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V is for Video “I Was a Spy?”

The A to Z Challenge 2016 is nearly complete. Historical Treasure remains after this theme is relegated to the past. I hope Irene’s memoirs inspire you. As you requested, here is another video, this one only 1 minute. Subscribe to our youtube channel, Beyond the Book, for upcoming releases.

That’s the power punch there at the end. “When you feel you are hunted, you cannot think rationally anymore.”

Survive Little Buddy ends with Irene’s flight from East Berlin, but in the interviews you can get some insights beyond the book.  W is for West Berlin Refugee Camp.

Thanks to everyone for your likes, comments and shares.

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Kristin King published Irene’s memoirs and continues to try to get the word out about this incredible story and the inspiring woman behind the Iron Curtain Memoirs. Visit Irene’s author page on Amazon for more information.

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Posted by on April 26, 2016 in Memoirs & History

 

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U is for Uranium Mine Punishment #AtoZChallenge #AtoZchat

Forced to participate in a Free German Youth march in East Berlin around 1952, nurse Irene Kucholick used the occasion to sneak across the border for the first time since her years hidden as a boy smuggling food to her family. Returning to share her dreams of living in the West with her fiance, Volker, Irene faces her worst struggle yet.

I loved Volker with all my heart, but I felt like a bird beating my wings against a wire cage trying to get out.

[At home]….The next morning the door bell rang and I opened the door to see Herr Viehstig, our Cultural Director, and some other Party people from Wiesen. Shocked, I gestured for them to come in.

….”You behaved disgracefully in Berlin, Irene,” Viehstig accused.

The blood drained from my face. I felt cold and shaky. He went on. “You did not know our national anthem and you refused to carry the flag.” He went on reading from list. “You tried to pick up an enemy leaflet and you were seen in West Berlin. Those are very serious accusations and you must be dealt with.” I was stricken by these charges which, for the most part, were true. How did they know I had been in West Berlin?

“You are suspended from duty until further notice.”

“I cannot go back to work?” I was incredulous.

“You shall work at hard labor in the uranium mines.” For how long was not clear.

….I first became a radiometrist. Carrying a Geiger counter, I walked both along the slope and underground in search of uranium….This was an easy job, but unfortunately it lasted only a few days and then I was reassigned.

Lorries brought heavy pitchblende out of the mine where they were put onto elevators and raised three or four stories high….I worked inside the freight cars with three others, mostly men. We shoveled the heavy dirt into the corners and sides so the car would fill evenly. Even though we used large shovels, if we did not shovel quickly enough, we would be covered by the pitchblende.

….I worked frantically to keep my corner of the car filled evenly….Workers not completing their work quota were docked on food rations….We worked feverishly and there was no time to look anywhere except at the hurtling black dirt. Every second counted.

Russian guards, posted in special watchtowers high above us, watched as we worked. If I had not known that I could go home that night, I would have thought I was already in a hard labor camp.

….I prayed, Please God, take me home. I have nothing more to lose on this ugly planet.

I tried mightily to keep up my share of the shoveling but could not complete it in time. Jumping from moving cars hurt my whole body.

….My shifts changed every week. The mines were operated around the clock and at a back-breaking pace.

….One evening Volker came to see me. He was visible shocked to see the weight I had lost. When he saw the difficulty I had standing up straight, he sat me down and took both my hands in his.

“Reni, my Reni, what are they doing to you? This is a enough. [My friend] Gretl, we must stop this cruelty.”

“We had better get her mother to come and talk to the Party officials,” Gretl said. “Irene cannot survive this work.”

….A few days later Gretl and Mama went to the Party officials but they were told that I had to learn my lesson. After many weeks I was assigned to work on a platform sorting rocks out of the pitchblende. The dirt came down with a tremendous noise. I never heard one human voice during the entire eight-hour shift.

…Volker asked Doctor S. to come see me. He came one evening and after his examination he said, “You are suffering from total exhaustion. I’m going to the Party people and see what I can do…” ….Good Doctor S. He really wanted to help.

