Interview with a survivor of the bombing of Berlin


Interview with a survivor of the bombing of Berlin


She tells of her life in Berlin before, during and after the war. She lived with her mother in a block of flats close to the home of her grandparents. Her father died when she was nine years old. During the war she collected shrapnel as souvenirs to swap with her school friends. During the allied bombing she sheltered in the cellar of her block. After the war she suffered the pangs of hunger, and she describes taking silverware to farmers in exchange for a few potatoes. As part of a government scheme, she travelled to the UK to work at a textile factory. She then returned to Germany. She came back to the UK for what she thought would be a final visit but she met and married her husband.




Temporal Coverage

Spatial Coverage





00:55:36 audio recording

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CB: My name is Chris Brockbank and today is the 17th of July 2017 and I’m in Great Horwood in Buckinghamshire [deleted] who normally lives in Berlin and I’m going to talk to her about her experiences as a child in Germany, particularly in Berlin, during the war. So [deleted] what is the earliest thing you remember in your life?
ANON: [laughs] Switch off that. I can’t think.
CB: Ok. So where did you live?
ANON: Where did I live? I lived in Berlin. I was born in Berlin and I’m back there.
CB: You said, in a small flat.
ANON: Yeah. My grandparents lived not far away and we would go there most days and play cards or family games. My father died when I was nine. My mother had to go to work then in order to keep her and me. It was hard. It was hard for her.
CB: How did your father die? Did he have an accident or was he ill?
ANON: It was an accident. Yeah.
CB: Pardon?
CB: Right. We’ll stop there for a mo.
ANON: You’ve been telling —
[Recording paused]
CB: You lived in a block of flats. Which floor?
ANON: Fourth.
CB: Ok.
ANON: No lift.
CB: No lift. Right.
ANON: So, everything had, even fuel, had to be carried upstairs.
CB: What did you burn as fuel?
ANON: Pressed coals they called them. Black. Black.
CB: Sort of nuggets.
ANON: Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
ANON: I had a happy childhood. We were poor but I was happy. My parents could not afford a bike. I can’t —
CB: So, when you went your grandparents you played cards. What else did you do? Did you have meals there?
ANON: On the opposite side was a big sports place. In winter you could skate on there.
CB: Yeah.
ANON: And in the summer we would kick a ball or have one of those —
Other: Skipping rope.
ANON: Skipping ropes. Yeah.
CB: Yes. And was there plenty of food when you were very young?
ANON: Yeah. Yeah. We had. We weren’t hungry. Yeah.
CB: What was your favourite food? Children tend to have favourites.
ANON: Yeah. I can’t remember. My mother would do eintopft.
Other: Thick soups.
ANON: Yeah.
CB: Thick soups.
ANON: What?
CB: Thick soup was it?
ANON: Thick soup? Well everything in one pot. Cabbage and meat.
CB: Yes. Yeah.
ANON: And potatoes. You know.
CB: Yeah.
ANON: And I was very very blonde and by looks typical German. What’s the name?
CB: Aryan.
ANON: Yeah. But I didn’t do anything. I just looked that way. My blonde hair. And two, two steps below. Oh my English.
CB: Two floors. Yeah.
ANON: My English.
CB: Yeah.
ANON: I’ve been back so long.
CB: That’s alright. Two floors below.
ANON: Yeah. There was a lady and she always called me in and gave me pudding.
Other: Blancmange.
ANON: What?
Other: Blancmange.
ANON: And she would ask my mother could she take me along because she thought I was a gorgeous little girl. I didn’t think so but she did.
CB: Right.
ANON: [unclear]
CB: What about — what about schoolfriends?
ANON: Schoolfriends. Yeah well. I remember one and her hair was jet black and we were the best singers in class. Her and me. And whenever we had biology, which we didn’t like, we persuaded to let us sing the latest song or something. Henie her name was. She was a Jew. We were the best of friends in those days.
CB: So you were born in 1930.
ANON: Yeah.
CB: And the war started in September 1939.
ANON: That’s right.
CB: What do you remember about that, aged nine?
ANON: I don’t remember much. I went to school and in those days they weren’t bombing Berlin.
CB: But did the school explain that the war had started?
ANON: I bet they did. I can’t remember though. I bet they did. Yeah. It was an ordinary school. It wasn’t a gymnasium. It was an ordinary school. You should, you should go there from six to fourteen.
CB: Right.
ANON: Eight years.
CB: Berlin is a big place so which part of Berlin did you live in?
ANON: Right in the middle.
