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Interview with Erica D.

I interviewed Erika D., a longtime family friend. She lived in Germany during World War II in a small village. Not all of the dates and ages in this interview are necessarily correct because she can't remember all of them for sure. She tells the story of her childhood with the influence of this war and the events that occurred during the war and afterwards. This interview includes personal accounts but also historical descriptions that she remembers. She tells us her experience through the point of view of a young child who could remember almost everything.

What was life like in Germany in the 1930's and 40's?

In 1937 in Germany, we had this 3rd Reich, it was called, the chancellor was Adolph Hitler. My father was a doctor, and he was also a Reservist in the military. We had a beautiful, brand new house that we moved in to the year I was born. I had two older brothers, my mother was a house wife and we had a nanny and a housekeeper, and we had a really really nice, joyful life. We had lots of friends, and uh, things were normal. You know, it was a normal, upper middle class life.

What happened to you during the war?

Okay so, in 1940, Germany had declared war on Poland, and I think in 1940, that England had invaded France, or was occupying France, and my father was drafted into the army, and was sent to Paris. I ended up having to go to a children's home because I was very sick, in the black forest. Little did I know, it would be such a while until i came home. You know, I was six hundred miles away from home, and there was no way. Nobody had cars, nothing. I came back in '46, my mother had somehow arranged with some black market dealers who had somehow gotten a car. They picked me up, I don't what she [her mother] had to pay for that, some painting, some jewelry, her purse, whatever. My mother was able to get on some bummed out train, you know, no windows, and she was able to meet me in Mainz [city in Germany], [which was where the black market dealers had brought her]. She says that when she saw me for the first time, she just wanted a mother. And she says “I was hugging her, holding her on my lap, and she [Erika] said to me [Erika's mom]: Are you really my mother?”, and that was really hard for her. And then when we got back home, our home was occupied by French people, and by '45, the war was over, and Germany had to, uh, you know, give up. They were defeated, Hitler had killed himself, and all of our war heroes, and leaders, were in camps. They were tried in a number of trials and most of them, sentenced to death. And for German people, my parent's peers and friends, it was the worst time, because these were people that we loved, and you know, they were all killed, and um, my brothers didn't know me anymore, they had no interest in me, because, at that age, we were like five years apart, I was eight, my brother Gerhard was ten, and my brother Deiter was twelve. So, a French family occupied our home and used our things, and you know we had a huge house, and so then we lived in the kitchen, and we had one room in the attic, that was the bedroom, and then we had a cellar room. My mother was cooking for us on a wood stove, well it was just a heater, she cooked on that. There was no hot running water, and no food. No food whatsoever. We would go and stand in bread lines once a week and my mother would send us out, we would take turns to go to the bread line to stand there, starting at three o'clock in the morning, and then stand there for two hours and then my brother would go, and then stand there for two hours. My mother never sent me, and my mother would go and stand there for hours, until we finally got a loaf of bread. There was no sugar, and no flour, and no groceries in any stores, no fruits, no vegetables, no clothing to buy, no shoes to buy, nothing, we had a worthless currency, and a random, widespread black market. That's what happens in countries after they lose a war. So in 1948, the Martial plan (law) came in. It was a plan from America to reestablish an economy in Germany, and to help rebuild, and so all the currency that we had was devalued 1 to 10, so you go ten cents on the dollar. There were these distribution places and they would give every family 300 marks (German currency), which at the time, amounted to 75 dollars. People that had savings, they got the devaluation of 10 cents on the mark for whatever they had left, so everybody was broke, and everybody was starving, they were on the same plate except for black marketers, which are like drug dealers now, you know we didn't have money so whatever they had, we could trade. Then, my father was knocked up [ I don't think Erika was using this term in the present way, but that is what she said.], you know he was incarcerated. He was captured in Italy, and he was taken to Dachau, which was, you know, a Jewish concentration camp but after they freed the Jews, they used the camps to incarcerate Germans. When he came back we hadn't seen him in six years. So that's pretty much the childhood. Before I was sent to the home, there were air raids, all over German cities, and we were bombed out, but that was at the end. Hamburg, and Frankfurt, and Mainz, all of the strategically interesting and valuable cities, were bombed. My town had no military value. They had some barracks for German soldiers but it was not the military town, or an industrial town. But we would have air raids because they would drop bombs after bombing Frankfurt. You know, Frankfurt is like the center of Germany, the Frankfurt airport; everybody lands there, so occasionally after they were done bombing Frankfurt, they would have a few bombs left over and then they would bomb my city. That was hard. You know I can remember fabulous Christmases, huge excursions, so you know it was a really really good childhood, until I got sent away, then it wasn't so good. We were so hungry, we were so hungry all the time and you know, I didn't remember what oranges were, what cake was, I didn't know what chocolate was anymore, I couldn't remember it. The French family that lived in our house, they had all the food they wanted and so the French woman, she was very very mean. Well, essentially she hated the Germans, you know, it's war. They thought, well, you know... but we didn't do anything, but that's the fallout of war. So, the French woman game my brother a banana once and he said “What is that?” and she said to him it was a banana and he said “Well, what do you do with it?” and she said, “You just bite into it.” She couldn't even tell him that you need to peel it. I remember they would throw a lot of food out and my mother would go through the garbage can and take out what would be useful. I don't know how she got us through, I was a child. That's pretty much the childhood.

