Infotrue Educational Experiences by Rick Landman

MEMOIR - Excerpt Below

book cover -THE MEMOIR of a Gay Jewish German-American Pioneer: Riding the Arc of Civil Rights, by Rick Landman
I started coming out at the age of 12, four years before Stonewall, in NYC, when it was still the legal to segregate and discriminate against minorities, and when "homosexuals" were considered criminals and mentally ill. I am also a first generation American, with two grandparents being sole survivors of the Holocaust, and both parents being refugees.

My stories explore Civil Rights History by showing how I, and our society grew up since World War II.

I believe we inherit our parent's pains along with their eye color, so my coming out so early was surely influenced by my family's past.

This book has not yet been published. It is a project in process.

Contact me for more information at:

"Expanding Love: The Memoir of a Gay Son of Holocaust Survivors"

My Memoir is about a gay activist pioneer, who is also a German Jewish 2nd Generation Holocaust Survivor. It that covers the history of the American LGBT Civil Rights Movement from the perspective someone who was personally involved. My family story includes a father who was both in Dachau as an inmate and as an American soldier liberator.

Growing up in NYC shortly after World War II, I attended totally segregated classes in my public schools and lived in totally segregated neighborhoods. I started to come out in 1965 at the age of twelve. My Bar Mitzvah was actually on the last weekend of June exactly four years before the Stonewall Rebellion. Go figure! In 1970 I was one of those who started a "second wave Gay Liberation Front" at my college and was at the Christopher Street Liberation Day March up 6th Avenue (now the Pride March/Parade), as well as at the First March on Albany for Gay Rights in 1971, and was an organizer of the First March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights in 1979, and have been active ever since. My story also includes my 4 fag bashings, 2 rapes, and how the AIDS epidemic still influences my life. Being the son of Holocaust Survivors really made losing so many of my friends seem normal.

There is a strange fascination in Germany today with what happened to the pre-war Jewish community. My life stories reflect how much of that German Jewish culture molded my personality. In 2007 I even became a German citizen and started a Jewish contingent to march in the NYC Steuben German Parade. My Memoir reconciles the tensions of being gay and German-American and Jewish. For example, I had a father who was not only an inmate in Dachau after Kristallnacht, but he also liberated Dachau as a U.S. soldier. I also became a German citizen in 2007, even with two of my grandparents being sole survivors and all of their family being destroyed by the Nazis. Another example is that it was my mother who told me to go to Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST) (NYC's LGBTQS Synagogue) in 1973. This was after I refused to donate a Holocaust Torah at my Bar Mitzvah to their synagogue because my Hebrew School teacher yelled at me when I asked if two boys could get married.

It is more than a Gay Coming Out story; it is a humorous look at growing up as a gay German Jew after World War II through the AIDS epidemic, 9/11 and whatever life threw at me. It also shows how today's LGBT community has become a substitute Jewish Scapegoat in parts of our world.

Remember,Baby Boomers could not legally get married when growing up and it was rare for a male couple to have children. I was a criminal and mentaly ill in all 48 states when I was born. Like so many people who were promised equality, we had to wait until America came around to fulfill that promise.

So peek into on my life. You will grasp why and how one can fulfill those dreams of the 1960's while finding one's roots. This is a humorous and insightful accounting to assist the next generation in understanding our past.

Here are links to other LGBT books that are worth reading:

David Carter's book Stonewall Jim Levin's books Gay Berlin by Robert Beachy

Law and the Gay Rights Story, by Walter Frank The Right Side of History by Adrian Brooks The Gay Synagogue in New York by Moshe Shokeid

Stonewall by Martin Duberman King of Angels by Perry Brass And then I Danced by Mark Segal


Chapter Six:
Living on the Land During the Summer


The summer of 1971 was full of exciting new things to discover. It started out with an Outward Bound program going to the Monongahela Forest in West Virginia, where about a dozen of us students spent several weeks out in the wilderness living off of the land. This was part of a college course that gave me four credits of pass-fail for the summer. We brought nothing with us except a backpack and the essentials to live for a month; not even toilet paper. That is why my fellow campers knew where I was going in the morning by noticing that the Mountain Maple trees had all of their leaves removed from the lowest branches. If I couldn't find a tree with low branches then I would use burdock. Burdock was easier to pick, but it tickled more because it had a surface like velvet.

