08:32:03 EDT | 14:32:03 CEST: Now we have to drink coffee with relatives. We celebrate easter a little bit here. We will probably come back to a few questions later tonight.
I’m sitting here with my 95 year old german grandmother. Proof.
Some pictures of her: http://imgur.com/a/QIHlo
She is a very active women but had a stroke a few months ago. Now she has difficulties to walk and use her right hand (and she loved to write). Before her story gets lost I thought I document it and an AMA seems like a great way to give young people like me the opprtunity to ask questions. Her experience is very valuable to me, and it would be sad if it just would get lost.
She was born in May 1920, is now 95 years old and lived all her life in a village in the beautiful Black Forest. She went to board school from 6-14y/o and went to a college of housecraft afterwards, where she took afternoon lessons in office work. She learned shorthand and to write with a typewriter. She got her first job with 17 in a law and collection office. At this time she was also active in the Bund deutscher Mädchen (BDM) and in a girl church group. Leaders from the BDM didn’t support her role in the church group and wanted that she stops going there, but she refused and was called “stubborn”.
From 1939 to 1945 she worked at a company where the wife of the owner and her brother were half jews. But they were the only jews in the village and they didn’t get imprisoned, because their company was important for the war. They manufactured fabrics for uniforms. In 1944 she got engaged with her first partner. But he had to go into the war. He was missing for 7 years, until she got notice that he died in the war at christmas eve, when Englishman attacked on the 24th december. Her father was also in the war in 1942 as a medic. He then got captured by Russian soldiers and was in war imprisonment for 3 1/2 years. When he came back he was wearing rags and was extremely underweight from starvation and work.
Her village was occupied by the French, or to be more exact Moroccans. They were not allowed to leave the house, but she did it anyway and almost got shot.
In 1955 she got engaged to my grandfather. His first wife died during the war in Düsseldorf because of bombing. When he was in the war, he was in russian war imprisonment and was later transfered to a French prison. He died in 2000 in a car accident.
If you are looking about a topic to ask, she is very proud of the jobs. She always worked and was not a stay-at-home mom.
Please be respectful.
Oh and by the way, I explained reddit to her as a computer newspaper
What do you think is the most amazing thing you have seen humanity achieve in your long life? What do you consider your best personal accomplishment?
“The technology. Washing Machines, TVs, …”
“I’m the most proudest of my job. I was very respected and trusted and I was allowed to write the secret contracts in the company.”
What job did you do?
“I was a secretary. I wrote letters they dicated to me with a typrewriter. I also learned stenography to quickly take notes. I had my own desk and my own typewriter.”
While your village was occupied, did you live in a state of fear, or was there an air of acceptance about the situation?
“When we first heard that they were coming, we fled uphill into the forest. We were scared there, because we didn’t know what would happen. But we were told to return and stay at home. So we went back and waited. First we were insecure of what would come, but once the Moroccan soldiers where here and came to each house, they didn’t do anything. And they were only looking for jewels and food. This is when we calmed down. Shortly after french soldiers came and they also stayed at each house there. The young french man staying at my place was very polite and nice. he even placed newspaper on the place where he slept to not make it dirty.”
What did you think about the Nazis back then ? What was your opinion about the war? And how do they compare to your thoughts today?
“I thought that the countries wouldn’t like what Hitler does and that war is probably coming. But it happened faster than we thought. I mostly though that everything couldn’t be that wrong. But I didn’t support the war, because I was scared that many of my friends would be drafted. We were very scared of the war. But nowadays we know what Hitler really intended. And it was horrific. My dad always said that it was bad but I didn’t believe him. There was a difference in the generations. We young people supported it and liked it, but many of our parents didn’t support it and always said that it’s bad. After the war I realised that my dad was right. And I felt extremely bad.”
What is your opinion on German patriotism? While I was living in Bayern (2010-2014), my German friends seemed hesitant to show any national pride. Is this a common way of thinking? Perhaps they were being polite in front of their American friend?
