Escape to the Golden West


Thousand mile fence separating East Germany from West Germany


While my parents increasingly suffered under the oppressive political system,  my brother and I experienced a happy childhood. We were oblivious to the hardships my parents had to endure.  My mother had to struggle every day to provide food and other necessities for us.

Even basic food items such as butter, flour, sugar, meat and cheese were scarce  and there were long line ups at the grocery stores every day for the limited supplies.  Luxury items such as coffee, cocoa, chocolate, citrus fruit  and cigarettes were hardly ever available.  Ironically, the most coveted items for many people  were cigarettes and coffee.

Not only food was scarce but basically everything from clothing to building materials was in short supply or unavailable. Even electric power was rationed by regular planned outages.   While West Germany had a rapid economic boom after the war,  East Germany had an economic decline.

People in the East were angry and upset  that they had to struggle for survival under a totalitarian system while their brothers and sisters in the West were enjoying freedom and prosperity.  If people complained or criticized the system, they could be “denounced” to the authorities and severely punished.  People could no longer trust each other.

For many demoralized  people in the East, West Germany became the “Promised Land” and they  started calling it the Golden West.  Great numbers of  desperate people escaped to the West risking their lives and giving up all their material possessions in the pursuit of freedom and happiness.

There wasn’t much that West German people could do to help their friends and relatives across the border.  On occasion, West Germans were granted permission to visit their relatives, if their application was approved by the GDR officials.  People from the West often feared that they would  arbitrarily be detained and would not be able to return home after a visit. For a while the only way  to stay in contact was by mail.

To share some of their newly acquired wealth, West German people would send parcels with precious items to relatives and friends  At Christmas time we received big gift packages from my mother’s relatives.  There were delicious sweets. chocolates,  beautiful toys, well made  stylish clothes and shoes for us.    Fragrant  “real”  coffee  beans for my mom and aromatic cigars for my father were some of the desired luxury  items, which you could not get in the East.   My brother and I were fortunate that we always had comfortable and well made shoes, because of my mother’s relatives who owned big footwear companies in the West.

Books and other printed materials were forbidden, because they could contain “propaganda” against the political system.  Letters and parcels often were confiscated if they looked “suspicious”.   My mom tried to keep up a good relationship with the mail man so her letters and parcels would not get “lost”.

In my imagination,  the Golden West was a fairy tale kind of land where all the houses had golden roofs like  the castles and palaces I had seen in the movie theater. My father’s friend owned the “White Wall” movie theater close to our home.   On many a Sunday my dad took us there to watch Russian fairytale cartoons and  other movies.  Since I had no concept of the “Golden West” I thought it was a beautiful place in fairyland where you lived  “happily ever after.”

My parents protected and shielded us from their increasing  hardships and sorrows    We had lots of friends and were allowed to play in our quiet neighborhood without many restrictions.  After the war, only few people could afford cars. There was hardly any traffic. Most people traveled by bike, street car, train or horse buggy.  Special forest trams would take us out into the beautiful surroundings for hiking or other outdoor activities.  On weekends my mom prepared a simple picnic lunch and we would either go by tram or on the back seat of my parents’ bikes out into the forests.

It’s amazing how far we could hike at an early age.  My dad would goad us on by promising a pop like beverage if we made it to the next village or any other destination he wanted to reach. Picking berries or mushrooms would supplement our diet.  However,  at that time I fiercely hated mushrooms.

Located in close walking distance to our home was a public outdoor swimming pool in a beautiful forest setting. My  father was a passionate swimmer and he taught us to swim before we even entered school. I inherited my dad’s passion and went  to the pool every day during the  open season  no matter how cold the water was.  Even before I was six years old i was allowed to go there on my own without adult supervision,

In the winter, we would get lots of snow.  Every day we would spend hours tobogganing with friends down a steep street in our neighborhood.  At suppertime we would trudge home tired  but  with glowing cheeks  looking forward to our big warm  tile stove and my dad’s nightly stories about the great explorers and inventor of the world.

Gotha in the SnowIt was on such a day in January 1953 that our life changed forever.  It had been clear and cold.  Our tobogganing hill was slick and fast.  Many of our friends were out and we raced down the steep street again and again.  One of my friends wore a new fur trimmed hat which I liked very much.  It was so much prettier than my hand knit wool tuque.  She had just received it it in a belated Christmas parcel from her aunt in the West. She also shared some chewing gum with us, which we  never had before  and enjoyed tremendously for the first time in our life.  What a wonderful place the West must be, I thought to myself, when I looked at my  friend with the pretty hat trying to blow bubbles with her bubble gum.

