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!

MY MOTHER

The following I posted once before. So it may sound familiar to you.

Mum doted on me. I was her first born child. I am sure I got a lot of attention during the first years of my life, and not just from Mum, but also from her sister who had no children of her own. Later on I realised that my mother would very much have loved to have a daughter in her image. What a disappointment it must have been for her that I was in a lot of ways the exact opposite of her! I did not like to be a girl. Oh, I wished so much to have been a boy. Girlish things just did not interest me one bit!

On the ninth of June 1938, when I was not quite four yet, I was very excited about the arrival of a baby brother.  A year and two months after the birth of the baby Mum left us children in the care of our live-in home-help. Why did Mum leave? I remember a call from Mum’s sister who was holidaying in Westerland on the Island of Sylt. I imagine Aunty would have said something like this:

‘Please join me, I am so lonely on that island here, I don’t like to have to spend all the time with that pretentious mother-in-law. She watches me like a hawk! Please, please, come, spend some time with me. It would be so good to have you around here! We can have such a lovely time together. And listen, I’m going to pay for your airfare. You can stay in my room with me. Mother-in-law is in the connecting room.’

Mum promised her sister, she’d fly to Westerland the same day. She was quite excited about this. In her excitement she forgot to ring Dad’s office to let him know about her plans. Or did she deliberately not ring him because she sensed that he would have objections to her leaving us children in the care of our home-help! I remember when Dad came home he was furious when he found out that Mum had taken off to join her sister and left us children in the care of our eighteen year old home-help! I believe Mum stayed in Westerland for a whole week. When she returned, she talked excitedly about how she had been spending time with her sister in Westerland.  Come night-time they waited till Auntie’s mother-in-law was fast asleep, pretending they were going to sleep too. However as soon as they thought the old lady was fast asleep, they escaped through their bedroom window and went dancing. I remember seeing pictures of them that were taken on the dance-floor. They had already acquired a nice brown tan from having spent time on the beach. I remember looking at the photos and seeing how very brown their faces looked in sharp contrast to their white dresses. Two young marine officers, smartly dressed in their uniforms, could be seen with them. Later I found out, that one of the officers was Helmut Lorenz who five years later became Aunty’s second husband after her divorce from the first one. And the other officer was no other than Max Tomscick, who after the war became Mum’s friend and whom she would call ‘Bambie’.  If I’m right that this holidaying on the isle of Sylt took place during the first half of August 1939 this would mean that just a few weeks later, on the first of September, Germany was at war and the above mentioned young navy pilots would immediately have been on call for they were officers in the German Navy.

I cannot recall that having to stay without Mum for a week did cause us any hardship. So the young home-help must have coped quite adequately.  When Baby Brother was nearly a year old he had developed an allergy to cow’s milk. He was not allowed to drink milk then. However when he was a bit older, he could drink milk again.

Mum’s third child, also a boy, was born during the war in 1941. We had a twenty year old Polish maid at the time, who soon cared for the new baby as though he was her own. She became his ‘Dada’. She was the main contact person for the first three years of his life. This second brother became a very happy and contented child, whereas the first brother was always highly sensitive and suffering from asthma through most of his childhood. Dad, when he was around, would pay a lot of attention to us children. But I suspect, this very sensitive brother did not always get sufficient attention. However when he had one of his awful asthma attacks Mum would always be very concerned and tirelessly look after him. Later on in life he failed to establish a long lasting relationship with a woman. The photo shows Mum with us three children in 1948.Charlotte mit ihren drei Kindern 1948

Our Polish maid, Maria, with  the three of us, Summer 1944
Our Polish maid, Maria, with the three of us, Summer 1944
This is a pass-port photo of Maria.
This is a pass-port photo of Maria.

Out of last Year’s Files

The following is an edited version of what I wrote about a year ago. I was reflecting on what Mum was like during my early childhood years. I was also reflecting on the way women and men communicate with each other.

 

MY MOTHER

Mum doted on me. I was her first born child. I am sure I got a lot of attention during the first years of my life, and not just from Mum, but also from her sister Ilse, who had no children of her own. Later on I realised that my mother would very much have loved to have a daughter in her image. What a disappointment it must have been for her that I was in a lot of ways the exact opposite of her! Maybe I did not like to be a girl. I think I wished very much to have been a boy. Girlish things just did not interest me one bit!

