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Tag Archives: Chemnitz Germany

X is for Border Crossing

If you’ve been following A to Z, you know X is coming to you one day late. My apologies as I let a spring cold hold me back. Moving forward…

Working on 2nd edition cover of My Years Hidden As a Boy (Book 2)

Working on 2nd edition cover of My Years Hidden As a Boy (Book 2)

You also know that Irene crossed the East German border more than once in her years hidden as a boy. The first time, though, was one of the more harrowing at least until she was a young adult and fleeing spy accusations. This excerpt is much condensed, so, as always, I encourage you to get the rest of Irene’s memoirs.

Early in March of 1947 I set out to find my way across the border from East into West Germany [to look for my father]….Snow still covered the ground and an icy wind was blowing. From my hometown Chemnitz I was able to catch a train to…Glauchau….[next train to] Zwickau.

….I must have looked like…the homeless pitiful children who had come from [Poland]….They had pity on me and….gave me a cup of hot water that smelled like bouillon to which I added my two raw carrots Mama had given me for my trip….

“This little boy sure looks like he has come along way.”

“Poland?” suggested another?

I thanked them with a smile and stayed quiet.

….The next train took me to Plauen….Two men in western clothing were waiting on the platform, and I suspected by their speech that they were Czechoslavakians and that they must have been on the other side of the border before. A trail of ragged people, men and women, followed the two men.

….After all that zigzag riding we came back to Plauen and here we regrouped…..We finally reached the last train station, and beyond it was no man’s land, several miles of land between borders where nobody except for patrols were allowed to be. So we had to start walking. The leaders counted 22 people. Among us there were German soldiers who ran away from the Russians and wanted to be a POW with the Americans rather than with the Bolsheviks….Some women were among us but no children.

“Quiet!” whispered one of the Czechoslovakians sharply. “No talking or else.”

…in Lobenstein we came to an iron gate….I was pushed in the ribs….I saw some people arguing. Some woman had talked to a stranger….

As we got in a single-file line our silhouettes were like black shadow in the snow. It was then that I heard a sound that reminded me of someone chopping wood. No one said so, but I knew that the woman who had not obeyed orders was not with us anymore.

….Silently and swiftly we moved along…I began to doubt my strength to keep up. We were told that anyone dropping out would give the others away. I knew they had knives under their jackets and might kill anyone that got in their way.

….The soldier with a small bundle over his shoulder looked back and saw me struggling. Without a word, he grabbed my hand and pulled me a few meters uphill.

Our leaders whispered, “Don’t talk. Sound travels. Don’t step on any wood. It will snap and give us away.”

Irene's World War 2 Childhood, (teen)Years Hidden As a Boy, and Escape to Freedom (East to West Berlin) Books 1, 2, and 3 in one volume.

Irene’s World War 2 Childhood, (teen)Years Hidden As a Boy, and Escape to Freedom (East to West Berlin) Books 1, 2, and 3 in one volume.

….My heart was pounding so loud that I felt everyone around me could hear….The snow was deeper here….The stream was a good eight feet wide and too far to jump to the other side.

“Take off your boots. Shoulder them and cross!” was the whispered command….The soldier and i were just behind the Czechoslovakians. They saw how frail and tired I was.

“Look,” one of them whispered in my ear. “Over this mountain in front of us, there is freedom. Let’s go and don’t stay behind.”

….I cried silently, knowing not to show weakness. I prayed silently. As I prayed, I felt my energy return. The icy water was not the worst of it. It was all the sharp stones on the bottom that made it hard to walk through. I knew if I didn’t make it, they would kill me here at the border. It happened every day and Mama and my brothers would wait in vain for my return. (Excerpt from Survive Little Buddy: Iron Curtain Memoirs by Irene Kucholick Copyright 1996. All rights reserved.)

They did not make it across without further mishap, and I laugh to read once more the invention of the Czech leaders. Even so, shots were fired. “Then I heard a bang,” Irene writes. “One of the bullets had hit something in my knapsack. Whatever it was, it saved my life.”

Once again I am struck by a small kindnesses, a a worn soldier lending a hand. A moment of encouragement, a little help, can shine brightly in a dark place. Most of us live so much better today, but we never know who around us might be in a dark place or dark moment of their lives. Our hand, our thoughtful word can be a light today as well (K is for Kindnesses).

Irene does not often reference her faith in her memoirs; this moment stood out to me. This is because in my own dark times, it was clinging to faith and prayer that brought me strength as well.

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Kristin King is an author as well as the publisher of Irene Kucholick’s historical memoirs. Kristin lives as an expat in The Netherlands where the past few days have included 3 to 5 hailings amidst spring rain and occasional sunshine. Today she sat in the floor writing whilst her dog stretched out on the couch.

 
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Posted by on April 29, 2016 in Memoirs & History

 

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M is for Music to Survive #AtoZChallenge Historical Treasure @AprilA2Z

Same brand Irene now owns, Hohner accordion from the Latin Collection

Same brand Irene now owns, Hohner accordion from the Latin Collection

(April is A to Z Historical Treasure featuring posts related to the memoir “Survive Little Buddy: Iron Curtain Memoirs” by Irene Kucholick.)

Do you remember your first instrument? My lil’ guys were so excited recently because they and all their classmates got recorders to learn to play. My nine-year old even tries to practice instead of doing other homework, so he’s on a time limit till that’s done.

