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I had a complicated family history. My mom was born and raised in America, but my grandparents were German. When I was growing up, I was told that my grandparents came here to escape World War 2. It wasn't until I was older that I found out the truth about my grandfather, that he was a Nazi.

As a member of the Nazi party, he participated in many cruel activities against Jews in his hometown of Karlstadt. He would harass and discriminate anyone who wore the Star of David on their clothes. When he got to the appropriate age, he enlisted in the German army, but this was by the end of the war. When the allied forces invaded Germany, he and his family fled to America. There they were able to cover up any ties they had to Nazi Germany by changing their last name to Moffat.

And for fifty years, no one knew the truth. All that was left of my grandfather's past was a cardboard box he kept in the attic. I remember visiting his house as a kid. My brother and I would play hide and seek, but there was only one place that we were forbidden to play, the attic. I thought it was for our own safety, that there were dangerous objects up there. It turned out my grandfather was trying to keep us away from the box. I remember that my grandfather was very nervous about the attic. He rarely went up there, and when he did, he was hesitant to leave it.

But eventually the truth came out, only it didn't happen until a year after his death. My uncle was clearing out the attic when he stumbled upon the box. Inside were Nazi memorabilia such as flags, emblems, and even a copy of Mein Kampf. Outraged and disgusted, my family became divided over this. There were those who wanted to disown my grandfather, and then there were those who thought he should be forgiven.

When I learned about what was in the box, I wasn't sure what to think. I didn't really know my grandfather, but every time I met him it never struck me that he could believe in those awful things. He was kind, gentle, and loved me and my brother very much. Since he kept that part of his life a secret for so long, no one knew if he died with regret, or that he was still anti-semitic.

Although I wanted so badly to believe that my grandfather was a virtuous man who made some bad decisions in his youth, I soon discovered something that made me doubt these desires. Since my uncle wanted nothing to do with the cardboard box, he gave it to me and my brother. My brother and I were also divided about our grandfather's actions. Before that, we were divided about many things. Politically speaking, we didn't see eye-to-eye. It gotten so bad that we didn't speak to each other for an entire year.

But basically he believed that my grandfather was innocent, and that his love for the Nazis was just blind German pride, and that there was no evidence that he actually caused any harm to Jews. The only evidence we had of our grandfather's anti-semitic behavior was eye-witness testimony from Karlstadt, who recognized my grandfather participating in Kristallnacht, which resulted in the burning of a synagogue. My brother thought those eye-witnesses were liars or mistaken.

Which leads to my biggest problem with my brother, although I didn't know it for sure, but he might harbor the same pro-German beliefs that my grandfather held. He grew up listening to my grandfather's stories and he enjoyed them quite a bit. My grandfather would tell him old German fables, as well as war stories from German and Prussian soldiers during the Seven Years War and World War I. My brother was always proud to share his German heritage whenever he could, such as in grade school for his heritage projects. He even saved up money during college for a trip to Germany, wanting to revisit Karlstadt and its neighboring towns, although he never made enough to actually do it. While I don't hate that I'm ethnically German, I can't say I have the same amount of enthusiasm as my brother. To me, it never mattered, and I thought that it was silly that someone who spoke English and was raised in Chicago would call themselves German.

So, we were given a box full of Nazi objects, and we had to decide what to do with them. Thankfully, my brother had a great idea, making it one of the few times we agreed on something. His idea was to donate the box to a museum, although he specifically wanted to sell it and make some money. I didn't really care, and just wanted to get rid of it as soon as possible. I hated staring at that the dusty, old thing as it sat on my living room coffee table, knowing what was inside of it.

So, we agreed to that conclusion and decided to sort out what was inside to see what was of value to us and what could be valuable to a museum. We took out the flags, Mein Kampf, old photographs, flyers depicting anti-semitic caricatures of Jews, until we stopped at a tiny, dirty looking bag that was lying under a stack of flyers. It was made out of a tiny, brown cloth, and the top was held shut by a small thread. Curious, we opened it up. We were not prepared for what was inside.

Ten to twelve gold coins. At first we thought it was a trick or something, that it was brass made out to look like gold. But after examining it and some helpful research online, we were able to confirm that it was indeed gold. Now, this led to a very important question; what was a bag full of gold coins doing in our grandfather's box full of Nazi paraphernalia?

My brother thought that our grandfather collected it in his youth and was intending to give it us after he died, but forgot to do so. But that didn't make much sense. Wouldn't someone traveling to America spend this money in order to make a living for themselves? After all, when my grandparents came to America, they started out poor, and only made a decent living for themselves after their tailoring business kicked off.