On the ninth of June 1938, when I was not quite four yet, I was very excited about the arrival of a baby brother. In August 1938 Mum left us children in the care of our live-in home-help. Why did Mum leave? I remember a call from Mum’s sister who was holidaying in Westerland on the Island of Sylt. I imagine Aunty would have said something like this:

‘Please join me, I am so lonely on that island here, I don’t like to have to spend all the time with that pretentious mother-in-law. She watches me like a hawk! Please, please, come, spend some time with me. It would be so good to have you around here! We can have such a lovely time together. And listen, I’m going to pay for your airfare. You can stay in my room with me. Mother-in-law is in the connecting room.’

Mum promised her sister, she’d fly to Westerland the same day. She was quite excited about this. In her excitement she forgot to ring Dad’s office to let him know about her plans. Or did she deliberately not ring him because she sensed that he would have objections to her leaving. I remember when Dad came home he was furious when he found out that Mum had taken off to join her sister and left us children in the care of an eighteen year old home-help! I believe Mum stayed in Westerland for a whole week. When she returned, she talked excitedly about how she had been spending time with her sister in Westerland.  Come night-time they waited till Auntie’s mother-in-law was fast asleep, pretending they were going to sleep too. However as soon as they thought the old lady was fast asleep, they escaped through their bedroom window and went dancing. I remember seeing pictures of them that were taken on the dance-floor. They had already acquired a nice brown tan from having spent time on the beach. I remember looking at the photos and seeing how very brown their faces looked in sharp contrast to their white dresses. Two young marine officers, smartly dressed in their uniforms, could be seen with them. Later I found out, that one of the officers was Helmut Lorenz who six years later became Aunty’s second husband after her divorce from the first one. And the other officer was no other than Max Tomscick, who after the war became Mum’s friend and whom she would call ‘Bambie’.

I cannot recall that having to stay without Mum for a week did cause us any hardship. So the young home-help must have coped quite adequately. The baby was probably given formula. When Baby Brother was nearly a year old he developed a skin condition called ‘Milch-Schorf’. He was not allowed to drink milk then. When he was a bit older, he could drink milk again.

Mum’s third child, also a boy, was born during the war in October 1941. We had a Polish maid at the time, who soon cared for the new baby as though he was her own. She became his ‘Dada’. She was the main contact person for the first three years of his life. This second brother became a very happy and contented child, whereas the first brother was always highly sensitive and suffering from Asthma through most of his childhood. In lots of ways Mum was a tremendously caring mother. I remember her being always very concerned when Bodo had his Asthma attacks. He outgrew his Asthma eventually, but maybe he never had a close relationship with any of the various live in home-helps we used to have. I think he had a close relationship with me, his older sister, for the first few years of his life and later on with Peter Uwe, his younger brother. My father, when he was around, would pay a lot of attention to us children. But I suspect, Bodo, being very sensitive, noticed that he did not get as much attention as I did or later on Peter Uwe, the new baby in the family. Bodo failed to establish a long lasting relationship with a woman later on in life.

 

 

TALKING TO WOMEN AND TALKING TO MEN

Women talking to women is easy, uncomplicated; there is no pretence. The women are just being themselves. Unless of course one woman in the group happens to be very dominant with an abundance of male hormones. When there are several such women in the group, there may be constant fighting for dominant positions. As soon as a male person enters a women’s group, the mood in the group tends to change . . . .

My experience is, that I get on very well with women if the talk centres on womanly things. Of course women tend to discuss also certain male issues from a woman’s point of view. Which is fine with me, and I enjoy participating.

However I ask myself, why is it, that subjects, on which I have formed my own opinions, which are not necessarily mainstream, I rather discuss with a sympathetic man than with a woman? Somehow I get the feeling, it is easier to discuss such a subject with a man, if the man happens to be  interested in such a subject. I often get a better response to my ideas if I open up to a man.

Naturally the number of men who are interested in discussions about philosophical questions is limited. It would be a bliss for me, if I had opportunities to meet such men on a regular basis.