Paradise… #PearlHarbour #WWII

Sunset from our balkonyWhere is YOUR paradise? Try imagery; – when they tell you in a relaxation class or even for pain relief that you should imagine a beautiful place, let your thoughts fly there, remain, feel the sunshine, see the flowers, hear the waves – where are your thoughts going? Do they go to the mountains, to the sea, or to deep forests? Mine always go to the Hawaiian Islands. For me Hawaii offers ALL facets of beauty, it’s not just a feast for the eyes, the scent of the flowers please my nose, freshly cut pineapples make my mouth water, the warm sand under my bare feet and the sun on my back make me feel good but it is the serenity, tranquility and the sense of the “Aloha” that encompasses all of this in its people in the parts of the Islands that are still truly “Hawaiian”. To truly soak in the “aloha” don’t go where the action is, – look and find the quiet areas. Once, I was under a black velvet night sky with trillions of diamond stars close over my head that I thought I could touch them. It was so endlessly dark and sparkling but it was the unearthly stillness that got to me. I couldn’t help it but I wanted to kneel down and melt and become part of it all.

Does this make sense? It’s hard to explain. I went back to the same spot on the Big Island several years in a row but I have never seen the sky so near and never again had this almost out of body experience. It left a longing in me and I wonder if it will ever be fulfilled.

Ka'anapali - one of the 10 most beautiful Hawaiian beachesI love old movies. Purely coincidence: I happened to come across the movie “From here to Eternity”. A happy lighthearted soldier’s tale – until, – did you guess it? No, I don’t think so. ‘We Don’t Talk About That’ anymore. Until the Japanese planes appeared like a swarm of hornets and disrupted breakfast on a Sunday morning with many of the soldiers not even up or still in underpants. The scenes of the filming brought back memories of my first visit to Pearl Harbour many years ago. Taken totally by surprise thousands of young men were killed by an attack from a country with whom the US was not even at war. Most of the US Naval ships were destroyed on this fateful Sunday, December 7th 1941. And the USA who had diplomatically tried not to get involved in WWII was drawn into it and the rest is history.

By writing my memories of WWII down in the book published in April 2014 “We Don’t Talk About That” my friends always comment what a relief it must have been for me to “get it all off my chest”. I must admit that the opposite has happened. I have never thought about it as much as I do now and I have never been more interested and involved in war history as I am now. The more I think and read and follow the news and see the larger picture I do see many seemingly small incidents that have had large consequences. It’s almost like a network of roots branching out in every direction. I can’t help asking myself “what would have happened if …?” How would our world look today?

If you have not read my book yet, – do yourself a favour, click on Bookstore above and order it NOW! It will make you think and see how the past plays “catch-up” if we don’t become more alert. Besides, – “We Don’t Talk About That” makes a terrific gift for many readers who appreciate a book “that you just can’t put down…”

The Fall of the Berlin Wall #BerlinWall

Berlin WallIt was in 1968 that my father and I had a chance to talk about his last will and testament. He lived in East Germany, I lived in Canada. East Germany was a communist country with strongly fortified borders, rows of barbed wire fences, mine fields in front of those and guard towers with sharp shooters present around the clock. Within the country you could move freely as long as you always registered with the police after arrival when visiting relatives in a different city for more than a few days. You also had to de-register when you left and register again when you came back to your permanent home. It was practically impossible to get a visa to visit relatives in West Germany – unless you were a 65 year old male, or 60 if you were female. Younger people were kept “in” since too many had escaped before the Berlin Wall had been built. Now, at the end of the sixties older people had a chance; – if they didn’t come back, no loss and one person less to pay a pension to.

Father would never get a visa for Canada but he got one to visit his second daughter, my sister in Hamburg, West Germany. I sent a flight ticket to her, she got him a West German passport in exchange for his East German one and he came to Winnipeg for three glorious weeks. He asked “Wouldn’t it be better to take the train from Hamburg to Frankfurt instead of flying? I am afraid I’ll be late and then I’ll have to hang on to the straps and stand all the way to Canada.”

