Note: This story was created in 40 minutes in one of our writing sessions. The story is based on the following writing prompts: The words ‘Jew’ and ‘Nazi.’
Understanding the other’s perspective: Jew and Nazi – Anna Marie
My family was after a Shabbat meal when my father turned on the radio and the choppy voice of the news announcer read:
“Overseas in Nazi Germany, according to the new State propaganda, there is nothing more different than a Jew and Aryan German. But We as Americans must not let this affect our morale. We are all Americans, no matter our origins. We are Americans and we will not let hatred and ignorance outshine kindness and unity. We must not-” In that instant, my mother stood up and turned off the radio, much to my father’s dismay.
“Hannah, why did you turn it off?”
“This is nothing the children should listen to. They will have nightmares.”
“No, Hannah – it is good for them to know what the situation is like in Europe.”
My mother ignored his plea to turn on the radio again and instead, she told me and my brother Elijah to go to our room. The news announcer’s voice echoed in the hallway, but we shut our doors as to not let any more politics enter our world of games and friendship.
My brother and I were both born and raised in New York. Our parents left Germany soon after the end of the Great War, but they still spoke highly of their country, home to great writers, composers, painters and thinkers. Despite still being kids, we sensed their growing discomfort that there would yet be another war. A war that would essentially determine the survival of Jews in Germany. In the evening, instead of bed time stories, we heard them read aloud letters they received from our family and cousins about the increasing restrictions the Party imposed on them: curfew before 9pm, gradual banning of Shabbat services and producing and selling Kosher goods.
“What will they eat? Pork?” My mother sighed, shaking her head.
Under her insistence, our parents assured us every day that we are safe, that these views and changes are happening on the other side of the sea. But my friends at school were talking about it, everyone in their own way. Eventually circles began forming and I observed that our class was like a miniature version of Europe.
There were the Italian-Americans.
And me and Elijah, the only Jewish Americans.
While in the classroom we focused on reading, spelling and home economics, the instant the recess bell rang, everyone scattered into these groups, forming small alliances. Me and Elijah though, we didn’t want to take part in any fights – both verbal and physical – that took place during recess. But we were alone, talking to and playing with each other all the time and that got quite tiresome after a few months. So we agreed to try to befriend one of the groups and the German Americans were our first choice. We decided not tell anyone, especially mother, about it. Friendship with the Germans seemed all the more exciting, as we knew that it’s exactly what that loud German guy with a funny moustache and hyperactive arms doesn’t want!
The group of boys and girls whose blonde hair appeared golden in the autumn sunlight went silent when they noticed us, two dark-haired kids, standing at their table. I got a little scared, but Elijah nudged me and together we simultaneously said:
“Are these seats free?” The Germans looked at each other and after a while, they nodded.
When we arrived home later that afternoon, our mother was angry beyond words.
“Are you Nazis now?” our mother screamed. Elijah and I looked at each in confusion. “I got a phone call from Mrs. Hermann, that you were spending the whole day with the Germans! Don’t you know about what their parents do? About what they could do to you?”
Elijah was pale, but suddenly colour returned to his face as he said:
“No mother, we are not (articulating the word carefully) Nazis…”
“Jewish kids! You shouldn’t talk to them. Haven’t you been following the news? The Ku-klux-klan are going for the dark folks and Nazis are after us. And there you are, hanging out with them!”
“No, mother, you got it all wrong!” Elijah spat, for he didn’t like to be nagged.
“Then what were you talking about for so long? The Reich? The amazing new laws they are creating to make our cousins afraid to even go to the synagogue for Shabbat mass? Unable to get kosher food?”
“No, mother, we-”
“Shush, Elijah, enough! I am disappointed in you. And you too, Rachel. You are supposed to stay safe. What on Earth were you talking about with them?”
As told, Elijah kept his mouth shut. Failing to understand that the question was rhetorical, I said:
“Germany, mother. We talked about Germany.”
“We talked about Goethe and the ballads you won’t let us read.”
“Oh.” Mother winced.
“Their mothers read those stories as bed time stories. They recited Erlkönig to us, in German, and translated it for us when we didn’t understand. They were very kind and they promised to bring the ballads tomorrow to school, that they’ll read us some more during lunch.” My mother stood perplexed and after a while, she told us to go to our rooms.
Ever since, she never argued against us talking to the German kids again. They remained our friends before, throughout and after the Second Great War – proving that loud German guy with a funny moustache and hyperactive arms that he cannot tell us who to be and not be friends with.