Yesterday was the anniversary of my father’s birthday. He was born in the year 1900 and he would have been 113 years.
Fifteen of his descendents live in Australia and nine in Germany . Two of his grandchildren have passed away.
I loved him very much but this feeling was not reciprocated.
This is how he looked when I become aware of him during the first years of my life.
Oddly enough this photo was taken in the street where the hospital is in which I was born in. Perhaps he was there to visit my mother. Who knows? No date was given for this picture. He looks a bit cheeky there. This is what he was like.
I loved the taxis of that time. They were spacious, had a fold back roof and two fold up seats for us kids. I still think he was the best driver ever. Normally he was a nervous type, but behind the wheel he was Mr. Calmness himself. He made the car seemingly float through the traffic.
The oldest picture of him, I have is this one. Here he is with his mother and his two sisters as a six year old.
On the next picture he looks bit like young Master Richard (his name).
He was born outside Berlin but his family soon moved to the big city where the work was. In school he received not very high marks, but we know he was good at German and mathematics. I think he caused lots of trouble and his reports were accordingly. My sisters and I, we discovered his school reports one day and found that he was not the ideal pupil he always made out he was.
In the next picture he looks even more like a young gentleman.
But his youth was rudely interrupted when WW I started. He volunteered for the army after his father fell on the front in Flanders in 1916. Because of his age he was only an auxiliary soldier in the occupied Polish – Ukraine.
Here he was put in charge of the local church. The post card is ninety-six years old. Still, life must not have been easy as he lost one toe due to frostbite.
After the war he went to learn the bank business. He worked in the bank till the great crash of 1929. He was retrained as a car driver and worked then as a pool driver with the Berlin radio station. Later he became a taxi driver. That is what he was when I joined the family in 1935.
He hated the Nazis and he forbade us children to ever exhibit the Swastika flag. The world financial crisis probably made him a communist. He was twice arrested by the Gestapo for saying he would like to kill Hitler. They left it up to my mother whether she ever wanted to see him again. Later she joked she was stupid for pleading for his release.
When WW II started he volunteered again. He never told us why he did this. Did he like adventure, did anybody ask him to do it in order to spy on the Wehrmacht.? I wonder. His regiment was part of the occupation force in occupied Poland. He was either in Poznań or Lodz. Once on furlough he complained bitterly about the treatment that was dished out to the Russian POWs. He told us they were starving and giving them some bread was very difficult and strictly forbidden. While stationed in Poland he was mostly a car driver.
In Lodz he was billeted with a German family. The woman there and he became lovers. This, and other matters, later lead to frictions with my mother and divorce.
After the landing of Western Allied forces on Sicily in August 1943 he was transferred to Italy. His regiment in Poland was later totally decimated (germ. aufgerieben) at the Eastern Front. In Italy he drove mainly motor lorries with supplies to the front from the north to the south. Every trip became shorter as the Allies pushed up the Italian Peninsula. It was often very dangerous and a real carnage as the convoys came under attack from the US Army Air Force.
It must have been terrific and must have had an effect on his mind. Nobody was talking about trauma counselling. In April 1945 he was taken prisoner by the Italian partisans. The prisoners were handed over to the Americans and taken to Southern German to a prison camp. During the handover the German soldiers were relieved of all personal items like watches, wedding rings etc.
My Dad always knew how to adjust to a new situation. He was able to trade his cigarette ration into American Field rations (Type C). He had an arrangement with a woman outside the camp who helped him sending them by post to my mother in Berlin. I think, he must have been the only person in history sending parcels from a prisoner of war camp. The rations contained tobacco and cigarettes too and they became valuable items for trading for other goods in short supply. It was a great help for my mother.
In May 1946 he was released from the prison camp and returned to Berlin with my two sisters he had picked up on the way from where they had been evacuated to at the end of the war. It should have been a great occasion for me, but it was not. I think one day I will write a fictional account of that day. The day after he came back he went to join the Communist Party.
From the day of his return on the relationship of my parents went downhill. In January 1949 my mother left my dad with us children, and they divorced later that year. Women of her generation had learnt to live and manage their own lives without their husbands. Shortages became the cause for many arguments.
I never lost contact and I saw him often on the streets of Berlin driving his own taxi. When we migrated to Australia we wrote to each other and he even had the idea of coming out here for a visit.
But he became ill with lung cancer and died 5 March 1973 after a long hard battle. The last time I had seen him was in August 1958 on a visit to Berlin. We lived with our daughter Gaby in Düsseldorf at the time.
After the war my father was with us for only two and a half years. There is not much to remember about the time before the war. The time after the war was filled with disputes between my parents. Sometimes he told us stories from the war in Italy. He did not trust politicians very much. Hitler was a criminal for him. All in all there was not much time for a proper father / son relationship.
He always dressed well. He never had dirty hands. He could cut tomatoes in thin slices with a blunt knife holding the tomato in one hand. He loved to drink beer and bet on the horses (both vices my mother objected to). He never went to a theatre, but liked movies. I think he was just an ordinary guy who would have fitted very well into Australia.
I nearly forgot. He remarried my mother in the year before he died. It wasn’t meant to be the happy end, but he wanted to make sure that someone received the widow pension after his death. He moved in with her and she looked after him for many months. They are reunited in the cemetery as their ashes share the same plot.
I miss him and often dream about him. In those dreams I want to talk to him. Here in the last picture he looks like I always remember him.