Connections - Summer 2015 - (Page 29)

> choices A QUIET CoNVERSATIoN wITH A DEAR FRIEND I VISITED A 90-year-old friend of mine the other day, and I got a lesson in modern history. Her name is Hermine; she's a widow of an OSS agent (OSS is the pre-cursor to the CIA). Her late husband was a spymaster for the U.S. in Europe. I knew the family when we were stationed in Germany in the 1970s, and we've remained friends ever since. She is originally Austrian and used to teach skiing back in the days when there were no ski lifts; you skied down the hill, then took off your skis and hiked back up. She said that sometimes they would tie twine around the skis for grip and shuffle back up the hill. That was high tech, she explained. She is one of the most charming persons I've ever known-truly a duchess in her demeanor, appearance and speech. Hermine now lives in a quiet, upscale retirement home in the D.C. area; there are plenty of intelligence community veterans and widows there, so she has plenty of friends for conversation. She's told me a lot about life leading up to and during the war (WWII), especially the attitudes and overall political correctness that can take over a society. "When the Anschluss happened [when the Nazis more or less quietly took over Austria in 1938], our father gathered my brother and sister and mother and me in the kitchen and told us we could no longer speak our minds out in public anymore. We had to be very careful of who said what, for fear that we would reveal ourselves, our family, as basic conservative imperialists-which I suppose we were. My father pulled the portrait of the last Habsburg Emperor of the wall. He told us that outside the house we were to keep quiet, keep our opinions to ourselves, and not let our politics be known," she said. "What became of your brother and sister during the war?" I asked. "Well, my brother was taken into the German army, of course," she said. "He was sent to Norway and then France. He was actually a chef, so he had it relatively easy. We didn't know of each other's whereabouts until over a year after the war. I thought he might have been killed, but he lived. He inherited the family home, turned it into a ski lodge, and died last year right before his 101st birthday. I did go back and visit him several times, and we remained close." "And your sister?" I asked. "Not so close. She's still alive, but we've not much to do with each other. During the war, she BY JoHN P. HARRISoN, CAE, CMP turned in a neighbor, and we split up over it really," Hermine said. I didn't ask her what the reason was for her sister turning in the neighbors; I could tell it was raw even after all these years. I suspected the sister had turned in a neighbor as a Jew. "You see," Hermine continued, "we were not Roman Catholic, our family was actually Lutheran; it's a long story how, but we-at least I-knew what it was like to be a minority, not so much ethnically as politically. We were not really ones to go along with the crowd, but still you learn to keep your head down." "How did that work, the wave of group think that took over- of what you could and couldn't say and what was tolerated and what was not. How did it come about?" I asked, wondering about the symptoms of a slow creep of quiet censorship. "First came the avoidance of certain subjects in conversation and also in the newspapers. We only had radio, and the shows just began to be either official news or some light amusement- nothing controversial. Then official propaganda began, and there was no turning back. Very grandiose public arrests were made of dissenters. It looked like the populace actually turned connections 29

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Connections - Summer 2015

Message from the Chair
GSAE News & Events
New Members
How to Build a Stronger Volunteer Program
Volunteer Risks and Rescues
The List: Micro & Ad Hoc Volunteer Jobs in Associations
Engaging Your Members with Mobile Technology
By the Numbers: Volunteering
2015 GSAE Annual Meeting
Destination: Nashville
Choices: A Quiet Conversation with a Dear Friend
Advertiser.com
Index of Advertisers

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