I thought more of my grandma last night than I did for years! Incredibly, she had nine children, but only five lived. Three girls, two boys, one of them my dad. It was a time when people wanted more children, it was their ‘insurance’ for their old age. It didn’t always work that way. I remember her saying bitterly, “Gila, one mother can raise and care for nine children, but nine children can not care for one old mother.” Sad, isn’t it? Well, I have my own experience. Even with fewer than nine that I cared for… I’m just re-reading my immigration tale, “Flight Into the Unknown.” Now, with a year since the publication, I read it with new eyes, see it from more distance… my goodness, how could she – how did she – wasn’t she old enough to think this through? As her dear old dad said? Quite a read! I understand the man who said to me over a year ago: “I’m not a reader. I always skip pages. Your book? I read every word…”
Interview With WWII Survivor Author Giselle Roeder
The Canadian author, Genevieve Montcombroux, a French-born and raised girl, has spent 32 years living in the northern bush, six years even in the Arctic, she knows about survival firsthand. But she did not write about that, instead, she takes us on the dangerous, romantic journey of two people, one white, one native, lost in the wilderness, and in an entertaining, sometimes breathtaking way she enlightens and educates us about “The Land of the Caribou.” I learned a lot, and I mean A LOT about the traditional way of life and must say, I am amazed that it was not a hard but very interesting lesson.
I recommend this book to all who are truly interested in knowing more about the life history of our native people we know nothing about. The little we know is superfluous.
Well, I finished chapter 26 for my final book of the trilogy “The Nine Lives of Gila” yesterday. Boy-oh-boy! Did I ever enjoy writing about the last few months of 1999 once I was into it, the awesome New Year’s party at the prestigious Terminal City Club in Vancouver, dancing into the Centennial Year 2000! I never expected living long enough to see the change from putting the year 19… on my cheques and learning to write ‘2000.’ Next, on to writing about all the happenings in the world and how they affected Gila during what felt like a new age. I am at the point to enter my ninth life – and I look forward to ending the book. Not my life, hahaha!
Giselle’s Memoir developed into a trilogy. Nanaimo Magazine stated, “Giselle had one hell of a life.” It did not fit into an ordinary book or become one with a thousand pages. The series title could be “The Nine Lives of Gila.”
1: “We Don’t Talk About That” is the story of surviving WWII and its aftermath. Starting after WWI, it outlines the changes in many European countries’ social makeup. Unemployment and staggering inflation when a loaf of bread cost billions and two beers a mere one-hundred billion led to the rise of Adolf Hitler. He promised work and bread and kept his promises. The following years brought an upswing in life but also carried Germany into WWII. The invasion of eastern Germany by the Russian army brought horror with unspeakable atrocities to ordinary people. Most survivors’ attitude is we don’t talk about that.
Gila’s life turned tragic when the fighting approached her neighbourhood with rape, murder and hunger. The Russians took her father and every 16 to 60-year-old able person to Siberia. The rest of the population, including Gila’s mother and her siblings, were evicted. They joined the trek of thousands ‘on the road to nowhere.’ Gila witnessed gruesome acts of violence. She barely survived diphtheria. Later, recovering from typhoid fever, she took responsibility for her three siblings while her mother worked. Despite her interrupted schooling through circumstances beyond her control, Gila’s determination empowered her to become a Physical Education teacher. She lived the first ten years of her life under the Nazis and her teenage years under communist rule. Germany’s division into East and West with its political ramifications caused her to escape to West Germany. Gila’s story is one of courage, pain, love, and longing for liberation.
# 2: “Flight Into The Unknown” deals with Gila’s life in the West. She saw an ad placed by a former German living in Canada. He was looking for a new mommy for his four-year-old daughter. Intrigued, she answered. An envelope with ‘Beautiful British Columbia’ magazines, a letter, and photographs arrived. A lawyer, the Canadian man’s father, called: “My son is not a fly-by-night,” inviting her to visit. Three months later, she got engaged by telephone. With Gila on holiday, the future in-laws organized the wedding without asking her.
