Sitting on Top of the World

MARCH 28, 1942 WHO AM I

“Dear Heinz,

I am pleased by your letter and I hope that you will write more often in the new year and that you visit your parents. Now you can be pleased we have been skiing and had nice weather. We will get you some cheese and now you can have my skis, but I can’t send them to you. Be a good boy and be thankful for Aunt Martha and especially don’t ruin the skis. Also, I have a special knife from the boy scouts in America. I bought it very cheap and when you are older and more responsible and if you don’t fight with Gerhardt you can have it. Best regards. We kiss you, your parents. Excuse my bad writing on this bad paper.”

Letter from Julius Walker to his son, Heinz Walker dated January 1, 1942.

“Come back to my house before you go home Heinz. My Tante sent some chocolate. We can celebrate your birthday and the victory.” Heinz did not answer Erich. He picked at the mud on his shoes on the soccer field, until Erich repeatedly punched Heinz in the shoulder. “I would like to score a goal in a game just once, but you score a goal every game and then two on your birthday. Next time, save a goal for your friend and pass me the ball!” Erich pretended he was a radio announcer describing Heinz’s winning goal. Their laughing teammates gathered as the description of Heinz’s victorious goal ended with, “Heinz’s God like abilities allowed him to bicycle kick the ball into the goal!” Heinz savored the moment, as each boy gave a final congratulatory slap to Heinz’s back, before they scattered to their homes to listen to the war news on the radio.

“Can we walk to my house before you go home?” asked Erich who received only an indifferent shrug from Heinz. Erich persisted. “You are the only friend my mother asks about. ‘How is Heinz? He is such a fine young man.’ She never sees you, but always asks about you. I should tell her how you didn’t want to come to her home, while my father is away fighting for Germany!” grinned Erich.

Erich raised his voice in mock anger and punched Heinz again. “So do you want some chocolate or not? I don’t care about you. Just say yes so I can have an excuse to get some for myself,” laughed Erich.

Heinz paused. “My father is here from Stuttgardt for my birthday. I haven’t seen him in a long time. I really should go home…”

“Heinz, he’s not going anywhere. Stop at my house and say hello to my mother. Besides, they probably think we’re still playing.”
After the door to the apartment was pushed opened, Erich announced, “Mutti I have a surprise for you. I brought home a refugee from the war, who wants some chocolate.”

“Erich stop playing,” demanded his mother. He took a few steps back into the darkened hallway, before returning with the red faced boy.

“Heinz Walker, I’m so happy to see you,” exclaimed Erich’s mother. She embraced Heinz as if he was her own son.

“I’m happy to see you too, Frau Sprauer.”

When she finally released Heinz from her bear hug, she took a step back. To Erich, the moment seemed awkward and strange as his mother wiped away her tears.

Her son groaned, “Mutti, it’s only Heinz.”

Erich’s animated mother did not hear a word as she embraced Heinz again. “I was just talking to Erich about you. It has been too long. I’m surprised that you even remember me, Heinz.” Erich could not stop laughing. His mother’s rapid fire questions made Heinz’s attempts to answer impossible. Suddenly, she stopped in mid question and tenderly pulled Heinz’s face close and kissed him on his forehead. “It’s so good to see you Heinz. It really is.” She brushed his hair off his face, before she sprinted the few feet to the permanently rust stained sink and curled her first finger back and forth.

“Mutti we are not babies. You don’t have to do that,” shouted Erich as his mother began to wash the sweaty faces. Erich’s mother complained about how dirty their faces, until she stopped and pointed at her son. “Erich, you should be more like Heinz. He’s not complaining,”

Erich’s mother winked at Heinz. “Your grandparents, how are they Heinz? Well I hope?”

“Yes. Thank you for asking.”

“Please tell them I said hello.”

Heinz closed his eyes as the refreshing cold wash cloth jumped from one cheek to another. Suddenly Erich grabbed his mother’s hand.

“Mutti I forgot. Its Heinz’s birthday and I promised him some of Tante’s chocolate!”

Erich’s mother made one final wipe on Heinz’s face. “It’s been so long since I’ve seen you, let alone talked to you. It must be four or five years since I waved to and your oma on the Kaiserstrasse. I’m not even sure either one of you saw me,” lamented Erich’s mother. She pulled out the round red tin of Scho-Ka-Kola from a kitchen drawer. Erich ripped open the lid that revealed the eight triangular pieces that formed a perfect circle of chocolate. It took only seconds for the chocolate aroma to fill the room and for Erich to devour his first and then second piece.

“Erich slow down, and Heinz, please take a piece. Take as much as you want and take the tin too. I’m sure your oma will find some use for it.” Heinz beamed with his first bite that confirmed that his birthday could not get any better.