It started to snow softly when suddenly  I saw my mom approaching us. She never called us home before supper. Puzzled we ran to her. Taking hold of my brother with one hand and of me with the other, she told us that we had to go quickly to town with her before an important office closed.  In spite of our protests demanding to stay with our friends she pulled us hurriedly along.  I started whining, demanding that she at least buy me a new hat as pretty as the one my friend had received from the West.  Without responding to my increasingly vocal demands my mother pulled us relentlessly along.

Eventually  we reached the office.  She signed and received some papers.  It was pitch dark when we headed home.  i was very tired and hungry by then and had given up whining.    Suddenly i heard my mom whisper to me that i would soon get a new hat in the West.  I was too drowsy to understand what her words meant.

Finally at home, we hastily ate some hot cabbage soup.  After supper, instead of getting us ready for bed time,  my mother made us change into some warm good clothes.  Without explanation she made us kiss our dad good-bye and then grabbing a big suitcase from a closet  in the hallway whisked us out of the front door.  When we stepped out on the snow-covered sidewalk faintly illuminated by occasional street lights my mother whispered to us that we would have to go on a long walk but there would be a surprise in the end.  We walked silently like in a dream world enveloped by the thickly falling snow.  Tired and dazed we walked for a long time until we finally reached the railway station.Bahnhof

Once we were settled in an empty train compartment my mother told us that she had received permission to visit her sick guardian aunt in the West.  My dad had  to stay back as a guarantor for our return.  If we did not come back, he would be severely punished.

My brother immediately fell asleep in my mother’s arm when the train started rolling.  I, however, had my face pressed against the cold dark window.  I did not want to miss the first glimpse of the “Golden West” once we crossed the border.alte-eisenbahn



First Three Years at School in Gotha Germany

Schule 2

As I already mentioned my dad prepared us well for school.  Before every lesson in his big study he would say in English, “I am your teacher.”  He wanted to acquaint us with a foreign language early on in life.   He refused to teach us Russian, which actually would have been more useful in a communist state controlled by the  Soviet Union.

At this point I want to insert a story which I forgot to tell earlier.

When the Soviet troops first occupied Gotha, my mother was ordered to work for a commander who had taken over a neighbor’s house as residence.  For a few hours every day my mother had to do housework for him in exchange for some precious victuals.

One day when my mother reported for work, the whole household of the commander was in disarray and  upheaval.  The commander had lost his precious ring. An extensive search by all the members of his household had been unsuccessful.  The ring was not found.  Finally, my mother was accused of having stolen the ring.

The commander told my mother that she had to return the ring by the next morning or there would be dire consequences.

My mother was scared to death.  She had seen and admired the ring, but had no idea where it was.

She spent the night in agony not knowing what to do.  Finally, after many prayers she decided to offer the commander all her jewellery  the next day to prove her innocence,

The following morning,  weak with fear and apprehension she arrived at her work place.  She was immediately sent to the commander’s office who held out his hand to her when she entered.  My mother could not believe her eyes, when she saw the precious ring sparkling on his finger.

In his broken German the commander explained that when he was getting dressed that morning he had felt a small object in the lining of his jacket.  On further investigation it felt like his lost ring.  He remembered suddenly that he had put it in the pocket of his jacket for some reason my mother could not understand. Maybe to keep it safe.  His coat pocket had a small tear in the seam and the ring had slipped through it into the silk lining. That the ring was found in the nick of time to save my mother from dire consequences is another miracle.

From that day on the commander rewarded her more generously for her work.

After this digression I want to continue my stories of  our early school experiences.

Math was always fun.  My brother and I had competitions in mental math, which I would usually win. Until the last years in high school I always outperformed  my brother.  But then he surpassed me and I could never catch up. Calculus was my downfall.

We had to memorize poems, ballads and of course lots of folk songs, which we would sing on long hikes in the beautiful forests of Thuringia.  Most of the songs are still fresh in my mind. They bring back happy memories of picking berries, swimming in rivers and lakes, and  of picnics under beautiful tress.  On these outings my dad would tell us legends and fairy tales often connected to the folklore of the region.