No, there was a more sinister reason as to why this bag was in this box. Everything in this box had to do with the Nazis, all except for the gold. The gold had to be linked some way. That's when a thought came into my head. A thought that sent shivers down my spine. There were accounts of German villagers raiding and pillaging Jewish houses and business, taking anything they could find. I knew my grandfather participated in those riots. Which meant that this gold was stolen from Jewish victims of those pogroms.

That had to be the only explanation, why else would he keep it hidden for so long without telling anyone? Why would he hide gold in the attic if it wasn't stolen from the Jews? When my aunt had to get surgery and we were struggling to raise enough money for it, why didn't my grandfather use the gold if it wasn't so? No, it was clear to me that this gold didn't belong to us. But I had a hard time convincing my brother of this.

He claimed that eighty years had pass since this gold was stolen, and that the original owners were probably dead.

"With no one to return the gold to, it should belong to us!" he explained to me.

"What about the descendants of the victims?" I asked him. If we did some research, we could find out where the gold came from and see if there were any living relatives.

But he hated this idea, and he hated that I was trying to be noble. He ranted about how we deserve the money more than some old prune in Germany. How the past should be left in the past. Basically, he was saying anything he could in order to hold onto the gold. But every time he did I reminded him that this was blood money. He scoffed at every remark I made, and every time I tried to pull the bag away from him, he pulled back harder.

This argument went on for the rest of that day, to a point where I couldn't take it anymore. I was sick of the box, sick of my brother, and sick of Germany. I caved-in and gave up. I let him have the gold. I wanted nothing to do with it anymore. He became overjoyed when I gave up, and left my living room with the box under his arm and skip in his leg. I poured myself a glass of whiskey and sat in my chair, thinking for the rest of that day of the decision that I made and whether or not it was the right choice.

I didn't remember going to bed that night. I think I fell asleep in my chair. I called my girlfriend up the next day and told her what happened. She was rightfully upset at what I did, saying that I shouldn't have let Damien take the gold. I tried to explain to her my situation; about how bad this whole Nazi thing had gotten. How my entire family hated each other because of where they stood on the issue. I just wanted this nightmare to end and for everything to go back to normal. Back when my brother and I didn't argue about politics all the time. Back when my grandmothers would bake cakes side-by-side with each other in the kitchen. Back when our kid cousins would play in the front yard while my aunts and uncles watched them, having a good laugh at fantasies about who would become the athlete and who would become the artist. All of that vanished when we discovered the box.

And so it was for about a few days. During that time, no one heard from my brother. I figured he was keeping the gold a secret. I hope it was something else. Maybe in a moment of confusion, he lost the box, and that my wish could potentially come true. But that's not what happened, although, I didn't expect what would happen next.

It was a Wednesday night, and I was fast asleep in my bed when the phone rang. I answered it, dreary and a bit annoyed due to the time, only to be surprised by a familiar voice; my brother. He didn't sound like himself. Normally cocky and loud, this time he was nervous and quiet. I could hear him quivering as he talked. He wanted to come over to my house and talk to me about something. Normally, I'd tell him to screw-off, but I had a sinking suspicion it was about the gold. I knew this was my only chance to talk him out of it, so I allowed him to come over. It didn't take long, he was over in about ten minutes, which tells me that he was already on his way over to my house.

When I opened the door to let him in, the first thing I noticed was the undeniable look of dread on his face. Pale skin, bags underneath his eyes, and an unclean chin. But what drew my attention were his hands, shaking uncontrollably while holding onto the bag of coins that tore us apart. I couldn't believe it myself, although, in that moment, I thought his state of mind was a result of guilt, and that he wanted to come over to return the coins. He did, but for different reasons.

I poured him a glass of whiskey and asked what was troubling him. That's when I got the full story. He told me that the gold was cursed. I laughed it off, thinking he was overexaggerating, but he snapped at me upon doing so. He told me that things were happening to him. Things that started off subtle, but soon rouse to nightmarish situations. I didn't understand what he was talking about, but he assured me that what he was experiencing was real.

It all began the night he took the gold back to his apartment. He was excited about the potential wealth he would inherit after he converted the coins into cash. He looked up online where he could do such a thing, researching all the local pawnshops and jewelry stores, trying to find the best deal for the coins. That's when the temperature in his room started to change. He described it as going from a comfortable summer's night to a breezy winter's day.

