As far as I can think back, an odd-looking, faceless porcelain bunny has been part of the Easter decoration in my parents’ house in Remscheid, Germany. It has an artistic twist to it with a coat that shimmers in purple, blue and red. Originally it must have looked just like his fellow rabbits, but it no longer does. That’s because it got a second glaze in the early morning hours of July 31, 1943, when the house it lived in was burnt to the ground during an Allied air raid on my hometown. As my grandparents sifted through the rubble a couple of days later, that bunny was pretty much the only thing that emerged intact.
“Der Angriff” (attack) and how my grandparents miraculously survived the fire under some wet blankets in the backyard became part of our family folklore. My mother who got the bunny as an Easter gift earlier in 1943 still has a hard time dealing with sirens after spending too many nights in bomb shelters as a child. During her first visit to Minneapolis, an unexpected tornado siren test sent her immediately looking for the basement—unfortunately without success since our house is one of the few in Minneapolis that doesn’t have one. That story is now also part of our family folklore.
What struck me recently is that as often as the “Angriff” story has been told in our family, by either my parents or grandparents, blaming the bomb dropping British or American pilots was never part of it—despite the fact that one of my great-grandparents didn’t make it to the bomb shelter on time and died. The “Amis,” as the Germans would call the US troops, get their first mention in the family folklore as benevolent occupiers when my mother’s younger brother starts making daily trips to their headquarters to get his ration of Hershey’s chocolate and chewing gum. Sounds cheesy and cliché, yet it’s true. To put the record straight, my grandparents were never part of any resistance scheme against Hitler, but deep down they must have realized that 1945 was indeed more liberation than defeat. That denazification had to happen in post-WWII Germany was never questioned by them.
I am writing this while flying from Amsterdam to Minneapolis on Easter Sunday after spending Good Friday in Remscheid with my now 92-year-old mother and her double-glazed Easter bunny of 1943. Here is what I can’t get out of my mind: the absurd notion that a Hitlerian thug like Vladimir Putin who lives in a world of racist, pan-Russian fantasies now assumes the mantle of the great “denazifier.” I doubt that family folklore in Ukraine will have any of it.
Henning Schroeder is a professor at the University of Minnesota and currently teaches in the Department of German, Nordic, Slavic & Dutch. His email address is email@example.com and his Twitter handle is @HenningSchroed1.