I was 12 years old and we loved to play war. I would be the Americans and my friend Tommy Pietrak would be the Nazis and we would alternate who would play the enemy.
It was the summer of 1957 and there was no shortage of war movies from Hollywood to use as fodder for our games. We even bought tiny Nazi and US flags to drape over lampshades for better effect. My father rarely came home during the daytime, he was always working in his ladies shop so he never knew we played Nazis and GI's.
Except for one time. I don't recall why he came home that afternoon, but the moment he spotted the Nazi flag, he viciously yanked it off the lamp and threw it on the ground and started stomping on it all the while yelling words in Yiddish I never heard before.
Then he came for me. Now my father was from old school - if your kid did something wrong, he would get spanked with a leather strap and hard. I normally got strapped about every week or two, so the efficacy of the procedure is very much in doubt. I know what some of you hard liners are thinking, perhaps if he beat me daily, I would have acted in a manner to avoid being beaten at all. But you would be wrong. Perhaps as a consequence of all those beatings, and seeing as how they did not change a particle of my behaviour, I have in my role as father, never once beaten either of my children. Ever. My boys are now 24 and 30 and the envy of their friends in the way their lives have turned out. They do not smoke, drink, take drugs or fool around with any women other than their wives.
A Symbol of Great Evil
But I digress. My father grabbed me by my shoulders, and here I was ready to get an especially wicked beating, judging by the redness of his face, the bulging in his eyes, and the fact he was losing his voice, and then, quietly, with restrained agony, gently told me that this particular flag was a symbol of a great evil that destroyed almost every single living relative of ours. With tears in his eyes, he begged me never again to bring such a flag into our house. I don't know if it was the fact that this was the first time he ever pleaded with me to stop doing something or the fact that he did it without spanking me, but for the one time in my life, I obeyed my father. I stopped playing War with Nazi Germany that day.
I recall this incident today because on this day in history, July 9, 1951 President Truman asked Congress to formally end the state of war with Germany.
Tommy and I were great friends and we remained so for a number of years and although I moved a few blocks away we would still play baseball and football together in the summer. We lost touch when I went to Israel to study. I never saw him again.
My father died in 1985 and 5 years earlier Tommy Pietrak at the age of 32 fell asleep at the wheel of his car driving home late from work and died at the scene.