It wasn’t really a village as such, just a small group of houses scattered around the local dairy, the blacksmith and the country store, where one could buy anything from a bolt of cotton to groceries, boots, tools and what not. Some houses were farms, with pastures behind them, extending all the way to the sea-shore. Not that this was any great distance, for none of the farms on the island were large, but the soil was fertile and the farmers made a decent living on their land, and so they had for generations, for the farms had gone from father to son (or daughter) through centuries. Take the blacksmith place-had it not been in the same family for more than two hundred years? And the Peregrine farm, one of the largest on the island, had been leased and later owned by the same family since the Middle Ages.
There was no Inns, restaurants or places of entertainment on the island. There never had been and that was a good thing, for there would be no temptations for the young people; at least that’s what the older generation thought. Some families were running B&B’s to cater to summer tourists who came to enjoy the peace and quiet that prevailed.
Few of the houses were of modern design; most of them of timber frame style, such as had been the building practice for generations and many, being as old as they are, clearly had stood the test of time. The exposed timbers are tarred every few years and the adobe fill between them whitewashed at the same time. Life on the island was predictable and with no more than a few dozen families residing there, everyone knew each other.
The women on the island loved gossiping, especially over the party line telephone system, which was not scheduled for upgrading to a dial-up system for another two years. More often than not, there would be three or four women on the line, chatting about the latest happenings, or so it seemed. New and leapfrogging technology was making changes to the islander’s way of life, although no-one seemed mindful of it.
Old Peter did, though. He was 75 years old and had seen many changes to the way of life on the island. His wife of 50 years had died of leukemia in 45, nearly six years ago and every week he would go to her grave and put fresh flowers on it. It seemed only yesterday that she had passed away and he often felt quite lonely, even though he was well cared for by his son and daughter-in-law, who took over the farm when he was 69. He was immensely proud of his grandchildren, a boy and a girl. They were so full of life and seemed to thrive in their limited environment.
Every morning during the summer, he would go for a walk. It was nice to see all the green fields, the old trees along the road and smell the fresh, salty breeze that sometimes blew from the ocean. He felt that there was permanence, a sort of eternal feeling to all that he saw, yet he knew this could not endure. Most of his generation had long ago departed for the realm of everlasting rest and peace, and he knew it wouldn’t be long before he joined them, but in the meantime, there were still joyful hours and days to contemplate. John and Alfred, contemporaries to Peter, were still alive, both of them 72, and often they would all meet somewhere to talk of the old days, which they all thought were infinitely better than today’s crazy world. Erik and Paul had both passed away a couple of years ago.
Peter reached the stone bench, which really wasn’t a bench as such, but rather a large, elongate boulder, dumped there by glaciers some 10,000 years ago. It could readily accommodate four people, sitting side by side and it was used for generations. When he was young, he used to come there with his mom and dad, who often went for a walk in the early evenings or on Sundays. His grandfather, Cedrik, whom he had known for quite a few years, before he passed away, had also come to the stone bench and often times together with him. It was Cedrik’s father, Kenton, Peter’s great grandfather who had acquired their farm from the lease Lord, Baron Stallman, who had owned the entire island. Prior to the land reform laws, all the farms were leased to individual farmers, who often held the lease for generations, passing it on from father to son, with the Lord’s permission, but no-one ever became prosperous under this feudal system.
The old stone bench was also the meeting place for Peter, John and Alfred, although they didn’t see each other every day. Today, Alfred showed up and Peter greeted him with a sprightly “Good morning Alfred, what a fine day it is today. I brought a thermos bottle with coffee. Did you bring your mug?”
“Yes, I did,” said Alfred, “we can have a cupful now, for I feel like something? I wasn’t hungry for breakfast, but a cup of coffee would suit me fine now.” Peter unscrewed the cap of the thermos, which served as a cup for him, removed the stopper and poured the coffee.
For a while, they sat quietly, sipping the coffee. It was a tranquil morning, the wind a mere whisper that barely stirred the leaves in the trees. A male starling was singing nearby and chickadees were fluttering about in the bushes, looking for something to eat, sounding off with their kee,–kee-kee chirps. Peter put his hand in his pocket and brought out some sunflower seed, held it out and in a flash, a chickadee landed on it, took a seed and flew off again to a bush and began pecking away on the seed, until it got at the kernel inside it. It kept coming back, until there were no more seeds in Peter’s hand.
“Alfred, said Peter, you are quiet this morning. Are you feeling OK?”
“Yes, I’m feeling fine, although I didn’t sleep too well last night. I got to thinking about the war and the German soldiers that occupied our island. They sure were a mean lot of bastards, weren’t they?”
