IamA 92 year old woman from Stuttgart, Germany, and experienced Nazi Germany as a civilian. AMAA!
I'm a friend of /u/samuirai, who did this AMAA with his grandmother 3 weeks ago. Now I want to give you all the opportunity to ask questions to my grandmother. I think it is interesting to read different experiences. Their careers are similar to each other, that is just a coincidence though.
I'm sitting here with my 92 year old german grandmother. Proof with old pictures of her and her family.
She was a very active woman but her health condition worsened dramatically a few months ago. Now life is really hard for her, since she has to lie on her sofa the whole day. Before her memories get lost, I wanted to document them in an AMAA. She has already told me a lot of stories of the past, but I think there is much more to get to know. Her experience is very valuable to me and I want to share her knowledge with you.
She was born in September 1922 in Stuttgart, Germany, is now 92 years old and lived her whole life in Stuttgart. She went to basic school called 'Hauptschule' back then from 6-14y/o and went to a sort of business school afterwards called 'Handelsschule', where she learned stenography (shorthand) and typing with a typewriter fluently. Education was very expensive, her school cost about 100 ‘Reichsmark‘ per month. Her parents were farmers like most of the people back then, and had to work really hard to enable her to attend that school. She was only allowed because her marks were the best in 'Hauptschule'. Most of her classmates had to work in a nearby shoe factory or in the fields at the age of 15.
At this time she was first in the Jungmädelbund and then in the Bund deutscher Mädchen (BDM). She remembers everything as if it was yesterday. They sang folk songs, went hiking every Sunday, dressed well and corporate feeling was strong. They were also raised well-mannered. She said it was a great time, probably the best time of her life.
She turned 17, 3 days after war began in September 1939. She was committed to military service in an office of a factory of ‚Bosch‘ with huge typewriters. She had to type non-stop and her fingers hurt even though she wore protectors. She had to calculate and type bills of soldiers for items the soldiers bought during war. Her colleague had to go to war in 1941 and she had to learn how to use huge calculating machines within a few days as well. Later, she had to bandage wounds of soldiers from the front line in the same factory.
Later on, Stuttgart got bombed many times by the Allied forces. Lots of people she knew were killed. Our house got hit by a 2-tons-phosphorus canister, enough to blow up the whole house and surrounding houses easily. Luckily, it didn’t detonate, but the pressure of the impact was so huge that it pushed everyone hiding in the cellar to the other wall. You had to open up the cellar on both sides, so that the pressure of the impacts doesn’t tear up your lungs. The bomb hit our house right in the moment her grandpa finished making the second hole. (Yes, our house survived the war.)
Her parents were not in the NSDAP, she knows that for sure, she thinks they were social democrats. Members of the NSDAP had many advantages and her family did not have them. Her dad had to go to war and survived. Her younger brother did not have to go to war, because he had chronic rheumatism. He died at the age of 35 due to his rheumatism, which caused a heart attack. She married a former SS soldier in November 1957. He fought in the Battle of Monte Cassino and in the Normandy, where he was the only survivor of his battle unit by chance because he got stuck in a little crevice. He was in war captivity under the Englishmen, then shipped to New York (both cruel treatment), then transferred to Canada (very good treatment).
My grandma worked for the city of Stuttgart as a secretary until she retired at the age of 56 and helped a lot of people with their finances. She had a dead birth in 1958, then gave birth to a daughter 3 years later. Her husband died half a year before I was born in an immense misfortune. He was a painter and so sportive, that he could still walk up or down stairs on his hands at the age of 60.
