Section Two of Ten
Hitler Smiled at Me
Hitler mania, bordering on hysteria, was now sweeping Germany. It was
late 1934, and at my impressionable age of 6 years, my father determined
that I was old enough to share in the exciting times. For days, announcements
on the radio exalted an important upcoming address to the German people
by our new Chancellor, Adolf Hitler. Knowing that he would travel in a
motorcade, my father decided to witness the procession. The Unter den Linden
Boulevard would be the best location to see this spectacle. The Unter den
Linden is a well-known, wide boulevard in Berlin with a graveled center
promenade, straddled by rows of linden trees. The promenade in the center
resembled a wide center-divide of a six-lane street. Extra wide sidewalks,
between the streets and buildings, made this boulevard showy and suited
for such occasions. My father assured my proper dress code for the occasion.
He made sure I wore my new Hitler Youth style uniform: a brown shirt with
a black neckerchief, a brown leather knot to hold the neckerchief and black
shorts. A black belt with shoulder strap, light beige colored knee socks
and shiny black shoes finished the uniform.
When we arrived at the famous boulevard, a large enthusiastic crowd
had already gathered on both sides of the street, filling the sidewalks.
It was about noon. We were experiencing a beautiful sunny fall day. My
father swung me onto his shoulders with my legs straddling his neck and
my hands firmly attached to his forehead. Although difficult, he found
a spot to give us both a good view. We waited patiently for quite a while.
People were four to six rows deep and on both sides of the boulevard. When
my father set me down to rest, he could not stop me from moving to the
front of the crowd, all the way to the curb. Brown Shirt troopers were
handling crowd control. In my Hitler Youth uniform, one of the troopers
spotted me, picked me up, carried me across the street, and placed me on
the edge of the center promenade.
I felt a little strange standing there alone. But when I looked back
at my father, he waved assuredly. Knowing that I would be very close to
Hitler’s car when it came by created apprehension for me, and I wished
he would hurry up. Sure enough, shortly later I could hear the sound of
exhilarated people, increasing in intensity. As the sounds moved closer,
I could recognize the repeated shouts of Heil, Heil, and
many more Heils. Then the car approached, a big car, black
and without a top. I had never seen a car like this. By now, the car was
very close and I could feel the presence of Hitler. The people were waving
little flags and cheering loudly. Hitler was standing in the car, his left
hand resting on the front windshield, his right hand raised in typical
Nazi salute. And then to my great astonishment, he actually looked directly
at me and smiled. My raised right hand did not come down right away. A
thrilling moment, not easily forgotten.
Off to School
Germany, starting at the age of six, all children begin their education
in elementary school, which is co-educational for the first two years.
I became increasingly anxious about my first school day. Traditionally
on the first school day, parents gave their child a large decorated paper
cone filled with sweets and fruits. My parents made sure that I would not
be disappointed and presented me with lots of goodies.
In recent years, I came across my very first report card. Actually,
it was more like a letter, written by a female teacher. The message was
simple: "Hubertus is very bright, he excels the entire class in calculating,
but he is easily distracted."
My parent's plans for my schooling included the transfer to high school
after completing my primary schooling. Only if higher education was the
goal of the student, was the transfer to high school necessary. Customarily,
after completing eight years of primary school, a graduate would progress
to an apprenticeship in a blue-collar vocation. To work as a craftsman,
you had to have a certificate showing the completion of an apprenticeship.
To receive a Master certificate, a highly desired certificate, required
many years as a craftsman. Finishing high school for me would result in
a qualification test to attend a university.
Both of my parents were still a working couple. After my mother sold
her share in the store, she decided to go solo and sell her wares at an
outdoor market. The market's location required her to travel by S-train,
an elevated commuter train. She made the trip three times a week, unpacking
the goods onto benches of a tarpaulin-covered booth. During the off days,
her goods were stored by a service available at the market. She did this
for many years, rain, shine or snow, on hot or terribly cold winter days.
Salespeople would come to our home, bringing the goods she had ordered.