We would learn about nutrition and about what we could eat and even learned how to catch a wild guinea hen for dinner. We actually formed a circle around the poor bird and then caught and killed it. That is when I became a vegetarian for the rest of the summer. We went caving and climbing and it was really a wonderful month out in the woods. The strip mining planes became aware of us and they would look for the girls who were sunbathing in the afternoon without tops on. That was when I would take embroidery thread that I had and make butterflies on my clothes. Each person was allowed to take one artifact from civilization as a perk. Most people took a book, but I took embroidery thread in about five colors. Once again I was the only openly gay person there; everyone else seemed to be straight to me. There would be no boyfriend for me on this trip. While some of the others paired off, I just admired one man in particular from afar. As fate would have it, Howie, one of the people on that trip would become a land-use attorney and work in NYC, just like I would decades later.

After my Outward Bound experience I went to my brother's wedding in early July. He finally married Bonnie, the girl from his Hebrew School class who lived five blocks away and who I double-dated to see Diana Ross. I came back from West Virginia with a skimpy beard and mustache since we didn't shave for the month. My parents were freaked that I would keep it for the wedding. So every day I shaved off a bit more until nothing was left on the actual wedding day. The wedding pictures show the clean shaven good Jewish boy. I attended the wedding and gave the brotherly toast, but there was a sense of alienation since I thought that I would never be able to even think of having a wedding of my own. At the time, I was rather anti-marriage in general; but I was really anti-discrimination without knowing it. When you are excluded from something that doesn't even exist; it is hard to know exactly what to think.

Oma came up to me during the wedding reception and noticed that I was a bit down. It was now the beginning of July and I still had some time to go before college started again in mid September. She told me that she was going to Switzerland for two months and asked if I would like to come and visit her? She gave me the money for a round trip airline ticket and a Eurailpass for the summer. So within a few days I was at the airport going to backpack by myself through Europe and would spend a week in Switzerland visiting Oma. At nineteen years of age, I joined the multitude of baby-boomers in the third American invasion of Europe (if you count the other two World Wars).

I had a Eurail-pass and Youth Hostel card so that I could travel anywhere by train and sleep in inexpensive Youth Hostels. But I really gave little thought to what I was getting into. When I landed in Amsterdam I remember getting out of the airport and not having any idea of where to go and what to do. I had my backpack from the Outward Bound program and the address of the youth hostel. I didn't know it, but it was in the heart of the red light district; in one of the quaint rowhouses by a canal. It was easy to follow the people from the airport to the train to get into the city. Upon arriving, I found a bench by a fountain and watched all the people walking by and rushing off to go to work. I figured how rude they were not to be dressed in Dutch costumes and not willing to sit down and play with me. Where were their wooden shoes? This was my vacation after all and these people were just going on with their lives; ignoring me. I figured that I would find the youth hostel and leave my backpack there and then go off to explore the city. Going to the information center near the railroad station they explained how to get to the hostel.

So far so good... It was not hard to find the hostel and I checked in and was told that I could leave my backpack, but that no one could go upstairs to sleep until after around 9 pm. Leaving my backpack there I left with a small green Brotbeutel (a canvas over-the-shoulder bag that Opa gave me that was similar to a small messenger's bag) to go out and exchange money, find something to eat, explore the city and do what people do on a vacation.

That took about an hour and now what was I to do? I walked back to the area around the youth hostel and would have taken a nap, but you couldn't go upstairs. So I walked a bit further and sat on a bench by the canal across from a row of storefronts. The storefronts were void of retail shops. They had large glass storefronts with no signs telling you what they were selling and no goods in the window. One window had a couch in it. After a while, a woman went into the window and was looking at me and waved me over. Having nothing to do and loads of time to kill, I went over to talk. I felt real dumb, but it took me a few minutes to realize that she was a working woman looking for a client. But she must have been just as dumb not realizing that I was gay. I think my mannerisms and style just screamed gay during those days. She spoke perfect English as did most of everyone else. She was actually quite an interesting person and since it was a slow period, around 7 or 8 p.m. she didn't mind just talking to me on the front stoop. When we were done talking, it was close enough to see if the hostel was ready to let me go to sleep. I was exhausted.

