The War of Our Childhood

The War of Our Childhood: Memories of World War II

Wolfgang W. E. Samuel
Copyright Date: 2002
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt2tvjhg
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  • Book Info
    The War of Our Childhood
    Book Description:

    One survivor tells of the fire bombing of Dresden. Another recounts the pervasive fear of marauding Russian and Czech bandits raping and killing. Children recall fathers who were only photographs and mothers who were saviors and heroes.

    These are typical in the stories collected inThe War of Our Childhood: Memories of World War II. For this book Wolfgang W. E. Samuel, a childhood refugee himself after the fall of Nazi Germany, interviewed twenty-seven men and women who as children--by chance and sheer resilience--survived Allied bombs, invading armies, hunger, and chaos.

    "Our eyes carried no hate, only recognition of what was," Samuel writes of his childhood. "Peace was an abstraction. The world we Kinder knew nearly always had the word war appended to it."

    Samuel's heartfelt narratives from these innocent survivors are invariably riveting and often terrifying. Each engrossing story has perilous and tragic moments--school children in Leuna who are sent home during an air raid but are strafed as moving targets; fathers who exist only as distant figures, returning to their families long after the war--or not at all; mothers who are raped and tortured; families who are forced into a seemingly endless relocation that replicates the terrors of war itself. In capturing such experiences from nearly every region of Germany and involving people of every socio-economic class, this is a collection of unique memories, but each account contributes to a cumulative understanding of the war that is more personal than strategic surveys and histories.

    For Samuel and the survivors he interviewed, agony and fright were part of everyday life, just as were play, wondrous experience, and above all perseverance.

    "My focus," Samuel writes, "is on the astounding ability of a generation of German children to emerge from debilitating circumstances as sane and productive human beings."

    Wolfgang W. E. Samuel, a retired colonel in the U. S. Air Force, is the author ofGerman Boy: A Refugee's StoryandI Always Wanted to Fly: America's Cold War Airmen, both published by University Press of Mississippi. He lives in Fairfax, Va.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-137-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-2)
  4. Part I: War from the Sky

    • [Part I: Introduction]
      (pp. 3-5)

      When war began in September 1939 it meant little to us children. Our routines were not interrupted by an event most of us didn’t even know was taking place, much less understand. War, when we thought of it at all, was something for adults, taking place in lands with strange-sounding names. War seemed heroic to many of us; at least that’s how the adults spoke of it when we overheard them over Sunday afternoon Kaffee und Kuchen. We continued to play hide-and-seek, hopscotch, and Indianer, went to school, and in time simply added another game to our repertoire—Krieg.

      By...

    • Ingrid Frohberg {Age 5} Dresden, Saxony
      (pp. 6-16)

      My father, Alexander Frohberg, was born in 1912 in Freiberg, a small university town in the province of Saxony, about thirty kilometers southwest of Dresden. He was the youngest of twelve children, ten boys and two girls. My grandparents owned a large dance and concert hall on Schützenstrasse in Freiberg, called the Tivoli Frohberg. The largest room seated as many as twelve hundred persons. After the war, I remember my father telling me that before the National Socialists came to power this large room in the Tivoli was often used for political rallies. My grandparents insisted that the rally sponsors...

    • Helga Schaefer {Age 7} Kassel, Hesse
      (pp. 17-25)

      We lived for a time in Kassel, before we moved out of town because of the air raids. My grandparents Schaefer cautioned us to move out of the city into the country before it was too late. “The cities,” my grandmother said, “are just too dangerous, and you will be killed if you stay.” Somehow she didn’t think it was going to happen to her, or maybe it didn’t matter to her. We moved to a little village, Kleinropperhausen, near Kassel, where my father had worked as a forest ranger and game warden until he was drafted into the Wehrmacht....

