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Return to Dresden

Return to Dresden

Copyright Date: 2004
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    Return to Dresden
    Book Description:

    Why did the German people tolerate the Nazi madness? Maria Ritter's life is haunted by the ever-painful, never-answerable "German Question." Who knew? What was known?

    Confronting the profound silence in which most postwar Germans buried pain and shame, she attempts in this memoir to give an answer for herself and for her generation. Sixty years after the defeat of Nazi Germany, she reflects on the nation's oppressive burden and the persecution of the contemporary consciousness.

    "'We received what we deserved,' my grandfather said after the war, and I believed him. His stare out the window spoke of bitterness and solemn resignation in the face of God's punishment and pity for us all."

    In probing the dark shadows of wartime, she reconstructs the voice of her childhood. With a determined search for remnants of her past during a visit to her homeland, Ritter retrieves memories and emotions from places, personal stories, and letters. As she interweaves them with events in her family's struggle to survive the war and its aftermath, she creates a tragic tapestry.

    She recalls the weary odyssey from Poland to Leipzig with refugees in 1943 and remembers being sheltered there beside her grandfather. She returns to Dresden to rekindle memories of the firebombing in 1945. She revisits the remote Saxony countryside where she and her mother crossed the border from East to West Germany in flight from the Communists in 1949. She relives the pain of learning that her father "will never return from the war." On a Memorial Day many years later, Ritter's longstanding, unresolved grief overflows as she writes a posthumous letter to him. She suffers in the heartbreaking memory of her valiant mother, who overcame loss and grief along the road to freedom and a new home.

    Ritter's memoir sweeps through German history of the 1930s and '40s as she meditates on how she and her people figure in the tragic story of defeat and debacle. In her recollections, in listening to the voices of her kin, and in speaking out about the past, she finds the humane way to healing and reconciliation.

    Maria Ritter is a clinical psychologist in San Diego, California.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-640-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. INTRODUCTION A Small Voice
    (pp. xv-xxii)

    “We certainly received what we deserved,” my grandfather said after the war, and I believed him. The look on his face as he stared out the window spoke of bitterness and solemn resignation in the face of God’s punishment and pity for us all.

    When the fighting in Germany finally stopped in May of 1945, I did not know that the war would never be over for many of us survivors. We were fortunate to be alive, but we were burdened with the immense trauma of loss. Little did I understand that living with physical and emotional scars is costly....

  5. PROLOGUE The Mitzvah
    (pp. xxiii-2)

    “Here is your mitzvah,” she said, bending down to her purse while digging out a wrinkled dollar bill. Her therapy session over, the young Jewish woman was slowly getting up from her comfortable chair in my office.

    “It’s abubba meintze, you know, an old wives’ tale.” A smile brushed over her face; she had not noticed that I had no idea what she was talking about. “I’ll send you on a mission with this dollar!” By now she had straightened the wrinkles in the bill and put it in my hand. When she became aware of my puzzled look...

  6. CHAPTER ONE On the Road Home
    (pp. 3-21)

    The traffic was flowing smoothly on the autobahn that Sunday morning in August of 1998, as we left Munich, Germany, heading north. The late summer heat had scorched the harvested fields, which were covered with cropped stalks on a sandy, yellow soil. I was caught by the soft countryside, the villages crowded along the roads and nestled into the hills and woods. The ornamented church steeples pointed toward the hazy sky. Deep ringing bells still announced the faithful living nearby and honored the dead buried in their churchyards.

