Where do I start?
I think the best way to start is with the generation of my grandparents. As far as I remember: My paternal grandfather was born in 1919, my paternal grandmother in 1921. My maternal grandmother was born in 1917 and my maternal grandfather in 1920. Yes, he was younger than my grandmother. It was quite a scandal. 🙂
My paternal grandfather grew up in a harsh catholic household together with six siblings. My great grandparents were deep in belief and they also believed, typical for this time, in corporal punishment. I really don’t know the details, but my grandfather always refused to baptize my father, so there must have happened something. He never talked about it, but all his life he despised religion with a passion.
My grandmother grew up in a gem cutters household. Sie was the youngest and the only girl. Her mother got blind very early, in these years it was a severe handicap, leaving you helpless. And so my grandmother had to step in. She was way younger than her brothers, who left the household one after another. The eldest went in the early 30s to Brazil, another one to South Africa, both countries well known for their raw gems. They sent the raw stones back to their home in Idar-Oberstein, a small gem cutter town in the southern part of Germany. You see: It was all about the men. My grandmother finished „Volksschule“ and that was it, her task was to take care for her mother. Nobody asked about her dreams or her wishes. She was a woman. Dreams were for men. Her father died when she was eighteen (I guess) and left her in unstable financial conditions with a blind mother and another brother she loved deeply to take care for. The brothers abroad had their own lives. They either didn’t care enough or didn’t realize the situation she was found.
When the Nazis took over, my grandmother signed up in the „Bund Deutscher Mädchen“ (BdM, Corps of german girls). She always was very torn if it comes to the Nazis: She hated the crimes they committed, but her time at the BdM was always her golden time. The first time she felt accepted as the one she was. Not the one she should be. For once and for a short amount of time she was happy and in sync with herself. It was around this time that my great grandmother died, leaving her alone with her brother.
She got to know my grandfather. I saw pictures of him, he was a very handsome guy, dark eyes, black hair and slender, but strong. It’s funny to see the pictures of the brothers at this time. They all look the same, like one man at different ages, except for one who was completely out of sync. The oddball 😉
But he had a history, as well as my grandmother. And the dark clouds of the war were already lurking at the horizon, like a hailstorm waiting to get unleashed.
They married. And in 1939 the war began and my grandfather was sent to the Wehrmacht (regular Army).
My grandmother was left in the house in Idar-Oberstein, taking care for her household. I really don’t know if she worked at one time. Most likely she did, because men were rare. Only the handicapped and elderly were left and they couldn’t stem the work which needs to be done, so the women stepped in and did the workforce.
My grandfather was sent to the Eastern Army and Russia. At first he was stationed in the Ukraine. When I saw the recent pictures from the Ukraine, I was remembered at his almost amazed words: „They liked the Nazis. They liked the idea of nationalism. They welcomed us with flowers“.
Every Christmas he came home. And in 1942 he was sent to Russia and my grandmother got pregnant in the Christmas holidays. If you can take a look at the birth registers of the war years in Germany, you can see that many babies are born in late September. Because their mothers got pregnant at christmas. And so my father was born at September 25th 1943.
It must be around this time that my grandfather got lost in a tunnel collapse. He was lost for two days before the rescuers found him. He never really got over this. It was a hard time and people got told „Get over it. Here is your weapon“. Today we know that those conditions can lead to a posttraumatic stress disorder. And this was exactly what my grandfather suffered. I know this today, but he never got treatment for it.
A year before her beloved brother died in Russia. We never found out what happened to him. We only knew that the letters he sent from the Front stopped. There is no way he survived, but my grandmother never stopped hoping. There is no corpse, no grave, no hint, he just disappeared from one second to the other. Together with all his comrades. A fight? A mine? We’ll never know.
My grandmother never stopped grieving about her brother. And her newborn baby was just a measly replacement for her brother. She did what she had to do for the child, but they never bonded like mother and son. I think she really tried, but she wasn’t able to. Her own wounds and unfulfilled desires too heavy on her soul to care for the infant in her arms.
