not these street fighters who would never admit defeat. I had been living on my own for several years scrounging for food at night and napping during the day. I didn’t know how to act like a human being anymore. What little sleep I got was tormented by dreams of my parents and sister being dragged away and thrown into the back of a truck 4 years before.  You may ask, why was I spared? How did I escape capture? Well, I hid between two walls in the back of the house. My father constructed the walls this way for just such a purpose, but I was the only one who got there in time when the soldiers broke down the front door. I will not relate to you what I heard that night from my safe hiding place. Suffice it to say I have replayed it in my head every day since.

So, on Christmas Eve, 1945 – a day I pretend to celebrate so people will think I am a Christian- I decided to risk going out after curfew to find some food the occupying soldiers may have left behind from their dinners. I managed to find some scraps of chicken and half- eaten biscuits and was turning to go back to my hiding place when I hear a voice boom out, ‘Halt!’ I freeze in mid step and turn to see a US Army guy wearing an MP helmet and pointing his rifle at me, bayonet fixed to the barrel. I know what will happen next. I knew enough about how the military worked that he would have to shoot me. He would be brought up on charges and maybe even shot himself for disobeying orders to kill anyone out after curfew in this part of town. We stood there looking at one another, the young soldier far from home and the young boy without a home. The street light was angled just right so I could see the blue of his eyes. He squinted at me down the barrel of his gun and I braced myself for the shot that would end my life. And truth be told, I would have welcomed the shot that night. But then something miraculous happened. He lowered his gun and waved me away with it. I heard the words ‘Christmas’ and ‘God  be with you, kid.’ As I sped off into the night I yelled ‘Danke. Your name, bitte!”

The old man’s breathing becomes more labored and his chin falls onto his sunken chest. The boy leans in and says, ‘Grandpa Paul, how come you never told us this story? It is a wonderful story. It is why you are with us today! Why I am here today! What was the soldier’s name?’

The old man’s voice is so low the boy can barely hear him. What he does hear is his own name, the name his grandfather gave him at his Baptism, whispering it with his last breath.

 

‘Rudolph.’

 

Dear Heinrich

1 May 1945

My Dear Heinrich:

I know you have been dead for many years, but I need to tell you in writing what happened today.  I am 60 years old, and have witnessed something for the first time in my life.

Soldiers are everywhere today. Not our Swastika – wearing thugs, but American, British and maybe Danish soldiers. They walk down our streets with their rifles cradled in their arms, like I used to cradle dear Gretchen and Heinrich, Jr. when they were babies, long dead now too I suppose. These soldiers’ eyes are searching everywhere for German troops, but they do not know they left Dachau many days ago now. Left us here in this bombed-out horror of a town that was once so beautiful and filled with life and flowers. Miraculously, the only house still standing on our street is ours. How I have managed to stay alive in this huge home these past few years is nothing short of miraculous also. I have burned almost every stick of furniture and loose wood I could manage with these arthritic hands and swollen arms and legs. 

I am no longer the petite, sturdy, blond Lisle you married 35 years ago. Ah, we were so young then, weren’t we? But I am still strong enough to break apart your mother’s oak dining table for firewood.

But, I digress…..

This morning, the American soldiers walked out of the mist and into our part of town. I peeked out at them through the lace curtains still hanging at the dining room window. What fascinated me most was not the fact that this was the first time I had seen ‘the enemy’, but it was the haggard, haunted looks on their faces. One young man in particular turned his head towards the house and our eyes locked. He cannot be older than 28, our dear son’s age when I last saw him alive. The sadness etched in his face was so deep I could almost feel it and a shudder went through my body. What had he done or seen to make him look this way?

He turned his head back and kept walking along with the other troops. I thought I had seen the last of them, but later in the day they were back. This time the same young man came up and knocked at the front door. I was terrified and also curious as to what he wanted. 

I believed that an old, crippled woman posed no threat to this well-armed soldier. So, Heinrich, I opened the door. To my surprise the young man smiled, touched the rim of his helmet and greeted me in American – accented German. I am sure my face showed my surprise that the enemy would bother to learn our language. Another young soldier came up to the door and between the two of them and some sign language, I understood that they wanted to come inside and have a look around. Their rifles were slung casually over their shoulders so this was not a threat, but a request. 

I nodded ‘Yes’ and stepped back to let them in.

