I look at my mother, connected by a breath of glimmering hope, her red and shadowed eyes reveal that some element of our whole being has been lost and, somehow, thrown away. Sob-gasp, sob-gasp, sob-gasp. Slowly, that feeling within me fades. But wisps of it stay with you, locked in the chambers of your mind, always.
In therapy, to meet the needs of traumatized survivors of war and torture, the patient is requested to repeatedly talk about the worst traumatic event in detail while re-experiencing all emotions associated with the event. Traumatic memory, they say, is cleared by narration of whole life; from early childhood up to the present date ... this book is my therapy. I am awash with living memories.
One woman, called Eva, used to visit my mother and sometimes we would call in next door to visit her. Sometimes Frau Eva gave me cakes and fruit drinks. I remember she was very kind. It was not until many years later that I understood just who she was. To me, at the time, she was just a very nice woman who lived next door sometimes, although she did tend to go away, and was often not seen for several months.
After the Christmas and New Year of 1944 my mother and I returned to Strausberg, but the area was full of people evacuated from Berlin due to mass bombings on the capital by the RAF. These had started, in a small way, on 25 August, 1940, and had continued through 1941 and 1942. However, by November, 1943, these air attacks were major, involving mass bomber streams of more than 800 aircraft. I used to stand outside the front of our house and look at the sky, watching the silver bombers turning over Strausberg and heading in the direction of Berlin. Many were shot down, some near us in the fields around Strausberg.
I quickly got used to being picked up by my mother, and taken to the air raid shelter near our home. Although frightening, this was a great adventure to me as a child, for in the shelter I played with the other children and we felt safe there as we were surrounded by grown-ups; although now the grown-ups were more worried than they had been in the past. There were greater feelings of anxiety and fear in the older people, which we children also felt, and it unsettled us all.
Children accept the conditions they are born into, and, to a degree, I was getting used to the bombings, fires, and death around me. I remember that I thought those things were normal. It is grown-ups who worry about things, and this ... this was total panic! I could taste the fear, and I could see that my mother was frightened, which I had never seen before, and this made me even more frightened.
Inside my carriage there was mass panic and I was in danger of being trampled, but somebody picked me off the floor, and I found myself by the window on the platform side. I was very frightened now, for I thought that I had lost my mother and was all alone, but a few minutes later she arrived at my side. She had some blood on her face, but she told me not to worry, it would all be fine soon.
Within minutes we had left the station and were entering a cutting with trees on both sides, so the horror of the massacre was now out of sight. The train left the wooded cutting, and we saw Strausberg on fire. There were Russian tanks in the streets and soldiers on foot entering buildings. People were being dragged out, and shot.
With our collective shock, what we saw seemed to be frozen into a state of suspended animation. Indelibly etched into our memories in terror, forever! My life was in slow motion, it was as if I was no longer in my body and this was a rather bad dream! It is almost impossible to describe with words what I saw, but I will try. This very experience is the one that has continued to shake me awake during the dense night of my lifetime.
I felt so much more than horror. I was so afraid, shocked by what I saw. There were hundreds of men, women and children hanging from the trees ... there was blood everywhere! We all saw that every person had been gutted, like a fish. My instinct was to run, but where to ... I was on a train. As I watched those around me on the train, so many others also looked like they had explosions in their eyes and they too wanted to flee.
As we passed this living cruelty, I shuddered in momentarily isolation and then let out an audible gasp at what I saw. They were hanging from trees! Some shaking violently, with their intestines hanging out of their bodies! Those who were still partly alive were screaming with pain, and wriggling on the branches trying to get off the ropes ... some had fallen off the branches of the trees, they were crawling along the ground, and towards us.
I remember seeing one elderly man look at us, and he held his hand out, and most frightening were his eyes, dark as a soulless abyss, so black that it looked as if it had been blasted from a cyclone. I felt he was looking right at me. For a moment, I thought I was looking through his sockets, past his brain and behind him; as the tears started rolling down my cheeks a godless universe was expanding within me. Then I became hysterical.