    • Hubertus Thiel {Age 7} Würzburg, Bavaria
      (pp. 26-33)

      What I remember most about the war are the air raids. In the fall of 1944 I entered theVolksschulein Würzburg. In the following months the town was nearly totally destroyed. Our school had a basement, but not an air raid shelter, so when an air raid warning was given, the teachers would send us children home. I was six years old then, in the first grade. Today I view such a procedure of sending young children out into the streets at a time of grave danger as totally irresponsible. But that was 1944, and people looked at things...

    • Wolf Stäglich {Age 9} Leuna, Saxony
      (pp. 34-52)

      Bad Dürrenberg, my hometown, lies between Halle and Leipzig. In those days a light rail, a streetcar-like train, ran between Bad Dürrenberg, Leuna, and Merseburg. In 1941, I was five years old then, my mother, Hildegard, and I were riding the streetcar to Merseburg when at one of the stops an army officer in full uniform boarded our car and sat down across from us. I remember looking at this officer with great curiosity. The hat he wore looked familiar to me. I thought I had seen a man wearing such a hat in a picture, and that man was...

    • Rita and Ingrid Nille {Ages 6 and 10} Arneburg, Saxony-Anhalt
      (pp. 53-66)

      Rita: Arneburg lies about eighty kilometers west of Berlin, on the west bank of the Elbe River. In 1945 Arneburg was a small town of around two thousand people which had experienced a population explosion as a result of an influx ofFlüchtlingefrom the East and evacuees from the larger cities. Its population had swollen to around six thousand. My sister, Ingrid, and I always referred to Arneburg as aDorf. OurBruder-Onkel, Karl-Heinz Krüger—we referred to him as our “brother-uncle” because he was only four years older than my sister, Ingrid—tried to set us straight every...

    • Christa Glowalla {Age 10} Berlin
      (pp. 67-79)

      I was born on November 13, 1935, in Berlin-Neuköln, Erkstrasse 10. Life was a happy time for me, until the bombing raids started when I was about seven. I remember them only in the sense that we children were awakened in the middle of the night. Toward the end of the war we slept with most of our clothes on because it was too difficult to get dressed in the little time we had between theVorwarnungand the arrival of the bombers. I still recall the sound of the sirens, and to this day I don’t like that sound....

    • Siegrid Mayer {Age 6} Kaiserslautern, Rhineland-Palatinate
      (pp. 80-90)

      As a young child of five and six years of age in 1944 and 1945 I saw and heard many things which I didn’t really understand at the time. Later I spoke of them with my family and learned more about what I had seen and heard. I’d like to talk about some of these things first because they represent the environment in which I grew up. The Nazis closed my grandfather’s health clinic and took away his livelihood. He was a doctor ofNaturheilkunde, healing people by using nature’s remedies. To the Nazis, however, he was practicing witchcraft. I...

    • Karl Kremer {Age 8} Köln, Northrhine-Westfalia
      (pp. 91-100)

      I was born in Köln-Ehrenfeld in 1937 into what I believe was a hard-working German family. My father worked at the Ford automobile factory in Köln. I understand that it was a good-paying and steady job, but that his hours were long. My mother made certain he had something to eat and drink before he went to work in the morning, long before we children got up. I have an older brother and sister, Hubert and Mathilde, and a younger brother, Willi. When my father came home in the evening we children were put to bed soon afterAbendessenso...

    • Ina Hesse {Age 6} Westerburg, Rhineland-Palatinate
      (pp. 101-111)

      My father, Alfred, was in aNebelwerferabteilung, a multiple rocket launcher unit, about fifty kilometers outside of Moscow in late 1941. He was killed that year. I was just two years old then and never knew him. My mother, Hertha, and I lived in Leipzig where I was born. My father’s parents owned a delicatessen store in Leipzig. I was an only child. Mutti was twenty-eight years old. After my father’s death she decided to return to Westerburg, her hometown. Her plan was to leave me with her parents, Anna and Ewald Seekatz, and continue her studies at the university...