I know, I know. You are annoyed that I complied so easily, but you were not here when the SS troops stormed through our streets shouting orders and rounding up our Jewish neighbors. They took some others also: teachers, the priest, the retarded boy next door. I watched all of this through the lace curtains and never said a word. I did  not act like a  Christian as Christ taught us to be. I was not brave as you taught me to be. When I heard the gossip at the marketplace about our Jews being sent to a special camp out in the forest I kept silent. I bore witness to this and other things I will not speak of right now. I decided to finally be brave and let the soldiers in.

The two young men walked through the entire house, upstairs, into the attic, down to the root cellar, across the back yard to our empty wood shed. They kept nodding, speaking low to one another and seemed satisfied about something. I was to find out very soon why they had chosen our house.

About an hour later open trucks and a few horse carts drew up to the door with what I can only describe as stick figures from a kindergartener’s picture. If these were human beings I don’t know how they were alive. All of them had to be lifted and carried into the house where they were laid carefully down on my bare floors. The soldiers used their own blankets for bedding and their duffle bags for pillows. Many of the soldiers were crying as they cradled these skeletons in their arms. 

My soldier – yes I already thought of the first young man as ‘my soldier’ – carried two children, one in each arm, upstairs to my bedroom. He laid them on my mattress that was on the floor, the wooden frame having been burnt for fuel last winter. Then he kissed them gently on their foreheads and turned away so they would not see the tears on his sunken cheeks. I know this, Heinrich, because I followed him everywhere he went. I could not stay away from the blue-eyed soldier with lines cut so deeply in his thin face he looked like an old man. 

I didn’t know what was expected of me. I had no food, no blankets, very little water. But the soldiers took care of everything. They started fires on small burners they brought with them on the big trucks. They used old helmets for heating water and pooled their field rations to make soup.

Later, as I sat on my window ledge for a little rest, I finally took a good look at these skeleton people. Who were they? Where had they come from? How long would they be in my house? So many questions swirling in my brain. The old woman sitting up against my living room wall looked vaguely familiar. When she shifted her weight to turn towards me I suddenly realized I knew her. She was not an old woman, but the young school teacher who had lived around the corner. She did not show up for school one day 4 years ago and everyone said she ran away to get married to the young Jewish fellow down the block. He had disappeared the same day.

Heinrich, I have not spoken with anyone in so long I don’t know how to make sense of what is happening here. You and I would talk things over in the evenings and you could make me understand confusing things like politics and why we were in a war with the rest of the world. You did not approve of what Hitler was doing and you told me to never tell anyone about our conversations. Not our close friends and neighbors, not even family members. We didn’t know who might be a spy for the SS.

When you died of a heart attack 3 ½ years ago I was left alone, totally alone. Gretchen was already, hopefully, in Paris. I know you really died of a broken heart after Gretchen went underground with that bunch of radicals from her college. What did she think she was going to change by hiding in the forest with an old  radio and no food? Did she think Hitler cared what she thought? I do not know if she ever escaped from Germany. How will I ever know such a thing?

Then, Heinrich, Jr. was called up to serve in the German army and I have not heard from him in 3 years. He does not know you are dead and Gretchen gone and I am all alone in the only house left standing on our street.

So, yes Heinrich, I decided to be brave once more and ask the American soldiers where these stick people came from and when they are leaving. I wanted to know why they are so thin and why their heads are shaved and why they all wear striped pajamas. 

I get up from the window ledge, walk around my house and out the back door towards the wood shed. There, I find my soldier sitting on a tree stump, all alone, his hands clasped and swinging between his bent knees. His head hanging down. I approach silently and gently touch his shoulder. I do not trust my voice. He looks up and those blue eyes pierce right through me. I point at my house, shrug and put my hands, palms up, by my shoulders indicating that I don’t know what is going on here.

He gets up slowly and shouts to someone I can’t see who comes striding over and salutes my soldier. This young man greets me in German and I smile weakly and ask haltingly about the people in my house.

My soldier looks surprised when he hears my question. He asks his compatriot to tell me they are from the concentration camp a couple of miles away.

‘What concentration camp?’ I reply. ‘What are you talking about?’

They seem shocked that I know nothing about the camp practically in my backyard. Didn’t I know where my neighbors were taken? Didn’t I see the smoke above the trees? Didn’t I smell the burning flesh?

I shrug and shake my head ‘no.’

