Cities in ashes, endless bread lines, potato soup by candlelight, people herded along with whips, soldiers in splendid boots and swastikas everywhere, a little girl with chestnut pigtails reaching for her first Hershey bar–these are a few of the images that come to life in my memoir.
EXCERPT: auf Wiedersehen
“But when will we come back?” My sister asked, an edge of desperation in her voice.
Mutti stopped in the open doorway, turned around, and as if to avoid the question, she pointed to the distant wall. “Look Kinder,” she whispered.
A shaft of sun had found its way through the ice-laced window, spilling its silvery light on the painting above the couch, illuminating the wake on a river flowing still.
Sadness crept into my heart, as my eyes returned to my mother – so tall, so graceful, her ash-blond hair knotted in a bun at the nape of her neck. A tear rolled down her high cheekbone. She wiped it away with her fingertips; then closed the door with a decisive click.
~ * ~
For as long as I could remember, this had been our home, a happy home filled with laughter and song. The apartment, gracious and inviting, furnished with unassuming elegance, was located on the first floor of a new apartment building on the outskirts of Görlitz, in the eastern part of Germany. The luscious aroma from Frau Ömichen’s kitchen on the second floor still lingered in the stairway, and her deep foghorn voice resounded off the granite walls, Komm rauf, Christa, wir haben Kartoffel Plinse…Günter warted auf Dich. Come upstairs, Christa, we’re having potato pancakes. Günter is waiting for you. Günter, at six, one year younger than I, was her only son and my friend and playmate.
A while back, wanting a baby brother, Günter convinced me that, although I already had an older sister, I should have a little brother too. And so we left cottage cheese sandwiches on our windowsills. Everyone knew, of course, that the stork brought a baby if you left him a cottage cheese sandwich on the windowsill, at least in our part of Germany. One day, soon after, Günter came skipping downstairs. “Guess what...” his voice danced ahead of him. “I’m going to get a little baby brother.”
I looked at Mutti, anticipation rising to explosion force, but she shook her head from side to side.
“I knew it!” I stamped my foot, both hands on my hips. “You didn’t put enough cottage cheese on the bread.” I was upset. “Frau Ömichen put on a lot more.”
“Well, that’s because Günter’s Vati was on furlough, you know, and they got extra rations,” she sputtered through giggles. Both our fathers were off, fighting Hitler’s war.
Yes, it had been a happy home and I, wrapped in a silken cocoon of a child’s ignorance, was oblivious to the evil and destruction all around us. Still, there were scenes that penetrated the walls of my cocoon and I could not deny the dull ache of foreboding, as on one cold glacial day...