I stared once again at the portrait of the lovely young woman in the crimson red dress. That was my Oma Gretchen Hampton. My mother was her only child and as families go; I was also an only child. My mother and father were killed in an automobile accident. Oma, did not want me placed anywhere other than with her. She was strict but fair. I remember seeing a key that was always in her apron pocket. One day I queried her about the key, her reply was that when she was gone; I would have the answer to the puzzle. Oma, passed away two days ago, she was buried this morning, next to Opa in the German cemetery near our home in Fredericksburg, Texas. She told me just before she breathed her last that I was the last descendant of the Von Haumpton line and that the key was now in the hands of her lawyer.
After the burial, I returned to what Oma referred to as the Schloss. The Texas stone schloss was centered high on a hill, with a long winding driveway. I parked my VW Jetta, and meandered into the schloss. The lawyer had provided me with the key explaining that it went to the attic door. I sighed as I climbed the first set of steps, which took me to the bedrooms. At the end of the hall was the door to the attic. I was not sure that now that I had the key; I wanted to know what was behind that door. I unlocked the door there was a trap door that I pushed then slid that allowed me access. What I found was a trip through World War II. The first thing I noticed was a gilt framed portrait of a handsome young man in an SS uniform. That gave me pause, who could he be. Opa, was tall and blond, this man was tall with dark red hair, almost the color of Oma’s.
I slipped past the portrait of the SS man. There were so many trunks to go through. I began with the one closest to me. It was a steamer trunk, the lettering was of course in German, with the name Von Haumpton on it in big white letters. I opened it, beautiful clothes from the 1940’s began to tell the story of a rich and no doubt influential family in the Third Reich. These I knew were Oma’s. It was then I noticed the crimson red dress, alone on a wire mannequin. I sauntered over to it. I removed and slipped it over my jeans and tee shirt. A long wooden mirror was just on the left side of it. It was the loveliest dress I had ever seen. It was a very simply cut dress, with large pleats, with pockets secreted within the pleats. I could see Oma wearing such a gorgeous dress. I stuck my fingers into the right pocket. I felt something cold and round. My thumb and pointer finger clasped it, as I brought it out of the pocket. It was a signet ring, with eagles and some sort of flower intertwined.
I am naturally a curious person and my intuition told me to continue looking the in the trunks. The third steamer trunk also had clothes but it also contained a diary, written in English, rather strange since Oma taught me to write in German when I was a teenager. I began to thumb through the pages, I stopped and put the signet ring on my ring finger to admire the craftsmanship. I wondered who the young man in the SS uniform was and how we were possibly related. The diary was made of blue silk material. It was there that I first saw pictures of two young children and girl, Oma and a boy of the same age. I turned the picture over, the girl, my Oma the name Gretel were written the boy Oma’s twin was Dietrich. Funny, Oma had never mentioned him.
I was about half way through the diary entries when I found the information about Dietrich, my uncle. As I read, the realization began to hit me and tears began to trickle down my face. The entries were dated from March 2-5 1941.
March 2nd, 1941
‘Dietrich returned to the schloss yesterday. He is so handsome in his uniform. Papa wanted to have
Portraits done of us both. I chose a simply designed crimson dress. The pictures came back today.
I had not realized then that Dietrich was a member of the SS. Just before he entered the drawing
Room he put on the SS uniform. Papa was furious, telling him to take that uniform off and put on his
Luftwaffe uniform immediately. Dietrich refused, Papa became more and more furious. The portrait sitting ended abruptly when Dietrich stormed out. Later that evening, Papa once again was in his study. I noticed Dietrich, his artic blue eyes glaring at the door of the study. He knocked on the door, Papa told him to come. The hated SS uniform that he was wearing was more than Papa could endure. The argument began in earnest.
March 3rd, 1941
The argument became louder. I knocked on the door and was politely told by Papa to stay out. Dietrich was already screaming that Papa did not understand that being in the SS gave him great prestige, Papa told him to take it off. Dietrich, I think hit Papa, I frantically banged on the door. The words were becoming louder:
“Get out you swine, get out! You are no longer my son. My son would not do the things
Are required of the SS. I know about the disappearance of our Jewish friends. People
You have known all of your life.”
Dietrich, his voice rising as did Papa’s:
“You never cared about me just your precious daughter Gretel. I will make a name for
Myself. I don’t need you.”
Papa was livid as he responded:
“Get out of my schloss, do not ever return here. You will not inherit the land nor the
Schloss. Put the signet ring on the desk and GET OUT.”
I moved away from where I was standing. The door opened, Dietrich wrenched off the signet ring, put it in my hand and left. No goodbyes.
March 4th, 1941
Papa, is calmer, he told me he went to see Mr. Gossman, his lawyer. He has changed the will; he did not tell me the changes. I hope and pray that he and Dietrich settle this thing. I am frightened, I thought I saw someone watching the Schloss today. Dietrich, I think will try to seek revenge on Papa. He was so angry when he left.
March 5th, 1941
I just returned from the green grocer. The schloss is in shambles and Papa is gone. What has Dietrich done? I am gripped with a fear I have never known. Papa I knew kept money and papers in the floor safe in his study. I moved the desk to one side. I opened the safe, there was a white envelope, with
Papa’s hand writing addressed to me.
‘My dearest Gretel,
If you are reading this, I have been arrested by the Gestapo. I have deutschmarks for you
At Gossman’s office. You must leave Germany as soon as possible before Dietrich sends
The SS for you. Dietrich is stationed at Konzentrationslager Buchenwald. I think that is
Where I will go. Remember Gretel, you are the last Von Haumpton not Dietrich, for
All intense and purposes he is dead.
Your loving Papa’
I took a deep breath as I finished reading that last entry. I had to find out what happened to Dietrich and Oma’s Papa. It could not be good whatever happened. I reached for my cell phone and dialed a friend of mine at the Holocaust museum in Washington D.C.
“Mitch, hi I need a huge favor. My grandma just passed; I found her diary. Can you check the
Names Dietrich and Emil Von Haumpton?”
Mitch, never one to ask questions agreed. It took him a few days. My cell phone rang just as I was once again coming down from the attic.
“Hey, I wish I had better news Gretchen I think you better sit down. Emil Von Haumpton was
Taken by the SS on March 5th, 1941. He was tortured and sent to Buchenwald Concentration
Camp, where he was gassed on March 8th, 1942. Dietrich Von Haumpton went on trial after
War at Nuremburg, where he was hanged for his war crimes, he murdered over 5,000
People during his time at Buchenwald.”
It was as if someone had punched me, I felt tears welling in my eyes for the terrible secret that Oma bore in silence all those years. The signet ring is in a holocaust museum on far from my home. I could not bear to keep it.