Sometimes I thought that all the people talking on my behalf did more harm than good.

Once winter comes I will die, I thought.

And yet, she lives today in Maryland. Childless due to uranium exposure, Irene gives the gift of her story to future generations. When I read her memoirs they say: You are stronger than you think. You can face dark days and stand in the sunshine again reborn.

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Kristin King is an author, publisher and co-founder of the nonprofit, Future Hope Africa. The closest she’s come to exposure to radiation is under a lead blanket during xrays. Living in Holland, Kristin finds it odd that the Dutch do not cover her sons or ask her to leave the room for xrays.

 
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Posted by on April 25, 2016 in Memoirs & History

 

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T is for Temptation #AtoZChallenge #AtoZchat

Image from Coach Stacy's Healthy U

Image from Coach Stacy’s Healthy U

Potato Chips.

Chocolate Cake.

Milk Shake.

Many of our temptations are food associated, and doctors may say we’re risking our lives, but Irene’s food temptation (Iron Curtain Memoirs) involved flying bullets. Same temptation taken to a whole other level.

The mission was to find her father, search for him across the border in West Germany. What makes her dare the border patrols again is food for her family, for Mama, brothers Ortwin and Hartmut, and baby Christine.

Near the village of Stockheim I saw a woman in front of a farmhouse washing milk cans. I approached her. After explaining my needs, she faced me, put her hands on her hips and looked me up and down for a full minute. Then she said, “Come in the house.

I followed her.

“I am a war widow. I have a sizable farm and my foreign help has gone home. I grow produce and it is hard to get help….No one will work for so little money.” She poured me a glass of fresh milk then sat down and watched me drink it.

She looked very serious and said, “How about you? Are you interested in work?”

“I’ll have to think about it….I need food more than money.”

“I would let you go home every second weekend or so.”

“But how can I go back and forth safely?”

“I know a forest master well, he may be able to help you.”

“I don’t see how it could work, I mean, to help you on a continuous basis.”

“I’ll give you as much food as you can carry.”

Image from Picture-Alliance/dpa of post-war German refugee camp

Image from Picture-Alliance/dpa of post-war German refugee camp

To get food to Mama was a real temptation. To risk my life crossing the border again was another matter.

I hesitated, then said, “I’ll help for a while. Let me think about coming back after I try crossing the border again. It is very dangerous on the other side.” She nodded, saying she knew the border well.

I hesitated again, then took the plunge. “I must tell you something you don’t know. I am a girl.”

Her eyes widened and she looked at me more closely.

[Returning home after 2 weeks work] ….Everybody cried with joy….

“I looked and looked for Papa and I couldn’t find him.” I was out of breath and very tired. “Mama, I’ll go back to the farm where I worked and bring lots of good food home.”

“It’s too dangerous, I’m afraid you’ll be killed!”

Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 1.32.46 PMI knew we could use the food. Everyone look so thin and hungry. With great pleasure, I watched their faces when we opened the knapsack and then the suitcase. A large piece of ham, and so much bacon. They had not seen this much meat since before the war.

Late in April I convinced Mama that I should try once more to cross the border….She hugged me as I left, saying, “God be with you Irene. Be careful.” Tears streaked her thin worried face. [Excerpts from Survive Little Buddy: Iron Curtain Memoirs Books 1, 2, and 3 in one volume. Copyright Irene Kucholick 1996. All rights reserved.]

Temptation. More meat than they’d seen since years before, since World War 2 began. Part of me can dimly understand while another part cannot imagine the risks. For A to Z “X” you’ll see one of her border crossings.

Jump forward with me to Nurse Irene times…U is for Uranium Mine Punishment.

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Kristin King is an author and the publisher of Irene Kucholick’s Iron Curtain Memoirs. Baked goods, savory and sweet, are Kristin’s biggest temptations…and maybe one more round of Cookie Jam (think Candy Crush with baked goods).  Living in Holland, Kristin says the food temptations lean toward stroop waffle cookies, fries, and Dutch pancakes.

