“Child Labour” in the “Land of Peace”

From time to time, during my stay in “Friedland, we children were given jobs to do. Be reminded that I was eight when I arrived there. I don’t mean to complain about the work performed. I was used to helping my mother or my greataunt when I was still at home. Here in the boy’s home,  we all thought it alright that we were asked to perform some tasks. We accepted, that adults could boss us children about and give us chores to do. This was the order of things.

During school holidays the staff must have thought we are getting bored. One day a week was cleaning day anyway. All the windows were opened and the fresh air was let in. In winter, the air was not only fresh but freezing cold and I hated it when I did not get warm. Then, some of us were given a bucket of soapy water, a hard brush to scrub the floor with and a floor rag to soak up the excess water. The floor was made from white (!) timber and it had to be scrubbed white.

It was hard work. My little hands could hardly hold the brush as I tried to scrub the grime off the floorboards. The knees hurt. We soaked up the water with a cloth (Ger. Scheuerlappen – floor cloth) and wrung it into the bucket.

Another job I had to do was shovelling rotten beets. After the harvest, they were stored in a warehouse up to about 50cm high. But in winter they froze and after thawing they were giving off a horrifying smell akin to faeces or rotten corpses. That was not nice work at all. I have no idea why they got us, the children, to do the job. I suppose, there was a shortage of labour due to the war.

But this was not the worst job I had to perform. Every few months we had to empty the sewer pit. We only had the use of one outdoor toilet. One for about thirty boys. Right in the beginning, I was warned by the other boys not to sit for too long on the toilet as there were water rats that liked to nibble the little boys’ genitals. That really put the fear into me.

When the day came to empty the pit we each got a bucket.  One of the bigger boys had a scoop on a long handle and scooped the effluent up and poured it into a 10 ltr bucket. The buckets were heavy to carry. The content spilt all over our legs as we walked across the road and up a slight hill to the veggie garden where it was poured onto the garden beds as fertiliser.

But there was a rather pleasant job too. Every Thursday evening we all walked to the local bakery to collect our weekly supply of bread for the home. Each one of us had to carry a large, round loaf of bread, about 2 kilos heavy, back to the home. Usually, it was already dark and under the cover of darkness, I dug a hole in the side of the bread. First I broke off a piece of the yummy crust and then with the finger I was able to extricate some of the still warm dough. I have no idea whether any other of the boys did this. It was not talked about.

We had to do our own beds too and once in a while we had to change the sheets and the covers too. It is rather difficult for an eight-year-old to manage to get a huge, heavy feather quilt into the cover. But we learnt to do it. It set me up for life and I’m still doing it nowadays.

Today’s children don’t seem to do chores. They are sitting forever on their backsides and are staring at their phones or tablets. It is said they are smarter nowadays. Smarter in what, I wonder?

Even from an early age on I always had to help out at home. Running errands for my Mum was done without any questioning. I, for my part, was proud helping my mother and I wanted to please her.

In the home each boy got a little veggie patch to look after. There was no compulsion and I can’t remember that I was very diligent looking after it. Except for a few carrots, I did not harvest anything else.

There was a report the other day which stated that children who are encouraged to do chores are later, as adults, more successful. But how do you define “successful”? It is said they are able to cooperate with others. Perhaps this is what I have learnt. I’m certainly not angry that I was asked to do some work. I never had a choice.  but did not resent it either.

Perhaps I am successful in the sense that I’m not complaining about my lot. I take life as it comes and I go on with it.




9 thoughts on ““Child Labour” in the “Land of Peace”

  1. You say: “Today’s children don’t seem to do chores. They are sitting forever on their backsides and are staring at their phones or tablets. It is said they are smarter nowadays. Smarter in what, I wonder?”
    Smarter in what? Yes, this is the question. Times have changed. Or have they? What about poor children in Asia or Africa or indeed anywhere else in this world? Well, in our so called first world children would not be allowed to do some of the work you describe in your very interesting blog.
    But is it any better if “they are sitting forever on their backsides and are staring at their phones or tablets” ?

  2. The poor children in Asia or Africa are not living in an ideal world and neither do the children in our first world countries. The former have too little and the latter have too much. With the new technologies, we have jumped over a cultural Rubicon. We are now in an unknown territory in which we are hungry and thirsty for the next SMS or Tweet while the children in Asia and Africa still suffer from the age-old plague of hunger.

    • Yes, Berlioz, either too little or too much. There is so much injustice. Any humanitarian efforts are very praiseworthy. but overall we still tolerate very unjust wars that make the poor poorer and the rich richer. I would like to know, where really is FRIEDLAND – THE LAND OF PEACE?

      • People don’t like a peaceful place. They think it is boring and full of unbearable bourgeois people. The “Land of Peace” of my childhood did not escape the war either and I will add another story how the war came to the “Land of Peace”.

  3. Another great read, thank you. I agree with you about children today have no chores or responsibilities but we cannot blame them. Its their parents. Perhaps they are too lazy or too tired to bother to instill that with life comes responsibilities and chores. Its no wonder they expect so much so early in life and are easily overwhelmed if things don’t go their way instantly.

    • Yes, the word “instantly”, that is what dominates or time in early 21. Century. I think after WW II each generation thought that their children should have it better than they had it themselves.

  4. Berloiz..I read your biography when a child in “Friedland”…what can one say of the pressures and demands of those times…Myself, having been born here in Aust’ in 1951 have had no experience of war and all its privations…My mother, also Aust’ of Irish / Cornish stock was born here.but my father came to Aust’ from Italy in 1938, and having escaped Mussolini, was immediately interned as an enemy alien and because of his trade (stone-mason/bricklayer) he was given the option of being sent to Darwin to do defence work on places there…so the family joke was that he escaped Benito to get bombed out by Tojo !..it was when he was evacuated from Darwin that he came to this area in the Murray Mallee where he met my mother…but that is another story..

  5. Thank you for commenting. War does shake up the world in more ways than one. I can see this in my own family. My children have partners other than German. We have become a family of global proportions. I must say we all fit into this one Australian family concept.

    My year in Friedland was an experience I don’t want to miss. My train rides to and from are seperate stories.

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