I liked going for walks with grandfather Arnold at Glogau. It was a small provincial town, but a garrison town. There were barracks at the edge and a wide parade ground. I often stood at the perimeter fence and watching the military drill, especially when they did the Parademarsch – the goosestep. One could also meet garrison officers in the streets and they would snap to attention whenever they saw “Opa”. He, in turn, would raise his Homburg while I – aged perhaps four – attempted a military salute. Sometimes they stopped for a little chat – even with me.
“So,” they might say, “are you getting ready to join our regiment?”
“No,” I would reply cheekily “I want to be in the Gardefüseliere – my Opa’s old regiment.”
“A guards regiment!” they would say, twirling their moustaches “Excellent choice. But first we’ll have to get your grandad’s regiment reconstituted. But we shall. We shall.”
I did not then understand the implications. Not at that time, but I guess they hoped that someone – perhaps that fellow Hitler, vulgar though he was, but preferably someone from the officer class – would bring back the crack units of the Kaiser’s days…. regiments that had been forcibly dissolved in 1918 by the Treaty of Versailles – which they called the Diktat.
Hitler, at that time, they dismissed as ‘that housepainter’. That was malicious. He had aspired to become a water colourist, an artist, not a house painter. Unfortunately he wasn’t very good. A great pity! If he’d succeeded as a painter, Europe might have been spared much.
Grandfather had been one of very few Jews accepted into an elite guards regiment. And thereby hangs a tale:
Grandfather was the youngest of ten siblings from a poor family. Most Jews aspired to a university education for their sons but not all could afford it. With nine of his children now off his hands, great-grandfather felt he could afford to send Arnold, his youngest, to university where he studied law. This made Arnold an Einjähriger – a one-year man. He would only have to serve one year, not the usual two. Until a few years earlier it had even been three. A one-year-man, almost automatically, became an officers … but not if he was a Jew. A world-wise uncle pulled young Arnold aside: “Listen, you don’t really want to serve as a rookie with a bunch of peasant lads, do you? Louse-ridden, most of them, I suspect. I tell you what you do. Don’t wait for your call-up papers. Take a train to Berlin and volunteer – not for any old regiment. Volunteer for the Imperial Guard. Comes the medical inspection and they’ll see you’re circumcised. Jew? Yes, captain. Well, they don’t take Jews into such a regiment. It’s too prestigious, but they’ll be reluctant to admit it. They’ll find some other reason to avoid enrolling you – probably that you’re not fit enough. You’ll be dispensed. You won’t have to waste a year square-bashing.”
Arnold did as advised but events turned out unexpectedly. The recruiters took one look at Arnold – almost 5’11 – which was tall by the standards of his time – and broad shouldered. A peasant physique!
“Ja. Sehr gut, just the kind of human material we need!”
Arnold was in!
And for the rest of his life he was immensely proud of his service with such an elite regiment. It was a period of peace so he didn’t ever have to dodge bullets. Back at Glogau, because of his legal training, they soon made him a civilian judge at military tribunals which was why he was known to all the garrison. Officers saluted the old man whenever they passed him in the street. And they saluted me too, aged four.
I liked that.