“You can’t just barge in here without an appointment”, he blustered. “This is my home and my family and I are about to eat our supper. If you have anything to say about what happens at school you have to bring it up there.”
Mum stood her ground, but he wouldn’t budge. “You have no right to invade my privacy.” He continued to attack us, insisting that he was not going to discuss any complaints except at school. A time was fixed for the next day and we left, having achieved nothing. He had bullied us into submission but his extreme reaction made Mum determined not to let the matter rest. Thomanek knew this, he knew that he would have to answer for his behaviour; Mum, working class, with no more than a basic education and quite unsophisticated, would demand answers from the school establishment.
Alas, she never got them. At least, not in so many words. In 1950s Germany most ordinary people kept their political allegiance, past and present, quiet. My parents, however, were among the few exceptions, foolishly perhaps, but definitely bravely, as they and the family had been during the whole of Nazi-Germany, for which they paid a heavy price. In the 50s the Cold War was raging, with divided and four-sectored Germany the buffer zone between East and West. Twelve million people had fled and migrated from East to West and, until the erection of The Wall in 1961 put an end to it, the mass exodus still continued.
In the end, Herr Thomanek's persecution of me was not due to personal antipathy, but the politics of hatred and fear. He was one of those who had gone on the long trek from East to West.
As a child I was sickly. Weak, under-nourished, too tall, too thin, with lung disease and all the ailments that befell children who had had a poor start in life. I wasn’t the only one, there were many of us. Twice I had been sent to sanatoria, once during the war to the mountains of Bavaria and once after the war to the island of Norderney in the North Sea. It was hoped that mountain and sea air would heal, or at least strengthen, my lungs.
During the time I was a student in Herr Thomanek’s class, Dad was offered a place for me in a sanatorium on the Baltic coast by one of his friends in the Socialist Movement; the problem was the holiday would have to be during term time and require permission from the school authorities. Permission would probably have been granted had the sanatorium been anywhere else but in East Germany, the place many of the teachers at the local schools had called home and had been forced, or had chosen, to leave. Dad, in his naiveté, had committed a monumental blunder. Permission was refused and Herr Thomanek turned against one of his star pupils.
Mum and I still had to meet him. She knew nothing about the politics of the staff room, all she knew was that her child was hurting and she wanted to know why.
We met him during morning break on the half-landing between two floors, leaning against the stone banister. Thomanek was standing above us, looking down. I was half sitting in a window embrasure, crying bitterly all the time of the interview. Although he was physically in a position of superiority, he was noticeably quieter, even conciliatory. The Headmistress had spoken to him and advised that he try to calm Mum down. There had been a meeting, he admitted as much as that.
But what would happen to me?
to be continued