Since the German language has fairly consistent phonetic rules, I learned reading almost on my own, before I entered school.

The famous German “Zuckertüte” or sugar cone bag originated in Thuringia in a town close to Gotha. This very large, brightly decorated cone shaped paper bag was filled with chocolates, candies and other delicacies or little gifts to “sweeten”  the first day of school.  I wished we had a picture of ours.  But at that time my parents did not have the means to buy films. 

Erster SchultagFirst Day of School

For the first few years we only had a few hours of school every morning including Saturdays.   Students were expected to do homework and practice their new skills after school.   Since my brother and I were fast learners, we had lots of free time to play when we returned home for lunch.

My brother had an inquisitive mind and constantly tried to find out how things worked or how they were made.  I would often discover  that my toys or dolls were  broken or taken apart.  They had fallen victim to my brother’s curiosity.   It would upset me tremendously.

Although my parents expressed some sympathy to me, they never punished my brother or tried to change his behavior.  They not only condoned his  often destructive  explorations,  but almost encouraged  them.  They were proud of his clever findings and discoveries.

In the name of science I was expected to sacrifice my toys.


I do not have many memories of our early school days. But I remember that our teacher was called Frau Gans (Mrs. Goose).  My dad was very much amused by her  name.  In German you say “dumme Gans” to a “”dumb female.  Our teacher definitely was not ” a stupid goose.”

Both my brother and I were artistic and liked to draw and paint.

I produced my first “master piece” in grade one.  We were supposed to paint a picture of a wall.  Mrs. Goose was very much impressed with my work because i painted such a realistic looking brick wall and a  happy worker beside it.  My dad was a bit puzzled by this unusual theme.  “Why paint an ugly wall?” he asked.  Ten years later the Berlin Wall was built to permanently separate the two parts of Germany.  Maybe this early art exercise in wall paintings was the first step to glorify wall building.IMG_0757 wall

Scarlet Fever and Diphtheria

Shortly before we started school, my brother and I fell ill with scarlet fever, a very serious disease at that time often leading to death.

We were hospitalized. It was a very traumatic time  for us. Missing my mother was almost more agonizing for me than the pain and the fever of this savage disease.

My brother was far worse off than I was and was put in an isolation chamber partitioned from the ward by glass walls.

I often saw doctors and nurses bend over him with serious expressions on their faces.

My mother knew how distressed we were.  Many times during the day and even at night she would race on her bike to the hospital. Disregarding strict visitor regulations she would find ways to sneak into our ward and comfort us until she was asked to leave.  Since my bed was close to a window,  I would often stare out onto the street in the  hope  to spot my mother in the distance on her bike.

Antibiotics were very scarce in East Germany.  Even in the West there was only a limited supply because of the recent war.

My brother was at the point of  death when a desperate doctor asked my mother if she had relatives in West Germany.  He suggested to phone them and ask for antibiotics to be sent to the hospital.  He helped my mother to contact her aunt via his private phone and make arrangements with a doctor in the West. This was a precarious undertaking because contact with the West was considered a serious offense.  Miraculously the mission was successful.

When the antibiotics finally  arrived, I was already on the road to recovery.  However, for my brother they came just in the nick of time.  He was saved from death but suffered from a weakened heart for the rest of his life.

Shortly after we recovered, my newly wed sister and husband came down with a severe case of diphtheria, from which they took a long time to recover.  They were in quarantine for many weeks and my parents had to look after their infant son during that time.

Looking back now I wonder how my parents coped with all these extreme hardships.

As my mother often told us, my brother and I were the reason why they never despaired or gave up.  We were their pride and joy.  Trying to raise us for a better future gave them strength and hope.  Especially my mother was prepared to sacrifice anything for our well -being and prospects for a happy future.  Without personal freedom these prospects were compromised.  My parents felt increasingly oppressed by the totalitarian state.

Some Strange Childrearing Practices

Struwelpeter‘The door flew open, in he ran,
The great, long, red-legged scissor-man.
Oh! children, see! the tailor’s come
And caught out little Suck-a-Thumb.
Snip! Snap! Snip! the scissors go;
And Conrad cries out “Oh! Oh! Oh!”
Snip! Snap! Snip! They go so fast,
That both his thumbs are off at last.’

Right from birth and maybe even before I sucked my thumb with passion and abandon.