My mother enjoyed the independence, and over the years, she built up
a repeat clientele. She would never come home from the market without something
good to eat in her bags and it was my job to meet her at the station. I
used my scooter for the couple of miles to the station. Hanging her two
filled bags onto the scooter's handlebar was the usual procedure. I recall,
during cherry season, she would bring home a few pounds of Bing cherries.
Customarily, mother would give each of us two siblings an equal portion.
My sister would open each cherry to check for worms. Sure enough, she found
a big worm in two of the first four cherries. She stopped right there and
I ended up being the happy recipient.
My mother's sales job would not stop her from cooking, making preserves,
washing and many more household chores, too numerous to name. She was a
remarkable woman with a tremendous heart, energetic, and I can not recall
that she ever sat down to do nothing. I saw her on winter days sitting
on the arm-rest of her upholstered armchair, resting her back against the
warm tile oven, peeling fruits, cracking nuts, mending clothing, or many
other chores suitable for her nimble fingers. I remember such winter evenings
for their homey atmosphere. My father would read the paper. My sister was
in her room. And I played on the floor with my erector set.
was a very witty woman who loved parties and found ready excuses to celebrate.
Saturday meant party day. Usually my mother had a great number of friends
who loved to visit. She would bake and prepare food to assure a successful
celebration. It was customary in our home to have sugared jelly-filled
doughnuts on New Year’s Eve. You could bet that a few doughnuts would have
cotton balls or hot mustard in the middle in place of jelly, and that she
had special victims in mind.
Celebrations required spirits. The bathtub had to substitute for an
icebox. Bottles of beer or wine would be kept under running cold water
in the filled bathtub. Hard liquor in bottles would decorate the table,
freely available for anyone to try. During the festivities, my favorite
uncle would sometimes sneak a sip of beer to me.
I remember only laughter, maybe raucous, but never arguments during
any party. Sometimes, when my father lost his inhibition after drinking
a little too much wine, the others would urge him to sing one of his sad
songs about the forest and animals. Inevitably, he would start to cry and
say, "All is well." I was too young to find it funny. I thought
it was mean.
Another customary event on New Year's Eve, in addition to fireworks,
included pouring molten lead into a bowl of water, creating an unusually
formed solidified piece of lead, with my mother being the official interpreter
of each individual's artwork. She would have to prophesize events to come
based on each person's lead sculpture. It was not unlike reading tea leaves.
My sister and I experienced a short period of being latchkey children.
I was now seven years old and my sister had her 12th birthday seven months
earlier. Her good looks with her pale white skin and shiny black hair made
her very attractive to boys. On her dates, I had to be the chaperon. Our
mother strongly suggested, "Take Bubi along." Naturally, I was
receptive to bribes, and for a small token, I kept my distance discretely.
Our latchkey period ended when my mother invited my grandma to stay
with us. We had become good friends, ever since my stay in her little town.
Now, when I came home from school, a nice lunch was waiting for me, and
I could go outside to play anytime. Naturally, my grandma's presence also
relieved my sister of the responsibility to watch over me. The only drawback
was that my grandma would call me Booby when I did not respond to Hubertus.
"Bo--oby, Bo--oby," she hollered at the top of her voice, while
hidden behind the balcony flowers, and the whole neighborhood knew who
she was calling.
My grandma helped my mother around the house with cleaning and cooking.
However, when it came to cooking, my mother was the best. She told me that
as a young girl she worked as a cook for a large family, resulting in so
much knowledge that she never consulted a cookbook. In later years, when
I asked her for the recipes of some of my favorite dishes, it was always
like "a pinch here and a handful there" and everything else approximately.
Her cooked red cabbage dish would easily have won a prize. And she could
whip up a coffee cake in no time at all.
One Christmas I received a BB gun as a present. My father then mounted
a bullet catching metal box at one end of our hallway, allowing some target
shooting indoors. That gun was quite powerful with an adjustable sight.
While using my BB gun, I learned a lesson. When my father found out
that I used birds as targets, he gave me a lecture. If I had to shoot at
birds, I was only to aim at the common house sparrow. He also made me promise
that if I injured an animal, ending its misery was "a must."
