My grandmother is the most interesting woman I know. Not only because of her past, but because of her knowledge on vast subjects. She has a whole library filled with books on history, science, literature; anything you can imagine, and she’s read them all. Despite the generation gap, we have a lot in common. We love animals, we love philosophy, beauty routines, religion, politics; I could go on. She is the most open minded person I know and I truly feel like I can talk to her about anything.
She is from Germany. She grew up there and moved to the U.S. to be with her sister in her twenties. She by no means had an easy life, and today we talked a bit about what it was like for her growing up in Munich during the war.
G: I didn’t quite know what was going on.
C: So, did your mom have friends in the camp?
G: No, I don’t think so.
C: Did you know anyone that got sent to them?
G: Well, I don’t really know anybody.
C: Were there Jewish people in Munich?
G: Yes. We had a doctor, she was Jewish. But she left when things got bad. She went to the Jewish state. But things weren’t so good either for her. I mean some people were, let’s face it, there were always people in Europe against Jews. But before it was religious, but if they converted to christianity, they were then a christian. Only with Hitler it all of a sudden became a different race.
C: So Hitler made it that they were different and bad, when before they were just a religion that upset some people. Did you ever see posters or propaganda?
G: Yes, there were many posters. I remember very clearly they had to wear a yellow star. I was once out with a few friends in the park, we were very young, and there were some Jewish people. The kids started pointing and yelling “JEWS! JEWS!”, you know how kids are, and somebody from across the street yelled “You cut that out or I’m going to give you a good beating!” So people were not supportive of that in Germany. Some were, some were not; it was very split. You know, like some people were against black people. It was terrible for black people too.
C: Did your mom ever say anything about it? Did she ever tell you what as going on?
G: No, we were too young to understand. It’s truly terrible. And about the concentration camps, we knew they existed, but we thought they were “labor” camps since all the soldiers weren’t in those jobs anymore.
C: So people thought the Jewish people were being put to just work the jobs that were left by the soldiers? Did people think they Jews were going on their own will?
—— we get distracted by my cat ——
G: I was too young to get the full story.
C: What did your mom think when you came to the U.S. and married a jewish man?
G: I don’t think she cared. It didn’t bother her. She figured it was ok in America. The only thing my mother worried about was that what happened in Germany would happen here. I guess my mother was not very religious in the strict sense.
C: Sounds like she was very open minded.
G: That’s it. The jewish question never even came up. I didn’t care either. To me, he was just Mort.
——chatter about random things——
G: You just wonder how that can happen.
C: I guess Germany just felt weak and here this guy comes promising to make them, well, not to quote Trump, but “great again.”
G: That’s it. One has to be careful for that.
C: So when you watch Trump, do you think he’s like Hitler? Some people are afraid and draw comparisons of the two.
G: Well, he would never be able to make it like it was. Hitler came at a time when Germany was very low and lost the war. They had to pay all these reparations from WWI, so Germany was very low and that helped Hitler.
C: So you would be outside playing, or in your house having lunch, and you’d hear the alarms and have to go into bunkers? And you’d hear the bombs?
G: Well, yes. I must say, Munich wasn’t as bad off. We didn’t get the war too much. Some people had to run in the east from the Russians.
C: How old were you when this happened?
G: I was 6 years old when the war began. As I said, Munich was lucky in a way. If you lived in the East, you had to leave everything behind. I think my god, what did the farmers do with their cows? Did they just let them run free?
C: That’s horrible.
G: I mean, a war can affect so much.
C: So when this was happening, if I recall correctly, your mother sent you to the country side? Or did you stay in Munich?
G: No, my mother stayed in Munich. They evacuated all schools. All the hotels that got money from tourists were empty because they had no more business. We were sent to these hotels in the country side with our classmates and teachers. I was there for two years.
C: Did you see your mother during this time?
G: Well, she would visit sometimes. I also once went to Munich for a little vacation. But, as I said, Munich wasn’t as bad until then end. Then there was bombing every night.
C: Was your mom there when the bombing was every night?
G: Yes. In fact, my younger sister was too.
C: Why did your sister stay?
G: Because she was the clingy type. She couldn’t leave our mother. What it was, she lost those years of school. My mother could’ve kept me too, but then you lost a lot of school years. So, the whole schools were evacuated with the teachers into a hotel.
C: So you lived with your teacher and classmates?
G: Yes. Oh my, I’m telling you, but when you’re a child, you just don’t know. You take what’s presented to you and everyone else was in the same situation so I didn’t think much of it.
C: After the war ended, did you realize the truth about everything?
G: Yes. When the Americans came and they liberated the concentration camps, it was horrible. You just live through the time, you take it, and you don’t analyze it, especially when you’re a child. We still had it good because some had to flee. Munich was, for a while, one of the better places. My poor mother, she was always a nervous wreck.
C: Thank you for talking to me about this. I love you.