“Oh my God, yes. I’ll never forget them; they murdered three of our people here. The captain in charge, what was his name now- Oh yea; it was Gunter Hoffmann, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, said Alfred, I hated those cold, blue eyes of his. I remember when he had Niels arrested and how they beat him completely senseless, just because he had broken a curfew. He was never the same after that, was he?”
“No, said Peter, and on top of that, they kept him in that stinking cell for three days without any concern for his horrific condition. He had several broken ribs and a broken arm. I remember he was bed-ridden for more than two month after they let him go.”
“Yes, those sons of bitches! Had it been up to me, I would have hung them all after the war was over, but they got away scot free, acting with contempt, when they departed on the ferry, -just as bloody Nazi as ever, said Alfred
“They never did find out what happened to Captain Hoffmann, did they?”
“No, no-one saw him leave on the ferry, but he may have stolen a boat and rowed over to the mainland.”
“No, said Alfred, I don’t think so, for no-one reported a boat stolen. I think someone came and picked him up the night just before they were due to leave the island. A Nazi sympathizer or perhaps some German bastard from the mainland he had contacted on the wireless.
“Well, said Peter, you said that the 16 soldiers left our island just as high and mighty as the day they came, but I can tell you that not all of them did”.
“How so”, said Alfred.
“Do you remember that big, ugly brute, that sergeant that raped John’s daughter?”
“Yes, I sure do, said Alfred, I always wanted to beat the shit out of him, but anyone who tried would probably be killed, we all knew that, so no-one dared.”
“Well, let me enlighten your mind a bit on that score. You weren’t the only one that had it in for him. I think most of us wanted to have a go at the bastard and we eventually did. You know they were all disarmed on the day of capitulation and we knew they would be sent to the mainland on the ferry the next day. The night before, we caught the big brute walking outside the barrack they were supposed to be confined in. There were four of us together, all with one thing on our mind—revenge. We beat him-and beat him, in uncontrolled rage, to within an inch of his life. It felt as if we were taken revenge on him for all the suffering the bloody Nazis had inflicted on us during the last five years. To make sure he would remember his uninvited stay on our island forever, one of us took a pocket knife and cut a swastika on his forehead and rubbed some dirt into it, to make sure it would make a very visible scar.”
“My God!” Said Alfred, “No-one ever told me that. How come I never heard that story?”
“Given we had beat him so bad and didn’t know if he would survive, we thought it was best to keep it to ourselves. I heard they carried someone aboard the ferry on a stretcher when all the krauts left the morning after, and we simply assumed it was the bastard we had beaten up. By and by, we just slowly forgot about the event, although personally, I still have moments of anger when I think about him. Another piece of news for you, Alfred; John was one of the four of us who beat the son of bitch up, but don’t go getting on his goat for not telling you, even after all these years. It was best to keep it quiet.”
“Well, I’ll be; nothing surprises me anymore”
“Oh, said Peter, ”I think I have a story or two to tell you that may raise a few hairs on your neck, but that’ll have to wait to another day. I want to go and collect some gull eggs down on the shore. There are a lot of nesting birds there this year and Rita, my daughter-in-law, likes to use them in some of her baking.”
They got up, Alfred, leaning a bit hard on his cane, and began walking toward the village, small-talking about this and that along the way. They decided to meet again at the bench the following Sunday.
Peter headed back to the farm, picked up a basket in the kitchen and told Rita he was going down to the shore to collect gull eggs and asked if she wanted a lot.
“No, not a lot”, said Rita, “I won’t be doing much baking in the next few days and we have quite a few chicken eggs. I use half chicken and half gull eggs for a lot of things I bake, so just bring me a couple of dozen, Peter.”
“OK Rita, I’m off. See you in a while. Did you hear from Erik today? “No, said Lisa, “he won’t complete his course for another three days, so I expect he will call tomorrow.”
Peter walked down along the edge of the field leading to the shore. The barley was knee-high already and it looked like they would have a good harvest. I nice, fresh breeze greeted him when he reached the stony beach and the gulls screeched and buzzed him when he reached their nesting area. The few cormorants that were about flew out to sea, being more timid than the gulls. He sat down on a rock for a while to rest and looked out over the sea, toward the mainland, visible in the distance. How often had he not done this through all the years he had lived, his entire life spent working the land and doing all the things that people on the island traditionally did. Except for the war years, it had been a good life.
His thoughts drifted back to other times and memories flooded into his mind. It felt good to remember happy moments, especially when he was young and just married.
