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Friday, 30 August 2013

Out of the mouths of babes ...

Sometimes one stumbles across some little thing when you are reading, that leaps off the page and tells you more, in a small insight than all the learned history of a period even hints at. One such moment leapt off the page as I read a book of short biographic memories of women who lived through the war years in different parts of Germany. One woman, now in her 80s recalled getting into trouble for repeating a 'prayer' doing the rounds at her school in early 1942.

It goes -

Lieber Gott, mach mich taub,              (Dear God, make me deaf,
Dass ich nicht am radio schraub,         [So] That I won't turn on the radio,
Lieber Gott, mach mich blind              Dear God, make me blind,
Dass ich alles herrlich find.                  [so] That I think everything is good,
Bin ich taub, und bin ich blind,            If I'm deaf and if I'm blind
Bin ich Adolf's liebstes Kind.               Then I'm Adolf's most loved child.)

It speaks for itself that this was circulating among the children, and that it terrified their parents to hear it repeated in innocence. What it does show is that the fear of the Gestapo, or of informers, was a major factor in keeping the adult German population under control, but that there were still brave souls able to think up this sort of simple rhyme which children would learn and repeat. The line concerning the radio also tells a careful reader that the ordinary German wasn't only listening to the official channels controlled by Goebbels Propaganda Ministry as the lady who recorded this memory makes clear, describing how, have punished her daughter for repeating the above prayer, her mother would take the radio beneath the duvet on her bed at night, and tune it to the forbidden broadcasts from England.

From the memories of the women in this short collection, it soon becomes very clear that you had to be blind, and the majority certainly weren't, not to see that things were not the way Hitler and the media said they were. You had to be blind not to see the abuses around you, and to not be aware of the oppressive control exercised by threat, by punishment and ultimately by being sent to a Death Camp. Even so, some of the stories contain other little insights, of farmers hiding refugees, of priests and ordinary citizens hiding Jews in the full knowledge that, if exposed, they faced imprisonment or death.

That this little prayer was circulating as early as 1942 suggests also that it had begun circulating earlier than that. Sadly, as the stories make plain, many of the children who recited it probably didn't survive the bombing and destruction that followed.

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