Most Germans who had survived WW II were so poor that they bartered for almost anything, including bread, butter, and shoe polish. Martin, a little boy who had never seen anyone other than his small family and the people in the Bavarian village where they had taken refuge during the war, discovered the joy of playing with shoe polish and painting his hands, arms, and face, even smearing shoe polish into his hair. His mother, angry that he had wasted the few old clumps of precious shoe polish which she had managed to get hold of, shouted at him that no humans look black, only scarecrows.
A few weeks later, when the little boy and his mother were resting by a lake, a tank of American soldiers stopped at the embankment above, and threw gifts for the little boy and his sister. Little Martin, thrilled about the experience, even though puzzled that he couldn't understand the soldiers, begged his mother to ask the soldiers whether they could give him some of their black shoe polish which, from his perspective, they must have smeared all over their hands, arms, faces, and hair. He cheerfully waved at the African-American soldiers whom he considered his new friends and fellow scarecrows. His mother, aghast, tries to pull her son away.
He woke up with his mother shrieking like a madwoman. She had come back from milking the cows and was so upset when she saw her son all blackened that she spilled some of the milk onto the floor by accident. Milk swirled around dried old clumps of black shoe polish, creating patterns on the floor she had never seen. Within seconds, the rented room on the farm looked worse than ever before.
“What have you done, what have you done?” she screamed.
“You look like a scarecrow. No mensch looks like that,” she almost cried with anger, “no mensch looks like that, not one – only scarecrows, black scarecrows.”
She hit him over the head, accidentally knocked over the milk jug fully, and started to cry.
“My blonde little son has become a black scarecrow. How terrible!” She cried uncontrollably.