It was a summer afternoon about 16 years ago and I had nothing much to do that wouldn’t wait. I walked across the fields, down the hill and over the canal and the little river, then up the hill the other side of the valley, to a pub nearly at the top, near the Rudolf Steiner school. An old man was in there, having a loud argument with a fat Enlighs skinhead.
I’d seen the old man before. The first time I noticed his white flowing hair and aquiline nose and said to my partner ‘Look, that’s Rudolf Steiner,” but she unsportingly didn’t laugh. He was getting louder this time. Then I heard the words “Hitler Youth,” which are not words you often hear in Home Counties pubs, even if there are fat skinheads there. I’d assumed it was the large, bald bloke. And I was wrong.
It was the old man who’d spoken about the Hitler Youth. They were great, he said. And he should know, because he was one. Or had been then. What had made him incandescent with anger was being called a Nazi. You had to join the Nazi Party, he shouted at the other man, who was probably not a skinhead really, just fat and bald with a London-diaspora voice. And sixteen million people had. But you didn’t get the choice about joining the Hitler Youth. You go a card on your thirteenth birthday, telling you that you were a member. Your choice what happened next.
I’ve always thought of him as Janni Schenck. I wrote his story.