It wasn’t until my dear friend, Maus, who had been like a sister to me since 1972, told the story of how Markus, her then three-year-old son killed their pet rabbit, that I was reminded of my own childhood premeditation.
My brothers and I never had a brother-sister relationship until we finally realized who our real enemy was and decided not to fight with one another. Our daily lives consisted of work and a constant battle of defending ourselves. If we dared ask to play with other kids our mother’s favorite expression was “Don’t you have anything better to do? I will cure your laziness.” Then she would list things we had to do right away.
Besides the daily routine of washing dishes and dusting, one of our parent’s favorite assignments for us was to have Nigg sweep the street and the courtyard. I had to clean the stairs from the third floor, all the way down to the basement.
When we had everything done, she’d find something else waiting for us to do, like stacking firewood or sweeping the cellar where the coal was stored.
One evening about eight o’clock I had just finished cleaning the kitchen. I was tired of being responsible for my brothers and dealing with their rude behavior. My daily work around the house was enough without them making a mess all over again. I still had to dust the bedrooms before I would be done for the day and could start on my schoolwork.
My two brothers had just come back from fishing. Instead of going to the wash house where they were suppose to clean the fish and leave their wet clothes, they came straight into the kitchen. When I saw the dirty wet clothes on the floor and the fish in the sink, I lost my temper. Yelling, I went after Hans since he was the first one I could reach, and beat him with the dish rag over his head.
Nigg stood by the door laughing. His laughing made me go into a rage. I turned Hans loose and reached for the broom. I knew I didn’t stand a chance against Nigg and tried first to threaten him. He kept on laughing and teasing me. He called me a dumb nut, my father’s favorite expression for me. I got angrier. The real fight started when he pulled me by the hair. With broom in hand, I hit him until the broomstick broke against his arm. We stopped when I saw his arm swell up and I immediately felt sorry for my actions. Together we put cold wraps on the swelling arm. We’d obviously had enough.
Once we calmed down and sat at the kitchen table talking, we began comparing out lives to the other children we knew. How their fathers played with them, or their mother cooked and washed for them. Each of us had an idea of how our parents should be. We finally came to the conclusion that the problem was that our father was the devil in person.
“We have to stop fighting each other,” I said, “we must stick together.”
Nigg said, “Nobody will stand up against the old man, they are all afraid of him, these cowards. These are last one we can expect any help from is our mother. We have to take care of this problem and can’t trust anybody.”
I said, “Remember when I told Uncle Dittl that father beat us?”
“Yes,” Hans replied, “he threw Uncle Dittl out and we got a lesson not to talk about family business outside the house.”
“You don’t have to worry about a thing,” Nigg yelled at Hans, “it is Sieglinde and I who get all the heat. You get away with just about everything because you are the old lady’s favorite child. She protects you all the time and makes sure no one blames you. If anything happens to you it is always our fault. When you got yourself in trouble with other kids and got hurt, it was our fault, we should have protected you.” Nigg was so angry I had to stop him before we ended up fighting again.
Once we changed the subject we talked, for the very first time, about how much we were afraid of our father. Nigg told us how he listened to the cars in the night when he was lying in bed. “First,” he said, “I figure out what types of cars are coming, then if they stop in front of the house, I can tell by their engines.”
“I do the same.” I said. It was true. Every time I heard a car I would listen to see if it stopped in front of our house, or did it pull into the driveway. If I heard the car in the driveway I knew my parents were home and I would shake. Then I would listen as they unlocked the door and walked up the stairs. I would hear them in the kitchen. I always held my breath to try to hear what they would be talking about. Then, I prayed that they would go straight to bed. Sometimes minutes turned to hours and I had the feeling it was taking an eternity for them to decide what they were going to do. If the voice got louder I knew the piercing whistle would follow. It didn’t matter what time of night it was, they always found a reason to wake us up.
One time Nigg did not do his “duty” by shining the old man’s shoes. We all had to line up like soldiers in the night in order to “receive our just punishment”. Most of the time he only said, “You all know why!”
That night we went to bed late again, just before I heard the car come up the driveway. I lay in bed praying, “Not again tonight.” I could still feel the beating with the hose from the night before. The dreaded whistle sounded and this time it was about the big window in our store downstairs. We tried to tell him we didn’t break it, that it was somebody else, but he was not interested in our explanation. He called us lying bastards and once again we had to go to the laundry room, one by one. The next morning he said, “If it wasn’t your fault this time, you all needed the discipline anyway.”
That’s when we decided it was time for us kids to do something. First, we came up with the idea of the three of us running away together. We soon realized that if the police caught us they would bring us back and probably wouldn’t be interested in hearing our story. We remembered what happened when Mrs. Reischel called the police about us. They came, talked to the old man and left. We soon decided that running away wouldn’t work. It wasn’t until we each looked at each other and knew we all had the same thought. “We have to get rid of him.”
