CHILDHOOD IN GERMANY DURING WORLD WAR II
The story of a Little Girl
By Karla Poewe
(Edwin Mellen Press, 1988)
They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind ( Hosea 8:7).
CHAPTER 1 THE BOMBING
But I will send fire upon their cities that will consume their fortresses ( Hosea 8:14).
There's a light. A big flash in the sky. Orange light. A noise. I'm on the ground. There are others. Vague figures, protective, frightened.
Then there's nothing, only the nightmares. A rough bed in a tiny closet. Pressed in. The air is thick and heavy. The light comes at me, wildly dancing, threatening. It whirls around and around, whirring, hissing. I choke and scream. At my feet I feel my sister and she screams too. We scream at an unknown horror. We scream and scream in terror. There's the sound of rushing feet and a hushing. Someone hugs Gudi and me and the threat ebbs. My crying is soundless. Only my chest heaves and jerks under the force of it. I look at the world in confusion and awe. And that sense of it, that looking out at the world with an awesome curiosity has remained.
"Mother," I said years later. "I have that memory of light, burning, noise, of fire. I'm on the ground scared. Someone is over me. And I see all this."
I felt embarrassed bringing up the past, but took courage and said "Is it possible that . . ."
"My god," she said. "You remember."
Her voice quivered. She'll cry, I thought. But I am wrong. It is not tears but memories that rush out. She fears that I will not listen long enough. I never did in the past.
"You remember the bombing," she said. " Konigsberg was in flames. The asphalt on the street was burning. Bridges were destroyed. We were women and children and all was confusion. Some of us women took our children and got the idea .. I don't know from where--to go to the Schlossteich [palace pond].
Round and round we walked in confusion. But then we found it. I remember the promenade and the swans. And then we got the idea to hold hands. And we waited for the next bomb. If it hit us, we would all jump into the water together and drown. Better to drown than burn. You must be remembering that, us stumbling along toward the Teich [pond], watching, waiting for the next bomb."
Her emotions were tangible and deep.
"We had no sleep for weeks," she said. "We lived in the basement, but even there the noise and crying was deafening. We couldn't sleep. None of us. Not the children, not the adults."
Her voice tumbled over her feelings like water over a waterfall. "Lime fell from the walls," she said. "Every time a bomb hit somewhere, white dust came out of the walls. Then the fire, flames, and smoke, and all that debris."
A pause. Her memories became disconnected, fragmented. Her thoughts moved forward and backward in time.
"And we would eat sorrel and gnaw tree bark. But that was later on the trek. Sometimes we would get ein schwarzes Brotchen [a black bun]."
I remembered ... could even taste it in my mouth.
"Dysentery broke out. And we lived in fear of typhus and death."
My early experiences disembody me, I thought. They dislocate me, make me a bystander not only of my own fate but of the world's happenings. I stand there looking. I look at the child that was myself. I watch myself as a child looking at the child that was myself. The terror of those early childhood years puts a distance between myself, the watching bystander, and myself the one who lives life in a world as much fairy tale as reality. I close my eyes and I see a little girl watching the little girl that was myself. She, the watcher, clutches a doll. She, who lives, stands alone in a sea of life .. awesome, mysterious.
I see her walking along the riverfront wrapped in daydreams or emerging from the basement, picking up shrapnel that got caught in the iron grill used to clean shoes. She picks up the shrapnel and collects it and looks happily at her world of ruins. And she skips along in her maroon dress which her mother had made out of curtains and on which she had stitched gay, yellow flowers, right across the front covering the chest. And then adults come and slap the shrapnel out of her hand and whisk her into the dark basement. And she screams at the stench and the crowds and longs for open space.
Everything my mother did was pretty, I thought. But it wasn't anything she passed on to me, as if that kind of mothering died then ... along with the rubble ... and would not be reborn in me. The chasm is permanent. No bridge can connect me to those old, heavy radios with the beautiful cloth in front and the many white piano ... like keys, nor to the music that came from it. I look, but am not. The bombs that crushed those buildings, crushed through the center of my life, split it permanently as by a crater so that the one side of life looks at the other. My nerves tingle. I look on. Blood rushes to my head. I feel the threat. Then I remind myself that I am here looking. And I ask, what did it do to those many then, and what is it doing to those many now?
One of mother's girlfriends was a pharmacist. Mother claimed it was because of her that we survived. She supplied us with cod liver oil for years and mother forced it down our throats. And when it didn't go down she fried potato peels in it. The peels came from someone's garbage ...
Read Chapter Ten