It was, and I could get my backpack and wash up to go to sleep. I was also the first person to go up to a large open area with many bunk beds and go to sleep. When it was around 11 pm, the place was so noisy that I woke up. I just lay in bed and listened to all of the other guys talking about their day and tried to see if I could find someone who was gay or at least gay friendly. I remember that one of the guys was talking about a hooker that he did near the canal, and by coincidence she had the same name of the woman who I met earlier that evening. But even though he was a hot and very sexy guy, he wasn't the kind of person that I wanted to get to know as a friend. I couldn't even talk to someone who was so shallow and possibly so violent if he found out I was gay. So I said nothing and went to sleep.

The next morning I had my first liquid yogurt drink for breakfast with fresh fruit. It was delicious, and with the dollar being so strong it was really cheap. I felt energized and found some other Americans who wanted to go sight seeing. So we went to the usual places like the Anne Frank house and saw a bunch of churches and old buildings. In a few days I decided to leave and go to Germany. I had mixed emotions about going to the country where so many people in my family died. But I put those emotions aside and realized that thirty years have gone by and that I would see for myself how things have changed. I finally got to say "Wann faehrt der naechste Zug nach Hamburg" (when does the next train go to Hamburg from the conversations that I had to memorize in high school). That was the only thing that I said in German. I found it easier to stay with Americans and speak English. Most Germans in the bigger cities understood English and I hadn't really heard much German since Opa died in 1968.

I started up north and traveled down towards the south. When I got to Frankfort the Youth Hostel had no vacancies. So I took out a blanket from my backpack and made a little tent behind the hostel in a park. We had the mentality that Europe was just there for our vacation, and although I would never think of pitching a tent in Central Park in Manhattan, it seemed like the right thing to do since the Youth Hostel was filled up and I was not the only one sleeping there. There were at least a dozen of us in sleeping bags or makeshift tents sleeping in the park. When it was around midnight, we said our good-nights and went to sleep.

All of sudden, around five in the morning a bunch of police officers came over yelling and banging with sticks that we were under arrest for sleeping outside in the park. I don't know where it came from, but out of my mouth in perfect German, came the following stream of words, "Excuse me, but were you so upset when they marched my family to Dachau?" There was total silence. My new friends were amazed that I could speak German, as was I, and the police calmed down and just talked with me. I explained that the Youth Hostel was filled and that there was no place for us to go, and that we would clean up and make sure that the park was just as we found it in the morning. They left. No one was arrested. I was the hero of the hour and the next day I had a group of friends to travel with. I began to realize that I had some German knowledge deep in my head that could pop out from time to time. But I didn't feel confident in actually holding a conversation in German; and since everyone spoke English there was no need to try.

Every day or so, I would write letters home to my parents and would check the American Express Office in several cities to see if they sent a letter to me. My mother wrote letters way in advance, figuring out that I would visit Nuremberg and Augsburg and Rome, etc. There usually was mail waiting for me in every American Express Office that I visited. I learned not to underestimate the power of my mother.

Later that day, I was telling my new friends about this liquid yogurt breakfast that I had in Amsterdam and that since we all had a Eurailpass, we could find a sleeper car and go back to Amsterdam for breakfast. We did. My parents, who were tracing the flow of my itinerary, could not figure out why I traveled in such a bizarre manner. But to me, if I could find a sleeper car going to a city about 8 hours away, I didn't have to find a youth hostel for the night to sleep. The FBI couldn't have found me since I never knew which country I would be in for the next day.

I did visit Nuremberg and saw where my mother was born and went to Augsburg where my father was born and to Munich where my grandfather lived. Munich was in a rush to complete all of their construction projects for the upcoming 1972 Olympics. Once again the Youth Hostel was filled, so I had to find another place to stay. In Munich the city government was more tourist friendly than Frankfurt and actually set up an area in the English Garden (large public park) for young people to sleep over night. But the real question was where can you go to the bathroom and where can you wash up if the youth hostel is filled.

