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My great-great-grandparents, August and Marie Wanderer, celebrated their Golden Wedding anniversary on May 15, 1918. August, a retired policeman and former bugler, was 74 while Marie was 77. Although no one looks terribly happy (my working hypothesis is that smiling hadn't been invented yet - judging from old photographs) it seems like a nice portrait of an older couple enjoying their golden years in the embrace of their family. But the picture also tells another, less pleasant story, which it tells by omission.

The grandparents are seated in the middle row, flanked by their daughters on either side. On the far right in their granddaughter, Else, still unmarried at the age of 25. In the front of them sit their three youngest grandsons - Fritz (aged 11), Bruno (13) and Gerhard (10). In the back row are five more grandchildren (aged 14-23), two daughters-in-law, a son-in-law, a granddaughter-in-law and an unnamed friend of the grandfather's (my grandmother is the blonde girl in the very middle of the back row, between her mother and her aunt). So what does the picture omit? Well...a lot of the men in the family.

Look at the date: May 15, 1918. The Great War had raged across Europe for almost four years, and had another 4 months to go before the November 11 Armistice. Both sons are absent - my great-grandfather was on the front lines, and I suspect his brother and brother-in-law were as well. Two grandsons - Else's brothers - were dead, one of the Western Front, the other in the Carpathians. Another grandson, August, in the back left corner, is home after having his face blown up by a mine. The facial reconstructive surgery was, apparently, groundbreaking, and spent the rest of the war as an exhibit in talks about surgical techniques.

Also absent is Else's fiancée, Hermann Enke. A World War I pilot, he is said to have flown with the Red Baron (and survived not only that war, but also the Second World War followed by stints in both American and Russian prison camps). Although Hermann and Else were engaged, his family would not allow them to get married until after the war was over, because they did not want her to have a claim to the family farm if he had died during the war.

Of course, the 'war to end all wars' did no such thing. Twenty-one years later Germany would be on the very of another, far more destructive war. Bernhard, my grandmother's brother (back row, second from the right) would end up spending years in a Russian prisoner-of-war camp. Her younger brother, Bruno (the little boy in the centre of the front row) would go on to join Hitler's Brownshirts, and die (along with as many as 9000 others) when the Wilhem Gustloff was torpedoed by the Russians in 1945. Her cousin Kurt (fourth from left) would die in the closing days of the war in Europe: despite having a heart condition, he was proclaimed fit in the final days of the Nazi regime and sent to the front lines where he died of a heart attack.

There are probably other stories of wartime tragedy and loss among the children and grandchildren of August and Marie. It is perhaps telling that out of all those grandchildren, only two of them - my grandmother and her cousin Gerhard, the 10-year-old boy in the front row - left any descendants.

I grew up with my mother's stories of World War II - stories of air raids, of evacuation to mountains, of being shelled and strafed, of deaths, and refugees and second-hand tales of Russian prisoner-of-war camps. I also grew up with the knowledge of what Germany did in World War II - of the Holocaust, of the terrible things done in Eastern Europe...I knew that my family, though they paid a price for the war (victims, but not innocent victims) were complicit in even worse things being done to others. I don't know if there is such a thing as just war, but I do know that there is no war that does not exact a terrible price on all involved. Winners or losers, victims or aggressors, there is no "us", there is no "them"...there are only people, trying to live their lives in the inhumane cruelty we label war.

Originally posted to Genealogy and Family History Community on Tue Nov 27, 2012 at 05:01 PM PST.

Also republished by History for Kossacks and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (21+ / 0-)

    "If you are sure you understand everything that is going on around you, you are hopelessly confused." Walter Mondale

    by RLF on Tue Nov 27, 2012 at 05:01:52 PM PST

  •  Well It Was A Hard Time (10+ / 0-)

    Here is one of my grandparents (he passed in 2011):

    db&friend

    My other was a HUMP flight surgeon.

    Oh I got a ton of pictures ....

    They never talked about what they did. My father has a PhD in history and they never even talked to him.

    When opportunity calls pick up the phone and give it directions to your house.

    by webranding on Tue Nov 27, 2012 at 05:09:29 PM PST

  •  Thank you for sharing this diary... (9+ / 0-)

    War is a difficult way to look at family history, isn't it? And yet family history gives context to war in a way that you don't get in school.