As it turned out, a few weeks later, I wounded a sparrow. That poor thing
was hurt badly, flying a little, then sitting still again. I followed the
bird. As I got close, a blood of drop at its beak was clearly noticeable.
I knew then what I had to do. Ending its life was very painful for me to
do. I carried the bird to an area away from people and buried it. I swore
to myself that I would never shoot any living thing again, unless I had
to defend myself.
years until the age of ten, I must say, were happy years for me. My parents
allowed me to be a boy with little direct supervision. Naturally at times
I would do things I should not have done. Once my mother found out, punishment
was certain. A displeasing look or a scolding word would usually suffice.
A few times, I received a little whack on the back of my head the moment
I came in the door. No democracy. I was guilty as charged without trial.
One time, when I did a forbidden thing, she punished me, but I was able
to convince her that I was truly innocent. She shrugged the supposedly
wrong punishment off with the words like: "You got the whack for the
times you did not get caught." But as far as I can reminisce, I was
a relatively obedient son.
My friend Siegfried and I confined our playing to within our building
complex. Most of the time we played near the sandboxes. Foliage around
the sandboxes gave us some privacy. When we needed a stick to throw, the
poplar trees had to sacrifice a few branches for the common good. I enjoyed
building sand sculptures, mostly castles. At the end of the day, Siegfried
and I would attack the castles with sand balls.
Naturally, the basement and attic also became areas to explore. When
the landlord found out about us roaming around, he locked the doors. Since
the latchkeys to those doors were very simple, it was just a matter of
time until I could make an implement to unlock the doors. The basement
was always quite spooky. Electric light was only near the steps. All other
light down there came through small windows. It did not take much to make
me feel weird, and I preferred the attic for our adventures. We would follow
the steps of the chimney sweep and climb the ladder all the way to the
roof hatch. It took many trips before we even ventured to open this hatch,
stuck our heads through and looked down. It took many trips to lessen the
funny feeling in the belly while looking down. Little did we know that
this helped us later in the war when we had to replace blown off roof tiles.
The front doors of our tenement building had small glass panes. When
the door was propped open, it created a space between the door and the
wall. One day I climbed over the door and found myself hanging behind the
door but unable to touch the floor. When I released my hands, I went into
a knee bend. When I hit the floor, my right knee and one glass pane interfered
with each other, breaking the glass and creating a big gash underneath
my kneecap. I released the door quickly, ran to our first floor door, rang
the doorbell and screamed, leaving behind a trail of blood. My father opened
the door, looked, grabbed me and rushed me next door to our physician,
Dr. Lohman. He was able to stitch the wound successfully, but it left a
wide scar at my right knee. He said that I was lucky not to have severed
a tendon. By the way, he owned a Mercedes. His car was the only car among
the whole complex of 240 families. Often we watched him going to his car,
parked under a street gas light. It appeared he studied his house-call
route before driving off.
During winter, when it snowed quite heavily, I would sometimes help
the landlord with snow removal from the sidewalk. When we had a heavy snow
cover, a bunch of us neighborhood children would start an ice slide on
level ground. When enough shoes slid on the snow, after a while, the snow
would harden and within hours, the slide would be very icy. Not only would
it be icy but it also got longer and longer. At times, some of those slides
lengthened to over 100 feet. When the street sweepers arrived with their
equipment, they would quite often scatter salt. At the first sign of the
sweeper, all of us would quickly cover the slide with snow. As soon as
the sweeper passed, we used our gloves or caps and removed the salt from
our precious slide. Our street had very little traffic of any kind, allowing
us the pleasure of the slide. A large park, only 20 minutes away had two
snow slopes, perfect for sled rides. One slope received the name devil's
slide. It had a banked curve and became icy very quickly, causing spills
and broken bones.
Joining the Hitler Youth
Finally, my tenth birthday was near. Two events were about to occur;
I could join the Hitler Youth organization and start high school.
With the arrival of my tenth birthday, I became eligible to join the
Hitler Youth, or better, I should say, join the Young Folks' (Jungvolk)
movement. The Young Folks were a junior extension of the Hitler Youth for
boys aged 10 to 14. After I had my parent's permission to join, nothing
could stop me from fulfilling my dreams of joining. I became a proud member
of the Hitler Youth Young Folks.
