The next day we spruced ourselves up and they took me to synagogue. It seemed strange to see so many men wearing hats indoors. My yarmulke was unobtrusive so I didn't feel quite so odd as I would have in a big black hat.
The people were very friendly. I was introduced as Ben's school friend who was staying with them to keep him company while… At that point they would nod wisely.
When Solomon explained that I was a gentile and that it was my first visit to a synagogue they insisted that I receive the tour and then join them for refreshments in a social centre near the main building. They were nice. Thinking about what I had stashed away in my bedroom cupboard made me feel a bit guilty… sins of the father I suppose.
Then Solomon, Ben and some of their friends took me off to a Jewish country club for lunch. Whatever they don't do on Sabbath, they certainly enjoy eating.
When we got home Solomon put some good coffee to brew and we sat and chatted for a while. He saw Ben and I exchanging shy glances and smiled…
"Boys, where are my manners… Shabbat afternoon is traditionally a time for committed lovers to enjoy each other's company. Go on, up you go, put on some nice music and be happy."
So we did… it seemed very natural. We made slow gentle love, nothing heavy, nothing wild… just two lovers lost in each other… kissing and touching… Ben got there first, with me close behind. I think we came more from love and happiness than friction.
Solomon was right. It was a perfectly wholesome and respectful way to spend Shabbos.
Sunset came as we lay there in each other's arms.
"Sunset… Shabbos is over. I hope you enjoyed today" Ben said
"Enjoyed isn't a big enough word… It's been wonderful… you've all made me so happy! Thank you… I can't say…"
Ben shushed me…
"Let me say it then… I love you Paul… I love you, I love you… I love you!"
"And I love you… Ben, son of Solomon!"
I kissed him and eventually we came again… it was a truly wonderful day.
When I walked in at home on Sunday evening my mother had the broadest of smiles on her face.
"If Ben looks half as happy as you do then your weekend has worked its trick!"
"If Ben is half as happy as I am then I have failed as well as worked my trick… Actually I think I have never seen anyone happier… and that was what I went for. Like Solomon said… make him happy, anything else is a bonus… what a bonus!"
She smiled and patted my cheek…
"You really are your father's son… so much heart!"
I wondered about that… there was still the stash in my cupboard to consider, but for some reason I was sure that she was right… time would tell… everything fixes itself given time.
Ben slowly recovered from losing his mother. He joined me at the gay-club and became very successful at table-tennis. I think that it was hand-eye coordination as a musician and painter that helped him. Certainly he always held the bat in a "pencil" grip and almost painted with it. He also set up various musical groups, organising discreet visits to concerts in the city and giving music lessons.
The only thing that set him apart from the other members was that no matter how important the event seemed to them… he was never available on a Friday or Saturday. I don't think anyone ever raised the question why… it was just accepted that he and I had something more important to do on those occasions. A few speculated that it was when his dad would be absent and we got to sleep together. I suppose that they were not entirely wrong.
You may be wondering when I will get round to the "research", and for that matter, when will I get around to telling Ben and Solomon about my father's dodgy history with the Hitler Youth.
Well… It came about at a Sabbath-eve dinner.
As usual I had been helping in the kitchen. Ben was in the dining room organising the candles and the bread and wine. I was alone with Solomon, when he said…
"Tell me… you were so good at working out exactly what Ben needed that first night… what told you to just help him sleep? So many of us, me included, had been trying to talk him round. You… you just let him go to sleep."
I thought about the question for a moment. It wasn't entirely clear to me either.
"I suppose… when my dad died… nobody would let me be quiet. They seemed scared to leave me be. I suppose they didn't want to risk being the one that people pointed to and said… "If only he hadn't left him alone."."
"Mostly what I wanted was just to sit and think…remember the good times. He wasn't just my dad. He was the friend who saved me from disaster after scaring Jeremy away… who knew I was gay long before I did, and who was simply waiting in the wings, like a prompter, to give me my next line when I started to fall apart."
"He loved you very much…"
"Yes. The great thing was that I knew it. Lots of kids have loving parents but are at such cross-purposes… homework, clothes, hair, girlfriends… They can't see how much they are loved. I knew absolutely that I had his support and friendship, and that's what love is I think."
"So… he was perfect in your eyes?"
"Yes, I mean… yes absolutely."