We talked about a will. He did not have one since he did not know how to do it. His youngest daughter stull lived in East Germany close to them, one daughter lived in Hamburg and I, his oldest, lived in Canada. I tried to convince him to leave everything to the youngest since she would be the one to look after my parents when they were getting on and needed help. He thought it not fair and thought we, the two in the “West”, should have something as well.

“Dad, we don’t need it. We are both established and we couldn’t spend it anyway.”

Eastern money had to stay in East Germany. Even if we came to visit we had to exchange West money one to one for each day we stayed there, so any inheritance would be useless.

With a guileful expression he looked at me and whispered ironically: “My girl, you will see, it will change one day. The way things are going at home can’t go on. Sooner or later the wall will come down.”

“Dream on, Dad that will never happen.” I did not believe him. But I did convince him to make a will leaving me out and my sister in Hamburg agreed to it as well. He never felt comfortable about it but eventually he did leave us out of his will.

On the evening of November 9th I was resting on my couch in my cozy home in Vancouver reading and listening to a Mozart concert when my phone rang. It was my son:

“Mom, do you have the TV on? They are dancing on the Berlin Wall! Mom, hurry – switch your TV on, this is history in the making. You ought to see this! The East German Police have put their guns down, hundreds of thousands are streaming through Check Point Charley into West Berlin, people are hugging and kissing, dancing and singing and drinking champagne, they are hacking away at the wall, Mom, you ought to see this!”

My son in Winnipeg and I in Vancouver, connected by the telephone, sat up long into the night, ran up a huge phone bill, but it did not matter. The wall was coming down! The wall that had divided thousands of families for nearly thirty years, ours included. We shared these first hours and laughed and cried. I had taken him to Berlin when he was about twelve years old and we had looked over the wall from a platform built on the west side, almost twenty years hence.

My father had been right. Oh, how I wish he could have lived to see the day, I know that his tears would not have stopped running down his beloved face. He died in 1983, six years too soon.

Now we are close to November 9th, 2014 celebrating:

“Twenty-five year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.”

 

 

 

Over the River and Through the Woods #WeDon’tTalkAboutThat

Just over a year ago I wrote about a play we had seen at the Chemainus Festival Theatre entitled “A Pretty Girl”.about a family torn apart just prior to World War 2. This past weekend we went to another of the Chemainus Theatre’s excellent productions. This one, “Over the River and Through the Woods”, is described on the theatre’s web page as a Family Comedy with the following outline:

Over the River

Over the River and Through the Woods

Meet Nick – a single Italian-American from New Jersey – and both sets of his meddling grandparents over a series of Sunday dinners, as they try to sort out his love life and their destiny through pasta and wise-cracks. This heartwarming and hilarious family comedy plays with old world values, new family traditions and the differences between the generations. Tengo famiglia!

It is indeed hilarious. It was so funny that I would love to return and hear some of the lines that were drowned out by audience laughter. The play also has a poignant ending which caused me to reminisce on my own transitions in life. Nick in the play wants to take up a promotion offered to him on the other side of the country. Despite the fact that both sets of his grandparents emigrated from Italy to the USA to seek a better life they cannot comprehend Nick’s desire to separate from them in order to fulfill his own dreams in a different part of the same country.

Oh, how I wish I could have left my home in East Germany because of a desire to find a better life. Instead I was obliged to flee before finding myself and my family subjected to the Communist regime’s brutal bureaucracy. I escaped to the west without any job prospects, without knowing what life had in store for me, without knowing if I would ever see my parents again. As it transpired I was fortunate. I did find employment and I did see may parents and other family members a number of times before they died.

Granny

Granny

In the Chemainus production there is a moment at the end when Nick implores his last surviving widowed grandmother to join him and his new wife and expected baby in Seattle but she refuses. This scene brought tears to my eyes because it reminded me of my own Granny when we were evicted from our house in Stresow for the second time and she refused to accompany my mother and her four granddaughters. Had she reached the end of her tether? Did she know that at her age she might not survive the long trek on the road to nowhere? Did she just want to lay down and die after all the suffering to which she had been subjected and had witnessed? Would we ever, ever, see her again? You will find the answer to those questions when reading my book “We Don’t Talk About That”

Escape to West Berlin #Escape #EastGermany

The 5th of October 19Escape55 changed my life forever. How? Let me tell you. I lived in East Germany.