Now, not only did I need a full uniform with all its paraphernalia,
but I also needed camping accessories. My wish list included a backpack
with a blanket, a pup tent canvas, a mess kit, a compass and more importantly
a knife in a sheath with a Young Folks' symbol.
During our weekly Young Folks' meetings, older Hitler Youth members
organized and conducted our get-together. There was no question that they
impressed on us the importance of the Third Reich’s future, highlighting
the need for purity and social improvements of an upcoming generation.
The indoctrination emphasized love of one's country, respect of spiritual
and ethical values and unquestioning loyalty to our Führer.
Most of our meetings started with the singing of our national anthem
which began, "Germany above all…" followed by a National Socialist
Party song, "Raise high the flag…" One of us youngsters would
stand at attention next to the lectern holding on to a pole displaying
the swastika flag. We had to learn at least one new marching song every
time we got together. Group singing was highly enjoyable, and once we started
marching it never failed for the group leader to call for a song. Besides
singing, we received lectures about good sanitation and cleanliness of
body and mind. We were enlightened to the fact that our Führer depended
on us to strengthen and perpetuate the Third Reich.
In addition to the more or less boring subjects, we planned outdoor
adventures like camping trips, playing hide and seek between red and blue
teams and finding your way after being lost in the wilderness. We played
games and the comradeship was evident and enjoyable.
The words of the songs we learned would not have won today's Pulitzer
Prize, but the message came through loud and clear. Sacrifice yourself,
if necessary, for the good of the country and hold honor and courage in
high esteem. Every so often, we would go on overnight outings in the countryside.
We learned to pitch tents and how to build campfires. Some very subtle
political indoctrination was unavoidable, and especially the message concerning
Adolf Hitler was clear. Our leader, the supreme commander’s words and actions,
In recent years, I heard controversy about a particular song we had
learned. That song had words stating that only Germany hears us now, but
tomorrow the whole world will. The German words of that part in the song
were as follows: Denn heute da hört uns Deutschland
und morgen die ganze Welt. Not gehört which
means belonging. That was the way I learned the song. Some scholars have
suggested that we sang: "tomorrow the whole world will belong to Germany"
instead of the world will hear us. I am sure that we, the youth, did not
communicate suggestions through this song that Germany would own the world.
My sister also belonged to a youth movement, called the Bund Deutscher
Mädchen (Organization of German Girls). I heard only scant words
from my sister, but it appeared that honor and love for the country appeared
to be their central message also. The Führer expected the girls, so
they said, to remain pure, pledge in marriage only to Aryan boys, and create
many babies for the Fatherland.
Early in 1938, with my primary schooling completed, I looked forward
to attending high school. My parents made it perfectly clear that I had
to quit fooling around and get down to studying. School homework, customarily
handed out for most subjects, now received preferential treatment over
any other activity.
Our class size normally consisted of 24 to 30 boys. Within an assigned
classroom, we had the freedom to select our seat location. I preferred
a seat about in the middle, not liking to sit right in front of the teacher,
but close enough to read the blackboard clearly. Most of the time our school
started at 8 o’clock and most classes lasted 90 minutes. We had 4 classes
per day, 5 days a week, and 3 classes on Saturday. The teachers would come
to our room instead of the students going to a teacher's room. Almost all
teachers would hand out homework, and I had no problems keeping up with
the assignments except for a couple of subjects.
Luckily, during the first two years, we had no language classes but
I had history classes taught by a disagreeable teacher, Mr. Lustig. I found
out that I had problems memorizing historical dates, especially Mr. Lustig’s.
Looking back, I am sure that his presentation also lacked some continuity
Anyway, it appeared boring to me, and soon my history grades sank. Had
I not excelled in mathematics and physics, I would have been in significant
trouble. I strongly disliked Herr Lustig, my history teacher. He
had a half-inch diameter, three foot-long bamboo cane. Standing in front
of me, he would ask me what happened in Germany on April 24, 1547. Sure,
ask another question. I had not the faintest idea. He would then whack
that cane merciless on my upper arm while bombarding me with other dates
and events. Even if I had known any of the answers, I surely would have
been unable to handle any answers under those circumstances. This teacher's
behavior haunted me for many years, especially when I had to take a test.