    • Hans Herzmann {Age 12} Remagen, Rhineland-Palatinate
      (pp. 112-126)

      I was born in 1933 in the little Rhein River town of Remagen to Christine and Paul Herzmann. My family lived on Pintgasse, the narrow cobblestone street that runs from the old market square down to the river. The house belonged to my mother’s parents, the Strangs, who had lived in Remagen for generations. Under the Nazis we had to fill out anAhnentafel, a genealogical table. On my mother’s side we were able to go as far back as the 1700s. The Herzmanns, my father’s family, were newcomers and didn’t settle in Remagen until 1910 when the telegraph came....

  5. Part II: War on the Ground

    • [Part II: Introduction]
      (pp. 127-129)

      The war on the ground began nearly simultaneously for those living in east and west Germany. In late 1944 British and American forces were arrayed along the western border of the Reich, first threatening, then slowly penetrating into the mountainous western regions of the Eifel. In October, Aachen, a city founded by Roman legionnaires, was the first to fall. The western Allies reached the Rhein River by March 1945, and in April the armies of the West and East made first contact at Torgau on the Elbe River.

      In the East advanced elements of the Red Army were within a...

    • Annelies Sorofka {Age 12} Landau, Lower Silesia (Poland)
      (pp. 130-147)

      Annelies Sorofka lived within a few miles of Breslau, in a village just off the Autobahn leading from Breslau to Berlin. At night she could hear German bombers passing overhead; they dropped relief supplies to the Breslau garrison and bombed Soviet positions. She heard Russian planes going in the opposite direction trying to locate and bomb the German airfields. (“After a while I could tell apart the Russian from the German planes by the sound of their engines,” she said.) Annelies was reluctant to give the interview, to revisit such a painful period of her life. As she spoke her...

    • Bernd Heinrich {Age 5} Gut Borowki, Wartheland (Poland)
      (pp. 148-160)

      I was born in 1940 on a large country estate by the name of Gut Borowki, pronounced Borofkee, about 120 miles due south of Danzig. The estate had been in my family for generations. Prior to the war that area of West Prussia had been Polish; and earlier yet, it was part of the German Reich under the kaiser. Today, it is Polish again. My mother, Hildegard, was of Polish heritage, while my father’s heritage was German. During the war they kept my mother’s ancestry quiet, because it didn’t politically fit into the time. In late 1944 when the Red...

    • Karl Brach {Age 11} Domnau, East Prussia (Poland)
      (pp. 161-176)

      I recall the end of the war quite vividly—first fleeing from East Prussia to Bromberg, then from Bromberg to Frankfurt-an-der-Oder, and finally to Jüterbog, south of Berlin. My father, Fritz, was in the Luftwaffe and since 1942 was commander of an aerial munitions depot in Domnau, East Prussia, a small town just south of Königsberg. In the First World War he was an ordnance officer in the kaiser’s army. In 1936 he received a commission in the Luftwaffe as weapons and ground equipment officer, based on his World War I experience.

      Until 1943 we lived in our apartment in...

    • Irmgard Broweleit {Age 7} Königsberg, East Prussia (Russia)
      (pp. 177-193)

      I was born in Königsberg on April 23, 1938, to Gertrud and August Broweleit. I have a brother, Heinz; he was born in 1935. I tried to talk him into coming on this interview, but he claimed he didn’t remember much. Maybe he doesn’t want to remember. My father was by trade an upholsterer. He served in the Luftwaffe. I recall he came home on military leave one time in 1942. I didn’t see him again until he returned from a Russian prisoner-of-war camp in 1948. To me my father was a picture until I was ten years old.

      My...

    • Arnold Bieber {Age 10} Ortelsburg, East Prussia (Poland)
      (pp. 194-205)

      I was born on August 28, 1935, in a little village in southern East Prussia named Farienen, not far from Ortelsburg. I was the oldest of three boys. My two brothers died in their infancies. My father, Otto, was a cartwright with his own business repairing broken farm wagons for local farmers. He was drafted into the Wehrmacht in 1939 and served in the Polish and French campaigns. After that he was released as a result of a petition signed by the local farmers who had no one to repair their farm implements.

