Do Not Condemn Me For My Father’s Sins

I did not denounce my father, but I should have.

My father disappeared soon after the war. Most people thought he was dead, a few claimed he had escaped. My mother never mentioned his name again and remarried.

I was in college when scholars began using the term ‘Holocaust’. The horrors of the camps were exposed in the newspapers, on television, and later in movies. I was distantly following the news until I saw my father’s name in an article. He was the worst they said, the cruelest, the most sadistic. How, at Auschwitz, he sent thousands of people to their deaths with a simple nod. To the left: gas chamber. To the right: labor camp.

Then I received the first letter, confirming my father was alive and did escape. I didn’t recognize the handwriting; the stamp was from Argentina. My father was asking me to come and visit. He was old and sick, and didn’t have much time left. He wanted to see me. He needed to talk to me. And could I bring those German biscuits he missed so much. I was torn. I had so many questions. Was it true? Was he the barbaric monster everyone claimed? But I was also terrified of hearing the terrible truth.

After months of hesitation, on a freezing January morning, I finally hopped on a plane to Buenos Aires. My father’s instructions were clear: I had to travel alone. I could not reveal the real reason of my trip. From the airport, I was to drive seven hours to the city of A—, where I would spend the night in a small pension. The following day, I was to rent another car and drive to the village of T—, where he lived. I arrived at a modest villa in the outskirts of a small village. Young children were playing on the dirt road, chickens were running around. In the late afternoon, the air smelled of grilled meat and cheap beer.

The man who appeared in the door frame looked nothing like the proud Nazi posing in his pristine uniform. He was old and frail, his head balding; his fingers deformed by arthritis. We didn’t hug. We didn’t shake hands. Two perfect strangers of the same blood staring at each other. He invited me in and offered me a lukewarm beer. He started with small talk but I would have none of it. I relentlessly bombarded him with questions. WWII, the camps, the medical experiments. He impatiently dismissed me. Was that why I had come? He had paid for my trip; he was old and dying. He had simply done his duty; he was a soldier after all.

At that moment, I hated my father. Did he regret it? He looked genuinely surprised. Why would he? He was a soldier, following orders. He was defending, helping his country. The Jews were a danger to Germany and would I like another beer? I was stunned into disbelief and shame. If all this was true, what did that make me? The son of a genocidal monster? I shortened my visit and left despite his whining. I did not say good bye, I did not even look back.

As soon as I came back to Germany, I officially changed my name. Only my wife knows my real identity, my children don’t. I burnt his letters. There are no photos of him in my house. A few months later, my father died in mysterious circumstances. I went public. Yes, I knew he was alive and went to see him. I didn’t denounce him. I couldn’t. I apologized to the Jewish people, to all the victims of the Holocaust and asked them not to condemn me for my father’s sins. But his name and his actions will be forever my cross to bear.

Although this story is based on true events and people, it remains a work of fiction.

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