My Education in 1944

The village school in Lichtenow had only one teacher. That was Herr Grosskreuz. His wife, Frau Grosskreuz, came to the school on Wednesday afternoons to teach the girls needlework. Under her guidance I learned to knit socks with five needles. I also learned how to mend socks. Mending socks was called ‘stopfen’. I was taught, how to fill in a hole with a beautiful woven pattern. I probably could still do this kind of work today, only these days one hardly ever finds any holes in socks: It shows how the quality of socks changed over the years!

Every day, including Saturdays, school finished at lunch-time. The only afternoon session for girls was Wednesdays. I did not mind having to go back to school after lunch on that day. I often arrived early in Lichtenow for the afternoon class, stopping at the teacher’s house on the way, where I was always welcomed. I loved to play with daughters Christa and Gerlinde. Christa was the same age as I and had skipped year three together with me. Gerlinde was two years younger. There was another three year old daughter, who was called ‘Püppi’. Püppi and baby-son Hartmut were very sweet. I enjoyed very much visiting the teachers’ family.

The Grosskreuz-family lived in a modern one family home, which stood on a large block of land away from the village. In the village itself were ancient, small farmhouses with huge sloping straw-roofs. People said, the father of Frau Grosskreuz, who was the mayor in a neighbouring small town, had seen to it that the Grosskreuz family could live in style in a modern home.

Why was Herr Grosskreuz not called up to join the army? It seemed to me that he was probably past forty. And besides, he had a slightly crooked leg. It was good, that we were able to have a man-teacher in Lichtenow, so that he could look after all the boys and girls, aged from six to fourteen, which meant that eight different school-years were given lessons in the one class-room!

Later on when I attended school in Herzfelde, I found out that the whole school was run by women. Presumably all male teachers had been called up to fight in the war, the same as had been the case in my school in Berlin.

Aunty Ilse often invited me to sit with her in her cosy living-room, which had extremely comfortable seats upholstered in an expensive velvety red material. Aunty kept an eye on my attempts at knitting and darning of socks. This is how I received a great deal of practice and encouragement. (When I was still very young, Aunty always praised me for doing little pieces of cross-stitch embroidering for her birthday. I felt very proud then that I could give her something I had made.)

When Aunty Ilse started doing office work for Werner M, she sometimes let me help with checking additions of huge columns of numbers. From then on I always found additions easy to do. Aunty must have thought that I was good at checking additions because she asked me again and again to do it with her. I willingly obliged. I loved to do things together with her for I felt very peaceful in her presence.

Mum and Grandma (Omi) and later on also Uncle Peter pointed out that Ilse was a bit of a scatter brain. Once Uncle Peter remarked, that he did not know, how his wife ever was able to get a driver’s license. To me Aunty Ilse seemed rather calm as compared to my nervous and highly strung mother. Mum’s nervousness constantly upset me, even though I usually tried not to show it. As far as I know, I always tried very hard, not to lose control of myself —

Mum had a large roll of hair across her forehead and two more rolls parallel behind it on top of her head. She made me wear one huge roll of hair right on top of my head, which would constantly slip unto my forehead and annoyed me a great deal. One of the first verses, when I started learning English, was:

‘There was a little girl,

who had a little curl,

right in the middle of her forehead.

When it was good,

she was very, very good.

But when it was bad,

she was horrid.’

I imagined, I was very much like this girl!

On my tenth birthday I was finally allowed to discard the nasty roll. It made me feel really grown- up. Best of all was, that I never again had to wear this terrible roll!

Here I am with Eva T in the Zoo Gardens of Berlin in 1942
Here I am with Eva T in the Zoo Gardens of Berlin in 1942
21st September 1944, my guests on my tenth birthday.
21st September 1944, my guests on my tenth birthday.

I, the birthday girl, at the front, the following three girls are my school-friends from Herzfelde, the next girl is Christa Grosskreuz, then follow Eva T and Gerlinde Grosskreuz, and last but not least my six year old brother Bodo.

Eva had a ‘Poesy-Album’. I thought it was a great idea to get family and friends to write a little verse in such a book and possibly add a photo as well. Mrs T found out that I would very much like to have a ‘Poesy-Album’. She said: ‘I believe I still have a spare album amongst my things in Berlin. I’ll ask my mother to look for it. When she finds it, I’ll give it to you.’

Eventually I was given Mrs T’s album. I regarded it as a very special gift. After sixty-five years it is still in my possession. Looking through it, I find that my father wrote something in it for me on the 16th of April 1944. This shows me that he must have been with us on leave at the time. What he wrote, makes a lot of sense. In his writing he points out that in the long run true luck comes only to the efficient person. Therefore he urges me, to be diligent and ambitious. However I should at all times hang unto my peace of mind!

I look at that page which he seems to have written the way it came into his head. One word is crossed out, another word misses several letters. I wonder, whether he made mistakes because it is a first draft or whether he was upset about something when he wrote it . . . .

I like the passport-photo that he stuck next to his writing. This photo was probably taken before he joined the army, well before he turned forty. Oh, my father was still very healthy and good looking then!

6 thoughts on “My Education in 1944

  1. I’ve seen lots of photos of little German girls with their hair n that roll and often wondered how their mothers made it stick! If we had short hair we had ribbons to hold it back. Mine were always falling out and having to be retied, so by bedtime they were very grubby and frayed. You paint a delightful picture, Uta.

  2. We used bobby pins (grits) to make the roll stick. “Haarnadeln” in German. They used to dislodge themselves in my very soft, thin hair. I think I never wore any ribbons.

    At age eleven I did get my first perm. My hair had grown a bit longer by then.

    Thanks for commenting, Cat! 🙂

  3. What a nice story of family and friendship. And I must say that I thought the little roll was cute! It’s such a distinctive look, but I know and understand how it is when we want to be all grown up!

    1. It’s amazing how grown up I felt at age 10! Probably I always felt a bit more grown up than my age was. In some respects I was a pretty ignorant little girl. I didn’t know about things that a much younger kid would know about these days. Thanks, Debra, for commenting. 🙂

  4. A truly great historical story Auntyuta, I enjoyed your story on your childhood school days and the lovely description of the area you lived in.
    Thoroughly enjoyed that journey into your past.

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