He was sitting outside the drugstore on the concrete. Ragged shreds of clothes, a tattered sleeping bag protecting him from the indifference of those passing him by. Half forgotten, the cup that stood in front of him would clang with the sound of the odd coin as he gazed into the distance remembering a time long ago. Oma bought some underlay for her dentures and was heading back to the car when he caught her eye. She walked directly over to him and without saying a word, bent down and gently stroked his head. The man, reciprocating the respectful silence, looked up at Oma as tears filled his eyes. A moment passed as they rolled down his cheeks washing a trail through the grime on his face. Then he spoke: "Do you know how long it has been since anyone cared enough to touch me?"
Much of Oma's compassion was forged in her twenties when she lived through the darkest hours of German history. She saw her husband sent into Poland as part of the German invasion under the banner of protecting the homeland. His war experience was so devastating that he went AWOL in Hitler's army. While fleeing the Russian advances from the east at the end of the war Oma barely escaped the fate of women and children mowed under by tanks as they clung to the fences erected and secured by American soldiers as part of the Potsdam agreement. After walking 460 kilometers and miraculously clearing many checkpoints she finally arrived in Heidelberg. That's when she learned that on February 23rd 1945, just 2 months before the surrender of the German government to the allies, Oma's home town of Pforzheim was leveled in a 20 minute bombing raid that left almost 20,000 citizens, mostly women and children dead under the rubble and firestorm.
Oma's life experience taught her that we are all connected, there is no us and them. She saw the heartache that resulted from pre-emptive attacks driven by blind patriotism. While governments forged policies and initiated wars under the banner of protecting the homeland or spreading their version of "freedom" it was the common folk, the women and children, who suffered most. Splits between them and us were fabricated. "If you are not with us you are against us." Oma heard that so many times and it always resulted in travesty. She saw first hand how a whole society can be persuaded to cheer a tyrant by instilling fear through staged terror attacks.
Oma knew "Valor". The RAF pilot that lead this "most devastating area bombardment of the war" of almost 400 bombers that killed her classmates, was given the Victoria Cross for his bravery. Oma lived through the rebuilding of a nation destroyed by war. She lived through the propaganda of a government telling the people lies, convincing them to support an invasion of another land for political gain or profit. She lived through the reality that it is the common folk that suffer the consequences of political actions and are left to pick up the pieces.
When Oma gave birth to her second child in 1947 there was not much food to be had. While she was nursing, her first born would stand beside them hoping that there would be enough milk in Oma's breasts to help silence his hunger pains as well. Oma knew hunger intimately. A neighbor had also just given birth to a child but was unable to breast feed. In these post-war days that meant death by starvation for the little girl. Oma, not having even enough food to feed herself, reached out a helping hand and offered her breast to save that child.
These are just small glimpses into the stories of Oma's life that will be
chronicled in an upcoming book.