Monday, November 13, 2006

Life During Wartime

I was born in Hannover, (then) West Germany, but my family was from a small town in East Germany. My grandfather didn't fight in WWII - he was already middle-aged, and very wealthy. He was the owner of a meat processing company that exported smoked sausages and the like to South America. He had married late and died when my mom was 2, just near the start of the war, of a heart attack. So she never really knew him. Her mother, my Oma, sent her to live with her grandparents on the family farm in the country to avoid being killed by the constant bombings being conducted by the Allied forces.After the war, because my family were wealthy land owners, the Russians threw my grandmother in jail and confiscated the family estate. She was released after two years and gathered up my mom and uncle and got the hell out of there! Under cover of darkness, bribing guards stationed in the woods, the whole deal, like in a movie. She had distant friends and relatives in Hannover so she made her way there.Hannover had been flattened by the Allied bombings. My mom talks about being able to see to the horizon, because the city was literally FLATTENED, nothing standing more than a couple of feet tall. They were allowed to stay with a family they knew in the stone cellar of their bombed out building. They lived in those ruins for some time, which is likely when she contracted TB. One night she woke up with a rat perched on her tiny chest. She still wakes up screaming if the family cat tries to settle down on top of her at night.For those of us who have been blessed to never experience life during wartime, such circumstances seem inordinately macabre, but children are amazingly resilient: her brother, my uncle Hans-Otto, and his little pals would use human skulls unearthed by bombs from the city's ancient grave yard as soccer balls while she and the other little girls dug for "buried treasure": the silverware and jewellery buried in the rubble of destroyed homes. In many ways, for children, it was like an extended school holiday while the grownups undertook the reconstruction of the country.

I asked her recently what she remembers about her childhood during those days and she said they were happy times, in spite of the chaos of living in the aftermath of war.

You can see these images at full size in my new WWII Flickr set.


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  2. Mark Harris10:38 AM

    I'm just reading (well, listening - it's an audiobook)to 'Berlin - The Downfall' about the fall of (east) Germany at the end of the war. It gets so disturbing at points that I have to turn it off & go watch Tellitubbies to feel good again.
    Makes present day Iraq look like Disney World.