16 January 2017

Here is another photo from my father's stash. The box I was allowed to take as my share of his estate. He thinks these are useless mementos or maybe he imagines I sell them and make lots of money.
It's all in my head anyway, he says, what do I need old photographs for.

The year is 1943. The location, a Franconian town in northern Bavaria, first history records dating back to the 13th century, dominated by a large Baroque castle with impressive grounds. Napoleon's troops passed through it on their way to fight the Prussians. The group is standing on the stairs to the back entrance of their school, which was founded in 1528.

It is the last day of school, not because the boys are about to graduate (they are barely 13 years old), but because of the war. The school will shut down, the last remaining teacher is posing here with his class. He taught the Classics, Homer and Tacitus, rhetoric, logic, debating. Unlike his colleagues, he is too old to be drafted. However, in less then two years, he and all of these boys, will be put into ill fitting uniforms, armed with the dregs of the remaining weaponry and sent off to utterly and completely unsuccessfully defend their hometown against the approaching US army. But that is another story.

My father is the tall one on the right in the front row. When I asked him about the pins on some of the lapels, including his, he was not sure. There was so much you had to be careful about, even in this sleepy town, he said shaking his head. We were reciting the Iliad, debating Plato, what did we know.
They all survived the war but today, my father is the only one still alive. The small one in the front was my father's best friend, an artist and professor of fine art at the university of Munich, a member of the Munich Secession. When I last met him three years ago, he was wearing a handwoven tweed jacket with a dramatic pink silk scarf, his leonine hair like a white crown. He kissed my hands and told me to always wear something blue to match the colour of my eyes.
After his death two years ago, my father almost cried, little Ernstl is dead, now I am all alone.


  1. Another incredible photo. Such a piece of history on the back steps of school.

  2. The sheer irony of someone teaching classics, rhetoric, logic and debating in northern Bavaria in 1943. I've just read a very detailed book about the last few weeks in Germany prior to surrender (Title and author forgotten, due you might say to the usual suspect); it attempts to characterise the national state of mind (states I should say since there were broadly two) and it encourages a distinct sense of unease in my mind. Just suppose... I flirt with the horror of changed places since I lived through the war and would have been eight when this photo was taken; younger I suppose than the kids here but then they all look so formal and, not surprisingly, serious. No, I decide I don't want to go there.

    On January 15 you talk about "another whiny post". Since this is my first visit to Interim Arrangements, an admirably sardonic title, I've skipped back and dipped into what you've written over the last week or so. Received wisdom says that talking about one's ailments is a turn-off and will discourage readers but somehow you appear to refute this, as far as I'm concerned anyway. But how? There's a sharpness, a briskness, an avoidance of cliché, a love of short sentences. In terms of my old trade "there's nothing to sub".

    Writing can't do anything about the pain but it sort of personalises the battle. Keep on trucking.

    1. Hello and welcome RR,

      indeed, the irony, how come this old teacher stuck to his curriculum? After all, learned historians tell us repeatedly that Germany was pretty much a nation of "Mitläufer" to the end. Whereas small town life often was different to the bigger cities - my mother was in Berlin, quite a contrast to sleepy Franconia.
      But thanks to it and the fact that the science teachers had long left for the front, there was that classroom of young boys reading Homer and Plato. My father's life has been hugely influenced by it to this day and I owe this old teacher in the picture above more than I dared to admit for many years.

  3. There is something about the look of your father that makes me think he might have survived the longest.
    Wonderful photo, but oh - those cold little legs.

  4. I dare say, back then a classical education was the only education.

  5. The photos you share continue to engage me in a way I can't really explain. With this one, though, I am reminded of the school boys in All The Light We Cannot See. Your father's best friend has a sprightly look to him in the moment that the photo was taken. I'm wondering if that light stayed with him through life. The expression on your father's face matches so much of what you have written about him currently. No wonder he almost cried when his old friend died. Just noticed that the expression on your father's face and that of the teacher are similar, unlike the expressions of the other boys. Imagining your father consciously or unconsciously emulating his teacher. Had not heard the word "Mitläufer" before. You have filled in so many of the blanks in my knowledge of German history.

  6. Another great old photo...To gather the different paths these boys took through life after their school closed would make fascinating reading!

  7. This particular one left me breathless and greedy for more.

  8. I love this -- the collective tragedies of a time and place, and the individual experiences contained within. That's a terrific photo.

  9. wow. it's good you rescued those photographs. they are historical treasures.

  10. what an a amazing photo with so much history

  11. That they're all dead but he reminds me of the opening of "The Dead Poet's Society."