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H is for Hidden as a Boy #AtoZChallenge @AprilA2Z

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

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

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.”

"Refugees Crowding Trains" Visit War History Online for this and other images.

“Refugees Crowding Trains”
Visit War History Online for this and other images.

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.

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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.

 

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Posted by on April 9, 2016 in Memoirs & History

 

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G is for Gestapo #AtoZChallenge Historical Treasure @AprilA2Z

Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 9.41.46 AMAs long as I’ve heard about Nazi Germany, I’ve heard about the Gestapo. Heavy handed police stomping out any dissent is what comes to mind. Reading Irene’s narrative, it’s hard to tell who’s who. Even wikipedia seems to have a less than clear grasp on who exactly was part of the Gestapo and who wasn’t. Did they have authority over the whole nation’s police forces?

Regardless, the incident that landed Irene in prison with threats of Mauthausen concentration camp smacked of these above-the-law officers. Excerpted from My World War 2 Childhood (All rights reserved):

The word went around our neighborhood that Hitler was going to destroy the Polish intelligentsia. Father was among the first to be arrested. We were summoned to appear before a Civilian Military Committee. We knew people these days were not given a proper hearing.

When Mama and I arrived we were taken to the second floor of an office building and told to wait. I was called into the office but Mama was told she must stay outside. As soon a the door closed behind me, I heard a loud commotion and voices outside.

….I was terribly frightened and intimidated. I had no idea what was happening and why…

The police lady took my hand and we walked outside into the street, heading toward the railroad station. To my great surprise we went into the railroad police station…The woman took me into the back, opened a door, and pushed me in. Before I knew what was happening, the key turned and I was locked in.

This little cage was not even big enough to hold all our brooms at home. I could hardly stand…half standing, half leaning, I could not even turn around. If this was the jail cell for adults it must be torture for a large person to be in here for any length of time.Only with great difficulty did I finally get both of my legs on the top of the shelf…Now I could stand straight. I had to endure being locked up like this for hours…It had been before noon when Mama and I arrived at the Military Committee office. It got dark, and still I heard  people coming and going…I had knocked several times during the day, asking for water, food, bathroom. It was all denied.

….All my questions remained unanswered. [Another lady]…took me by the hand and we marched out into the railroad station hall…toward a train….Here, finally I was able to go to the bathroom and also got something to drink, but nothing to eat. The train personnel looked at my sympathetically but tried to avoid my eyes…They knew I was under arrest.

….We arrived at a large building, the biggest women’s jail in Saxony…I remember they pushed me through a door and it slammed shut with a loud noise…Immediately I gagged from the terrible smell I had never known before.

[Irene describes the conditions and the women, what some were in for, the air raids and food. Uncertain how long she was there.]

Mauthausen Concentration Camp

Mauthausen Concentration Camp

….When I cried there was always some woman who tried to console me. Some got very religious. They even welcomed death and prayed so loud that the wardens told them to stop, though they continued. Many had their time of crying; that scared me very much. Most of them were young and pretty, but we were all destined to go to the same place. [Mauthausen]

…I got used to that strange stench and to keep my sanity, I prayed, “I am sure God knows where I am and he will help me.” I was about 12 years old at the time.

One day, I was called alone out of the cell. A guard was walking me down toward the exit and I was full of hope.

….”Father!”

We saw each other at the same time and tried to walk toward each other but we were both held back. He looked so tired and we were not allowed to speak but our eyes met and spoke more than words.

….One of the men in civilian clothes said, “The child is the blood relative [i.e. Polish] of him.”

….They began reading something saying “paragraph number…which under this law and according to that law…” Then they said father’s full name, “Basil Walter Skaskow and his daughter Irene will stay under arrest. If certain conditions are not met, the SS will pick them up immediately after this meeting.”

…”The girl’s mother is an Aryan who will not be arrested” and to my Father “Irene will be sent to the Mauthausen camp!”

“There is one solution,” a big man growled.

Irene did not go to the camp because her father, a translator of many languages, finally agreed to translate documents confiscated in on the Russian front. Gestapo tactics, I think. Irene writes:

He looked tired and bruised. They could not get him to sign for his own sake and later we learned that they had kept him from sleep and had beaten him.

He looked at me. “I’ll do this for you, Irene. I want you to live.”

So many sacrifices were made during those days, sacrifices to help others survive. I am reminded of Schindler’s List and other movies. I am reminded of the people who helped hide Anne Frank and her family. This sacrifice paid off where so many others did not. Irene has had a long life with many adventures alongside her Walter, the US soldier she married after escaping from East to West Berlin in 1953.

World War 2 stories and films can be so depressing. In The Devil’s Own, Brad Pitt’s character tells Harrison Ford’s  “This is not an American story.”  I guess I’m very American.  I like a happy ending. I believe my life will have one. Give me the Corrie Ten Boom house over the Anne Frank house six days a week. There’s a true story of hidden people, lives saved, and woman who preached forgiveness all over the world after her release from Ravensbruck. Corrie’s book, The Hiding Place, was also made into a major motion picture.

Even though Irene is a survivor, she did not make it alone.

Coming up…H is for Hidden As a Boy.

Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 9.40.18 AM

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Kristin King is an author, publisher, and NGO co-founder. She has been to the Anne Frank House twice and to the Corrie Ten Boom house at least half a dozen times. In May she will return to Corrie’s house, crawl through the entrance to The Hiding Place, and hear something new as each docent shares a different part of the Ten Boom’s story.

 
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Posted by on April 8, 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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