A lucky escape
Here is a piece of my family history of which I was totally unaware until after I had written “We Don’t Talk About That”.
Edith is my youngest sister and was the baby that barely survived our trek on the road to nowhere. She recently celebrated her 70th birthday and when I spoke to her on that occasion I mentioned the fact that my book had just been published. In that conversation she asked if I had included the story of her drowning. This was the first I had ever heard of this tragedy.
My sister Christel escaped from East Germany after me in 1956. As was required by the authorities she surrendered her East German passport pending issuance of a West German one. During this interval she received first a telegram, then a letter, stating that “Edith has drowned, come home immediately”. Without travel documents she was in no position to “go home” but was, quite naturally, most upset to learn of our youngest sister’s demise.
Shortly thereafter my father who was, by now, allowed to leave East Germany because if he failed to return it would be one less pension to be paid went to visit Christel in Hamburg. Christel met him at the train station dressed in black as she was in mourning for Edith. Father asked why on earth she was dressed all in black whereupon she burst into tears and said it was because of Edith’s death. Father was astounded to learn of his youngest daughter’s drowning since he had, only that morning, left her at home. Christel explained about the telegram and showed him the letter. He was able to recognize the writing as that of a neighbour living in the attic suite above my parents’ home and it became evident that this neighbour was a Stasi agent.
The telegram and letter had been a ruse to try to get Christel to return home where she would have faced 30 years imprisonment for having defected to the west. What a lucky escape she had. Why have I never heard about this before? Is this another instance of “We Don’t Talk About That”?