Some more Memories of our Time in the Refugee Camp in East Frisia, Germany in 1953

Before t am going to tell you about our move to  the Old House of Rocky Docky in the Rhineland region of Germany, I want to talk a bit more  about our experiences in the refugee camp in Aurich, East Frisia.

emblemMost children live in the present.  To this day I always liked to live in the present moment rather than in the past or future.  However, writing my blog now forces me to relive the past.  This is a request of our five sons who want to hear my side of the  “Peter-Gertrud Story ”  my husband is writing,   I have to admit that I actually start enjoying this trip on memory lane.  Now back to the past…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEvery day is a new experience for children and I enjoyed every day of my new life.  No time to think of the past.   School was exciting because of our inspiring and kind teacher.  With so many families living  in close proximity in the camp my brother and I had lots of friends.   Most of the time we spent outside playing in those endless meadows surrounding the camp.  There was never a dull moment  because someone would always come up with an exciting activity or game.  We skipped rope, played ball games, did yoga type gymnastics  often inventing new poses, had talent shows singing and performing songs we had heard on the radio.  We played all the old fashioned games like marbles, hopscotch, hide and seek, catch or make belief games.  Sometimes we would just collect daisies, dandelions or other flowers  to braid wreaths, or  we would  lie back in the lush meadows and daydream.

dandelionLooking back now from an adult perspective life for my parents was not that idyllic. They were eager to have a place again where they could put down roots and call it home.  But time dragged on.  Sometimes my mom would take us to the picturesque  town of Aurich, where my dad had found a temporary position as dental technician at the local dentist’s office.  On those outings my mom would slip quietly into the beautiful old church to kneel down and pray a few Our Fathers. Often it looked like she was crying.

1024px-CatholicChurchAurichMy brother and I loved these town outings because my mother would buy us cones with whipping cream, a specialty of the region, which is known for its sweet and rich cream from happy cows grazing on those lush pastures.  My mom would drink East Frisian black tea  with little “clouds” of heavy cream, also a specialty of the region.

220px-Tee_mit_sahneNovember 11, is a special holiday  for children in East Frisia, called St. Martin’s day.  A  few days before  the special night we were taught at school how to make paper lanterns.  We also learned to sing special St. Martin’s songs.

On the night of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, we dressed up in costumes and then walked in a group from house to house singing the songs we had learned.  Like at Halloween we would receive candies or other goodies in return.  For my brother and me it was the first time we experienced such a magical night.

5In contrast to Halloween it does not have any scary origins. The historical St. Martin was known as a friend of children and the poor and there are many legends about his kindness and charity.  He once shared his coat with a beggar in a severe snowstorm to save his life.  Often this legend is reenacted in a parade with St. Martin riding on a horse with the beggar wearing half his coat.

Martin Pferd





Memories of the Aurich Refugee Camp (1953-54)

After our first night in the crowded dormitory shared with twelve strangers and with other strangers passing through our room  from the adjacent sick room my mother was very upset.  She feared for our health and well being due to the proximity of the contagious people who had to pass  frequently through our door to visit the facilities or other places in the building.

After my mother voiced her concerns to the management we were assigned to a small private room which was furnished with two sets of metal bunk beds, a table with four chairs and a small wardrobe.  Although this room was smaller than my father’s study in Gotha we felt happy to have more privacy.  We still had to share our door to the hallway with the occupants of the neighboring room; a young widow and her two children.  Her son was five years older than my brother and I, while her daughter two years younger than us.  But in spite of the age difference we became good friends.

Rainer and Gabi’s mom always looked glamorous. She  dressed like a film star.  I knew how film stars looked like from pictures of American actors and actresses which were in the packages of chewing gum.  I had  started collecting  those pictures when staying with our friends in Dortmund.

When I made a comment about her mom’s clothes to Gabi she told me her mother’s secret.  Her mom had found a way to contact fan clubs of actors in the United States.  She would tell them of her plight as  widowed refugee asking for charitable donations.  Among other things she would receive big parcels with the most fashionable, expensive outfits, shoes and accessories often only worn a few times by her idols.


liz taylor

Gabi’s brother Rainer went to the Merchant Marine Corps  as a cadet   after he turned 14 years old and had passed grade 8.   He brought me a beautiful scarf from one of his training sessions in Hamburg, the biggest harbor in Germany.  My mom proudly displayed it on the wall as you can see on the picture. I admired and adored Rainer.  He would be traveling to many of the places my dad had shown us on the world map.


My brother and i adjusted quickly to our new life in the camp although we did not like to eat in the crowded and noisy dining hall.  I in particular was a very picky eater and often felt nauseated just from the food odors permeating the building.  My father who had experienced extreme hunger in the war had no sympathy with me and would get very upset and angry when I refused to eat certain foods or left something on my plate.   Eventually my mother would feed us separately at different times so my dad could enjoy his meals without stress.

CantineAfter a long break in Dortmund my brother and I were able to go to school again right at our camp.  Makeshift classrooms were set up in one of the large lecture and meeting halls.  We sat at round tables which was a nice break from individual desks.

I always loved school and even enjoyed homework.  Since we were instructed by one teacher in a multigrade setting we had to work independently for long periods of time.  Math problems were my favorites because when they were completed we were allowed to read or draw.  I would always draw beautiful princesses in lavish dresses.

