It is the summer of 1914 and my great uncle, a young man of nineteen, a Jew, and a patriotic German citizen, is preparing to go to war. Just like you, he is anxious and excited. He’s the oldest child in the family, the only boy, and he’s ready to get away from the cloying attention of his mother and three sisters. He doesn’t know it but it won’t be long before he’s sent to North Africa, where he is captured and held as a prisoner of war. Or that on his release he moves to Palestine where he will convert to Christianity and in a tragic moment of mistaken identity will be shot and killed as an Arab. He doesn’t know yet either that the youngest of his sisters will volunteer as a nurse, and while working in a field hospital outside Berlin, will meet and fall in love with an Austrian soldier, the son of the renowned but not entirely respectable Herr Professor Freud. They marry, and later, with their three sons, move to England where they are among the last people to be naturalized before the start of the next war. These at least are the stories that have come down to me. Although there are many more – money hidden in table legs, houses lost, houses re-claimed, men running off to America, Hong Kong – just as there must be in your own family.
What is your story? Where did you come from, and where did you end up? What were your last words, your thoughts and prayers? You may be surprised to know that a hundred years after you first went into battle, the people of this country still talk about you. They have passed on the waste and wonder of your sacrifice, so that each new person can examine it, own it as part of their own story, before handing it on.