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Tell Me Your Story—Surviving World War II in Nazi Germany

DSC_3703_2Dear Readers, This month I’ve interviewed a remarkable, godly woman who is 82 years old. She’s lived through some harrowing times, and still has enough spunk to keep her family hopping!

Throughout her life—when she lost her parents and home at a young age, when needing to find work after the war, when immigrating to the U.S.—she experienced the Lord’s hand of protection. I’m delighted to introduce you to—my mother! (Now, no comments on the uncanny resemblance…)

Ruth Wood is the columnist for Tell Me Your Story. Do you have a dramatic or unique story that would encourage others in their walk with the Lord? Send an email to Ruth with subject line “query” and include a paragraph summarizing your story to ruthywood@gmail.com.

Surviving World War II in Nazi Germany

FFIn today’s world, we desperately need the wisdom and perspective of the generation that has gone before us. You were a sixteen-year-old East German girl when World War II ended. What was the social climate like for you growing up in Nazi Germany?

All children were required to join age-appropriate Hitler Youth Groups. These were similar to girl and boy scouts here, with Nazi propaganda included of course. The government dropped religion class from our school curriculum, instead requiring that we learn about Hitler and politics. When Hitler gave a speech on the radio, our teacher crammed everyone into the largest classroom to listen. We didn’t mind at all because this meant a break from studies!

What lifestyle habits from wartime Germany might resonate with people today?

I think people would relate to how we recycled. We supported the war effort by collecting all kinds of items. Factories wove new fabric from rags, manufactured soap from animal bones and crafted hairbrushes from pig bristles. They pressed paper from pulp and melted down metal for new uses. So you can see, we were pioneers in the environmental movement!

Do you see any similarities between America today and Nazi Germany in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s?

During my early school years we sang Christmas carols, but this practice eventually disappeared. Because of his hatred for all things Jewish and since Jesus was a Jew, Hitler did away with Christmas in schools. Instead, he instituted the Festival of Lights, winter solstice, which Germanic tribes celebrated long ago. Our leaders praised the pagan gods of our ancestors—the sun, the moon and stars—in an attempt to brainwash us. America’s politically-correct culture and efforts to banish God and Christmas from public life feels eerily familiar to me.

How did your home life contrast to school?

At home and in our churches we cheerfully celebrated Christmas as before, with a tree and the baby in the manger. I was thankful for my good home—my parents stood against Hitler.

Looking back now as an adult, how do you see your childhood growing up under Hitler?

My parents stressed that Hitler was a little antichrist, and today I understand this much better. As a child I didn’t. I could have cared less whether we said “Heil Hitler” or “Good Morning.” But from the perspective of an adult, I see why my parents railed against the arrogance of this required greeting. “Heil Hitler” essentially meant “Hail to King Hitler,” as if he were asking for an allegiance close to worship. How easily we mimic expressions as a child, unaware of what we’re saying.

How were your parents able to persuade you that the prevailing culture was wrong?

During his first six years in power, Hitler created economic prosperity with jobs for everyone—a blue collar worker could even afford to build a small house. And Hitler built the autobahn. With childish short-sightedness, I sometimes wondered why my parents ranted against him—everything seemed to be going so well.

However, lively discussions with Father and Mother protected me from the propaganda at school. Every time my teacher made snide remarks about Jews or Jesus, I always thought, My teacher’s wrong; my parents know better. This is why parents need to cultivate good relationships with their children. Discussing issues helps children think for themselves. I am so grateful to the Lord for my stable home and the wise parents He gave me.

Because of their Christian orientation your parents seemed to have some prophetic insights into the future.

Father often said, “We can never win the war because we are persecuting the Jews.” He’d quote the Bible, “Woe to them who touch the apple of mine eye.” He believed that the Jews were God’s special people and whoever persecuted them would be punished.” Yes, and we Germans paid dearly for the guilt on our heads through the Nazis. There was barely a house or a family that did not suffer terribly in the war.

Based on her Bible reading, my mother firmly believed that the Jews would one day return to their land. She predicted that it would happen in our lifetime. She’d say, “Children, we won’t be around to see this, but you will.” How right she was. The Israeli Declaration of Independence was made in May 1948, three years after she died.

What were some of the most harrowing experiences for you personally going through the war?

Actually, the worst times for East Germans came after the war. After the Russians invaded, we women were forced to hide day and night for fear of what they would do to us. This was a very chaotic, stressful time in my life. Once a drunk Russian soldier chased me, all the while shooting his gun, and I inadvertently ran the wrong way. Suddenly I was face to face with an impossibly high wall, but the next moment it felt as if a hand were lifting me over. God miraculously delivered me. Another time a drunk Polish man chased me around the kitchen table with a knife in an attempt to kill me. My brother-in-law finally was able to subdue him so that I could escape.

You were eventually evacuated to West Germany, then worked for a few years in Switzerland. When you came to America to marry your fiance, what was your first impression of this country?

As our ship neared land, the New York skyline and the Statue of Liberty appeared, though still somewhat shrouded in mist. Here and there people wiped tears from their eyes. We had arrived. I felt a bit apprehensive, but I also thought, Here there will never be war. Thank you, Lord.

What was it like being in a foreign country and not being able to speak the language?

I was very lonely living out in the country because I couldn’t visit anyone and hardly anyone visited us. I could not yet drive. In such situations you have the choice to either whine and complain or endure and be thankful. I decided on the latter and the Lord blessed this quiet time in my life. He revealed things that had become too important to me when I lived in Europe and had the admiration and appreciation of many friends. Here I was nothing—I couldn’t speak right and owned little. I often felt exposed, stripped naked, but in this lonely place the Lord could finally speak and his maid heard. “Nothing have I to bring, Lord. You are everything.”

You raised three children to adulthood and have nine grandchildren. What is your best child rearing advice?

Some basic points come to mind that mainly revolve around parental leadership. I believe strong guidance creates a deep sense of security in children so they can thrive.
• It’s so true that “actions speak louder than words.” Never expect things from your children you aren’t willing to model. For example, take your children to church with you. Don’t just drop them off while you go play a round of golf.
• If you threaten discipline, be sure you’re committed to following through.
• Teach kids they have an important place in the family. Don’t pay them for every little chore you ask them to do. Some things we just do to contribute to the overall good of the family.
• Teach children to respect their parents. If they can do that, then they’ll develop proper respect for all authority figures—police, teachers, and most importantly, for God.

You have been such a prayer warrior for your children and grandchildren. As you consider the future of this next generation, what words of encouragement do you have for them?

If I had known in advance what my future held, I’m not sure I could have borne it. At an early age, everything important to me was taken away—my home, my family, good friends, my possessions. It’s remarkable what a human being can endure in deprivation, in suffering and stress, but the Lord is faithful. He will give you the strength to persevere.

It was painful and frightening to lose every sense of security and belonging. But it was when I stood with empty hands that the Lord could fill them with what really mattered. In Him I’ve found the security and sense of belonging that I so desperately needed. He promises to never leave or forsake us. He alone is our eternal hope.

It’s so important to fill up on God’s word and good “fuel” so that you have inner resources upon which to draw in times of crisis. This generation will face its own unique challenges in life, but the main lesson from my life I’d like to pass on is this: Even if you lose everything, no one can take what you have in your heart.

  1. Thanks for sharing a bit of your mom’s story. I really enjoyed it. I love her last line. Thank your mom.

    Comment by Donna — March 2, 2011 @ 12:01 am