I’ve made my peace with the past, my peace with the Germans,
Not with the SS troops who goose-stepped past our house
One dark forbidding night
Their black, shiny boots reverberating on the cobblestones,
Singing, no, shouting, in cadence,
“When the Jewish blood spurts from the knife,
Then we will all be free!”

The tune has etched itself so deeply
In the cells and inner recesses of my brain,
That I find myself humming the gruesome words
And the musical cadence that emerge together
Until I am startled by the memory of that night.
And by my masochistic instinct to remember
The event and epoch that turned me into a scared kid.

We fled the bubbling cauldron that was to become the Holocaust,
And crossed the Atlantic to the land of cowboys, Indians, and streets paved with gold,
To jobless America in depression, but breathing the air of freedom,
As the family eked out a living, each one of us working for the Yankee dollar,
In order to survive and thrive, strangers in a strange land.

I was hurt by our frantic, frenetic exodus, and angry too,
I hated everything German, even though I was German too,
Reminding myself that my family, and the town’s Jewish community too
Had our roots in Wertheim since 1405 AD as the gravestones testified,
Before the Nazi bullies toppled or smashed them as a final insult to the dead,
Wasn’t it enough that they had toppled and smashed the lives of the living?

I joined the Navy to fight the Germans,
And was sent to the Pacific in true SNAFU fashion
To fight the Japanese instead!

In the postwar era, I shunned everything German,
I refused to socialize and fraternize with Germans,
I refused to buy anything German,
I refused to make love to Germans
I refused to ride in a German car,
Especially the Volkswagen that Hitler had extolled.

Until one day I confronted myself with this enigma:
Hitler stereotyped all Jews,
As universally evil, to be excised, gassed, eradicated, destroyed.
Now I was stereotyping all Germans,
Shunning and reviling them,
Finding them all universally guilty,
Declaring them all universally responsible for the death of 7 million Jewish brethren;

I woke up to the realization that postwar Germans who were born after Hitler
Were as guilty of the Holocaust’s cruelties
As I was guilty of the Native American Holocaust that occurred 100 years ago
Right here in California—a bounty on their scalps.
Right here in the good ole USA,
That land of Washington and Lincoln,
That land of the Wounded Knee and Mai Lai massacres.
And many more….

So I made a conscious decision
To stop my own brand of blind hate and intolerance,
The same kind that I experienced from the Nazi bullies in Wertheim
Who shouted obscenities and insults at me
Without ever bothering to know me.

A heavy weight lifted from my shoulders,
The good vibes that I now felt,
Must have echoed, reverberated, ricocheted around the world,
And must have found the psychic antennas
On the roof of Wertheim City Hall,
Must have been received and heard by Joseph Scheuerman,
Wertheim’s democratic mayor who was scouring the world,
Searching for the town’s 100 living Jewish survivors
Out of about 200 who had once lived there,
The other hundred were killed in the Holocaust,
And we hundred living were now dispersed in a modern day Diaspora,
From Alabama to Zurich.

Was it Karma, ESP, or just luck
That within days after my moment of reconciliation.
I should receive an invitation to return to Wertheim
As a guest of its mayor and its residents,
Who until now I had rejected and renounced?

I returned to Wertheim with apprehension and hope,
To rediscover the memories I had left behind,
To rediscover the aborted part of my childhood life,
To rediscover myself.

Now I reconnected with my classmates,
Who I had seen last when they shunned me,
As they were dutifully indoctrinated to do
In their eugenics classes from which I and other Jewish students were exluded.
Where they were shown drawings of evil-looking, long-bearded Jewish men
Sucking through straws a baby’s blood with glee.

Now I reconnected with my child within,
With the pain I had felt then,
As one or another turned away in midplay,
Remembering that I was a Jew, and Un-Aryan too.

Now they celebrated my return
At a special class reunion,
The 10-year olds transformed into buxom women and beer bellied men,
They listened in disbelief, astonishment and sadness,
To my last experience in Wertheim at their hands,
Quite different from what they remembered,
Or their consciences allowed them to remember.
The gray haired women sobbed, tears streaming down,
Understanding their part in the tragedy,
Realizing that they too had been robbed of their childhood innocence,
Feelings so long repressed and hidden from view by them, me, us.

I have returned to Wertheim a half dozen times,
Have been welcomed by friends old and new,
Have received and given outpourings of hospitality;
But occasionally uneasiness and paranoia seize me,
Especially when I see old strangers, my age,
Still envisage them in a Nazi Brown shirt or black SS uniform,
(I resist blurting out “Did you leave your uniform at home?!”)
Still imagine them once marching and singing
“Wenn das Judenblut von Messer Spritzt, Dann Sind Wir Alle Frei,!”
“When the Jewish Blood Spurts from the Knife, Then We Will All be Free!”

Deep physical wounds leave permanent scars,
Mental wounds are no different.
Their scars are hidden but there,
Capable of flaring again.
My return to Wertheim enabled me to revisit these wounds and scars,
To look at them closely, to pay attention to them,
But also to see them in perspective.
I can better deal with them now that I am more at peace,
Accepting, that for better or worse a part of me is German,
The German of a Hitler, Goebbels, Borman,
But also the German of a Beethoven, Goethe, Einstein and Heine.

(No part of this poem may be reproduced without the author's prior approval. 01.01.05)
all rights reserved © 2005-18 Shimon Schwarzchild