    My father's came to America from the Netherlands in 1904, but they still had close family in both the Netherlands and Germany at the time the war started, and so followed the war very closely. Dad was born in 1918 so had no memories himself, but he told me that his father as young unmarried man took day laboring jobs in Germany ... there was very little work in Holland ... he had no idea until the war began that he must have helped in the building of a u-boat base in Germany. So even those who were not in the war in person may have had a role -- however indirect.

    "If you are sure you understand everything that is going on around you, you are hopelessly confused." Walter Mondale

    by klompendanser on Tue Nov 27, 2012 at 05:48:25 PM PST

  •  Thanks, but I'd have a different take on this (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    swampyankee, chuckvw

    You see, you know what happened to everyone in the picture. Only two left descendants? That's more than in the families on pages and pages of a genealogy one of my distant cousins did of the Delfiner family (my mother's mother's family) who lived in roughly the same part of Europe.  You know what happened to them, right? Auschwitz, Birkenau, so on.  

    Knowledge is progress, but that final paragraph excuses nothing. I'm sorry, there IS an "us" and it's all I can do not to tell you that the nice people in that photograph are the "them" you don't want to acknowledge. Nie wieder.

    -7.75, -8.10; All it takes is security in your own civil rights to make you complacent.

    by Dave in Northridge on Tue Nov 27, 2012 at 06:05:26 PM PST

    •  The regime which kills one, will kill the other. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      chuckvw

      The value of Jews to the Nazis, was only slightly less than German conscripts.

      The message was the same:
      Senden sie mehr.
      Die anderen sind kaputt.

      •  Conscripts (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        klompendanser, 43north, Jim H, chuckvw

        The people missing from this picture were fighting for and dying in a war that had nothing to do with Nazis.

        When my great-grandfather, a mining engineer in his late 30s, was conscripted he had to leave his job and leave his family. His family with left with nothing. The lost their house, they went to live with sister (middle row, far left) and her husband (back row, third from left).

        Imperial governments don't care much about the ordinary people. They have no reason to be - no one elects the emperor. My great-grandfather made it home, but he didn't live to see the next war. His brother lost all three of his sons (and I don't believe he made it to the next war either). It was a brutal war, and when the conscripts came home they were forgotten.

        •  my friend Hugo was lucky (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RLF, chuckvw, Alexandra Lynch

          too young for WWI, he was working a lowlands family farm.

          He never again went back to Germany after an incident which set the new Nazi Government against him.  Said in the local Rathskellar:  "Heil Hitler?  I thought that bum was in jail."

          Home from America less than 12 hours, Hugo had to slip out of Germany on a steamer from Brimmerhaven, rather than return to Antwerp via train, as the Nazis were after him.
          After the incident, Hugo's uncle, the local "Party Man" came to the door and said:  Kiss your mother and go now.  You'll be arrested at the border if you take the train, and shot here if they find you "escaping".

          He also never ate a turnip again, having subsisted on "horse rations" for the first World War.

    •  OK... (0+ / 0-)

      If I read your comment right, you're saying that I should not exist. I'm not going to say you're wrong to believe that, but I'm not going to agree with you either.

      I take responsibility for the horrors my ancestors had a hand in, despite the fact that there's no room for a mixed-race person like me in a Nazi world-view. I doubt I'd have a right to exist either, but I resolved long, long ago to stand up against antisemitism whenever I encounter it, even if it means speaking up in very uncomfortable situations. Do you take responsibility for the horrors that your government have perpetrated? Do you take responsibility for the hundreds of thousands of deaths in Iraq? Do you take a stand against the defamation of the Iraqi people, do you acknowledge the debt you owe to all of them?

      I take responsibility for the debts of people who died before I was born. I can't repay them, but I accept a part of them as my own. Do you?

      •  You overreact (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Pete Cortez

        Of course you should exist.  You're just sounding like Martin Heidegger after the war in that paragraph -- there can't be any poetry after that.  Since you didn't say Dresden, there was no need to go that far in the comment.

        The problem is that there will always be an us and a them (see Rwanda and Cambodia) and we have to be vigilant that it doesn't happen again.

        -7.75, -8.10; All it takes is security in your own civil rights to make you complacent.

        by Dave in Northridge on Tue Nov 27, 2012 at 07:43:23 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  "Them" (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Jim H, native

          When I was talking about "them" I was talking about the way that the other side in a war are dehumanised. I remember the horror of the first Gulf War, where Iraqi lines - manned by conscripts - were overrun with bulldozers. Even though they were the hated enemy, they were still human beings who died, buried alive, for no other reason than the fact that they had the misfortune to be born in Saddam's Iraq. Even if they supported him, even if they believed in the war they were fighting, they were still human beings - they were still someone's child, someone's father, someone's lover. They were not an inhuman mass.