Political propagandizing from our teachers was not on the curriculum.
Even during my first year in the Hitler Youth movement, political indoctrination
was relatively benign, with some mentioning of how the Jews were destroying
All that changed on the night of November 9/10, 1938. I was now 11 years
old and had one year of lectures from the Hitler Youth movement behind
me. I was convinced of my leader's wisdom, and believed in the goodness
of the Nazi doctrine.
Night of Broken Glass
On the morning of November 10, 1938, we saw a broken display window
of a Jewish business with words painted on the side of the building like
"Jews get out" and other similar words. The Star of David became
the graffiti of that time, painted on Jewish property. We had experienced
the Kristallnacht or "The Night of Broken Glass." None
of this made any sense to me. I heard someone say that no one should buy
anything from the cheating Jews. A Brown Shirt storm trooper stood in front
of the broken storefront window. At first, I thought he was protecting
the store occupants or store contents. But in reality he discouraged anyone
from even thinking of buying anything from this store.
Until now, I was completely innocent relating to the "Jewish Problem."
I received a little enlightenment and understanding when my mother told
me not to mention to anyone about her doing business with a Jewish salesman.
One day, that salesman did not show up to meet my mother for their pre-arranged
Should I have seen the sinister character and evil in Hitler’s Germany?
All I remember from the early days of the "Jewish problem" was
noticing isolated anti-Semitic incidents. I guess our neighborhood had
only one vandalized Jewish store. It appeared to me, at that time, to just
be vandalism, not the much greater scope hidden below the surface. I must
have been naïve.
Everything I saw or heard prevented me from noticing the evil. Our leaders
now tried to convince us that Jews were evil, and we would have it better
if they all left Germany. Soon we rehearsed a new song that stated to throw
the Jews out of Germany, but hack off their legs first or they will come
back. That song should have at least raised some eyebrows. However, it
did not. I do not know why not, but I guess we did not take it seriously.
We did not take it literally. We were boys.
The "Jewish Problem" mysteriously disappeared and I believe
that for the average German, Jews became somehow non-persons. It might
also be that I was really too young to grasp the enormity of the Jewish
persecution. Looking back, my parents apparently had no Jewish friends.
We did not see any roundup of people, nothing like what I saw many years
later in movies, although rumors of deportations of undesirables were floating
around. Occasionally, we heard words about Germany retaining its Aryan
purity. At that time, however, I had no idea what that message intended
and what I could do about it. My parents never mentioned, in my presence,
any such messages.
My activities during the next two years were that of a normal pre-teenager.
Most Sundays, my mother would give me an allowance for movie tickets and
ice cream. She knew that I needed a little extra so that I could treat
my friend Siegfried. The Laurel and Hardy movies were our favorites. After
the movie, we had enough money left for an ice cream cone. Siegfried Urban
and I were inseparable playmates. He was one year my junior and his blond
hair and his disarming smile made him easily likable. Hardly a day would
pass that Siegfried and I would not get together. Playing with my erector
sets, however, required great patience when little screws and nuts took
three or four tries to engage them with a structure. Patience was not Siegfried's
A Close Call
During a time when I was a latchkey boy, Siegfried and I experienced
a scare while we were in my parent’s apartment. We had a near disaster,
which would have changed both of our lives forever.
My sister's future husband had placed a small silver revolver in her
desk drawer. I found the revolver, including some ammunition. Being very
smart, not letting on that I knew nothing about guns, I wanted to show
Siegfried the gun and demonstrate its operation. I put a bullet in the
chamber just in front of the hammer. I was certain that a round in front
of the hammer would be in a safe position since it was not behind the hammer.
Then I flipped a small lever on the revolver, stating that I had engaged
Pointing the gun at Siegfried, I was going to show that if I pulled
the trigger, nothing would happen. However, somehow, I remembered my father's
warning, not to point a gun at a person unless you plan to shoot that person.
