My mother was a bit paranoid. Our front door had triple locks, and she owned all kinds of weapons. When I was twelve she equipped me with a bag of black pepper I was supposed to strew in the eyes of potential rapists. She instructed me in other tactics of self-defense, which even then I realized were equally impractical. Even the specially trained cannot necessarily prevent a crime. The armed guard on duty at Columbine High School in Colorado was the killer’s first victim.
Back to my mom’s gun. The year we rented a summerhouse on the shore of the Baltic Sea in Germany, she bought a pistol and tear gas bullets. Needless to say, our summer passed without us having to defend ourselves.
Hitler came to power in 1933, and our lives were governed by increasingly severe anti-Semitic measures. Five years later my parents decided to move us to Belgium. When my mother was packing up our belongings she came across the gun. She could not remember whether or not it was loaded, so she pulled the trigger. The apartment filled with tear gas, and for days we suffered from extreme discomfort. In addition, we were afraid that the neighbors, who might have heard a gunshot emanating from a Jewish apartment, would report us to the police.
Nothing happened and my mom packed her gun and it arrived in our new apartment in Brussels, where it was kept in my parents’ bedroom. The Nazis invaded Belgium on May 10, 1940 at 5 AM. A few hours later, officers of the Belgian security arrested us because we were German nationals and thus enemy aliens. A hastily requisitioned hearse drove my family to my school. It had been turned into a makeshift detention center now filled with about 300 other “undesirables.” I doubt that any German spies or saboteurs were amidst us.
Rumors had it that we would be deported. Since this was my school, we knew the concierge (superintendent). At my mother’s request, he allowed me to go to our apartment to fetch valuables and blankets. He asked his fifteen-year-old son to be my escort. Among my assigned tasks was to retrieve my mom’s gun and hide it. I managed to distract my escort long enough to stash it in a heap of coal in our cellar. That evening my mother, sister and I were released, but my father was shipped to France and I did not see him for six years.
After an unsuccessful attempt to escape to France, we returned to our Brussels apartment. My mom again had forgotten whether or not her gun was loaded, so she was afraid that it would explode in the furnace. So, the following winter we had to sift through every pail of coal before burning it. I had hidden the gun well, and the gun it finally reappeared when most of the coal was gone.
My mother now was ready to dispose of the gun. She was afraid to do so because German soldiers occasionally patrolled the streets. Finally we packed the gun amidst food in a enormous picnic basket and we walked it to the outskirts of Brussels. There we threw it a small stream. I often wondered what happened to it.
I have no desire to own a gun. Even if I were in mortal danger, I could not possibly shoot at another human being. Personally I have no desire to hunt, but concede that others love to and I do not want to interfere with their pleasure. I realize that the military and law enforcement agencies need weapons. Beyond that I believe that we all have the right to be out of harm’s way, as much as humanly possible.