War Grandchildren

„War Grandchildren – the Heirs of the Forgotten generation“,

Published in 2009, by Verlag Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart


From the chapter “Fog in my head”

Genealogical research and contact with like-minded people in their own age group helped sisters Sandra and Stephanie clarify unanswered questions about their own identity. How did I become the person I am today? Where are my roots? Which fears have I taken on from my parents and grandparents; and which talents? It is not unusual for the children of war children to know more about their parents than the parents know about themselves.

For the two sisters, the fog in their heads is slowly lifting. At the same time, their trust in themselves and life in general is growing. Sometimes alone, and sometimes together, they sit over the puzzle of their lives, which is coming together, bit by bit.

The story of the two sisters showed me once again, that children can “inherit” the war fears of their parents, and how serious the consequences of such a legacy from the Forgotten Generation can be.

People born in the 60’s and 70’s have frequently told me about their dreams about the war. But I read the most impressive description in an article written by the actress, Esther Schweins, who was born in 1970. In ZEITMagazin she wrote about a reoccurring nightmare from her childhood and youth[i]:

My hair is in pigtails and I’m wearing a blue dirndl over a white blouse. I’m running around on a meadow, when suddenly a dreadful noise tears open the sky and the ground, and darkness gathers all around me so that I can’t breath.

The darkness grabs me and catapults me through an invisible tunnel into a void. All at once it’s light again. In front of me is a man with one eye, and he’s holding out a bunch of daisies to me. I take them, and the fear is replaced by a deep sense of peace. Then I find myself on a mound of earth again. We play with glass blocks until a gust of wind blows my daisies away. I can’t look up, otherwise another child will disappear and perhaps it will be my turn. I can’t help myself, and I keep looking up. Each time, one or more of the children disappear. It’s my turn.

I’m standing with the other children in front of a greenhouse and am afraid. The men who wave us through the door smile, their mouths are black inside. The darkness grabs me again, and I’m passing through the invisible tunnel that I can’t touch, like a roller coaster through the void. Suddenly I’m back at the mound of earth. I’m alone. None of the other children are there. Then the one eyed man is there again. This time he has only one daisy in his hand. I take it and sigh with relief, and wake up.

The first time I tell my mother about my “reoccurring dream”, I’m a grown woman and my mother is already a grandmother. She listens tensely. At the part where the “noise and darkness” are mentioned she gulps, and when the man gives me the daisies, she begins to cry.

She calms down and begins to tell me her story.

It’s March 1942, as my mother, then five, her hair in pigtails, sneaks off dressed in a blue dirndl to go and pick daisies for her mother on a meadow. Her mother is happy about the flowers and puts them in a vase on the dresser when the bomb siren goes off. The bombers are already over the city, they hide themselves in the cellar. Her head between her knees, the little girl is worried about her daisies that are now all alone on the dresser.

They are hit that day, and it takes many hours before they are freed. When she is rescued, the girl is dazzled by the daylight, but sees that there is no more third floor, no house, no dresser anymore. But everyone is alive, and people begin to flee the destroyed city. Horse drawn carriages and automobiles leave small mounds of earth on the unsurfaced road where the children later played.

At the time, the girl’s father, her mother’s husband, had already died at the front. He had been drafted, even though he could only see with one eye.

No one ever talked about him or the daisies, even though I was told many “war stories” in my youth.

Translation from German into English
by Lyra Turnbull                    


[i] Schweins, Esther Wiederkehr der Kindheitsängste. In: ZEITmagazin LEBEN, Nr. 15, 3. 3.4.2008.