Prologue From the Ashes

Historians of wars tend to cover the obvious. There are aggressors and there are victims. In the case of World War II Hitler and his Nazi regime represented an evil so great that it stands as one of the vilest deeds of mankind. Gestapo, SS and SA officers terrorized Jews and minorities, brought war and destruction to many countries across the world, and over several years killed six million Jews alone. It is easy to see why many people despised Germany and its citizens. World War II killed between 55 and 60 million people, the most destructive war ever fought. By the time it ended, many European cities were ruined. Nearly 16 million Germans died, of those more than nine million civilians. Germany’s infrastructure and economy were annihilated. Germany had been evil and had received its punishment.

Yet, war affects more than the soldiers fighting it. Wars are all encompassing and live changing for everyone involved. This was the case then as it is today — and for nobody more than for the children.

The reasons I wrote this book are two-fold. I wanted to preserve the personal history of our family. Often, the past dies with the oldest generation. All we are left with are photos, names and family trees. Though my parents were in no way extraordinary people, their lives and circumstances, measured by today’s standards, were exceptional. They were neither Nazis nor soldiers but they were German when Hitler attacked Poland. Their lives, along with millions of other children were hidden behind the obvious atrocities of the Third Reich.

My mother was seven when World War II began. Her father joined the army within months, leaving her with a cruel mother who favored her brother. She endured a life most of us would think impossible. My father was eleven when the war started. He soon became the “man of the house”, responsible for supporting his family, mostly on an empty stomach. They were victims, yet they never saw it that way. They never complained, always worked and never questioned. They created things out of nothing, slowly and patiently. This book is my way to add one family’s story to the large picture of German history.