I've been learning about the World Wars in history class. The other day, I was thinking about how numbers are numbers and people are people and they aren't the same. You're supposed to care when you hear that one million people died. You're supposed to feel something. But I...don't. I can't. Because to me, "one million people died" isn't anything. Who cares? I don't know these people, so why should I care if they're alive or dead?

But someone cares. Someone always cares.

This is not based off any more of a true story than that.

This is how I relate to history:


When you learn that

millions of men died in World War Two,

that's just a number.

But if I were to tell you that one of those men,

a German Nazi,

was named Karl

and he was twenty-six years old

and had a wife, Evelyn, who loved him,

and a three-year-old daughter named Gretel, after his favourite fairy tale,

and he wanted to be a veterinarian

or maybe a farrier

because he loved horses so much

would you care then?


His hair was blond.

His eyes were blue.

He looked like the perfect Aryan,

so did Evelyn and Gretel,

and he was scared.


His neighbors were Jews.

He'd turned them in.

Karl knew what the concentration camps were like,

and it was better for the neighbors and their ten-year-old daughter to go

than for him to let his wife and daughter go there

or worse

which would happen, he knew, if he were caught disobeying Hitler

and he would be caught.


Karl never wanted to be a soldier.

But

there was so much war

and if he didn't fight-

civilians were in danger too.

Evelyn and Gretel could die.

So Karl signed up

and he packed the blue socks Evelyn knit him

and the dirty little off-white "thok, Daddy" from Gretel

and kissed his daughter

and kissed his wife

and left

and never saw either again.


Evelyn hated the war.

The Jewish woman next door had given her tips about nursing.

They'd talked about their babies together,

although one's baby was eight months old and the other's was eight years

they were both mothers

together.

Evelyn smiled as she saw her husband off

and went inside humming

because soon he'd be back

maybe in time for Gretel's fourth birthday

Evelyn would make a pink cake,

because pink was Gretel's favourite colour.


Gretel watched her daddy as he grew smaller,

until he was

out of

sight

and she watched even longer

because sometimes when daddy went away he came home with presents.

Gretel liked presents.

But mommy said daddy wasn't coming back today

so Gretel went inside and had dinner

and waited outside for daddy the next day

and the next

and the next

and the next

and the next

and the next

until she stopped waiting for daddy outside

and stopped asking mommy when daddy was getting home

and slowly

slowly

slowly

as days

months

years went by

she began,

as three-year-olds will,

to forget her daddy.


When Gretel was eighteen,

she went to college in the United States

where everybody knew how evil Hitler was

and how bad the concentration camps were

and how awful it had all been

(only they didn't really).

And by the time Gretel was eighteen,

she had forgotten her daddy,

who went off to war to keep her safe

and she nodded along with everybody else and said yes, it was awful, and she didn't know how anyone could go along with the Nazis, she certainly wouldn't

and when Evelyn heard this her heart broke

because she remembered

the man who had left her to keep her safe, a smile on his face he did not mean

the man, boy really, barely out of teenagerhood, who had proposed to her on his knees, a smile of love making his plain face as handsome as a model's

the stuttering teenage boy who had asked her out one day in December, their first date, which went very off-track but she loved it anyway because it was with him and he always made her laugh

the boy in school who pulled her pigtails but who she could never be mad at

because she guessed that deep down inside she'd always loved him

but she didn't tell Gretel

because some things are too much to be shared.