I arrived in Linlithgow, the County town of West Lothian in 1975. Known to the locals as Lithgie, it is an ancient Royal Burgh and market town filled with history and historic buildings. The vast derelict remains of the Stewart King's Palace dominates the town and looms majestic over the serene Linlithgow Loch. Next to the Palace sits the Gothic Church of St Michael where King James V received a ghostly warning of his impending doom at Flodden. However, there was another St Michael's in the town that also did service on a Sunday and where I soon became a devout worshipper.
In those days an hotel was the only place in a Scottish town where an alcoholic drink could be had on a Sunday. I soon discovered that on a Sunday the St Michaels Hotel Lounge Bar was the place to be. From 12 noon on-wards the lounge bar was packed and the place was jumping. It was a hootenanny; a clanjamphrey of Scottish music and laughter. Button and piano accordions, fiddles, mouthies, a snare drum and an old upright piano filled the air with lively boisterous music and the customers sang, shouted, heughed and clapped in alcohol induced rapture. I was hooked and soon became a regular acolite, sometimes bringing my bagpipes or tin whistle to these prayer meetings and playing solo or being accompanied discordantly by accordions. Tuning and tempo were irrelevant – it was the energy and passion that we were after.
It was at St Mikes that I first met Will Tait; an unforgettable moment when this huge hearty man saw my pipe case and yelled at me in his strong West Lothian accent,
“ Come on lad, get those pipes oot and gie's a tune.”
I shouldered the pipes and played the reel “Mrs Macleod of Raasay” and well I remember Will and his drinking cronies doing an impromptu reel to my playing. When I ran out of puff and stopped playing Will grabbed my arm with his spade sized hand and said ,
“What are ye drinkin' lad?”
That began a friendship that I still cherish. Will, at that time was in his late sixties, he was over six feet tall and powerfully built although he was now beer bellied and had a red boozy nose, I could tell that he had been impressive in his prime. With a laugh that was both infectious and loud he could be heard half way down the High Street. He knew everyone in the town; “a hail fellow well met chairacter” and I never heard anyone speak badly about him. There was always a twinkle in his eye ; a joke on his lips, a ready smile and a tweedy flat cap on his bald pate. Soon after meeting Will, I was drawn into his family and met his three sons, Jock, Billy and Davy. Jock played piano accordion and was a solid, quiet, dependable man and joiner to trade. Billy was also an accordionist but played a button box. He was wild, extrovert and had a natural inventive flow to his playing. His “Teddy Bears Picnic variations” were a legendary tour de force. The youngest son was Davy; quixotic, erratic, moody, sometimes brilliant, often drunk and crazy. Davy played guitar, sang and wrote folk songs. Many adventures I would have with Davy, both musical and zany, but that's for another story.
The righteous and judgemental would probably have considered Will and his sons as reprobates, alcoholics, working class low life but I loved their joyful, devil-may-care attitudes, their humour and genuine camaraderie at a time when I felt otherwise quite lonely. Together we got “unco fou, drinkin' at the nappie” as Robert Burns put it, played our tunes while sliding down the wall and helped each other stumble and weave, drunkenly up the road after closing time.
“Where dae ye bide, lad?” Will asked shortly after we met.
“I've got a flat at Lion Well Wynd in Linlithgow.” I replied.
“ In Lithgie, neext Oliphants the Bakers, abin the Masonic?” he corrected me.
“ Aye,” I conceded, “It's the top flat and I'm renovating it.”
“That wid be auld Annie Mackay's hoose, she wis a wild wuman and liked her drams.” Will laughed his big laugh. “ I could tell ye stories tae mak yer hair curl aboot Annie, specially when she wis in her cups” He laughed again.
“Yer nae a Black Bitch are ye?” he enquired.
“What do you mean?” I asked, mystified.
“Weel, a Black Bitch is yin bairnt in Lithgie. The Black Bitch is on the touns coat o' airms.” He explained.
“ No,” I replied, “ I'm not a Black Bitch, I was born in Edinburgh.”
“ Ah, yer frae Embrae, Auld Reekie, yer a Reekie”. He roared with laughter at his own joke.
“Ye ken that Reekie means smelly, a stinker?” and he laughed his huge laugh again.
His sons were great players, however, at the sessions in St Mikes it was Will who was the music master. In his youth Will played accordion but when he lost two fingers on his right hand during the war he took up the mouthie. Now he was a master of the diatonic mouthie or mouth organ.