Please be respectful and feel free to ask questions.
edit 05:52pm GMT +2: Thank you guys for all your questions and responses, we try to answer as many questions as possible, but it is very exhausting for her. I let her sleep for half an hour now. "I'll be back." :D
edit 10 minutes later: Wow, she is already back in business. We will answer some more questions now. She enjoys answering your questions. :)
edit 07:16pm GMT +2: Sorry guys, she had to go to bed, she is very exhausted. Her health condition is not the best and she does not hear well since I can remember, so asking her questions was a hard job. I have to leave Stuttgart today to study. We will answer some upvoted questions next weekend. Thank you all very much for your interest.
edit 09:24pm GMT +2: It's GMT +2, not +1. I answered some more questions I could answer myself. I know lots of stories of my grandma and just reproduced them.
edit next day: I've gone through a lot of comments lately and noticed that lots of people accuse germans back then for not noticing what the fate of those poor Jews was. Please remember that they had no televisions, internet, telephones whatsoever. Their only sources of media were newspapers and radio, which both were heavily controlled by propaganda. Nowadays, brain-washing people gets harder and harder due to the Internet, but back then it was easy. Remember that only 25 years before WW II started, people went cheering into WW I, thinking that they will be back home victoriously by Christmas. You should reconsider your accusations and think of what it must have been like to live at this time. Many gave their lifes and tried to kill Hitler and bring war to an end, but they all failed. If it had been so easy, why would none of them have succeed? It is easy to accuse others while grabbing some popcorn and going to bed without fear.
"In the "Hindenburg-Bau" (a building in Stuttgart), there was a dance-cafe every Sunday. I was there many times with my friends. There was a musician who played his guitar singing: "Es geht alles vorüber, es geht alles vorbei, auch Adolf Hitler und seine scheiß Partei."(translation: Everything, everything will come to an end. So will Adolf Hitler and his crappy party (NSDAP).) There was a table with officers in the cafe, one of them stood up, pulled out his gun and shot the musician in his breast. He was instantly dead and they pulled his dead body out of the cafe. That was very horrible."
Did you ever see Hitler himself? At a rally or such?
"Yes at Obersalzberg I stood right besides him and when he visited the "Hitlerjugend" in Berchtesgaden (Upper Bavaria) I saw him again." WOW I did not know that :O she said that there is maybe a picture with her and him on it somewhere, I have to search for it when I got some time.
edit: "Someone in the crowd shouted in Swabian dialect that he wants to see something as well. Hitler then said that he wants the Swabians to come to his side. It was funny and very exciting at the same time."
Guten Abend und Grüß Gott. Ich habe keine Fragen an Sie. Ich wünsche Ihnen einfach einen schönen Abend mit Ihrer Familie, und vielen Dank für Ihre Zeit und dieses wundervolles AMA.
Herzliche Grüße aus dem Vereinigten Königreich
Very good german!! :) Thank you very much Sir! :)
Thank you very much for answering and taking time to do this.
You're welcome. :)
What did you think of the SS?
"Of course: the elite. They were attractive men and every girl adored them. They were tall and sportive and good-mannered and their uniforms were great." I asked her, if they heard bad things about the SS. She shook her head.
What do you miss about life in Stuttgart then, if anything?
"Back in the days there were many fields and trees here, lots of them are gone and buildings took their place. Hiking with friends was always fun, I miss that."
Thanks for doing this! And everybody else, take this as an opportunity to get an honest view and be respectful if you don't share that view.
My questions are, how many Jews did you know from your community and what happened to them? And what were common prejudices against Jews during that time?
Hey Samu :) "I only knew one family, they arrested them and we never heard anything of them again. Jews were said to love money more than anything else, but we didn't share this thought in our community because Arnold (see answer above) was a very kind man. Germans love money as well, everybody does really. There is no difference."
As an Iranian non-Jew, I can confirm that I, too, really love money.
Haha: "you would be really dumb if not"
Your question reminds me of why my grandma told me once. She will be turning 88 this summer and grew up during Nazi times. So many stories.
She said her father always bought the cloth for his suits in a Jewish store. He found the family nice and after the Kristallnacht they were gone. He just said "that poor family". My grandma didn't understand it at the time, she said after the Kristallnacht there was a lot of candy laying around from all the damaged stores. But she also said that some of her peers at school disappeared and that people with Jewish names (Spielberg, Rosenthal and so on) got scanned by authorities for potential "bad" heritage.
