Flags

My grandparents were German.  Each immigrated to the US individually in the early 20th century, met in their adopted country and married.  They started a business and had 5 children, my mother the second oldest.

My grandfather died when I was 5.  I have few and fleeting memories of him.  There are fond and special glimpses of the brief time we knew each other.  I know that my mother adored him, and from what she has told me, he adored her as well.

She also told me, in so many words, that he was a Nazi sympathizer.    During World War II, as I’ve been told, he attended Bund meetings, gatherings of other German immigrants who in one way or another supported Hitler.  I also recall one rather uncomfortable dinner from my youth when my grandmother defended Hitler, much to the dismay of other family members around the table.  “He united the country,” I recall her saying.

My grandparents flew no Nazi flags.  Nor did my relatives in Germany who I had the chance to visit when I was in my teens.   While staying in the house of my grandfather’s cousin, I found a picture in a dark corner of an upstairs hallway.  It was my grandfather’s cousin in a Nazi uniform.  He found me looking at it and told me ‘that was a dark time.”  Yet the picture was there.

I have a cane, a walking stick that belonged to my grandfather.  On it are dozens of small, metal badges representing the town where he hiked during his youth.  It is a treasured piece to me, and a cane I have used on those occasions when I need one.  (When I broke my foot – twice, and when I have a rare attack of gout.)

One of the badges had a small Swastika on it.  I removed it from the cane.

I do not know of anyone, in my family or in their homeland (and I use that term intentionally) who raises a Nazi flag as a symbol of patriotism, history or respect.  To a one, everyone in my family is personally regretful and even embarrassed about those years.

Yes, there are those in Germany who still burnish that crooked-cross symbol.  They are those who hold to a belief long past, dangerous and incendiary.  They are not the German people I know, and they are a distress to those I know.  But that flag still exists, and it may never go away. But those who use this disgraceful symbol are not of my grandparents’ generation. The are using – stealing – a symbol for their own agendas, misguided as I hope all of us agree.

I am not comparing the Confederate flag to the Swastika, but I am.

The histories of both symbols are different, but very much the same.

They both represent a time in history when ideas were different, and those ideas were wrong.

To those who claim a patriotic, cultural, geographical or personal pride that makes them want to wave the flag of the Confederacy, might I politely suggest that you just don’t get it. The flag you wave today is NOT the flag raised of your ancestors. It has become a symbol of something more insidious that what it was intended to be when it was carried into battle some 150 years ago.

You are welcomed to hold onto your culture, tradition and history.  You most certainly can and should celebrate your heritage.  But don’t you understand that that simple piece of cloth has been adopted as a symbol of those who I hope even you would argue against, even fight against? Your symbol has been compromised. It has been stolen from you. History and heritage be damned. This is now a symbol of hate. And you know it is.

I hold my German heritage dear.  But I will never deny the cruelty, death and crimes committed by those of my blood line.  I am a proud German-American even as I see the guilt, shame and embarrassment of my family members who lived during World War II.  Crimes and same and guilt that I, by extension and blood line, I have to share.

Still, my family is German.  Proud of their ancestry and heritage, as am I.

And proud to call myself an American.

As an American, a German-American, a German,  I cannot and would never condone the raising of a Nazi flag to celebrate my family’s heritage.

I cannot understand why any Southern would feel that way about their old flag.

Unless, of course, you are…..

But you aren’t.  Are you?

John Rice

7/9/2015

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