27 September 2015

When Eva Braun was a Student of Mine, What, I’d Make a Thing Like that Up?

I’ve been teaching ESL for a long long time at a school in San Francisco. We have students from all over the world. Some come for as little as two weeks, others for as long as a year. While most students are in their early 20s, many are older. I’ve had students as old as 62 and as young as 15.

As I said I’ve been teaching for a long time. One of my former students was Eva Braun. The mistress of Adolph Hitler. You may remember him as being the fellow who started World War II during his time as the dictator of Germany. As I recall he was a Nazi who hated Jews. Ultimately things didn’t work out for Herr Hitler and the world is a better place as a result. Anyway, though he figures tangentially in this story, my real topic is Eva Braun.

The year was 1937, just two years before Germany, under Hitler’s auspices, invaded Poland and all hell broke loose.

I always have student’s fill out a questionnaire of my own creation, on the first day of class. One of the questions is: Why do you want to learn or improve your English? I recall quite well Eva’s answer: "after my bf conquers England I’ll be spending a lot of time there, shopping, going to the theater and what not so I want to be fluent or as close to it as possible."
Another question was: why did you choose to study in San Francisco? Eva's response: "My fella has suggested the possibility that, with the help of the Japanese, we’ll also have control of the U.S. by war’s end so I’ll be wanting to come out here for visits. I figured why not scope out some real estate while I’m improving my English? I may even snatch up some property for my guy and I. The Marina District looks affordable and I’m definitely going to check out Marin County."

Eva was a pretty good student. She was in a six week program and moved right along. It was, however, distracting to have an SS guard in full uniform sitting next to her at all times. His name was Fritz, but that’s all I got out of him. He just sat there all the time just glaring at me and other students. Also, I could practically see my reflection in his long black boots. He’d lead Eva into the classroom and salute me with a “Heil teacher.” I never knew how the hell to respond to that so would just nod my head. Eva was far more casual of course. She would smile and say “hiya teach.” I’ve gotta tell you, if she hadn’t been Hitler’s girl I would have quite liked her (no, not in that way).

One time Hitler himself came by the school. Eva said he was on break from dictating which, she related, was a pain in the ass job what with all the rights he had to take away and the oppression he had to bring down and the edicts and the freedom eroding. Adolph was forever dealing with sycophants and on the flip side had to execute anyone who wasn’t. An occasional break was a must, so with Eva out here in SF he paid a call.

For him there were half a dozen SS officers in tow. These guys would “Heil!” something at the drop of a hat. They all knew Fritz and kidded him like crazy about being stuck guarding Eva while they had the boss. I remember him saying “aw shucks fellas, cut it out.” in German. He did get back at em though, saying it took six of them to guard one person while he could guard a person himself. It was kind of a hoot to watch them going at each other so good naturedly. After the war it was a bummer to find out what dicks these guys were.

Anyway Adolph had a look around the school and evidently toured the city. I heard from Eva he was crazy about riding the Cable Cars and was suitably impressed by the Golden Gate Bridge. Hitler also lunched a couple of times in Chinatown, he really loved dim sum. Before he left. the Fuhrer met with me to check on Eva’s progress. “She’s not giving you any lip, is she?” he asked. I assured the Nazi that Eva was a very charming young lady and a good student. “Is she mastering prepositions? I know those can be a real son of a bitch.” Adolph wanted to know. I assured him that Eva was doing as well as anyone with prepositions and my only real concern was her difficulty with conditionals. I was taken aback when he hit the table with his fist and shouted, “no conditions will be accepted, surrender must be unconditional.” Boy was he embarrassed when I pointed out that conditionals was a grammar term. “I guess my head’s still in my work,” he said sheepishly.

I was relieved when Hitler left. He seemed so judgmental and inflexible about a lot of things. Plus a lot of our students were put off by one SS officer in the school, having all these others goose stepping around and singing the Horst Wessel song was downright unnerving. One of my Polish students complained about the way they sneered at him and more than a few French students ran like hell when they saw them coming.

Eva finished her course and did really well. She aced the final exam. That said I didn’t much care for her essay. She chose as her topic “What the world will be like in five years.” Her topic sentence was: “pretty much in ruins for any place that has opposed my lover…” it degenerated from there. Still her writing, vocabulary and punctuation were fine, so what can you do.

On her last day Eva gave me a gift, as some students do. In her case it was strudel. Yummy.

I got a letter from Eva after the U.S. entered the war. She said she was sorry it came to that but if Germany won she’d be sure to get me a gig teaching English to Fritz and his crew. I’ll never forget the next line: “if Germany loses, well, you’ll have seen the last of Eva.”

In case you didn’t know, Germany ultimately got its ass kicked and I never did see her or Adolph again, nor did anyone else. As an interesting postscript, Fritz made it out of Germany and out to San Francisco. When he enrolled in the school he requested I be his teacher. He ended up being a lousy student.

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