CB: Right in the middle.
ANON: [unclear]
CB: Right. And then when you, the war had started. As time went on then bombing started did it?
ANON: No. Hitler, HItler said collect all the children. Or as many children as you can and they sent them off to Austria. Near Osterreich. Is it?
Other: You said Austria.
ANON: It might have been southern Germany. And I was there nine or ten months. My mother came to see me and when I go back to Berlin, back to, yeah Berlin, they started bombing us. That day or the next day. I can’t remember.
CB: Oh really. Yes.
ANON: They sent us away and nothing happened and then when we got back it did.
CB: Yes. Well the evacuees had the same experience in Britain. Some of them. Yes. So, when you got back to Berlin then what? Did you stay there?
ANON: I went back to Berlin. Yeah. Had to. Nowhere else to go. And I remember it’s said and, they started bombing us. The British and French would come at night and the Americans during the daytime. And they used to say on the radio schwer kampf bringer.
Other: Heavy party.
ANON: Meaning, meaning bombers are coming.
CB: Yes.
ANON: Flying in over Hanover, Braunsweig. That meant we would be bombed in seven minutes from now. And we grabbed everything we could and took it with us in the cellar. Can we listen to it for a minute?
CB: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
[recording paused]
CB: Her father died from an accident at work when she was aged nine.
[recording paused]
ANON: Anybody who, who didn’t have running water in Germany. I can’t —
CB: No.
ANON: And we all had electricity.
CB: Yes.
ANON: And we all, we would cook on this. It was made of tiles. This machine. Machine. It’s not a bloody machine.
CB: Cooker.
ANON: It’s an oven.
CB: Yeah.
ANON: It’s an oven.
CB: An oven. Right.
ANON: And put your pots on there and I’m totally out of — its not like me stuttering about like this here but —
CB: No.
ANON: I wasn’t prepared for this.
CB: No. But you see where I live. A village near here. It wasn’t until 1946, after the war, that they had piped water.
ANON: You’re joking.
CB: Or electricity. No.
ANON: What?
CB: No. And the mains drains didn’t come until we joined. We came to the village thirty eight years ago. So, 1979 was when they put the mains drains in so the point that I’m making is in Britain lots of people didn’t have these things and it’s interesting to know what it was like in Germany in the war. How were you getting on? So, you’ve just talked about the cooking. So, it was coal fired cooking.
CB: Yeah.
ANON: And heating.
CB: Yeah.
Other: Momma, say things like —
CB: I’ll stop for a mo.
ANON: Sorry, I didn’t realise.
[Recording paused]
ANON: We would share the toilet with our neighbours.
CB: Oh right.
ANON: But it was, it was a proper water toilet with window and water and and God knows what. They had a key. We had a key. No problem. We never met them. We never saw them.
CB: Right.
ANON: On the toilet I mean.
CB: So, this was on the landing.
ANON: Yeah.
CB: A shared toilet.
ANON: Yeah. Where we lived on the fourth floor it was between. It was three and a half.
CB: What about the bath? Where was that?
ANON: Oh, we would bath in our flats.
CB: It was in the flat. Right.
ANON: My mother would bring a big sink runner.
Other: Tin. Tin.
CB: Tin bath.
ANON: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: Yeah. So the water was heated separately and then poured into the bath.
ANON: And this Kochmachine.
Other: For boiling. Kettle.
ANON: No. She had — oh God how can I explain this? The oven.
CB: Yes. The oven.
ANON: The stove. It was about as big as this. Half a table.
CB: Yes.
ANON: And there were some rings here.
CB: Four foot square.
ANON: And you could hang the cooking pot in. And if you had a cooking bigger pot you could take out the other ring. The next ring. You know what I mean?
CB: Yes.
ANON: There were about four or five rings. And also here we had [pause] sugar.
CB: Did you have a hot plate?
ANON: Yeah. Two.
CB: Two hot plates.
ANON: They were gas and it was near an open fire and it was gas.
CB: Right. And it had an oven. Was the oven powered by the gas or —
ANON: No, the oven was powered by —
CB: The coal.
ANON: By — yeah. Coal.
CB: Right.
ANON: We fetched from the cellar. Up the stairs.
CB: Yeah.
ANON: It was lovely.
CB: And you had electricity.
ANON: Yeah.
CB: But did you have power all the time?
ANON: All the time.
CB: Or did you have power cuts?
ANON: All the time. We had power all the time. Oh, during the war?
CB: Yes.
ANON: Oh, well, I can’t remember but I know that before the war we always, well as far as I remember we always had.
