He joined the Hitler Youth as a child – fought for the Nazis and supported the far right to the end.
But to Holly Müller he was still her grandfather and she struggles to understand the contradictions.
My Austrian Opa (grandfather) was an enthusiastic member of the Hitler Youth and though never involved in the Nazi party itself he joined the German Wehrmacht army as soon as he was able to support the fascist cause.
I knew this as a child but it meant little to me.
He always told amusing anecdotes about the war so it seemed quite innocuous and entertaining.
As an adult I began to think more deeply about his values and how it had been for my dad to have him as a father.
Dad spoke so rarely about his Austrian past that it was a blank in my imagination.
‘There are more gaps than memories’ he joked – blaming heavy drug use in his youth.
I came to understand that he didn’t much like to ruminate.
I saw Opa seldom – growing up in Wales.
I didn’t speak German.
Each year he rang from Austria to sing ‘Heppy Berz-day!’ and ask questions I didn’t understand.
He called me Holly-mouse – sent parcels of goodies at Christmas – Kinder chocolate – Lebkuchen – sweets – and showered us with money when we visited his spacious Salzburg flat.
He was nothing if not generous.
And though he was foreign and unfamiliar and I suspected there was something about him I ought to dislike – I’d been told Dad used to hate him – I couldn’t help finding him fun.
He was the kind of person you could tease and he’d erupt into cackling laughter.
I enjoyed his oft-repeated tale about the ‘bloody Englishman’ who put a bullet in his leg and the ditty he’d written as he harvested peaches in Georgia as an American prisoner of war: ‘Pick peaches for America not too big not too small not too green; that is all!’
The farmer cursed the ‘damn German boys!’ but grew so attached to Opa that he asked him to stay on as his ‘son’ to help run the farm.
Opa’s whole past seemed a jovial story to me or somehow poetic – the fact that he’d been on the other side fighting against my British grandfather – a neat symmetry.
I knew about Hitler.
I knew vague things about the Holocaust too.
But I didn’t comprehend.
Opa continued to vote as far right as was possible until his death in 2013 and at times made antisemitic racist or xenophobic comments.
Dad often confronted him about his views but Opa only grumbled begrudgingly – his sense of racial superiority too firmly embedded to change.
It shocked me when he snarled abuse at a car full of Yugoslavians who stole his parking space – calling them good-for-nothing Gastarbeiter scum.
Or when he complained that a Jew had ruined his father by tricking him into buying a swath of Polish forest that didn’t exist – making his dream of buying a farm impossible.
Did Opa blame all Jews for this one crime?