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2016 in Memoirs & History

 

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S is for Spy Accusations #AtoZChallenge Historical Treasure

Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 11.53.24 AMGrowing up in the 80’s, the Berlin Wall was to me a structure seemingly as permanent as the Eiffel Tower or the Great Wall of China. I knew it separated The East from the The West, keeping those who lived under enforced communism away from freedom and choice.

What I didn’t know and somehow missed in my history classes was that The Wall was a quite recent edifice. Prior to its erection in August of 1961 (and excepting Soviet blockade times), people traveled back and forth between the Berlins for work and pleasure (see Iron Curtain Memoirs Book 3).

At first there was no sanctuary in West Berlin for those with identity cards from the east. Many who tried to stay in the west were returned or kidnapped and brought back. Guards were only posted on the eastern side, and some trams continued to run their route across the border and back.

Such was the time in which Irene Kucholick, my A to Z Historical Treasure writer, lived.

I began riding the electric U-Bahn. Although controlled entirely by East Germany, the U-Bahn traveled from Potsdam, through West Berlin, and into East Berlin again. Each time I rode the U-Bahn I watched and learned.

Many people got off the U-Bahn in West Berlin. At all train stops on the East side, people were spot checked by armed Russian border guards….After Russian guard separated out suspected persons for further checking, the German police mustered them into a large room….

Persons in possession of forbidden Western items were transferred to another police station in the city. Each case was punished according to the degree of the offense. Even foodstuff and soaps were forbidden. We had such bad soap powder that it could only be called sand. Western soaps of any kind were welcomed articles for the black market.

Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 12.04.07 PMConfiscated items were sold in a store run by the government in Potsdam….Few people could afford them. The exchange rate was still five East Mark to one West Mark and four West Mark to one American dollar. That gives one an idea of how little East German marks were worth. Next to nothing.

Persons caught trying to escape…were usually sentenced for ten to twenty years at hard labor.

….This time I was stopped….Suddenly I remembered the Western literature. Ice cold fear gripped my body. There was no place to discard my borrowed material.

…[A scuffle broke out], I threw my magazines to the floor hoping no one would see where they came from.

Too many police and Russians were watching. Everyone saw me!

….I was immediately labeled a dangerous spy, as the papers were considered propaganda material from the West. [Excerpts from Survive Little Buddy. Copyright Irene Kucholick 1996. All rights reserved.]

One of many great images collected on Stacy Andersen's "Berlin Wall" Pinterest page

One of many great images collected on Stacy Andersen’s “Berlin Wall” Pinterest page

Can you imagine being able to cross the border, see the relative prosperity, soak in freedom for a couple hours before having to return? It’s no wonder Irene’s longing to break free from the Soviet communism strangling her homeland was so strong.

I have a short but powerful video of Irene talking about this incident that I hope to have ready for V is for Videos You Requested.

Coming next…T is for Temptation

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Kristin King is an indie author and sole-proprietor of Three Kings Publishing, which released Irene Kucholick’s Iron Curtain Memoirs in 2013, and released the digital edition as Survive Little Buddy in 2015. Irene reminds Kristin of her own grandmother whose strength and convictions have endured from harder times.

 

 
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Posted by on April 22, 2016 in Memoirs & History

 

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Q is for Questions from Readers

2nd Edition mockup cover of My World War 2 Childhood (Book 1)

2nd Edition mockup cover of My World War 2 Childhood (Book 1)

Most readers have questions for Irene after reading her memoirs. When I accompanied her to a book club (largest I’ve ever been to with 20+ people), I took notes of their questions and her answers. You can leave a comment with your questions and we’ll try to get answers for you before A to Z Historical Treasure ends. (Q&A from notes–not transcription or video.)

Q. How and when did you begin writing?

A. Around 1980 I began. People think only Jewish people died, but that’s not true. A lot of Germans died in concentration camps. I had friends sent to Mauthausen.

