In Germany in 1944 no single unemployed woman was allowed to remain without a job. However married women with children were not obliged to work for the war effort. My cousin Renate in Leipzig was in her last year of high-school. After finishing high-school you would get the ‘Abitur’ qualifying you for university studies. Renate had to finish school half a year early. She did get only a ‘Not-Abitur’. She had to finish with this ‘Not-Abitur’ because she was required to work in a munitions factory.
Aunty Ilse, being a single person, was supposed to have a regular job. Everyone who was capable to work, had to work for the war effort! That meant Ilse had to prove that she had a proper job. Naturally Werner M came to the rescue again. ‘You can work for me in the office,’ he said. And office work she did, however not in the office, but at home. She did not even have to collect the work!
One of the workers, who lived in our complex, was given the task of handing over the sheets of work-paper to Mrs. Ilse S. He did this when he came home from work. When Aunty had finished the paper-work , he took everything to the office on the way to his work-place. How did he transport the papers? He simply fastened the bundles unto the back of his bike. This worker was Herr F. He was a smith by trade and worked for Werner M. – – A smith was always needed in a huge estate with lots of horses and farm equipment. Even though Herr F was a qualified trades-man, he and his family lived extremely simple lives; indeed, he did not seem to live any better than an unqualified worker.
Mr. and Mrs. F, had two sons; one was ten, the other one fourteen. The older one was quite talented. He built complicated mechanical things out of odd bits and pieces. I admired him very much. The younger son told Edith and me stories about the ‘Lamp Angel’ (Lampen-Engel) who was supposed to have kerosine-lamps in a straight line out in the country away from any built-up areas to distract bombers, who might accidentally have come to our countryside.
A few times I went with Edith and Bodo in search of these lamps. Yet we never could find any of them. Unfortunately the neighbour’s son, who had told us the story, was not willing to come along with us to show us where the lamps were. To this day, I really do not know, whether there ever had been any lamps!
Both sons of the neighbours went to Lichtenow village primary school, the same school that Edith and I went to. The school had eight school-years. After year eight you had to leave and start work or learn a trade. Students who wanted to go to high-school, were supposed to enroll at high-school after finishing year four of primary school. By September 1944 I should have started high-school. However I had no chance to travel to high-school from where we lived at the time. Mum said: ‘Since you skipped year three, it does not matter, if you repeat year four. Next year the war will be over anyway and then we do not have to live here anymore and you can be enrolled in high-school. But I want you to go to a different village-school now and start again with year four. I made enquiries in Herzfelde. The primary school in Herzfelde is much larger then the one in Lichtenow. So this is why I’ve enrolled you in Herzfelde.’
I went to Herzfelde Primary for three months only. By the end of January 1945 we had moved to Leipzig to stay with Grandma. All schooling had stopped by then. We felt more and more, that it was very close to the end of the war.
During the warmer months of 1944 we did a lot of athletics at the Lichtenow school. There was running, high-jump and long-jump. There was also an athletics’ carnival in which only students who were ten years or older were allowed to participate. I was not quite ten yet, but they let me join anyway. I was good at running for my age. In all the jumps I was just average.
I had plenty of opportunity to practise high-jump at home. Mt. T and his brother, who was at the Ausbau for a visit, set up two poles with a line to jump over. The line could be set higher or lower. It was set very low for Edith and for Bob. The T brothers were both quite good sportsmen and could still jump astonishingly high, even though they were both well over forty.
I often thought that the afternoons at the Ausbau were boring. What was there to do for me? Not much. When the weather was fine, I liked to go for walks, always wishing, that the landscape were not as dreary. I longed for a variety of trees and the view of a lake or a river.
During the colder season we had sometimes real terrible winds. On the way to the outside toilets we had to turn around the corner of the house to walk to the shedlike building at the back. You had to be quite brave to turn the corner, when that gusty wind was blowing, blowing, blowing. Winds like that were unknown to us in the city. Well, the Ausbau was in open country area after all.
