Jerry was told that in 1939, a man named Francois Berdau had built a secret room to hide his family from the Germans. He was a Frenchman by birth, but in 1915 he had had moved to Berlin and set up a bookbinding business. In the mid 20’s he fell in love with and married a pretty Jewish girl named Ingrid.
Bonnier, the local Resistance leader greatly admired Francois, not only because they were the best of friends before the occupation, but because of what he had been doing for the cause of France. During the evening, he gave Jerry the details of his friend’s background.
Francois, who had majored in political studies at a Parisian University, became deeply fascinated with what was happening in the Germany political arena in 1932. Adolf Hitler, the leader of the National Socialist party had gained an incredible 37% of the vote in a run-off election for the presidency of Germany. That meant that more than 13 million Germans wanted him as their leader, despite some of his radical ideas.
Hitler openly clashed with the existing German government because Chancellor von Papen refused to give the Nazi leader a Cabinet seat. Earlier, the then President of Germany refused Hitler’s demand to be made a dictator. Hitler said that he could no longer tolerate the present government and that it would only be a matter of time until the Nazi party gained total victory. Hitler offered the promise of a restored economy and dignity to the German people, and millions were excited by his words.
What fascinated Francois was that Hitler’s words were almost prophetic. On March 23rd, 1933 Hitler was granted virtual dictatorial powers.
As Francois continued to follow the political scene, he couldn’t help but become a little concerned. Hitler’s newly founded power meant that he could make laws by decree, without submitting them to the Reichstag. Nevertheless, he decided that he should attend a political rally and hear the charismatic leader himself.
As he entered the huge hall, the atmosphere was electric and very well organized. By the time Hitler made his entrance to the platform, there was an overwhelming sense of excitement in the air. Francois had never felt anything like it. Hitler was small in stature, but his words were full of power, full of hope, and the huge crowd showed their delight with roaring applause. It was as though there was a mysterious authority that came with each word. Even though he had gone there to formulate an impartial opinion, Francois found himself standing when the crowd stood. He applauded when they did. He joyfully shouted with the throng, and even saluted Hitler with them. He had never felt such soul-stirring enthusiasm for any other cause.
But when he heard Hitler say, “Treason toward the nation and the people shall in future be stamped out with ruthless barbarity” he stopped roaring with the crowd. He stood silently and soberly calmed himself. In a moment of time he drew on his political knowledge. Anyone who would use such words could only be a tyrant.
His concerns were heightened when billboards were placed around Berlin saying, “Jews the world over are trying to crash the new Germany.” On May 10th, 1933 a huge bonfire was lit in front of Berlin University and thousands of schoolchildren watched as books were burned. The same was done in Munich. The wide-eyed children who observed the spectacle were told that it was for the good of the Fatherland.
This horrified Francois. One of the main reasons he had chosen to be in the book binding business was because he loved the knowledge that books passed onto following generations. Among other things, books had the ability to show mistakes made in history, so we could learn from them and not make the same mistakes. When he read that the Nazi Interior Minister Wilhelm Frick had said that schools must constantly emphasize that the infiltration of the German people with alien blood, especially Jewish and Negro, must be prevented, he began to seriously consider returning with his family to France. He told Ingrid to keep herself and the two children indoors as much as she possibly could, while he made inquires as to the possibility of leaving.
To be continued.