When he was first captured, my father was sent to an Italian prison camp. My father, as I’ve said before, never really talked about being a POW and he didn’t tell stories except for two. The first was about after the Italians fled and he was recaptured by the Germans. When he was received in the camp, Stalag 3B Furstenberg, the two people in front of him lied about being Jewish. My father, because he’d already been in an Italian prison camp, told the truth because, as he told us, by this time he didn’t care if he lived or died anymore. The following morning the two men who had been in front of him were shot.
The other story was about Aunt Matilda.
As I think back upon my family, particularly the Aunts and Uncles on my father’s side, they were a pretty serious bunch. Aunt Minnie and Aunt Bella, at least as I remember them, were almost always serious. They laughed and joked around, I think, when they were amongst themselves or when at a gathering and the kids were all gone outside to play ball. But I don’t remember them being really silly or fooling around with me or my brother. I remember my father-in-law once putting his tongue through a paper napkin at the Christmas dinner table and then making faces and noises. That was silly. I don’t remember my aunts on my father’s side ever being silly.
Aunt Matilda and Uncle Martin were the funny ones. Uncle Martin always told the truth as he saw it and very often his total candor led to awkward moments where we laughed because we felt he couldn’t possibly be serious about how critical he was being. Aunt Matilda would say he was joking, but I gather very often he was serious. Whether witty sarcasm or unbridled criticism, who knew?
So being-funny Aunt Matilda wrote her baby brother, my father, a letter that was received by the Italians in the prison camp he was he in. Of course the Italians (and the Germans too) censored all mail, so they received it instead of him. He was called into the commandant where they proceeded to read him the letter.
As my father told the story, the letter started off “Congratulations, you are now in the hands of the spaghetti-eaters,” and it went on and on about the Italians. The more they read, my father told us, the more he laughed, and the more he laughed, the madder they got, and the madder they got, the longer they left him in solitary confinement.
Aunt Matilda was a pip. As another story about her has it, she was once being blocked by a tractor-trailer truck whose driver was apparently having a hard time moving the truck out of the way. My aunt, after honking and waiting, got fed up enough to go give the driver a piece of her mind, telling him that if he couldn’t move it, she would do it for him. The driver made the mistake of accepting it as a dare. Aunt Matilda moved the truck for him. She was very proud of that.