Sunday, July 3, 2011

A comment about this work

I might have appeared improductive since the first text, but I've spent some time the past month transcribing the interviews with my grandmother. I realize now that there are some difficulties with this project. First of all, it's tricky doing this in English, since my grandmother speaks Swedish to me. She sometimes throws in German or Polish, especially when a bit stirred up from the memories, or because some concept only existed in Germany during the war. This actually makes the story more interesting. Secondly her Swedish is sometimes pretty crude, she sometimes has a grammar similar to Yoda ("Your life is good? Oh, then happy I am"). I grew up hearing her anecdotes spoken like this and so I feel a personal need to preserve this - and English makes it really, really difficult.

But most of all, my grandmother is an amazing story teller. I have a lot of friends who have been sucked into her world by skillfully told anecdotes. She has a range of tricks: narrative structures, gestures and sound effects... And most importantly, she does great impersonations using facial expressions and fantastic voices (she jumps seamlessly between the angry gestapo officer, the tram conductor, and herself at the age of 19). Transcribe that as truthfully as possible and you have a mess on paper. So, it's going to be a process to get it right.

The next step: I'm done transcribing the material I have. It's clear to me that her anectodes do not cover the entire war but are focused on the final years 42-45. There are a lot of holes to fill, including "chapter 2" and I will try to make a new interview during the summer. We don't live in the same city, and she's not too well right now, so it's tricky figuring out the right time. Until then I'll try to work on other parts.

If you made it this far, thanks for following, and don't be shy to come with suggestions!


Monday, April 25, 2011

Daniela and her brother are taken to Germany

If you ask my grandmother to start from the top, she insists on starting with her older brother Tadeusz. Or actually with the following anecdote.

In 1939, after the Germans had occupied Poland, it was very difficult getting enough to eat. There were two bakeries in Łódź (her home town, pronounced Wutsh) at the time. Even when getting up in the middle of the night, queuing outside both bakeries, there was no guarantee my family would get any bread. One day in October, Germans came in trucks to the food lines and took away women and men separately. The women were taken 30 kilometers outside the city, where they were left to walk home. The men, among them Tadeusz, were taken to Germany as laborers. Tadeusz didn't know where he was taken but ended up working with some other polish boys on a farm. Work was tough. They got up around two or three o'clock at night to take care of the horses and then did work on the farm until around eleven the following evening. In March the following year he decided to run away.

Around the same time, this must have been the 6th or 7th of March 1940, the Germans woke up the entire street and told us that we had 20 minutes to pack our belongings. The area was designated for the Jewish ghetto, you see. We were all moved, in the middle of the night, to a sports facility but the next day we were allowed back home. Later that month they came to us again and said we would be trapped inside the ghetto if we hadn't moved by the end of March.

We were invited to stay at the apartment of my fathers's friend. My father was very sick at the time. I had to carry him piggy back the 4 kilometers to the other apartment. (My grandmother is however known to add spice to the stories sometimes.) We stayed there for a short while until we found a place of our own. It wasn't big, some of us slept on the floor, but it worked. One night we woke up to the sound of snowballs hitting the window. We were all terrified. In the street below was my brother. He had arrived during the day and found out where we lived, but waited for the night before he dared to come. I can't tell you how happy we were to see him.

The following months my brother mostly stayed indoors. The Germans were constantly raiding for laborers. But he dared leaving home at times and one of those days, in the middle of July, he was again seized. This time they brought him to load cargo, parts to the war industry, at the train station at Frankfurt am Main.

In Poland, the Germans started kidnapping blond girls the following summer. Hitler had started a breeding program and these girls were raped to produce children for the country. (My grandmother explains the following with enormous intensity). My friend and I were stopped by a German-Polish man in the street one day, he said his job was to take girls like us. He said, "Go home! I don't want to take you but there are others who will!". We ran. You have to understand, I was beautiful back then, and I was blond with blue eyes. I didn't dare to go out for six weeks. I was hiding at home, hiding like a rat. I knew a girl in my age who disappeared. Not until the war between Germany and Russia broke out I dared going outdoors sometimes.

My brother came home for a short permission over new year's eve (this is the winter of 41-42). I told him about the kidnappings and he was concerned, so he gave me 10 D-Mark and taught me how to ask for a ticket to Frankfurt. In case I was taken and transported by train, this way I would have a chance to run off.

The Germans did take me. It must have been the second or third of May 1942. The following day they put me on a train and we travelled all day and all night. Finally we came to a stop, I woke up and looked outside. The train was in Frankfurt am Main! I managed to sneak off. At the station I was desperately looking around for other Polish people. Finally I found some Polish workers, and I asked them, do you know my brother Tadeusz? They said, "Of course we know your brother!". He wasn't there but the guys dressed me in a coat and hat and smuggled me to their office. But this is another story.