By Ella Pusey
Being a fair haired, blue eyed boy in Hamburg, Germany of 1945 is not the best scenario. My mother country had just finished, unsuccessfully, attempting to take over the whole continent of Europe. I was always having things thrown at me or being cursed at while walking down the street. I personally never cared much for the war. I dreaded my nineteenth birthday, for I was supposed to be drafted three days afterward. I didn’t want to be a Nazi, the shiny boots and crisp uniform never interested me much.
My father wanted me to join “the fight to rid the evil in this world”, but some of our neighbors were Jewish and he had no problem with them in 1938.
My father was a strong believer in Germany and the German way of life. I was never good enough for him. He always told me I was a disappointment for not signing up for the early draft. He was stout man, with the traditional blue eyes, and blonde hair that had long since been salt and peppered. He stood at a staggering six foot four with muscles that can only come from working long days in the workforce.
My mother is the complete opposite. She is a mousy woman with a small frame and brown eyes and blonde hair. She always had dinner ready every evening at exactly 7 o’clock, and smelled of vanilla and lavender.
I have a weasel of a younger brother named Otto who no matter where he goes, trouble mysteriously follows. He was a surprisingly thin boy of eight, with a grin that made you want to hide your keys and secure your pocketbooks.
My sister Hannah, has dark hair and green eyes. She is what we call ‘beliebtes Mädchen’ or popular girl. At 16 years old, she always has the latest fashions and up to date in the all the gossip of the “War Heroes” in our school. War Heroes who sat around doing nothing and got sent home on an “honorable discharge” for getting a scratch on their faces.
The last of my family is me. My name is Paul Schmidt. I am simple, blonde hair, blue eyes. 19 years old and in my free time I love to read and write stories. I am the black sheep of my family, I’m introverted, and don’t have many friends. The ones I do have, I’m not close with, well except Peter.
Peter Müller was my best friend up until the start of the war. Peter was older than me and was drafted into the war a year ago. When he returned he was changed. No longer a boy but not yet ready to be a man. The war had broken him. He was one of them now. He was a Nazi through and through. Talked of nothing but, “the greater good”, and how the Führer was just trying to “cleanse the world of those who have wronged us.”
Peter always said one day he would recruit his fellow soldiers and finish what Hitler started. I never believed him but something about the way he said it bothered me, like he truly was going to do it.
Well, I never believed him that is until I received a strange letter on my front porch. Addressed to Paul Schmidt, in elegant script on thick parchment like paper. A dark red wax seal occupied the back keeping the contents of the letter secret to anyone except me.
Inside the letter was another piece of the same rough texture with a date, a time, a place, and a message that read. “Come alone, tell no one.” At the bottom was a swastika with arrows at each point.
When the old grandfather clock in the living room struck 11:30, I crept downstairs, making sure to skip the step that squeaks. Out the front door, sitting on the steps was my bike. I needed a new one but the war had caused a bit of a tight budget with the entire country.
Germany is a beautiful country, full of castles and waterfront areas. However, it is a little scary at night, especially being a pure blood German after a World War.
Pedaling down Main Street I stopped in front of the Christliche Kirche Just at the stroke of midnight. The old church had been bombed during the war and now only two walls and the basement remain.
The eerie ruins of the church consumed all of the courage I had left in me. Shadows lurked in every unturned brick, telling the story of the church that once stood.
The door to the basement was made of 6 inch thick steel. It was to protect the clergy and all in the church if a raid were to happen but since they rebuilt the church down the street, no one uses it anymore.
Painted on the door, so faint that if you glanced at it you would miss it, was the same sign on the bottom of my letter, a swastika with arrow points at each end.
I grasped the cold handle and the door gave way with little force. Inside I could see the flicker of firelight dancing across the walls. Standing in the 12 by 16 room was a circle of seven cloaked figures. All the spaces filled except one. A figure broke rank and walked toward me.
He dropped his hood. “Peter?” I gasped. He spread his hands and his face twisted into a wicked grin. “Hello Paul. Welcome to The Revival.”
“The what? What is going on Peter? Why I’m I here?” A million questions flooded my brain.
“Paul, you know how committed I was to the great Führer, may he rest in peace. I always felt that I should complete what he started, and now I have found others who share my point of view.”
I was baffled at my friend. Did he really think that he could continue Hitler’s work? He was crazy if that was the case.
“That’s great. What am I doing here? I wasn’t in the war.” Peter snapped his fingers and another broke the circle to hand him a floor length, red velvet cloak.
“I want you to join our brigade. You’re my best friend Paul. We’ve known each other since Grundschule, our parents are best friends. Join us and together we will be legends.”
He offered me the cloak. I took it and draped the thick material over my shoulders, fastening the brass clasp. I ran my fingers over the soft velvet. It’s as if I was in some kind of trance, I was considering becoming a member. Could I really do this? Would I risk lives of millions just to be pulled out of the shadows, just to be remembered? No. It wouldn’t be right.
“I can’t do this. I can’t kill innocents for some “greater good.” I will not be that man my father wants me to be.” I unhooked the clasp and handed it to a bewildered Peter.
“I respect your decision Paul, but I was really hoping you’d say yes. Also I’m really sorry about this.”