CB: You always had supplies.
ANON: Yeah.
CB: So, in the war when the raids came you had a quarter of an hour or something notice.
ANON: Less.
CB: Less than that. Then you went in to the cellar.
ANON: We went into the cellar.
CB: Everybody was there.
ANON: Yeah. Except two ladies. They weren’t allowed in any more. And my mother asked, ‘Why not?’ And they said, ‘They’re Jews.’
CB: Oh.
ANON: And my mother said, ‘They’re human beings like you and me. They want protection. Let them come down.’ Nein. Nein. Had she been reported she would have been taken away.
CB: Right.
ANON: Anyway, this fellow wasn’t all bad. He let them come down but apart from other people so other people wouldn’t be offended. A load of rubbish.
CB: And how did you know that the danger had passed when you were in there?
ANON: Oh, there would be a siren going.
CB: Right. So, there would have been a siren to begin with. To warn you.
ANON: Yes. Sure. Yeah.
CB: And then —
ANON: Yeah.
CB: Another one to say the all clear.
ANON: And I remember if it happened three times in a night which it did sometimes then we didn’t have to go to school the next morning.
CB: Right.
ANON: Meanwhile they bombed our school and I remember at one time at one time we had sixty two children in one class. I also remember one thing. I told you I went to see my grandma almost every day. All of us. And we were coming back towards our flat and on the other side of the street there was this terrible noise. They were breaking shop windows. And it was a jeweller and he had a big star on his shop window. Jew. The word “Jew” written in it and this night they came and demolished shop, pinched, took all the, well I should imagine SS men. My father saw that and he wanted to go across and help those people and my mother knew if he goes across there he’s going to be dead in two minutes. I’ve never before or since seen a woman fight as hard. My father couldn’t make it across the street. She was too strong for him. I’ve never seen anything like it. She was stronger than him and he was a strong man. It was she was frightened. So, we went home but it was a terrible experience. Switch that off.
CB: So, it said on the window, “Juden.”
ANON: Yeah. “Jude.”
CB: “Jude.” Right.
ANON: They all had to wear, they had to wear it here or here.
CB: Yeah. So, what happened to them?
ANON: No idea. We know that sometimes a car would go by, a van would go by and there was people on it but we thought they were sent to work camps. You know. When they had to work for the Nazis. But we had no — people weren’t, we had no idea. We had no idea. The first time I saw or heard about the concentration camp was when the war was over and the allies were showing us a film. And I said, ‘Yeah. Now we’ve lost the war they can tell us anything.’ It took weeks and month ‘til we could, ‘til we could believe that they killed those people. But nobody believes it today — that we didn’t know. Well we didn’t know. We did not know.
CB: Well the camps weren’t near Berlin were they?
ANON: No. They were out in the wilds somewhere. [unclear] There were several in Germany but I thought they were just sending them to work.
CB: How did you get that impression?
ANON: How did I get—?
CB: How did you get that impression? Was it put on the radio or in the ‘paper? Or —
ANON: No. They sent us, they showed us films.
CB: No. no. I’m talking about in the war you thought they were going to work camps.
ANON: Yeah.
CB: How did you get that idea?
ANON: I didn’t get any idea. I saw those vans going by with people on it.
CB: Yeah.
ANON: And I thought they’d taken them to camps. That’s all.
CB: Yeah. Right.
ANON: Today everybody says that. We didn’t know. We did not know.
CB: And the radio was working all the time. What sort of messages were coming out on that that you, as a child, would appreciate?
ANON: I can’t remember that. I can’t remember that.
CB: Did the — did the German radio have children’s programmes that you remember?
ANON: I can’t remember.
CB: Right.
ANON: We would, we would mostly have listened to news to find out where the allies were. We wanted them to get to Berlin before the Russians [pause] but they had an agreement with Stalin. And he said he lost the most men and he wanted the right to take Berlin and so the French and the British waited. Waited and waited and let them come. Oh, it was, that was when I was frightened most.
CB: Were you? Yeah.
ANON: During the war I wasn’t so frightened. When the Russians came that frightened me.
CB: So, the Battle of Berlin was the middle of April 1945 to the 2nd of May.
ANON: They fought for every house. They fought for every house. They fought for every street. Hitler — Hitler destroyed most bridges. Berlin, I found out since, had more bridges than Venice and he destroyed most bridges. And I remember going somewhere and there were this bridge was gone but there was a big pipe like this and people would walk across it. I forced myself. In the middle of it, I couldn’t, I couldn’t go forwards or backwards. They had to come from both sides and guide me because if your feet had fell down it would have gone in to the water you’d have been — because the bridge were [expedien?] destroyed. All the iron pieces were sticking up. You know.
