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Geseke's story

After the fire-storm

In July 1943 the war escalated to such an extent that no consideration could be taken for little girls' feelings. During the night 24/25th July, when it was very hot, Hamburg had the first of a series of very heavy air raids. By that time our house had its own air raid shelter in the cellar with heavy iron doors, bunkbeds, a toilet and plenty of sugar and nuts. My sister Hilke described the night in her diary:

"Daddy was in Pomerania to fetch Geseke. Henning was with the Luftwaffe. So we had no man in the house. Mami put on Daddy's helmet and went upstairs to look whether the house was on fire. Everywhere there was glass, even in the baby's cradle. Next morning at 9 o'clock, it was as dark as if it were 4am (I presume because of the smoke from the firestorm). The whole morning it did not clear. There was no light or gas. Later in the afternoon I wanted to fetch grass for my two little rabbits from the Moorweide (the Common). every two paces there was an incendiary bomb some were still burning. A policeman came and said I might as well go home and slaughter the rabbits".

When I arrived with my father the following day, I had only one night at home. Next morning my parents decided that apart from my father we should all leave Hamburg. More serious air raids were expected and there was chaos in the city. I n a few hours my mother packed the most urgent things for us, all in small bags or little rucksacks we could carry ourselves, three pieces of luggage for each of us. At 6pm we went to the Moorweide (a sort of common) where lots of lorries were waiting to take people out of the city. Our hope to all stay together became impossible. In no lorry was there enough room for all of us, in any case we were meant to go to different places. My eldest sister Hilke was the first to go - without so much as a goodbye - she went south to a farm where she had been staying before the summer holidays. My mother and the baby went to Thuringen to an aunt called Dora. On the way, whilst my mother was dozing, a strange woman took the baby and got off the lorry. Luckily my mother noticed just in time.

Our au-pair girl Klara was 16, and I was 9. My younger sister and I got on a lorry and were taken to the nearest railway station that was functioning. There we asked for a train to Pomerania. Every train was absolutely packed. After a lot of waiting we clambered into one of them only to be told it was the wrong one. Hastily we got out again and counted our nine pieces of luggage. The girl Klara broke down and cried, so did my little sister. Seeing the need to comfort her, I found it fairly easy to control myself. We finally managed to get on a train full of soldiers. I well remember sleeping on soldier's laps. After two nights and two days and half a dozen changes we arrived in Dorow.

The family there welcomed us back, and also more children from Berlin. A private teacher, Frau Smuda, was engaged and she taught five of us quite well. She was a good organiser but very strict with a terrible system of red, green and black points for each day according to how well each of us had behaved. 18 months passed with only one holiday with my family, a lovely summer in the Heide.

In January 1945 however it was no longer safe in Pomerania. The Russians moved fast and were near Schneidemuhl. So Meike, the teacher and I joined a family from East Prussia, and fled towards the West in two big trucks with horses, and carpets as roofs above us. The roads were icy and the horses often slipped, so we had to put both pairs in front of one truck which meant that progress was slow. At night farmers of big estates welcomed us and gave us food.

In February 1945 I arrived home in Hamburg, with Meike and the teacher. My parents invited the rest of my host family to come, which they eventually did for a while. For me arrangements were made to go to a school near the Baltic Sea. I stayed there for only two months. At that school I saw how one pupil after the other was fetched by her father, and I wrote a card home asking to be collected also, but my parents thought that Hamburg might become a place of streetfighting, and felt I was safer at school. I had a card from my mother saying;

" I wanted to bake a cake for you, but we had no gas. Every time we have an air raid I am glad you are not here."

In May 1945 when the war was over, of the three daughters evacuated I was the only one back home. The Director of the school had taken me and the rest of us back to Hamburg. When the British troops marched into Hamburg I wanted to look out of the window but my mother didn't like it and pulled me gently away. Later however we children went across the road to the house that was occupied and accepted lovely white bread with salty butter from the British cooks there, as well as used tea leaves which we dried and used again.

Meanwhile my older sister Hilke, then 16, tried to make her way from the most Southern part of Germany up to us. Germany was divided into 4 zones, and she needed a Zonenpass, but could not get one. She survived by working on farms, but the work was very hard and she was often exhausted and homesick. Again and again she tried to get this Zonenpass, which often kept her away from the farm and her work for hours, which the farmer did not like. In the end she left and hitchhiked or went as a stowaway on trains. For days she had a bad rash and skin trouble, but finally, having started the trip in May 1945 she arrived safe and sound in Hamburg on August the 5th.

My younger sister Brigitte was in the Russian zone. After many attempts to bring her back home had failed, my parents finally contacted this old aunt Dora in Eisenach, and she at nearly 80 with her 60 year old daughter decided to cross the green frontier by night, taking Brigitte with them. At that time the frontiers between East and West, especially in the woods, were not so well guarded as they are nowadays. In autumn 1945 it was still possible with a good guide to do this trip by night and they did. I never forget the joy of my family when in November 1945 Brigitte finally returned home.

The years immediately after the war were happy though hard in a different way. We were all together and my mother still says that those years were very happy in spite of the food shortages. My father being a lawyer, did not believe in the black market buying, though my mother often did get a loaf of bread that way. We gathered nettles for vegetables, the nutty fruits of the beech trees, mushrooms etc. A lot of time was spent keeping the seven of us alive. Once, whilst gathering wood for the fire, I found a lovely pair of army boots together with a packet of cigarettes. They were hidden in the shrubs and I never found out why they were there. I gave them to my brother for Christmas. The cooking of beans and peas was difficult. The gas pressure was so low that my mother did the cooking at night. She would go down into the cellar (where our kitchen was) several times during the night and finally wrap the big pot in newspapers and blankets until the next meal.

There was one source of help which stood out and which I will always remember - the school meals provided by the British Red Cross. We had each day a thick nourishing soup in our little pots with handles, and before any holidays we received an exciting parcel with dry food, e.g. a tin of chicken soup with rice, a bar of chocolate, a tin of sardines and other goodies. It was a great help - sometimes we were allowed to take seconds home. In the cold winter of 46/47 I often had a pot full of soup which was awkward when I wanted to skid home from school.

10th March, 2001

Geseke now lives in Warwick in England.

There are pictures of the events that Geseke describes, including:

Geseke is a member of the TIMEWITNESSES Panel of Elders.

Stories Map Food ELDERS