To understand my father
, you need to understand the setting.
, circa 1910. Instead of cars, there were horses and oxen-drawn carriages. Most of the roads were dirt which were partly covered with cow and horse manure. Only the town centers were paved and these had cobblestone
s. Although the automobile was invented, it was only seen in the city. There was no electricity in the houses, streets were gas lit. Washing clothes was done by hand on a ripple board
, ironing was done with a coal heated iron. I read books by candle light
. Telephones were rare. The ones that existed had a crank for calling the operator.
Pollution was unknown, nature was widely untouched by the hands of man. With the exception of the blacksmith's hammer, the singing handsaws of the carpenter, and the carriage wheels rolling over cobblestones, it was quiet. There were many more birds singing in those days, more deer grazing, and more flowers blooming in the meadows. Undisturbed, Nature took care of herself.
The Deutsches Reich was a monarchy, reigned by a Kaiser. There was a Parliament, however the monarch and the military determined politics alone. This will be important later. My father was a civil servant with the Bavarian Justice Department where he was an administrator of a prison. He was transferred within Bavaria three times, which also meant changes in school for me.
In those times, the family was entirely under the command of the father. Mother had to bear the children, bring them up, and tend to the household on a budget determined by my father. I can't remember my mother ever going out, but I do recall my father went to his "Stammtisch" once a month. He had a reserved table near the tiled wood stove in the close-by pub. Life was almost spartanic. Meat was reserved for our father. We, the children, and our mother would have a taste of it in the soup or in the vegetables.
Father loved nature and I often accompanied him on his weekly walks across the Danube bridge and through extensive forests along the river. We would pick wild strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries. Father also taught me how to hunt for edible mushrooms. These special trips occurred only on Sundays, because then one had to work on Saturdays too.
On these walks, I got to know my father deeper.
In spite of his strong patriotism, he was a dedicated liberal and his political views were far-sighted and logical. He always tried to think himself into motives. Looking into the wishes and necessaties of others. This attitude led him into criticism of the war-hungry monarchy and the dictatorship of Hitler. When Hitler started to re-arm Germany, my father said, "War will come". I did not believe him.
My father was a strong character. He even converted from Catholicism to Lutheran, because the Catholic Church would not let him marry my mother. Hatred and envy were unknown to him. He lived only for his family. Since the budget was tight, he supplemented his salary by doing other work, even work that was considered inferior. He would transport inmates to other prisons or even to court. When he had to travel overnight, he would sleep on benches in railroad stations, in order to save the travel allowance.
Not only did I learn my love of nature from him, but also my interest in politics. Father never held back with his opinions which often led him to fall in disgrace with his superiors. Thus, he was transferred to the worst place in Bavaria, a little village where, besides a prison, there were only a few farmers. We had to walk an hour to get to the railroad station, to a doctor, and to go shopping. This transfer was supposed to be a punishment for his political views. However, I will say to you, it was not. Several times in my life have there been experiences which at first I complained about but which later turned out to be a blessing. Remember this when misfortune falls your way.
When World War I started, we were in a quiet place with all the food we needed. We had milk and eggs from the farmers and we had meat from our more than 100 rabbits that my father raised in the wood shed. We also had the vegetables we raised in our large garden. This was even more important and valuable after the war when our small town could not even get the small rations allowed. Inflation was so high that civil servants were paid daily because the money would be worthless the next day. My father's punishment was a blessing in disguise.
Father would not allow arguments, let alone contradiction. Sometimes he would seem harsh and impatient. He very seldom showed emotion
. In fact, I never heard him say "I love you". The only time I remember him looking sad was on the day I left for East Prussia
. I had finished school and was now a Customs
Officer. I was being transferred to what amounted to the equivalent of the North Pole. He brought me to the railroad
station at 1:00 am on a June day in 1936. His eyes filled with tears
. He probably had felt that we would not see each other again. He may not have said it, but I knew he loved me. He was that kind of man. I think there are very few who can live up to his stature.