Every day, I would leave my large backpack at the lockers at the train station (which contained things like my towels, soap, razor, etc.) and use that as home-base. I was so lucky to find a new underground bathroom just completed near the station. It was beautiful and so large and new. It was part of the subway system and the bathroom was divided into three spaces. The outer space had sinks and foot baths, the inner room had urinals and the back room had toilet stalls. It seemed like nothing there was free of charge. You had to pay for their soap dispenser, for the hand drying apparatus, and to enter the toilet stall. But I figured that these rules didn't apply to American tourists like me. So I took the soap, towel, razor and wash cloth from my backpack and went to the new underground bathroom. I was not the only American kid washing up at that bathroom. Word spread quickly as to what a wonderful place it was. When I returned someone had even put a piece of cardboard in the toilet stall door lock so that the toilet stall was now also liberated.

I did my business, washed, shaved and wondered if those foot baths could be used as multi-purpose facilities. My feet weren't that dirty, but the rest of me hadn't had a shower in two days. Not being shy, I found a foot bath that was off to the side, so people walking by outside in the hallway didn't have a direct view, and I put the wash cloth in the drain and filled it up about 4 inches high with warm water and got undressed and took a mini-bath.

By this time the whole room was overflowing with American tourists who were liberating everything; with me naked in the foot bath when the cleaning woman from the subway came in to clean up.

She looked like we just committed murder. She came in screaming about how we were stealing and how we were messing up her bathroom. In retrospect, she was quite justified in being irate. But maybe she could have been a bit calmer in her disgust. But of course, who was the number one person that she decided to give a verbal lashing; me. I was sitting naked in the footbath with my soap and towel next to me rinsing off my hair. Boy did she start yelling at me.

Once again, this mysteriously capacity for me to speak German became useful. Once again I asked her if she was so upset when they marched my family to Dachau. Once again, her face turned white and she stopped screaming and she actually went outside and sat on a chair by the front door which she closed and let us finish washing up. The ironic thing is that at the time I had no idea where Dachau was actually located in Germany. As I said, my public school education did not cover that part of history.

But the next day I decided to find another place to go to the bathroom, wash up and shave. But where? The youth hostel was filled up no matter how early you seemed to get there. But I also had a Eurailpass that permitted unlimited rail road travel. So the next morning I packed up my sleeping bag and went to the rail road station to leave everything in the locker and took the next local train to the suburbs.

Once on board, I went go to the bathroom and did my business in peace and then shaved and washed up as best I could. I got off at the next stop and would walk around to find a place for breakfast, buy a yogurt or cheese or fruit for lunch and then return to Munich's English Gardens by dinner.

Now for some background information... This was the year before the 1972 Munich Olympics and the country of Germany was trying to downplay such things as the Third Reich. So in Munich, any remote affiliation with Nazism was removed, and as I wasn't that well informed, I didn't know that Dachau was a suburb of Munich. All of the train schedules were changed from Dachau to Munich-Substation and even the automobile license plates were changed from DCH to MUN. So when I got off the train that sunny morning after using the train's bathroom, I had no idea that I was at Dachau's train station.

It was a pretty little town and I decided to go for a hike. In retrospect, I hiked to many places all by myself, that if I would have fallen and broken my leg, I might have never been found in time. But when you are nineteen years old and on vacation and have just come off of an Outward Bound survival program, you don't worry about such things.

I walked down some streets and found a wooded area that looked like a nice forest or park. I do remember that there was a small creek that I walked over, but it was not very dangerous or foreboding. It did have a piece of barbed wire in the middle of the creek, but I figured it was left over from the past and I just walked over it. I continued walking through the forest and came upon an opening which really looked like a stereotypical German park. It was so sterile and exact and geometric. It consisted of rows of rectangular flowerboxes with no flowers. Each rectangle was filled with pebbles and had a tree planted in front and a granite stone with the number of the tree on it; or so I thought at the time.

It was past noon and I was getting hungry, so I sat down on one of the granite stones to have my yogurt and lunch. While eating I saw that off in the distance was a building and a sculpture. Talk about German taste. It was a macabre collection of horizontal pieces that actually looked like bones. I figured that this must have been some twisted sculptor to make something like this for a park.

After lunch I started walking towards the sculpture when I could read, "Arbeit Macht Frei". I didn't realize yet that it was Dachau, but I knew that I was in some sort of concentration camp exhibit. I walked over to the left and saw the creek again and once again it had barbed wire in it and I passed over it into an area of many low rise buildings with English signs. As soon as I got over the creek an African American soldier in a U.S. military uniform pointed a rifle at me and yelled in a horrible Mississippi German accent, "Halt, wer geht da?" (Stop,who are you?)

