I was born in a house divided. Germany, the country of my birth, was swirling in the storms of hatred stirred up by Hitler and his henchmen. The division, though not the hatred, penetrated my family. While not religious, my father was a Jew. My mother came from a strict Lutheran family. This made me in Nazi parlance, a Micheling, a half-breed or mongrel, and placed me in the same danger as persons fully Jewish.
Too young to know all the details of fascism’s advance through Germany, I only knew, from hearing the adults near me worry, that things were a lot better before I was born and went to hell right afterwards. I knew that before my arrival there had been mansions, money, parties, and laughter, and that all that pleasant life had vanished. As children will, I assumed a great deal of personal responsibility for this situation. Clearly, my birth had not brought anyone good luck and, in fact, had even caused a major rift between my parents.
“Your father never wanted children,” my mother used to tell me. “But I did. He warned me, ‘If you have a child, I’ll leave you.’ For years I waited, but he didn’t change his mind. Then I thought if there was a real baby he would like being a father and I finally decided to go ahead and have you.” Her act of defiance backfired. When I was a year old, my father left the house to buy a pack of cigarettes and didn’t return for four years.
Many years later, I began to suspect that my infant presence might not have been the only reason for my father’s extended search for cigarettes and that rather than being the cause of the household’s disruption, I might actually have been one of my mother’s many attempts to hold him. The particular stratagem that gave rise to me ultimately worked no better and no worse than others she tried. As it turned out she couldn’t go against nature because my father was wandered. Not only was a pretty Fraulein waiting for him at the time he left, but he continued all his life to wander into and out of the arms of pretty women.
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