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  • The Scrivener


Updated: Apr 6

I’m having trouble remembering whether it was 1962 or 1963, but I think it was probably 1962. The events in Germany in the year I’m talking about feel more like they happened to my fourteen year old self than to my fifteen year old self.

So in 1962 {probably) the Third Royal Tank Regiment invited a portion of my boarding school’s cadet force to their depot near the city of Hanover, in Germany. (The German spelling of the city’s name was Hannover).

For about two weeks we lived in barrack rooms. The toilets were weird; you crapped into a dry bowl, and the fecal matter was washed away when you flushed. German toilets.

We did some entertaining stuff; we got to drive Ferret scout cars and we fired a .22 rifle that was hooked up to the trigger inside a Centurion battle tank and aligned with its main 105mm gun. The .22 rifle fired at objects in a miniaturized landscape in a sandpit in front of the tank. The tank had its nose inside the large shed that contained the sandpit.

The shopping center in the depot was circular and had curving hallways. There was a large concrete circle above the main entrance. We were told that a swastika had been dynamited out of the circle when the depot was handed over by the resident Panzer regiment to the BAOR (British Army of the Rhine) after Germany had surrendered at the end of World War II.

Also in the area around Hanover was the park that memorialized the atrocities committed by the Nazis at the World War II Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

About three quarters of the way through our stay we were driven there in three-ton army trucks.

It was an open area in an expanse of coniferous woodland.

The commanding officer of our school cadet force was an English teacher named John Craig. He had been a reserve Gurkha officer in World War II. Now he was middle-aged and his battledress was adorned with the gun-metal insignia of a prestigious light infantry regiment. It gave him a certain élan, and he was an imposing figure standing in the middle of the memorial park where the World War II Bergen-Belsen concentration camp had been.

He gathered us around him to address us, and strangers who were not part of our school cadet force gathered around him with us. They were under the mistaken impression that he was some kind of official guide.

“The purpose of this park and of our visit here,” Major Craig said, “ is not to humiliate or embarrass the Germans. It is intended more to provide an illustration of, and a warning about, what happens when a nation subordinates its collective integrity to the whims of a single man.”

In the middle of the park there was a stone monument topped with the Star of David. Underneath it an engraving said: ”Israel and the world shall remember the forty thousand Jews exterminated in the concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen…”

One face of the monument was inscribed in English, and a second was inscribed in Hebrew. The monument had four faces. I imagine faces three and four were inscribed in German and perhaps French respectively. I don’t know; I never went round to take a look, and at that time I didn’t speak German anyway.

Spread around the park were rectangular mounds covered by grass and enclosed by low parapet walls. Each bore a gravestone, which was cemented into its surrounding wall. The gravestone indicated the number of people buried under the mound. It would read, for instance, “Hier Liegen 3000.” Some mounds enclosed more than 3000 bodies, some less.

On the side of the park furthest from the main gate was a shooting range where the concentration camp guards had used the prisoners for target practice. The shooting range consisted of a path along the bottom of a gulley. The path had long high banks on either side. The prisoners had been made to run along the path while the guards fired down at them from the banks on their right and left.

John Craig said that the park was intended primarily to provide an illustration of, and a warning about, what happens when a nation subordinates its collective integrity to the whims of a single man.

I am now 75 and people in the trailer park have difficulty understanding why I detest Donald Trump and everything he stands for.

Yeah. Well, now you all know, don’t you?


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