It must have been Herbert Fuchs's worst nightmare. It was the latter half of World War II. He was a soldier in the German army, and was captured by the Americans. What followed was nothing he could have imagined. He, along with other prisoners, was shipped across the ocean--how, I'll never know. Then followed days of travel on a train with blacked-out windows, so the soldiers couldn't know where they were going. Had he heard of the German concentration camps? Had he heard rumors of what went on there? His hope must have been as thin as a razor blade.
He and the other prisoners of war were unloaded in a place that looked nothing like Germany. One fellow said, "Siberia." But as he finally arrived at his destination, he quickly discovered that he wasn't in Siberia, but in America. He wasn't in a torture prison, but in a camp in a rural area. He was (he eventually learned) in a place called Nebraska, far from any town. Then, one day, he and other prisoners were asked whether they'd volunteer to work on a nearby farm. That made sense, since the young farm men were off to war, just as they were back home in Germany. He went. To his delight, there were no bars, no barbed wire keeping him in. No armed guards. No guards at all. The Americans were trusting that those weren't needed, so far from town, so far from everything.
What was even more amazing to him: On that farm, the people's first language was German. Not only that, but they treated him and his fellow-prisoners as people, not as swine. They expected him to work, but he had food and clothing and shelter. The wiry farm wife, Marie, fixed ample German meals. Sometimes he would steal glances at the farmer's beautiful daughters. They were near his age, and some of them were beautiful. Two taught school in the nearby town. Two were still students. Sometimes they would all visit. The one teacher was married, and worried about her husband as he worried about his family in Germany.
Finally, the war ended. Herbert went back to Germany, forever thankful that he'd been captured. He saw devastation in Germany, but he had hope.
He sent gifts to his former captors. I know, because my mother was that married teacher. She always kept the little engraved acrylic box that he sent her (really, that he sent her husband, since that was proper) from occupied Germany. She was confident that he'd made it himself, just as he'd painted scenes on little pieces of wood that he gave her parents. She kept and treasured the box.
I'm not sure what ever happened to the box, but I still have the front of the wrapper. Maybe Herbert Fuchs's family will see this, and will fill in more details of what happened to him later.