Posted by Wes Bradford on Nov 07, 2017

Volker Schäferbarthold is a member of the Rotary Club of Minden in Germany, and is a frequent visitor to PV Sunset Rotary Club due to his international business activities in San Pedro. He was born in 1937 in Germany and experienced Nazi rule during his early childhood.

Hitler came to power in 1933 during the great worldwide Depression, which was worse in Germany because it was still required to pay reparations to the Allies after its loss in World War I. With 6 million Germans out of work and increasing hopelessness, and with the 2 major political parties unable to turn the economy around, Hitler promised relief and his minority party was allowed to form a government. Then the Reichstag (Parliament building) “mysteriously” burned down, Hitler flew into a rage and blamed the Communists, and declared a state of emergency to rule by decree. With no parliamentary meeting place, he was now the absolute dictator.

In 1938, Hitler ordered the end of Jewish institutions and businesses, beginning with the Kristallnacht (night of broken windows, when Nazi thugs vandalized Jewish businesses who were blamed for Germany’s problems). This was the beginning of the Holocaust. There were no independent courts or freedom of speech or the press. In September 1939, Hitler began World War II by invading Poland with Nazi propaganda being the only news available.

Volker was born into a Christian family and went to church every Sunday. In school the children were required to greet their teacher with the right stiff-armed Nazi salute and saying “Heil Hitler”. Volker’s older brother and sister were in the Hitlerjugend (“Hitler Youth”) and in uniform. In 1944, a high-ranking German officer attempted to kill Hitler with a bomb at a meeting in his office, and the radio news urged everyone to pray for the life of their “beloved Führer”.

Nazi propaganda reported the bright side about “heroism” in the war, especially on the German defeat in the battle of Stalingrad in the Soviet Union. Volker’s father could not serve in the Army due to an old arm injury. Volker’s older brother on the Belgian Front watched a battle with a friend, who suddenly collapsed and died from a bullet; his brother vowed never to touch a weapon again. Air raids with systematic bombing of German cities became an almost daily experience with sirens and bomb explosions, endured in bomb shelters by a population of mostly elderly, women and children. Electric lights would go out in the shelters until after the raid, and were lit by candlelight.

When Volker later asked his mother about the Jews, she said, “Yes, they gradually disappeared, but nobody knew exactly what had happened to them.” When she finally learned the truth, she could not believe how misled and ignorant she had been. His parents had thought of their beloved country as the land of poets and philosophers (Gutenberg, Goethe and Beethoven).