I was a Phys Ed teacher. I loved my job and the school principal repeatedly reminded me to join the SED, the communist party. “How can you be a teacher if you are not able to pass on the ideology of communism to your students?” Without being a member you had no chance for advancement and risked your job security. But so far I had resisted the pressure.

On October 4th something drastic happened which drove me to the decision to leave East Germany like so many thousands of others were doing. Early the next morning I took the train to Berlin. Just outside Berlin proper, in Bernau, all the passengers had to leave the train, line up at a table to have passports checked by police and then continue on with the S-Bahn (city train) to the inner city. The “Wall” had not been built yet so the city train still stopped at some West Berlin stations. Waiting for my passport to be checked, the city train pulled in. When it started moving again I lost my nerve and started running towards it. The police had shooting orders for people trying to escape. Two shots were fired. They missed, either by accident or by design. We will never know. If witnesses claimed they missed on purpose the shooter would be severely punished, put in jail or even shot. Two Berliner men held the automatically closing train doors open and pulled me into the last wagon. I expected the train to be stopped…..

Those two Berliners told me to get out at the next station which happened to be in the “West Sector”. I had to wait for another train, one not going through the “East Sector”, to Marienfelde. This was the place where one had to register in West Germany. I was thunderstruck by the long line-up of people; everybody who had escaped this day was in line yet it was still only very early in the afternoon. Most had no luggage at all or only a small bag, some didn’t even have jackets or coats. I moved forward with a young dental assistant, a nice girl who hoped to be sent to the Black Forest since she had relatives there. I had no idea where I would end up. We stuck together and were given a bunk bed in a room with only five other bunk beds. I took the upper one and kept my coat on top of my blanket and my shoes close to the wall. We had been warned to look after our few belongings because things “disappeared”. Most other rooms had fifteen or more bunk beds. We felt so very lucky. But don’t even ask about bathrooms or showers, – it was all very well organised but very simple. There was an air of relief, but not much talking. After our experiences in East Germany nobody trusted anybody. We were afraid to say anything. What if the Russians were coming?

Most girls in our room were “processed” as it was called within a few days. Everyday new ones were occupying the beds. I was the only one kept there for three weeks. We had been told that on Oct. 5th over 16.000 people had escaped, not all through Berlin though. I was repeatedly interviewed by the Americans, the English and the French officers but in the end I could not tell them more than I already had. Actually, through their questions I learned about military installations on the Island of Ruegen I had not even imagined. Finally they decided to fly me out to Hannover while my final destination was supposed to be Dortmund. My first flight was not exactly a flight into the sunset but what all of us thought of as FREEDOM. New challenges were awaiting me in the “golden West” as we “easties” called it.

You want to know what happened on October 4th that drove me to leave my family, my hometown, the job I enjoyed, my beloved boat and all my kayaking buddies? For that, dear reader, you’ll have to read my book We Don’t Talk About That…

Book Reading – Parksville #WeDontTalkAboutThat

Book reading ParksvilleDespite the very rainy weather we had a good gathering in the Council Chambers at Parksville Library today. One lady who came to hear what I had to say remembered my home town, Stresow, where I spent my childhood and, in further discussion, it became evident that she came from the very same town where my father was born. What a small world it is. She confided that she had escaped rape by having short hair and dressing as a boy.

Book Reading Today #WeDontTalkAboutThat

Another pleasant evening with 23 people this time at the Nanaimo North Library for a book reading with some interesting questions and discussion. One lady bought a copy yesterday and read the whole book overnight in order to be informed when she came to the book reading today – another case of “could not put it down”! So many people wondering when the next part of my life will be revealed. Many thanks to Stephen Warren and Darby Love from VIRL who helped to make this event possible.