My parents never got tired of telling the embarrassing story when I tried to suck my brother’s thumb.   He often stood still  when observing something with his hands folded on his back like a little statesman.  I was playing on the floor behind him when I suddenly grabbed his hand and tried to put his thumb into my mouth.   He screamed in horror thinking I was going to bite him.

Initially my parents thought that  I would eventually give up this bad habit on my own.   But when I still continued  past the toddler stage, they started to get worried.   All their attempts to stop me from putting my thumb into my mouth failed. As soon as their attention was diverted, I made up for lost time especially at night.

Thumb sucker

Finally my mother and sister  decided on more drastic measures.

They  read the then bestselling children’s book ‘Struwwelpeter’ by  Heinrich Hoffman to me.  I listened attentively sucking my thumb peacefully when suddenly my ears pricked up.   There was a story of a little boy who like me had this habit of thumb sucking.  Like me the boy did not stop when told so by his parents.  Then one day the thumb cutter came and cut of his thumbs. Thus he stopped him once and for all.

I was getting a bit worried hearing the story, when suddenly the door bell rang.  My sister got up to answer it.  She returned after a few minutes looking very serious.  “The thumb cutter is here looking for Biene”, she told my mom.  “Should I let him come in?”   My mom replied looking at me, “Tell him to go because Biene will not suck her thumb anymore.”   My thumb was out of my mouth in an instant.  I was shaken to  the core.   “Miraculously”  from that day on I stopped this bad habit for good

Another child rearing practice my parents  employed is also of dubious nature.

My parents’ generation stood under the influence of the naturopathic  medicine movement of Sebastian Kneipp who believed in the therapeutic  power of cold water.

My parents wanted us to grow up strong and healthy. Every Saturday my brother and I  had our weekly bath in a big zinc tub placed on two chairs in our spacious kitchen.  A  hot bath was a luxury at that time.   We enjoyed this rare pleasure tremendously.  But all pleasures come to an end and for us it was very abrupt.  Without warning my mother would dump a bucket full of cold water which she had hidden under the chairs over us as suggested by Sebastian Kneipp.

This “shock therapy”  was supposed to toughen and strengthen us.  Before we could utter desperate cries of protest, we were wrapped in warm towels.  Time and again my mother would assure us that she would not do it again.  But she never kept her promise and was very skillful in hiding the bucket of  frigid water.

Until the end of his life my brother detested cold water.

I on the other hand started to like this invigorating procedure.   To this day I love swimming in cold lakes and conclude my warm bath with a cold shower.

Times have changed.

Another Kneipp practice my parents employed was even more dramatic and terrifying.

As a small child my brother had terrible temper tantrums.  He  frequently would fly into such a rage that he almost turned blue in his face screaming.   All measures to calm him down failed until my mother and sister started to resort to another Kneipp therapy.  They would quickly pick up my hysterical  brother and hold his head under running cold water from the tap.   The shock would instantly calm him.  I was very scared watching this cruel procedure.

Like my brother I was also strong willed.  But I did not voice my protests in furor.  I would rather use passive resistance.  During the fall and winter season my mother tried to give us one teaspoon of pure cod liver oil  every day to prevent rickets and other health conditions. I vehemently detested this foul smelling and  even worse tasting liquid.  My mother could neither coax  nor  threaten me into compliance.  I kept my mouth pressed shut.  When all attempts failed to change my mind, my sister would hold me down on the couch, open my mouth forcefully.  In an instant my mother would  pour the disgusting sticky liquid down my throat.  I could not understand why my mother and sister, who loved us so much, could do such horrible  things to us.

Surviving in a Totalitarian State

After their failed attempt to flee to the West my freedom loving parents had to survive in a totalitarian state.  Many of their freedoms were curtailed and they were cut off from friends and relatives on the other side of Germany and the rest of the world.

Before the war my dad had been transferred to the police force in Gotha.   Now,  under the communist rule he could no longer keep his position as police officer.

Miraculously,  one of my Dad’s old friends who was a dentist remembered that my father had worked as a dental technician in the past.   He offered him a job to work in his dental laboratory.

Food supplies were very short for several years after the war especially in the East.  I remember my Dad taking us to small villages in the surrounding area.  He would try to trade in his high quality police boots, belts, leather gloves and other valuable clothing in exchange for precious food like flour, butter  eggs and cheese.

I never forget the tasty delight of a freshly baked  heart shaped waffle a kind farmer’s wife handed me on a cool fall day.   It was still warm and tasted heavenly!!  I never had one before.