Q. Was it hard or helpful to write it?

A. Very hard to write and then 9 years later I felt so much better with it written down. (Like is had been an albatross around the neck)

Q. It sounds harder under Stalin. To hear that 1st hand, well…we don’t usually get that. We hear a lot about soldiers, but to hear about a regular girl…

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)

 

A. Mama said you go as a boy or not at all.

Q. How long till you came to the USA?

A. (Escape was in 1953). 1959 we moved to Ft. Sill Oklahoma. “I’m in the wild west here,” I said. And my mother said “Oh no. Get out. Get out now!” I brought my hospital reference books in German.

…We were 3 years in Ethiopia then in Paris. So many French people spoke German. At market I tried English and the man at the stand said, “You are German. Speak German to us.”

Q. (People expressed interest in Irene’s German-American Club)

A. We meet in the Lutheran church. We speak German and English. Saxony was Lutheran. At club each told their story and people had a much harder time than I did.

The Hunger Days came up and a women’s mother was visiting. She said, “We were never hungry.”

“Well,” I said, “They were Nazis.”

Q. What was scariest?

A. When we went to Grandmother’s and artillery came in. It goes everywhere. And I thought when my knapsack got hit with a bullet.

We had to take the drugs to make sure the patient was getting the right pharmaceutical. Had to know by taste.

Q. How long were you in the mines?

A. Months. After that I would have died.

Q. What diseases did the miners have?

A. Lungs and for women uterus. I had to have mine removed. And I told my husband and he said, “It’s okay. We’ll adopt, after we get out of the army.” (They never did.)

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.

Q. When you escaped and that Doctor unlocked the window for you, did you ever have contact with him again?

A. No. I didn’t want to get them in trouble. I would have liked to contact the land lady but I was afraid to.

Q. Besides what you wrote, did informants in your building do other things?

One family…he checked if everybody was gone and reported people not in the basement (i.e. bomb shelter). And he said “They went to the roof and sent signals.”

Q. Did you have any writer support?

A. Walter (i.e. husband) pushed me. You have to have someone to push you to write this.

Q. Is there anything else you’d like to share?

A. People see what happened to me, but other people…like my friend from Luxembourg had a much harder time.

When my local book club read Irene’s book, a couple people had a hard time believing so much happened to one person. Yet, Irene emphasizes repeatedly that hers is only a small portion compared to so many other people who had it worse. She has such respect for these survivors and for being as accurate as she could in her memory. Anne Frank is often held up as the example, to represent the Jewish struggle during the holocaust. Irene Kucholick’s memoirs serve as tribute to other peoples so affected and to the many she knows personally.

Remember to send in your own questions and add Survive Little Buddy to your Want To Read list.

Meanwhile…up next is R is for Russian Accordion.

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Kristin King is the publisher of Survive Little Buddy, Irene Kucholick’s Iron Curtain Memoirs. When not doing this A to Z theme, Kristin blogs about life as an expat in Holland, reading, soulful Sundays, and recently began Foodie Fridays.The Best Practices for Blogs say to focus one subject….

 
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Posted by on April 20, 2016 in Memoirs & History

 

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E is for Eating Cold War Style Behind the Iron Curtain #AtoZ Challenge

Coming at you all April long, my A to Z Blog Challenge theme is “Historical Treasure”

Image from The Winnipeg Jewish Review

Borscht Image from The Winnipeg Jewish Review

Who doesn’t like the occasional food blog? Living overseas, I’ve gotten to indulge in so many good eats that I ran a foodie series in February. Irene was the inspiration for one of those posts. We got to talking once, and I have no idea how it came up, but she told me her doctor said she had the bone density of a woman half her age. What was her secret? Nettles. She practically had to live on them for a while.

Remember in Forest Gump when they start talking about the many dishes you can make with shrimp? Well, nettles aren’t exactly the same, but when she talks of them it reminds me of that movie. There is nettle tea, nettle soup, nettle mash and so on. If you could make it with nettles, Irene and her mother did. If you’re interested, check out that food post here.

