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My family history is a mess.
My family on my mother’s side was settled in a small town the area of Marienwerder in Western Prussia. My great-grandfather was a civil servant who was able to send his two daughters to the Lyceum, giving them the best education available. My grandmother’s name was Grete, which was caused by my great-grandfather’s drunkenness by the time he got to the registry office – everyone he met on the way traditionally bought him a schnaps to celebrate the birth; it was supposed to be Margarete but she stuck with Grete throughout her life.
Grete married Wilhelm and they had six children, and everything was going well in their household with a little land they farmed. But then came the war and Wilhelm was drafted into the army. The oldest of their children was nearing their teens by then. Wilhelm came on regular breaks during the war and my mother was the last of their children, born in January 1944.
By 1945 when the war was about to be lost, all Germans were forced to leave areas which were about to be taken by the Red Army. My grandmother had to flee with whatever she could carry, her 7 children, of whom one (my mum) was only one year old. It was an extremely cold winter and all that was available to ship them back to Germany were cattle trains. My grandmother told us about this only once, she didn’t much talk about the past otherwise. She remembered how frozen bodies were thrown off the side of the train…
After the war had ended, the family was settled in the North of East Germany, starting in a converted shop front in a small town called Bad Doberan. My grandfather never returned from the Eastern Front, but neither had my grandmother had any official notice of his death, so she hoped for his return for a long time and never took another husband.
All her seven children had a good education, my mother became a teacher, got married and had my sister and me. Many of my cousins are teachers as well. We have a huge family and I’m close to many of my uncles and aunties, but unfortunately we don’t have many get-togethers – some of my relatives settled in West Germany, we stayed in East Germany until the wall came down, that might have contributed.
But yes, me…. I envy people who are doing a lot of family research. Many of the registry documents from our area didn’t survive the war. I have faint memories of my grandmother, who had a beautiful voice, singing songs to me and my sister that I can’t remember… the dialect they spoke is lost except in jokes about the old country that I used to listen to… My oldest uncle who could remember the house they lived in in what is now Poland went back, and all he found was an overgrown ruin…
Sometimes I speak to my cousins who are also trying to piece our family history together and find out something I didn’t know, but at the end there will always be a whole lot of family tradition that is forever lost.
Maybe that is why I’ve put so much of my energy into making people realise that their own traditions are important and they shouldn’t throw them away so easily.