The Price
Chapter 11

Recovering and Adjusting

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Even though I was bursting to talk about it, no one ever asked me to tell them about my experiences.
Summary
Karl-Heinz was excited to be able to eat "real food" now that he was free, but was disappointed to learn that overeating in his condition could lead to death, as had apparently already happened to another man [1]. He got "oatmeal and a boiled egg and a mashed potato."

He was still suffering from "malarial fever," and the hospital only allowed him out for four hours each day, but people like himself were given free tickets to the opera, and other such niceties. He received a letter about his brother's upcoming wedding, and left the hospital before he was done with treatment.

On the train, he was approached by more people looking for their fathers, sons, and brothers, all hoping that maybe he had some information about them. This made him both sad and embarrassed.

When they crossed the river on the way into Hamburg, he started bawling like a baby because he was finally, actually, going home.

He had to get on a tram to get from the train station to his town, but he didn't have any money for fare. He got on anyway, knowing he could never walk all that way in his condition, and tried to just avoid the conductor. He was discovered, however, and the man was going to throw him off at the next stop, when the other people accosted him, pointing out that he was obviously a POW, as he was still wearing Russian clothing. They all gave the man money to pay for his ticket.

After the wedding, he must somehow get back to the hospital, but his parents have no money for his travel. Another man present just happens to be traveling to that town, as well, so he is able to hitch a ride.  Before they leave, Karl-Heinz is able to get some food and new clothes, which have been sent over to Germany by American Mormons. They took lots of canned peaches and pears to share with all of the doctors and nurses, "who were themselves having trouble finding enough to eat."

Eventually Karl-Heinz is released from the hospital and he returns home. His parents and grandfather are living in their former garden shed, which he now informs us is only twelve feet by twelve feet. They have, however, gathered bricks from the rubble and built a little addition. Food was being rationed for everyone in the country, but they were given a little extra for himself (as a POW) and his father (who sometimes worked two shifts a day).

He also discovered that the German government "had put my name on a list of those persecuted by the Nazis," and he was "entitled to reparations payments." This eventually amounted to ten thousand Deutschmarks.

Karl-Heinz also learns that there is an association of those who had been persecuted by the Nazis, and that they had been writing to the Soviets, years earlier, trying to get the men released. They offered to help him and take him to their convention, but he says, "I felt a bit uncomfortable about all the fuss people were making over me. I just wanted to get my health and my life back to normal again."

He discovers that his old boss at the painting business is dead, but his wife offers him a job on the spot. He declines, however, since he is still really emaciated.

At this point, we learn that the author is struggling with being back. He'd gotten used to the abuse, and put all of his energy into simply surviving. He hadn't matured normally, if at all. He says, "I was self-centered, unable to relate to others and their problems or points of view. And I was lewd, crude, and rude."

He also describes some really odd behaviors, such as riding a streetcar all day, staring into space, and wandering around until midnight.

Eventually, his mother took him to an organ concert. The music reminds him of an organ performance he'd heard while in Russia, and he breaks down and cries for two hours. This experience makes him realize that he is still human, after all, and that there is hope for him. He worked to quit swearing.

He was reunited with Rudi Wobbe, who had been released from the concentration camp, served a mission for the Church, and returned already. He also started dating girls, eventually getting married. This, he immediately realized, was a mistake. "She wanted a normal husband and I was anything but normal yet."


References:

[1] Christmas in Connecticut (imdb.com) <https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0037595/, accessed 2021-02-10.> This 1945 movie begins with a similar scene, in which two sailors have been on a lifeboat for weeks, and must eat lightly in the hospital.
Analysis
The fact that the POWs were given such a small amount may seem terrible, but we must remember that this was now post-war Germany and, as the author describes, food is being rationed and everyone is struggling to get enough to eat. The real miracle is that they were given anything!

What Karl-Heinz experiences after his release is commonplace even among soldiers who return from active duty. It is what we currently describe as post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, and it is why there are so many war veterans living on the streets. Curiously, missionaries who have been to remote places for a long period of time also experience some of these same symptoms.

We can understand, though, the author's desire to put behind him the military life, the prisoner life, the torture and abuse, the murders he had witnessed.
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