Well, he thought, better get going. He collected a couple of dozen gull eggs, much to the consternation of the birds, whose screeches increased to a crescendo. He never took more than one eggs from each nest, to ensure that there would be new generations of gulls for the future.
After finishing collecting the eggs, he headed back to the farm. On the way, he passed by a large boulder and stopped for a minute and looked at it. The little swastika carved in the corner was still there. A casual observer would probably never notice it, but Peter knew it was there. He felt a cold chill deep inside him. It seemed a lot of bad memories from the war years had surfaced lately, even though five years had passed since those horrible times had come to an end.
Rita greeted him in the kitchen when he returned with the gull eggs. “Do you want some coffee?” she asked.
“Yeah, why not?” he said. “There was a chilly on-shore wind down by the beach today. Some nice hot coffee would warm up some of those old bones of mine.”
“John stopped by” she said. “He was wondering where you were and said to tell you he wanted to talk to you.”
“Did he say what about” said Peter.
“No, but he looked kind of upset and it’s not like him to be that way. You know John, he always seem happy and content.”
“Well, I better go see him. I’ll be back for lunch.”
John lived a short walking distance from the farm, but strangely enough, he thought, it had been quite a while since he paid him a visit. Like himself, John was widowed and lived with his son and daughter-in-law on the farm that had been in his family for many generations. His two daughters had married other young farmer sons on the island. Peter thought about that, as he was walking down the lane towards John’s place. Regardless of all the new technology and new ideas that seem to proliferate amongst the younger generations, there was never-the-less some things that stayed the same. Traditions, customs and the local culture were still strong and gave a sense of continuity to the whole island, and that pleased him.
Peter knocked on the door and Vera, John’s daughter-in-law, opened it. “Well, hello Peter! It’s been a while since you’ve paid us a visit. How are you? How are things at home?”
“Oh, just fine” said Peter. “John was down to our place and wanted to see me, but I was down on the beach collecting gull eggs, so I missed him.”
“I’ll go get him, Peter. I think he is out in the barn.”
“No. that’s OK, I’ll go see him there.”
Peter walked over to the barn where John was sitting on a bale of hay just inside the door.
“Hello John!” he said. “Rita told me you wanted to talk to me.”
“Yes, said John, I run into Alfred down at the store and we walked home together after he finished shopping. He told me that you had related the story about us beating the shit out of that Nazi brute on the night of the German capitulation. I thought we had all agreed to keep that event secret. Why did you tell Alfred?”
“Well, John, it’s been five years now since the war and those dreadful days came to an end and since Alfred and I are good friends, I thought it would be OK to tell him.”
“That’s fine for you to say, but can you trust Alfred not to go spreading this all over the Island?”
“Oh, I think so, but even if he did, I don’t see what harm could come of it now. I’m damned sure that Nazi bastard will never come here again. If he ever did, I’d make bloody sure he got some more of the same medicine we gave him back in May, 1945.”
“Well, said John, Eric and Paul are both dead, so they took the secret of their participation in the beating with them to their graves. Now there are only three of us that knows and I hope to Hell Alfred will keep his mouth shut. What is it they say: “Let sleeping dogs lie.”
“I’m sorry, I let the cat out of the bag John, but what’s done is done and we can’t change it now. It’s all old hat now anyway.”
“That’s fine, said john, but if any of the women hears about it, the story will be all over the island in a matter of hours. You know bloody well how they gossip. If that happens, none of us three will have any peace for a long time.”
“I’ll have another word with Alfred about it. Why don’t you come out to the stone bench on Sunday? Alfred and I planned to meet there for coffee and a chat. It might be OK if he heard the story from you also.”
“OK, said John, I’ll see you both there then.”
Peter went home again. It was the middle of August and the island was clad in summer’s delightful panorama of colours under a bright blue, sunny sky with capricious cottony clouds sailing in slow, lazy formations across the heavens. Life was good , thought Peter and inwardly hoped it would always be so.
He heard the phone ringing and Rita answering it.
“Peter”, she shouted. “It’s Lisa calling from her B&B: she wants to talk to you.”
“Well, whatever ever in carnation does she want” said Peter. “I haven’t talked to her for ages.”
He grabbed the phone. “Hello Lisa, what’s up”?
“Hi Peter; It’s been a while since we talked, but look, something odd happened. A German couple made a reservation a few weeks ago and I thought there was something familiar about the name he gave, Oskar Gunter Hoffman, but then kind of just passed it off. They arrived today and after settling into their room, he came down and asked me if I had known his father, Captain Günter Hoffman, who had been stationed here during the war.