After a long silence we decided we had to kill him before he killed one of us. Nigg’s suggestion was to “fix” the brakes on his Mercedes. I said it wouldn’t work since he and the devil are one. Then Nigg said, “We all know what would happen if he didn’t break his neck.”
It wasn’t the best idea anyway since every mechanic around would be able to figure it out. I said, “To poison him would be a waste of time, that old Satan would probably survive that too.” As hard as we tried we couldn’t come up with anything worth trying. Nigg thought of installing the big axe above the door and have it come down and split his head when he walked in.
“No,” Hans said, “what if mother comes in first? There must be another way to get rid of him.”
No matter what we came up with it wouldn’t work without the possibility of someone else getting hurt. We promised to continue to think about it until we could find a solution. We were full of hope that it would only be a short time until we were free of torture. The thought that he wouldn’t be around much longer gave us hope and strengthened us so we could endure his attacks.
We learned to cope with our daily lives by being constantly alert. As we grew older we learned how to answer our father’s questions quickly and in a way that would please him. If we didn’t always tell the truth at least the lie protected us. We also learned to steal a little time for ourselves by making up stories, like we had to stay at school longer. One time I told my mother I had to walk my school friend home since she was not feeling well. I knew then, if the lies were discovered I would be punished. I did it anyway.
Later on, Nigg and I found out it didn’t matter if we lied or not, our father didn’t believe us anyway. He was never satisfied with a simple explanation or the plain truth. Soon, we didn’t feel like liars anymore and we used his tendency for the dramatic to help ourselves. His guidance for life was based on Hitler’s convincingly dramatic speeches. So we learned to dramatize or make up a fantastic story to satisfy him. They gave us a little freedom until the next time. We heard the same speech every time about the actions Hitler had to take to achieve his “glorious goals”.
Even today my father’s words ring in my ears. “To achieve a goal you have to eliminate everything that gets in your way. I hope someone like Hitler will rise and lead Germany into glory and order again.” Whenever my father had something to say he always did it in a theatrical tone. When he told jokes, and almost all of them were sarcastic or of a racist nature, he expected people to laugh and understand his kind of humor.
If nobody laughed or agreed with him he called them an uneducated mob, then make it absolutely clear that they were not part of the world’s elite. For the people who did not agree with him he had another line. “If Hitler comes back, they are the kind who will be the first ones in a concentration camp.”
We were confronted over and over again with my father’s philosophy. If it wasn’t his actions, then his words. I didn’t understand anything about politics, but I refused to accept what he said. Not everybody in the world could have the same point of view and belief of my father, I was certain of that. I hated every kind of control, mental or physical force against humanity.
Every child looks for a way out of unbearable mental and physical pain. Depending on the experiences a child reacts accordingly. In my childhood yelling was, as I believed, our lesser problem. I had no idea how much impact it had. It was accepted as part of the day and we children were glad if all they did was yell at us. Just how much impact the yelling had on me I found out later.
I became silent when confronted with death. Once, when my beloved Lella died and once when the guinea pig died. In both experiences I noticed the pleasant feeling of silence death can bring and that was reason enough to silence the pain maker in our life and to find freedom.
Abused children don’t murder or kill in the same sense the law interprets murder. All they ask for is peace and freedom from pain. Anytime a child lashes out, inflicts pain on others or even kills its parents, is a sign of mental distress. The child has reached the end of it endurance and reacts according to it’s survival instinct. Society only see the reaction as one of ill behaved child and feel they must correct it instead of asking the question why and how this child was pushed in to such defensive reaction. The punishment for the so called bad child will be the the law. The law however never asks why, has no empathy for a child’s previous suffering that has pushed the child to the desperate act of getting rid of the “PAIN-MAKER”.
Having experienced the constant mental stress on a daily basis I know that every reaction a child shows is beyond logic. The child has not reached logic maturity and responds emotionally defensive and according to the imprint what they have learned so far from the rearing adults.
Parents in denial usually say, “I don’t understand why my child curses.” Or asks, “Why is my child so aggressive?”
Children mirror their parents and blame genes to avoid the reality how they were the key instrument that has imprinted their child. As my mother use to tell me, “You have the genes of your father”, when she thought I reacted like he did. What she did denied was the how my fathers daily racing behavior influence me.
Many leading experts in psychology believe that teaching in how to parent will change family abuse and violence.
In my experience only a parent who was abused will abuse again. The only way not to continue the pattern of abuse is, when the abused adult addresses it’s own trauma.
Only if we can feel pain, we will feel the pain we inflict and empathy will hinder us from inflicting pain on others.