My mother never ever spoke to me about the actuality of her life in Germany as Hitler rose to power. I find this remarkable. The way she talked, she was a girl about town, going to parties, dressing up in flesh-colored tights and camisole so she appeared scandalously nude at the beaux arts ball, enjoying art school, travel with friends, wild pranks and adventures that frequently involved outwitting her naive mother. She would have been in her early twenties when Hitler became chancellor in 1933. His politics were based on hardcore anti-semitism, so what could that have been like? The country with its hyperinflation, civil unrest, neuroses about losing WWI, hatred of Jews must have been an utter nightmare for a girl like Franyo. But the way she talked, it was an ill wind she hardly noticed. One reason for this may have been her involvement with Erich Von So and So, a baron.
I don’t know how she met him. He was twenty-five years her senior, very aristocratic, a connoisseur of art, painting, architecture, a historian, a scholar fluent in several languages, and an expert horseman to boot. She told me his affairs with women were always brief – it was perhaps the chase, the seduction he enjoyed. But with Franyo the connection went on for years. He was somehow fascinated with her and became her teacher, mentor and protector. No doubt he was a buffer between hard political reality and my mother. Due to Erich Von’s high birth, Hitler and cronies probably couldn’t touch him. When I googled barons in Germany, the only Erich that showed up was a strong Nazi sympathizer. But from what Franyo said, Erich Von secretly worked with the resistance, bringing subversive literature into the country together with my mother who got caught dumping newspapers in a train bathroom. Caught, imprisoned and released by the official who interrogated her, a cog in the wheel who had seen her in a Hamburg nightclub some months before and developed a crush on her. (This official, in his Nazi uniform, whispered he was against the regime and signed papers that delivered her from jail.)
Franyo told me that Erich transformed and educated her, turning her from a raw schoolgirl into the extremely sophisticated woman she became. I rarely ever saw my mother cry, but one time she was driving me home from school – I must have been twelve or thirteen – and I noticed tears running down her face. I asked her what was wrong, and she said her old friend Erich in Germany had died. Erich Von So and So, the baron.
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