      There were few toys available in those...

    • Goetz Oertel {Age 10} Stuhm, East Prussia (Poland)
      (pp. 206-222)

      I was born on August 24, 1934, in the small town of Stuhm, south of Marienburg, in East Prussia. My father, Egon, was the manager of the localRaifeisengenossenschaft, a large flour mill and agricultural coop, with an output of ten tons of grain products per day. My younger sister, Barbara, was born in 1938, and our brother, Burkhard, came along in 1940. We lived with our father and mother in a large, comfortable house on the site of the flour mill, surrounded by storage buildings, barns, and garages. We had a large vegetable garden, and later on in the...

    • Fred Rother {Age 12} Weisstein, Upper Silesia (Poland)
      (pp. 223-237)

      February 7, 1933, I am told, was a dreary, snowy day in the coalmining town of Weisstein, nestled snugly up against the snow-covered forest, theHochwald, at the foot of theRiesengebirge. My parents named me Fritz Friedemann, because my father liked playing the music of Wilhelm Friedemann Bach on his violin—the oldest son of the famous Johann Sebastian Bach. Since my middle name was underlined on my birth certificate, that was clearly the name my parents wanted me to go by. But everyone called me Fritz.

      Weisstein was a modest town sixty kilometers south-southwest of Breslau, the provincial...

    • Dieter Hahn {Age 7} Posen, Wartheland (Poland)
      (pp. 238-249)

      I was born on the fourth of July, 1938. I have two brothers. Werner is two years older than I, and Jürgen is two years younger. My father, Kurt, worked in the technical department of theReichsbahn, and my mother, Else, was aHausfrau. My father’s last assignment with theReichsbahntransferred him to Posen, where we lived when he was drafted into the Wehrmacht. Eventually he was captured on the Russian front and remained a prisoner of war until 1948.

      War came to my family and to Posen in 1944. I was six years old. Against the dire threats...

    • Arnim Krüger {Age 11} Potsdam, Brandenburg
      (pp. 250-262)

      I was born in November 1934 in Potsdam, a town straddling the Havel River to the southwest of Berlin, the second oldest of four boys. My older brother, Günter, was killed in the battle for Berlin at the age of seventeen. As a young man my father had worked for the city of Berlin as a civil servant, aBeamter. To be aBeamterwas held in high esteem because it bestowed job tenure for life. At some point he joined theReichswehrand in 1933 became a member of the newly formed Wehrmacht. I remember him as a soldier...

    • Helgard Seifert {Age 10} Berlin
      (pp. 263-277)

      I was born in Berlin in 1935. My sister, Evelyn, arrived two years later, in 1937. We called her Evy. The registrar of births told my mother that Evelyn was an English name. “Yes, indeed it is,” she replied. The registrar, still trying to get her to change her mind, said, “We would prefer a German name of course.”

      “Of course you would” was my mother’s curt reply, then she turned away from him and walked out. My own name, Helgard, is Swedish, which was acceptable to the Nazis.

      My father, Kurt, was a stage and screen actor, as well...

    • Erich Abshoff {Age 9} Wuppertal, Northrhine-Westfalia
      (pp. 278-284)

      I was born in 1936 in Wuppertal, not far from the Bonn area where I now live. Soon after I entered school in 1942 at age six we lost our house in a bombing raid. It was the first big raid against Wuppertal. The old town was totally destroyed. My parents owned an old half-timbered house which burned like a candle. It sat right next to the Wupper River. I recall someone throwing me bodily up the stairs from our cellar, and whoever caught me put me down outside on the river bank. Someone put wet blankets over us children...

