Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Poor Gordon Looses His Nazi

From Will:

The Hindenburg disaster on 7 May 1937 was the catalyst for a major and unhappy change in my early childhood. For some time there had been tension in our household stemming from my father's anti-Nazi views and Teresa's adulation of Adolf Hitler. She was an excellent cook and maid and, for a long time, her skills preserved her job despite my father's discomfort over her Nazi sympathies. It was bad enough that he would come home on warm days to the voice of Josef Goebbels booming sonorously from the Emerson; worse when he found our address was on the German Embassy mailing list for Nazi propaganda. The Hinderburg, however, was the last straw.

The problem was that Teresa did not accept the official crash explanation that static electricity ignited hydrogen being vented as part of the landing procedure. She was certain the Hindenburg had been sabotaged by the United States. And she said so -- not only to my parents and me but to tradesmen and even our guests. Superb cook or not, my father had had enough of her. Teresa, he said, would be happier in the home of German nationals. To me, her loss was a shock. Our first maid had been Scottish, but I was so young I didn't remember her. Teresa had been with us, so far as my memory was concerned, all my life.

My father tried to explain to his seven-year-old son that the Nazis were evil. They persecuted Jews. That made no sense to me at all. Dr. Rosenberg was a Jew. Burton Silver, a playmate, was a Jew. Why should anyone want to "persecute" them? What was "persecution" anyway? The explanation that it was like the way the Romans treated the early Christians seemed a bit remote. Nobody claimed Jews were being eaten by lions in Germany. I was troubled and perplexed. My father was always right, yet I had never heard Hitler speak one way or another about Jews on the radio, nor had Teresa mentioned them to me. Jews were just someone with a different religion, like Protestants; they worshiped God incorrectly and on the wrong day, were unbaptized and so couldn't go to Heaven, only to limbo with all the unbaptized babies, but no one I knew got excited about it. Indeed, I felt rather sorry for Burton Silver, eventually having no one to play with out in limbo but all those screaming little babies.

After Teresa, we had, in rapid sequence, several disastrously incompetent American maids, and then, for reasons that I suspect had as much to do with my education as with our need for domestic help, my father hired Sophie. Sophie was German -- she was also a Jew.

My recollection of Sophie is of a beautiful young woman having a haunted look. She was a refugee from Nazi Germany, still dazed by her rejection by her homeland. I was no more kindly disposed toward Sophie than I was toward her several predecessors, all of whom I considered usurpers of Teresa's position, and reacted by refusing to eat from a spoon Sophie had touched.

When I came home from elementary school with the news that the nuns had explained the recent influx of Jewish refugees by pointing out that the Jews were doomed to wander the face of the earth homeless because they had been responsible for the death of Christ, calling for his crucifixion and saying to Pilate that "His blood be upon us and upon our children," I commented that that didn't seem very fair to me. People like Burton Silver weren't even born then. My father agreed with a snapped "Ridiculous!" and, typically, turned to the law to emphasize the point.

"If I rob a bank," asked my father, "should you go to jail?" He went on to point out that the proposition was called in the law a "bill of attainder" and was condemned specifically in the United States Constitution.