Things Unsaid

November 8, 2011
The date was December 5. The year, 1939. In a small room in Breslau, East Germany, a woman was giving birth. That woman was my mother. I was an only child, and my father died when I was young. We lived in an apartment above a small store. One of my earliest memories from that apartment was getting locked in a small, windowless bathroom by my rowdy cousins. I also remember swimming in the river down the street. I used to love it. Looking back, I don’t think any of us realized what was to come.


When the Berlin Wall was put up, my family and I were forced to flee to West Germany. I was four years old. In hopes of having money to buy us children food when we got there, my mother, aunts, and uncle sewed money, jewelry, silverware, and anything else they could find that was worth something, into our clothes. My mother even put valuables in the bottom of the container of pig fat she brought for us to put on bread.


Life in West Germany was hard. My mother and I lived in an unheated attic room with my aunts, uncle and eight cousins. Our clothes made us look like tattered dolls, they were ragged and either hanging off our bodies or close to suffocating us. As small children, we had to stuff our shoes with newspaper so they would fit. They were men’s shoes. It wasn’t often that our stomachs weren’t empty. Most of the time, we didn’t have food. When we did, it wasn’t much. Maybe one small potato cooked on the wood stove. Those potatoes came from the family that was kind enough to house us in their attic. After they harvested their potatoes, they would let us go out and get whatever was left.

“Come children, there is work to be done.” My mother and aunts would say, following after my uncle to collect what we could. I now realize that we were considered lucky by some- those who had even less than us.


My way to escape from the horrors of my life was swimming. The pool was opened from April to October, and I made good use of it, from the day it opened, to the day it closed. When I wasn’t swimming or helping my mother, I was usually at school. We didn’t have much time off; our summer vacation was only two weeks. After eighth grade, I went to a trade school for sewing. After three years, I graduated, and became a seamstress.


I was born during a horrible time. There’s no other way to say it. World War II was that time. As a little girl, I remember having to hide in the basement so we wouldn’t get hit by bombs. After staying in there for hours at a time, listening to bombs go off, the sound was an annoying little dog, and wouldn’t go away. We also had to wear gas masks to avoid breathing the gas and chemicals in. That was probably the scariest thing for me.


Life was different then. Especially for my Nana. It was a hard life, but she managed to make something good out of her horrible experiences. I realize now that we’re lucky. People from my Nana’s generation had it a lot harder than we did. No food, no place to live, shoes and clothes that didn’t fit and were most likely falling apart. I, like most kids my age, have those things, but still complain. Yet, I have never once heard my Nana complain about how hard she had it. I now know that, while my Nana may have reason to complain, our generation does not.


Tanka Poem

Bombs go off, over
And over again, in my
Head. Bitter, the sound
Haunts me in my dreams. I try
To escape, but it’s hopeless.





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