Several years after WWII ended life ever so slowly had returned back to a bit more normal and I had become a teenager. We lived in the eastern sector of Germany, a country without shops of any kind. I had outgrown the clothing my mother had made from rags and “one dress out of two”. Would it ever have been nice if jeans had been invented already because then all the kids would have looked more alike and there would not have been so much heartbreak with the teasing and bullying for the weird clothing I and my sisters had to wear to school. I will never forget the three winters I had to wear an old torn black form-fitted ladies coat with green patches and a huge big bust line, stuffed with horse hair. I was only eleven, starved and thin as a stick. There was no choice: I was lucky to have found the coat under a bush where someone had discarded it. At least I had a coat at all during the winters 1945, 1946 and 1947. Uncle Fritz did a deal by exchanging fish for some Dutch clogs and those wooden shoes kept my feet very warm. But imagine the picture:
A small, starved thin eleven year old kid with a big busted fitted ladies coat and Dutch clogs! I wish I had a photograph! Today I can smile or laugh about it but back then it caused me many tears and I refused to go to high school when the time came. I had nothing to wear. The teasing was already bad enough in the small village where we lived, – but going to a city school? I’d have died…
I got a chance to learn to sew but I had to bring my own material. You couldn’t buy anything, but a kind neighbor gave me a big Nazi flag she had found in an old trunk in her basement or attic. Her family and mine would have been arrested if anybody would ever have found out about it. To own a Nazi flag was forbidden after WWII. I undid all the seams, took the white center and the black stitched on swastika apart and my seamstress teacher helped me to design a pretty kind of ‘country dress”. The body of the dress was fashioned out of the red material with a wide swinging skirt, a white insert around the neck and small strips out of the swastika around the skirt and the insert and a black belt. It wasn’t quite Bavarian style, but very similar. I was proud and wore that dress happily. When I grew out of it my third sister Ingrid wore it. Well, – look at the pictures taken a few years down the road with my first camera, a very simple box camera. To find out how I got such a treasure
you’d have to read my book “We Don’t Talk About It”. (Chapter: ‘Berlin – here I come’)
I wish I could share several letters from a lady who picked my book up on impulse at Chapters just a few days ago. She read several hours in her car in the parking lot, “I couldn’t put it down” she writes, – “went to the gym, read while doing a workout on the bike, drove home, read some more, couldn’t sleep, and finished it the next morning”. I know that she really read every word of it because she asks questions about different things she couldn’t have known had she just ‘skimmed’ through it. So, – click on the links to the bookstores and order it now! You will be looking at the present world problems a little differently and have hours of reading to keep those little “grey cells” (as Hercule Poirot says) very stimulated.
I can totally related to the lady reading the book in the parking lot.I read it in one day travelling to Vancouver and back. Now I am patiently waiting for book two. You are an incredible writer.
Amazing story. Hard to believe you could live through all that and come out the wonderfully put together lady that you are. The human body and mind is amazingly resilient isn’t it.
the dress made out of the flag is fantastic. Amazing sewing skills for one so young.
Full marks for style & inventiveness, Giselle! What a beautiful dress from such a frightening item. Those early years certainly bred determination and resourcefulness – and a desire for style. You got there!