CB: Oh right.
ANON: So if you had fallen you would have been a dead one.
CB: You’d be impaled on it.
ANON: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I remember I went to work. I left school when I was thirteen and a half and I got a job straightaway in an office.
CB: So that’s 1943.
ANON: Yeah.
CB: Yes.
ANON: No. The war was finished.
CB: Ah.
ANON: The war was finished. And that’s when we got hungry. We had nothing to eat. Bloody hell. It was terrible. Hunger is terrible.
CB: How did you get food?
ANON: How did we get food? We got cards, tickets and it says five hundred grams of something and something else. I remember once my mother sending me to the baker and fetch our last bread or whatever it was and I ate it all the way coming home. A whole loaf. And there was nothing left for my mother. Oh I felt — but the hunger was bigger than the — God.
CB: So, who was distributing the food. Was it the Russians? Or was it done —
ANON: Yeah.
CB: By the German authorities.
ANON: It must have been the Russians at first. Some were even so kind they — it didn’t happen very often but some would killed a horse so people could eat. And others were not so nice. You know. But I remember as a child we’d go finding splitter.
Other: Shrapnel.
ANON: Pardon?
Other: Shrapnel.
ANON: Yeah. Shrapnel.
CB: Yeah.
ANON: And we could distinguish whether it was from a bomb, from a roof.
CB: A shell.
ANON: Flak.
CB: Anti-aircraft. Yeah.
ANON: Or wherever.
CB: Yeah.
ANON: And we did know that you mustn’t touch the greenish ones. That’s phosphor. It burns your skin through the bone you know.
CB: Yes. Yeah.
ANON: We survived. We survived. Kids. We made a game of that somehow.
CB: So, you collected the scrap metal. What did you do with that?
ANON: Exchanged it. Give me two of those and you get one of these.
CB: Yeah. Exchange it for what? Food or for —
ANON: No. We exchanged it for another shrapnel amongst the children.
CB: Yeah. ‘Cause you were getting a collection together.
ANON: Sort of. Yeah. And then when we were so hungry and the war had finished we’d [unclear] On a train outside. It would take us in to Brandenburg. To a farmer. And I’d have our best. Our best silver. Knives and forks. Give to the farmer. We got a few potatoes. Walk back to the station and the police would take the potatoes off us.
CB: The police took the potatoes off you. Right.
ANON: And back we went to the train. Hung out. And you were so tired. You were so tired and you couldn’t let go. You’ d have been dead. Those farmers. The people used to see all they need is carpet for the cow shed. They got everything else. Yeah. The hunger was terrible. And then bit by bit it got better and better. Oh, and in the meanwhile we had the luftbrucke.
Other: What’s the luftbrucke?
ANON: Can you remember when the —
CB: Well there was the Berlin Airlift in 1948.
ANON: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
CB: Is that what you mean? Luftflight. Yes.
ANON: Yeah. Can’t remember what I was going to say about it.
CB: Ok. So the Berlin Airlift.
ANON: Why was I mentioning that? Why.
CB: You were talking about food. Is that what you were thinking of?
ANON: Well anyway I saw this article in the paper where they wanted German girls to come to Berlin er to England they could either go as a nurse, in a textile factory or child minding. Child minding was not for me. Nursing was not for me. So, I went in the factory. I’m not telling you — what’s the reason? Oh, I was going to say that the day, the day I left Berlin for England the what’s the name was stopped. It was open for — luftbrucke had finished.
CB: The Berlin Airlift had finished.
ANON: Yeah. Yeah. And I went to England and here, here they’d got, they’re doing this you know like we used to have to buy bread.
Other: Ration card.
ANON: Yeah. Rations. Yes.
CB: Yes. Where did you land in England? You came by ship.
ANON: Yeah. Yes.
Yes. [unclear] Not Preston.
Other: Harwich.
ANON: Not Harwich. No.
CB: It wasn’t Dover.
CB: Anyway, you came across.
ANON: Yeah.
CB: Yes. And then what did you do? You knew where you were going to go did you?
ANON: Well.
CB: In advance?
ANON: It was, it was governmental, you know. So, we got there and they gave us one pound a week. I think it was a week. And I still smoked in those days and I went to buy some cigarettes and came back. No idea about the money. Couldn’t speak English. Not a single word. And somebody was counting my money and said, ‘You’ve been diddled. You’ve been done.’ And I thought right, I’m going to learn this.