“ Name ony pipe tune,” he would say to me, “an' I'll play it.”
Sure enough, I could never find a traditional Scottish bagpipe tune that he didn't know. He was awesome, irrepressible, encyclopaedic, a walking Scots Guards Collection.
“How do you know all these tunes?” I asked in admiration.
“Weel lad, we mairched through Africa, Sicily, Italy, France, Belguim, Holland and Germany behind the finest pipers and pipebands in the world. Those tunes kept us going, kept us brave. How could I forget them? I took tae the moothie, when I was called up. I couldna carry ma accordion. The mouthie fitted intae ma breest pocket an' some believed it could stap a bullit. Aifter I lost my fingers I couldna play the accordion onyways.”
One Sunday, Wills mouthie started to fail on a main note. He washed it out hoping it was just clogged but it seemed that one of the reeds had become weak and wouldn't vibrate in tune. On Monday during lunch hour from my job at the City Council I went into the big music shop at the West End of Edinburgh and bought the best diatonic mouthie I could afford. The next time I saw Will I gave him the mouthie. He was overjoyed and offered to pay me for it. I refused, knowing that on a small old age pension, he didn't have much money. He pulled out his old mouthie and insisted that I have it.
“It's bin with me, through thick an' thin, guid times an crap times; lots o' tunes and memories. It's a lucky charm an' I want you tae hae it young lad.” he said as he stuck it in the breast pocket of my Harris tweed jacket.
During weekday evenings, Will could be found drinking in one or other of the many low life watering holes in Lithgie. The Star and Garter, The Masonic Arms, The Red Lion, The Footballers Arms, The White Swan, The West Port Inn; a pub for every day of the week, except Sundays.. The Masonic Arms was my local and was only a penny drop from my flat. It was a small spartan bar. You could reach up and touch the dark yellow tobacco stained ceiling and the air was filled with a mixture of pipe and cigarette smoke with a back taste of alcohol. The floor was bare wood boards worn and scraped by working boots and littered with cigarette ends and crisp wrappers. The bar was of mahogany stained by beer and whisky to a rich dark treacle chocolate patina. Three circular tables on decorative cast iron bases sat in front of the bare wood bench seats that ran around the room. At the foot of the bar there was a sawdust trough and a brass foot rail and behind the bar, an array of bottles and optics reflected in the huge antique mirror engraved with thistles and 'Dewar's Scotch Whisky” in florid script lettering. To the left of the bar was a hatch to the Joug or Jug Bar with its separate entrance where women could come and buy a take away jug of ale without entering the male only sanctum.
One summer night I was drinking beer with Will in the Masonic Arms when two young tourists entered the pub. Andrew, the barman said in a cheery voice to the two visitors, “Hello lads, what can I get ye?”
In a thick accent one of the young men replied, “ Two pints of your best Scottish beer, danka.”
“Comin' richt up,” Andrew replied as he put a pint glass under the beer spout labelled “Tartan Special” and pulled on the truncheon shaped ebony beer pull.
Andrew, trying to be friendly, asked, “ Where are ye frae lads?”
“Ve are fram Berlin in Germany, ve are here visiting your beautiful town and country.”The taller German replied.
I glanced at Will. He was glowering. He beckoned to Andrew.“Hey Andra come ower here”, and in a low voice asked him. “Are ye gonna serve they Gerries? If ye do I'm leavin an a winnae ever drink here agin.”
Taken aback Andrew was startled and confused. He didn't want to lose one of his best and loyal customers but he also didn't have any issues with the young German tourists, and tourists were important to his business.
“The war is over, Will.” he pleaded.
“Not for me Andra.” Will replied with a gravitas that felt deadly.
“Will, Will, please, I have to serve them.” Andrew replied and I could hear a worried tremor in his voice at the possible loss of income.
Will put down his half full beer glass, turned, walked a few steps to the door with it's colourful painted masonic emblem on the glass, opened it and left. Momentarily taken aback, I drank in large gulps what was left in my beer glass, put it down on the bar and went out into the night after Will. I caught up with him a couple of hundred yards up the High Street.
“Will, what was all that about?” I questioned “Andra is right, the war is over. Those young Germans weren't even born when the war was on. They aren't the enemy.” I pleaded.
“You didnae see whit they did, Gordon, you werenae there, you didnae see whit they did.” Emotion cracked his voice and I saw his eyes water and a tear slide down his cheek.
