When I was a child, I could not get enough of rooting through my Grandma’s drawers. They were like treasure chests to me! I would try on her pearl necklaces, look at old photographs and touch the soft scarfs and hats. There was one drawer though that contained a lot of letters – letters that my Granddad had written while he was a prisoner of war in the US and England. She never read them to me and she never told me what they contained – but she always asked me to keep and read those letters when she would be dead. My Grandma died in 2009 at the age of 88 and my Dad made sure I got the letters.
When I first wanted to read them, it came as a bit of a shock that my Grandma had written hers in Sütterlin script which is very hard for me to read, especially when it is handwriting. But I was eager to read those letters, so I sat down and taught myself to read Sütterlin. All the letters are from 1946 and 1947 – so they are nearly 70 years old now! It is weird and exciting to gently unfold them and see their handwriting – some are a bit faded but most of them are really well-preserved. It was then when I decided that I want to translate and digitalise those letters. It is a lot of work, but I am learning so much about my roots, the life back then and about these two people who are my Grandparents. Granddad died when I was only four years old, so I only have vague memories of him. I remember I liked him a lot. My Grandmother was always an old woman to me and I love getting to know her better through the letters.
Today I decided that I am going to open up a new category here called “Advice from the past”. I think I can learn from their experience. They never lost their hope for them to be reunited, they never lost their love. And reading the letters somehow puts my own worries into perspective. I am planning to translate some letters to post them here or maybe just share my thoughts. What I clearly do not want is to discuss or judge the fact that my Granddad had to be a soldier – this will not be a political category! It is just about those two people who are part of me.
In this post, I will just share with you what I know of their love story and some background information.
My Dad’s father was born in 1919, his mother in 1921. I think they first met when Grandma was 12 – I remember her telling me how they were ice-skating and Granddad made her slip only to catch her before she hit the ground. That’s how proper flirting works 🙂 As far as I know, he was the only big love of her life. Granddad was a draughtsman and Grandma worked as a salesclerk. They had dreams and just wanted to spend the rest of their lives together. They lived in the Ruhr area, which was (and still is to a certain extend) the industrial part of Germany. There were a lot of coal mines and steel factory – an economically highly relevant area. And then the Third Reich started to build and so the Ruhr area became essential for Germany’s war strategies.
My grandparents have always been social democrats, but as it happened to so many men in Germany, my Granddad had no choice but to go with the troops and leave home. Luckily he never had to fight at the front – they needed his technical knowledge… They got married in 1941, Granddad had gotten a few days leave for his wedding. On the evening before the wedding, a huge air raid destroyed big parts of the city, and their house was also severely damaged. Grandma always told me how lucky she was not only to still be alive, but also that her wedding dress had not been destroyed! Since everything around was destroyed, they got married in their kitchen – my Granddad standing on one side of the bomb hole, Grandma on the other side. And then he had to leave his wife again and go back to the troops.
Granddad was captured by the English in Belgium and got shipped to England first where he became a prisoner of war. Grandma always told me how lucky they had been that he had been found by the allies and not by the Russians. Then, for some reason I do not know, he got transfered to the US. In the US they were fed properly and treated rather well for POW. One day, they were put on a boat and thought that they were going home – only to land in England again and live in camps there. Granddad was in a camp in Cambridgeshire where he mainly had to help with the harvest. He was released in 1947.
Two years later they had their son, my Dad. I do not know what it was like for them in Post-war-Germany, but my Grandma was just happy that she now had her family. Her beloved husband died in 1981 and until she followed him 28 years later, she always cried when she visited his grave. There was a photo of Granddad on her table and she always made sure to have fresh flowers for him there. She often talked about him and missed him every day.
After her passing, I also got the golden amulet that she always wore. You can open it and there are two pictures inside – one of Granddad and one of Grandma. I also got her mother’s wedding ring. I rarely wear those items but after starting to read the letters, I do put them on sometimes when I feel low. They remind me of how strong my grandparents were and how strong love can be – it can save lives.
I am really looking forward to filling this blog category.
In loving memory of my grandparents Hilde and Heinz.
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