CB: Learn English.
ANON: The very first day in English I learned the English money.
CB: Right.
ANON: I thought nobody else is going to. But on the whole the British were — to me they were good.
CB: So where was your first job?
ANON: My first job. I don’t know but I remember the first landlord. We did three turns around the bed and then, yeah. And my —
Other: You were in Derby.
ANON: What?
Other: Were you in Derby? Derby.
ANON: Yeah, I know. I worked in Derby but when this landlord was turning funny we went to the Labour Exchange, my friend and I. She spoke English. And they sort of viewed us a bit funny but then they decided they believed us. He’d been there previously saying he wants us out because we’re so filthy. That’s why they viewed us the way they did, you know. That was in Derby. So I got away from that job and I finished up at Midland Dyers. Midland Dyers, Derby. And I was there for two years earning quite a bit of money because it was a special job.
CB: Dyeing clothes.
CB: Dyeing.
CB: Oh.
ANON: Warping. Warping. A new fibre had just come out. It could have been nylon. I can’t remember. And it went through, it was on a reel and it had to go through some — you see the thing was that two threads had to be like this. Side by side.
ANON: It was a fine silky thread. If it was like this it was no good. If it was like this it was no good. It had to be side by side. If we could manage that one of those things were worth about two thousand pounds in those days. So, it was a qualified job, you know. What was your question?
CB: No. Where, what — what was the —
ANON: Midland Dyers.
CB: It was dyeing. Midland Dyers. Dyeing fabric.
CB: Material.
CB: Right.
ANON: Warping is it? Warping?
Other: I don’t know.
ANON: What do you call it? What do you call it?
CB: But they were, they were producing this thread.
ANON: Yeah.
CB: Which was a man-made fibre.
ANON: Yeah.
CB: Right.
ANON: We got that.
CB: And then you had to dye the colour into it.
ANON: You put it on to a beam.
CB: Yeah.
ANON: Beam. God. If I’d have known.
CB: But you were putting a colour on it were you?
ANON: No. We weren’t putting a colour on to it. We were putting it on to a beam.
CB: Right.
ANON: On to a beam. It had to be side by side.
CB: Yes. Ok. And when it was on the beam what did they do with it?
ANON: God knows. They took it away then.
CB: Yeah.
ANON: And we got another new creel and then through the combs. And then on to the —
CB: On to the reel.
ANON: Hmmn.
CB: Right. How much did they pay you for that?
ANON: I can’t remember but it was well, it was well paid. Very well paid. They were saying only as good as miners in those days, you know.
CB: Oh really. Right. And where did you live then? You changed your accommodation.
ANON: I lived with, I can’t remember what she, what her name was but she was ever such a nice lady and she was frightened to let me out at night. She was ever so frightened to let me out. Oh [deleted] no. You mustn’t go out. No. It’s dark. But anyway I lived with her for — I don’t know how long. I can’t remember after that what happened.
CB: Did you come over with your friend from Germany?
ANON: Yeah.
CB: And then how long did you stay together?
ANON: We became friends on the —
CB: On the ship.
ANON: Yeah.
CB: Right.
ANON: Yeah. She went off to see her boyfriend. She met this English soldier in Berlin and she came across to see him and she didn’t know he was married with children. Yeah.
CB: So that didn’t work.
ANON: She didn’t like that. He didn’t like that.
CB: What was the attitude of the British people to you as a German, after the war, in England?
ANON: I would, I would say to them, ‘I’ll let you know I’m German.’ One said, ‘Oh well. I speak to everybody.’ And others would sort of turn away but to me I can’t complain. I couldn’t speak English as I said. It came, you know, by and by. And I ask her to write down my name and address. My address. It was [deleted] Chester Green. And she write that down and she sent me for chicken food. The performance I gave in that shop was A1 [laughs] making noises and flapping the wings and all sorts. They fetched out everything they had in this bloody shop. Live chickens. Dead chickens. Cut up chickens. All sorts. No. That wasn’t right. In the end I got what I wanted. Chicken food. We often laughed about that.
CB: So, did you take classes in English to help you?
ANON: No. No. No, I didn’t. My English used to be pretty good. I’ve been back in Germany now for forty years. No. ’77. That’s twenty three.
CB: Yeah. Forty years.
ANON: Forty years. Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
ANON: And Sharon. I usually speak fifty fifty and now it’s gone to mostly German. So, she will have lost it.
CB: A bit of practice. You’re ok. So, after the dyers then where did you go?
ANON: Home.
CB: The next job?
ANON: Back to Germany.
