The Beginnings in the Land of Peace

Having been sent away from Berlin I did not know what to expect. Life outside my home was a big, unknown territory.

My life had consisted more or less of family life. It was not, what some would classify a happy one. When my mother was especially exasperated with me and my antics, she threatened that she would send me to a home for maladjusted children. I wondered whether this was what she had done by sending me so far away –

What I experienced in Friedland happened seventy years ago. Some things I have probably forgotten; some other memories are hazy, while for a great part I have vivid memories.

After my first night I was led, along the road, to the building that housed the Knabenheim Bethesda (Boys Home Bethesda). It was still during the Christmas school break and the children were all at the home and greeted me on the scale of feigned disinterest to genuine curiosity. Half of the boys were Berliners, the others were Silesians. The genuine ones were the Berliners. They welcomed me and wanted to hear news form their home city. They all wanted to know where the bombs had fallen lately.

It turned out we all had to go to a funeral on that very day. Only a few days before, one of the boys had passed away. That was the reason for the vacancy; I realised! When the staff showed me the bed I was to occupy, a howl went up among the boys and they all screamed I had to sleep in the very same bed in which the boy had died. His ghost will get me, that was for sure. At that stage I was not afraid of death, as I believed children would go straight to heaven and that could only be better than life here on Earth.

It wasn’t far to the cemetery, only a few hundred meters and we all walked there. The dead boy’s parents had come for the funeral. What sticks to my mind is, that the mother screamed like a wounded person when the white coffin was lowered into the open earth. Her pain could not be overheard. I was wondering whether my mother would cry for me. I doubted it very much.

Later, during the afternoon, back at the home two big Silesian boys, made their move. When I say, big, then I mean for an eight year old fourteen year old boys are practically grown-ups. Somehow they had become aware that I had fifty Pfennig coins that my mother had given me at the train station. I probably played with the coins in all innocence and wondered how, and what for, I could spend them on.

They were two brothers, working just like a tag team, who pointed out to me, that it was no good showing my wealth for all to see. There are really some bad boys in the home who would not hesitate to steal that money from me. Therefore, they suggested, in all friendship, they could protect me from that fate, if I paid them each a coin. Who wants to be robbed or even beaten when one can have peace for a small price. Their logic was impeccable to my young mind and I gave them each a coin and even thanked them.

This procedure was repeated during the next few days and soon most of my money was gone, without having had the opportunity to buy something “nice”, as my mother had framed it. When the coins became fewer I had the sinking feeling that money doesn’t make people happy at all, because I wasn’t happy. Before I gave up the last coin the boys had to give me a punch into my ribs to reinforce their arguments. I understood and after all the money was gone I had peace of mind. The two brothers never bothered me again.

In the evening of the first day one of the carers came up to me and told me it was time to write a card to my mother and letting her know how I was. I was sitting in front of the card and did not know what to write. I was not happy and did not want to tell my mother how sad and miserable I felt. When the carer noticed my inactivity she came up and started to dictate what I had to write down. She said,” Write, ‘Dear Mutti, I have arrived here and I’m very well!’ “. When I heard this tears welled up, because I never called my mother, Mutti. She would know straight away, the card was a fake. I always called her “Mama”.

The first night I was a bit fearful of the dead boy. The weekend was ahead of us. It was the last weekend of the Christmas Holidays. On Monday school would start.


6 thoughts on “The Beginnings in the Land of Peace

  1. Those moments of immense sadness are etched in the mind forever, especially when young. Well Peter, you have survived all those years and are now able to pass those experiences on to us with a clarity as if from yesterday.
    Well told and I just wonder why your mama was so severe with you. Mind you perhaps they were the years where parenting sometimes involved a lot of toughness. I don’t know! My own parents loved us but dad was more absent, lived in his own world, but was never cruel to us.

    • My mother was not a bad person at all. I would say she could not cope with what life had dished out to her. She had health problems right from birth. When I was born she could not bond with me as she was too ill to look after me and I only came home when I was six month. I loved her very much but she was not able to return this love.

  2. I know it was difficult being a child during those years, but it must have been far worse to be a parent of a child. As a parent would know that something else, another way of life existed but had been stolen, just as your coins were stolen.

    I have read letters between my German grandfather and my mother when she was sent to Switzerland at the age of around 10. (around 1923) Theoretically, she was there for the dairy products that couldn’t be had in Germany. But she was lonely. The letters from her father enrage me. He was full of advice, the stiff-upper-lip stuff, like “you must work harder at your French, you must this, you must that.” I’m sure he loved her, but love was not reflected in his words. I can’t imagine that those letters brought her the solace she needed.

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