As told in my first short story, I began school in April 1943. Denmark had been occupied by the Nazis since April 1940, and during my first year at school the war entered my little world.
The very first 'public' memory of mine is the day Denmark was invaded: April 9, 1940. I have some 'private' memories of my two year younger brother with his feeding-bottle, but April 1940 was the first time in my life that the world outside my family affected me directly to a degree that I still remember every detail - as if it happened yesterday!
Early in the morning, the German war planes on their way to Norway began passing so low over the dwelling-house of my uncle's farm, that not only the three children but also the adults seriously feared that the landing wheels might collide with one of the chimneys. Apart from that episode where all members of my family were standing in the courtyard of my uncle's farm watching this together, I have no memories of the war until it began affecting me directly after I'd started school.
After Stalingrad, 'luck' had turned against Hitler and his henchmen, and bombs were now 'raining' over German cities almost every night. After Dresden, Hamburg was one of the German cities hardest hit by the British at night. So, old people and children were sent to Denmark and installed in schools and other public buildings found suitable for this purpose.
For me, this meant that I now had 2 km to school instead of one, as our school had become the home of refugees from Hamburg. However, to begin with, that was about all the difference. Then, old German women began to 'visit' the farms around my 'old' school, and as my mother spoke a little German, they came more and more often to visit my home. My father didn't like this at all. Being known in the entire region as "German-friendly" wasn't exactly among his priorities, if you see what I mean?
Even as a child I understood that those old women visiting our farm were beginning to prove a real marital problem for my parents! As always throughout history, politics and in extreme cases war have been a male affair, whereas dealing with human suffering and help healing wounds was left to the females - within the limits set by the males, that is!
My mother surely was no Florence Nightingale, but when the effects of the war began to affect her directly and offered her the possibility of 'doing something' about it - she reacted as a female and chose to help those women - in spite of the risk to her own reputation, that of her husband and even the harmony of her marriage!
But, as I said: old people and children were sent to Denmark. With the old 'ladies' visiting my mother I didn't have more sympathy than my father, I'm afraid. All I remember is that some of them tried to talk to me, also, always talking about 'papa' and 'mama' - which I didn't understand as those words are NOT used in Danish - although that I, today, of course know that those same words are used in much of Europe!
With the children now 'occupying my old school' I didn't have any contact either, but my brother and cousin saw some of them from time to time while I was at school. As far as I know, those children were just doing some 'sightseeing' without daring to visit any of the farms. The only time I had any contact with them remains all the more unforgettable. As I was together with my brother and cousin that afternoon, I suppose that the event took place on a Sunday, but that's not something I remember.
As already told in my first story, my grandfather made both wind- and watermills for us - among many other things. One of those other things was a dummy made of wood, that in profile looked like a 'real' gun. And now I must appeal to my reader not to 'condemn' my grandfather, based on the attitude that almost all Europeans - except maybe some Serbs - have today towards war toys of any kind. This was when WW-II was turning into a nightmare for the German population instead of a third Reich lasting a thousand years, and all over the world little boys our age were doing exactly the same thing as we had been doing since receiving our three 'guns': Imitating what was going on among the 'grown ups' in the world we were a part of ! So far, we had been doing that among ourselves. There is absolutely NO excuse for what we did that afternoon, but it's immensely important that the reader realise that the world situation in general and the attitude towards war in particular has changed fundamentally - at least among Europeans - and that the European Union and what it stands for is - in spite of all it's oddities - highly preferable to the world as it was when I was a child!
It may have been my idea to do what we did that afternoon. Anyhow, I was responsible for what we did, being two years older. And the younger you are or the older you are, an age difference of two years can be highly significant.
We had been playing with those dummies among ourselves when we saw two or three German boys our own age at some distance, approaching but not yet having sighted those three Danish 'soldiers'! Like real soldiers in a similar situation - we imagined - we quickly hid as best we could in the ditch running along the road on which the German boys were aproaching. And when the three - just peacefully enjoying an afternoon walk - were sufficiently close for a 'surprise attack' we jumped up in front of them with our 'guns' and 'attacked the enemy' : ra-ta-ta, ra-ta-ta, ra-ta-ta!!!
We were boys, we were playing, and we thought that we were just surprising some other boys our own age. That really, really is what we thought - and we expected a reaction similar to what would have been the case, had the other boys been Danish also. But they were NOT Danish boys. They were German boys coming from Hamburg. Their background and life experience was totally different from ours.We didn't realise that. That's the only excuse I can think of. For, even at our age, we - almost immediately - realised ourselves that this was no longer play but almost a crime: Those three German boys were not surprised but literally scared to death - and their cries still sound in my ears whenever I think of this episode from my childhood in West Jutland on a sunny and peaceful Sunday afternoon.