    “It’s good to travel on a Sunday morning,” my brother Klaus commented...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Through the Night (1949)
    (pp. 22-49)

    The summer of 1949 passed quietly. We lived with my grandfather, Paul Schnädelbach, our Opa, in Leipzig, East Germany, and shared his apartment on Lösniger Strasse 47, on the second floor. My three older brothers, my mother, and I had moved there in 1945, and she said it was now our home, too. I was tall enough to look out of the apartment window in the back toward a courtyard with clotheslines, small patches of garden, green hedges, and balconies loaded with flower pots and chairs. The chatter and screams of children echoed from a small playground. The windows in...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Out of the Deep (1945)
    (pp. 50-95)

    I have two silver spoons lying on a shelf, back in San Diego, next to all the special family mementos: the two Meissen china vases, the fluted flower plates, and the family Bible. The tablespoons, once shiny and polished, are now burned black and deeply scorched. But the thin, delicate design on the handle is beautifully preserved. A faint, filigreed monogram reveals aWentwined with anL. The black spoons were found by my mother in the rubble of the city of Dresden, on Holbeinstrasse 28, a few days after the Allied forces destroyed the city during the nights...

  9. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  10. CHAPTER FOUR The Open Window
    (pp. 96-116)

    The three of us headed toward the Polish border past Bautzen and the town of Liegnitz. The autobahn became bumpier, the hot summer air mixed with the exhaust of heavy trucks passing by. We began to see villages in the far distance. The sun had washed their roofs and steeples with a gray, misty cover. Wide, open fields along the road seemed unattended except for a group of storks parading along the watery ditches.

    “I have not seen storks since the time we lived in Bergzabern. Their red legs and knobby knees are so funny. They look like down comforters...

  11. CHAPTER FIVE The Day the Man Came (1947)
    (pp. 117-139)

    They said he would come the next day. We had waited for some news about my father, whose last postcard, written in Yugoslavia, had arrived two years ago in 1945, and was addressed to Klaus. After that there was no more mail, no letters and no official announcement concerning his whereabouts. Finally, tomorrow, we would hear where my father had been for the last few years and when he would come home.

    A flash of excitement appeared on my mother’s face; her warm smile spoke of sudden hope, although her eyes were burdened by years of waiting and sadness.


  12. CHAPTER SIX Blessed Is the Man
    (pp. 140-161)

    San Diego, California

    Dearest Vati,

    I hardly know you … You hardly knew me …

    I am sitting in the middle of thousands of white gravestones at the Rosecrans Military Cemetery in San Diego, California. The Pacific Ocean surrounds this peninsula with the bluest of water. The graves have been decorated for this special day with flowers and a sea of American flags. It is Memorial Day, the day of commemoration of veterans throughout the years, celebrated in remembrance of the fallen men and women who fought in various wars. Looking down the walkway, I see people preparing for a...

  13. CHAPTER SEVEN A Piece of Home (1949)
    (pp. 162-201)

    The train finally came to a screeching halt at the station. Through the white steam drifting by the window I tried to get a first glimpse of our new hometown. Mother had said that the train would stop at the end of the tracks, in a small town. Once we were there, she would take the job of the director of a children
’s home, and we would have our own house to move into. With my nose glued to the thick and dusty window, I could make out the red brick train station. A huge sign spelled in large white...

  14. CHAPTER EIGHT Over the Ashes
    (pp. 202-208)

    Not much ever changes in small towns. Not even new buildings can replace internal pictures and memories. I noticed that the old train station in Bad Bergzabern had been newly renovated. The old, reddish brick building had been restored and cleaned up. The diesel engine train was running again. People could travel again to the next train station in Winden, to catch a connection to a larger city. I had done so myself for a number of years when I lived here.

    “Do you want to stop at the cemetery first?” Winfried asked as we drove past the old gas...

  15. EPILOGUE The Mitzvah
    (pp. 209-210)

    When we returned home at the end of the summer, our suitcases spilled over with letters and pictures and our minds with memories and vivid images of places and people. It would take months, maybe years, to sort them all out and write about them. I thought about the Madonnas in Dresden, the terrors, the fires, and the friendly face of Frau Freitag in Damsdorf. The remnants of our history remained shredded and gray, harsh and edgy, but clear enough so that they could be woven into a new tapestry for our children, who could come to know and find...