Our diet consisted  mostly of porridge, root vegetables,  bread, molasses and some butter or other fat.  There were strict government food rations.  Since I was underweight and slightly anemic, a  concerned doctor prescribed extra rations for me.

But I was also a picky eater.  It upset my dad tremendously, when I refused to eat or left something on the plate.   He had experienced extreme hunger as a POW.   My mother ended up feeding us children  separately  to keep him calm.

When we turned four years old, my father started teaching us on weekends.   He had a large world map, which covered a wall in his study.  There he taught us geography,  We had to point to and name all the continents, major countries, capitals, rivers, mountain ranges and oceans.

We had to draw maps and were rewarded with pennies if they were accurate.

He explained the solar system to us and allowed us to color his beautiful pen drawings for his ballads.

At bed time he would read to us books of the great explorers and inventors of the past or other historical events.   I loved cuddling close to my father on the bench of the big tile stove and listen to the great stories of mankind.

I learned to read before I even went to school and from then on have always been a voracious reader.

I was six years old when I read my first novel.  My mom had the book sitting on her night table.   It was a gift from my father who loved historical novels.   Whenever I had the opportunity. I secretly read in this big book which intrigued me.  It introduced me to an exciting  world  far beyond  my years.  To this day it is my favorite novel.  The author is Hervey Allen and the title is “Anthony Adverse”.   It was translated into German.   Many years later, Peter found the original American edition for me at eBay.

Although religious practices were tolerated under the new regime, they were not being encouraged.

My mother had been strictly brought up in the catholic faith by her guardians.   However, my father was protestant.   Shortly after our birth, even before my dad had a chance to meet us, she had us baptized in the protestant faith out of respect for my father.

My mother was always a strong believer in the Christian faith and instilled this faith in me.  For her the differences among the various religious denominations were not of great importance.  She believed in a personal relationship with God and salvation through Jesus Christ.

She would always encourage us to pray, and believe in the power of God’s love.

We were introduced to the word of God by an interdenominational Christian group who read bible stories to preschool children.  They must have sown strong seeds falling on fertile ground.  To this day I have never lost my faith in the goodness and truth of God’s word and the miracle of Christ’s promise of salvation.








Early Childhood in The Green Heart of Germany


Gotha is a picturesque city located in Thuringia,  one of the most beautiful regions of Germany.  It is called the Green Heart of Germany because of its vast pine and mixed  forests stretching over rolling hills. There are many romantic towns and villages which attracted great poets, composers and other famous artists and philosophers throughout history.

Gotha House

We lived on the main floor of a spacious villa not far from the castle and its amazing park.   It is the biggest landscape park in Germany and contains  many rare and exotic trees.

This wonderful park became our playground.  Every weekend,  through the changing seasons, my father would take us on long walks to this charming place.

Before we even went to school,  he had taught us to identify and name trees, flowers, plants and animals, more than I can name and identify now.  My brother and I  would collect colorful leaves, tasty pine and hazelnuts,  shiny chestnuts, acorns, pine cones, rose hips, and other seeds and berries.  These treasures would delight us more than toys.  We loved to watch the birds, chipmunks, insects, butterflies, frogs, toads, snakes, salamanders and other small animals living in this enchanting realm.  Two big ponds were another exciting attraction to explore.

One day,  my dad came home to report that he had jumped into the main pond in full gear to save a little boy from drowning.

Some of my earliest  memories are holding my dad’s hand and walking in this peaceful and magical place.

After his first few visits home to meet us, my Dad was taken prisoner by the Americans and spent a year in several prison camps.

My mom and my sister had to cope on their own surviving the hard times after the war with two small infants to care for. Food and other resources like fuel, and power were in short supply.

For the entire year of 1945 Gotha was occupied by American troops until the Russians took over the military command in the spring of the following year.

One day when my mom was preparing a meager meal of watery porridge in the kitchen, she noticed a black soldier walking around the back door of our house placing something under the landing of the staircase.

When my terrified mother had summoned up the courage to step outside to question him, he greeted her with a warm smile and pointed under the deck saying in a broad drawl,  “Milk for babies.”

Every day, until the Americans left, my mother and sister would find precious care packages under the landing deposited by this warmhearted  man.  Miraculously  help had come from a most unlikely source, from the enemy!!!