He thought his air conditioning had finally turned on, for he complained about it to the landlord all that summer. But what was odd about the sudden drop in temperature was that even at its highest, the air conditioning could never reach that level of intensity. He sworn he could even slightly see his breath. In addition, the air conditioner made a rattling sound whenever it turned on. There was no such sound in that moment. So, if the cold air wasn't coming out of the air conditioning, then where was it coming from?

His next theory was that he accidently left a window open somewhere in his apartment and that a draft was flowing into the room. He checked all the rooms in his apartment, but there wasn't an open window. For some reason, his apartment dropped to an uncomfortable low temperature.

Though it confused him, it was nothing a few extra layers of clothes and blankets couldn't fix. He went about his night trying to find the right pawn shop. He found one near a Chinese take-out place. He fell asleep that night, dreaming about all the luxuries he would buy with the money. Only these fantasies that he constructed in his mind as a lullaby transformed into a hellish, uncontrollable nightmare. He had a dream that he was in the middle of a massive riot in the middle of Karlstadt, on Kristallnacht. He saw the looting and burning of Jewish houses, business, and synagogues. He saw an elderly Jewish man being kicked to the curb by a gang of young, Aryan boys. And in his hand, he held the bag of gold coins. When he awoke the next morning, the room temperature had returned back to normal. At first he thought that he woke up in a profusive sweat, but it was just his body reacting to the restored temperature. It was just as it should have been.

It didn't take him too long into understand the symbolism of his dream, but he blew it off as a bad dream. Nothing more than a bad dream. He planned to visit the pawn shop that Friday, since he still had to go to work. So, he placed the box into his closet, where no one would look for it.

When he got back from work he bumped into his landlord and asked him about the air conditioning. According to the landlord, the air conditioning was still not fixed, and he was waiting on someone to come over and fix it. This puzzled Damien, and he explained to his landlord what happened to him the night before. His landlord just shrugged it off and said he probably left a window open. Despite knowing very well that none of his windows were opened, Damien didn't feel like bothering his landlord over something so pointless, so he just went up to his apartment. As typical of his routine, he changed out of his dirty work clothes and took a hot shower.

As he was telling me this part of the story, he began to shake, staring blankly into space, as if the memory triggered something in him. I called his name, and he quickly snapped out of his trance.

He continued, explaining to me that when he turned on the faucet, nothing came out of the shower valve. Frustrated, he banged on the side of the pipe a few times, thinking that something got jammed up. After a few hard smacks to the pipe, the valve burst, only it didn't let out hot, Chicago water.

As Damien described it, what came out looked like yellow gas. It sprayed him directly in his face. He fell out of his shower, hitting his back against the toilet. The gas had blinded him, and filled up his senses. It tasted unlike anything he had ever tasted before, which made him gag uncontrollably. As he tried to open his eyes, he swore he could see a shadow looming over him. It was like a silhouette of a man in a suit and fedora hat. But it vanished in a split second, and Damien was left with a bruised back. He shot up and checked the mirror. Whatever came out of the shower left no mark on him. No smudges. No coloring. Nothing. He turned to his shower, only to find a healthy stream of hot water coming out of it.

"But I'm telling you, Arnold, it was yellow gas!" Damien trembled as described the event to me. "It shot right into my eyes and I was blinded! It couldn't have been water!"

I wasn't sure what to think of this, nor sure what he was implying did happen. The city's water isn't the purest substance in the world, so maybe he was splashed by some dirty air.

But he wasn't done with his story. That night he had the same dream again, only this time he was standing elsewhere. He witnessed the same atrocity unfold before his eyes. The smashing of the store's glass windows. The hurling of stones at Jewish mothers and grandmothers. But there was something different. Something out-of-place. Then he realized what that out-of-place thing was. The old Jewish man, who was beaten by the young Aryan boys. He was nowhere to be seen. But following that thought, he turned to see the same gang walking straight towards him. They held iron bars and had malicious looks on their faces. But why were they heading towards him? A German man?

That's when he looked down to his clothes and saw the Star of David stitched to the pocket of his vest. He was the Jewish man. He tried to run away, but an unseeable force was keeping him in place. Unable to flee, Damien tried to wake up. But he couldn't do anything as the German boys swung their bars into his stomach. Though the pain wasn't real, he reacted to it as such, falling to the ground and hurdling up into a ball. This was followed by kicks, punches and more swings of the iron crowbar.