“You know, Heinz,” said Erich. “My Tante wrote that the Scho-Ka-Kola is given to the Luftwaffe in their rations. Mutti what did she call it?” Before she could answer, Erich hurried to his mother’s bedroom. “Here is the letter Heinz. They call it Flyer Chocolate, because it has caffeine from cocoa and roasted coffee. It gives the pilots extra energy. That way they can fly for hours.” Erich pleaded with his mother, “Maybe you should ask Tante to send us more chocolate. That way if I had some before the soccer games, I could be the star instead of Heinz.”

Erich’s mother shaking head indicated a definitive no, as she occupied herself with busy work, while the boys transformed themselves into fighter pilots. They pushed their chairs next to each other as their vibrating lips powered the engines of their Messersmitts on their bombing mission to London. Erich’s mother laughed, “You sound more like horses.” While Erich gorged himself, Heinz happily accepted Frau Sprauer’s caring questions about girls, school and his goals after the war.

“Heinz I know it is your birthday, but do you think your grandparents would allow you to stay for dinner?”

“That would be great Frau Sprauer. I would enjoy that.”

“You can’t stay,” interrupted Erich who spun the empty candy metal tin like a top.

“Erich stop that!” said his annoyed mother.

“But Mutti, Heinz told me his father is here for his birthday.”

“Is this true Heinz? Is your father in Karlsruhe?”

“I’m sorry. I forgot to mention it to you.”

Frau Sprauer sat down at the table and crossed and uncrossed her legs. “Well then, if your father is here, we will have to make it for another time.”

When the first wave of nausea from the Scho-Ka-Kola struck Erich, he ran to the common bathroom for the building. Erich’s mother and Heinz burst into laughter as the sounds of vomiting exploded from down the hallway. “Shh Heinz--if we can hear him he can hear us.” Heinz twisted in his chair. “Please don’t be insulted, but you seem to have been staring at me since I came here. Are you upset with me, because…”

“Oh my---no, it’s just that I’m so happy to see you,” answered Frau Sprauer. “I am being so rude Heinz. You must be thirsty. Let me get you something to drink.”

The room remained silent, until a brightly colored dancing couple spun out of the chalet cuckoo clock and past the hand painted woodsman to the sounds of Edelweiss. It was 5:00 p.m. Heinz’s thoughts turned to his birthday dinner, the father he had not seen in months, and his soon to be angry grandfather.

When Frau Sprauer returned to the small circular table, her eyes moistened while she tapped along with the last notes of Edelweiss. She grabbed Heinz’s hand.

“You have Ilse’s eyes Heinz?”

“What do you mean?”

“Just that. You have your mother’s eyes. Even more than Kurt.”

“What do you mean Ilse and Kurt, Frau Sprauer?”

The few additional questions that were cautiously answered ended with a tearful apology from Erich’s mother. “Heinz, I’m so sorry---I just assumed you knew.” When Heinz ran out of the apartment, the torrent of emotions; fear, anger, sadness and disgust made him oblivious to the fact that his best friend, Erich, stunned, had been sitting outside the open door of the apartment.

“Beloved Family!

During my night shift, I have just a little spare time to write. Before I say anything, dear Mother, thank you for the stockings. We were very pleased that you think of us when you have so little… I have been very pleased to learn that Heinz has been working during the war since manpower is needed. I was disappointed to learn from Father that Heinz already wanted to quit and go back to school.

Letter from Julius Walker dated February 11, 1943.

At the same time Heinz learned the sobering truth of his family, Kurt eagerly thanked the mailman for the February 1943 Reader’s Digest magazine. He threw himself on the couch and read out loud the titles of the war themed articles, “My Blood is in the War, A Grandstand View of Jap Naval Disaster, Preparing Our Fliers for Combat and How the North African Campaign Was Organized.” When he came to the article, Remember Us by Ben Hecht, Kurt, pushed himself to understand the three page article and short biography about the author’s books, movies and first play, The Front Page. He bounced back and forth between the short sentences and his ever present Webster dictionary. His heart raced when he read, “All the victims of the German adventure will be there to pass sentence-all but the one: the Jew.”

He opened and closed the magazine, until he finally read, “Of these 6,000,000 Jews almost a third have already been massacred by Germans…Remember us. In the town of Freiburg in the Black Forest two hundred of us were hanged and left dangling out of our kitchen windows to watch our synagogue burn and our rabbi being flogged to death….Remember us who were put in the freight trains that left France….”

Kurt felt ill as Jolene ran to the opening door, kissed the worker’s hand and patted her leg.

“And how is my Kurt today?” asked a smiling Miss Frank.