It shouldn’t be hard to call my grandma, Marietta Cartright. Most of the time I enjoy talking to her, but this time the conversation was going to take an unexpected turn. I only hoped it wouldn’t cause her pain.
She answered with her happy yodel, and I let her talk about her day while I kept one word on my mind—courage. I wanted to hear her stories—the ones she kept buried deep. I wanted to know the reasons we don’t speak German, and why she wouldn’t talk about her time there.
The conversation would come to abrupt halts as she sobbed and she told me some memories can’t be forgotten. I listened to the horrible things no child should endure, and I know we only scratched the surface. I came to a stark realization: maybe time doesn’t heal everything and maybe courage is what gets you through it.
“My daddy was totally anti-Hitler, and he kept lots of things from his children, and I was the littlest
one,” she said. “But I still remember three men walking up to my house, and it was unbelievable.”
Hitler’s propaganda played in a loop as it crackled through old speakers and echoed through the silent town while the Gestapo marched dangerously closer.
“Why in the world is he [Hitler] screaming?” she wondered. “He kept saying, ‘We’re going to do it. We’re going do it. We’re going to take over the world, and put away the Jews.’”
The six year old stood cowering behind her father’s strong leg. The blonde-haired child gripped his trousers till her knuckles turned as white as the fresh snow in their yard.
A red flag didn’t hang from their window, a swastika wasn’t worn on their clothes, they didn’t own “Mein Kampf,” and her father didn’t greet the rough men with “Heil Hitler.”
One man pointed his long bony finger at a little Marietta, whose pupils threatened to overtake her brown eyes.
“When the war is over we’re going to fry you in a skillet, and we’re going to start with her,” the Nazi spat out.
The conversation came to a halt, and I knew she was trying to regain her composure. Courage, I remembered and then she began again.
“They were not nice people. They didn’t like him [her father], so they had it in for him. They were sold on Hitler and his propaganda,” my grandma remembered.
I sat on the other end of the phone, and listened to the sound of silence. I wasn’t sure if I should ask my next question because I couldn’t imagine what dark things would stir in her memory once I asked, but I did.
“What else happened to you?” I asked.
High in the sky, British pilots flew their B-24s in close formation as their bombers readied for an air raid. The crew silenced their radios as they flew into enemy territory.
The sleepy town of Kafertal Mannheim was the first to hear the screams of the sirens.
“It was very frightening during the war when the bombs fell, you know?” she asked.
Soon the B-24s’ engines were heard and the sky was filled with flyers, but the people continued to run to their bunkers. No one used a flash light for fear of being spotted by pilots who flew lower to the ground in search of targets.
Marietta and her family stayed in the bunker all night while listening to the hair raising explosions grow loud- er and louder while the B-24’s grew fainter and fainter. When it was safe, she peeked her head out to find smoke billowing from a crater that once was their backyard.
“You never knew if you were going to make it out of the hole in the basement. You were crouched down inside,” she said as her voice shook. “I remember smoke. I remember the hole. The cold. The sirens. The explosions. The bomb had just missed us. It was so close.”
My grandma, someone who couldn’t run out of words to say, had run out, and we arrived at an impasse. I hoped the conversation wouldn’t cause her pain, but we reached a point where the stories—the ones she buried deep— hurt her again. In the silence of the conversation, my grandma was reliving the war. She had made it through it, not unscathed of course, but she is the most courageous person I know.
“I asked the Lord to erase these memories away from me. For years, I couldn’t talk about it, and my children, I didn’t talk about Germany,” my grandma said quietly. “I wanted to bury the whole mess and never think of it again, but I guess I was courageous, wasn’t I? You had to be courageous if you were to live during that time with that evil man.”
Story by Emerald Dean, Courtesy Photos