Part 23: My Lost Friend 

Of course, I also had a friend. He was the same age and had beautiful blond curls and although there was little opportunity to play together, between us had formed a firm friendship developed.

We had the same interests and liked each other. As often as circumstances permitted, we tramped to a nearby disused clay pit. Fish and frogs swam in the milky green groundwater of the pit. A tiny grove around the pond was inhabited by birds. For us city kids, it was a little natural paradise. Here we could play undisturbed and watch the animals. Sometimes we lit a campfire and carved ships out of tree bark. For us boys, those were rare moments of carefree childhood.

But during one of the next air raids, my friend’s house was also hit by a bomb. Again, my sister and I heard the chugging of the emergency generator and the shouts of the helpers through the makeshift boarded-up windows at night. The next morning, the bombed house was silent. The rescue team and their equipment had disappeared. It didn’t occur to me that something might have happened to my friend, because I, too, had survived such a pile of rubble with my skin intact.

So I went to look for him. I entered the cellar through the back entrance of the adjacent, undamaged neighbor’s house. Everything was quiet. Unconsciously I opened the door to the washhouse. Although he no longer had a face, his curly blond hair burned, I recognized him immediately. He was lying next to the other dead bodies on the screed floor of the laundry room. I threw the door shut and ran home, staring in horror. My voice failed and I was shaking all over. In a crying fit, I was unable to explain what I had seen. Something had broken inside me. In seconds, a brave boy had become a helpless, miserable bundle of humanity, shaken by the crying fit.

The next day, when the sirens announced the air-raid alert, I got the next crying fits and was incapable of doing anything. I became a burden for the whole family. My parents had no choice but to evacuate me from the city. Sister Johanna was placed with Aunt Emmie and I with our grandmother in the former home village.
Aunt Emmie already had five children. Now Hannchen came along and there were six.

It was boring at Grandma’s alone, so I went to Auntie’s, and there we were seven children at once. My oldest cousin Lilo had everything under control. She regulated the daily routine and distributed the tasks. Aunt Emmie didn’t have to take care of anything and went to work. Lilo’s deputy was my cousin Gerda, who was the same age. She had beautiful eyes that reminded me of a deep forest lake with the full moon reflecting in its dark water. I was a little in love with her. Between the children, I only went to Grandma’s for supper and to sleep, I calmed down step by step.

No flak was shooting here, and no bombs were falling. I also had fixed chores to do, all of which were very peaceful in character and distracted me from what I was experiencing: taking care of the rabbits, heating the kitchen stove with wood and coals, firing up the kettle when the laundry was large, pulling the clothesline, and helping to rinse and wring out the bedding. But the most beautiful task was to maintain and clean the shoes for all family members. I did this with pleasure and passion. It filled me with pride when, after my shoe care, everyone thought they had got new kicks. We children got along very well, and I remember this time fondly, even though it was born out of necessity. 𝓣𝓸 𝓑𝓮 𝓒𝓸𝓷𝓽𝓲𝓷𝓾𝓮𝓭

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