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Life as a Child in Germany During World War II
This may be a sensitive topic for many to read, but some of the things I’m about to tell you are real and a part of life that many of us don’t want to hear.
Although there are many articles published about WWII in Germany, not too many touch on the personal aspect of what it was like to grow up as a child during the war. For those of you who are interested, this article might be for you.
My parents grew up in Germany during WWII. When the war started, my mother was only three years old and my father was eight years old. My parents left Germany after the war as soon as they could to start a better life in America.
My mother, now in her 70s, doesn’t talk much about the war because it brings tears to her eyes. It’s a part of her life, I think she’d like to forget it all together.
My mother was one of five children and initially lived on the western edge of Poland. When Germany and Russia invaded Poland they were forced to relocate taking only the few possessions they could carry on their backs. Her father, who was in the army at the time, unfortunately died in the war. She never had a chance to find out who her father was. Her mother was left alone with five children to feed and without her own home.
They moved from house to house, shelter to shelter, who would accept them. There was no money, so my grandmother sewed clothes to sell to the needy. This little money she earned was sometimes enough to feed the family. The second time it wasn’t and they were lucky to find other people who were willing to help them with their meals.
Their food consisted mainly of cabbage and bread. Sometimes my grandmother would stand in line all day for just one loaf of bread only to find that everyone was gone when it was her turn to get some.
During this time, many families would take their children out of school at an early age – many as young as 12 so they could go to work and help the family survive. My grandmother, despite the temptation, did not allow this. Her children’s education was too important to her, so while her children slept, she sewed and sewed to earn what little money she could. For children who left school to work, the most popular places to work were bakeries and any place where food was produced. This way you can at least bring some leftovers to your family at the end of the day.
As they were constantly being evicted from the area and constantly on the move, they lived in many shared rooms with other homeless families. It was always a constant search to find a family that would take you in. The rooms were usually divided by sheets and were about half the size of a garage. Many times they slept on the floor on hay to protect themselves from the hard floors. If they were lucky, they got sacks of potatoes to use as blankets and often had to share them. Other times they would find shelters that would be one big room filled with other families. It was never a happy place – you were surrounded by sadness from people who had lost loved ones. You heard constant crying and had to keep a close eye on your personal belongings so they wouldn’t be stolen. There were no toys to play with so the children learned to use their imaginations to keep themselves busy.
Children were playing outside very close to the house in the streets among the ruins. Seeing dead horses and people in the streets was simply accepted. They got used to the sound of the sirens going off and running to the shelter where they would hide until it was over. Afterwards, it was time to play outside again.
I remember my mother telling me how in one case they were forced to evacuate quickly because bombers entered. Everyone with their families went out into the street carrying what they could of their belongings on their backs. Some people had horses and other carriages, but most of them only had suitcases and bags of their most prized possessions because you never had enough time to pack everything. Surviving was the only thing that mattered. As they joined the crowd in the streets to move out, suddenly the bombers came and started bombing the streets. The children were screaming, and the parents would run to the shelter, dragging the children behind them. I don’t want to be too graphic, but imagine being a little kid, 5 to 7 years old, watching people hit bombs right in front of your eyes, or watching another kid you were playing with that day suddenly die.
The war was a terrible time for everyone, including German civilians. You were forced to obey Hitler’s rules whether you liked it or not. Even after the war was declared over, my father once watched a woman die before his eyes at the hands of a soldier because she accidentally said “Thank God” and made a bad comment about Hitler. Her throat was immediately cut. She was then tied to a rope as an example so everyone could see what happens when you say something bad about Hitler.
It’s sad, I know. But that is the reality as it was for many German civilians during World War II. No wonder many of them wanted to come to America.
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