I remember the day I received my first report card.  My brother and our friends were walking across the big court yard back to the living quarters when we were stopped by a stranger.  “Well”, he asked, “who of you children received the best report card today?”   Immediately some of our friends pointed at my brother, some at me and some at another boy.   “Let me see your report cards”, the man demanded.  Timidly we handed them to him.   After studying them for a while he handed them back except mine.  “You have the best,” he said with a smile, “congratulations, you deserve a reward.”   He reached into his wallet and gave me some money, the equivalent of about  $5.00.   I was so stunned I could barely say thank you.  I never had so much money before.  My dad was so proud hearing the story that he matched the stranger’s reward.

Although I missed my best friend in Gotha, I made lots of new friends.  After school we would play on the big meadows surrounding the buildings.  Contrary to our parents the restricted living area in that small room was not an issue.  We had lots of space and freedom to roam on the meadows and green spaces surrounding the barracks.

One day we ventured as a group out of the camp confines to a nearby treed area to play hide and seek. It was almost getting dark when one of the kids shouted,  “Let’s go back, there is a dangerous man trying to catch us!”   With pounding hearts we raced back to the camp gate and breathlessly told the attending guard that we were pursued by a dangerous man.  Although, as I found out later none of us had actually seen this man, we were totally convinced that we were telling the truth.  In our minds he existed.  I guess this is a small example of mass hysteria.  We never ventured into that forest area again.





First Impressions of the Golden West in the year 1953.

I want to continue talking about my memories of the first years in the Golden West.

My sister’s friends,  who hosted us while my parents were in the refugee camp in Berlin to ask for asylum, were very kind to us.  Their two young sons became our friends and especially my brother loved their toys.  The Meccano set was his favorite.  He would amaze us with his elaborate constructions.



For a while we were distracted by our exciting new esperiences.  But as time dragged on without any contact with our parents I started getting  very homesick.

I missed my parents who had vanished so unexpectedly.  I missed my loving sister and my two little nephews.

Elsbeth family

I missed school and our friends.  (Except for a short visit to see what a West German school looked like, we were not allowed  to attend classed with our host children.)

I missed our beautiful, spacious home in Gotha with the large windows letting the light shine in.  I missed the comfort and warmth sitting with our dad on the bench of our tile stove listening to his stories.  I missed exploring the world on the big map covering  the wall in his study.   I missed playing with our friends on our quiet street flanked by old linden trees leading to our beloved castle park.


I missed our family bike or tram excursions into the vast forests…   I missed my mom’s cooking since I was a picky eater.   I even missed my teacher Mrs. Goose, who for some reason was not liked by my father.


thur wald

Before going to sleep i dreamed about what I would tell my best friend Anneliese about the Golden West.

I was going to tell her that our home in Gotha was a much better place.  That  here in Dortmund people lived in small crammed apartments on busy streets where it was not safe to play  or even walk alone.


On weekends instead of going to the park or hiking in the forests people would visit the graveyards that looked like parks.  But you could not freely run or roam about or play and explore.  You had to walk respectfully and quietly like adults and sit on stone benches near the graves  to silently pray or meditate.

grave angel

I would tell my friend that the Golden West was not golden.   It was a figment of the mind like the story of Santa Claus or the Easter bunny.  As for the big allure of freedom it was overrated.   Although,  I could have chocolate and even bubble gum,  I felt more restricted here than at home.

My sister’s friends did not let their boys and us go anywhere without supervision except to the nearby fenced-in playground.  They would drop us off and pick us up,

In Gotha we were allowed to play for hours in our neighborhood.  Once my brother and I decided to visit the castle Friedenstein on our own.  A  friendly castle guard noticing our curious glances at the open castle portal invited us in and gave us a tour telling us some of the historical highlights.

Gotha Schloss


Famous Gotha Lovers (Liebespaar)


Thus, we learned that even the great Emperor Napoleon had slept in the pompous, canopied bed that looked like a sailing ship.  Since our dad was a history buff,  he had told us about Napoleon who fascinated him.

bed Gotha

Suddenly I longed for all the familiar things of home, which I seemed to be losing.  Every night I prayed that we would return  to Gotha  soon.

But day after day my brother and I were told that we had to wait a bit longer for our parents to get us.

One afternoon, my brother and our new friends  were at the nearby playground with a group of other children.  I was gently swinging back and forth dreaming of playing with Anneliese when a boy I had never met started pushing me.  At first I didn’t mind.  Then in spite of my protests, he pushed me higher and higher.  My screams to stop seemed to entice him to push even harder and higher. I was terrified of the dizzying height and the unrelenting forceful behavior of the big boy who seemed to delight in my distress.


All of a sudden I lost control and fell flat onto the ground face first.  The fall knocked the wind out of me and I struggled for a long time to gasp for air.

Suddenly it was very quiet on the play ground.  All the kids had run away except my brother and our friends.  They stood around me looking worried.

Luckily, I was not seriously hurt.  However, my faith in the kindness of people in the Golden West was shaken.  I had never met such a mean bully at home.

train dort

Miraculously, the next morning our hosts told us that our parents were on their way to get us.