CB: Oh, did you? Right.
ANON: I stayed there. The, the not the boss but he was the meistergrade — he would he would be the fellow going around the machines. Oiling them and making sure they were all in order and what have you.
CB: The maintenance man.
ANON: Yeah. And my friend and I, she was a keen cyclist. Bike. Not motorcyclist.
CB: Cyclist. Yeah.
ANON: And my landlady was going to Cornwall on holiday and we said, ‘We’ll come and see you.’ [laughs] ‘You can’t. You can’t.’ I couldn’t even, I’d never even ridden a bike before ‘cause I hadn’t got one. My parents couldn’t afford one. Anyway, we went to buy this bike and she says, ‘Have a go.’ And a bus came towards me and I panicked and the wheel was buckled. The front wheel. So, we had to have that repaired or bought a new one. I don’t know. And we managed to get to Devonshire. My landlady couldn’t believe it. She could not believe it. On the way back we accepted lorries that would take us, you know. But going down we didn’t. We slept on the side of the bloody road.
CB: This was summertime was it?
ANON: Yeah. ‘Cause my landlady went on holiday down there. Yeah.
CB: It was.
ANON: Yeah. When I think about that today. When I went home to Germany I had two suitcases. After these two years went back home. I had two suitcases and one was packed with coffee. Pounds and pounds. And we had to sit on the suitcase to close it, you know. Pounds of coffee. And the other one was just clothing. When we got to the Customs they said, ‘Open your suitcase.’ I said, ‘Oh please don’t make me open my suitcase. Three girls sat on it for me to close it, you know.’ We can’t get. Anyway, I talked them into opening just one. ‘Ok then. Which one should I open?’ Which one has the coffee got? This is the one with the coffee. ‘Open that one.’ He says, ‘And what’s in that one? My clothing?’ I said, ‘That’s the one with the coffee.’ I was telling him the bloody truth and he didn’t believe me and he let me go through. He opened the other one because I pointed to the coffee one. They could have had me. I said the truth all the time but the way I did it they get the — yeah.
CB: Was coffee a banned substance?
ANON: Yeah. We could swap that for other foods you know.
CB: It was worth a lot of money.
ANON: We didn’t sell it. We swapped it for other foods.
CB: Oh I see. Right.
ANON: God knows what. I remember. As I say when I was thirteen I started work. Thirteen and three quarters. My mother sending me to the [unclear] for two slices of bread and a little bit of salt. Two slices of bread all day. Hunger is terrible.
CB: Did the food supply, during the war, did the food supply get worse as time went on?
ANON: I should imagine. I can’t remember. But we were never so hungry as just after the war.
CB: After the war.
ANON: Yeah.
CB: In Britain there was rationing throughout the war and until 1954.
ANON: Yeah. I came in ’53. I tell you.
CB: Right.
ANON: That day — Germany — we upped it all and came to Britain.
CB: Came abroad.
ANON: Yeah
CB: Yeah. I remember my parents had a German girl working for them for a while. In Germany though, in the war there was food rationing was there?
ANON: Yeah. But it was sort of, you could get by. You wouldn’t be awake nights because you were so hungry. They did supply us with food. Yeah.
CB: Now, what happened to the family flat during the war? Were you, was your mother in there with you all the time or did it get damaged?
ANON: Yeah, we went to the cellar, down to the cellar in the siren.
CB: Yeah.
ANON: We went to the cellar and in winter or anytime at all we would put on two jackets and two of everything. Except shoes. We put on everything. Two. Carried it all four and half, five, four and a half stairs in to the cellar. Siren. Up again. Second time. The things people can stick to when —
CB: To what extent was the block of flats damaged in the bombing?
ANON: Full of every, you could see the holes where it had been hit. I lived at number 19 and number 18 was burned down and it came through the — in the, [pause] in the cellar the builders have to leave a wall that’s called the fire wall. And that’s easily to break through. That’s where they came from number 18. They came into our cellar. It was so full. It was so crowded and overloaded. I don’t know where the other people finished up but —
CB: But your mother was there with you throughout the war, was she?
ANON: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: Right. So, what was the general attitude of the population to the bombing? Being bombed. What was their reaction?
ANON: We used to say not very nice words but we couldn’t do anything. We couldn’t do anything. We didn’t want the war. We couldn’t stop it. So, you know.
CB: What did the authorities keep telling you about being bombed?
ANON: At first, they swore blind that no bomb would ever touch Berlin. Yeah. He swallowed his words then. Goering.
CB: You mentioned earlier about picking up the debris some of which was flak.