Seven months after she had answered the ad, she immigrated to Vancouver, Canada. She soon realized it was the biggest mistake of her life. Her husband used her money to pay his debts. Gila had been blinded by his well-to-do parents, thinking, ‘the apple does not fall far from the tree.’ After a move to Winnipeg, Gila welcomed a second stepdaughter and gave birth to a son. Trials and tribulations were constant companions. After twenty years of marriage, raising the kids, and finally succeeding in her own business, the husband had an affair leading to a nasty divorce. Gila lost everything and moved back to Vancouver
# 3: “Set Sail for Life After 50” is about new beginnings. Gila starts another business. Radio and television interviews give it a boost. A love affair keeps her happy with travels to attend and speak at health conventions across Canada, the USA, and even Australia. After years of struggling with emotional problems and trying counselling, she accepts her fate. Serious health problems cause her to sell her business. To find a cure, Gila flies to Germany, invited by the Kneipp Association. She returns energized, and her customers want to experience the same treatments. A new business is born: “Health Travel.” She takes nearly 200 Canadians to the health resort over the next few years. Several eligible men cross her path. At 70, she meets a Vancouver Island man; they decide to buy a house together and enjoy the companionship for the rest of their lives.
Hard to believe a frustrating and, for many people, the most challenging 2020 comes to an end. At the beginning of the lockdown in spring, I experienced renewed energy for having more time and finished writing the sequel to “We Don’t Talk About That.” The new book, “Flight Into the Unknown,” dealing with my immigration to Canada, was published in May. Many people have written emails with their immigration stories. One man mentioned, “I am not a reader, never finished a book without skipping pages. Yours? I read every single word. I can hardly wait for your finale in your trilogy.” But instead of writing # 3, I updated the first part of my trilogy, “We Don’t Talk About That.” The 2nd Edition is now available, even contains a few photographs.
Christmas came faster than anticipated. People read more than ever, and mainly e-books. I want to help and decided to give my readers a special gift! You can download both books on Kindle, Kobo, i-books and from Smashwords for the super price of only 99 US cents each from December 20th to 31st. Happy reading!
Merry Christmas and a Happy and hopefully healthy New Year!
From Nanaimo Magazine – August, 2020
Author Giselle Roeder – “In Her Own Words”
Giselle Roeder has had one hell of a life, and we are fortunate enough to have her share it with us in a series of autobiographies. From escaping the atrocities of World War II to abuse and then answering an advertisement to come to Canada, she has done it all. Here is a snippet of her life in her own words:
“Gila – me, had an idyllic childhood on a small farm up to the beginning of WWII. I lived my first ten years under the Nazis; nothing much happened in our little world. When my aunt from Berlin came to ask for cow manure to grow tomatoes on her balcony after the bombing, I got an inkling that ‘war’ was real. After the first escapees arrived from East Prussia, talking about the Russians following them, burning, plundering and raping, and evacuees from Berlin told how the flames from phosphor bombs burned people to death, we all had nightmares. When the Russian army arrived (February 1945), I watched those atrocities myself. The war was over on May 8th, when the Russians left, the Polish army came and evicted us. We had 10 minutes to get out of our house. With thousands of people, we walked weeks towards the Oder river, the new border of Germany-Poland. No idea where to go, sleeping under the stars, even surviving diphtheria, and a few months later, typhoid fever.
For the next ten years, I grew up a teenager in the Russian occupied Zone, later known as East Germany. Joining the canoe club, I became a kayak champion. I had to fight for my education but succeeded in becoming a Physical Education teacher. Avoiding to join the Communist Party, my principal wanted to ‘sleep’ with me or report me. My dad advised: “Hau ab,” meaning get lost, escape to West Germany. My east education meant nothing in the west; I started from zero. An unwanted affair with a person in power almost drove me to suicide, but I found a way to survive. Courses in aesthetics, podiatry, nutrition and finally, Kneipp-Hydrotherapy followed. I worked as a Health Educator, giving lectures about an alternative lifestyle across Germany. I longed to get away, get out of Germany. Away from a stalker. I wrote about my first thirty years in my memoir, ‘We Don’t Talk About That.’