“Sorry about what?” I asked. Peter sighed. “You see Paul, we are committed to our cause and we can’t have anyone threatening our cause before it’s even begun.” He snapped his finger again. “Kill him.”
And then I was running. Out the door, back through the ruins and past my bike. I sprinted down the street and took a left. Knowing that that would come by my house I ran and led them in a fake direction.
I could hear the fast pace of their footsteps echoing behind me as I pumped my legs harder, faster, trying to escape.
I’m no athlete but I have always been good at long distance running. I was easily out pacing them but I didn’t know how much longer I could keep running. I needed to go somewhere they wouldn’t find me. Then I remembered the mill down by the river.
It had been abandoned for years and no one ever thought about it. I veered right and made my way toward the river.
I threw the mill door open and bolted it behind me turning the room dark. Breathing hard, I rested my hands on my knees. As my heart rate slowed my eyes adjusted to the dim lighting and I peered around the old, dusty workshop, I could hear the water rushing down below and smell the faintest hint of flour from years past.
What was I going to do next? I hadn’t the slightest idea. It wouldn’t take them long to figure out where I was. I estimated that I had about 10 minutes until they bust down the door.
But just as I remembered that these guys are trained soldiers the door went flying off its hinges. I quickly ducked behind an old grinder and covered my nose and mouth. I could hear the scrape of their polished boots against the cold floor. I felt the cold, crisp German air drift in through the door frame.
That’s when I saw it, my escape. The door that led to the river shimmered brightly in the pale moonlight. I made a quick decision, stay here and surely die or jump into the river and possibly die. I bolted for the door just as I heard shouting behind me. My saving grace swung open, dispensing me into the frigid waters below. Bone-chilling water enveloped my body sucking the air from my lungs. I kicked hard and broke the surface of the water feeling the icy air rush down my throat.
I let the current sweep me down river, knowing there was a small dock near my house where Otto and I loved to fish. Floating down the river, I spotted the creaky thing and pulled myself out of the river. Using the miniscule amount of strength I had left I hurriedly jogged towards home trying not to think about the fact that there had only been six cloaked figures in the mill.
Feeling the great relief of being home, I sank down onto the floor in front of the door. I sighed with relief when a single light illuminated a spot in the room. There sat my father in his cloth armchair, with the seventh cloaked figure standing behind him.
He didn’t have to remove his hood for me to know who he was. “Peter, what are you doing here?” I asked. Anger rising in me, warming my raw body.
He shrugged off his hood. “I knew you’d come home Paul. You’re too predictable. So I came here while I sent my guys after you.”
I turned my attention to my father. “Vater, what are you doing up at this hour?”
“Well, Sohn, Peter here contacted me weeks ago with the details of his plan. Knowing that I am a big supporter of our dearly departed Führer, he felt the need to ask me to join the cause. I told him that I am much to old for such things but that you would make an excellent addition.” His words surprised me. I didn’t know my father cared for me in such a way.
“Vater I have told you many times that I do not wish to be a Nazi or have anything to do with them. I will not join Peter or his purpose.” This was not the first time I had argued or disagreed with my father but something about the way he was looking at me I could tell this time it was different. That scared me.
“Paul, you never did understand the concept of-” I cut him off. “Sacrificing for ‘the greater good’. I know you’ve told me on countless occasions.” I spat bitterly.
He looked shocked, and then angry. “You will join Peter’s mission. Whether that is willingly or unwillingly is your choice.” A hard gaze fixed on me and I knew I was not walking out of this house without a cloak on.
“Fine Vater, you win. I will pack a bag and leave this house. But know that I will not return.” My voice was final.
“That’s my boy.” My father’s proud smile sickened me to my core. Half an hour later, bag packed and letters written to my mother and siblings, I was ready to say goodbye to my childhood home.
“At last, don your cloak and join us brother.” Peter held out the cloak once more. Taking the cloak I felt not only its weight, but the weight of what I was agreeing to.
With the cloak securely around me I walked out to join my new ‘brothers’ but found no one in the street.
“Where are the others?” I asked, an idea forming in my head. “They will meet us back at the bunker. I told them I could handle you.” Peter said smugly.
I sighed, my new plan fresh in my head. “You really shouldn’t have told them that Peter. You know I’ve always been faster than you, even when being weighed down by things.”
I saw the gears turn and click in his head as my words registered. But before he came to his conclusion I was sprinting down the street toward the center of town.
I came to the river port and bought the first ticket out. I didn’t care where it was going I just wanted out of Germany.
So there I sat, 19 years old, wrapped in my velvet cloak and on my way to America.
Many Years Later,
Paul sat on the elevated stage, now oblivious to the blinding camera flashes that once scared him but, not anymore. He listened as his expertly strung together words were being said through the deafening speakers. A flash of red in sea of people made him think of a distant time. He reflected on his journey thus far, coming to America at 19, changing his name to Paul Smith and becoming a struggling author, meeting Johnny, his best friend, 8 years later. The same Johnny who was now head of his department and who had gotten Paul his current writing job working for an admired man, well known for his sense of equality. That was what Paul liked best about his boss, he was nothing like the Nazi’s of his childhood. He stood for fairness and opportunities. Paul was bewildered at how far he had come. His story was of how a 19 year old boy from Hamburg, Germany ended up speech writing for President John F. Kennedy.