I was scared and shocked and just lifted my hands high above my head and yelled in English, "I'm Jewish". He started laughing so I felt better. He asked me if I had a camera, which I did, but I swore that I didn't take any pictures; so he didn't take it away. But he explained that these were the former S.S. barracks and that they were now part of the U.S. military base and it was off limits to tourists. But he said that he would drive me back to the entrance of the Dachau. It was then that everything just hit me.

The fear turned to other emotions that were grabbing at me. I was angry, scared, upset and mournful and just overwhelmed. When we got to the front entrance, the man asked me for a few pfennigs for an entry fee. I explained to him that my father and grand father were inmates, so I felt like my family already paid enough. They let me in for free.

I went through the one barrack that was restored as an exhibit and then the stories about my father became real. But the thought of my father and grandfather being there was troubling and I started to cry.

I walked back to the rectangular flower boxes and realized that they were the outlines of all the other barracks. One of these was where my dad and grandfather slept. I said Kaddish (Mourner's Pray) for all those who died and had no one to say Kaddish for them, and started to cry some more. Being alone was what I needed, and I just cried until it stopped. I didn't walk around looking for crematorium etc., but realized that I passed them coming in when I thought it was a forest.

When I got back to the train station, I thought about another one of my father's stories. My father was part of the U.S. Army's Third Infantry when they liberated Dachau. By the end of the war, he was in the advance squad entering towns to find lodging and food for the military. Speaking German with a native accent was finally a great asset, instead of the usual handicap for a German Jewish American soldier. Henry was riding in a jeep with another soldier on the long road that ended at the Dachau train station right after the liberation of the camp. At that time Dachau only had one major road with a few side streets off to the sides. The street was a sight of chaos with people shouting and running around either in exuberance of their new freedom or fear of what will happen next. While riding down the street, a woman in a long black dress jumped into the middle of the street waving her hands trying to get my father's attention. The jeep stopped and Henry hopped out in his Army uniform, carrying his rifle and went up to her and in perfect Bavarian German asked her what she wanted. Her face showed a combination of astonishment, urgency and fear, but she calmed down and motioned him to go with her into a small house with a bakery on the ground floor. She wanted to get off the street before she would tell him why she was so frantic. When inside, she explained that someone was hiding downstairs and he wanted to surrender directly to an American soldier. She said that she just wanted him out of her house and didn't know what to do.

The man who ran into her store was still wearing his S.S. uniform and was more afraid of the newly liberated concentration camp prisoners than he was of the U.S. Army. The Third Infantry had liberated Dachau that morning and the former inmates were now running through the streets eating, looting and expressing their newly found freedom. Henry went down a spiral staircase pointing his rifle as he slowly descended, and there hovering in the corner, was a former Captain in charge of the S.S. officers at Dachau Concentration Camp. When the Nazi officer saw my father, he stood up and saluted him with an American salute and he said that he wanted to surrender to an American, and be away from the mob of former inmates. The whole thing was so bizarre to my father who could still remember being in Dachau as an inmate. Even if this man was not the same Captain as in 1938, the thought of my father being the savior of an S.S. officer was quite ironic. In retrospect, my father wonders if the Captain was actually the son of the screaming woman, and they tricked him into saving her son.

My father didn't explain who he was and why he spoke German so naturally, but just let them wonder if all of the U.S. soldiers were as conversant as he. The Captain walked upstairs with his hands over his head, and then my father and the other soldier who was watching the jeep put the Captain on the hood of the jeep and told him to hold on to the metal bar that was attached to the front bumper. This bar was the latest invention of the Americans to try to keep them from being decapitated. The Germans would tie a thin wire around a tree on one side of the street and then cross the street and tie it to another tree, hoping that the American soldiers in the convertible jeeps would ride by and have their heads sliced off.

My father didn't have to worry this day about any decapitation of an American. In addition to the outreaching metal stick, he had a Nazi officer in the front who would feel any wire before they would. As my father drove down the main street of Dachau with this prominent Nazi on the hood, he kept on thinking about how he felt six years earlier when he was let out of Dachau and had to walk down the same street to the same train station. One must remember that six years earlier my eighteen year old father was just released from Dachau and was told that he better get out of Germany, because the next time he ended up in that camp, he wouldn't be getting out alive. He left Dachau alone at eighteen and walked down that street to the train station not knowing if he would really be able to get out of Germany. He had no relatives in America, no money, no political clout and was still traumatized from what he saw inside the camp. Now six years later, he was an American soldier saving the life of a man in charge of all that killing. The odds of this are unimaginable.