ANON: Yeah.
CB: Some of which was bombs.
ANON: Yeah.
CB: What was the reaction to the incendiaries because a large amount of the ordnance dropped was incendiary so —
ANON: What is that?
CB: Fire bombs.
ANON: Yeah.
CB: You said they were the green ones.
ANON: Yeah.
CB: The shrapnel was green.
ANON: Yeah.
CB: So how did the population react to the firebombing?
ANON: Oh. They didn’t do to us like they did, Berlin never stood in — where was it? In Dresden or somewhere.
CB: Dresden. Yeah.
ANON: They created something specially.
CB: A fire.
ANON: Yeah.
CB: Fire storms. Yes. And Hamburg.
ANON: We didn’t have that. We just got bombs and ordinary fires. And, God, when I see pictures today of how Berlin looked in ‘45 I still, to this day, drive through Berlin and think how come, how come they could rebuild it so quickly. It looks as if nothing’s ever happened. I can’t understand that. The first thing that happened after the war women would make themselves a little table of something and find a hammer or something and knock all, grab the bricks and knock all the cement off so the brick could be re-used.
CB: That was their job.
ANON: Yeah. Well that’s, that’s what everybody did. There was nobody to give you a job.
CB: To rebuild.
ANON: Yeah. It was better than sitting about.
CB: How tall was your block of flats? How many floors?
ANON: Four.
CB: You were at the top floor.
ANON: Yeah.
CB: Right.
ANON: As I said, no lift. Sugar. And then every night, sometimes three times carrying everything you were able to. Down the cellar and up again. Bloody hell.
CB: So, there was huge destruction. Your block of flats survived.
ANON: Yeah.
CB: What was the view around there? Were there other flats still standing or were they demolished?
ANON: No. They were just, just [pause] no — only number 18 was totally demolished. The others, the others I don’t know. They just had big holes from, from shrapnel, you know. And the Americans — the cheeky devils. They would fly in ever so low during the day and take pictures because they did area bombing, you know. One day they do it from twelve to fifteen or the next day they do it from sixteen to twenty one. They were making sure everybody gets some.
CB: Which areas had the greatest destruction in Berlin?
ANON: I wouldn’t know. I wouldn’t know. I only know when I looked around there was nothing. There was nothing. How? I don’t know where people went. It was terrible.
CB: You talked about, in the beginning of the war, children being evacuated. Were they evacuated later or did they just leave families with their children in Berlin?
ANON: Were they what?
CB: Did they evacuate children again later?
CB: They didn’t.
ANON: There was nothing. No. No. Only this once but I was gone nine months. My mother came to see me.
CB: Yes.
ANON: And when I came back they started bombing Berlin so, you know, they were going to get me somehow.
CB: Yeah. So, you were back after the war. You returned to Berlin. How did you come to meet your husband?
ANON: I met him about six weeks before I went home.
CB: In England.
ANON: In England.
CB: Oh right.
ANON: I didn’t like him all that much.
CB: Why not?
ANON: I didn’t like him all that much at all. As a friend, ok but not as a boyfriend and then I went back to Berlin. God knows when it happened. I don’t know. I was engaged to an American and I said to him, ‘I’ll just go England and say goodbye. It will be ages before I get back to Europe.’ And I saw him again at a dance and six days later we were married. Six or seven days.
CB: So, he had a pretty convincing patter to give to you did he?
ANON: There was nothing. We just saw each other and that was it.
CB: Oh.
ANON: He was engaged. I was engaged. And we met at this dance and that was it.
CB: Where was that?
ANON: Derby. There was live music Rita Rosa and Ted Heath.
CB: Oh.
ANON: Derby, Paris. I can’t remember the name.
CB: Was he in the army? Or was —
CB: What did he do?
ANON: He went down the mine that year because my father in law had an ice cream business and he needed one at home so he said, ‘Go down the mine and then you can stay at home,’ which he did.
CB: So, what did he do in the mine?
ANON: Coal mining. He didn’t, he didn’t [pause] God my English. Let me explain [unclear]
Other: Dynamite.
ANON: What?
Other: He used dynamite.
CB: He used to do the blasting.
ANON: No. He didn’t. No. He didn’t do the blasting.
CB: But he put in the dynamite did he?
ANON: God knows. I don’t know. I don’t know but I do know he didn’t do blasting.
CB: Right. So how long did he work there when you were married?
ANON: I can’t remember. He should have had to work the two years but he stayed longer because the pay was so good but he did, he did come out and he took over — he had the ice cream in the summer. In the winter they were delivering coal. The miners are entitled to, you know. So, you see there’s nothing, nothing thrilling to tell you.
