January 1945, bone-chilling, 4 1/2 years-old.
Events flit through my memory
like a film on fast-forward:
Russians tanks on the move, villages on fire,
bridges detonated, near panic, time to flee.
What to pack? What to leave behind?
Long waits on icy platforms, hungry and cold,
Im lifted onto a crowded train.
Wounded soldiers, seemingly sleeping,
shrouded in winding sheets
and hoisted out through open windows.
Train halting in tunnels, bombs exploding overhead.
Then trekking on for weeks.
SAFE in the West at last.
Taken in on a large estate,
a cacophony of dialects from Prussia, Pomerania, Silesia.
Girls and boys with unpronounceable names.
Im deloused and scrubbed in a big copper tub,
then placed on a straw mattress with a blanket.
Adults shared cleaning, cooking, and gardening duties.
Preoccupied with loss and trying to rebuild their lives,
they had little energy left for us.
Thus with the arrival of spring
we children were free to romp and roam,
teasing and laughing, forming friendships,
foraging, pilfering, slurping stolen raw eggs,
building bunkers, playing soldier among the ruins,
and imitating nurses doctoring one another.
Only in the evenings, snuggling on my grandmothers lap,
did I sense mourning and homesickness
in her quiet recitation of Eichendorfs lament:
And my soul spread its wings wide and flew through
the silent countryside as if it were flying home.”