“No. We are not pride. Our history has taken my pride away from Germany. Now it slowly starts to get a bit more open again.”
A sidenote from me (grandson 24y/o). Not many people are patriotic. A lot of people are proud of Germany for the good healthcare, free education, etc. But not in a patriotic way. I personally feel some pride for Germany nowadays, but not patriotic, because our history is so bad. I have a small feeling of guilt.
How did you hear about the end of the war? What was the reaction where you were?
“I don’t remember where I was when I heard it. But I remember that I was very happy, because I was expecting my fiancee to come back. I thought he was in english imprisonment, and the English released soldiers very early. Unlike the Russians. But he never came back. I waited 7 years for him.”
That is so incredibly sad. May I ask what happened to him?
“He died in the Eifel. The Englishman attacked on the 24th december (at christmas). And the germans were not prepared. That’s why I will never visit England. I’m very angry that they attacked at christmas eve. Shortly before the war ended he was home for vacation because he rescued a comrade out of the sea. And a neighbour said to him, that if he always goes on vacation like this, we will never win the war.”
Did anyone in your village really hate the Jews living there, not just because they where supposed to do so?
“We had bad opinions about the jews. A lot of prejudices. The people in my village didn’t like them much. But we also only had two half jews, which were owners of a very important company. And that’s why nobody said anything against them.”
I asked her what common views about jews were: “They were too business oriented. They were always about the money. It was nothing about the religion. They were just seen as different people.”
sidenote: she had difficulties to remember any particular prejudices. It just seems like they had a bad view, without real reasons.
What was the public opinion of the war at the time? Was there any opposition to the war that you saw?
“The people around me said that the war is not necessary. And we didn’t start the war, but the Englishman did. But we also couldn’t stop it, because Hitler did already go too far with the plan to own the world.”
Do you experience lots of deprivation after the war? If yes, what sorts of things were hard to get? What “inventions” were created to fill shortages?
“Yes, we god food cards from the city hall, which rationed what we were allowed to buy. But we were able to buy a lot of things on the ‘black market’. For example I used to go to a farm and beg for getting more food. The food we were allowed to buy was less and less and wasn’t enough. There were no clothes to buy. Only clothes for work was available.”
At the age of 95, what is your favorite invention?
“The most important invention is the washing machine. Any other technologies come second. It’s so amazing what kind of technologies got invented.”
Do you have any tips on how to keep staying physically active throughout the years?
“Every morning me and my husband did gymnastics. Even at my old age I did some exercises each morning. We also went hiking each sunday.”
How were you and you’re family affected by post ww1 hyper inflation in Weimar Germany?
“We lived in a home belonging to the company where my mom, dad and I worked. Our family lost everything. My grandfather had a ropery and he earned a lot. He kept a lof of money in a cigar case. He kept this money like a treasure because he wanted to buy a house. And he always hoped that it would be worth anything again.”
That’s sad. I’ve read of people losing their entire life savings. Can I ask, if you don’t mind, what he felt, thought or said when the new rentenmark came to be and he knew his money would never be worth anything again?
“How he felt, I don’t know, I was not there. I only know he always wanted to buy a house, but afterwards he was never able to save enough for a house. At the end he was able to buy 1/2 of a house, but that was not the house he wished for.”
I heard that living in Germany under Hitler was actually not bad. He turned the country around from a crushing depression. Could you shed some light onto this?
“Yes definitely! Thats how Hitler tricked us. Life was nice. We had no issues with food and work. Before that there were beggars every day at our door asking for a few cents. With hitler everybody had work. And I was very happy about the freeway down to lake constance. Hitler should have left the other countries alone. That was his mistake. He was craving for power.”
How aware was your community of the concentration camps?
