When I immigrated to Canada with my family, I was five years old. Shortly after arriving in Sudbury near the end of November in 1951, a group of children threw stones at me calling me a “Dirty Nazi.” I ran home in tears, blood pouring into my eyes from a nasty cut on my head. I didn’t know what a Nazi was – but I found out in the years to come.
In the post-war world, Hollywood was churning out WW2 films like they were sitcoms. I watched a lot of them. Invariably Germans were either evil or complete idiots. When they spoke they yelled in a harsh foreign language, spittle shooting out of their mouths.
The Americans were noble and good, portrayed by stars like Gregory Peck and John Wayne.
I was as indoctrinated as all the children my age: Germans were bad. I hated being German. I pretended I wasn’t. I would tell people that my grandfather had come from Austria and that my father’s heritage was Russian – anything but German.
Secretly, I was a bit at war with myself. I loved German writers and poets. I read Thomas Mann and Hermann Hesse as well as Schiller and a raft of others. I read some in the original – others as translations. But when, at age thirty, I decided to go to Europe on a Eurailpass, I mapped out a route that would include visiting quite a few countries – but not Germany.
I flew to London, visited Cambridge and then took the train across the channel. From Belgium, my plan was to visit Switzerland. Unfortunately, I had to travel through Germany. Well, I could go through I supposed but I had no intention of stopping there. It was, after all, a bad country, still hated by everyone, wasn’t it?
As it turned out, I did have to set foot on German soil to change trains. As I stood on the platform for a half-hour, waiting for my connection, I listened in on conversations. It had been a very long time since I had been in the country of my birth and heard the language I had grown up with. To my complete shock, Germans appeared to be ordinary people. A father joked with his children as they wheeled their bicycles down the platform. I saw old people, business people, children – all of them going about their lives, most of them looking happy and chatting with each other, completely unaware that they were terrible ex-Nazis.
Maybe Germans weren’t quite as bad as I thought they were. The next year I went back again, this time putting Germany on my list. I visited several charming towns and medieval villages. I took a coach tour of the Romantic Road, laughing giddily at the extravagant jokes our bus driver made and drinking a glass of white Rhine wine when we crossed that famous river. Wine! On a bus!
I loved Germany. It was beautiful – and, to my surprise, it felt like home.
As time passed, I finally, slowly, began to admit that I was German. It wasn’t easy at first. I expected repercussions. I thought people would say awful things to me. It wasn’t until I was in my sixties that I became fully comfortable with my heritage.
I watched the changes that took place in Germany. I saw it become a leader in the European Union. I saw it open its doors to refugees and embrace multiculturalism. I visited my cousins for the first time and was overwhelmed by the warmth and hospitality they showed. This was my family! Beautiful people!
Was I slowly becoming proud of being German? Maybe.
Then Trump became president of the United States, I suddenly noticed a role reversal – but not in movies – this time in real life. Who was evil now? Or stupid? Who were the good guys? I couldn’t quite wrap my head around it.
Then this video appeared on the Internet. And I think, finally, my personal transformation is complete.
Yes, I am a Canadian. But I am also proud of my heritage – I love being German.
But most of all, I am, deep in my heart, a citizen of the world. One day these false boundaries will all come down and we will know that we are all one – that the only real pride we can take is in being stewards of the earth and leaving it a better place for the next generations of all man and womankind.