Chapter Three: 1935
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On March 16, Hitler broke the terms laid upon Germany by the Treaty of Versailles when he introduced military conscription.
On Sept 15, the Nuremberg Race Laws became law. They stripped Jews of their civil rights as German citizens and separated them from Germans legally, socially, and politically. Jews were also defined as a separate race under "The Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honour." From now on, Germany would use race, not religious beliefs or practices, to define the Jewish people. This law also forbade marriages or sexual relations between Jews and Germans.
When a little girl of five years old, almost six, falls over, it's a terrible thing. Her whole little world has collapsed under her. She doesn't want to look at her knee in case there was blood. Little five year olds don't like the sight of blood, especially their own. There was only one thing to do. Gretchen did what she always did when she was in trouble.
"Karl, Karl." she shouted.
Karl ran back to her, the sweets they were going to buy with his birthday money temporarily forgotten. Now he was actually six years old, he realized that he had his responsibilities. He helped Gretchen up. They sat on a nearby doorstep while he gravely inspected her knee. He assured her there was no blood, and then wiped away her tears with his rather grubby handkerchief. In unconscious imitation of his mother, he put an arm around her shoulder and kissed her on the cheek.
"Don't cry, little one."
Despite her predicament, Gretchen retorted indignantly.
"I'm no more little than you are."
"But I'm six. Today." he said, importantly.
"I know." she smiled. Then, in an attempt to get back on terms, she said. “I’ll be six in June."
Karl laughed "Then you can buy me sweets. Come on, quick, before the shop closes."
Gretchen ran happily after him, her knee forgotten. She would have bought him the moon, if she'd had enough money. She was too young to fall in love. But she knew what it felt like to love people. She loved her Mama and Papa. She also loved Karl.
* * *
Ten years later, Gretchen laid in bed, smiling as she recalled the childhood incident, only one among so many. She turned on the bedroom light. The bedside clock showed her that it was five o’clock. Normally, she would have turned over and gone to sleep until seven o’clock. But this morning she was too excited to sleep. Today was her sixteenth birthday. She sat up in bed and hugged her knees to her chin. Unfortunately, she would have to go to school. But there would be a tea party this afternoon after school. There would be just her parents, herself and Karl. Just the way she liked it. Then, next Sunday, she would have tea with Karl and his family. It was a routine they followed every year on his birthday in March and on hers in June.
There had never been a time when Karl had not been a central part of her life. Their families were neighbours and they had been born the same year. Karl was the elder by three months. Frequently he teased Gretchen. He would smile and say:
“Don’t worry, my little Gretchen. Trust me; after all I am older than you.”
They had always accepted the fact that they were sweethearts. At the age of fourteen, they had shared their first adolescent kisses. They had both been brought up strictly and Karl had always respected her, though that didn’t stop his hands from gently exploring her body, from time to time. Gretchen smiled happily as she thought of Karl as he was now, tall, well-built, undeniably handsome with his blond hair and blue eyes.
With that happy image in her mind, she turned off the light, snuggled down into bed and, despite her excitement, fell asleep. She was woken at seven o’clock, by her mother who kissed her and wished her a “Happy Birthday”.
The school day dragged for Gretchen. Eventually, it ended and she went to the all-boys college that Karl attended to wait outside for him. She knew she would have to wait until the end of the compulsory hour of physical exercise that finished each day’s programme.
Eventually, she spotted him among a small crowd of other boys. Dressed in his school uniform, with his sports bag over his shoulder, he looked flushed and happy. He waved when he saw her, separated himself from the crowd and came over to her.
“Happy Birthday,” he grinned.
They walked away from the school. He did kiss her. She knew that would come later. They were a quiet couple. Their relationship was well-known in their respective schools, so they both felt relaxed. Karl told her that he had been playing football and that he had scored the winning goal. He chatted excitedly about the match. She listened, smilingly.
Gretchen realised that, in her constant relationship with Karl, she had far more than some of her girl friends. However, all of them, found herself competing with the powerful attractions of the Hitler Youth for the attention of their boy-friends. The Spartan approach to life that the movement engendered was aimed at making a boy, in the words of its founder, Baldur Schirach, “a physically healthy individual with a sound, firm character, full of determination and willpower”. While Gretchen realized that, stated simply, it was an aim any young man might aspire to, she worried that, were these aims over-emphasized, it could make a young man harsh and unfeeling, She often reflected that it said a great deal for Karl’s background , having firm but loving parents, that he had, so far, avoided the excesses that some, like Hoffman, had embraced. She hoped that her influence had also helped.
Their way that they chose to walk home lay along the side of the river. It was quiet and avoided the route taken by most of their school companions. They sat on a bench, by a mutual unspoken agreement. Karl put down his school bag and put his arms around her. He kissed her firmly, if not particular skillfully, then whispered in her ear,
“I love you, little Gretchen.”
For a moment he held her close to him. She felt dizzy as she felt the strength of his body. How he had developed, both physically and in confidence since her last birthday. On that occasion, he had shyly pecked her cheek when he gave her a birthday present. Now, as he reluctantly released her, he reached into his school bag and drew out a parcel.
She opened it. It was a thick notebook with hard covers. She opened it. Its pages were blank.