She went to the family pictures on a daily basis, showing my father the picture of my grandfather, saying: „This is your father“. and he kissed the picture of his father goodnight. She meant well, she wanted to show the kid that he has a father and that this father is still alive and how he looks like. But for my Dad this picture was inseparably connected with „Dad“. Dad wasn’t a person. Dad was a picture for the 2 year old.
When my father was four, in 1947, my grandfather finally came home. He always was a gentle man, kind and caring. He despised the Army almost with the same passion like religion and he refused fiercely to gain any benefits for Army veterans. He didn’t want to have anything to do with it anymore.
At the same time he turned into a violent and harsh man. This was all the trauma doing he received in the war. He didn’t beat my grandmother up. But he tried to „raise“ the child. And life turned into a burning hell for my poor little father. He had literally no one to go to, he was all alone with two highly abusive parents.
It was around this time I guess that my great grandmother no longer accepted that this little fellow was without the blessing of the church. Deeply devoted to the church it was a nightmare for her to see her grandchild growing up without gods blessings. She took the little guy, brought him to church and the priest baptized him catholic. When she handed him back she gave the baptize certificate to my grandmother who was really upset. And both my grandparents blamed my father too.
I don’t know all stories, only highlights who were cruel enough. Like how my grandfather „trained“ the three year old to stand in a straight military position, hands at the legs and chin high like he would stand in a military row. And everytime the little boy moved or shifted he got beaten up with a belt or a whip.
Another „treatment“ was the little closet under the stairs. Everytime when he did something wrong – or at least something wrong in the eyes of his parents – they put him into this closet. „To think about his bad behaviour“.
When he was in the dark, scared like hell, frightened to the core of his very being (because they told him that little animals were lurking in the dark who would eat him alive if he moves only an inch), they heard him say: „I was a bad boy. I was a bad boy. I am so sorry.“ he was close to tears and heard his parents snickering and laughter outside the closet. Because they found his fear funny as hell.
My grandfather worked as good as possible. He never stayed long in a job. He sold vaccuum cleaners, he worked here and there but finally they couldn’t pay for the house anymore and they had to leave and sell the house. It was the house my grandmother inherited from her parents and this was the thing she was tied to. There she had her boundaries. And she never forgave my grandfather that she lost it because of his incapability to make enough money. She might never be a happy woman, but now she became sour and spiteful.
My father grew up and in the new apartment it was my grandmother who was the most abusive. With every wrong step my father did, he was sent to the balcony, summers like winters, without jacket and sometimes in socks, to wait for Father to receive his punishment. Sometimes he was hours and hours and hours on the balcony, waiting for the dreaded punishment, freezing and shivering with a mother who showed no mercy. When Father came back he took a belt and beat the boy up, sometimes until he lost consciousness.
This boy became older and one day my grandfather accidently drawed blood. He left my father bloodied and this seemed to change something in his minde. He never touched him from this day, but for my father it was already too late.
He was broken. The strong basement his character should be was shattered systematically from the very beginning. He left his parents house the second he was able to. To the big disappointment of my grandfather he went to the Army. He did it in spite of him.
He never cut the ties completely to his family, but they were very distant for a very long time. During my childhood I’ve never seen them exchanging personal adresses. A happy Birthday, but that’s it. Nothing personal besides of „how are you“ and „I’m fine, thank you.“ It was mostly politics and the way our society runs. I think my focus on this themes I sucked off in this time.
When he was stationed in Stade at the Airforce Base, he met my mother.
Who has her own story to tell.
Veröffentlicht am 3. Juni 2014, in Persönliches. Setze ein Lesezeichen auf den Permalink. 2 Kommentare.
It is more than just interesting. On a personal level (and this is very personal), this is a family tragedy in the common sense of the word. I won´t comment on that, as I can´t even start to understand what that family history means for the family today.
On an abstract level, it shows that wars leave many traumatized people behind, who often cannot help but passing the trauma on to their families, which can even threaten whole societies if the circle is not broken at some point. The dangers of warfare reach way beyond death and bodily mutilation of soldiers, mental mutilations can cause trouble way beyond the (horrifying) direct personal or bodily consequences of war. It once again serves to prove that „a war knows no victors, only victims“ (q. Elie Wiesel)