Summer of My German Soldier

by Bette Greene

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The Arrival of the POWs
Patty's life changes when a group of German POWs arrives by train to be taken to the new prison camp just outside of town. She is struck by the fact that they look no different from anyone else. When the soldiers are brought into town to purchase hats to shield them from the "formidable Arkansas sun," Patty hurries to her parents' store to help out. There is one prisoner who speaks English, and he is singled out to make their purchases. After procuring hats for the men to wear while working in the fields, he approaches the stationery counter to buy writing supplies. Patty is at the counter, and he introduces himself to her. His name is Frederick Anton Reiker. Besides the stationery, he also buys a piece of costume jewelry, seemingly on a whim.

Anton Hides Out
News circulates that one of the prisoners has escaped. The men of the town form a mob, each being told to go home and gather firearms if they have not already brought them. A reporter named Charlene from the Memphis Commercial Appeal comes to Jenkinsville to get the story. Patty offers to guide her to the prison camp. She accepts the offer, and on the way to and from the camp Patty impresses Charlene with her intelligence.

One night, Patty hears a train approaching. She looks out the window of her room and sees someone hiding in the bushes, apparently about to jump onto the train. She goes outside and recognizes the shadowy figure as Anton. She offers to hide him in the family's garage apartment. He accepts, and confides that he used the costume jewelry he bought at the store to bribe a guard. Patty begins stealing food for him. Her father notices the food disappearing; he assumes that Ruth is stealing it. Patty tells him that she has been eating it. She and Anton become friends.

After being caught by her father for disobeying him, her father begins beating her with his belt and knocks her to the ground. She looks up to see Anton outside. He has left his sanctuary and is going to stop her father's abuse, despite what his discovery will mean for him. Patty screams "go away" several times. Luckily, her father thinks it is directed at him. Anton returns to his hiding place, but not before he is seen by Ruth. The next day, Ruth tells Patty that she will not reveal Anton to the authorities.

A pair of FBI agents comes to Jenkinsville to investigate Anton's escape. They question everyone, and Patty tells them that she waited on him at the store. Other than his hair color and appearance, the only thing Patty tells them is that he was very polite. When they question her more closely, her father intervenes, accusing them of bullying her.

Eventually, Anton tells Patty that he must leave town. He realizes that he cannot hide out in the garage forever. The family has missed the extra food, and both he and Ruth are convinced that eventually someone will see him. Patty does not want him to leave. He gives her his great-grandfather's gold signet ring, his only personal possession, and she gives him a monogrammed shirt that she had bought for her father's birthday. He leaves. With his ring hidden, she resolves to some day find him in Germany.

Patty's need for attention is too great for her to protect her secret. She begins showing off the ring, claiming she got it from a tramp. Her father fears that the mysterious tramp may...

(This entire section contains 999 words.)

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have been a child molester and calls in the sheriff. After questioning her, the sheriff decides that nothing untoward has gone on. Eventually, the two FBI agents return to question Patty again. First questioning her about the mysterious tramp who gave her the ring, they attempt to lead the conversation to Anton, asking about the tramp's age. They ask her if she gave him anything in return. She tells them that she did not, but remarks on how polite the tramp was—the same thing she pointed out about Anton. The two FBI agents show her the monogrammed shirt and she sees a stained round hole in it. Knowing that she has given up, they give her a newspaper clipping, detailing Anton's death.

Patty's father is shocked that his daughter, a Jew, would betray him for "a goddamn Nazi." The FBI men tell him that she will be charged, tried, and prosecuted, possibly for treason. The townspeople greet her with cries of "Jew-Nazi." Patty refuses to implicate Ruth and tells her parents, the sheriff, and the FBI that she did it alone, "because he was nice to me." Because of her age, she is not tried for treason, but for delinquency. She is sentenced to reform school.

Patty Imprisoned
Patty is taken to the Jasper E. Conrad Arkansas Reformatory for Girls. The other girls in the school call her "Spy" or "Nazi"—"Natz" for short. She gets a note and newspaper subscription from Charlene Madlee, encouraging her to "keep smiling!" Hoping for a hint of friendship in the note, Patty writes back.

When Ruth visits, she gives her the news from home: Patty's parents are closing the store and leaving. Patty cries, and insists that there is "something wrong with" her, but Ruth assures her that it is nothing "a few years and a few pounds won't take care of." When visiting hours are up, Patty breaks down and clings to Ruth not wanting her to go. After Ruth leaves, Patty expresses her feeling of helplessness:

For moments or minutes I stood there. Not really moving. Barely managing to tread water. Was it possible for a beginning swimmer to actually make it to shore? It might take me my whole lifetime to find out.

Patty has lost Anton, alienated her parents and home town, and managed to get herself imprisoned. Yet she still has hope for a happy future.


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