But, oh Heinrich, I am telling a lie. Of course I wondered where my neighbors went when they disappeared in the night. Of course I saw the smoke, blacker on some days than others rising above the forest. Of course I smelled the horrible stench wafting into my town. I chose not to think about it. There was no one to talk about it with. 

In the early days of the Dachau concentration camp it was used for political prisoners only, for those who spoke publically against the Third Reich. We did not know many of the people who were taken prisoner in those days. It was not until much later, in the early 1940s that our neighbors began disappearing. That was when Gretchen left University and talked of going into hiding. She and Heinrich, Jr. argued all the time until he joined the Army. When they left you became so despondent, you died.

Later when I was all alone, the trains came through Dachau station day and night loaded with people. We were told they were prisoners, enemies of Germany and I believed this official statement until one evening when I walked to the train station and looked into a boxcar and saw who was in there, packed like sardines in a tin can.

These people are prisoners? They are women and children and old men and cripples. They pose a threat to the government? 

They were wearing their coats and hats and held onto suitcases and one another’s hands. The mother’s cradling their babies on shoulders and hips saying, ‘Shush, shush, now. We will be there soon.’

An SS officer came along shouting into the boxcar and hitting people at random with the butt of his rifle. I saw him wrench a baby from its mother’s arms and crush it under his black boot.  Horrified and confused, I jumped back into the shadow of the station,  crept home, slid through my back door, turned the key in the lock and pulled the lace curtains closed.

So, yes and no. Yes I knew something very wrong was going on beyond the trees and no I did not want to know what the wrong thing was.

I shrug again as tears leak from my eyes and down my cheeks that must look as ravaged by hunger and loss as my soldier’s do. He gently takes my hand and sits me down on the stump next to him. He waves the interpreter away and we sit there together in silence. I like a person who knows how to sit in silence and I am pleasantly surprised that one so young can do this. My Gretchen and Heinrich, Jr. talked and argued all the time.

 After a few minutes, someone whistles and my soldier helps me stand up and we walk into the house together to have some coffee that is not coffee but at least it is hot from their camp stove fire.

We walk from person to ravaged person and help many of them sip a little warm water. There are 20 people in my rooms and even though they are the oddest assortment of guests I have ever had, I am a little bit happy to have people in the house again.

My dear Heinrich, I am taking a rest from writing to you as my fingers are cramped up and I have a headache from eyestrain. My glasses were broken months ago and there is no one to fix them as our eye doctor was Jewish.

 

 

7 May, 1945

Early morning

My Dear Heinrich,

 I cannot believe almost a week has gone by since I first started this letter to you. I have been so busy every day that by the time I lie down on the hard wood floor of our old dining room, I am too exhausted to put pen or coherent thoughts to paper. Every day more and more of the skeleton people come to our house. A doctor from the US Army has arrived from Munich and is tending to the liberated prisoners. The strongest, which is not the correct word for their deplorable condition, are moved along to somewhere else to make room for the new weaker ones.

 Now there are German soldiers, prisoners, in our backyard. They look at me with contempt as though I were a collaborator with the enemy. I shrug my shoulders at them and say not one word. Even though I am free to move about my property I pretend to be a prisoner like them. Who knows how this war will end and who will be the victors? I want to placate both sides.

When the German prisoners are not looking I search for my American soldier. I can usually find him in the room set aside for the children. He makes them smile with his funny pronunciations of German words. I notice that not all of them understand German so they must have been brought to Dachau from other countries. This puzzles me. There weren’t enough people in Germany to imprison? They had to go to other countries too? 

I have not heard any news from outside of Dachau in 3 years, so I do not know what is happening in the rest of Europe. Oh, I heard whispers at the marketplace when there was food to look at and try to purchase. Whispers about all Jews being rounded up around Europe and how our German soldiers were being sent to Russia to take over that country too.  I hope Heinrich, Jr. did not have to go to Russia where the winters are frigid and the snow deep and he catches a cold so easily.

Wait just a moment, Heinrich, there is much shouting and rifles shooting. I must put my pen down and find out what is happening.

 

 

7 May, 1945 

After sundown

My dear, dear Heinrich, you will not believe what I am about to tell you. The war is over! The American soldiers heard about it on their little radio an hour ago. The German Generals have surrendered. Hitler is dead. His body, along with that of his wife Eva Braun and his dogs, were found several days ago but not positively identified until today. Burned and discarded just like that. This horrible, senseless war over just like that, too.