Irene’s instrument was the accordion, and her lessons didn’t stop because she lost interest but rather because the music teacher’s space was bombed. She certainly had a World War 2 Childhood. She continued to practice and play not knowing that  music would help her survive the post-war Iron Curtain when she spent three years hidden as a boy.

One cold winter morning Krista and I walked into Chemnitz. I carried my accordion but my fingers were too cold to play. Most of the activity was, as usual, at the railroad station, so we went there to see what was happening. People were sitting on bundles of luggage waiting for trains….A few soldiers were playing cards. The only sound seemed to be the shuffle and snap of cards as they played….A melancholy mood was everywhere.

“Let’s sing and I’ll play, Krista.”

We started. heads turned and people smiled. This was the encouragement we needed. We sand some of the old German folk songs: “A Penny and a Dollar,” and “When All Fountains Are Running” and others.

Coins were tossed toward us….a young man picked up the coins and put them in his hat, gathering more as they were tossed….

“Krista, we could us this money to ride the trains out to places where food is more plentiful.”

Working on 2nd edition cover of My Years Hidden As a Boy

Working on 2nd edition cover of My Years Hidden As a Boy

An idea was born and we decided to try it…with permission from our mothers who gave it only reluctantly….When night came we slept in waiting rooms of railroad stations, hunched against the wall, or on a bench if one was empty.

….Police occasionally disturbed us when they came to check our IDs and tickets. Some German police overlooked our playing and singing, since it was clearly evident people seemed happier when they heard us. More often though, they forbade us to play in no uncertain terms, whether we had a ticket to travel or not. Anyone without a ticket had to leave the station and might even be arrested.

We were told, “You better watch out for the Russian patrol. They won’t allow any singing and playing in railroad stations,” and they warned us that we could get arrested for that.

Some young kids around the stations kept watch for us.[Excerpt from My Years Hidden As a Boy, Book 2 of Survive Little Buddy. All rights reserved.]

The accordion has always fascinated me. I love to watch how the player makes it breathe and sing its husky chords. Irene still plays, though I’ve only cajoled her into it a couple times, once using my children and their lack of ever having seen one played as the impetus. Unfortunately I don’t have video of her playing. We set her accordion next to her on the couch in some of her videos, though, so you can see what her current instrument, a Hohner accordion, looks like.

I want to say a quick “Thank You!” to everyone who has stopped by, left a comment, and watched our videos.

Next we’re jumping ahead into Book 3 of Irene’s memoirs where she is a young adult working behind the Iron Curtain. “N is for Nurse Comrades” in communist East Germany.

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Kristin King is an author and publisher who inquired about taking accordion lessons in middle school from the church organist. Lessons never panned out, yet Kristin still appreciates listening to players and is more likely to stop for a street performer with said instrument. She is now wondering if Irene knows whatever happened to singing friend Krista.

 

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2016 in Memoirs & History

 

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D is for Dreams #AtoZChallenge Historical Treasure @AprilA2Z

Thanks to "5 Strangest Photos of World War 2" for this train image.

Thanks to “5 Strangest Photos of World War 2” for this train image.

Dreams.
Not the ones behind closed lids, but those of what we will do and who we will be when we grow up. One of my sons maintained his conviction that he would be a vagabond someday, collecting coins from fountains and eating condiments from fast restaurants. Thank God that passed.

Irene writes in her memoirs of a decidedly World War 2 childhood experience that was the seed which gave blossom to her nursing career. The Forbidden Train Episode, I call it, though it could be another C is for Crazy Kids item.

My friend Brigitte and I occasionally went to the railroad station where much activity took place. Its two restaurants, numerous shops, and large waiting rooms were always full of people involved in the war. The Military Police often made raids in all those places and we could see people scrambling and running, trying to get out even through window. It was great luck that we were still children as adults had a very difficult life then.

One evening a Red Cross train pulled into the station. They usually came later in the night. All the shades were drawn and no one was allowed to open the doors to the train. Curious to see what was on the train, we told a lie.

“Our mothers work for the Red Cross. We’re supposed to meet them here.”

This statement got us on the train. We gasped when we saw the wounded men. Bloody bandages were everywhere. we saw men with no legs, others with one or both arms missing. One man with no legs was crying, his face reflected unbearable pain.

Brigitte and I left the train after seeing the men in one car. That was too much for us. We stood looking at each other and cried as we clutched our sweaters tight around our bodies. Speechless from the shock of seeing this extreme suffering of so many young men, we walked home in silence. From that day the idea slowly developed that I might someday be a nurse and help the suffering.

2nd Edition mockup cover of My World War 2 Childhood

2nd Edition mockup cover of My World War 2 Childhood featuring Irene at age 6

I can’t imagine seeing that as a child. Irene explained to me later that these trains came back from the eastern front of the war regularly through her hometown of Chemnitz, Germany. Knowing what happened to her father later in the war, I’ve often wondered if he might have been on such a train at one time.

Coming next, we move from Book 1 of Irene’s series (My World War 2 Childhood) into the era behind the Iron Curtain in Book 2 (My Years Hidden As a Boy).

Your next A to Z Blog Challenge post  is…E is for Eating Cold War Style Behind the Iron Curtain.

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Kristin King is an author, publisher, NGO co-founder with a heart for Africa, and a big fan of train travel.

 

 

 
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Posted by on April 5, 2016 in Memoirs & History

 

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