A portrait of Linda Mangold's grandfather, Hans Müller, photographed in 1937 in Bochum, Germany.

A portrait of Linda Mangold's grandfather, Hans Müller, photographed in 1937 in Bochum, Germany.

She could not do but acknowledge the fishermen's instruments and dead butterflies in their frames of gracefully aged wood defining the walls of this peculiar hideaway that had once been her grandfather's study. Downstairs, she knew, lay her grandmother in her already present state of illness; her often recalled, and therefore tiring, stories always circling around the pain defined memories of WWII.

As thoughts about how her grandparents' lives during the Holocaust had differed so immensely swirled in her head, she was drawn towards room's window, which hovered above the dead, grey street of that, to her, story filled Bavarian village, in which her mother had grown up. Next to it stood her grandfather's old davenport and before she knew it, her hands had opened the right hand drawer and taken out the dark green metal box, which she had never acknowledged before.

After taking a deep breath and preparing herself for what she was about to see, she opened it and her expectations were fulfilled. In front of her lay a part of her family's history that many would most definitely want to forget. From a young age, she had known that her mother's father had fought under Hitler and had therefore been an active part of that horrible time. Even though she had been prepared for this truth, she had to admit that eyeing the proof troubled her.

Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, 1961 by Don McCullin.

Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, 1961 by Don McCullin.

As the tale went, her great grandmother had made him go to pilot school with the reason "that it was his only chance of surviving" and so he had, against his beliefs, joined the army at the young age of 16. As far as she knew, he had experienced promotions and served under Göring in North Africa, yet it still surprised her to see these memorabilia; the medals that were evidence for his "achievement" of 2000 flights with a dive-bomber and the photographs that showed him wearing a uniform adorned with swastikas. Despite having never known him in life, she was sure she recognised his character defining smile on some of them and whilst others might have been disgusted at this documentation of cruelty, she only saw the man from the framed picture in the living room, who had raised her mother, her aunts and her uncle and had been a hopeless romantic, adoring flowers and animals alike.

Looking into East Berlin, 1961, Don McCullin

Looking into East Berlin, 1961, Don McCullin

All she was able to see was her grandfather, who, as she was certain, had never even for a split second believed in Hitler's cruel ideals. Nonetheless was she aware that this knowledge didn't excuse his actions from all those decades ago and a cold shiver went down her spine when it occurred to her how many lives her grandfather had ended. It made her uncomfortable to realise how many people he had killed. Weeks later, when summer had faded and the leaves had started to fall, she raised her hand and asked her history teacher for five minutes to speak.

Frightened, yet determined to do what she was about to do, she went in front of her class. It took all of her courage to share her grandfather's story and whilst telling them what he had done she could feel scepticism fill the shabby room's air, yet after a short time, when people realised that she wasn't trying to show off, the atmosphere changed. It became obvious that this was about something larger; it was about remembering what had happened in this country they all called their home, about what it means to be German and how in one way or another they were all connected to the Holocaust.

Falling Stars, 2006 by Anselm Kiefer.

Falling Stars, 2006 by Anselm Kiefer.

Although they weren't accountable for decisions and mistakes made by their forefathers, accepting the reality of their heritage was the most important precaution they could take as the generation that would soon define Germany's future. Instead of judging her and her family, others raised their hands in response to her courage and started recounting their own family history. What she heard brought her close to tears, but inwardly she smiled at the promising future ahead of her.

Words: Linda Ellen Mangold

Copy edited by: Elena Stanciu