We had a warm lunch when I came home from school at about one. And after that in the afternoon there was nothing to do! Maybe a bit of home-work here and there. But this certainly did not take all afternoon. When we had to stay in the playroom because of bad weather, I usually read a book. I loved reading. I was glad I could borrow books from Mrs. T. She had dozens of books for girls, which she had kept from her own childhood and which eight year old Edith was not able to read yet.
Naturally my two younger brothers and Edith and I sometimes played together as well as talking to each other. Still I missed all my friends from Berlin. In Berlin I was always surrounded by many different children. We all lived in the same street; it was easy to see each other on a daily basis.
One Thursday during the summer school-holidays Mum came home from Berlin with excellent news. ‘Guess what?’ she said ‘I saw Rose-Mary today! She is going to stay in Berlin for a few weeks and I asked her, would she like to come and stay with you at the Ausbau for one week. I could pick her up next Thursday and take her back to Berlin the following Thursday.’
I cried with delight: ‘Oh, Mum, that’s excellent! I love to have Rose-Mary here for a visit!’
The visit took place as Mum had planned. Rose-Mary and I went for lots of walks . We had so much to talk about that we hardly noticed, how dreary the landscape looked. Once we went into the direction where the lamps of the ‘Lampen-Engel’ were supposed to be. However we never saw any lamps.
I felt a bit jealous, that Rose-Mary was allowed to stay in Berlin for a little while during school-holidays. I could never talk Mum into letting me stay in Berlin, not even for a day. Mum always said, that it was too dangerous since there could be bomb raids day-time or night-time. I was not to be put into danger. And that was it.
During that summer of 1944 I learned to swim. We had summer holidays. On a hot day Bodo and I went on our bikes some distance past the Lichtenow school to an artificial lake, which people called ‘Bruch’. It was possible to swim in it. Dozens of people were stretched out on some grass near the lake or frolicked in the water. I went in up to where the water reached my chest. Then I tried to lie on my tummy reaching out my hands to touch the ground. After a while, I noticed my hands had left the ground and I was swimming in the water! What a thrill that was! Being nearly ten I was finally able to swim. What an achievement! Bodo had stayed obediently in shallow water. I could not wait to go to him to share the great news with him.
I remember I had to wear an old two-piece swimsuit of my mother’s which she had sewn together for me. Later on in the year Mum found in a shop in Berlin a proper swimming costume for me which she was able to buy with some coupons. I was given that swimsuit for Christmas. It looked lovely. There were some little orange pictures of girls with bath-caps all over the costume.
The swimming costume was a perfect fit and I was fantasising how I would wear it the following summer. Unfortunately I was never able to wear it since it got lost during the upheaval of moving to Leipzig. —
Towards the end of January 1945, when we were about to leave the Ausbau, Mum, Aunty Ilse and Mrs. T as well as Katja and Maria were busy all night killing all our rabbits and chooks and preserving the whole lot in glasses. We ended up taking quite a few of these glasses to Leipzig, where miraculously they survived the total distruction of our house during a bomb raid in the pantry next to a very strong wall. Not one glass was shattered! I myself though was not able to at any of the rabbit- or chicken-meat, since from early childhood on I’ve never been able to eat this kind of meat. …
Before we left the Ausbau, all the furniture in the house was pushed together as much as possible. Some beds had been dismantled already. But we children were meant to get some sleep in spite of all the commotion. I was put with Edith in one room. The two of us were much too excited to sleep. We kept ourselves awake for hours singing all the songs we knew. Edith taught me a few new songs which I had not known until then. Yet I still know them now. One song was a song from Tirol about some young men who go looking over the fence to see a girl, the one who looks after the cows.
Ja wenn wir schaun, schaun, schaun
übern Zaun, Zaun, Zaun,
in das schöne Land Tirol -
Ja dann freuet sich die Sennerin,
ja wenn wir schaun, schaun, schaun übern Zaun.
Ja wenn wir gucken, gucken, gucken
durch die Lucken, Lucken, Lucken,
in das schöne Land Tirol -
Ja dann freuet sich die Sennerin,
ja wenn wir gucken, gucken, durch die Lucken, Lucken, Lucken …