I wish I could still thank this generous soldier who showed us love instead of hatred and helped us survive.

When my dad was finally released from the Americans his ordeals were not over.  As former officer of the German army my dad was no longer allowed under the new Soviet regime to work for the police force in Gotha.

For many weeks after he came home, he was interrogated at odd hours at night about his Nazi past.  My dad had always resisted the Hitler regime and had never joined the infamous SS, even though all higher ranking officers were put under great pressure to do so.  Eventually these torturous investigations were abandoned because no evidence against him was found.

First Attempt to Escape to the West

My brother and I were three years old when my mom made the first attempt to escape with us to the West.

At that time the newly established borders between the divided Germany  were not yet fortified by  fences, ditches and surveillance towers.  There were heavily armed border guards who patrolled the unmarked dividing line between the East and the West.

My mom’s plan was to cross the densely forested border at a remote village with my sister and us two,

Once safely across my sister would take us by train to relatives in the West while my mother would return home to escape with my Dad via Berlin to the West to rejoin us later.  At that time the wall had not yet been built and it was still possible to escape from the eastern part of the city to the West by the subway system which still joined the two parts of Berlin.

The memories of that night are etched in my memory forever.  My mom and my sister were struggling to push our twin stroller over a rugged forest path at the approach of night.  When the going was getting too rough my mother allowed us to walk a short distance ahead of them.  Tired of being cooped up in the stroller for too long my brother and I started to run and chase each other around a bend of the narrow path when a gigantic figure with a gun stepped out of the dense bush and blocked our way.

Biene and Walter

We all stood motionless for a long moment until my mother and sister came around the path.   My sister started to scream with fright but my mother stayed calm.  She tried to explain that we lost our way but the guard was not fooled.

He told my mother that he would walk the other way pretending he never met us, on condition that she immediately returned to the village.  If she refused to comply, he would have to shoot as were his strict orders.  If he showed mercy, his own life was at stake.

He did show some pity though by giving my mother directions to a house where the porch door was unlocked so we could spend the night under cover.   “There will be shooting tonight”, were his last words.  Once again we experienced the  unexpected mercy of an enemy soldier.

We spent the night huddled in the corner of a spacious porch.  My sister broke down crying hysterically,  We had never heard her cry before and it scared us more than the sounds of shots fired in the distance.

Part of the reason for my sister’s breakdown was that still unknown to her she experienced the first stages of pregnancy.

A few months later, she married her long time boyfriend and soon after our first nephew was born.  Thus, my brother and I became uncle and aunt at he tender age of four.

1948 Wedding Elsbeth Paul

Hello world!

The theme of my blog is this miraculous life. Like life, I don’t know where my blog is leading me, but I know I will be talking a lot about miracles and wonders.

Today is a dark,  dreary November day.   I am suffering from a cold  which prevents me from walking my  regular 10 000  Flex steps and  rake up the last leaves from our enormous nut trees.   But there is a small silver lining.  I have some time to continue the  post on my new blog.

I want to tell  you about the first miracle in my life.   I was born in Germany,  a few months before the end of  World War II.   While every new life on this planet is a miracle, the birth of my twin brother and me was even more miraculous.    My mom had been told by doctors after the birth of my half sister  that she could have no more children.   For twenty years my sister was the only child.  My  mom was 43 years old and thinking she was in her menopause when she found out that she was pregnant with twins.

On the last Sunday of October I entered the world fifteen minutes before my twin brother.   A retired, old doctor who was exempt from war duties, my awestruck sister and a full moon casting a soft light in the candle lit bedroom witnessed our birth.

My father, a reserve  police officer,  was stationed in Croatia at the time.  The next day the police department  notified  him by a telegram of the joyous event.

His comrades designed and drew a beautiful card to congratulate him on his “master shot”,   a suggestive play on words in the German  language.

birth congrat 44 croppedbirth congrat 44_2

It wasn’t until early January 1945 that my dad was finally able to hold us in his arms for the first time.   We rewarded him with brilliant smiles.

My dad’s leave from the Balkan countries to meet his new family  miraculously saved his life.  While he was home  getting to know us, the German troops in Yugoslavia were completely cut off from the homeland.  When his leave was over,  my father could no longer return to his battalion.    Most of his unfortunate comrades who had stayed behind were killed.   He would very likely have endured the same fate.



