Pictures as Memory Triggers
Two brothers, both students at the University of Leipzig (Germany), went out together to see a movie. Two young girls, who wore identical dresses, in a giggly mood followed the students into the cinema and sat down behind them. One of the students was my father Alexander, twenty-one at the time, and one of the girls was my mother Charlotte.
Naturally, the two young students did get to know the two girls. Soon the four of them went on outings together, and before long the two young men even started visiting the girls’ home, where they were well received by the girls’ widowed mother.
Five years later Charlotte and Alexander were married. In the meantime Charlotte’s sister Ilse had been engaged to Alexander’s brother Edmund for a few months. Ilse broke the engagement off and later married well- to -do Adolf S.
After World War II my parents separated. My father lived in West-Germany. My two brothers and I stayed with my mother in West-Berlin. At the beginning of 1951 I found out from my father, that some months previously my parents did get a divorce. My mother had never bothered to tell me this.
A few years later, when I went to visit my father, he told me that my mother had the marriage annulled by the pope, which would mean, that we three children had been born as bastards. My father was totally outraged about this.
Apparently my mother had the marriage annulled, so that she could marry another man, who happened to be Catholic. But when that other man wanted my mother to move with him to another city, she decided she didn’t want to marry him after all. So my mother stayed in Berlin, where she had lived since 1931 and where she died in 1994.
I keep looking at this photo, which has triggered all these memories. On the photo I see: Ilse and Charlotte; Edmund and Alexander. The girls are dressed in fashionable cotton-shifts. Both dresses had been sewn by fourteen year old Charlotte, who was very good at the sewing machine, whereas Ilse shunned machine sewing. Her contribution was doing the hems, which she could do by hand. Charlotte would sit at her sewing machine all day to finish the two identical dresses, so that the sisters could wear them for going out on that same day.
My mother had another sister called Martha and a brother called Kurt. Cousin Sigrid is the daughter of Martha. Cousins Renata and Wolfgang are twins and the children of Kurt. Ilse never had any children. Cousin Sigrid once hinted that she had had a botched abortion and that was why she couldn’t have any children. I would say her second husband didn’t mind this at all.
Her second husband was Helmut L., but she called him Peter. Tante Ilse and ‘Onkel Peter’ were very much in love. They married on July 20th, 1944. It was a good marriage right to the end. Ilse died of breast cancer in 1978. Onkel Peter tried to stay in touch with us. But I think my mother rejected him. Somehow she had a grudge against him. All my life I found that my mother had a grudge against various people, which did puzzle me no end. Why, why, this negativity all the time? I never wanted to step into her shoes! She would call me ‘Opppositions-Geist’. I guess, that is what I was. I found myself opposing her in a lot of things.
Just before my mother died, I was able to spend a few weeks with her in Berlin. She became very child-like and very likable in her old age. I just did get along fine with her towards the end. Her funeral became very problematic though and upset me no end. But that is another story.
Here is the little picture that triggered my memory. The other pictures show Alexander and Edmund as students in Leipzig. I guess all these pictures are from 1925.