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15 October 2014
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A Child's Memory of WW2 in Germany

by StokeCSVActionDesk

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Annemarie C.S Poole nee Peterson and family
Location of story: 
North Germany
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
24 August 2005

This story was submitted to the People's War site by Jenny of the Stoke CSV Action Desk on behalf of Annemarie Poole and has been added to the site with her permission.The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

I was born 1932 in Schleswig, North Germany and enjoyed a happy childhood in a close-knit family.My baby sister came 1936 on the scene and our brother 1938, about the time when Adolf Hitler was talked about a lot. I remember the the brown uniform ny father had acquired,due to joining the SA (Sturmabteilung).All his colleagues from the Psychiatric Hospital,which was the biggest in Germany and where they all worked as qualified nurses,had joined also.I did not know what was going on, only everybody seemed in good spirits. I suppose thinking back, their future was full of promises-a better life to come. Hitler was Germany's saviour!

In 1939 we, all women and children, waved the long train off, loaded with men who had volunteered to be recruited. Of course, my age group had no idea what was happening. At school, Adolf Hitler's portrait was in every classroom, "Heil Hitler" before we started lessons and the same at the end.Hitler was praised and we fell in love with him, we adored him and showed him great respect. Were we being brainwashed? Every boy and girl old enough automatically became a member of the 'Hitler Jugend' (Youth). We were never bored, due to so many activities!Mainly sport was encouraged and became an obsession. Music too. Religion was not mentioned.I think,'Adolf was God.'
It was an honour to be included in the big parade at Hitler's birthday on the 20th April.What a pretty sight on the stadium!Swastika flags blowing in the wind, girls in navy blue pleated skirts,white socks and short sleeved blouses,long plaits. The boys looked proud too, in their light brown shirts with white neckchief.March music over loud speakers. Dad's letters arrived from Austria,Holland,France,Poland,after that nothing.Apparently he was "missing." Much, much later I found out that he had been captured with so many others by the Russians and was transported to Siberia to work in the salt mines.One night in 1942 a continuous rumbling noise was heard and prevented us children from going to sleep. I questioned my mother, who informed me that the mentally ill patients were all being moved to the south of Germany to make space for wounded soldiers, a 'Lazarett'(hospital).By morning the noise of the lorries had gone.
Nobody had heard of KZ (concentration camps)-Top secret!
After the war the truth came out...
In 1943 the first refugees arrived mainly from the East,Mecklenburg and Pommern.Women and children only (no men)fleeing from the Russian Army, which was feared for ruthlessness. Every house had to take people in, for us children an exciting time. They spoke differently, the mothers wore fur coats and gold jewellery and smelt nice. All the same, they had no choice but to 'muck in' and we became friends.It seemed like it. They queued like the rest for fish,cigarettes,flour etc, all rationed and we had to watch when our number came up.One had to do without if we missed the chance. In autumn we all (two mothers, two grandmothers and six children) went into the nearest forest to collect beechnuts.One large (provided) sack full entitled us to 1/2lb (250gr) margarine.Cetain herbs were collected too; it was our duty towards war fare, also paper and metal, especially iron.Late evenings the older children sneaked out without mothers knowledge to steal wood for the stove and turnips, potatoes and cabbage from the farm belonging to the former pyschiatic hospital, now worked by war prisoners. My mother,who was a dressmaker,had heaps of material in store,which came in very handy. Grandma (Oma) and I cycled to nearby villages and exchanged some and the cigarettes for bacon, butter and milk. The farmers were glad.So were we.Black marketeering was their second profession.
I remember homemade jam out of beetroot and berries, potato flour for thickening was made out of rubbed potatoes,drained and dried on white sheets on the lawn in the sun, coffee out of corn roasted and it tasted vile to me and our tummies were full of maize and rhubarb and felt like cement inside us. Fish heads were simmering for soup and put me off for the rest of my life (till 2000 on holiday when the landlady in Ireland coaxed me to try her special fish soup,which was no comparison and very delicious!)
When I think back,our neighbourhood had formed a close community with sharing and caring.A few men returned home without an arm or a leg and everybody was overjoyed, perhaps a little jealousy crept in, but hope never left us. One year my mother left the tall, real Christmas tree in the the best room til Easter, she had a certain feeling, but Dad did not show up. Our brother was growing up without his father he did not know and he was spoilt rotton by all the women.I was the one who had to drag him to school on his first day.I was so ashamed,his nose was running,his eyes red from crying, he looked more like a four year old instead of six years.At dinner time I collected him wondering how he had gone on. The lady teacher informed me she had asked him his name and he had answered in sobs: "Mama's Jung" (mummy's boy).That was the last straw!He was nine years old when our father eventually came home and my brother called him "Uncle" and told him that he didn't like him and to go back!It was late one evening, about 11pm when I answered the knock on the front door and told my mother,who was busy on her sewing machine,that there was a tramp. She must have recognised her husband and fainted. What a sight!His clother were raggy, he looked under nourished and very tired.He must have had tremendous willpower. He never fully recovered and eventually died with throat cancer.