“My God,” said Peter, “what did you say to him?”
“Jeepers, I was flabbergasted, to say the least, but said that someone with a name sounding like that had been here during the war years. He then asked me if I knew what happened to him, for he had never returned after the war was over. I just said I had no idea.”
“Lisa, I’m coming over. I want to meet that guy. I’ll be there in 15 minutes.”
“OK”, said Lisa; “I’ll see you then.”
Peter jumped on his bike and peddled in the direction of Lisa’s B&B, all the while he was thinking about what the Hell he was going to say to this guy. Not in his wildest dreams had he ever thought that some son of Captain Günter Hoffman would ever come here to try and find out about his father. Either he doesn’t know what kind of a Nazi bastard his father was or he thinks we know what happened to the slime ball. Well, he thought, I better tell him a thing or two about his ‘dear father’.
He reached Lisa’s B&B, jumped off his bike and went to the main door, which was partially open. “Lisa” It’s me, Peter.”
Lisa came out. “Hello Peter, it’s been a while since you last came ‘round here. How are Lisa and Erik?”
“They are fine. Erik is away taking a course at the agricultural college. He’ll be back in a few days. Can we talk in your office?”
“Sure said Lisa, but don’t worry about privacy. The German and his wife have gone sightseeing along the beach and I don’t expect them back for a while.”
“Tell me what they asked you about Captain Hoffman.”
“Well, after explaining who he was, he said he had come to investigate why his father was missing. He had been contacted in his hometown in Germany by someone who had served on this island under his father’s command. He indicated his father had not left on the ferry with the rest of the troops on May 9, 1945 He asked me if anyone here knew anything about what happened to him, and that’s why I called you.”
“What did you say to him?”
“Nothing I could tell. I haven’t the foggiest notion what happened to that beast. I’d liked to have seen him getting a real beating before he left”. He was a vicious piece of German trash that, for all I care, should have been strung up in the nearest tree.”
“Well, Lisa, I share your sentiments. He was a first class bastard but the fact that his son is here looking for information on him suggest that perhaps he is dead or maybe he decided to make a new life for himself in Germany, like taking on a new identity. It won’t do his son, this Oskar Gunter character, any good making inquiries here, since no-one on the island knows what happened to him.”
“Look!, said Lisa, the Germans are coming up the path now.”
“OK, I’m going to have a little talk with that fellow. I know you speak English and you said that he speaks English very well, but I really don’t anymore. I speak a little German, which I picked up during the war years, so perhaps between the two of us, we can talk with him.”
Oskar Hoffman and his wife came in and seeing Peter, he said “Hello, my name is Oskar Gunter Hoffman. I’m the son of Captain Gunter Hoffmann who was stationed here during the war.”
“And what precisely is it you want here? No-one on this island thinks of your bastard father as anything but a murdering Nazi.”
“That is not true, said Oskar. He was very highly thought of in my home town. I was a member of the Hitler Jugend and looked up to him with great respect.”
“Oh, said Peter in halting German, so you were a Nazi in training. If you think for a minute it makes me feel any better about you, think again. You were just being brain washed into believing all this shit about the superior German Aryan race”.
Peter paused for a second, trying to think of what else to say in German. Lisa asked if he wanted her to translate to English anything he said..
“Yes, said Peter, that would be fine. Ask him who it was that came looking for his father in his home town.”
Lisa asked the question in English.
“It was Sergeant Mueller, who was stationed here during the war, said Oskar. I’ll never forget his face. He had a scar on his forehead in the shape of a swastika and his nose was badly twisted. He said someone on the island here had beaten him severely the night before they left the island. He also told me that my father was not on the ferry when he and the rest of the soldiers left.”
“Lisa, tell him we all know who he was, and if he ever shows up here again, we can arrange to give him an even worse beating and that no-one here have the foggiest notion as to when and how his father left, and frankly, none of us give a bloody hoot. There is not a person on this island that wouldn’t gladly have seen him dangling in the end of a rope on the day you bastards capitulated.”
“I see that I have wasted my time coming here, said Oscar. You are nothing but a stupid farmer who doesn’t know shit from a pile of dung. It’s too bad my father didn’t sent you to one of our concentration camps when he had the chance.”
“Lisa! Tell that son of a bitch he is lucky I’m not a younger man. I would have beaten the shit out of him, for what he just said, but you may inform him if he is still on this island by tomorrow morning, I will arrange for him to leave in a considerable less healthy state than he is in now.”
“You are threatening me, said Oskar. How dare you? I’m here as a tourist and haven’t harmed anyone or committed a wrong. You have no right to speak to me like that.”