Answering an advert, I started corresponding with a German-Canadian man with a child in Vancouver. His well-to-do German parents smartly manipulated me to marry him before I knew him. Just weeks after arriving in Vancouver, I had a rude awakening. With limited English and all my earthly belongings in a container on the high seas, I had no chance to leave when my new husband used my money to pay his debts. I raised his two daughters, and we had a son. During the next twenty years, I developed roots in Canada. After many trials and tribulations, I was successful in the health and skincare business, was an employer and became an international speaker. I had my own television show and was a welcome guest on radio stations across North America.
After more than fifty years working in Canada, having lived in Vancouver and Winnipeg, I retired to Vancouver Island. Gardening became my hobby for ten years in Nanoose Bay, and for the last seven years, Nanaimo is my ‘home.’ After I spoke to many Probus and Rotary Clubs about my life, I was encouraged to write my first memoir. I used the COVID lockdown to write the second, my Canadian book, ‘Flight Into The Unknown.’ I’m busy writing the finale to my adventurous life, ‘Set Sail for Life After 50.’
The first of the “Nine Lives of Gila” – see “We Don’t Talk About That”:
Gila lived her first 30 years in three Germanys. She can’t remember her first 3 or 4 years, but she knows what happened. Hitler took over in 1933 because he promised work and bread for the starving population. Criminals caused brawls and a lot of unrest in the big cities. Hitler told his friend Roehm to establish a new kind of army; therefore, in 1934, he created the SA, also known as the Brownshirts or Stormtroopers, to get the ‘Riff-Ruff’ off the streets. The SA developed into a new army over time. Hitler had his friend Roehm killed because he became too strong. An old general, who fought in WWI explained: “Peace? Peace is just an interlude between wars.” Hitler applied to have the Olympics in 1936 in Germany and, in his usual style, screamed: “We will show the world a recovered Germany!”
To instill pride in their history and their country again, the ‘Hitler Youth’ came into being. Hitler commanded: “I want our young people as swift as Greyhounds, tough as leather, and hard as Krupp steel.”
To entice the Germans to have more children, a “Mother’s Cross” was awarded for mothers of many children. After the fifth child, Adolf Hitler was their Godfather.
Little Gila learnt early on in her life, “not to talk about anything said at home.” Her father allowed her to listen with him to Churchill’s speeches every night on the UK radio.
The ‘Brownshirts’ had been mostly bad boys, and they had no problem killing people. Everybody was scared of them. Rowdy groups in big cities started defacing and smashing shop windows of Jewish owners. Jews disappeared; they were either captured or took a chance to flee. The infamous ‘Crystal Night’ in Berlin was the height of the criminal acts, and the police lost power. Anybody speaking out against it, hiding or helping Jewish friends or had communistic ideas went to the new ‘Concentration Camps.’ These were not only populated by Jews, as is a common belief.
Mentally or physically disabled people were picked up and brought to special sanatoria. Relatives were told they would be looked after – but they were put to sleep.
A hardly known fact: Unwed pregnant girls, shunned by their families, could apply to be taken into ‘special’ homes. Their babies were placed with Nazi couples right after birth. The mothers had no say in it, even if they expressed their desire to keep their child. Or they would be told the baby died during birth.
Hitler wanted to breed an “Aryan race” – tall, blond-blue-eyed people. Goodlooking blond and blue-eyed girls were enticed or ordered to go to exclusive homes, and tall, blond and blue-eyed Nazi officers would ‘father’ their babies.
Such was the background created by the Fuehrer to ‘clean up’ devastated Germany and build a 1000-year Reich.
