Having a free afternoon on a recent Saturday, I pulled out an old stash of buttons I had intended to make into a button ring.
As I sorted through the buttons, I came upon an item that shocked and confused me. It was a gold-colored Nazi button. I know I would have never intentionally purchased a Nazi button. I could only surmise the button was mixed in with an assortment I bought at a secondhand store.
At first, I was a little disgusted as images flashed in my mind of Nazi concentration camps, dead American soldiers and Hitler newsreels.
Then I asked myself “What should I do with this grotesque bobble? Do I keep it? Do I give it away? Do I throw it in the trash?”
I called my father and what ensued was interesting conversation about my family’s history.
My father said during World War II, a prisoner of war camp for German soldiers was located in El Dorado, near where my family lived.
The German POWs worked on area farms, including my grandparents’ dairy farm. My father, who was 4 when the war ended, became acquainted with two of these soldiers.
My grandparents were of German/Austrian decent. My grandfather was not drafted as he was considered essential home personnel. He was the head of City Service Electric, which provided power for the community known as Oil Hill, which was the rich petroleum producing area near El Dorado.
The POWs ate meals with my family, and my father remembers getting in wrestling matches with one of the soldiers until my grandma broke it up.
One of the soldiers was a conscientious objector. The other was a ranking officer in the Nazi military. My father recalls the soldier telling his family they would be treated well when the Germans conquered the United States as they had treated him well during his captivity.
We had a good laugh about that one.
After a day’s work, the soldiers would return to a barracks outside of El Dorado for the night.
I had heard parts of my father’s stories before, but never in such detail.
My father said he had kept several mementos from the soldiers who had worked on their farm — a Nazi cap among them. They were, however, lost when my late grandmother’s house was recently cleaned out and sold.
My father offered to take the Nazi button off my hands, but I said I would think about it.
When I went to stash the button in an old jewelry box, I came across another memento of similar infamy.
Sometime in the ‘90s, I did an interview with two former Christian Soviet soldiers who were visiting local churches in my area.
Page 2 of 2 - The soldiers related stories about oppression under Soviet Communism because of their Christian faith. At the end of the interview, one of the soldiers gave me the pin as a token of friendship. Every time I look at that pin I am reminded of the bravery of those soldiers and their triumph over oppression.
This brought me back to the button. Although the button was a symbol of the Nazi atrocities, it also is symbol of those who fought to overcome the Nazis. The simple button also rekindled a memory for my father, which he has now passed to me.
I have decided to keep the button. I hope that one day I will be able to use it to foster a conversation with my nephew and niece about that era in history.
I hope to convey to them the importance of our choices. We choose to act with love, forgiveness and kindness — just as we choose to act with hate, violence and spite.
Whether it is the fresh wound of the killings in Colorado and Wisconsin or the horrors of 70 years ago, every day we have a choice to learn from our past.
We can create a culture of acceptance and nonviolence or choose to be a culture of hate.
Cristina Janney is the managing editor of The McPherson Sentinel. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.