“I was born in 1925 and grew up in a small village in northern Germany. I was eight years old when we moved to Berlin. My father was a banker but he started at the bottom with a bank in Berlin because he didn’t want to join the Nazi party. After we moved, I received skis for Christmas. It was lovely to ski with my father in the woods on the edge of Berlin. We were ordered two months later to turn in our skis for the war. It killed my joy of skiing, but we had to do what was expected if we wanted to stay alive.
I was held back in school because the doctor said I had a heart condition. I never knew if that delay was because of my heart condition or if my father was trying to keep me from being forced to join the Hitler Youth. I started high school a year late, and my father taught me to act invisible so I wouldn’t stand out. That year, students collected newspapers and clothing for the war. We also knitted socks, mittens, and shawls for the soldiers.
I was getting skinnier because I was growing fast, and we didn’t have enough food. In 1941, my mother arranged for me to stay as a helper with a farming family. I loved working on the farm and having more to eat. Sometimes they also supplied my family with food.
Our high school class was later sent to serve families who were settled in Poland. My parents were upset about this, but we had to follow orders. Each student was assigned to a different family, and we lived in an empty school that had been soldiers’ quarters. The school was filthy, and we slept on bags of straw filled with fleas. I was assigned to work for a young couple with a baby. The work with them was fine, but I became scratched and injured from handling grain. We also dug potatoes by hand; my scratches became infected, and I got boils. I could barely walk because my arms and legs were so infected. There was no supervision and no one to care for our illnesses. A train finally took us back to Berlin. We were overjoyed to return home to our families, but it was shocking to see the destruction from the bombing and the number of families killed. On the radio, they said the war was successful.
I took my final high school exam in 1944 and was required to start my year of war service immediately. We weren’t allowed to attend college, even if we wanted to. My choice of service was to work in a munitions factory producing weapons to kill people or a kindergarten. The differences in these choices didn’t make sense. I wouldn’t produce weapons to kill people, so I took the kindergarten job and cleaned equipment, toys, tables, and chairs with Lysol. The job was acceptable, but I couldn’t stand the smell of Lysol after that.
A few months later, I got a draft letter from the Army. My assignment was to be with the Germans shooting the airplanes carrying bombs. I was 20 years old and wasn’t going to do that. It was after the invasion of Normandy, and my parents agreed that my sister and I should try to get away and stay with my aunt. Many people were fleeing west because the Russians were moving into the east. I caught up with one of those groups and went to where my aunt lived. I got a job at a center for refugees. I didn’t tell anyone I had been drafted and was running away from service.
After the war ended, my sister and I tried to return to our parents, but we didn’t know if they were still alive. We returned to our apartment in Berlin, but the American occupation took over the apartments for their servicemen. We found our parents living in an upstairs room in a family home. The family was an elderly couple who didn’t want anyone living with them. My sister and I went to the housing authority, which regulated where people lived. My sister got a room immediately, but they told me I couldn’t stay in Berlin. There were no rooms for anyone over 21.
I left Berlin and got a job with the Red Cross helping refugees. Schools reopened after the war, and I went to school to study social work. Exchange programs were also started to democratize the Germans. I was recommended for a scholarship to study in the U.S. as an exchange social worker. Living with Americans in Peoria, Illinois was a wonderful experience, and I immigrated to the U.S.
Friends asked me to go out for coffee with another friend visiting from Chicago. I had him call me so we could talk on the phone before I said yes. We dated for five years before we got married in 1979. He passed away in 1982. My time with him was too short.
New Orleans interested me, so I took a bus tour there. The winter in Illinois was terrible, and that trip opened my eyes to the warm south. I lived in New Orleans for years then moved to Mobile after Katrina. I’ve been here ever since.”