A little longer in Lahrheide

 

Of course the farmer’s family that took us in did not do so out of love. They had to take in families that could not live in the city. But I never felt like I was not wanted. The farmer’s son, Willi, and I were the same age and we were inseparable. We were bathed together in the kitchen.

Only when the family had to take in two more families, did we step back a bit as Tante Ida, the farmer’s wife, (not my real aunt but we used the term out of respect) could not fit us all in the kitchen.

When we started off, for the first few weeks Tante Ida would put a cooked breakfast in front of our door, until we settled in. She never did that for the other families.

Later the farmer, Onkel Wilhelm (again not my real uncle)  built a house on his property that we moved into. Actually two families lived in the house. We had two rooms each. There was no separate kitchen so you cooked in the “living room”.

lahrheide home1
The little house that Onkel Wilhelm built. We lived in the left side.

I lived in the farmer’s farm house from the ages of 6 to 11. Although the war had ended, there were many homeless people, not only us who had lost our homes in the city but refugees from the east, escaping the Russians.

I lived in the house Onkel Wilhelm built in Lahrheide  until I was 15 when I moved away to work as I live in housekeeper.

Always looking on the bright side

My mother had a knack of leading us to always look on the positive side of things, even when walking through the bombed out streets of Bremen.

To me the windows of the bombed houses looked like dead eyes. The front of the houses were facades, behind which were ruins. My mother would point to the flower growing out of the ruble and cracks in the foothpaths.

True to her nature, while I was in Ost Friesland, she wrote us a letter telling us that she found a place for us to live in the country where the beds had feather doonas so think you couldn’t look over them.

typical farmhouse
Typical farmhouse from Lower Saxony, where Lahrheide is.

 

She decided to leave the city and move to the little village of Lahrheide. She knew she could be self-sufficient in the country, being a farmer’s daughter. My father was a trained butcher, so knew how to kill goats and rabbits that we raised. We also used to goats for milk, cheese and butter.

uncle butchering
Onkel Alderk butchering a pig on his farm in Staplemooreheide

 

Out of the furs which my father tanned, my mother made coats and clothes and slippers. Because we lived near the moors, where we could cut peat for the fire, she would carve little toys for us to play with. Of course, there were no bought toys for our family.

garden
My mother with a local child in the garden of the house where we lived after we lived with the other people.

 

It was close to Christmas when we first moved to Lahrheide. We picked a real Christmas tree from the forest for our home.

village house
House next door to one we lived in at Lahrheide. I visited in 1982.

 

Of an evening we would sit in front of the fire and tell stories. We would roast apples on the fire. All in all, my mother made it like a little adventure, living in the country.

My parents would have seen things differently. We were only living in two little rooms in the attic of someone else’s property. We had very little and what we had was very basic. There was no electricity and no water. Water had to be brought up by buckets and a visit to the toilet required walking downstairs and outside near the pig sty.

Living with Tante Thelke.

thelke family
Tante Thelke on her marriage to Onkel Joke (sounds like Yoker). With their two children from previous marriages – his daughter, her son.)

After we lost everything in the bombing of Bremen, Mutti sent us to her family in the country. She was from Ost Friesland, to the west of Bremen. Her brother, Alderk, owned the family farm at Stapelmoor,  which he inherited from their parents. I never met my grandparents, as they died before I was born.

 

My brother and I were separated. He went to Onkel Alderk on the family farm. I stayed with my favourite aunt, Tante Thelke, at Stapelmoor, which was within walking distance of the family farm.

thelke and husband
Tante Thelke in the 1950s with their dog, in the front door.

 

Tante Thelke was 15 years older than my mother. Mutti was the second youngest in her family. Tante Thelke owned a little pub and a small holding with a couple of cows, pigs and chooks which meant she was self-sufficient. I had been here many times during the war, so this was like my second home. I loved staying there.

I slept with Tante Thelke in her large single bed. Her husband slept in the other big single bed. It was autumn and we kept warm in the feather blanket.

She had just lost her youngest son in the war. As a five year old I did not notice her sadness. She treated me with love and as a companion. I loved her in turn.

She was not a very good housekeeper so I did the dusting in the family room. I spent hours looking through her sewing basket with all the little bits and bobs it contained. She had so many beautiful buttons and appliques that are sewn onto clothing to decorate.

I was never hungry while on the farm. There was plenty of food.The only downside was the old food had to be eaten first. They preserved their own meat. This meant the meat might sometimes be rancid as it had to be eaten before fresh meat was brought out.

Life here was peaceful and quiet. There were no bombing raids and no air raid shelters. I played with Tante Thelke’s grandchildren. Given the age difference between Mutti and her sister, Tante Thelke’s grandchildren were my age. They lived in the same village. Their parents, my cousins, were the caretaker for the village church, the Dutch Reform Church – we were very close to the border with the Netherlands. Actually as Freslanders the culture and identity crossed the borders of Germany and the Netherlands.

cousin
Man standing is Tante Thelke’s son from her first marriage – he is the young boy in the wedding shot. Here he a soldier. He served on the Russian front. He escaped home just after the war but was killed in a car accident. This was not the son who died during the war.

