This must be very sad for you, sad to see people looking back and there’s nothing. What must that be like? Gosh yes… something like that… something like that. I feel rather embarrassed. When I look right back… really go back, then I do need help… so I will try.
My childhood is very, very mixed up… I was an only child… born in Germany… Heide near Friedrichstadt… a beautiful little town with very few people… and we lived there a very happy life. My father played the violin. They were quite well off really… more than middle class.
My grandmother I remember was very, very strict… she was really the bane of the family… but there was nothing bad to say… nothing nasty… everyday went by without worrying… so… on the whole a happy childhood. I only remember one… and it made a big impression on me… I was playing very quietly… I had a beautiful doll’s house… I was under the table… and… you see this is what happens now… I forget… I can’t remember… I get so annoyed…
Your beautiful doll’s house?
Oh, it was beautiful… very Victorian like… the furniture… it was an interesting childhood because as I say… my grandfather was in the second world war… 1914 to ’18… that war seems to have been kept very, very quiet… so many lives lost and what for? At the time my grandparents… I forget now.
Yes… and my grandmother… tried to sell her things in the shop… and, “Oh Lord, how can you?” I thought how exciting… suddenly I looked up from under the table and there was my grandfather with his stick and he smacked her on the face… oh dear… because she did go on and on and on… “Mimi, Mimi,” he said, “That’s enough, that’s enough.” It was the first time I’d seen anybody smacking somebody… it wasn’t bad because my grandmother made it into a funny story… she could see I was upset… they hadn’t seen me… but she did go on and on and on… yeah… that was Gustav… my grandfather… and then something similar happened then… no, I’ve forgotten.
I’ve got a half-brother… Uri he lives in Switzerland now… he had a heart attack the same day I had my heart attack… really strange… he had a different father… it was terribly traumatic… it made a big impact… sorry it’s gone again.
I was a bit jealous of him… he was travelling with my mother and I was left with my grandparents… oh they were upset… It was terrible what happened… oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.
I think my mother and father split up. He was a little bit of a Casanova… and she of course was very upset… so of course… now it’s gone again.
I remember we had a beautiful house… and on the side of the house she grew some grapes… any nastiness was kept apart… it didn’t really happen… and my father… it was very, very sad… it was with the beginning of the war or just before and I think… I really don’t know but… he shot himself… they said it was a hunting accident… I don’t think so because he was never allowed to come home again. I think it was all connected to the rise of Hitler but he had to conceal it… my father was dead when the war started.
My mother was no good at business… my father was the businessman so the whole thing collapsed. My grandfather didn’t want to know… I was still a child… still naïve… now the memory goes again.
My great-grandfather he was very strict as well… he was very impressive… very tall and strong and firm… with a beard… and… oh yes, he had a coach and horses… he had a big wine business… it was fantastic but to me it felt completely natural… a coach and horses and now I ride in the minibus… unbelievable isn’t it?
I always had the most beautiful dresses… my grandmother still dominated the household… whatever she did was right. I remember once the girl was doing some dusting… my grandmother said, “Oh just look at the child, she’s not doing it properly,” and she rubbed her finger along the furniture where the dust was. How terrible but to me all that felt quite normal, and then Hitler came.
I was so silly… I thought how fascinating… quite thrilling… I thought it was all rather nice… the new uniforms and so on… showing off with my girlfriends… but people were still foolishly in their own little world… more or less. The horrible, horrible nasty things that happened… I’d like to say that I tried to push them away but at the same time get more knowledge… but my grandfather said that I really mustn’t get involved in this… “You don’t know these people.” I was so weak. Hitler was something that… well there’s no excuses at all… you can talk about it until the cows come home… and at the back garden we had… oh, it gets so mixed up and gone.
