More in this series
Part 3: lovers meet again
Today I share a transcription of an interview I had with my Oma during the summer of 2014. When I last spoke to her, she promises she will sit down and create a timeline. Again, from the old recordings I already have and the new conversations we've been having, there is little in the way of a coherent chronology. One memory leaps over time to another, connects randomly to another... and so forth.
So in this section, I share my Oma's story of her second day back in Berlin. Despite the fact that we scatter skip through stories, she has an uncanny ability to remember dates. In fact, she sometimes seems irritated with me when I only repeat the month and year. I recall how several years ago, sitting in her kitchen, looking over the tiles on the floor, she mused that she found counting comforting. I wonder if there is something about the precision of numbers that renders chaos less incomprehensible.
In this part of our interview in her North Carolina apartment, she tells of their return to Berlin after their evacuation on February 3rd 1945. They are able to re-enter Berlin on July 24th 1945, she a now wizened young mother of about 20, her mother, and little brother of about 11. As she describes herself:
"I was typically so quiet, well behaved. But when it was time, then I was no longer well behaved, and forced through what had to be. And I am still proud of that. I stand for that."
Oma: " On the next day, on the 25th of July, we went to the parents ofyour mother's father on Wolfsbergsman Strasse. Sowe went there and that apartment still stood and we knocked.
The door was opened, but as it turned out, the Wolfs were not there. Theyhad bought a small house in Ilsenburg, and as it turns out the apartment had been taken over by the police commissioner, the highest office of Kreuzberg, some kind of police person…and he had taken overthe furniture and apartment, there was nice furniture in there.And we didn’t know anything of course, and we explained to the wife that this was the father of my child, the parents, who lived here.
And she said I should come in, she called her husband right away, this police inspector and he came immediately, even with police car.And , yes, questioned us, who were and where we lived, and if we were in the Party, and things like that.Becauseit was known that the parents of "F"(my grandfather-using first initial only for privacy
And we told him the truth, also about where we lived. And just as we are speaking, there was a knock on the door, or a ring, and the wife went over and there it was "F".He had come out of Russian prison camp, walking, like us as well, and he’d landed at the same time. And everything had been bombed,naturally, he had no idea where we were or if we were alive or dead. So he went to where his parents lived.He didn’t know if the apartment would still be standing. It stood, so he knocked, because the apartment was there.
And he opened, yes,and I was there with my mother and my brother, and Karin, the child in my arms.And I hear his voice. And I go in the corridor and I ran to him and I ran to him and we embraced each other.
I still remember, he stunk terribly.He had ruhr, cholera and no hair...they shaved the heads of Russian prisoners, shaved all their hair. He looked terrible. He could barely stand. But we were so happy, and the man,the police commissioner thought it was arranged, we had done this on purpose.
And I still remember the wife in the background, I kept hearing her say,
"no, something like this cannot be arranged. I watched this and they have really seen each other for the first time.
It had been more than a year since we’d seen each other.We didn’t even know if the other was still alive or not."
(Note added by me on June 16, 2016 Here, I will interject: I found out later that my mother was very sick when she was born and was not expected to live. My grandfather was stationed in France at this time and did not receive the telegram informing him of the dire circumstances until two months after my mother's birth. He made his way back to Berlin. However, by this time, 1945, my grandmother had already evacuated to Turingen, baby, mother, and little brother in tow. Berlin had been divided and he wound up in the Russian zone where he was immediately arrested and sent to a prison camp.)
"Yes, and right away, he (the commissioner) called his officeand had the police come and and said he was arresting him. And, grandma,my mom,who had a weak heart, fainted,naturally, it was bad, she was doing poorly. And then I gave her her drops, which brought her around again.
And he (the commissioner) said I should come theretomorrow afternoon in the office and I kept saying we were not in the Party.nyhow, he said I should report to the police station tomorrow.It was a long way. But at that time in Berlin we were used to walking long stretches.It was where we had that little room and to there it was an hour to walk.
And then my mother had a heart attack again, because she was soterrified, she said if you go there they will arrest you, too. Both of you will disappear.And at that time, it often happened that people just disappeared who were uncomfortable. *
And the police commissioner had a reason to believe we would be "uncomfortable" because he had taken over the apartment of F's parents. And he didn’t know where the parents were or if they would come back...
Anyway, my cousin said she would go with me to the police station. She said she would come with me,but would wait outside so they would not see her.But at leastshe would see if I was taken away so they would know what happened to me... that somehow they would see what happened to me from outside.
So she came with me. We walked.
He brought me into the office there and there were more people who had to question me.I was asked all kinds of questions and primarily asked me if I was in the Party or if my parents were in the Party.
I told him, to the best of my knowledge, we were not.nly that my mother took care of of the house, it was a huge house, three, four stories.And she was responsible for the security and she did this very well and he could go check out the house (in our conversation on Feb 14th, I learn that the house was the apartment building they lived in which according to my Oma housed approximately 100 people) which he had already done.
And then he said, he wanted to double check my story with "F". Or he’d already questioned him. I can’t say.
Anyway, he said what we had said matched exactly...So he let "F" come out of the jail.
And even asked us if we married. We had it at that time that we were forbidden to marry under Hitler.** And naturally, that was also a plus and he felt sorry for us. And then he called his wife and she came and brought bedding, a cover and a blanket, because.... well, we had nothing.
And anyway, he let us go, Friedel had waited outside.We went home."
End of transciption
(*here she she used the German word "unbequeme" meaning awkward, difficult, somehow a challenge to the current status quo)
(** I was confused by this as Hitler seemed rabid for Aryan looking persons to marry and procreate as much and as quickly as possible. However, in the conversation I have with her on February 7, 2016 she tells me that my opa had a foot disease called
(I send my mother an email to confirm and my mother responds with the following email :
"Hi Maedeanchen, mein Herz, my father didn't have a foot disease; but a neuro-muscular degenerative and hereditary condition. But it does not necessarily appear in every generation, there is no consistency. This condition has many forms and severeties. It is very hard to pin-point and name it correctly; at least in my fathers lifetime. Now, with DNA and Genome testing it most likely can be diagnosed more correctly."
She goes on to explain the lineage of the name Wolf, something about Mulberry trees, then continues with:
I would describe myself ( at times) as an African-German American counsellor, workshop facilitator, and communication arts professional living in Vancouver, BC. My BFA is in Theatre Performance and my Masters is in Counselling. I am interested in exploring mental health, women's issues, and empowerment.
In this particular piece, I share my translations of conversations with my Oma (German word for grandmother) about her experiences in World War 2. I then offer my own reflections exploring the impact of these stories, heard/reheard, on my development.
My Oma is 92 and lives in NC.
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