But that event didn't get my father into the Stars and Stripes like what happened to him the week before as his troops were marching through the suburbs towards Munich and Dachau. My father and his fellow soldiers were walking through the suburbs of Munich when they came under attack. He and several other soldiers broke into a large house and forced the German occupants into the cellar while they took cover. As time passed, they decided to stay there and my father tried to take a nap. They were all exhausted. But then the occupant's telephone started to ring, and ring and ring. No one would answer it and it woke up my father and was driving him crazy. So he walked over and picked it up and listened. It was from another German who lived about a half a mile away.

When my father answered he just said, Hallo with once again a perfect Bavarian accent. The man on the other side asked him if the Americans were there yet? Of course, my father said no and asked why he was calling. The man explained that the Americans were taking over that part of the town and he had around 20 Luftwaffer soldiers and pilots hiding in his house. He wanted to know if it was safe for them to come over to hide in the house where my father was standing. Of course he said yes and Heil Hitler and hung up the phone. He then rang to his colonel and explained that in about fifteen minute a group of Luftwaffer soldiers would be coming up the street looking to hide in that building.

They moved the tank down a bit and the American soldiers went to the rooftops and were ready for the ambush. Sure enough about twenty Luftwaffer soldiers came up the street and became prisoners of war without anyone being killed. A reporter in uniform named Judy Barton was there for the capture and wrote it up in the Stars and Stripes newspaper. There are some great advantages to speaking German over the phone with the proper accent. Needless to say, my ride back on the train to Munich was one in deep contemplation of the ironies of my family's past meeting the present.

So much for Munich, now I needed a vacation from my vacation, so I decided to go to Garmisch, which is a small resort town in the Alps where my grandparents would spend their summers if they were not in Pine Hill.

Garmisch was a beautiful town and the Youth Hostel had room and even a laundry facility. The most creative experience I remember dealt with drying my laundry in another little town near Garmisch. That Youth Hostel had a washing machine, but no dryer. We were also warned not to leave wet clothes unattended, due to many thefts. So a new friend and I washed our clothes in the washing machine, but didn't want to sit there all day and wait for them to dry. So using a little creativity and the rope that I brought with me, we tied the rope around our waists and left around ten feet of slack between us. We then draped our wet clothes over the portable clothing line. We could then walk around the country-side drying our clothes instead of sitting around the Youth Hostel all day. As long as you kept the tension on the rope, the system worked quite well. The only difficult situation was when we tried to go indoors to see a tiny museum and they wouldn't let us in with our clothing line apparatus.

I left my backpack at the Garmisch Youth Hostel and went walking around the town carrying just my green should bag (Brotbeutel). As I walked past a small bed and breakfast, a woman who I never saw in my life, shouted out, Herr _________? I stopped and looked at her in amazement. Herr _______ was my grandfather, Opa. I walked over and in English asked her why she called me Herr ___________. She answered that I was a short man who looked similar to my Opa, but that I was carrying his Brotbeutel that he took with him anywhere that he went. She owned the place where my grandparents used to stay. I told her that Opa died in 1968 and that is why they didn't come back any more. She invited me for lunch and told me stories about Opa and showed me how the cows come home by themselves and walk into their own houses at night from the hills surrounding the town.

After a day or so I moved on to Berchtesgaden to look for Hitler's Eagle Nest. I knew that the Americans had blown it up after the war, but I wanted to find it to make a special visit. I went to the Town Hall and found out in rough terms where it was located and went once again on a hike. After a while I came across some foundation stones and by the shape and size I think that I found where Hitler would go to get away from all of the daily woes of killing my people and millions of others. It was late afternoon and I had to relieve myself. Where better than on Hitler's favorite house? So in honor of my family and all of the others who would have loved to know that their descendants would be able to pee on Adolf's house. I urinated and said a blessing thanking God to allow me to be at this point in time.