“Hey Will, don't get yourself all upset, lets go and have a wee walk beside the Loch and calm down.
“Aye, O.K.” he agreed.
We crossed the street and walked down the lane that ran down to the edge of Linlithgow Loch. The ducks and swans were floating, huddled and the full moon was reflected, shimmering, dancing, glittering, opalescent on the water. The old Palace stood dark and strong beside the elegant silver spire of St Michael's Kirk silhouetted against the dark blue night sky. We walked along the path that ran beside the loch until we came to a bench.
“Lets sit doon awhile lad.” Will suggested. “My leg plays me up these days; the pain reminds me o' the war.” We sat down on the bench and Will rolled up his trouser leg and I saw the two deep wounds in his calf muscle.
“Machine gun bullets in Sicily.” he offered. “Kept me oot o' action fer a month or twa. They couldna get yin o' the bullet bits oot o' ma bane, so it gies me gype a' the time.”
“Was that when you lost your fingers?” I asked.
“Aye lad, same time, but it didnae stap me frae bein able tae shoot a rifle.”
“Is that why you hate the Germans?” I ventured
“Naw, in battle it seemed fair. We shot them, they shot us. If we shot mair o' them than they shot o' us, we won. There were rules. We didnae shoot wounded sudgers or mistreat prisoners. But it a' changed when we gat tae North Germany and we cam tae the camp at Bergen Belsen, a' things changed fur me. By then I wis a battled hardened sudger, didnae gie a bugger. I had seen death, dead bodies, a' kinds o' horror; had sucked it , tasted it, spat it oot an moved on. Or so I thoughtd.”
“ I've seen photos and films about the concentration camps.” I volunteered.
“Aw lad, picters an photies dinnae come onywhere near tae tellin' the horror o' that place. Afore we gat onywhere near the camp the reek o' death filled the air fur miles aboot. The reek caught the back o' yer throat, made ye gag, choked yer breath. The closer we gat the worse it gat. I was wi' the first squad tae get tae the camp. We were ridin' wi the 11th Armoured Division. We cam on the Gerries sae fast that they didnae hae time to hide whit they had bin daein or time tae rin. When we cam tae the camp, stannin alang the wire were hunners o' stick like boadies dressed in stiped thin filthy rags, shaved heids and hollow een, wanderin aboot like zombies. There were hunners o' deed bodies lyin' everywhere. At first there wis a strange silence aboot the place then when they saw us, people started cryin tae us fur help but we were telt no tae gie them ony food as it might kill them.
“Oor first job wis tae round up a' the Gerries and tak them prisoner. We went aff in yins and twaes searchin aroond the huts. I cam tae the end o' a hut and there were three Gerry SS layin intae some prisoners wi clubs. There wis a big pile o' bodies; people they hae just kilt. I shot twa o' the Gerries afore they could get oot their pistols. Yin ran off, I took aim, fired an shot him in the leg. He went doon. If it hae bin in battle I wid probably hae taken him prisoner, but this wasnae battle this was twa hells ayont hell...I cam up tae him, he was jabberin in German for mercy I suppose. There wis nane for him that day an' I spent a while makin sure he died a painfu' death.”
I didn't know what to say. We sat quietly for a few minutes. Will remembering that terrible place and me struggling to imagine or understand what he had witnessed.
“You ken, Gordon, there were lads wi us there that went blind fur days. Their brains couldna deal wi the horrors they saw and just shut doon. Some lads were jist greetin a' the time. They reckon that 60,000 souls were murdered there. I canna forgive or forget what they did.” Will spoke slowly his voice trembling and tears were falling onto his old blue jacket.
We sat for a while, looking at the beauty of the Loch and the swans floating on the pools of moonlight. I felt humbled and said to Will.
“I understand now why you can't forgive the Germans, I would probably feel the same if I had seen what you have.”
“Aye lad.” Will replied,”Aye.” We sat for a while longer, pensive, silent.
“Are you hungry,Will.” I asked,breaking the reverie, “I'll stand you a fish supper.”
“O.K.” He replied.
We walked back to the High Street and to Cabrelli’s chip shop where we got our fish suppers doused in salt and vinegar and wrapped in newspaper, said goodnight and made our separate ways home.
I saw Will a few times after that night but the subject of the war never came up again. Four months later Will fell down the stairs in his house while drunk and broke his neck. I played two of his favourite tunes on the pipes at his funeral “The Dark Island and Lochaber No More”. With his sons we had a final musical and alcoholic adieu to Will at the St Michael's Hotel Lounge Bar.
