war memoir
A Personal Journey Through Germany's World Wars and Postwar Years
by Dorothea von Schwanenflügel Lawson

". . . Her book weaves modern German history and her own journey in a unique and compelling way."
          
~A. Howerton, Alexandria, Virginia

ON THE ROLLER COASTER OF LIFE

We returned to Berlin on November 1, 1945, loaded down with all we could carry, including a duck for Mutti. But our happiness was short-lived. Though it was peace time, my parents received an eviction notice the next day. They had to be out by noon the following day, November 3. Their entire quiet street was confiscated. Theirs was just one of more than two thousand homes in the suburb that were being seized for military quarters. No one was allowed to remove anything other than personal clothing. American soldiers immediately swarmed through all the confiscated villas to take inventory while the occupants were trying to recover from their initial shock. Many still didn't know where they would go for shelter. For my parents there was a refuge on Limastrasse nearby. But first things first.

As soon as the soldiers had left, we decided to "steal" as much as possible of our own furnishings and other personal belongings before the military moved in. Since a soldier had been posted outside the front door, we carried everything we wanted to save out the back door and over the terrace into the back yard where our long-time neighbors, the Doneckers, were already waiting to store it in their house for later pick-up. There went Mutti's and Papa's beds, mattresses, tables and chairs in exchange for the Donecker's old pieces from their air raid shelter which kept the furniture count the same as on the American inventory sheet. There were just a few substitutes!

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With rail service now operating sporadically, we could visit our farmer friends in Beelitz more often. They would willingly sell us eggs, which I carried in a linen bag separated into different compartments to keep them from banging together and breaking. I fastened this bag around my waist under my clothing so that the eggs were dangling between my thighs. In addition to the eggs, one time they even sold us a skinned wild rabbit, which was going to present a problem to get home safely.

It was a long animal, so I tucked it into my corset and laced it tightly with the head between my bosom and its body stretched down between my legs. I looked grossly out of shape and overweight, but our valuable cargo was out of reach of the East German border patrol. Walking was not too bad, but when it came time to enter the train, I had to develop an awkward twisting motion in order to climb the steep steps without bumping the eggs against any metal corners, because the rabbit was in my way. People watching my peculiar slow motions trying to enter the train exclaimed, "Oh, that poor woman. She is pregnant. Let her have a seat." But, sitting was one thing I could not do with that cargo under my clothing.

The last S-Bahn had already departed by the time we reached Wannsee, so Mutti and I had to spend the night on the stone staircase close to the platform where American soldiers were still patrolling. I wanted to get the rabbit out of my corset so I started downstairs to the restrooms, but half way down I heard women screaming who were being raped by the Soviets. Horrified, I returned upstairs. But now what? The rabbit tortured me. Resolutely Mutti held a coat over me while I set the animal free again.

We settled on the steps against the wall with our cargo secured between us as we tried to sleep. We dozed off many times. Finally the big clock showed 2 a.m. We dozed off again, and this time when we awoke, the big clock still showed 2 a.m. How could that be? Oh no, to add to our misfortune, this was the night we went back to standard time and gained one hour. What a double misery for us when others enjoyed an extra snooze at home in bed.

We survived that, too. We had no choice, even though we didn't know who was stiffer, the dead rabbit or we, but we caught the first S-Bahn home to find frantic husbands because we hadn't returned home the previous day.

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