70. Inanimate Objects

By Peter Fraenkel

Doesn’t it ever disturb you?  It does me:  that objects that have never been alive last longer and better than we, who have lived or are still alive.

It’s a simple wooden clothes-hanger that provokes these thoughts: a clothes hanger with a woolen “coat”. I have several like that.

It must have been Frieda, our “domestic”, who crocheted coats for these hangers. She was a peasant girl from a village in Silesia, then Germany, who had come to town to earn herself a dowry. Girls like her were never idle. Never.

Thousands like her had been brought up to believe that idleness was a sin. Perhaps that is why Germany has been so successful – at least economically.

My parents were pleased to have found her. In the 1930s householders in Germany, especially those who had servants, had to be careful. An incautious political remark – like repeating a joke about the Führer – might result in a visit from the Gestapo or even a spell in a ‘KZ’ – a concentration camp. With Frieda, however, my parents could feel safe. Her boyfriend was held in a Nazi concentration camp. She wept bitterly about this.

In the days before the Nazi takeover, he had been active in a sports club affiliated to the Social Democratic Party.

Perhaps he had been more actively involved than Frieda knew or was willing to admit. The early 1930s had been a period of near-civil war in Germany with street clashes between supporters of different parties a daily occurrence. The young men in politically affiliated sports clubs may have in the thick of it.

Frieda loudly and frequently denounced the Nazis and my mother had to speak to her firmly. “If you don’t watch that tongue of yours you will end up in a KZ too …and don’t imagine they’ll put you in the same camp as your Rudolf.”

When we emigrated we lost touch but after the war my parents tried to trace her. They failed. We never again heard from Frieda. She may well have been among the two million Germans driven out of Silesia when that area was annexed to Poland.

Many were abandoned in overcrowded cattle trucks without food or water – in a bitterly cold winter.

Earlier, Poles had suffered vicious brutality under German occupation. Now they had their revenge.

Frieda has no gravestone. I do not know where her bones rest. But those clothes hangers with their crocheted covers hang in my wardrobe.

Inanimate? Yes, but they will still be there long after I have gone.