This may be a touchy subject for many to read, but some of the things I’m about to tell you is real and a part of life many of us don’t want to hear.
Although there are many articles published about World War II in Germany, not too many touch on the personal aspect of what it was like growing up as a child during the war. For those of you that are interested, this article may be for you.
My parents were raised in Germany during World War II. When the war first started, my mother was only three and my father was eight. My parents left Germany as soon as they could after the war to start a better life in the States.
My mother, who is now 70 years old doesn’t talk much about the war as it brings tears to her eyes. It’s a part of her life I think she would like to forget all together.
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My mother was one of five children and initially lived on the Western edge of Poland. When Germany and Russia invaded Poland they were forced to move taking only the few possessions they could carry on their backs. Her father who was at that time in the military was unfortunately killed in the war. She never got the opportunity to know who her father was. Her mother was left alone with five children to feed and no home of their own.
They moved from home to home, shelter to shelter, whoever would take them in. There was no money so my grandmother sewed clothing to sell to others in need. This little bit of money she earned was sometimes enough to get food for the family. Other times it was not and they were lucky enough to find other people that were willing to help them out with a meal.
Their food consisted of mostly cabbage and bread. Sometimes my grandmother would stand in line for a whole day for just one loaf of bread only to find out they were all gone when it was her turn to get some.
During this time, many families would take their children out of school at a young age – 12 years old for many so that they could go work and help the family survive. My grandmother despite the temptation would not allow this. Having her children get an education was too important to her, so as her children slept she sewed and sewed to make what little money she could. For the children that did leave school to work, the most popular places to work at were bakeries and any place that made food. This way at least you could bring some leftover food home to your family at the end of the day.
As they were continually pushed out of areas and constantly on the move, they lived in many shared rooms with other homeless families. It was always a constant search to find a family that would take you in. The rooms were usually divided by sheets and about the half the size of a garage. They slept on the floor many times on hay to cushion themselves from the hard floors. If they were fortunate enough, they got potato sacks to use as blankets and often had to share them. Other times they would find shelters which would be one big room filled with other families. It was never a happy place – you were surrounded by sadness from the people that lost loved ones. You heard constant crying and had to keep a close eye on your personal belongings so that they wouldn’t be stolen. There were no toys to play with so the children learned to use their imagination to keep themselves occupied.
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The children played outside very close to home in the streets among the ruins. Seeing dead horses and people in the streets was just accepted. They grew used to the sound of the sirens going off and running for shelter where they would hide until it was over. Afterwards, it was off to playing again outside.
I remember my mother telling me how on one instance they were forced to evacuate quickly because of bombers coming in. Everybody flooded to the streets with their families carrying what they could of their belongings on their backs. Some people had horses and other carriages, but the majority of them just had suitcases and bags of their most prized belongings as you never had enough time to get everything together. Surviving was the only important thing. As they joined the crowds on the streets to move out suddenly the bombers came and started bombing the streets. The children were screaming and the parents would run for shelter dragging their children behind them. I don’t want to get too graphic here, but imagine being a small child of 5 to 7 years old watching people hit by bombs right before your very eyes or watching another child you played with that day suddenly die.
The war was a terrible time for everyone including the German civilians. You were forced to obey Hitler’s rules whether you liked it or not. Even after it was announced the war was over, on one occasion my father watched a woman die before his eyes by the hands of a soldier because she happened to say “Thank god” and made a bad comment about Hitler. Her throat was slit instantly. She was then strung up by a rope as an example so everyone could see what happens when you say something bad about Hitler.
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It’s sad, I know. But this is the reality of what it was like for many German civilians during World War II. Its no wonder so many of them wanted to come to America.