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O is for On Vacation Soviet Style

Gral Muritz resort today

Gral Mueritz resort today

Summer is on its way, and a couple hours ago I confirmed with my husband which weeks this summer from which I could choose to take our family to Spain for the first time. We work within limits, mainly schedules, and go where we please, for the most part.

You will see vacations behind the Iron Curtain were a bit different. We continue to follow the A to Z adventures of Irene Kucholick with excerpts from her Iron Curtain Memoirs. (All rights reserved.)

My first vacation provided by the State was not to a place where I really wanted to go, but I had to go where I was told. I was sent to Gral Mueritz, a beach resort on the northern shore of East Germany.

….My new vacation clothes, which were hard to come by, consisted of a bathrobe suitable for beach wear and a two piece beige dress trimmed with brown that felt suspiciously like paper.

….Our trip should not have taken more than six hours but instead it took us one entire day and one entire night. We knew that many times the whole train was delayed on dead railroad tracks to let more important trains pass. At the end of our journey, with our luggage in hand, we stood in line for lodging in hotels or boarding houses, now all owned by the State. In a vacation house I was assigned to a room with four beds in it. After I plunked down on one of the beds two more girls that I did not know arrived.

….I wanted to see the Baltic Sea as soon as possible, so I left the house and ran down to the dunes….The air was invigorating and rushed through my hair as I ran…into the cold water that flushed around my ankles.

“This is life! This is freedom!”

….Our food was the same as what I ate at home, except eel was served more frequently. Ever since I knew that eel feed on dead humans, I did not care much for it. But in a time when food was rationed, I ate it…

….The important thing for me was the sea. Once I walked along the beach the whole day, forgetting both lunch and dinner. I walked where there were no people–just myself and the sea. It seemed so free and it breathed in rhythmic swells and continually roared a song of freedom. I sang back to it as I walked along its shore.

Irene's World War 2 Childhood, (teen)Years Hidden As a Boy, and Escape to Freedom (East to West Berlin)

Irene’s World War 2 Childhood, (teen)Years Hidden As a Boy, and Escape to Freedom (East to West Berlin)

[First verse of song, finished in German and English in book]….My thoughts they are free, no one can ever guess them. They flee away, like shadows in the night. No human can know, no hunter can shoot, I declare to the sea, my thoughts are free!

….Out of nowhere stepped an armed guard. suddenly I was back in the real world of an armed police state.

“Where are you going, Fraulein? Turn around! Turn around! What are you doing out here? Waiting for a boat that will take you to Denmark, eh?”

“Don’t get excited, I am going.” Everything is guarded, I thought….It was so depressing…I lengthened my stride to put distance between myself and the guard.

[Next an old German folk song, Nun Adieu Du Mein Lieb’ Heimatland]

….One day we returned from an outing only to find that the…dining room was closed…the few things [in town] were on ration cards. So that day was without provision….

Suddenly a voice over the loudspeaker filled the air. “All persons not employed by Wismut A.G. must leave the resort.” We learned some vacationers had secretly rented some boats in the hope of getting to Denmark. Silently I prayed that those people with children in their boat would reach the safe shores of Denmark and freedom.

….I washed my new dress. It turned out to be paper–more disappointment. I had paid half a month’s salary for this paper dress.

[Excerpts from Book 3 of Iron Curtain Memoirs, in Survive Little Buddy]

The mention of eel, called “paling” here in Holland, doesn’t make my stomach turn as much as it used to. When Irene references their carrion eating ways, though, I can’t help picturing the dead soldiers in the tide in those first 20 minutes of the movie Saving Private Ryan. I think I’ll steer clear of eel on our vacation to Spain.

Next up, P is for Publishing Unexpectedly.

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Kristin King is an author, NGO co-founder, and currently living as an expat in The Netherlands, where smoked eel is very popular. Bought whole from the fish monger across the street from her grocery, you twist the head and pull down to skin the eel from end to end. A couple of her sons really like it. Luckily, they don’t read her blog.

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Posted by on April 18, 2016 in Memoirs & History

 

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N is for Nursing With the Comrades #AtoZChallenge @AprilA2Z

Irene's World War 2 Childhood, (teen)Years Hidden As a Boy, and Escape to Freedom (East to West Berlin)

Irene’s World War 2 Childhood, (teen)Years Hidden As a Boy, and Escape to Freedom (East to West Berlin)

You can see here how Irene’s childhood during World War 2 inspired her nursing career. She wanted to help those who were suffering. As a young adult living under the thumb of the Soviets, she fell in love for the first time and achieved her nursing dream. Life was precarious even in the hospital where any misstep might lead to being punished or disappeared.

Our political teachers [at the hospital] called venereal diseases the capitalistic diseases. Everything they disliked was labeled “capitalistic.” On the other hand, all technical achievements were invented by the Russians.We secretly laughed about those foolish claims.

The order came that we must meet once each week to learn how to become better Communists. One-fifth of the hospital personnel now wore party pins. They reminded me of the Nazi pins our school teachers wore. Once seated in a meeting, a list was sent around with instructions to “sign your name.” Party authorities checked those who came to the meetings and reprimanded those who did not attend.

….When I returned to work [after vacation] I found more people had joined the Communist Party to put themselves in better employment situations. Even Herr Viehstig, a custodian who only had an elementary education at the time, was advanced to be our second Culture Director.

….It was important to be respectful toward the Culture Directors, and we had two of them. They had the power to send people away for severe punishment and they did. Sister Wally, an RN, and her husband were arrested after her husband was accused of having done some work for the West. Authorities felt Sister Wally must have known about his activities, so she was also arrested…We never heard how many years people were sentenced to serve, and I never saw her again.

How strange life can be. When Sister Wally was arrested some people spoke in whispers about what had happened. They tried to look the other way. Sadly, some of these same people got arrested only a few years later. The heavy hand of communism snatched people from our midst just as the Nazis had taken our Jewish neighbors. [Excerpted from Survive Little Buddy, Book 3, Escape to Freedom. All rights reserved.]

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Kristin King is the publisher of Irene Kucholick’s memoirs. She is looking forward to the next time she is able to visit Irene in Maryland.

 
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Posted by on April 16, 2016 in Memoirs & History

 

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