The last man in the library

Karl Francke visits the Mountain View library nearly every day, sitting and reading until closing time nearly every night.

“I like a little company – even if I don’t have a conversation,” he said.

While he spends most of his time in silence, he has his own story to tell. It starts in Germany in 1924, when the country was still reeling from the aftershocks of World War I. Adolf Hitler came to power when Francke was 8. When Francke was 12, men came to recruit him into the Hitler Youth. His mother refused. The next year, he said, the men came back and gave him no choice.

In school, Francke was made to read “Mein Kampf,” and while the words confused him, some lines stuck in his head.

“One of them was – and I’ll translate – ‘It is better to do the wrong thing than to do nothing,’” he said.

He came of age as his country plunged into World War II. As a child, he had dreamed about becoming a pilot, so to escape the infantry, where boys went to die, he learned to fly a glider. He spent the second half of the war with the German air force, he said. He was barely out of his teens.

After the war came starvation. Germany’s economy was in shambles. Francke left Europe for Canada in 1953, he said, and over the next two decades he traveled from Goose Bay, Labrador, to a shipyard in Toledo, Ohio, where he worked for the plumbers and pipefitters union. When he heard about Alaska’s big oil pipeline, he came north for a job. It was 1976. He moved to Kenai, then Anchorage. 

Before long, it was 2013 and he was settling down in Mountain View. In September, he turned 91.

“This is a different, different world,” he said.

He takes it all in at the neighborhood library, surrounded by people and books.

Categories: Faces

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