How much did you know about the war and was the news controlled by the government?

Well of course [the news was controlled]. I knew what we heard, and I knew that we were... the best, and that we were victorious and that we were winning every battle. I knew the names of people that had gotten medals of valor, they would announce that on the radio. I was listening to Hitler speak all the time, it would be announced on the radio and it would be introduced by a classical Liszt [Hungarian composer] piece and Hitler was a very very good politician, and so he would announce himself with this dramaaatic music and then everybody would stop whatever they were doing. It would happen at six o'clock at night. It was a standard time everywhere, and so everyone was on the same page and so at six o'clock, he didn't do it every night but very very regularly. Then it would be the news, and then we would go to the movies, and then they would have the news reels, and they would always be scanted towards Germany, and towards our victories and they would show us our victories, and then they would show uh... injured soldiers, and I knew, uh, they would drop leaflets over our town, the British would drop leaflets that would say, [Erika says this in German and then translates] “You in that little valley, we're gonna get you.” Because German would drop leaflets in London, and they'd fire bomb London, and we'd hear, “We've marched into Paris.” and “We have marched into Poland.” And they would talk... terribly about the British like Churchill, and Chamberlain, and you know, the political leaders. And they would just be very vicious about talking about other people's countries. They said, “We will conquer, everything.” I knew that we had accessed with Japan and Italy, and Italy was one of our allies. I don't know what kind of things Hitler had with Japan, because he was such a racist. He wanted a super race and he wanted it to be completely... pure Aryan. So I remember all of that, I was old enough to understand all of that, but that didn't make an impression on me because I didn't really understand what it was, I remember we talked about it in my family, there was no talk about Jews, there was no talk about Concentration Camps, I don't know that they knew. But uh, I asked my parents later, and they were very evasive. So, it was nothing that was taught in high school, it was nothing that was taught in college, but remember, I was born in '37, and by the time I was twenty, I got married at twenty one, I had gone through a two-year college course, a language school, so you know, it just wasn't a subject, it wasn't mentioned in German history, it wasn't mentioned in the curriculum in school, we just had the regular, very very serious curriculum of higher math, chemistry, and physics, and languages and “history”, sort of a history of before the war. I guess it stopped sort of at World War I. I know what happened in World War I, and my father fought in World War I, way before we were born. Germans went through much of the same, starvation and deprivation after that war that we lost, and that's how come Hitler was able to get into power, because Germans were so humiliated. So that's how he came to form his Socialist party, his Socialist National party, the Nazis, okay? Social Nationalistic party, that was the name of it and I had to remember all that, and I could clearly understand it. We would have war figurines, and my brother would have you know, war toys and tanks, and jeeps, and forts with German soldiers, killing everybody else and stuff like that. He would pretend to be Adolph Hitler! So it was war.

Looking back on the whole experience, how do you feel about it, and do you think it changed your life forever?

Well I mean, it's a difficult question because I don't know how you're slanting that question...
It was an evolution for me. Going through that time as a child with no fear, and then sadness of separation, and then growing up to be a normal teenager. Having our house back, and having our life back, and having our wealth back, and you know in my generation, we had a life to live, we were not looking back. We were living just like you. Our town did not need to be rebuilt, there were people that lived in Berlin, all those places, who went through different experiences because they had to go through the process of rebuilding. So you know, I grew up with what I knew, and what I had. You know, I can't turn back the clock. I wish it hadn't happened, and I'm still putting the puzzle together, I'm still putting the pieces together. I mean I have thoughts about my parents, and we avoided that, and now they're dead. You know, I wish I could conduct that interview with them. What were they thinking? Following that. I mean, did they know about concentration camps? I did not! But did they, and if they did... because I am ¼ Jewish. My grandfather was Jewish. My grandmother was not, so my mother was ½ Jewish. If Hitler had stayed in power one more year, my mother, and my brothers would have been killed. I think about that sometimes, and yes, that affects me and I want to tell my father, “What were you thinking? Didn't you love us?” and I would say, “Didn't you love children? You're a doctor!” I mean there were children that got killed. Our children were killed too in air raids, and you have to remember that this war was not about the Jews. This war was about countries. Nobody helped the Jews, everybody, Americans knew about the Jews in the concentration camps, nobody did anything about it, nobody. So it had nothing to do with the Jews, and I don't like that hypocrisy. I get mad. They would not let Jews to immigrate to America! They wouldn't allow 'em. They would not. All they ended up doing was giving them Palestine. And look at the fine mess that is. So the question you ask is a hard one. As a decent human being, of course my opinion is that it was atrocious! If I had been an adult, there is no way I would have gone for that. At least by virtue of not joining the party, or you know, maybe I wouldn't have put myself in a position to be killed but I would have maybe not been really outspoken either, but I would not have joined the Nazi party. I'm sure, I would have expressed an opinion. The question is difficult. Do you get that?

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