I would like to share my grandmother’s story. First, let me apologize to my mother, aunts and uncles if they remember any parts of this story differently. I am fully aware that this is your story too. My defense is that family stories are a subjective thing, for both the teller and the person hearing the story. Different things strike a chord with each of us so the story I tell will certainly be different in some ways than the story you would tell.
My grandmother’s name was Luise Wande Busse. She was born near Obornik, Germany on January 5, 1905. The story goes that she was very weak and fragile and my great-grandmother had to huddle near the cottage’s ceramic oven to keep her from dying.
I don’t know much about her childhood years. She met my grandfather, Wilhelm Lauchstaedt at a friend’s wedding. I remember my grandmother talking about him during one of her visits to the US. Even though she spoke no English and my German is patchy at best, I could tell that even after all these years he was the love of her life. She was a very calm, quiet and serious person but when she spoke about him she got a sparkle in her eyes and had a big smile on her face.
As you can see from the photo he was very handsome. I have also heard many people say that he had a great sense of humor and liked to spend time drinking and laughing it up with his buddies. He owned a butcher shop in Obornik. He and my grandmother had nine children. I think there may have been another one that died in infancy as well but I’m not sure about that.
My grandfather was a soldier in the German regular army during WWII. He wasn’t called to serve in the beginning of the war because he had five or six children by then. But as WWII worsened for the Germans the number of children needed for an exemption kept getting higher. Below is a picture of my grandomther with seven of her children.
My grandfather was killed by Polish Freedom Fighters while home for Christmas leave in 1944. His death was gruesome and violent. I won’t speculate about the atrocities against the Poles at the hands of the Germans that could have led them to such violence. Those were evil times all the way around. I’ll let history sort all of that out. This is the story of my family, not WWII.
What I do know, is that my grandfather was a loving husband and father. His family grieved deeply for him. My mother was the youngest of nine and was just 5 months old when her father was killed. She has no personal memories of her father. She has copies of some letters he wrote while away at the front. He always made a point to mention all of his children in his letters.
At about the same time my grandfather was killed the Russians were quickly making their way toward my family’s hometown. My grandmother made the decision to pack up her nine children and her elderly mother and travel by train to Berlin. Her brother lived in Berlin and she hoped to take refuge with him.
The trip to Berlin was difficult. It was the dead of winter and they traveled in boxcars. It was cold and crowded and food was scarce. My grandmother struggled to keep my infant mother from freezing. To this day my mother's skin still gets red and swollen if she’s out in the cold too long.
The family arrived in Berlin right before the Russians invaded the city. Those familiar with WWII history will remember that the Russians were brutal. Many Germans were murdered and many women were raped. None of my family speaks much about the fall of Berlin. During a trip to Berlin I saw the basement where the family huddled while Berlin was being bombed. The rumor was that the Russians wouldn’t rape a woman with a child so many of the neighbor women wanted to “borrow” one of my grandmother’s children to protect themselves.
The Americans came and things got a little better in Berlin. But there still wasn’t much food and they all lived in a very small apartment. My mother remembers playing in the ruins of the bombed buildings as a young girl.
My grandmother successfully got all of her children through those tough times plus the many lean years that followed. Berlin was a divided city with the each of the four allied countries in charge of a different section. Fortunately my family lived in the American sector.
In the early 60’s the Berlin wall was built. The Russian and US armies faced off while the families of Berlin caught on opposite sides risked life and limb to be together. My father was a soldier in the US Army stationed in Berlin. That’s how he met my mother. They married in 1962 and she moved away from her family to join my father in the States.
My grandmother ended up raising one of her grandchildren when her son was not able to. Late in her life she moved in with my Tante Rosi and her husband into a very nice apartment in Berlin. She died in October 1988. Her family loved her and honored her for her strength and goodness but whenever she talked about her life she never thought she had done anything exceptional. She said she had just done what she needed to do.