The evening at the Lochside with Will would continue to haunt me. Was he right? Were there some things that could never be forgiven? Had some deeds tainted a whole nation forever; condemned a whole nation to carry guilt for the actions of their parents, grandparents or ancestors? Or should we 'just move on' and 'get over it' as Americans would say? Should the sins of the fathers be visited on the sons? Are the children of evil doers innocent and blameless? These questions plagued me and I found it difficult to find any resolution. I hadn't been born when the war was on and I hadn't been at Belsen. I had to support Will's position as a friend and a hero and I could forgive him for not forgiving. Part of me agreed with Will, but part of me wanted to embrace Germans as Europeans and be at peace with them and forgive and forget.
Two years after Will died a colleague at my office arranged, under an European Union scheme, for a work exchange year with a German opposite number from Cologne. In due course she travelled to Germany to work in the Cologne planning department and Rudi Weber arrived to temporarily fill her place. He was an architect; tall, slim, handsome, blonde, blue-eyed and he spoke perfect accent-less English. He was charming, easy going and friendly. I liked him and we got on well together. He soon found out about my bagpipe playing and he was keen to know more about the pipes, Scottish music and culture. After a few months in the job Rudi confided in me that he felt quite lonely at weekends in the city. The only people he knew were at work and they all went home to their families on Saturday and Sunday. He had seen most of the city sights and didn't like hanging around bars on his own. I empathised and invited him to come out to Lithgie and spend the long holiday weekend with me.
“I'll give you a demonstration of the Great Highland Bagpipe, feed you and we can go to the Linlithgow Folk Club to hear some great Scottish folk music. We can go around the Palace and the Loch and there are plenty of bars we can visit for a few beers.” I offered him.
Rudi jumped at the chance to get away from the city and get a taste of how ordinary Scottish people lived. On Friday at five we boarded the commuter train at Waverley Station and settled down for the seventeen mile train ride to Lithgie. We were soon walking up the High Street to Lyon Well Wynd and to my top flat abode. As we walked I told Rudi the old rhyme, “Glasgow for Bells, Lithgie for Wells and Fawkirk' for bonnie lassies,'that hints at the number of wells that existed in the town such as 'The Dog Well, The Lyon Well, and the Cross Well.'
“Are there really bonnie lassies in Fawkirk?” he asked. “Aye, some of the bonniest in Scotland.” I replied with a wink.
“We must go there soon.” Rudi said with a laugh.
As we walked along the street, I pointed out the notable buildings, pubs, the wells, the Palace, the Loch and the Kirk. I could tell that Rudi was excited to be in this old historic town; a homely, couthie town; a town unlike the austere craggy beauty of Edinburgh. He revelled in the old stone buildings and the Scots vernacular architecture. I pointed out corbels, crow stepped gables, Scotch slate roofs, baronial turrets, whinstone cobbled streets, harronised lanes, limewash walls, astragalled sash windows, cast and wrought ironwork. As an architect Rudi was in his element.
“I just love these old eccentric buildings, their character; so old, simple yet beautiful, and that Palace – I must see more of it and the old Church.” he enthused and continued. “ It is very special for me to see this ancient town with its old buildings still intact. My home town of Cologne was destroyed by your RAF. Few old buildings survived; only the cathedral. Cologne was called the biggest heap of rubble in Europe in 1946.”
We reached the doorway that led up the stairs to my flat and soon we were sitting in the living room having a cup of tea with digestive biscuits. Soon after, I showed Rudi the room where he would sleep and I began to prepare a simple Scottish meal.
“Mince and Tatties,” I announced as I placed two heaped plates of food on the kitchen table. “ It is seasoned minced beef with onions, carrots and peas with big dollops of mashed King Edward tatties (that's potatoes in Scots), topped with best Scottish butter. Would you like some beer to wash it down?”
“Yes please.” replied Rudi as I poured the beer into pint glasses from a red McEwans tin.
“Cheers Rudi,” I said chinking his glass. “ Slainte Mhath it means Good Health in Gaelic,”
“This is perfect,” enthused Rudi, “Real Scottish food and beer! Tausend Dank! It means a thousand thank you's in German.”