Another story I like though is when the Brits came (we live in the British part) all the girls came out to see them because as you may know Hitler really liked the British heritage and called them very Aryan. They were sooo disappointed haha But some of her friends actually went back to Britain with them when they left. One that always weathered against Jews went to Britain with a German born jew who came back as a soldier. So the prejudices were breakable in some cases.
"I'm glad to hear that some prejudices were overcome. There were lots of them back then, we didn't like the French occupants, because a german soldier told us, how they were spitted at by the french when they moved into Paris." edit: "My husband never went to Italy for holidays with us, because of his experience he made with Italian soldiers during the Battle of Monte Cassino."
Are there any popular misconceptions about what average people were like in Nazi Germany? Was there some kind of normalcy and optimism around daily life, or was there a encroaching sense of dread regarding the horrendous things happening in Germany and abroad?
"We were normal people who did not want to harm anyone. Everybody was optimistic in terms of the war. There was a daily dose of fear, because so many men we knew were at war and we never knew if a bomb would hit the house. We stayed in the cellar and begged that we would survive."
We stayed in the cellar and begged that we would survive
Holy shit, and that for years...
"While airstrikes only, there was an alarm system later on, but you had to run into the cellar immediately when alarm went off, the system was flawed. I remember the first airstrike, a soldier was at the neighbor's house who saw the parachutes of the bombs flying, we did not know that these are bombs. He shouted RUN, RUN TO THE CELLAR ALL OF YOU AND STAY THERE, THESE ARE BOMBS! We were lucky he was here at that time. There was no alarm system yet."
edit: "I was on 6th floor to treat wounded soldiers, then the alarm went off, I ran down the stairs as fast as I could and before I reached the cellar, there came water down the stairs as well because the building got hit."
Hello! My grandmother is the same age as yours, but lives in eastern Hungary. I commend you for doing this with your grandma, as it won't be much longer before people who remember the war won't be able to share their memories with us anymore.
That said, my question isn't as much about Nazi Germany so much as from being so old: what invention has been the most important in your grandmother's opinion in her lifetime?
"We need all these inventions. They make life easier for us. Telephones are good, washing machines as well and cars." She cannot make up her mind. Greetings to your grandma. Hope she's doing well.
Hi, sounds like you've lived an extremely Interesting life and thankyou for this AMA. What was, if any, the punishment for knowing you lived around Jewish family's but not declaring that to the government?
"We didn't know of anyone who hid Jews. But if anyone did, they would have had bad times. There was a Jew named Arnold, who owned a nearby fabric, he was a good man. He gave anyone asking him work and payed his workers well. He never let anyone down." I asked her if they took him away. "Yes they came and arrested him."
Fabrik > factory
Stoff > fabric
Oh, stop being such a Grammar Na....um oh sorry never mind
haha good one :D nothing to do here flies away
Arnold, who owned a nearby fabric
A factory, probably. :)
Thanks for the AMA!
Yeah, "Fabrik" is german for factory.
Yes sorry, my English got worse in the last few years. :( factory it is
Your English is perfectly understandable, by the way. Thanks so much for the AMA :)
Thank you. I give my very best. :D
Do you remember first hearing about Hitler as a child, and how did the sentiment towards him change during his reign?
Thank you for doing this, and have a great day!
"We were "BDM-girls", thus "Hitlerjugend" and therefore enthusiastic. I cannot remember the time I first heard his name, but we were always enthusiastic, until the end." My thoughts: wow, that sent chills down my spine. Very thrilling.
What were the advantages of being in the NSDAP as you remember them?
"For example when your house got destroyed by bombs, members of the NSDAP got a new place to stay first. But it didn't affect us." She cannot remember any disadvantages not being a member. That was my bad then, sorry.
What could be said about the things nazi germany did correctly? Like how mussolini improved train travel therefore benefiting daily life
"They were all unemployed. Adolf changed that and everybody had work. That was great. He canalized our river (Neckar) and we never suffered from flooding again after that. He shouldn't have started war."
