The why for Irene posing as a boy for 3 years is fairly obvious after F is for Fear of Rape. What about the how? In the post war Russian occupied area where she lived, how does one pull that off?
For me, I’m always asking myself how does a second book in a series out sell the first twice over? What seems to do it is the title of Irene’s 2nd memoir, My Years Hidden as a Boy. Of course, I encourage anyone interested to get all three of her memoirs together in one volume, Survive Little Buddy.
The following excerpt spans Book 1 and Book 2. Irene’s story in her own words (Edited for space. All rights reserved.):
A refugee family with eight daughters, fleeing from Latvia, stopped in Euba and was assigned living quarters….When I mingled with these people, I realized how shabby my clothes had become compared to the pretty dresses worn by the refugee girls. Of course they were able to brin things with them. We had lost everything in the fire. There was absolutely no clothing of any kind for sale in the remaining stores.
The mayor decided to take the only existing, broken down truck Euba had and try to drive to a uniform factory in Chemnitz. This was the only hope that we had to get something warm to wear….He asked a few of us from Chemnitz along, since we were familiar with the location of the factory. [Diving bombing adventure follows]
….I was given more than one whole outfit, black coats, and felt boots, enough clothing for everyone in our family….From that time on, I wore the black uniform with no military rankings, shirts and everything else. [My World War 2 Childhood excerpt, Book 1 of The Iron Curtain Memoirs]
….One day Mama said, “Irene, with your slight build you look more like a boy than a girl in those black SS trousers and your felt boots.”
I laughed. “Maybe I should get a man’s haircut.”
“Not a man’s cut, but with a shorter cut and that cap pulled down, you’d look more like a 14-year-old-boy than a 16-year-old girl.”
“I’d feel a lot safer from the Russian soldiers if they thought I was a boy.”
Thus I assumed the disguise of a boy. Mama cut my hair shorter and I kept part of it hanging over my forehead. The poorly fitted black pants and shirt, along with the oversized boots, made it possible….I often made it a point to have a runny nose to further my disguise. This pretense as a boy was to serve me well for a few years.
….Since few women went out during evening hours or at night because of the danger of rape, my boy disguise gave me some protection and much greater freedom to move about. With Krista in the role as my sister she was not bothered by the Russians. We became skilled at bartering as we roamed the countryside and the railroad stations looking for food. We traded some of the Meissen porcelain figures that Grandma had given us for food. Of course Meissen figurines were valuable antiques, but hunger hurts. We bartered everything away. [Excerpt from My Years Hidden As a Boy, Book 2 of The Iron Curtain Memoirs]
Irene’s bartering took her further afield. West Germany had so many more supplies, and her heroic border crossings brought the necessities for he family to survive. She traveled with her younger brother’s identity papers, an option many others did not have and which aided her ruse. Encounters with Russian patrols, frequent train searches, and other heroic adventures were Irene’s as she struggled to provide for her family.
Would you like to meet Irene, the woman herself? Stay tuned then for your face-to-face via videos.
I is for Interviews with Irene.
Meanwhile a big shout out to these fellow AtoZers:
Check out Amish Humor at A Joyful Chaos.
Enjoy a hot cup of Kaapi while reading Lata Sunil’s story from India.
Drop by Miss Andi’s unconventional music blog.
Kristin King is an NGO co-founder, author, publisher, and finished this post while on the sidelines of her younger sons’ soccer practice. In her living room you will find a Meissen collectible, a miniature cup and saucer, given to Kristin by Irene. Another small treasure among the many Irene’s given.