My grandfather tried to shield me… to take me right away from too much evil. I remember once I was in the front room… we were all issued with swastika flags… we were supposed to put them out of the window. My grandfather put them back in the packet and put them in the attic. “No, no,” he said, “There’s too much violence.” A terrible time… I still get little glimpses now and then… and… oh yes, this incident with the flag… I can laugh now but I say how come he didn’t get into the concentration camps. I don’t know what he must have done… I really don’t know… when he came back after the war he was in despair… he said how can people do that to an old man? I don’t know it might have been a concentration camp… he was in big trouble… I remember that. He so much wanted to keep evil away from me but I was so silly… oh dear it’s gone… oh…
They came hammering on the door. We were standing behind the curtains… I think they were marching… we were watching, my girlfriends and myself… but… strange… so much was kept away from me… My mother went to Russia… she seemed to go to Russia to work. My grandfather protected me. I remember now how he nearly went in to a concentration camp because he wouldn’t put the flag out.
We were hiding behind a curtain and there was supposed to be either Hitler or Goering… going past… and my grandfather pulled us away from view. I remember now, I gave flowers to Hermann Goering… it was so hypocritical… I don’t know what I was thinking… I can remember it clearly. I was annoyed that I wasn’t chosen by the Hitler Youth team to present the flowers… so I got flowers from our garden… put some string on it… and ran towards the car… it was a huge big car… and he was sitting… I don’t know where he was sitting… I looked and I… I don’t know whether I was swept away by the power or knowledge… what it was I don’t know… because first of all I could have been put into prison… then… I don’t know what happened then… oh yes… Yes! He stopped the car. He said, “Don’t ever forget that you’re German.” All the people had seen it. There was a lot of people, all shouting, and, “Hold her tightly, hold her tightly.” The German police or his body guards grabbed me… it’s a tiny bit wishy-washy… I don’t remember him getting out of the car… but I clearly remember running toward Goering with a beautiful bunch of big blooms from my grandfather’s garden… I was so proud… proud and stupid.
So now you have things that you remember since you are the person that hears it… the only one… it sends shivers down my arm to think… who knows these things now, because this knowledge is… no it’s gone.
I worked for the Red Cross after the war but somehow we never ever had proper knowledge. We were asked to be very strong… do as you’re told… don’t ask too many questions… oh but when you think… he killed thousands… millions and there was I thinking he’s a nice man… I said to my grandfather, “He doesn’t mean it.” I tried and tried to make excuses after the war, “He didn’t mean it.” What did I know of the dead… a spoilt child in a beautiful garden?
At the end of the war I felt numb… disappointed… something was crushed… I tried to understand… even so I remember the German army and things… how we would go and hand out tea and coffee. It’s a strange, strange thing… I still feel… disillusioned. I came to England in a daze expecting to be hated… I was surprised because people were kind to me. I was put down for hospital work first but I couldn’t do it… I used to cry and cry… I was in tears all the time. I felt so guilty. The ward sister said that I was just no good… that I had to be hard but at the same time soft. Perhaps with training but I couldn’t do it.
I was so stupid… such a snob and so stupid… the truth was something above our heads. I don’t know if I didn’t want to know… we had our youth club… like the Hitler Youth… I didn’t want to join but my grandfather said that we should try… “Let’s try. We don’t have to commit ourselves.” He was trying to calm it down and make it easier. I absolutely adored him… you know now when I look at my fingernails I remember one day we were sitting down to dinner and he looked and he said. “Eva, what is that?” “Nail polish,” I said. He said. “Take your nail polish, go to the chemist and ask him to take it off and then come back for dinner.” That was the kind of person he was… he would never condemn… but then he lost everything.
Augusta stayed with my grandparents… she was the maid… so devoted… because my grandparents had lost quite a lot of money… they had it taken away. Augusta said, “No, no, no. I’ll look after you.” The maid supported the master… my grandfather was the stronger one… poverty was never mentioned but I think they were really hard up later on. My grandmother couldn’t cope when the money went. The beautiful house and… oh when I think… the beautiful furniture… when it all went off. When she couldn’t keep the big house she lost her mind.
I don’t really know when I started to forget… did I get married? People do not want to listen to my silly stories. When I look back there are certain games I remember… a German card game… it’s gone again… one game… ‘Put down your cards slowly’… the tension on the table. My great-grandfather loved those games… oh bless! Such a happy memory… it really makes me happy to remember that.
Could I teach you to play?