How do you feel about the trial of Oskar Groening? He is 93 and on trial for working at Auschwitz as a bookkeeper/accountant.
"Insane. You cannot judge anyone 70 years later. Life is hard enough with 93. They cannot imagine how hard. I bet he regrets the things he has done or had to do without a trial."
What are some things you love about Germany currently, and things you miss about Germany pre-WW2? And thanks for doing the AMA! :)
"Pre-WW2 it was our home and it's our home now. We belong here. We were born here, here is our house and we belong here. I don't miss anything pre-WW2, only the people who had to die." The only thing she misses would be the security young women had at that time. There was nothing like rapes, sexual harrassment, stealing or something like that, because punishment was harsh. "We could walk back home late at night alone without having fear."
Hello and thank you so much for sharing your experiences.
My question: Thinking back, does anything about the tense climate in today's political scene remind you of anything that happened before the war broke out?
She doesn't know anything of today's politics. "We only get to know what happens in the world after it happened. We have no influence on the things happening and we have to rely on those men and women who do."
Did she know the Adler Family? My grandmother is also 92 and from Stuttgart... They used to own a bunch of factories before the Nazis came and took them.
"Which sort of factories? I know the name well, but cannot remember."
Did you see the trains filled with Jews or shops that were owned by Jews after Krystalnacht?
"No, I don't know. They were arrested, but we didn't know where they brought them or what happened to them at that time."
Thanks for doing this ama.
Propaganda was undoubtedly used throughout the war. Was she and her colleagues, friends or family aware of what was propaganda/true/untrue? Was it even discussed at all at the time? I'm guessing it would be dangerous to do so, but that probably didn't stop it being discussed completely
"Yes we discussed a lot, but I don't remember if anyone said that all the propaganda is false. They would not have been allowed to. Hitlerjugend and BDM were strong organisations, there was no chance for going against common beliefs."
First all, thanks for doing this AMA. When you realize Germany hadn't chance to win the war? Thank you.
"We always believed in the victory. Even after Stalingrad. Absolutely."
Hey! Thank you so much for doing this AMA! It's great having a primary source! My question is, during Hitler's rise to power before the war in 1933, did all Germans, including yourself, love him? I mean, he did bring back Germany's lost honour and economy from World War I. When did the general mood towards Hitler change? What did he do? Did you support him during the war?
"Everybody was enthusiastic about Adolf, nobody hated him or anything like that. That did not change until the end. I don't know, I was a young girl. We were young and naive."
I've always been impressed by the technology of Germany in those years. What did they do so well back then that made so many men and women become adept at math, science, and technology?
"We germans didn't do anything differently, we work hard on our talents and care about the important things. We help each other and share our knowledge with the young."
My grandma was 14 years old and had to work for a butchery, when british and american bombers dropped bombs on the small town (with no industrial targets at all). She would never forget the image of the dead people lying in front of the shop when she came out of the basement where they were hiding. Near the end of war her mother and sisters (brothers where forced to join the army at ages of 15,16,18 and never returned) were hiding in the coal cellar of their house just hoping that american troops would be there first in town (both sides were very close, near Zwickau/Chemnitz). Not the Russians, just not the Russians. There were horrible stories about the russian troops raping and murdering girls and women. The russian army was in this town first and they checked the backyard of the house and it's surroundings but didn't go into the cellar of the house (probably knowing that the family was hiding there). Hearing all her stories about that time teached me one thing: In war there is no good or evil side. People forced to join armies murdering people on the other side who where forced to do the same.
How did your grandma experience the re-union of Germany? Any relatives on the other side?
I remember my grandma was so so happy when she finally could visit her older sisters, who moved to west-germany before the wall was built. Over the 40 years of separation they could only stay in touch by writing letters and sometimes "west-pakete" for my parents and me as a child.
"Yes you are right, the Russians were the worst occupants. Many got raped. I didn't know anyone on the other side of the wall. When the wall was torn off, it was a huge "Fest", meaning a great celebration and everybody was relieved and happy."
