Opening the box—resurrecting him—would mean finding not only the man who became my father, but also the man responsible for the “Nazi!” a first-grade classmate had yelled at me as a six-year-old, newly arrived in the States from Germany. I didn’t know then what that was, but whatever it was, I knew it wasn’t good. The taunt stayed with me. It was thrown at me in many other guises, and eventually I blamed my father.
...Hitler was confident, claiming that he had only to “kick in the door” and the behemoth would crumble. Heinrich was with Army Group Center, the largest of the three prongs of the operation, meant to deliver a lightning strike and bring the quick victory Hitler predicted would be his before fall.
The Russians had been set up on the bank of the Dnieper in 1812 just as they were now. If an awareness that this time Heinrich was in the role of invader, not defender, cast any shadow or brought a frisson of unease, it was quickly banished. He mentions no burned villages, no ruthless brutality. He was no alien invader; he was returning to land defended over the years by forefathers. This was a liberation, a return home.
She gave each child a small chamois bag with [her brother’s] Chicago address to hang around their necks. Putting any hope at all into such a fragile vessel seemed absurd, but she felt compelled to do it. They were headed into the unknown, and the thought of being separated in the maelstrom ahead was terrifying.
...taught me that there is not one history, but many; that context is everything, and life is far more complex than we ever imagine, especially when history writ large intervenes. I found that despite the stiff-armed Nazi salutes and gutteral “Achtungs” that came my way, I was not the devil’s spawn after all, just the product of two people in a particular time and place, enmeshed in circumstance, their hopes upended.