When I tell the story of my father, being a 21 year old enlistee in World War 2, I find myself morphing between a proud daughter, to an admirer of a survivor, a man of strength, courage and tenacity that was my Dad. Seemingly surreal, was his experience, yet, indicative of the type of grit and insightfulness my siblings and I were raised with, I visualize with wonder how he survived so well.
I have written many times about my Father, a man who although imperfect, was the absolute strongest human being I have ever known. A man, who was raised by a woman, my grandmother, who took a train in 1932 from NY to Nevada to divorce her abusive husband. My Dad, a self made man of insight, was a bit before his time.
As I have mentioned before , I am the result of Roman Catholic Mother and a Father who believed in UFO and alien intelligence. A walking dichotomy , yet meshed into a world of offbeat insight and perspectives. I cannot fit into any mold or box, simply because one doesn't exist to contain all of my wandering mind and perspective thinking...it would get cramped.
At 21, my Father, Peter Zimmer, a rifleman , was deployed with his troop off the coast of Africa. It was here the entire platoon lay in wait in the high grass. It was here, that the Lieutenant, panicked, stood up, and immediately gave the German soldiers the location to their unit. The entire unit was captured by German soldiers. They began to march. In their march, attitudes developed. In the attitudes, some heads got bashed with the butt of the rifles, bashed enough to take note, not enough to not march. As the trek went through rough terrain, they stopped for water. Some soldiers smoked, my dad was one of them. As my dad took a cigarette from his pack to smoke it, the German soldier knocked it out of his mouth. My dad, being a bit of a 21 year old hot head, got up aggresively to get the cigarette. It was here that a revolver was placed at his temple and in German he was told if he moved, he died.
Lesson one Dad, you are a prisoner now, get ready to obey. "Know the rules so you know how to break them," was how he played his hand at being prisoner..
As they arrived at the prison camp, they were processed. It , the prison, was similar looking to all that we have seen on tv and movies.;barbed wired fences, barricks, desolate, death like..gray.
They divided all prisoners up by the country they were from. Americans in one barrick, the French, next to it, the English next to the French, and so on. Food was scarce, old, moldy, rotten, or infested with bugs. Some supplies were allowed in through the Red Cross and when prisoners were allowed to receive these packages, a plan of exchange ensued.
Just like the show , 'Hogan's Hero's" my father chose to be the person who would crawl through a make shift tunnel dug by the prisoners , and trade goods with his comrades of neighboring countries, in his neighboring camp ground of hell, the German prison camp.
My father, never showing fear, did this regularly when the Red Cross came bearing goods and treats. The English tea would be traded for the French chocolate, and the American crackers would be traded for salami or coffee. This worked great, until my dad was caught. He spent a month in solitary confinement. He lost weight, but managed to serve time, get out, and again dive down into the tunnels to trade once again. He was caught again. This time in solitary confinement, he contracted dysentary and went down to 98 lounds. Almost at death's door, a German soldier took pity on him, and brought another prisoner who was Jewish doctor, to tend to him. This formed a friendship that would later prove to be even more valuable.
My dad recooperated and time was now evolving the war. The army soldiers had taken over another area occupied by the Germans, and were quickly descending near where the my dad was held prisoner. The constant march was a becoming a regular event , moving from one camp to another prison camp. It was here my dad devloped a plan. He shared it with Rosenberg and the two hatched a plan to safety. As the prisoners marched with German guards shepherding them, my Dad and Rosenberg slowly and methodically descended in line, slowly falling back in line, back in line, until they were at the tail end of the line and disappeared off the road and back into a French countryside village home. Here my father and friend, neither speaking French show up at the doorstep of a French family sitting down to dinner. As I write this I can visualize the scene , and yet it is almost too Hallmark to digest. Yes, in fact this kind French family quickly realizing the magnitude of this event, somehow directed them a few miles down the road to where their Army lines were being held. Safety found.
It is this stock of strength, this courage, this tenacity that makes human beings evolve into greatness, it is here, these moments, that we see ourselves, and our capabilities and our greatness. It is in the moments of uncertainty that tenacity and grit become the cornerstone to not only survivalism , but flourishing.
My father did not graduate from college, nor did he have a silver spoon life, but through his will, insight, tenacity, intelligence and desire, he built a very comfortable life by his own choices and desires. He raised six children to know their strengths, and honor integrity by being true to self , and keeping an open mind.
My Dad's love for adventure and joy can be found in his legacy of the six children left remembering the man we call Dad. Thanks Dad for being you, and for showing us what honor, commitment, support, and integrity look like.
Lisa M. Zimmer-Mahoney
"Everyone has intuition~ it is simply a matter of trusting your inner voice.Trust self first." ~ as in O magazine
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