uring the early years of World War II
, when joining the German army
was still optional, my grandfather chose this path as a means to escape his stern stepfather. He anticipated the advertised life of adventure to at least qualitively surpass that of living under the same roof as his abusive fatherly figure
. Soon he realized that this was not the case. The army
moved him first to Italy
, then North Africa
, where he was put to service as a parachuter
. Parachuting back then wasn't much like it is now - even if your chute did open, there was a good chance of being shot by those in differing uniform. "Perfect" drops had an impact bad enough to require a hip replacement
Regardless, at some point his division was captured by the French. Like animals they were carted off to the camp where they were beaten into submission. The group my grandfather was in was asked to kneel, upon which some high-spirited soldier proceeded to beat their teeth in with the butt of his rifle. For a month they were served nothing but couscous, which always contained some selections of insects. Upon communicating his training as a locksmith, the French decided to move him along with a group of his friends to a nearby work camp run by Americans. This would have been the best of worlds for him and his friends, but the German government had made sure to make them think different. Anticipating certain death, they jumped off of the train and used the sky to orient themselves towards a residential area. Soon they found an Arab family in cahoots with German officials, and they were moved back north, where they would rejoin with the rest of the troop. Again, something went wrong. A still unknown member of the group ratted them out, causing the families to be exposed for smuggling the enemy and the soldiers to be recaptured. This time, they were put in a real military prison.
He says he can't remember how long he was in the box, hours and days were the same in perpetual darkness and heat. Occasionally, food and water were thrown in, but barely enough to keep him alive. Once out, he began to play chess and learn mathematics from his fellow prisoners to stay sane. According to him, the only way to keep a level head in a place like that is to deal with it day by day, not counting the unknown days until one's release. Finally the day came. The war was over, and Germany was beaten. A group of captured planes took the prisoners from Casablanca to Berlin, where they would take the train to their respective hometowns. He hadn't seen his girlfriend and wife to be in years, but when a young man asked to take his place on the last plane of the day, he let him go ahead. Not five minutes passed, and the plane was shot down, exploding on the desert sand. The boat delivered him safely, he resumed his work as a locksmith and eventually married my grandmother... but he still can't stand even the smell of couscous.