 

Despite my cousin being the church caretaker and a regular church goer, the rest of our family were not devout and we did not attend church regularly, only on major festivals, like Easter and Christenings.

staplemoor church
The church at Staplemoor

 

I stayed a few months with Tante Thelke until Mutti found a place that we could be together.

thelke at old age
Tante Thelke and Onkel Joke in the 60s.

Moving to another country

In the early 1950s, my brother had moved to Wiesdorf Leverkusen,  near Cologne as there was more work opportunity. He rode his bike the whole way. He did not have a job lined up but thought he would find one as he had finished his apprenticeship as a carpenter. He may have followed a friend. Oh for the adventurous spirit of youth!

Four years later, my  mother and I decided to follow so we could stay together as a family.

A short time after arriving, about a fortnight, Mutti and I found jobs as housekeepers. We both stayed in my brother’s room – he was renting a room in a house. Mutti’s job came with a flat. Finding a flat was not an easy task as not enough flats were build in  the 1950s what with the destruction from the war and the post-war population growth. You had to be a resident of the city for a set time before you were able to get a government flat.

My  brother had just met his future wife when I arrived. They married and had a little girl. My brother and his family moved into our flat. We lived together for 3  years in Wiesdorf when my brother thought of moving to Australia. He had read about Australia from the advertising flyers from the Australian government. He was attracted by the  sunshine and more land. An opportunity to build your own house was his dream as a builder. My brother’s wife was attracted by the pictures of the sea. So he applied and his family were accepted on the assisted immigration program.

At the same time I thought  where else can you go for  50 marks? You had to stay for 2 years or else pay the full fare back. Well 2 years is not too bad! If we liked it we would send for Mutti.

I left Germany in 1960, one month after my brother. I had to have health tests and had to have a small pox vaccination. I had no English and no special skills and no money. Australia wanted people who would work.

I came by a large Italian ship, the MS Aurelia. You can read about the ship here. I was 22 and it was most exciting. I had one suitcase and about 100 marks, which was really nothing.

The ship left from Bremen Harbour. The journey took five and a half weeks. It was like being on a cruise. The ship was full of young people immigrating. Lots of young men who did not want to go into national service; lots of Hungarians who had left the unrest of their country. They were not all Germans on the ship but most were.

aurelia-bw1
The MS Aurelia

August 1944

If you read the English version of Wikipedia on the bombing of Bremen during WWII, there is no mention of the night that features large in my memories.

The most horrible night for Bremen was the attack in August 1944. I was now 6. Again we raced to the bunker at about 10.30 at night. Mutti always put us to bed in our sports training pants so when we had to be woken we were ready to go to the shelter.

My brother had by 1944 returned from being evacuated to the country. He was away for 3 years. It was lucky he returned as he was evacuated near to Dresden, which later suffered with the bombing even worse than Bremen.

In the bunker it was so hot we could not even touch the doors to the outside. The bunkers were big double story above ground buildings, like home units. They were without windows and had 2 meter thick walls. They were safer than being underground. You could feel the building moving when the bombs landed around it.

valentinbremen
My bunker was similar to this one.

 

The announcement came that the people who lived in the suburb of Findorf could not go home as the whole suburb was engulfed in the inferno from the phosphorous bombs. That was our suburb. Our street was gone.

Into the bunker!

My childhood peacefulness was interrupted by the Allied bombings. Every night we were woken by the terrible sirens; I still hear the sound in my head. You could hear the sirens from everywhere in the city.

You had two minutes to get ready and a few minutes more to get to the air raid shelter. When the shelter was locked, that was it. It would not be open for anyone.

My mother had a suitcase packed, sitting in the pram, ready for the run to the shelter. I would be perched on top of the pram so my mother could run to the shelter. I was 4.

The shelters were windowless, damp and smelly. Packed with scared people,the concrete bunkers were smelly. It was hard to breath. Kids were screaming and everyone was cranky. The doors weren’t open until it was safe to go out again, after the announcement as to which suburbs were hit and which suburbs were safe to go home to.

When you got out, the air was so bad you had to cover your face. The fire from the phosphorous bombs created such a fire storm that some people just caught fire from the heat; the ones who didn’t make it to the shelter.

Walking home, I would hear people screaming and asking for help as their family were under the rubble.

And when you got home, it was almost as if things were back to normal in the day time. Playing in the street.

 

Where did it start

I was born in Bremen, Germany, a year before the war. My earliest memories are of war time but it was still a good childhood.

I remember playing with other children on the street. Life was uncomplicated.

I will share my journey from the north of Germany to the northern state of Australia.

village school
My village school, Varenesch, Niedersachsen. c1950