CB: But then you had your children.
ANON: Yeah. ’55, ’58,’ 65.
CB: By which time your husband was running the ice cream business was he?
ANON: As well as the coal job in the winter. Yeah.
CB: He was still working in the coal mine.
ANON: Yeah.
CB: Right.
ANON: No. Just delivering.
CB: Just delivering. Right.
ANON: Just delivering it to miners.
CB: Right.
ANON: And one day, God knows, he had flu or something and he said, ‘Go and take Mr Jenkins’ and, ‘What do you mean, am I taking him?’ He wanted me to drive the lorry with the coal on. I only did about five customers. Then I went home shaking.
CB: No power steering.
ANON: Power steering in those days. You must be joking. No power steering and a heavy lorry. God. When we got back we got a real rollicking for only doing five customers. Yes. Mr Jenkins said I couldn’t work any faster.
CB: So, when you got back when did you go back to Germany?
ANON: After the two years. I went over in ‘49. I went back in ‘51.
CB: Yes.
ANON: Stayed in Germany for two and a half years.
CB: Yes.
ANON: Never heard from my husband. Never saw him. I wrote him twice. And then his sister wrote and said he’s engaged. And I thought yeah. Ok. So why not? And then I still came to England in ’53 and as I say within six days, special licence, we were married.
CB: Yeah. What was the reaction of German people in Germany to your marrying an Englishman?
ANON: No idea. I was in England.
CB: The family. The extended family.
ANON: The family. I have no idea. I know my mother. My mother. She was all by herself. No sister, no brother, no husband. She had a sister but God knows what they said. I don’t know. I know my mother was heartbroken for a while.
CB: Why was she heartbroken?
ANON: My mother? Because I wasn’t coming back.
CB: Right.
ANON: And she was all by herself.
CB: Right. We’ll stop there for a mo.
[Recording paused]
CB: When the war ended [deleted] you had only Russians immediately but then you were in the British zone were you? In the British Zone?
ANON: It wasn’t then in the British zone.
CB: No. Right. So, what was the reaction to the Russians and how did they treat you?
ANON: Everybody was scared and wished the British and the French would come. The Americans. But as I say they had this agreement with Stalin with Churchill.
CB: Yeah.
ANON: To let the Russians in first.
CB: Well it was the result of the Yalta conference that they knew that Berlin was going to be in the eastern zone.
ANON: Have you ever [pause], have you got schnipsel papier.
CB: Yeah.
ANON: [unclear]
CB: A piece of paper yeah.
ANON: I can’t draw.
CB: Oh right.
ANON: Imagine. Imagine this is Germany.
CB: Yes.
ANON: Berlin is here.
CB: Yes.
ANON: That is the east.
CB: Yes.
ANON: And these three are French.
CB: In the west.
ANON: The west. Yeah.
CB: The British, French and American.
ANON: English and — yeah.
CB: American.
ANON: Isn’t that brilliant.
CB: Yes.
ANON: And I, and I live in the British part.
CB: Right. Ok.
ANON: The British part is in the middle. The top is French. Then English and Americans are the south west. [unclear].
CB: Right.
ANON: So, what was the public reaction—
CB: Tell him about the what?
CB: The fear.
Other: The fear.
ANON: [unclear]
CB: Your fear of the Russians.
ANON: I know. I don’t like, I don’t like doing that. I think, it think it’s dangerous talk. [Unclear]
Other: She doesn’t want to.
CB: That’s Ok. But in the general population was concerned about the Russians.
ANON: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: Because of what they did. Yeah. I mean they flattened Berlin in taking it didn’t they?
ANON: That’s not the worst. The worst thing was that the women were all scared to death.
CB: So how did you, how did your mother defend you against —
ANON: My mother said, ‘Stop shaking.’ She said, ‘I will go for you if they come and fetch you.’ And the Polish woman, she nearly had the [unclear], ‘They don’t take a forty year old if they can have a fifteen year old. Or a thirteen.’ So the, this Polish woman had a big korbsessel.
Other: Whicker chair.
ANON: Yeah. And she said, ‘Now crouch down under this and she put a blanket over me and she sort of sat on it. She didn’t sit but it looked as if she did so the Russians didn’t see me.
CB: Right.
ANON: But as I say another one would kill a horse and, you know, give it to the people so —
Ok. Thank you.


Chris Brockbank, “Interview with a survivor of the bombing of Berlin,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 18, 2024,

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