01 May 2018

Hidden between faded holiday pictures, I find this letter from my grandmother. (The holiday pictures are from my aunt's first trip to Greece, sometime in the late 1960s. My wild aunt, my father's only sister, long dead. Another story.)

Barely two weeks after this letter was written, the US troops arrived and the war was over in Franconia.
The front door of my grandparent's house, now my father's house, is made from strong oak and there is a small window in it. When we were kids, we would climb on a chair and play the game of opening and closing this small window, shouting hello, hello, hello.
It was through this small window that my father, sent there by his parents (go, speak English), saw his first black person, a GI pointing his gun at him, and said "Hello, I am a schoolboy".

My grandmother's birthday is on May 30th. Always celebrated with fresh strawberries and large bouquets of Margeriten (leucanthemum), her favourite meadow flowers.
My father has cried real tears three times in my presence. When his brother died a sudden death in 1965, when Germany won the football world cup in 1974 and when he first told me of his mother's birthday in 1945.
He had gone out early to pick the flowers, the table was set under the plum trees, strawberry cake, when the garden gate opened and there were his brother and his sister, exhausted, dirty, hungry.

1st of April 1945

Dearest E.

Today is Easter Sunday! We enjoyed our Easter baskets, ate fresh fruit salad with sweet curds and later, we even had a cup of real coffee with our apple cake. Our Easter spread didn't look very warlike. 
But when I prepared it, I had to spend more time down in the shelter than in the kitchen. The air-raid sirens went off at 8.30 in the morning and while we were on our way to church, low flying aircraft started to strafe and we barely made it back home unharmed. Since then there has been no end to the sirens. 

We hear that there is fighting in M. and that the Western front is approaching in giant steps. The Russians are already in Vienna. Is there any help for us? When will we meet again? I am keeping N at home with a stomach ache but his school mates are already in uniform.  Still no word from A, all our letters have come back.
Now it is quiet and peaceful but what will it be like tomorrow. Let's not think ahead.
How much would I have liked to climb B hill today but nobody would join me. They are all afraid and hiding indoors.

Write to us. We may not be able to stay in touch for much longer. Please answer.
Everybody sends their love but especially, your mother.

sweet curds: a very German dairy product, I just had some earlier
the shelter was the basement of my grandparent's house
M. is a town about 30 km away
N is my father
A is his older brother, in uniform and at the time last known to be fighting in Croatia or Serbia, but as we found out later, he had already deserted and was walking home
B hill is a local attraction with a viewing platform
I wrote about my father's account of these days here.
My aunt E who had started to study medicine before the war was at the time working in a military hospital in Austria.


  1. Family history is everyone's history. I cannot imagine...

  2. How poignant. her letter reminds me that America does not know what it is to live under this kind of warfare. it's wars today are all fought overseas. despite the rancor and violence at home, Americans are still very fortunate. it is good to remember this.

  3. yes, we Americans had it easy in that all the fighting took place in Europe. No bombing raids destroying towns and villages, no brigades of citizens pulling each other out of the rubble. I can't even imagine. my German greats were already here before the war.

  4. What a precious relic of life at that time. It's hard for me to imagine what it would be like to live under those circumstances.

  5. The intimacy of war, sirens in the morning, shelters in the basement. A planet full of humans killing for the realities they have created. It never ends.

  6. What courage she had!

  7. "Hello, I am a schoolboy."

    This is so moving, Sabine, as well as the link to the previous post of your father's account.

    More synchronicity. Just finished reading And There Was Light by Jacques Lusseyran. It ends with the arrival of the U.S. Third Army at Buchenwald in April 1945, when Lusseyran was 21 years old. Lusseyran was imprisoned there for 15 months for his part in the French Resistance. He began organizing when he was 17 years old. He had been accidentally blinded as a schoolboy, but that did not stop him and his friends from a major organizing effort of young people, as part of the resistance. My understanding is that All The Light We Cannot See was inspired by his story. You probably know of him. No wonder your father cried when remembering May 1945. Thank you for sharing these haunting and enlightening windows into wartime.

  8. I find this so incredibly haunting and interesting and wonder if you've considered writing a book about it. How little there is to read of the ambiguity of war and in this simple telling (as well as the other link) you've said everything.

  9. How beautiful this is. I echo what Elizabeth said above. If not a book, a short story. I could almost taste the strawberries and sweet curds.


  10. If we are old enough we remember the war through our own fears and apprehensions. If we are younger it may be reduced to little more than the scorecard for a long-forgotten sporting victory. What we never do - why should we? - is try and imagine what it was like to lose the war. More especially to dwell with horror on what sort of treatment would be dished out by those barely conceivable creatures coming in from the East.

    The writer is only too well aware:

    The Russians are already in Vienna. Is there any help for us?

    How can I do anything other than choke up at those last six words. In writing, talking and even thinking about the war I have embarked on a personal campaign never to refer to the Germans (unless the need is specific), only to the Nazis. A small matter but mine own. I owe Germany a lot.

  11. I have thought so much about this post in the last couple of days. If we were having coffee together, there are so many questions I would like to ask, so much more I would want to know. But in this format, I can't think of anything to say. It is, indeed, haunting.