He laughed. “Remember you told me recently that you were going to start keeping a diary. Well, this will get you started. When it's full, tell me and I'll buy you another one.”
Gretchen threw her arms around his neck. “What a wonderful idea. I’ll start tonight. She kissed him. “I love you, Karl. My strong, handsome Karl”
As they walked home, hand-in-hand, he asked:
“What is the first thing you’re going to write in your diary?”
“I’m going to write about you.”
“Will you let me read it?”
“No, not yet," Gretchen replied, coyly. “When we start to get old, you’ll be able to read how I felt about you when we were both sixteen.”
“By then you’ll be Gretchen Neumann, the famous diarist, a kind of a German Samuel Pepys.”
“Gretchen Richter, if you don’t mind.”
He squeezed her hand and they looked at one another.
“I won’t mind.” he said, quietly.
“Nor will I.” They had always taken it for granted that, one day, they would marry. Perhaps, thought Gretchen, remembering her early morning reverie, sometime, I'll have my own six-year old daughter and I'll be picking her up when she falls over.
The tea party was as perfect as she always remembered it. Her parents spared no effort to make it a pleasant occasion. Karl was perfectly at home with them, as she was with his parents. They both continued the life-long practice of addressing the other’s parents as “auntie” and “uncle”, even though they realised, of course, there was no blood relationship. The only thing that slightly clouded her happiness was that Karl left immediately after the meal was finished. He told her that he had to attend a Hitler Youth meeting.
“As you know,” he said, proudly “The Fuhrer has nominated this year as "The Year of Physical Training" and all sorts of medals are going to be given to those of us who are fit and strong enough. In the summer, there is going to be a special sports day. I’m going to compete and I’m going to win.
Gretchen had already learnt that, if she was to keep Karl, she must be accepting, cheerful and submissive. So she swallowed her disappointment, smiled and, in what she hoped was a rather grown-up way, said:
“That’s alright, Karl. It was lovely having you to tea.” She knew she would have to be content walking with him to the end of the road. Anyway, she knew that she could look forward to Sunday.
That evening, after she had kissed her parents “goodnight”, in the privacy of her room, she opened the notebook Karl had given her. It was an expensive one, its cover a mass of whirling patterns. She opened it at the first page. Then she sat in thought for a few moments, took a pen and started to write.
“June 24th 1935.
I LOVE KARL The first words in my diary and very important ones. I love him today, my sixteenth birthday, as I’ve loved him for all the time
I can remember. But I have to be patient. Since he joined the Hitler Youth,
I don’t see so much of him. I often want to cry or scream at him. But if I do,
I’ll lose him. I think I’d die if that happened. This is going to be a grown up diary from the first day. So let me be sensible and realise that I’m a lucky girl with such loving parents and with Karl in my life. No more, today, diary.”
But as she lay in bed, reliving the events of the day, the thought of the future sent a frown over Gretchen's otherwise unfurrowed brow. The one cloud on her otherwise clear horizon came into view. It was the same cloud that was covering the whole nation. At least, that was how she saw it.
Like so many of their contemporaries, she and Karl had been caught up in the tide of enthusiasm for the Fuehrer several years ago when he became Germany's Chancellor. At college they were being taught the recent history of the country, of the shame and humiliation that had been imposed on the German nation by the Treaty of Versailles. It was generally accepted that their new Chancellor, Adolph Hitler, would not be afraid to defy the rest of Europe, should the need to do so arise. They knew how determined he was to restore Germany's pride as a nation.
Full of youthful enthusiasm, Karl had joined the Hitler Youth a year ago.. In some ways, Gretchen was proud of him. He looked so handsome in his uniform, brown shirt rolled to the elbow, armband, necktie, all topped off with a forage cap. But there were things that worried her. The Hitler Youth was absorbing the whole of his life. Everything was turned into a competition, sports, the quality of singing during propaganda marches, and Winter Aid collections. Karl, full of youthful enthusiasm, threw himself into everything.
Gradually, Karl was absorbing Nazi doctrine in the hothouse atmosphere of the Hitler Youth. Though he spouted the usual phrases, Gretchen had a feeling that, in his case, the effect it was having on him was probably superficial. She was pleased that he seemed more interested in the sporting and outdoor activities that formed so prominent a part of the life of members of the Hitler Youth. She accepted, as well as she could, his decision to take up boxing. He had done this when he heard that Hitler was encouraging the sport.
It was inevitable that, sooner or later, Gretchen, herself, would come under pressure to show some commitment to the Nazi cause. She knew she could not remain aloof for very long. So she had joined the girls’ section of the Hitler Youth, the “Bund Deutcher Madel” She could not identify with the arrogant young woman in black with the swastika behind her, who featured in the popular poster advertising the movement. She duly attended meetings in which she had to learn by rote the various events in the life of Hitler. She took part in some of the sporting events. She attended youth events, especially whenever they gave her an opportunity to be with Karl. He was pleased with what she was doing, which, for her, was the important thing.
Despite the anxieties that were involved in competing with Karl’s Hitler Youth activities for Karl's attention, Gretchen was happy. As she lay enjoying her teenage reveries, she little guessed how events on a wider plain would soon destroy her happiness.
* * *