Then there were whispers of war. The invasion of Poland in September 1939 was the beginning of a horrible war. The Brownshirts came and confiscated Gila’s horse, Lotti. When she was told ‘the Fuehrer needs it,’ she asked the officer: “Can’t he take another horse?”
Gila started school right after Easter 1940. As was a German tradition, she looked forward to receiving the “Schultuete”, – the ‘Horn of Plenty.’ Sadly, there wasn’t much in it. No chocolate, just some apples from last fall and a package of candies.
Gila’s first train ride was a trip to Stettin in 1941 to visit her Grandmother’s brother and his wife. They visited the harbour, and many ships were waiting to leave. Gila’s uncle had Jewish friends, and they were able to get on the last ship sailing to America, but no children were allowed. Their son Gerhard stayed with Gila’s aunt and uncle. Sadly, that ship was torpedoed and sank. Gerhard grew up with them and was later declared their son after the war. No problem, all papers were lost due to the eviction in 1945 by the Polish army.
From her home, Gila could always hear the bombers flying to Berlin. She and her family would hide in the ditch of a field and watch the fire in the sky after dropping their deadly cargo over Berlin. Black-out curtains had to be in place. Older men unfit for war became the “Homefront” to keep an eye on everybody. The Hitler Youth kept an eye on the old guys. Nobody knew who an informer was.
1943 – Gila’s father was conscripted into the army. Ration cards limited food supplies, causing a black market. Aunt Anna came from Berlin asking for ‘cow shit” to grow tomatoes on her balcony.
July 20, 1944 – there was another attack on Hitler. Again, like many times before, he was not killed. Seven thousand people, Hitler called them conspirators, were shot; women, children, relatives, whole families were wiped out.
At the end of January 1945, Gila’s teacher told the children the school was to be closed to become a field hospital as many wounded expected. Only 5 kilometres away, the mighty Russians were fighting the last of the German army. When the Russians invaded Gila’s village on February 4th, 1945, she watched but lived through their atrocities, rape and murder. Gila’s childhood was over when she was only eleven years old.
It was the end of Adolf Hitler’s 1000 year Reich.
Reading your long epistle, I feel similar feelings. You, being a pastor, should be ‘above it all,’ be serene and relaxed, rely on your faith, be a rock, the shepherd for your flock. But you are human, just like the rest of us struggling souls. I tell myself, ‘no need to feel anxious,’ but I do. I am a bit of a loner, but this – not being able to see, talk or laugh with someone living close by, drives me crazy. My muscles are tight, my breathing flat when I don’t think of it. I can’t sleep. My legs hurt from sitting too much. I started to go on little walks with my Nordic Poles, without those I couldn’t. My heart hurts; I breathe deeply to give it more oxygen.
I talk to myself; I talk to God because I feel embarrassed to talk to anyone else about what rattles or worries me; everyone has and deals with their problems. Neighbours become strangers. People were walking their dogs: I used to stop and talk to them, touch and stroke the doggies – now the people step off the sidewalk when they see me coming and walk on the road.
The dogs strain on their leashes, they remember me, want to come to me, they are not allowed. Do you find it weird that I miss the happiness those dogs used to show me more than exchanging a few words with their owners? I can still fill the hummingbird feeder, and those little critters don’t care about COVID, they still come. I see them, I love them, but they are the only sign of life as I knew it.
Yes, Brenda, it’s a weird time in all of our lives. Does it, will it ever change again? It will change alright, but it will not be the old ‘normal’ as we knew it. The young ones will adjust to the new ‘normal’ and deal with it the way my generation dealt with the war, the starvation, the diseases, the fallout, the re-building of bombed and destroyed cities.
This new war, the master of which we can not see, attacking friend and foe alike, reducing the number of the billions of people on our planet, is a phenomenon we can not conquer, try as we might. Will it stop when some kind of balance is achieved? For us, there is only HOPE left, as we struggle to retain our FAITH and LOVE.