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My grandfather to his German officer: “Schiessen Sie selbst.” (“Shoot him yourself.”)

November 10th, 2008  

It’s still November —and in my last Blog, I committed to paper what my grandmother told me about a pit of dead —an atrocity that must surely have been part the Holocaust.

Today, to add my voice to the horrors of World War II, I have to tell you a story about my grandfather.

Back in the early 80’s I actually researched the Holocaust for a period of roughly two years. The Final Solution… If you stripped back those hellish perverted times to one thing it is that What-it-is-in-Us-that-is-Human must never let it happen again.

Reading Elie Wiesel back then had a profound effect on me. Above all, it was his conviction of the human duty to bear witness.

A reminder from THE HOLOCAUST, Crimes, Heroes and Villains:

The words of Elie Wiesel, the Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor, stand as a testament to why we must never forget this dark period of human history:

“For the survivor who chooses to testify, it is clear: his duty is to bear witness for the dead and the living. He has no right to deprive future generations of a past that belongs to our collective memory. To forget would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time. The witness has forced himself to testify. For the youth of today, for the children who will be born tomorrow. He does not want his past to become their future.” Elie Wiesel, Night, Preface to the New Translation (New York: Hill and Wang, c2006), page xv.

Now about my grandfather. Like my previous Blog about the Odessa Death Pit, I am the only person in my family to whom my grandmother told this next story, and I believe that I have a moral obligation to commit this one to paper as well.

Once again, I promise to share it with you through the words of my grandmother —with just one embellishment.

“Schiessen Sie selbst.” (“Shoot him yourself.”)

My grandmother said that it was the end of the war and the Third Reich was all but over. As I heard the story, it seemed that the greatest dread for the average German was not in losing but that the Soviets would get to them before the Americans. It was the time of the race to Berlin —Hitler’s last days.

The Nazis threw anything male into that last defence. Imagine the youngest of boys just big enough to hold a gun or rifle and the oldest of men capable of doing the same. My grandfather would’ve been around 45 at the time —certainly not “old”.

When the call came for all able-bodied men to join in the defence of Nazi Germany’s last days, my grandfather tried to get my grandmother to hide him. Details are sketchy other than she refused and I was told that her refusal was a sore point between them for decades after.

I know only one incident and precious little detail. I don’t know where he was assigned or the circumstances. Nothing. Just this.

My grandfather’s commanding officer called him over. He then held out a pistol, pointed to a man and ordered my grandfather to shoot him.

(I told you there’d be one embellishment and here it is.) I suspect that there was a pause… I mean think about it. Nazi Germany. Nazi officer holding out a pistol and commanding you to shoot someone. What do you do?  This was an Order.

My grandmother offered only this.

My grandfather refused the pistol and told his commander:

“Schiessen Sie selbst.” (“Shoot him yourself.”)

Then he turned and then walked away.

Just now —this morning —I phoned my mom and told her the story of her father’s courage. She had the same reaction as I did so many years ago.

When I told her that my grandfather had been ordered to shoot a man, there was a dreadful pause on the line and then, “What did he do?”

“He refused,” I said.

“Good for hm. (pause) Wow… he’s lucky he survived.” She’s now going to tell her sister to see if perhaps she knows the story.

My mother did contribute one vital piece of information. “After the war he was a changed man. He never if ever smiled.” (Yeah… no kidding…)

This feels so good to get these two stories out of me and onto the record. Such a relief! Admittedly it’s only a temporary reprieve.

Aldous Huxley wrote about “man’s almost infinite capacity for distractions.” I’ve repeatedly denounced man’s almost infinite capacity to Look the Other Way. The Two —“infinite capacity for distractions” and “I see Nothing, hear Nothing, know Nothing” are a toxic doubleplus-dangerous social brew.

End of frikkin’ story.

I’m leaving you with this pic of my grandfather and us sitting on a bridge across Cooksviille Creek at Miles Lane (no longer there —part of Mississauga Valleys now) just before Hurricane Hazel circa 1953. I am so proud of my grandfather.

My grandfather at Cooksville Creek (Cooksville) circa 1953

Tomorrow is Remembrance Day. Please do.


The Mississauga Muse


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