Therefore, I pointed it at the window. I guess, having gone through a mental
process about where not to point a weapon, I then pointed the revolver
toward the wall. I pulled the trigger and sure enough, ca-boom! The papered
stucco/brick wall was damaged and gunsmoke engulfed us. What a shock! We
both surely learned a lesson and I found out how stupid I was. I did some
repair work to the wall and glued the wallpaper, good enough not to reveal
the accident to my parents and my brother-in-law.
Siegfried and I explored everything there was to explore in our neighborhood.
One of our excursions ended up on the roof. The four story building had
a steep tile roof. A plank ran between the chimneys for the chimney sweep’s
use. Having gone up to the roof a few times, we became brave enough to
venture onto the plank. I guess we had to do this because it was there,
like climbing Mount Everest. It convinced me that one could overcome acrophobia
by gradually exposing the senses to height.
We were not quite teenagers, and we cared less that our Führer
had annexed Austria in March 1938. When he invaded Czechoslovakia in March
1939, it was a ho-hum for us. However, when German troops invaded Poland
on September 1st, 1939, we did sit up and take notice. We both expressed
disappointment that we were too young to join the military.
With World War II now in progress, our Hitler Youth group meetings intensified,
not only through propagandizing, but also by becoming more militarized.
We marched more, ran more, did more push-ups, and sang more. In school,
decreed by a higher power, we received one quarter liter of chocolate milk
and a vitamin C tablet each day, supplementing my mother's homemade sandwich.
For me, the beginning of the war was minor to the problem I had with
the detestable teacher, Mr. Lustig. Our curriculum included one class per
week of Latin in addition to the history class. Mr. Lustig taught both
classes. During our Latin lectures, I really tried to overcome my distraction
caused by the presence of Mr. Lustig. He continued to harass me although
he should have seen that I was totally intimidated by him. Telling my parents
would not have worked, so I just had to endure it and make the best of
it. When we had written tests, he would stand behind me, looking over my
shoulder. Naturally, his presence would really fix me and the little knowledge
I might have recalled was gone. I had no choice but to cheat during some
of Mr. Lustig's written tests. I had in every pocket small pieces of notes
and used them. I did not get passing grades, but instead of a "6,"
the worst grade. I sneaked by with a non-passing grade of "5"
in History and a "4" in Latin. Having almost two fives in major
subjects required an offset by two grades of two or less to advance. Since
I had grades of "1" in mathematics and physics, I was able to
advance, with a note that I must improve my grades in Latin and history.
For hours, I would look at historic dates. But without a relative connection
to the events, the dates did not make an impact on my brain. Learning Latin
vocabulary gave me similar difficulty. Oh, I remembered "amo, amas,
amat" but that was about my limit.
In the early days of the war, our family lifestyle changed little, except
it became important to follow the Party line. Heil Hitler had to
replace good morning or good day as the preferred greeting outside our
home. We collected aluminum foil and other precious metals to conserve
resources. My mother continued to sell stockings at the outdoor market.
My father in his forester uniform went to the office as usual. My sister
now worked as a secretary for a sparkling wine cellar.
My parent's social life was still very good. The completion of the war
and occupation of Poland by our Army was labeled a Blitz Krieg (Lightning
War) and had a minimal impact on our daily life.
Virtually every weekend, my mother would have her friends and relatives
over for parties. As a matter of fact, my sister's salary from the wine
cellar usually arrived as a delivery of champagne bottles.
With the declaration of war against Germany by England and France, we
expected our life to change. Our leaders informed us that the invasion
of Poland was necessary. Germany had a corridor through Poland between
Germany and East Prussia by a treaty, they said, and Polish soldiers had
attacked our trains traveling through this corridor. They violated a treaty,
and Hitler had no choice but to act, so they said. That made sense to us.
We could not understand why England and France had to declare war on Germany.
As a 12-year-old, I saw no possibility that I would be a soldier very
soon. In school and during our Hitler Youth meetings, we heard words about
helping out in the war effort, with little detail of how. The Polish incursion
was finished, and England and France would not, or were not ready, to act
upon their declaration of war. At least that was the message we received.