Born and raised under the Third Reich, my grandma lived at the centre of Nazi Germany. Even after marrying a British soldier, she still held allegiance to Hitler. And her conviction left me wondering, “Who was she really?”
You may never understand it.
I may never understand it.
My German-born grandma never believed the concrete facts or the hundreds of documentaries that present the truth of the Holocaust. About seven million Germans died in World War II, according British journalists Roger Boyes and William Horsley. Some of those were my grandma’s own family and loved ones. She witnessed first-hand the death and destruction Hitler brought upon the people, but she loved him.
While you may be quick to condemn her, please don’t. My grandma fell prey to Hitler’s promises of happiness and truth. Without her consent, her mind and thoughts were shaped and cast in indestructible steel. No matter how the truth exploded against her mind, Granny would not believe it.
My memories of Granny
My grandmother Ursula was born in Hamburg in 1926 and lived there until 1948 – the year she married Dennis Rogers, a British reserve solider. They then moved to Bristol, England.
I can count the times I’ve made the 12-hour journey to Bristol on one hand. The time spent with both my grandparents is the equivalent of two months. And of the time I have been old enough to remember, maybe three weeks.
From what I can remember of my grandma, before she passed away almost three years ago, she was as loving as a grandma could be.
She had a glorious garden, filled with juicy red currants and crisp green beans. I can see her in her uniform: cream button-front blouse and a horribly ugly floral skirt, tending to the pruning. She’d yell “Roy” at my grandpa, followed by some command to get a watering can or a basket.“My grandmother loved and worshipped a mass-murderer.”
– says Devon Jolie
In pictures, I see her holding my hand, my face covered in the ice cream that my mom had asked her not to buy for my sisters and me. I’m sitting in her lap, our bleach blonde hair matching and our smiles wide.
The last time I saw Granny was Christmas in 2007. Her hair was greying, standing up on end. Her blouse hung off her shoulders, having lost all the soft pudginess that made her Granny. Her bright smile was now unsure, her eyes lost. She was sick: kidneys failing, cancer, gangrene.
Who was she?
After the funeral, my mom came home with a suitcase full of sepia photographs and parchment documents. We sat on my parent’s bed, rifling through the pictures and the German papers we couldn’t read. Then I saw it.
The eagle and the Swastika. The symbol of the Third Reich.
All of a sudden, everything my eyes touched was from Hitler’s Germany; pictures, documents, letters, medals.
I’d always known the story.
My grandma had been a teenager living in Hamburg during World War II. She was a member of Hitler’s Youth. Her German fiancé was killed in action.
Then there were the bombings. And starvation.
My grandpa, a British soldier, met my grandma while she was working in an office in Germany. He soon left the country but returned to bring her back to his home in England.
And that was that. The ending was supposed to be they married, had six children and lived “Happily Ever After” in drizzly ol’ England.
But with my grandma gone and that suitcase of history before me, I sat there trying to piece together who my Granny really was.
Now, it would be unfair to say that I had never known my grandma’s involvement and support of Nazi Germany. But as is human nature, things are far easier to ignore without tangible proof.
Yet, with the eye of the Reich eagle staring up at me from a pile of papers, I could no longer deny that I was a descendant of a Nazi-lover.
How could she love Hitler?
A word I was hesitant to use to describe Granny’s views of Hitler and the Nazis.
Love is how we feel about our families and our best friends. Love is what moves us to sacrifice for them, to do anything for them. Love is what we call mothers who die for their children.
Could I say my grandma, who undeniably loved her family, loved Hitler too?
Photo courtesy of Schroder family
I asked my mom, “Did Granny love Hitler?”
Sad pain crossed her face. “She did.”
My grandmother loved and worshipped a mass-murderer.
But underneath it all, was nothing but sadness.
In her personal history, she wrote she was proud and happy when her SA Stormtrooper father was called to war. Even though her father would join the battle that killed her cousin. And years later, living in England, she would call herself a Nazi.
You may never understand how decades after the Holocaust my grandma believed it never happened.
I may never understand it.
Hitler gave Granny hope
My mom says Hitler was Germany’s saviour in a time of economic turmoil and the constant fear of war. In all his powerful orations, Hitler gave my Granny hope.
The Nazi rulers offered a world view that granted status, certainty and power to young people and who, “with their ideals and energies, would have been especially vulnerable to such values in their own search for identity and meaning,” says Michael Kater in his book Hitler Youth. German-born Kater is internationally recognized as the leading historian of modern Germany.
My grandma signed up to serve her country as a Hitler Youth at age 11. Surely, her young mind soaked up the propaganda she read or watched or heard, with the naïve belief that it was pure goodness.
My mom says, “If anyone ever made a comment about how Hitler was a bad person, she would defend him. She would always say it wasn’t Hitler; it was other people who were the corrupt ones and were influencing him.”
While we condemn those who love Hitler and still uphold his ideals today, my grandma deserves no such condemnation.
Germans were victims too
Granny was a victim.
“A consensus emerged around the idea that young people had been victims rather than accomplices of Nazism,” says historian Alan McDougall in a study published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the German History Society, which analyzed the transition of Hitler Youth post-war.
The war victimized my German grandma just as much as it did Jews, soldiers, and those who opposed the Nazis.
Every day she was fed convincing lies of the fair treatment of the Jews in pamphlets, on the radio and in those same black-and-white images.
And with every waking moment of her youth filled with lies, how could she know the truth? Even after the war ended and the truth surfaced, wasn’t the evidence of the Holocaust present in the same way as the Third Reich’s propaganda? Pamphlets, news reports on the radio and black-and-white images on the TV.
My mom says that Granny was brainwashed. And I have every reason to believe it.
You may think I’m going too far. After all, she loved Hitler and believed fervently that the Holocaust never happened, even till the day she died.
But Granny never showed hatred towards others.
Granny was still good
She did just the opposite. She always loved, always gave.
Granny: a woman who loved her Jewish friends.
A woman who fed bees from her hand.
A woman who joined the St. John’s Ambulance Brigade.
A woman that dedicated her life to teaching children, and a woman whose home was always full of chocolate and treats for her grandchildren.
Even in her darkest hour, her abounding love crossed the great divide of ocean and earth. I felt it.
You may never understand it.
Now I understand it
Even though my German grandma was a proud Nazi who loved Hitler, she was also a victim of one of the most heinous crimes of our history.
Hitler didn’t simply take away her comfort in Germany and the lives of loved ones; he invaded the very thing that makes us who we are. He stole into her mind and branded it with falsehood, leaving her posterity to wonder who she truly was.
While her words and thoughts were tainted and damning, her actions never showed any hate. Hitler, despite it all, could never touch my grandma’s heart and the love that filled it. And what is in the heart is what make us who we are.