My Mom was born in East Prussia in 1923. It was a geographically separate part of Germany. Like Alaska or Hawaii. She grew up on a farm. Here’s a picture from 1936. That’s Mom on the bicycle seat. Her older sister Gertrude is on the handle bars and her little sisters are there on the ground. Her parents are Minna and Adolph. Her older brother Hans isn’t in the picture. By 1936 he might have been in the army or the Hitler Youth by then. Then again, he might have took the picture.
Mom was in the girl’s version of the Hitler Youth. It was called The Bund Deutscher Mädel or League of German Maidens. The BDM used campfire romanticism, summer camps, folklore, tradition, and sport to educate girls within the National Socialist belief system, and to train them for their roles in German society: wife, mother, and homemaker. She was thrilled when I joined the Boy Scouts. So much so that she presented me with a Hitler Youth knife which I wore in camp. I lost it on a hike. I always thought it was a replica when years later I was telling the story to a friend who asked, “What makes you think it was a replica?” Shit. In 1998 I got a replica and it was much lighter than I remembered. Did I say “Shit”.
World War Two
When she was about 18 she worked in a bicycle shop and lived above it. Stuka pilots were always dropping in to flirt with her. They would dive their Ju-87’s over the shop to get her attention. This was strictly forbidden because of a siren attached to the plane. On one occasion, they came in and rented every bicycle in the shop. When they brought them back, they serenaded her with drunken enthusiasm. In the morning she had to clean up the tangled pile of bicycles they had left behind.
She married a pilot and they had a son Peter. Then he was reassigned to the Me-109 and was sent to France. It was then that Mom joined the Luftwaffe. She was a Funkerin. A Female radio operator. A ground controller with the Stukas stationed there.
Then the Russians came and all Hell broke loose. Insterburg was a major city and Mom said they had all the people and weapons and ammunition to defend the city. But the ammunition was sabotaged. Train cars full of it. I didn’t believe her. That whole train cars of ammo could be sabotaged. That is until I saw “Schindler’s List”.
So with her mother and son, Mom fled the city in a mass exodus to the port city of Konigsberg. They hadn’t got far when Mom went back to the farm for her wedding silver. She was pissed that it was left behind. However, when she got to the farm, the Russians were there. They threw her into the cellar and raped her for about a month. When they left they left her for dead. By a series of miracles she made her way to Konigsberg and found her mother and Peter. She found work helping with the wounded. This innocent farmer’s daughter changed bandages and cleaned out horrible wounds. Her effort did not go unnoticed and she was granted passage for her little family to escape by sea. They boarded the pocket Battleship “Deutschland” (Also known as the “Scharnhorst”) which was being used as a refugee ship. On the voyage to Kiel, the ship was bombed by the Americans. During the attack, Peter was left on deck while everyone fled below. He was killed. He was four years old.
By the end of the war, Mom had made it to Berlin. The death certificate for Peter listed her address as 23 Adolph Hitler Strasse (Street), Berlin. It was dated, April, 1945. Her husband was listed as missing in action. Shot down over France.
Mom fled to the West, making her way to Munich. She never spoke much of this time. In post war Germany there wasn’t much a twenty-something farmer’s daughter could find for work. Let’s just say Mom was a “party girl”. Around 1955 or so she found work as a “housekeeper” of a US Army colonel. He ran the hospital. When he returned to the U.S. he adopted Mom and brought her to America.
Mom found herself at Fort Lee Virginia. The INS was looking for Nazis and she was a loyal Party Member. In fact, she went to her grave saying that,” Hitler was a Good Man. Like Nixon, he had bad advisers.” “Sure Mom. Have another scotch. tell me another story.” She needed a reason to stay in the States. So she met my Dad and got pregnant. With me. And then they got married. Then her mother, my “Oma” came to live with us. Mom used crossword puzzles to improve her English and became a U.S. citizen.
We found her brother Hans in Hamburg in 1964. When Dad was on the Visiting Team at Anzio, Unkel Hans was on the Home Team shooting back. Dad took a keen interest in what Hans was doing since Dad got clipped in the leg and all. Turns out Hans was driving a truck and was labeled “A Good Kraut”. Her sister Gertrude was listed as dead after the War, but she found us in Texas in 1983.
Growing Up with Mom
It was different. Yeah, she was an alcoholic. By then time I was a teenager we fought tooth and nail. To be honest, it took ten years after she died of cancer in 1983 for me to truly understand her. Like any mother, she did the best she could. She carved a farm out of the beach sand in our back yard. She horded food way before it was cool. In fact, when the San Francisco earthquake happened, electricity was knocked out for weeks. Dad went out to the garage and opened up Mom’s pantry and fed the neighborhood.
I always thought Mom was insane. But then the Air Force sent us to Germany where I saw large groups of Germans interacting. She wasn’t nuts. She was just a fish out of water.
I was the only child and Mom thought I was Peter given back to her by God. She taught me how to cook and sew. “Because you will not have a wife right away”, she’d say. She taught me how to fish. She gave me a love of photography, reading and antiques. To prove her stories wrong, I learned to love history and became quite an expert on World War Two. Surprisingly, most of her stories were true. Like Schindler’s Jews. The one thing she got wrong was the Holocaust was NOT the Soviet’s doing and Allied propaganda. To her dying day Damned-Russians was one word to her.
She was not not thrilled when I joined the Air Force. It was her dream that I remain by her side forever. She went absolutely apeshit when I got married. In Texas she threw my first born son into the pool. “To teach him to swim.” Why???? Because she almost drown as a kid and that’s how her father taught her to swim. Ten years later, the truth was that she was very proud that I was in the Air Force. Much better than the Army. You could say I’m second generation Air Force.
So now I’m writing this story and remember the good times. I speak German with a Prussian dialect . I notice that as I’m a parent now, I find myself becoming my mother. In her good ways I pray. But I have her stubbornness and it’s in her grand kids for sure.
So on Mothers Day I find that she Loved me very much and I her, and there are times where I miss her so very much.