“Listen here, you piece of shit, you better pack your bags right now and piss off. The next ferry leaves in less than an hour. Be on it, if you know what’s good for you. I’m going to get some of the young fellows together to make sure you leave. When you get back to Germany, you can inform your asshole friends that they are not welcome here.”
“I’m leaving now Lisa. Make sure he packs his bags and get him to the ferry.”
“Ok, said Lisa. I’ll talk to you later. Can I reach you at home?”
“Yes, just call me on the phone and let me know as soon as he has left.”
“Will do, said Lisa.”
Peter jumped on his bike and headed for home. He was furious over what Oskar had said. He had wanted to beat the shit out of him, but that might have created some problems and an unwanted look into what was going on.
About 15 min after he got home, the phone rang.
“Hi Peter! It’s Lisa. The Germans left for the ferry a few minutes ago. It seemed they were in an awful hurry to get going, so I guess they believed what you said about getting together a few younger men to make sure he and his wife left.”
“Well, I couldn’t be sure if he fell for it, but good thing he did. I sure don’t want any trouble.”
“But Peter, tell me honestly, do you know what happened to captain Hoffman?”
“No, Lisa, I haven’t the faintest idea. All I can assume is that he somehow left the island the day before the German soldiers were put on the ferry on May 9, 1945.”
“Oh well, said Lisa, I guess we will never know. See you soon again and have a nice evening.”
“Thanks Lisa and the same to you.”
Peter hung up the phone and walked into the kitchen to see what was cooking for supper. Rita was a great cook and a wonderful daughter-in-law.
May 8, 1945
“Hello, is Paul there, this is Peter.”
“Yes, just a minute Peter, I’ll go and get him.”
“Hello Peter! What’s up?”
“I was wondering if you would help me move the two eel traps I have. There hasn’t been any eels caught in them for some days now and I thought it might be worthwhile moving them.”
“Sure, said Paul, I’ll be right over.”
They met by the barn and began walking down toward the shore.
“So, I guess we will be rid of those German bastards tomorrow. I’m not sorry to see that lot of krauts disappear. There’s a couple of them I would like to beat the shit out of.”
“I don’t know if we will get a chance to have a go at any of them. They are confined to their barracks until tomorrow. Erik is keeping an eye on them, just in case they try something stupid.”
“Hey, Look! said Paul, someone is trying to put your boat in the water.”
My God, said Peter, I think it’s captain Hoffman. He is wearing a uniform,– Jesus, we must stop him.”
Paul grabbed a piece of driftwood and run toward the captain, shouting for him to stop what he was doing.
“Where the hell do you think you are going with my boat you Nazi bastard?”
The captain drew a pistol from his belt and aimed it at Peter, but at that moment, a large stone was flying through the air, hitting the captain hard on his chest. The captain fell to the ground and Peter run over, put his foot on his chest and kicked the pistol away.
“Thanks for that, Paul. I thought for a minute I would be a goner.”
Peter looked down into the hateful eyes of the captain, then grabbed a large rock and smashed it into his head. The captains skull split open, his brains and a gushing stream of blood spilled onto the sand at the water’s edge.
“Well, said Paul, that’s the end of that bastard. He got what was coming to him and if you hadn’t killed him, I would have.”
“We have to go get a shovel and bury the body. We just can’t leave it here.”
“If it was up to me, said Paul, I’d just feed him to the crabs, but I guess you are right, we better bury the bastard. How about over there, behind that large boulder?”
“That seems Ok to me, said Peter. I’ll go get a shovel from the barn. Keep an eye out, just in case someone should come, although I don’t think anyone will, Very few people ever come down here.”
Peter returned with a shovel and without further to do, they dug a large hole in the gravelly sand behind the boulder and, after stripping all identifying insignia and removing his personal papers, they unceremoniously dumped the captain’s body in it, put some large stones on top of it and back filled the hole.
“You know, said Peter, we must keep this incident to ourselves for the rest of our lives. No-one must ever know what happened here.”
“For sure, said Paul.”
It was nearly dark when they got back to the farm. They saw Erik and John come running toward them.
“Hey, said Erik, I just saw that bastard sergeant walking outside the barracks. Let’s go and give him a taste of the kind of island hospitality he deserves. There are four of us, and even though he is a big brute, we can give him some of the same medicine he has doled out around here the last five years. Let’s beat the shit out of him- remember, he raped John’s daughter.”
A couple of weeks later, Peter walked down to the beach and chiseled a small swastika in a corner of the rock behind which captain Hoffman was buried.
This work by K. Beechmount is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.