Refresh – Four Minutes of Fame #WeDontTalkAboutThat

The YouTube link originally posted for this blog post was changed. The link below is now the correct path to the video.

Red light, interview in progress.

Red light, interview in progress.

We all have our moment in the sun. I had all of 4 minutes under the bright lights and in front of the TV cameras last week. Check out The Show on YouTube and scroll forward to 29:15 for my interview about upcoming book signings and book readings.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=onwpKtKENSM&feature=youtu.be

Famous Four Minutes #TheShow #ShawTV_CVI

Interview on Shaw TV

Interview on Shaw TV

We all have our moment in the sun. I had all of 4 minutes under the bright lights and in front of the TV cameras last week. Check out The Show on YouTube and scroll forward to 29:15 for my interview about upcoming book signings and book readings.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=onwpKtKENSM&feature=youtu.be

Answer to a question: #WeDon’tTalkAboutThat

Question markOne writer on a sub-group on LinkedIn posed this question:

“Who is the most memorable character in your book?

I did just that, the name I gave was “Gila” who was the heroine of “We Don’t Talk About That” whose story is an amazing story of survival. After several days had passed I went on to post the following on LinkedIn:

I am surprised how much text many of you wrote. For my part I tried to keep my posting very short. Now I may add a bit more of Gila’s story titled “We Don’t Talk About That“:
Christmas 1944 – it was the last year of my childhood but I did not know it then.
During the month of January 1945 the Russians made rapid advances into Germany. For my eleventh birthday nobody came to visit because people had been robbed or even killed by German deserters for clothing or money, everyone stayed safely at home. A few days later our teacher announced that the school would be closed, permanently. The Red Cross would turn it into a field hospital since the front was very close. We had heard the noise of the fighting for days now. Mr. Koenig had tears in his eyes when he, with a breaking voice, said “Good Bye children, may God be with you. We may never see each other again.” As we left he shook our hand instead of looking at the usual ‘Heil Hitler’.
That afternoon the church doors were wide open despite the cold. The organ was played ‘with all the stops pulled’ as the village folks said. And that was where the Russians found him, his wife sitting by his side. ……
It was very dark when some horrible screams woke me up. I thought it was a bad dream, but my dad whispered: “Please, be quiet, be very quiet.” We heard some loud cursing and the house door was opened and closed with a bang. The screams came from Helen and Betty. Several Russians had raped them. Their grandfather had tried to protect them and was brutally beaten. When he was unconscious they just threw him out the door and went on with their business. To our horror we found him dead and frozen in the morning. …..
A couple of days later all men and women between sixteen and sixty years of age were horded together, the unfit and nursing mothers were pushed aside, the rest were taken to Siberia. …..
The first Russians moved on and the next ones evicted everyone. We just followed all the other villagers with no idea where to go. We walked across a field where the mighty Russians had killed the last of the fighting German army. Body parts lay scattered. I pushed the pram with my baby sister. My mother called out “Gila, don’t look to your right.” Tell a kid not to do that! A soldier with his head beside him leaned against a fence. His legs were not attached but on the other side of the pram. This sight became a nightmare for me for many years.
Arriving at a house where about 40 women and children were standing around we asked if we could join them. One woman said “The more the merrier, that way we might get away with just one soldier raping each of us instead of a whole army.” The Russians locked us all into one small living room. One spoke a little German. Asked why the Russians raped young girls as well as old grandmothers he shrugged his shoulders, and said “Woman is woman. Has hole.” …..

The above is just a short part of the book. Gila, her mother and sisters walked on with hundreds of thousands of others alongside the Russian war machinery on their victorious march towards Berlin for three weeks, no food, no water, disease, lice; the dead and dying were just left in the ditch. …..

Starting towards the end of 1945 the rebuilding of some kind of order, school, farm work, the establishment of East and West German States, followed by Gila’s haphazard education to become a PhysEd teacher, kayak sport, escape to West Berlin, an unwanted affair, a confrontation with a convicted rapist on parole became all too much. Gila had just one wish: To get out of Germany, to get away, to emigrate, to be free, to start a new life.

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