I think a subtext to traveling by backpack is the difficulty of finding a place to go when you have to. This sort of sensitized me to how the homeless find this challenge overwhelming every day in the City. While at Garmisch I traveled to the top of Germany's highest mountain, the Zugspitze. I then was able to walk to the top apex where tourists could go up and touch the highest peak and look through one of those fixed binoculars at the lodge and the other mountains in the range. I was up there in the late afternoon, when I heard an announcement that it was too foggy to come back down and that we had to wait about 15 minutes until the fog cleared. That was all I needed to hear, since I was already feeling nature's call. I figured that goats and other animals could relieve themselves and no one could see me up there, so I walked away from the crowd and found a place to go and actually peed on the tallest peak of Germany. Again it was my way of marking the place and showing who was "ueber alles".

After that I had enough of Germany and went to Austria, and Switzerland where I visited my grandmother where she was visiting the baths in Bad Ragatz, and we walked up to where the Rhein River started. I was tired from the walk up to get to the top, but Oma was doing fine. After the walk back down to the hotel we washed my shirt and hang it on the lampshade to try. It wasn't as creative as my portable clothes line, but by the next morning the shirt was dry.

Oma was sharing her room with another traveling companion named Hannah. She was another nice elderly Jewish Holocaust Survivor who stayed in the same room with Oma for the summer when I visited. The room had a balcony overlooking the main street and a wall that was totally mirrored on the opposite side. At night, Hannah went into the bathroom to change into her nightgown and Oma stayed in the main part of the hotel room and changed into hers. She told me to go outside on to the balcony for me to get undressed. The street was dead after 10 p.m. so no one saw me changing outside.

Later that week I traveled on to Italy. I remember that while in Rome I was sleeping outdoors in a large park which was also involved in their former Olympics games. It was there that I saw young Americans running around and either yelling with glee or crying. I asked what was up, and they told me to get an International Herald Tribune and see what my draft lottery number was. I got a paper and looked and felt like crying. My number was in the top 10 days. I wasn't as terrified as others, since I knew that as long as I stayed in college I had my 1-H deferment, but it still was depressing and limiting. It became clear to me at that time, that I couldn't drop out of school and that I would become a very educated person. The other kids that were born on my birthday were probably really scared or bound for Canada.

From Italy I went to Greece, and from Greece to Israel, where I was to stay with a boy that I met the year before from my trip with B'nai Brith Girls. Actually, the boy was supposed to meet me in Italy. He had just finished high school and before he had to go into the Israeli army, his parents said that he could also go to Europe and meet up with me. But this never happened. His parents didn't even want to speak to me. They blamed me for putting the idea into his head. Yoel, did go to Europe and rented a motorcycle was killed in an accident, and that is why he never showed up. So I explored more of Israel as a tourist by myself and then returned home to go to Buffalo.

*** I did return to Europe several times over the next few summers, but in 1973 I just went for one week to stay with Oma and help her to pack up her things to come home. She was able to afford to stay the summer in Switzerland with the help of her German pension. So my mother would fly over and bring her there and unpack everything and stay the week and leave her alone for a few weeks, and then I would come at the end of the summer to bring her home. Oma was such a warm and kind and easy to be with person. She also had a sharp memory of everything during her life in Germany and I loved hearing all of her stories. Whenever I get stressed out or have a mean feeling coming on I think of her and remember how peaceful and smiling she always was in the midst of adversary.

The funniest thing that I remember about that trip is how we converted to Christianity on the way home. While sitting in the airplane waiting to depart, Oma was very nervous; which was unusual for her since she was quite used to flying. A few days before we left, a plane was hijacked in Jordan and blown up on the tarmac, so hijacking was on everyone's mind.

She leaned over and quietly with her German-French-Jewish accent told me, "Ricky, if we get hijacked, don't tell them that we are Jooewish."

I asked her, "What should we say?"

"Tell them that we are Episcopalian," and she returned to waiting to take off.

After things settled down and the stewardess was walking down the aisle with drinks, I noticed that she was still deep in thought.

I asked her, "What's wrong?"

She answered, "We can't be Episcopalians" What if they ask me to spell it? Maybe we should be Baptists?"

So that is how my grandmother and I first became Episcopalian and then Baptists at 10,000 feet in about fifteen minutes.

Riding the Arc of History

Click Here To Return to the MEMOIR webpage.