When the beating stopped, he looked up, only to see a crowd of German people pointing at him. But one stood out among the rest. A young German boy, no older than fifteen. He played with something in his hands as he laughed at Damien's misfortune. It was in that moment that Damien knew what he was holding. The bag of money. That boy was his grandfather.

That's when he woke up. It was the dead of night, 3:00 am to be exact. Damien was overcome with emotion. Fear. Anger. Sadness. But mostly joy, thankful that he was out of that hellscape. But a familiar feeling drifted across his skin, one that made him shiver. The room was dead cold again.

Damien looked around the room for an open window, for which, there was none. He turned to the door leading out of his bedroom, thinking it was open. It was not. The air conditioning was not on, and he remembered that it was blazing hot before he went to bed. Something wasn't right.

That's when he saw them. They drifted out of the darkness, transparent and hidden in low opacity. But their faces could be made out, but more importantly their clothes. These men wore striped shirts and pants. They were scrawny, pale, and barely standing up. There had to have been fifteen of them. All of them circling his bed, staring at Damien. Damien tried to flee, but he was frozen in place. The Star of David stood out on their transparent bodies like a yellow hue. These men did not do anything, but stare at Damien. They had the look of hopelessness in their eyes. All the joy, happiness, comfort and pleasure in their life were sucked away, leaving only skeletons behind.

And Damien had to lay there and watch them. In what was probably a few minutes felt like hours. It ended with the men turning around and walking back into the darkness. But one of them stayed. This one was standing behind the others, but he was just as quiet and miserable as them. But this one looked familiar. This was the old Jewish man who had been beaten next to his store by the gang of young Aryans. The old man my grandfather stole the gold coins from.

He walked back into the darkness like the others. And doing so set my brother free. And the first thing he did was jump out of bed, run over to his closest, grabbed the gold coins, and ran over to my house, only to call me up halfway there on his cellphone.

He ended his story holding his barely sipped whisky glass. He was looking down at the ground. All throughout the story, I couldn't believe what I was seeing, nor hearing. I have never seen my brother like this. He always tried to be the tough guy, the edgy, eats bricks for breakfast type of guy. And yet here he was. Scared, whimpering, and confused.

Whether or not what he saw actually happened is beyond me. It seems appropriate that what he experienced was subconscious, guilt ridden dreams and disillusions. But what mattered most was what he got out of it. I told him we had to return the gold to its rightful owner. He stopped for a moment, stared down at the bag, and nodded.

It was a hassle, but we managed to find the rightful owner of the gold. Their name is Kurtzberg. They lived in Paris, where the family moved to after being liberated from a concentration camp. My brother and I took a plane over to Paris and met the family in person. And we felt pretty good about doing it. The Kurtzbergs were not in the best condition. They were borderline poor and had a big family. But they were friendly, hospitable, and when we told them about the gold, overjoyed, grateful, and thankful. But we had to remind them that there was nothing for us to be grateful for. We told them how we acquired the gold. Still, they treated us nicely and forgave our family for what our grandfather did. My brother seemed calm throughout all this. He even took a liking to the youngest Kurtzberg's paintings and illustrations. Apparently, he wanted to make his own comic one day.

This was a lot for my brother to take in. There was no doubt he loved my grandfather. He didn't want to see him as a monster. I didn't either.

But there is a silver lining to this story. I was able to sell the Nazi memorabilia to a Chicago museum for a good amount of money. With it, I decided to spend it on a trip to Karlstadt, with just me and my brother. It was the least I could do for him.

And I can safely say that trip changed a lot. I got along with Damien, and we began having civil conversations about the things we usually disagreed with. But rather than our normal shouting spasms, we agreed to disagree. And you know what? Being there in the heart of Germany, looking out at the gorgeous hills, the three hundred year old architecture, and warm, loving people who have moved on from its tragic past, I actually felt a little bit of pride from my German heritage, the heritage I neglected for so long.

But there's one more part of the story I should add. It didn't change my mind about anything that happened, but it still puzzles me to this day. Of course Damien and I were curious about who the gold coins originally belonged to. The Kurtzbergs showed us their family tree, which led us to their great grandfather, the supposed man who my grandfather stole from.

It was not the information that shocked me, but my brother's reaction to it. He had to look away, and step outside. When I asked him what was wrong, he told me that, despite never have knowing this man's existence before, that old Kurtzberg looked exactly like the old man from his dreams.



Written by McDonaldbros
Content is available under CC BY-SA

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