Papa and the twinsMutti and the twins


Today is Remembrance Day.  With countless others all over the globe I remember the sacrifices of the brave young soldiers who fought and died for our freedom and welfare in the two world wars and other wars of our time.   And I remember all the brave families who had to let their loved ones go.

I dare not imagine the agonies I would have felt if my brother, my husband, any of our five sons or our grandson, or even our two granddaughters had to fight in the war.  UNIMAGINABLE!!!

Today I want to write about my parents who lived through the two world wars and suffered through the devastating years before andafter these wars, especially World War II.My  mother was born in the spring of 1901.  She had three younger brothers.  Two younger sisters had not survived long after birth.    My  mom’s parents loved each other and their four surviving children dearly.   They were a close knit, happy family.   When my mom was eleven years old another child was on the way.   Everyone anticipated the birth with great excitement.

Then, one day in early summer when my mom returned home from school she was told that her mother and newborn sister had died in childbirth.

Her dad never recovered from this great tragedy and loss of his beloved wife.  Three years later he also died.

My mother was sent to a convent school by her guardian aunt and her brothers to a foster home.  I don’t have many details because my mom rarely talked about her past.

Born in the Rhineland region of Germany, my mom incorporated all the positive qualities attributed to a typical Rhineland personality.   She was always cheerful and full of vitality.  She loved life and above all people. Her keen sense of justice and fairness combined with an indefatigable fighting spirit.  Her memory was astounding.  She could recall events and people of the past in minute detail.  She was very resourceful and overcame many insurmountable obstacles.   She always fought for freedom in all its forms.


People would gravitate towards her; even complete strangers would love her almost at first sight.  Sometimes my brother and I were a bit embarrassed by the attention strangers gave her when we traveled with her.

Her hospitality was famous and all our friends loved to visit our home.  She took a genuine interest in other people.   She had good advice and people accepted it with gratitude.

She was also beautiful.   After she left the convent school, she found employment as a receptionist for a popular photo studio and frequently sat as a model for her employer.

My half sister was born when my mom was 23 years old.  My mother never talked about that time and the identity of my sister’s father has remained a mystery to this day.   My nephews are still searching to find out who their grandfather was.  Until I was 20 years old I did not even know that my father had adopted my sister.   My parent’s generation kept a lot of secrets.

There are some indications that my sister’s father was not acceptable to my mother’s strict catholic guardians.   Very likely he was a Jew.  I remember a rare moment when my mother told me that she was once given a beautiful necklace by a Jewish man who loved her very much but died in a motorcycle accident. At that time I did not know that my sister had a different father.   Looking back now there is the possibility that my mother wanted to force the marriage by her pregnancy. Tragically, her lover died in a fateful accident, before my sister was born.  This is speculation.

How my mother coped as a single parent and how she eventually met my father I do not know either.   I only can presume that my father must have loved her very much to overcome the social barriers of that time to marry an unwed mother and thus jeopardize his status as police officer.

1928 Walter and Elisabeth small

My Dad

 My father was born 1898 in West Prussia,  Germany where his dad owned a construction business.  His mom was a lot younger than his dad. I inherited her name Gertrud.  My father had an older brother and a younger sister.   His dad died when he was 17 years old.   Shortly after  this great loss, my father enlisted as a soldier at the western front in World War I.

He suffered from shell shock which triggered a nervous condition from which he never completely recovered all his life.

After the war,  he apprenticed as a dental technician and worked in that profession for several years.    In his mid twenties he entered the police force and moved to Westphalia where he eventually met my mother.

Early on in his career he had an accident returning home from duty on his bike.  He fell on his revolver which went off and shot a bullet  through his kidney.  He lost his kidney but miraculously his life was spared.

My dad did not have the outgoing, cheerful personality of my mom.  Although he could be humorous  and enjoy company, he was more introvert and loved to read, study and write.  History was his passion.

But he also was an outdoor enthusiast and loved to hike, bike, ski. swim, go camping and boating in his canoe like paddle boat.  My mom and dad explored all the major rivers of Germany by embarking on extensive boating and camping trips in the summer.

Until late in his life my dad led hiking clubs.  He loved  exploring  and marking new trails.  He also loved collecting mushrooms and became an expert in that field researching new species and cataloging them

He also liked to compose poetry, especially ballads which he would  illustrate with beautiful ink drawings.  The only thing he lacked were practical skills.  According to my mom he could not even “cook  water.”  While my mom was loved, my dad was respected.