He smiled and said "You hesitated a moment… is nobody perfect then?"
He said it gently in a bantering tone… I could treat it as a joke or unburden myself… he gave me the space and opportunity to do either… my choice… if this was the moment. It was for me to choose.
"The difficult things in life always are… What makes this complicated? Maybe that's a place to start."
We stood, with him watching the timer and me stirring the goulash.
"Mainly… it's well… you are Jewish, and…"
He looked startled.
"That's never been a problem before… we love having you with us. I thought…"
I hurried to cut him off…
"No, no, no… God no… it's not like that!"
I hurried on, before I could lose my nerve.
"He was a Hitler Youth! That's why it's weird talking about him to you!"
"How on earth do you know that? Did he tell you? It isn't very likely!"
"No, honestly it's true! The only thing I know for certain is that he was a member. After he died I found his uniform, with his name embroidered in the collar. I knew he came to England from Germany after the war as some sort of refugee. I never thought…"
"Paul, Paul… how old was he… then?"
"He was sixteen at the end of the war."
"Well, there you are then… If he was sixteen it was compulsory. By then all 14 to 18 year olds were conscripted into the Hitler Youth. He had no choice in the matter."
"Yes, that's what I told myself, but…"
Even now I couldn't bring myself to tell him about the Iron Cross and the SS passbook.
"It's just that I would like to remember him as perfect… and the uniform tells me that to some extent, at some stage…. he wasn't. It would be nice if I could know that he was reluctant, that he tried to avoid membership… even painted Hitler-Go-Home on walls… something to suggest that his heart wasn't in it."
"It's a pity we don't know the days of our lives… so many leave us with more questions than answers. What did your mother say?"
"Oh, I asked her vaguely and she said that the war had been a trauma for him and that she knew as little as I did… I never mentioned the uniform. I thought that if he never told her then there was every reason for me not to… I trusted his judgement then, and I do now. Whatever he did in those years… it won't have been bad… I just don't understand how it could have been good. It's…"
"Complicated." Solomon said for me.
"Yes! I do know that he had brothers at the time. Mum said that he told her that he was orphaned in 1944 and that his only living relative when they married lived in Sweden and was too frail to travel to England for the wedding. She said he was fond of him and had visited him once or twice when he went to medical conferences in Scandinavia… but she never met him. He died in 1960, so there are no answers to be found there either.
He smiled sadly.
"It's strange… Ben has almost the same set of questions. We too came out of the Holocaust. My parents were taken from me and died in the camps, but I was quite small and don't really remember much about them. So you see, I can't answer Ben's questions either."
"But… Paul… this I am certain of… if he was your father, and if you are the fine young man that I know you are… then I'm certain there can be nothing in your father's life that you would need to be ashamed of!"
He said it with great determination, and for the first time since my dad died I felt unquestioning support, and a surge of confidence that one day when I found out the truth… it would be a truth that I could live with.
Meanwhile I felt that once again there was an older man in my life that I could totally rely on… though I still hadn't told him about the medal or the SS pass-book.
The summer went by slowly. I still slept with Ben at the weekends. Once or twice he slept at my home. Mum made him totally welcome. It clearly didn't bother Mum at all, but I think that Ben was embarrassed by the obviousness of what we were up to. The fact that his father knew didn't seem to worry him nearly as much. His father didn't bother me half as much as my mum bothered Ben. So we mostly slept at his home. I let the cart roll on… the wheels might be wonky, but if it's not broken don't fix it!
Ben was in a much better state of mind now than he had been. Occasionally, if school work had been difficult or someone at school had been unpleasant then his façade of happiness could crumble in just a moment. On those occasions I would snuggle up with him and cuddle him to sleep. That was one thing that was a constant in our relationship… when he was happy I could make him happier by taking him to bed for a boisterous session of lovemaking. When he was sad I could make him happier by taking him to bed for a gentle cuddle and snuggle and a good sleep. Our nights always ended that way… a deep snuggle, kiss and sleep… it solved the needs of everything the world had to offer, both good and bad.
We had not progressed to anal sex… he still had a few religious qualms… it was the only thing the Torah specifically forbade… If and when it happened I wanted it to be a very special thing and was putting as much distance as I could between Ben and Jeremy, so that when it happened it would be as fresh and new as possible. Doing it with Ben would be unique, so I didn't want close comparison… particularly with Jeremy. Perhaps the subservient role I had played for Jeremy was the reason why my relationship with Ben was as emotional Top to his Bottom.