“No we didn’t know. When my dad had to go to war, we heard of rumours that there were camps for jews in the east. And that we wouldn’t believe how bad it was for them there. But when I heard it at first, I didn’t believe it. But when a friend of my dad was coming back, he told us how he saw jews in terrible conditions. Especially children that were begging. He even gave them food but they told him, if he does it again, he would get shot. Still during the war we heard more and more stories. But we never heard how bad it really is. I think the first time we really heard of how bad concentration camps were was after the war. The french soldier who was at my house told us, that we will soon learn about a lot more horrific things the germans did.”
A lot of these questions have focused on the WW2 period, so I would like to ask; Do you have any experiences or stories you would like to share from the 50’s/60’s/70’s?
“The business I worked closed after the war. Because it was a cloth mill. We would have needed to upgrade to new machinery, but there was no money. But I found a job at an attorney office for about 2 years. After that I got a job at a small company, which is now very big. But I was not a secretary anymore. I was working in sales. I stayed there until I old-age pension. January 1955 I married. I had one dead birth in the 4th month. But then I got my first daughter 1956 and my second daughter in 1957. I reserved a property for a house for two years. But I haven’t had the money to build a house yet. So when they told me I either have to build a house or give up the property, I decided to marry. And my husband also wanted to build the house then.”
Did your father and the man you married in 1955 ever talk about their experiences on the Eastern Front? Or about things they witnessed there?
“They told about a lot of dead soldiers from the east and west. Most of the people got sent to the eastern front. Also my first fiancee was at the eastern front, but was sent to the Eiffel, where the Englishman attacked. They told me about how crazy cold it was. We used to send them socks and additional clothing. The soldiers who got home for vacations told stories how they almost got killed. And how it was a back and forth.”
Did your relatives talk about any atrocities they saw in the east?
“My dad saw how many jews were collected in trucks and thought that it was horrible. When my dad met local people in the east, they didn’t had anything against germans. They were wondering why Germany did this. And he told us how nice they were to him.”
I asked now a few times about atrocities, but I presume they didn’t tell her much about it. Or she would tell me.
She also mentioned that she still has a collection of old letters that her dad sent to her mom during the war. And suggested that we should look for them and read them. Maybe there is something in there.
Do you feel people (and soldiers) in the village were more hostile/scared when you were under German rule, or when occupied by the French?
“We were scared of the SS. When you would have said something, they would have taken you. Nobody liked them. In our village, we knew the people in the SS, and they knew us (small village). So we felt safer. In our house we had a young French soldier, and he was very polite.”
Do you see any parallels between Europe/Germany pre-World War 2 and the Europe of today?
“No parallels. Very different. The political parties are different. It’s just different.”
I mentioned russia and ukraine and she responds: “Our chancellor is very cautious now. We should send humanitarian help, but never intrude another country.”
You have been through events that I cannot imagine going through. What kept you level headed and what would be one piece of advice you would give to a male that just turned 21?
“Beeing political neutral, because it’s so difficult to follow and understand. Also being religious helped me. Beeing punctual at work, honest and sincere. This made me happy”
As a teenager during the rise of the Third Reich, were you exposed to a lot of the propaganda, such as “Triumph of the Will”? If so, did the propaganda succeed in giving your friends and peers pride in their country and the ideals of the Reich?
“I don’t think that I have seen this. We didn’t have a cinema or TV. And we never saw any propaganda movies. When we watched something they were regular movies. We listened to a radio sometimes. But there was not much propaganda as far as I can remember. Even at the Jungmädel, we were just a village. And it was never really political. We usually just had activities like singing.”
Did your husband talk about the way the Russians treated him in the prison camp?
“It was horrible. Not enough food. Always wearing the same cloths. If they didn’t follow they got hurt. They didn’t tell much. Russian prison camps were worse than english or french prison camps.”
Did you travel outside Germany after the war? If so, how were you treated by people from the countries around you? Do you feel your country was treated fairly in the years after WWII?
“I travelled to the place where my fiancee died. A soldier who found his tag showed me the place where they found him. I also travelled to Switzerland, Austria and France. Nobody treated me differently. They were all very nice.”