I read a book once by a survivor who talked about how the Jews in Auschwitz hated Christians because the Nazi's were "Christians" and attended church every Sunday. What does your grandma have to say about the persecution of Judaism by the German Church during the rule of Nazi Germany?
"No, she went to church often, but never heard something bad about Jews there. They should have moved the Jews somewhere, but never kill them. It is forbidden to kill someone."
Could you elaborate on what you mean by, "they should have moved the Jews somewhere"?
"They should have shipped them to their country and let them settle there peacefully. Killing is not an option."
She? Who is she talking about?
Her grandson is typing the replies for her.
Yes, she can type way faster than me, but only with her typewriter which would be pretty oldschool. :P
I was born in Stuttgart in the 1970's (USArmy brat).
Anyway, was the nazi movement strong throughout the entire country? Were small villages affected the same as the cities?
"Yes, in cities much stronger than in small villages.
At the time, did you agree with what was happening?
"You were never asked. You had to push through and hope that everything goes well. War is bad and we knew that, everybody lived in fear but we couldn't change that situation."
My mother was born in Stuttgart in 1947. She lived there only for a few years until my grandfather, who was in the US army, moved back to the states (although he was originally from Germany). I wonder if you can tell me what life was like there in general, the late 40s? Thank you very much for this opportunity to ask!
"1947 was horrible. Nothing to eat. Children were hungry and we could not give them food. That was way more horrible than being hungry yourself. We had food ration stamps and had to cut spending drastically. That's probably why we Swabians are so good at saving."
What exactly went through your mind when the war started and what changed around you ?
"I was committed to military service. It was hard work. We were not excited about the war, because we knew that war is bad."
Danke für dieses AMA!
Were there any noticeable threats for not being in the NSDAP? If not, despite all the pain caused by the war, is there a memorable moment of happiness?
Grüße aus dem hohen Norden!
"Bitte. Grüße zurück. No, no threats at all. I was a young girl and didn't know much about politics. When soldiers came back from war. We were always very happy about that and celebrated."
Do you know my grandma? She is also from Stuttgart Germany. http://imgur.com/sEpbWhn This is her when she was 17 8-8-1938 parade called "Day for the Germans in the world"
I will definitely ask her next weekend, stay tuned in.
How much did you hear about the world outside Germany, and during the Nazi era did you wish you could travel or escape? Where to and why?
Thank you both so much for doing this AMA. :)
"We were well-informed about german victories during the war. No I didn't want to escape, Stuttgart is my home. We travelled a lot after the war. To the USA, where we have relatives, to Italy many times, Southern France, Denmark, Poland."
How did you learn that Germany was losing or had lost the war? How was this information presented to average German citizens?
"I do not remember, sorry. I think by mouth-to-mouth rumors."
Can you remember the day war was declared? Do you remember ever feeling optimistic about the progress of the war? Do you remember a distinct turning point or event that indicated the war was not going well for Germany?
"Stalingrad, but we did not think of losing the war. Victory was sort of unquestionable, we were optimistic until the end."
What was it like for you to hear the war was finally over? What did you feel?
"Relieved. Relieved. Relieved. Nobody wanted the war, we had enough with the first (WW I)."
You mentioned that Hitler helped with preventing the river Nekar from flooding. I don't think people know how often it flooded. I've never been to Stuttgart but Nekargemünd has markers painted in the sides of buildings showing the flood lines and years they happened. Can you talk about what the flooding used to be like a bit? Thank you for doing this!
Yes I can :) she told me stories about it very often in the past. The river was flooded many times a year. One time, they forgot to open up the geese stable and all geese drowned. Her grandpa built our house on top of a nearby hill then, because he was sick of the floodings. (That's probably what I would call a good old rage quit. :D)
"Yeeees of course. Lots of cruel things happened, but now it's peaceful here." She always says that no war should be started ever again, that mankind shall learn from their mistake to make war.
Looking back, what was the most shocking thing you experienced in the time of Nazi-Germany?
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