That weekend I introduced Rudi to many Scottish culinary delights, haggis and bashed neeps, mealy white and black puddin's, the Scotch pie and beans, Forfar Bridies, Kippers and Arbroath Smokies, Stovies and the fried Mars Bar. He gobbled them all with relish. On Saturday morning after porridge and marmalade for breakfast, I gave Rudi a demonstration of the Great Highland Bagpipe. I took the octopus like instrument out of its old wooden case and showed it to Rudi. Then
“ The bagpipe is an an ancient wind instrument that has a melody pipe of nine notes in a diatonic scale and has three drones playing bass and two tenors,” I said. “Pitched near B flat it isn't particularly compatible with modern chromatic instruments. Its appeal is in its volume, the wildness and in the great music that had been composed for it ranging from plaintive laments called pibroch to marches, jigs, reels, strathspeys and hornpipes. My pipes are antique and date from the 1890's and are made from African blackwood and mounted with elephant ivory and engraved silver. The bag is made of Icelandic sheepskin and it used to be seasoned with an oil and honey mixture to absorb moisture from the breath. Now we use a better mixture that doesn't attract wasps,” I joked.
“How does it make noise?” Rudi asked.
“Well,” I continued, “There are four reeds or vibrators that make the sound, that are then amplified in the chanter and drones. The reeds are made of Spanish cane; a double reed in the chanter and single reeds in the drones.”
“Please, can I hear how they sound,” Rudi demanded.
I blew up the pipes and the room instantly filled with the deafening sound of the Highland Bagpipe. I brought the drones into tune with the chanter and played the March “The Highland Wedding”, followed by the strathspey, “Susan McLeod” and finished with the reel “Lexy McAskill”.
Rudi was pushed back in his chair by the pressure of the bagpipe music at such close quarters, his mouth was agape in astonishment at this aural assault and his hands were cupped around his ears in defence. When I stopped playing he started clapping and yelled in glee.
“Genial! Tolle! Fantastischsten!Vunderbar!”
“Could I try the bagpipes,” he exclaimed.
“Yes,” I replied, “but they take a lot of breath and control. It takes many years of practice to develop the breath control and the co-ordination to produce a steady sound.”
I handed the pipes to Rudi and showed him how to hold them. He blew and blew and started to get red in the face. The pipes started to wail and howl and like most people who try he gave up, puffing and panting for breath.
“It is much more difficult than I thought.” he said. “You will have to give me lessons. I would like to return to Germany with some bagpipes as a souvenir.”
“OK”, I said, “We will start on the practice chanter and I can give you some lessons at lunch time at work.”
'Yes, that would be great.” Rudi enthused.
The weekend passed quickly. On Saturday evening we went to the back room of the “Star and Garter” where the Linlithgow Folk Club was held. Nora Devine, the club organiser, met us at the door and took our pound note contribution. In the smoky room we enjoyed the authentic Scottish sounds of the Whistlebinkies, with Rab Wallace on Lowland bagpipes, Mark Heywood on fiddle, Peter Anderson on side drum, Rhona MacKay on Clarsach, Eddie McGuire on flute and Mick Broderick on bodhran and raucous voice. Together they filled the smoky room with the energetic reels and jigs of the pipe music, the gentle wistful airs of the Gaels on the small harp and the rousing songs of rebellion and social justice belted out by Mick. Well lubricated by excellent Bellhaven Beer we returned to the flat in joyful mood and after a nightcap of Scotch we went to bed very happy.
We slept late on Sunday and after a fine breakfast of kippers, tea and toast we made our way along to the St Michaels Lounge Bar. The Tait brothers were in good form and they played their accordions long into the afternoon. Davy played his guitar, sang his latest songs and accompanied me when I played some jigs and reels on the pipes. We emerged from the bar into the bright afternoon sunshine. Screwing up my eyes against the light I felt the effects of the four pints of beer suddenly rush into my blood and I swayed a little as I walked. Rudi hadn't drunk so much and he wanted to walk around the Loch and visit the Palace. I agreed so we returned to the flat, dropped off the pipes, had some coffee. A little later we walked up the High Street past the Cross Well and old Town Hall then, after paying the small entrance fee at the ticket booth, passed through the gatehouse to the Palace. Even as a ruin it was impressive.
