Today is a special "Champagne" day...it's 11/11/11...I can't wait til it is 11:11 on 11/11/11. I think I just wanted to write it out...I think it is way cool. It's like, Stick Day!! (we call 11:11 stick time...1:11 mini stick...just so you know.)
The other, probably more important aspect of today, is that it is Remembrance Day. A day to think back upon the lives that were lost, the battles that were and still are being fought by people just like you and me. Always, on this day, I get personal and think about my Grandfathers and what they did and went through during WWII. They were both in the German army. (NOT Nazi...just because someone is German does NOT mean they were part of that ignorant way of thought.) My Opi was a soldier on the front lines, hiding in fox holes and being shot at (wounded) and probably shooting out in fear also. He was 19 years old. He hated talking about guns or anything about war. He mostly spoke of living in a P.O.W. camp in France. But really, he didn't speak much about it...he was a loving and wonderful man...that was just a bad memory to him. And then there was Opa. He would never talk about the war. He was in his mid to late twenties when he fought. If we ever ran around, pretending to shoot one another (like playing cops & robbers or whatever) he would get upset at us and tell us to NEVER play with guns...even as a game, because it is not a game. I still hate guns, probably because of Opa. He was a smart man.
In my reflections this morning, I was drawn to thoughts of my Opa. Because he never spoke of what the war meant for him, besides an obvious distaste for it...I didn't really know what he did during it. I used to think he was a sniper when I was a kid...hiding on tops of buildings and shooting the bad guys. But, he wasn't. This past summer, at my family reunion, my Uncle spoke of what it was like when they escaped East Germany as a family. I had always heard the stories of how they all left separately to get through the border to safety...how they had left EVERYTHING behind. Their home and all belongings, my Opa's greenhouse business, properties that he rented out to a church and other people...they just left it behind to escape communism. But it wasn't just communism that they were fleeing from...this is the story of how my Opa was a real Hero...
Opa had property in Frankfurt an der Oder (East Germany...there are two Frankfurts.) where they had their family home, a greenhouse and a huge field for growing flowers and vegetables. On the other side of their property was a huge barricaded and fenced property owned by the Russians. It was some sort of base camp for them...trucks and soldiers always coming and going. My Opa came and went quite a bit too...he was taking his beautiful cauliflowers and bedding plants to the markets...and once a month to the market in West Berlin. (they would allow him to leave once a month to do his sales.) The Russians next door to my Opa and family would bring their compost to him to deal with. It would be mostly food scraps and such...Opa found papers in it too. Papers with information on it...information about raids and operations going on and so on. My Opa, like I said, was a very smart man. He collected these papers with Russian inside information and brought them on his trips to West Berlin to the American army that was stationed there. This went on for sometime. He would hide the papers under the soil under the bedding plants that he would bring to market in West Berlin. How smart is that? He would have his cart filled with cauliflower and bedding plants...my Uncle Walter or my dad would usually accompany him...that must have also made him look less conspicuous...smart man. Somehow, someone on the wrong side caught wind of what Opa was up to. Opa was a friendly man and most people liked and respected him. Thankfully one of those people was part of the government and got word that the STASI was coming for him...and they would be at his house tomorrow. This was January 1953. Plans were made and set out promptly...my Opa took my Tante Elfriede, very early in the morning to the train station where they got on a train and headed to West Berlin. A few hours later, his sister took my dad and my Tante Gerlinde on a "trip" to West Germany to visit with family...at least that is what was told to the border guards. Now the rest was up to my Oma...oh my, she too was a very strong and capable woman. (I miss them so much.) She was left with my Uncle Walter and Tante Irene, who was just a baby at the time...she packed a small bag and off they went to the train station with the help of another sister of my Opa's. Oma had a letter signed by a doctor a year or so prior that my Uncle Walter needed shoulder surgery. That letter was their ticket out of there. The soldier stopped them and told them not to board the train...they were about to start questioning my Oma when they were called over to something else at the border. Opa's sister quickly helped Oma and children onto the now leaving train...they were headed for freedom.
A week after they all escaped, there was a "Wanted" ad in the paper for my Opa...he was wanted by the STASI for questioning on treason. My Opa risked everything to help his country get their freedom back from going to communism. What a brave and smart man he was. He helped his country more than he was required of...he never spoke of it. What a humble and amazing man. That is exactly how I do remember him.
From L to R...Elfriede, Oma, Lothar (my dad), Walter, Opa and Gerlinde. Photo taken in early 1951.
The story is so interesting to me. Tears ran down my cheeks as my Uncle read through it. He posted the story on his blog this past summer. To read the whole nitty gritty, feel free to check it out here. Peace.