Ben's father explained to me one evening how Judaism thought about physical love. It was when I had said how much I respected their concept of the Sabbath and how I would never do anything that they considered inappropriate. His father reacted quite surprisingly.
He took a deep breath and embarked on a long explanation of what was merely acceptable, and what was in fact expected of a loving couple on the Sabbath. It turned out that the Sabbath was an occasion in the week when it was actually considered desirable that a loving couple (traditionally husband and wife… but who's counting these days!) should express their love for each other. That is… if they chose to spend all day in bed… well good for them!
I think he was sub-consciously giving us permission to make it a day of bonding and pleasure. It was much the same at my house. With Mum the day was just Saturday but if I spent it cuddling Ben then it gave her immense pleasure.
I discovered early on that Ben's bottom was exceptionally smooth and soft. After our bath on Shabbos eve I loved to roll him onto his face and kiss my way down from the nape of his neck to the top of the crease of his bottom. When he was ready he would reach back with both hands and part the cheeks of his bottom to allow me to tongue the rosebud of his arse.
The sheer naughtiness of it he found very exciting at first and he worried that I would be put off by the theoretical undesirability of his arse-hole. But I knew from having been fucked by Jeremy just how sensitive the area could be and I was determined to give him the maximum incentive to one day welcome me in. It hadn't happened yet. We had discussed it at considerable length and had concluded that it was as near to a marriage night event as a gay couple could get. So, it would need to wait until we made that final commitment together.
My experience of the gay club had shown me how naturally promiscuous gay teenage boys are and that sex as such held little significance. Once or twice I had been more than attracted to a beautiful boy and I knew that the more involved you were, the more the sex seemed to matter, but… full penetration wasn't the same divide to cross as on a hetero marriage-night. I wasn't too sure what I was trying for but I was certain it wasn't a quick bundling of Ben. When it happened it would be exceptional.
It was now the summer term, leading up to our A-level exams, the ones that in Britain qualify you for university entrance. We had been using what little free time we had in researching our families. We told ourselves that it was to give us a break from exams, and took the opportunity on Saturdays to visit the libraries in town. Partly this was an extension of the idea that reading and hobbies were desirable Sabbath activities and… well Ben and his dad were Reform, so why not!
Ben and Solomon knew where to get information about the Holocaust and I was making some progress with the Hitler Youth and Births and Death registries in Germany. Solomon understood my reticence about my Dad and left me alone to do my own research. Ben on the other hand was up to his eyebrows in relatives!
Instinct told me that the fate of Dad's parents and his brothers had a lot to do with the medal and the SS. If they were decent people, and I wasn't prepared to even countenance the thought that they were rabid Nazis, then they would have prevented him from getting involved. That he clearly was involved suggested that they were no longer in a position to look after him. Short of the camps, death was the most likely reason for them not to be around. That was confirmed by Births and Deaths. I was able to determine that his parents and brothers all died on the same night in Hamburg in 1944… so he survived over a year alone in war-torn Germany before the war ended.
My respect for him grew with each thing I found.
There is only so much that you can achieve by library research. The staffs at the local library were very helpful, but eventually they started saying that we were in the wrong place to achieve what we wanted to achieve. Germany they said… Germany is where you should be doing this research… what they could do in weeks in England you could do in hours in Bonn or Berlin… No-one had yet mentioned Hamburg, which was where the worst of the story would reveal itself.
Solomon eventually tired of our continual moaning about how long everything took.
"I am surprised at you boys… When is the obvious going to strike you?"
"What's obvious that we haven't already done?" I asked with some asperity.
It had been a long day at the library trawling through history shelves.
"We've just about run out of obvious things to do!"
"Indeed you have boys. It's almost the summer holidays too… Are you going to spend all summer on this too?"
"If necessary!" We chorused… We now often said things in unison and finished each other's sentences.
"No summer holiday planned?"
"Not even for a youth-hostelling tour of Germany? No time to wandervogel?"
Ben and I looked at each other… gob-smacked! Why hadn't it occurred to us?
It was obvious… Solomon was right… We had the whole summer ahead of us.
The answers were in Germany, so why not go to Germany?
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