          Even in Rwanda, for the most part I see people who did evil, not people who are evil (not everyone mind you; I don't see the leaders that way).

          In my own life, the person who did me the greatest wrong was the man who was piloting the boat that killed my brother and brother-in-law, presumably asleep at the wheel. I don't want vengeance against the person (although I would have liked to have seen the company he worked for pay compensation). But my biggest emotional reaction the person responsible isn't "I want to see him brought to justice" - the fact that the got away with it doesn't keep me up at night. If I think about him at all, I am struck by the horror of what that do to a person to have that on their conscience.

          •  Evil, or depravity exists in all human beings, but (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            chuckvw

            latently, as a potentiality. The same as goodness, or virtue exists in us all. We ourselves can influence whether these things become manifest or not.

            "The pessimists may be right in the end but an optimist has a better time getting there" -- Samuel Clemons

            by native on Wed Nov 28, 2012 at 11:59:58 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

        •  And realistic when we fail. (0+ / 0-)
        •  Us and them... (0+ / 0-)

          That's the division at the heart of most of history's evil... If nie wieder is ever a possibility, our thoughts and efforts must dwell on that simple fact.

          "If I am I because I am I, and you are you because you are you, then I am I and you are you. But if I am I because you are you and you are you because I am I, then I am not I and you are not you!"

          Menachem Mendel of Kotzk



          Those who do not move, do not notice their chains. Rosa Luxemburg

          by chuckvw on Wed Nov 28, 2012 at 12:03:19 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  "War is hell." Human history has too many wars, (7+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RLF, Pete Cortez, leaf63, Jim H, native, chuckvw, Vetwife

        too many war criminals, and far, far too many innocents. And no way today to change any of that.

        The rest of us, all of us, now need to do better than that. And, strangely, there is far too little discussion of the what and the how of that responsibility.

        Thank you for your contribution.

        There can be no protection locally if we're content to ignore the fact that there are no controls globally.

        by oldpotsmuggler on Tue Nov 27, 2012 at 08:05:08 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yes war is hell. There is no greater evil (0+ / 0-)

          on the earth. War breeds hatred and revenge and countless other evils. It spreads such an enormous swath of suffering in its wake, there is nothing to compare. Nobody ever wins a war. It is unequivocally horrible, for everyone involved. The killers in war suffer almost as much as those they kill, but later and more slowly.

          War destroys not only the body and the family, it destroys the soul and the culture as well. It smears hope and innocence with gore, and mocks all ideals of human morality. It kills art. It obliterates meaning. It erases civilization. It glorifies raw power.

          And yes we all need to do better by way of insisting, and showing, and proving that war is not necessary. For one thing, we need to get all the Neocon theocrats out of our government ASAP, and never let them back in.

          "The pessimists may be right in the end but an optimist has a better time getting there" -- Samuel Clemons

          by native on Wed Nov 28, 2012 at 12:58:56 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  You can't take responsibility. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Jim H, native

        It's not yours to take.  Anymore than I can claim the grievances of the dead and suffering, just one generation removed, due to the invasion of my own country.  There's no righteousness in appropriating the outrage of others, and no justice in demanding collective satisfaction.

  •  Just a thought (5+ / 0-)

    No one returns from a war unwounded.

    Peace

  •  War as a metaphor... (0+ / 0-)

    "War" is just part of "being." Just look at interpersonal relationships, politics, sports....

    In fact, there is a "war" currently going on in each and everyone's body; sooner or later, we all succumb, and die.

    Carpe Diem.

  •  My Family (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    chuckvw

    My Grandfather told me stories of the Zeppelin and Gotha bomber raids of WW1 in London.  Nothing like the Blitz however.  My great uncle lies buried in France.  My Mum and Dad lived through the bombing of Great Britain...my mum through the Blitz in London.  Mum gets the willies from civil defense sirens to this day.

  •  War (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RLF

    I can say those three letters over and over and I can't make it sound right.  War.  For the people who never were because of war.  

    thank you for this diary and your history.

    We the People have to make a difference and the Change.....Just do it ! Be part of helping us build a veteran community online. United Veterans of America

    by Vetwife on Wed Nov 28, 2012 at 02:45:46 PM PST

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