Going back to 1942/43, we sat a lot of evenings in the dark because of power cuts and blackouts were strictly watched and no shimer of light allowed. The streets were in darkness too. Anybody who had to be out wore illuminated badges. Hour after hour we played in the dark, guessing games, inventing stories while the adults were snoring in the armchairs. When we went to bed the sirens would sound so loud it made us shudder with fright. I have never liked the dark since. We were warned of air raids.Flensburg and Kiel had the big shipyards and docks, our town in the middle.We could see the red sky from the fire and the noise was carried with the wind. If we came out of the shelter after midnight we did not have to go to school which was nice.Anyhow,during the winter the schools could not be heated and we had to walk an hour (no transport) just to take and collect homework. Shoes were handed down, the rare new ones with coupons were so stiff and were rubbing and had wooded soles and were dangerous when crossing the frozen River Schlei (Estuary of the Baltic Sea)- shortcut for us children. Old woolies were unroven and the the wool knitted into 'new' socks and gloves. Rabbit fur transformed into hoods,collars and muffs.People became amazingly inventive.No global warming then-winter temperatures below minus 10/20 centigrade for weeks on end.We built igloos, playing nurses and wounded soldiers-the very same lads soon after went to the real war at 15/16 years and never came back.My mother lost three brothers, how did her mother cope?She lived with us.Her 'Iron Cross' was not much consolation!She did not show her tears openly.Often I think about her,now that I have three grown up sons. The few men who did come back had changed personalities. I recall one sunny spring day in 1945 when my friend and I came across this derelict pigsty.Looking inside this half fallen down shed,we noticed four make shift beds out of straw, tin mugs,metal plates, the odd sock, a soldiers cap etc.Later,when it was dusk, we went bravely back again to spy. Four very young men, called deserters, were hiding there.Although it was a risk, with mother's permission, we brought them to our homes to stay in the attic.They knew the war was lost, they had no homeland left and didn't know if their relatives were alive.It was quite sad...
In May 1945 my mother heard on forbidden foreign radio stations, including "Germany Calling," that the Allies were invading. Late at night she used to listen in like a spy.Her fault though- she could not keep things to herself, broadcasting her information to our neighbours. She knew about Churchill's plan and Chamberlain always carrying an umbrella. She was so very,very lucky not to have been reported as the Gestapo (SS)would have shot her. At one stage,I guess,nobody could be trusted, backstabbing to their own advantage!We were taught to hate the enemy, didn't dare otherwise. In desperation and with mother's foresight Hitler's "Mein Kampf" was burnt, the big Swastica flag temporary buried (made into 'Dirndle' dresses at a later date).Dad's binoculars we had already exchanged for skis in the popular Exchange shop, formerly a large store owned by Jews. Rumour had it the first tanks had arrived.We didn't know if they were Russian,American or British.Apprehension was at its highest.Mother heard they were British, we were not so frightened now.The soldiers had shown kindness and thrown sweets and chocolate which we had not tasted in years!They even looked like our men!Had we expected monsters?Some girls from the slums were soon arm in arm with these young soldiers, smoking their cigarettes and went to dances in proper silk stockings.All of a sudden life was changing fast. No more darkness and no more sirens howling.Our old money was utterly worthless. New currency was issued, everybody started with 50DM (Deutsche Marks). We lost every penny in the bank and our Insurance Policy was also scrapped. Overnight the big transformation happened! All the rubbish disappeared out of the shop windows,replaced with quality goods.How was it possible?The business peoples soon became rich again and we were struggling, could not afford this or that.Bananas and oranges,that we had never tasted, were a luxury. The hate for the so called enemy had diminished and Hitler was dead.

My English teacher had taught German in a Stoke on Trent school and returned with addresses of the girls in England and suddenly I had a pen friend. Through her I met my husband when visting. I am 72 now and because of Hitler's demands I owe my flexibility,fitness and feeling younger than my age to him.We had been taught self discipline,determination,respect and not to be wasteful;it makes me cringe when food is thrown away.
Sadly,politicans don't try to learn from wars and people like Hitler keep popping up,just like bullies in schools and workplaces. But most of all we must not forget all those brave people who fought horrific battles on land,sea and in the air, thinking they did the right thing. Now television can show us the other side of the war, the side which was kept secret, tragic, the inhuman deeds, unbelievable and indescribable.The big question 'WHY' remains unanswered!!!!

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