Among the Resistance: A Story of Occupied France
December 1988 – Boston, Massachusetts
I poured myself and my mother and grandmother cups of coffee and tea. It had been difficult to swallow, that my grandfather had been an SS officer during occupied France. I hadn't known of our family history and for good reason. After the occupation, my grandmother and grandfather faced trial in the U.S. for being a Nazi and Nazi sympathizer. The government had executed my grandfather but my grandmother was pardoned. They had met in a small café shop by the Seine during the attacks and left to America after V.E. Day to face trial. My mother had known, my father had known; but, neither had wanted to tell me. They didn't want our family tainted as Nazi sympathizers. And we weren't. I had known we were German but I had always imagined that they came through Ellis Island as farmers in very early twentieth century. My ancestors had been farmers – or so I thought.
My grandmother and mother were waiting for my response, something to say about this newly discovered history. How could one respond to just hearing that their grandfather was a Nazi? A part of me wanted to reject the idea, but I knew in my heart there was a reason why my family had never told me stories of my grandparents. Now I understood why my grandmother avoided talking to me altogether about my grandfather. She would say one thing about him and change the subject. It was painful to her, I could understand, because she had lost the man she so deeply loved. The only true legacy my grandfather left behind was the child he had given to my grandmother – my father, Fredrick. She had salvaged whatever else he had left behind, like his uniform, his journal and a photo.
From her purse, my grandmother pulled out the photo of my grandfather. He was dressed in his full uniform and despite his position in history; he was one of the most handsome men I had ever seen. My father had been a splitting image of Grandpa. I could see why my grandmother had fallen for him. I'm quite certain he had lure and wooed her and swept her off her feet. I could not see a villain in this man – I released the breath I had been holding and felt a small smile form at the corners of my mouth. This had been the last photo of him to ever be taken.
I didn't know what to say about all this. I wanted to think that my grandfather was a good man, that he didn't murder innocent people. My grandmother took hold of my hand and I was pulled back into the reality of the kitchen.
"Anna," Grandma said, softly. "You look pale; I know this is much to think on. But your grandfather would have loved your father and your mother and he would have loved you."
"I know but – how could you keep this from me? I wouldn't have told anyone Grandpa was a Nazi. You know how I am with secrets."
"We didn't want to worry you. Your grandpa was a good man, loving but his occupation ruined him. It nearly ruined me…and your mother and your father. Which is why we kept it secret," Grandma continued. "During the time your mother met your father, many were hunting Nazi sympathizers and anyone associated with Nazis for interrogation. Many were arrested and put to prison even for affiliation. I told them nothing about your grandfather – I knew nothing of the work he did. He kept to himself – so the government pardoned me."
"Could I see his uniform?" I asked. "You kept his journal yes?"
"He wrote in German, and I could not very well understand it. But his hand is very elegant and you could perhaps get it translated at your university with one of the language professors? I should like to know what he said. I know he mentioned me in a few passages. I recognized my name…I think there may have been information we do not know about from the Occupation in France. It could change French history about the Nazis."
"Change it how?"
"The more history is discovered, the more it changes what has been taught." Grandma answered. "Will you translate his journal for me?"
At this point, Grandma and I were walking up the stairs to the guest room where she was staying in. She pulled out her trunk from under the bed. The locks clicked as she opened it to reveal my grandfather's belongings.
"By the time they had called for your grandfather's execution, I was pregnant. They showed mercy towards me because of my child. He spoke to me quietly in the waiting room before – he told me, 'I would have not given meeting you up for the world, Silvia. You are my joy as I know our son will also be my pride and my joy. He will make me proud and I wish I could have met our child.'"
I could hear the tears straining in her voice. She was holding back and I placed my hand on hers as she looked down at the trunk.
"Grandma, you don't have to—,"
"It's alright, Anna. You need to know. He would want you to know. He would have been so proud of you and loved you beyond measure."
"What was grandpa's name?"
"Dietrich Gustavsonn," she said.