The large square courtyard had the same ornate fountain as the Cross Well as its centrepiece and around us towered the huge walls of the Palace. In 1745 the well had flowed with wine to welcome Bonnie Prince Charlie but now the glassless voids of the windows stared down at us hollow eyed like blind men. We walked and climbed up turnpike stairs to the Great Hall where minstrels and bards of old played their harps and sang ballads of love and death. We saw the bedchamber where Mary Queen of Scots was born and we looked into the oubliette where prisoners were left to rot and from the battlements looked out over the Loch to the River Forth and Fife beyond. We learned that in its heyday of the 15th Century the Stewart King's Palace gleamed white with limewash render and colourful banners and drapes adorned its walls. Tragically, it was burned by the 'Butcher Cumberland's' English army in 1746 probably as an act of spite against the Jacobite Rebellion and the Catholic Stewart dynasty.
“This building could be very beautiful if restored ,like many of the historic buildings in Germany that were damaged in the war, have been.” observed Rudi. “Why has that not happened. Why is it kept as a ruin?”
“ It is maintained as a ruin as a message to Scots from the English as to the consequences of rebellion.” I replied.
When we returned to the flat, I cooked haggis with bashed neeps and tatties and we washed it down with some more cans of beer.
“What shall we do tomorrow?” Rudi asked.
“As you know it's a public holiday tomorrow.” I replied. “Would you like to go for a hike? There is a path along the Union Canal that runs all the way to Falkirk. We could take some sandwiches and picnic along the way.”
“Will we see those 'bonnie lassies'?” Rudi asked.
“Oh yes,” I replied. “Oh yes!”
On Monday morning we set off early, after a hearty breakfast of Arbroath Smokies and Stovies with lashings of black builders tea, to walk the 7 miles to Falkirk. We followed the canal tow path, through the lush green countryside, crossed the Avon aqueduct past Polmont and the skirted the Callendar House estate. Sure enough in Falkirk High Street we saw many, many 'bonnie lassies.”
It was getting dark when we returned to Lithgie on the bus so I suggested to Rudi that we get a fish supper at Cabrelli’s to avoid cooking. The walking had built up a powerful thirst and I wanted to show Rudi some more of the old pubs in the town. After we had hungrily devoured the battered deep fried haddock and the thick cut chips all doused with salt and vinegar we set off on a pub crawl along the High Street starting at the Red Lion, then to the Old Hole in the Wall, followed by the Four Mary's, the Footballers Arms and ending at the Masonic Arms.
We had both drunk four pints of 'heavy' beer by the time we got to the Masonic. I ordered another two pints of 'heavy' from Andrew the barman and took them over to the table where Rudi was sitting. I placed the brimming glasses carefully onto the heavily varnished mahogany, then picked up mine and took a big swig. By that time we were both getting quite drunk.
“ Rudi,” I said, “ the last time I was in this bar with a German was with my old friend Will Tait. He refused to drink in this bar with Germans and walked out really angry.” I told Rudi more about that evening, about Will and what he had said about the war and why he couldn't forgive the German people.
“What do you think, Rudi? Was Will right or was he wrong?” I asked, slurring slightly as I spoke.
To my surprise Rudi replied “I believe that your friend Will was right,” and he continued, “As a young German I am so painfully aware of the atrocities that took place during the war. What the German people did and allowed to be done to the disabled and mentally ill, to enemy soldiers, to homosexuals, to communists, to gypsies and to the Jews was unforgivable. The mass murder of millions of defenceless men, women and children was an enormous abominable crime and should never be forgiven. The German people knew what was happening, they did nothing, they didn't care. A nation was complicit in mass murder. I carry that guilt and it constantly reminds me of my duty to make sure that it never happens again.”
I took a swig of beer and gathered my thoughts. “ I'm glad you feel that way, Rudi. I totally agree, it's our generation's duty to make sure those horrendous crimes never happen again. I really hope that the project of the European Union will put an end to the centuries of war in Europe and to those terrible crimes of hatred and genocide.”
“Yes, I hope so too.” Rudi replied then he took a large drink from his beer. Perhaps it was the beer that loosened his tongue that night or perhaps he trusted me and wanted to lessen the weight of his guilt. I don't know but he began speaking in a hushed voice.
“I have not told many people this and I don't want the people at work to know what I am going to tell you – do you understand, Gordon?”
“Of course, Rudi. Whatever it is it will stay between you and me.” I assured him. “I promise.”
He reached into his jacket pocket and took out his wallet, opened it and slid out a small dog-eared photograph. Handing it to me he said “It is a picture of my father.”
I looked at the picture. It was the image of a young man in a black military uniform. I immediately recognised the SS uniform.
“My father was a SS officer at Bergen Belsen concentration camp.” Rudi said and he was crying.