Reaching across the abyss of war

Despite war, human beings reach out to each other in kindness, compassion, even love.

May 6, 1945, a few days after the end of World War II: A Russian officer who is inspecting the military cellar where my grandfather worked said to him: “The Russian isn’t bad and the German isn’t bad, but sentimental. Lumpen exist among Russian and Germans alike. And Siberia. With that they only wanted to scare you. What do you think of Siberia? No one eats such black read there as yours is here.”

Some time in 1946, just over a year after the end of the war:  Dave, a British airmen in Lower Saxony befriended my family and when he had to leave wrote this to my grandmother who was sick in hospital: 

“As your son I will remain and my thoughts are with you now and ever. Margit (my mother) and Father (my grandfather) will surely tell you all about my deepest feelings for this dear family. I have so many loving memories to go home with which I will cherish always. Get better soon, Mother dear. I go, but will return again for certain. All my love, Dave"

In 1967 I visited Cannock Chase military cemetery near Birmingham in search of my father’s grave, a fighter pilot who had been shot down over Eastbourne in June 1943.  After walking among hundreds of gravesites I found an old attendant who led me to my father’s grave. He knew all the names in this section where many other fighter pilots lie buried. He talked about their bravery and how they deserved this quiet resting place. To him they were no longer enemies who just over thirty years ago had dropped bombs on his country and, judging by his age, he had most likely served in the war himself. Now he tended his former enemies’ graves with love and care. He was glad I had come and that we could share this peaceful moment together. I was moved to tears by the kindness and compassion of that old man even more than by the gravesite of a father I had never known.

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