I do not know what to think. I do not know what will happen to me now. Will the German prisoners in my backyard be killed? Set free? Marched to a prison camp like the one they created and guarded down the road?

What about all these sick and dying people in my house? 

Will the American and British soldiers go home and leave all these people for me to take care of?

Oh, Heinrich, I am cautiously happy and also frightened by this news. 

The American soldiers are shooting off their rifles into the air and dancing around and singing. I do not recognize the tunes and words, but they are songs that make them happy so I smile a little, too.

Only my soldier looks sad. His mouth is smiling that dazzling white-toothed smile of his, but his blue eyes are marked by the same sorrow he has shown all week. He picks up one of the children and swings her, or is it him, atop his thin shoulders. I saw my soldier once with his shirt off and he looks as emaciated as the child.

Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I see one of the German prisoners break away from the corral made for them in my yard and run towards the street. He races past me and grabs me by the waist, roughly turning me around with one hand choking my throat with his other hand wrenching my arm up behind my back. The pain in both places is excruciating. It takes all my strength to breathe shallow breaths. He is spitting into my ear as he talks, calling me filthy names and a collaborator with the enemy. The soldier who can speak fairly good German comes forward and tries to reason with him, pleading with him to let me go. What good is it to take me away or kill me? If he lets me go and surrenders to them, he will be treated as a prisoner of war with all the rights and reasonable treatment expected.

 I know this soldier will not listen to reason. He will not believe he will be fairly treated by his American captors. I recognize him from the morning I was at the train station. I will never forget the face of the man who crushed a baby under his boot. I know I am as good as dead.

But Heinrich, another miracle happens. An American soldier I have seen only one other time this week is in a low crouch, sneaking up on my left side. He makes no sound in his bare feet and is moving so slowly I am not sure he is coming towards us at all. In his hand he is carrying the knife he was throwing at a tree stump with exquisite accuracy one afternoon in plain sight of the German prisoners. His slightly slanted eyes and bronze skin made me wonder if he were part Japanese. When he is right next to us he coughs once which startles my captor so he lets go his grip on my throat and whips his head around in surprise. At that precise moment a shot rings out and a hole appears in the forehead of my German captor and he crumples to the ground pulling me with him. My blue-eyed soldier is there in an instant catching me up as I slide downward. He cradles me in his strong arms, as I have seen him do with the children and I feel safe. I can smell the smoke from the rifle still slung over his shoulder and know he is the one who shot the German as the strange, slant-eyed teenager diverted his attention. I am carried into our house and carefully laid upon the mattress in our old bedroom, the emaciated children having moved aside for me. My soldier takes off his helmet, unslings his rifle and sits by my side in silence until I fall into a restless sleep.

The next morning when I awake he is gone. I look frantically around for him and see through the bedroom window that he and the others are getting their gear together and putting it into the jeeps that have arrived during the night. Trucks are also arriving to take the remaining camp survivors somewhere else and the German prisoners elsewhere also. In a few minutes I will be all alone once more.

I run into the broken down building that used to be our barn and dig with my fingers in the hard earth at a spot I marked with stones 6 years ago when the SS troops first came to our town. I hope against hope that what I am seeking is still here, unharmed.

I hit something solid. Yes, here it is. I carefully bring up a wooden box, lift the lid and take out the fine dark blue china cup and saucer with the real gold rim my grandmother gave us for a wedding gift all those years ago when we were so young and the world was bright and our life together rolled before us on a wave of promise.

I run to find my soldier and hand him this gift, the only thing left from my former life. A small exchange for the gift of life he gave me not only yesterday, but over the 9 previous days as well. He showed respect for me although I was the enemy, compassion for the suffering camp survivors, pain as the little children died in his arms, and the courage to kill one German to save another one. Me.

So, my dear Heinrich, this letter must end now. My fingers and arms are so painful and my throat still aches from the choking I received. 

As the truck with the camp survivors starts to pull away I motion to the young school teacher who used to live around the corner to jump down and come with me. I will take her in and together we will begin to rebuild our shattered lives.

The American soldiers are in their jeeps and, pointing to myself, I yell to my handsome, blue-eyed soldier: ‘Lisle!’

He smiles while holding up the precious tea cup, touches his hand to his helmet and yells back: ‘Rudolph!’

Ah, a good German name. No wonder I liked him so much.

Your loving wife,

Lisle