“We irrelevant people had no problems after the war. People who were Nazis had problems. But we didn’t. It was all pretty normal for us.”
As a young woman in a working environment how were you perceived from the typical stay at home mother type?
“It was very normal. Almost every women had to work during the war. And after the war many women stayed, like I did. Nobody said that I should be a housewife.”
Who looked after the children while the women and men were otherwise preoccupied?
“In the beginning I had nanny, and later my mom took care of my kids. I also only worked part-time so I was home at lunch.”
How was your experience with soldiers who had to stay in Germany after the war (in order to do hours to be able to return home)? I’ve heard some very nice things and very bad things about them.
“There were no soldiers staying after the occupation. We were a small village. There were military barracks, but I know nothing about it.”
How did you meet your husband in 1955 and could you share a happy memory about your engagement?
“I decided to go to a dance party in the next village. My good friend didn’t come with me, so I meet up with other friends. It was dark in the living room where we met. And I thought there is a friend of mine sitting there, and I poked him with my umbrella. But then it turned out that it was another man. I was sooo embarrassed. But it was fine and we decided to go all together to the dance party. A friend joked that I will marry him, I said that would be ridiculous. But I lost that bet and married him 6 months later.”
“We went to the city hall and asked for an extension on the property we had until we were married. they agreed. And I was very happy.”
How does Germany view German participants (your first partner and your father) in the war, today? Are they swept under the carpet or are they celebrated or somewhere inbetween?
“We never celebrated soldiers. We were never proud of the war. But they were also not viewed as guilty or bad, because they were forced to fight.”
I asked, what is your reaction or feeling if somebody tells you “I fought in the WW2”. She says: “Then I know that he was forced to fight. And if he wouldn’t have gone, he would have gotten punished.”
“During the war, when our soldiers visited us, we were a bit proud of them. Only when we slowly realised that we were loosing the war, the opinion changed. We wanted to have our men back. And our cities were destroyed. There was no prestige for being a soldier.”
Where you surprised to learn about the concentration camps?
“Yes. My dad told me some stories about it. But they were only rumours and I didn’t believe him. And afterwards I was shocked that it was true and even worse. When he came back after war imprisonment he said, that we couldn’t believe how horrific it was.” (his dad didn’t support the nazis and was very angry when he had to go to war.)
How did Germany’s views of Hitler change over time? How was he viewed before he rose to power? After he was Chancellor of Germany? During and after the war?
“We were enthusiastic at the beginning. Because everything changes radically. Life was great. I kind of supported his plan of making a ‘healthy nation’. For example told us that the disabled people would be brought in nice houses, were not allowed to marry, but otherwise they were taken care of in a good way. To make the population healthier. Over time this view changed, when we heard more and more stories and rumors how he treated disabled people and of working camps, we started to not be as supportive anymore. Even before the end of the war we realised that Hitler is bad and is to blame for everything.”
What was it like to live in a village occupied by the Moroccans?
“The Moroccans were only there a few days before the French came. The French soldiers sent Maroccans ahead incase the germans would be hostile. They were looking for jewels and food. And we heard about stories that they raped a few women, but not in our village. So we hid a lot of young girls. We also didn’t speak the same language. So we had to communicate with hand signs.”
Do you ever think about how the world would be different if Germany won the war and how do you think the world would be today if that was true?
“If we would win, we would have had Hitler for ever. Hitler was feared and if we had won, he would just get started. Hitler would have gone crazy with this power. It would have gone worse.”
When and how did you realize that Germany had lost the war? Were newspapers being honest in 1944 and 1945 about the country’s situation?
“The newspaper didn’t write about that Germany was losing the war. They were not allowed to. We knew about it from the soldiers that were on vacation and from rumours.”
How much did the views in the post war years truly reflect the reality of the war? Did Germans try to bury the past?
“No. We were glad when Hitler was gone. We were very sad that Germany was so destroyed. But we also destroyed a lot. They were honest about it. For example the newspaper wrote that we were guilty of the war.”
