“Whatever happened to that nice Mr Hitler?”

Some years ago a favourite cousin told us a story about a man in a village in Ireland – someone who was “not quite the full shilling” – whose family had some visitors from Germany in the 1950s. Struggling for something to say to these German visitors, he asked, “So … whatever happened to that nice Mr Hitler?”

This story came about because my aunt had asked me a question about someone I had not seen or spoken to since the 1980s, someone who was involved in some very distressing times for my family. I could say he was the cause of these unhappy times, but cause and effect is a complicated business. He could certainly have prevented or at the very least minimized some of the trouble we went through. He’s dead now, so his ability to sow unhappiness and strife has been diminished, in this world at least. I’ll call him Bastard McBastardface for the purpose of this story.

“Do you ever hear from Bastard McBastardface?” my aunt asked. (Bastard was still alive at the time.) I thought she understood. I thought that she knew that I would never have anything more to do with him or any member of his family. Before I could say anything my cousin, who had an idea of how I felt, said, “Whatever happened to that nice Mr Hitler?” and she explained the story.

We have used this catchphrase ever since then, when asked about people who are no longer in our lives. Cutting out poisonous, dishonest, hateful people from your life is hard, especially if you’re related to them, and even when you succeed you’ll find that other people still want to ask you about them. “How’s that psychotic ex-school-friend of yours, the one who caused all that trouble?” Sometimes the answer is in the question, but in case it’s not clear my usual answer is, “Don’t know, don’t care”. And please don’t ask me again.


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