Thursday, 5 March 2009

March 1945

Sherman M4A3 Tank

Three days after the invasion and after repeated house searches Mother and I were still alone in the house and still very much afraid, hardly daring to show ourselves. By day, the shutters were now open and the handkerchief had disappeared. The villagers were allowed to leave their houses between 11 am and 12 noon to fetch milk and bread from the corner shop. The water had also been reconnected although there was still no electricity.

By now the GIs had stolen a number of items from the landlord's part of the house, portable things that took their fancy, the spoils of war; some valuable, some possibly "keepsakes", like watches and small pieces of jewellery. We also knew that the GIs liked to take any bottles of wine and spirits that they could find. We never learned if anybody had investigated the contents of the earth closet, as far as we knew, nothing had been found.

On the fourth morning Mother opened the shutters; I was with her at the window. In front of the house was a very wide pavement and on that pavement, less than a meter away from he window stood a tank, a Sherman tank. Mother immediately tried to slam the shutters shut again. A hand stretched out from the tank, a black hand, grabbing the shutters and opening them wide. Mother tried to pull me away, and retreated into the room behind. Curiosity won over fear, I knelt at the window to examine the strange apparition on the pavement and the hand still holding the shutters.

While I watched an arm appeared, then a helmet and a face underneath it. The face too was black. I had never seen a black face before. The face was large and round, I saw dark brown eyes which were smiling at me and a mouth open in a wide grin, showing brilliantly white teeth. I have never forgotten that face.

For a while we stared at each other. Perhaps I smiled too, I cannot remember. But I know that I stayed at the window, behind the glass, mesmerised.

The next morning I rushed to the window; the tank was still there. For a while "my" black GI and I stared and smiled at each other. Then, slowly, he brought out a hand. The hand held a shiny, round, yellow object: an orange, the first one I'd ever seen. He stretched out his hand towards the closed window, clearly offering the orange as a gift. Mother was watching. I wanted the orange, to hold and examine it, it looked very interesting. Mother said no. I begged. The GI still held out his hand, I begged again. In those very early days women were afraid of soldiers, there had been talk not only of theft and robbery and destruction of property but also of rape.

In the end mother cautiously opened the window a tiny crack; I stretched out my arm and, miraculously, the orange was gently placed in my hand.

It smelled and tasted like nothing I had ever experienced before. It tasted like sunshine and light and wide open spaces and freedom and life itself and the total absence of fear.

One more morning came and, yes, my new friend was there, waiting for me. Eagerly I looked for his hands; they were hidden. I was very disappointed - there was to be no gift today.

But "my" GI smiled his broad smile and then one of his hands reached out to me, this time holding a tiny package, a small bar wrapped in paper. Mother helped me with the window, she had lost some of her distrust and fear but not, by any means, all of it. The opening remained a tiny crack, just wide enough for a small child's arm to wriggle through.

The package landed in my hand. The GI motioned that I should open it, tear the paper off. Curiously, I did as I was bid. Chocolate! I would love to think I held a Hershey bar and I probably did, although I would not like to swear to it now.

The kindness of that GI, the magnanimity the victor showed to the small child of the vanquished has remained with me all my life. There was so much hatred, evil and anger in the world I knew then, the only world I knew, that his deed stood out like a beacon of light in the darkness all around.

Sadly, my friend and his tank had gone by the next morning. I know he was not a dream because the pavement slabs in front of the house, where the tank had been parked, remained broken for all the time we lived there.

A day later, in the middle of the night, Father came home.


  1. Such a beautiful story, beautifully told.

  2. Friko, I came to this post because of what Mark said on his blog today. And he was right! Amazing to think that when you wrote this you were an unknown!!! Now you'd have tons of comments. Don't you think it's a pity that people rarely go back and read older posts?


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