When opportunities came in post-war Germany to eat other foods, you can bet Irene hopped to. These everyday details of life behind the Iron Curtain populate her writing. How many times did her family members risk their lives for the simple things–like a big of bread? Irene’s story isn’t her own, it is the story of so many others. Here’s a slice of it from the summer of 1945, shortly after the war ended and Irene’s family discovered they would be in the Russian sector. [Edited for length]

Since we were so hungry, we said among ourselves, “Russia is closer. They can bring in supplies much faster than the Americans. The Russian zone will do all right.” We had been told for years that Russian farmers had fertile land and worked as hard as the German farmers….No one told us then that the Russians were starving. They were not able to feed themselves. They did not send us food, rather they took what little we had.

Stalin with Soviet Flag

Stalin with Soviet Flag

When Stalin heard that so many people in Germany wanted democracy instead of communism he said, “What, they don’t want to be communists?” He laughed, “We’ll starve them and they will come crawling to us!”

….There were some who had food enough, mainly the farmers and the Russians who came to govern us. The Russians assigned to our village stayed in a villa up in the woods. A large red star on their roof was lit by spotlights during the night. They had their own parties, drinking vodka in large amounts, and playing their music as loud as possible.

….One night, after curfew, Nadja and I slipped through the darkness up to the Russian villa. We were very hungry and thought this might be a place to get some food. We stayed int he shadows of a picket fence and some bushes where the searchlights would not fall on us. Our hunger was greater than our fear of what the consequences would be if we were caught.

Several soldiers were cooking in a large pot out in the open. We could smell the meat. “Borscht” Nadja whispered. When they dumped a lot of vegetables into the pot my stomach cramped with hunger.

….[Later] We heard the men fighting over one of the [abducted] women. It must have been another hour before we were sure the men were sound asleep.

“Now!” Nadja whispered as she climbed out of the bushes and over the fence into the garden. I followed. Slowly, quietly, we crept toward the house. The kettle outside still had some warm borscht in it.

We poured it into a pitcher we had brought, then crept into their kitchen. We took some pieces of commisbread. I saw a box I could carry and took it, not daring to risk the noise of opening it.

A man cursed and we knew a soldier was awake. We held our breath in fear…

[Excerpt from…My Years Hidden As a Boy by Irene Kucholick]

Perfect to end there since tomorrow is F is for Fear.

Till then…a shout out to some very diverse AtoZers:

Regina Martins integrates juxtaposed images under one letter theme.

Get in early on a co-written space opera AtoZ.

Fun to see JazzFeather’s D is for Dixieland because there is a Louis Armstrong tie in to Irene’s life later. (Video will be forthcoming.)

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Kristin King is an NGO co-founder, author, publisher, mom, dog lover, reader, as well as a born and bred Kentuckian. She has a small bag of dried nettles in her tea tin, because Irene hand-picked that gift for her. Unfortunately, nettles is not her favorite flavor.

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2016 in Food, Memoirs & History

 

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FDR’s President’s Prayer on D-Day

FDR Lead the Nation in a Prayer on D-Day

FDR Lead the Nation in a Prayer on D-Day

Franklin D. Roosevelt

A Prayer in Dark Times (Listen FDR’s Prayer on History.com)

Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity…

Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith. They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph…

Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom. And for us at home–fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas, whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them–help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice… Give us strength, too–strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.

With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace–a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

–D-Day, June 6, 1944

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Kristin King is an author and her imprint, Three Kings Publishing, produced Irene Kucholick’s “Iron Curtain Memoirs” which includes three books related to World War II. Before the Iron Curtain: My WWII Childhood, Behind the Iron Curtain: My Years Hidden as a Boy, and Escape the Iron Curtain: My Journey to Freedom

All three titles in Iron Curtain Memoirs with timeline, photos, and maps.

All three titles in Iron Curtain Memoirs with timeline, photos, and maps.

 

 
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Posted by on June 6, 2014 in Prayer

 

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