    • Johann Koppe {Age 9} Wollup, Brandenburg
      (pp. 285-298)

      I was born in 1936 in Frankfurt-an-der-Oder, which lies about thirty miles south of Wollup. I was the oldest of five children. In January 1945 I was eight, my youngest brother, Dieter, was not yet two years old, my brother Eberhard was seven, and my sisters, Ingrid and Heide-Marie, were five and three years old respectively. All five of us came into this world in the Frankfurt military hospital. This curiosity of our birthplace—most children then were delivered at home by a midwife—can be explained by the fact that my grandfather, my mother’s father, was a medical doctor...

  6. Part III: Other Dimensions of War

    • [Part III: Introduction]
      (pp. 299-301)

      The war from the sky in the west of Germany and the war on the ground in the east generally defined the experiences of German children as the conflict came to an end. The situation of German children living outside the boundaries of the Third Reich, such as in the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia, was somewhat different. German families had lived, thrived, and worked in the Sudetenland for generations. Neither war from the sky nor war on the ground was extensive in this part of Europe. The experiences of these children, therefore, are principally defined by their postwar world and by...

    • Heinz Loquai {Age 7} Komotau, Czech Republic
      (pp. 302-313)

      Komotau lies about eighty kilometers northwest of Prague, fifty kilometers northeast of Karlsbad, at the foot of the Erzgebirge. My family was German as was everyone else living in Komotau and in the surrounding villages. Komotau had about twenty thousand inhabitants, most of them employed in the local factories producing military goods. Very early in the war my father, Josef, was drafted into the Wehrmacht, but his employer soon asked for his return, which was granted by the authorities. He worked as a skilled machine tool operator in an iron and steel processing factory of about two thousand workers. There...

    • Hans-Peter Haupt {Age 5} Prague, Czech Republic
      (pp. 314-328)

      My father, Johannes, was born on April 20, 1912, in Ostrau, a small town southeast of Leipzig. My mother, Frieda—everyone called her Friedel—was born three years later, on February 21, 1915, in Alt-Rohlau, a small community near Karlsbad in the Sudetenland. At age five my mother lost her own mother to blood poisoning during the delivery of her second child. The child also died. Friedel then lived with her aunt Frieda and her uncle Rudolph in Karlsbad whom she de facto adopted as her parents. As a result of my mother’s close relationship with her aunt and uncle...

    • Etta Krecker {Age 5} Eilenburg, Saxony-Anhalt
      (pp. 329-334)

      I was an only child, born in 1940 in Eilenburg on the Mulde River. My father, Erwin, was drafted into the Wehrmacht in 1941, and then the war swallowed him up. For much of my early life he was the man in a picture my mother kept by her bedside. In 1945, at war’s end, I still lived in Eilenburg, thirty kilometers southwest of Torgau, where American and Russian troops first met on April 25, 1945. My mother, Edith, and I, and my mother’s parents who had joined us from East Prussia, found ourselves hiding in a factory on the...

    • Regina Demetrio {Age 3} Zwickau, Saxony
      (pp. 335-342)

      I was born in 1942 when my mother was twenty-one years old. For twelve years, until January 1954, I lived in a suburb of Zwickau, Keimsdorf, in the Deutsche Demokratische Republik, the DDR. In Keimsdorf my grandparents at one time owned several houses and businesses. Most of their properties were confiscated by the state after the war. I didn’t know my father. He was a prisoner of war of the French. I met my father, Helmut, for the first time in September 1953. My mother and I were given permission to visit my father in Loos les Lille where he...

  7. Epilogue
    (pp. 343-348)

    The twenty-seven women and men who tell their stories of life in Germany at the end of World War II were childhood witnesses to chaos, deprivation, and sorrow. Each was also a youthful observer of extraordinary human resilience, inventiveness, and mental toughness. So, what of those five-, eight-, and ten-year-olds who came from Dresden, Remagen, and Köln? From Landau, Königsberg, and Berlin? Prague and Zwickau? Most became the builders of the new Germany. Some found a new life in the United States. All grew up to be productive and thoughtful citizens, many of them reaching senior positions in business, academe,...

  8. Explanation of Terms
    (pp. 349-352)
  9. Index
    (pp. 353-355)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 356-356)