Every year in the 1990s I would spend a "white week" skiing in the Dolomites. Every year, same people from the same German ski club and the same ski resort. I noticed Klaus because he would often stand still and appear to contemplate the terrain. He would half-close his eyes and swivel his head while sniffing at the air with his aquiline nose. I wondered if he looked at the terrain with the eyes of a soldier - a good defensive position here, good terrain for a flanking manoeuvre there. Klaus was around 70 in 1995 and I my imagination told me he had fought in the western desert in WW2. He would have looked rather like the man below - in my imagination.
One day Klaus told us his story. It was his misfortune to be born in the wrong place at the wrong time. In 1945, aged 15, he was given a few hours training and sent off with his schoolmates to face the Russians. It was just a few weeks before the war's end but the Red Army showed no mercy to any German soldier, especially if he was wearing SS uniform. Klaus was taken prisoner but the rest of his schoolmates were killed.
Klaus was sentenced to a long stint in a Russian labour camp. Like many other prisoners he did not get back to Germany until 1950. He was lucky he survived. But he was fortunate because he was befriended by the man on the bunk bed above him. One day, this man was showing Klaus a picture of his family - rather like the second picture below. Klaus said he immediately fell in love with the image of the man's eldest sister. It was almost certainly this love that kept him alive in what must have been horrendous conditions.
Klaus was released in the early 50s. As soon as he could he went to visit his friend from the camp. He married the man's sister and, in 2002, when I last saw Klaus, they were still together. Perhaps, when I had watched him sniffing at the air with his aquiline nose, he was not thinking of defensive positions or flanking manoeuvres but of the woman who had kept him alive and who was still his wife.