When strolling through today’s streets of Germany it’s hard to imagine that just a mere 65 years most of the now big, sprawling cities laid in rubble and people where struggling with the aftermath of WW2.
Growing up in the late 70s in Germany myself, postwar trauma or anxieties were not part of my world. I never really realized how much the allied forces that back then were much more present then they are now, shaped and molded the area , my family and eventually my own life.
Both of my grandparents where in their early 20s, when WW2 broke loose and even though they all were involved, their stories are very different.
On my father’s side, my Granny was married to a German soldier that we now know a little about, her first husband fell in the war shortly after they got married. My father thinks he may have been in the advance in Russia, and after some research and finding an estranged cousin in Bavaria, we now have his name. My Grandma never talked about it. Her second husband, my Grandfather came from a well off Family and looking at pictures, his dad was at least a supporter of the politics back then. Great Grandpa was a hard worker and had worked his way up to one of the CEO positions of a company that is known worldwide today. We still have many Photo albums, with pictures of parades in Heidelberg before the war and everything is decked out in the Nazi flags. From what my dad remembers he was a strict man, but made sure his family was cared and provided for. .. Hard to say, since he did pass away before I was born. My Grandpa was also in the German Army and fought in the war, but he never really talked about any of it. The only thing my Grandma talked about how she was back in the Bavarian area when the war started and she was working at a Kindergarten. My Dad was born right after the war and remained an only child.
After the war, they were able to retain their lives’ and live quite comfortably, compared to my moms family and many others.
It was a very different story for my mom’s side of the family. My Grandmas husband was from one of the former German areas in Russia and between trying to provide for a quite large Family here in Germany (they had 10 kids) he also tried to send money back home, and being bullied by people for his heritage, he turned to drinking. The later did end up a big part of his early death, leaving my Granny with 10 small children to fend for on her own in a post war Germany.
My Moms mom never talked about the war, ever and until this last November I had no idea that she had a sister that was killed by shrapnel at 12 years old. The village my Granny is from and still lives is a small community, that I would have never guessed any battles had taken place in, but when the US troops pushed in from the west going east , a bunch of German soldiers had barricaded themselves in the little keep up on the hill. My Granny and her little sis where delivering linens to their uncle and ended up in the crossfire and her sister was hit. Once the shooting started the sirens went off and everyone was hiding out in bunkers. My Grandma and her mother and sister spend the night underground and the girl’s health was deteriorating by the hour. By the morning US troops had taken the village and were checking the bunkers for any enemy hiding. They came along my grandma’s family and my grandma asked for help. I don’t know why, but her mom seemed to have had no interest in what happens to her injured daughter, not sure if she was in shock or what. But they ended up loading my Grandma which was 18 at the time and her little 12 year old sister on a truck telling her they would take her to Wiessloch to the US hospital there. At least that’s what my Grandma got out of the conversation, since she spoke no English. She very vividly recalls sitting in the back of this army truck holding her bleeding sister being scared to death and the soldiers offering her candy and gum. After a very bumpy ride over fields and rivers (most of the bridges were destroyed) they did end up in a US facility in Weinheim where they took her weak sister to be treated. She was asked to wait only to be seen by a doctor shortly after that told her, that there was nothing that could be done to save her little sister. She was accompanied to her sister’s room where she sat with her until the girl fell asleep and did not wake up anymore. The doctors said that all they could do now is bury her in one of the collective Graves at the war cemetery in Weinheim and then send Granny on her way home. There are no photos that I know of her little sister, and my Grandma is the last of her siblings to be alive today. It really made me sad how no one ever knew her. Her name was Elfriede and she must have been a really happy girl, she was hit while balancing on a wall when they were pulling their little cart with linens. All that in times when they had no food, no toys and no nothing.
My Grandma had to find her way back home since the Army could not transport her back and it took her 2 days to walk from Weinheim to Sinsheim, she got home and was beat by her mother for leaving her sister…
The only Grandpa I ever knew of my mom’s side was my Grandmas life partner. They had been a couple ever since I was born and in terms he was my Grandpa. When he passed last year the priest told his story at the memorial and it blew our minds. He was actually born in the Czech Republic, back then part of Germany as a German citizen. After the war broke loose and the Czech people reclaimed their country, all of those German rooted people got deported to Germany, along with his family and most of his area. They walked on foot from the Check republic to Vienna, Austria. My Grandpa lost his family there when he was drafted into the war by the Germans at only 15 years of age. He trained to be a paratrooper and was put into action over France. He was captured there and spent 5 years in a POW camp before returning home to Germany. He went to Berlin first since he had gotten word of his Brother living there. From there and with help of the Red Cross he located his parents in the Sinsheim Area. So he walked there, across Germany. He only found out later , that most of his village decided to return home to Czech once in Vienna, only to meet their death on the way home.
Soon after he was hired by the US Forces as driver, to deliver goods to the Commissaries and PXs in the Rhein/Main/Neckar area. That was his favorite time and he would talk about it all the time, even at the end when he forgot everything, that’s what he would tell you.
Growing up in the Heidelberg/Mannheim area, there were US MilitaryMilitart posts everywhere. I remember the tanks driving through my village when I was 4 or 5 years old. And you can’t forget the American Volksfests !!
To be able to try all those goodies, that we didn’t have in Germany. I grew up with quite a few GI family friends and was able to visit the US that way once.
But I would have never guessed I would end up with a GI of my own… Especially since English was my least favorite subject in school ….
So here I am today, sharing my family’s history … I choose not to judge them or their actions or believes back then, simply because I know I cannot change what happed. What I can do and I am doing every day is to make sure my kids know better.