On the table is a note. The handwriting is shaky and difficult to read, but with careful attention, you read:
I was barely a man when the war started.
We were living in Germany at the time — what you’d now call Nazi Germany. Your grandmother and I were married the year before. In those early times, most German men went one of two places: to the army to serve, or to the labor camps as prisoners. I was a farmer in those days, young, strong, and proud. As a Jew, I knew which we would become, so I arranged for your grandmother to travel to America only days before the soldiers arrived at my door. I was placed in a work camp.
I would not have survived had it not been for the care of one particular officer there. We were fast friends, despite our differences, mainly because of our strikingly similar appearance. He was a quiet and sheltered man, not particularly popular with the other soldiers or even women, and he loved hearing stories about your grandmother. We talked about everything — every little detail — until we were like brothers. The officer and the farmer… until the rumors started. People started talking, saying that the officer was favoring the farmer, protecting him from deadly work assignments, slipping him extra food, that sort of thing. It put him in a difficult position with the others, showing this kind of mercy. Until finally the officer could do no more, and assigned the farmer to a work detail. He did not last more than a week.
When the Americans finally liberated the work camps, it wasn’t uncommon for German soldiers to pretend to be prisoners themselves. They would lock themselves in cages and strip themselves of their clothing, bruising and cutting themselves to appear sympathetic. It was even easier for the guards who took an interest in the prisoners to assume information about them. I remembered the stories about your grandmother and how much she loved your grandfather, so when the soldiers came, I gave my name as his. They put me on the next boat ‘home’ to America… with her.
The things I have done… the things I have seen… if there is a Hell, I know I will be in it. If there is rest for the soul, I know I will not have it. I have made peace with this. However… I sometimes wonder about that farmer. I wonder if he would forgive me for taking his place after he died in the camps.
But I know you will forgive me. After all, you are my grandson. My blood runs in your veins.