What was your favorite part about growing up in a village in the Black Forest? Has the village become a bigger city or is it similar today to the way it was when you were a girl?
“It didn’t change much. A lot of people moved away and a lot of people moved in. A lot of old jobs went away, like the tannery, which the village was very famous for. We have some more industry, but the character of the village is still the same.”
How did you feel when the Berlin wall fell? Did your village party?
“We were very happy. We didn’t celebrate big. But we were very happy. I remember very well when the wall got build. That was horrible.”
As a 95-year-old, what are your top 5 activities you believe everyone should do at least once?
“join friends for activities; find a good partner and marry; find a man with a good job, who can sustain a family; and children”
How did you almost get shot? What did you leave the house for? Would you mind telling the story?
“During the occupations when the french soldiers arrived, nobody was allowed to leave the house. I really liked the neighbours women who was sick. So I thought, she is alone, and I could go over to her house and keep her company. I thought I could quietly/quickly run over there. Just when I wanted to enter the house, a bullet hit the ground next to me. I was very scared and didn’t want to go back home. And my mom didn’t know that I went to our neighbour. Half an hour later I ran back. But there were some people who left their houses and got shot. My mom was very very angry.”
What does she think of the Hitler Youth movement, and how they used the public schools to brainwash the children into joining it?
“I was out of school when this started. I only know they had to say ‘Hail Hitler’ in the morning and at the end. We were very excited about the BDM. It was so much fun. The economy was improved so much through Hitler, that I thought groups were great. From time to time we had some political presentations, and my dad was very angry at me for going there. But most of the time we sang traditional volkslieder – we never really sang nazi songs. We danced. We dressed nicely and marched – like on this picture. There were a lot of fun activities for us.”
What do you think of the world today?
very loudly: “The world is crazy! It was more peaceful back then. Humans are much more aggressive nowadays.”
What are your thoughts of the United States?
“‘Everything comes from america’. America is excessive. In the past I would have liked to go to america but today I think it’s exaggerated now.”
Does your grandma have any advice about German girls ?
“It makes me so angry when we make a date and he arrives 30-60min late. This also happened to my husband on our first date. I was very very angry about that. So angry that when another man sat next to me, I went to drink coffee with him.”
Whilst your village was under occupation during World War 2, was there a certain consensus about how people viewed other countries as enemies?
“We didn’t see them as enemies. This young french soldier who stayed with us was so nice. I never had a enemy stereotype against people from another country. I was glad when the war was over.”
What do you think of your grandson? What do you dream of for him and Germany?
Haha, thats awkward to ask…
“I wish that you are happy. And that you have a good job. And if something is not possible, don’t chase it.”
What has been the greatest surprises in your life?
“When my dad came home after the war when he got released from war imprisonment. I was so happy.”
What was your reaction when you saw a computer for the first time?
“I’m very angry at computers. Since they exist family life is destroyed. Everything is centered around your computers.”
How do you feel about people who don’t believe the Holocaust was real?
“That’s so stupid. So stupid.”
Any helpful advice to give to someone when it comes to taking care of an older relative?
my mom: “if you can pay for it, it’s very helpful to get an assistant. So that you don’t loose your own life while helping.”
my oma says: “don’t be alone. eat together. and if you have to go into a retirement home, don’t be alone. Look for people to communicate with.”
My oma was an independent women who did activities every day on her own. Until she got her stroke a few months ago. This has impacted her and my moms life a lot, because now she is living here and needs help with a lot. We are fortunate enough to pay for additional help. If we would not have it, we would try to find a good retirement-home and visit as much as we can.
Do you notice an increase in anti-Semitisim currently in Germany?
“I don’t know. I don’t know any jews. We didn’t have a jewish community in our village and nowhere around us.”
After WW2, did you ever think that another world war was DEFINATELY coming at any moment?
“Yes of course! When you (pointing at OP) were born, there were news and rumours about Russians attacking. And I was crying the whole night and was so scared.”