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R is for Russian Accordion

A beautiful Russian accordion

A beautiful Russian accordion

Do you enjoy learning some new, random bit of knowledge? Maybe you enjoy playing Quiz Up or it’s more ancient predecessor, Trivial Pursuit. Those sort of entertainments are up my alley, so when I discover nuggets in a book like Survive Little Buddy I’m all together hooked. Here’s one for you from my A to Z Historical Treasure:

One day while singing and playing in the waiting room at the Riesa railroad station, the Russian patrol came so quickly we could not escape. shouting in Russian that we had committed a crime, they arrested us.

“We have been looking for you two a long time,” said one of the patrol. “You have broken the law. No entertainment is allowed in railroad stations.”

They yanked my accordion from me, forcing us outside and into a truck. It was evening when they took us into the military police headquarters.

….”You broke the law and you will be punished,” was what they repeated over and over….They took our ID cards, the contents of my pockets and Krista’s handbag….They made fun of me for all the girl stuff I had in my pockets, but I did not reveal myself and would not dare, since I always used my brother Ortwin’s ID.

….With nothing left but our clothing…we were forced…through the building….They opened a door and pushed us down another flight of stairs….They pushed us in [a totally black room] and I stumbled and fell down a step I could not see. The door banged shut and someone helped me stand up. My hands were we and we were standing in ankle-deep water….

….My eyes adjusted….The cold water looked very dirty and the odor of urine grew stronger….

Krista grabbed my hand and whispered loudly, “They’ve put us in here until they kill us or send us to Siberia!”

….I touched the wall. It was slippery and wet. Hours passed.

“How long can we stand like this?” Krista asked. “My knees ache and my feet are numb.”

I didn’t answer. We held each other and cried quietly….We counted the hours by the chimes of a church clock we could hear ever so faintly through our prison walls.

[Later]….We were taken through the same passage….A different officer was there now. With much gesturing he said, “You will be put away for good if you are caught in a railroad station again.”

….When I saw our things I knew we were going to be released. I could not see my accordion and asked the officer for it….

“You didn’t even have a an accordion, you little liar,” he bellowed. “If you don’t shut up and get out of here we’ll arrest you again and never let you go!”

….Though we stood all the way home, the train felt very comfortable after the sleepless night standing in water.

….With no accordion there was no way to make money and we had no articles to trade for food in the black market. A few days later, Mama, carrying a large bag of rutabagas for that family, made a visit to Zschopauer Strasse to ask Herr Hillebrandt to make a trip to the Musik and Toy Towns Klingenthal and Zwothal to find a new accordion for me.

….In Zwothal we walked to the factories where they made accordions and other small instruments and wooden articles. “We are not making instruments for the German population, only for Russian needs,” was the disheartening information we received.

Seeing my fallen expression, one of the workers in another factory thrust an accordion at me saying, “The Russians have a different musical scale. Here, try it. You cannot play it.”

….I reached for the instrument and found it difficult to play. The notes didn’t sound right.

….Herr Hillebrandt had heard me play my old accordion….”You want it? Think you can learn to play this one?”

“I’ll learn no matter what,” I promised.

“Okay. You got it.” He turned to the factory representative and said, “Sell it to me. The Russians took her accordion.”

He peeled some money off a roll he carried and with a wink at the factory people I now owned a new accordion. I put it in its brand new case and said a silent prayer of thanks to God. [Excerpt from Survive Little Buddy, copyright Irene Kucholick 1996. All right reserved.]

The Russians have a different musical scale? Really? I love discovering a bit like that. I wonder what their do-re-mi sounds like. I should ask a friend. One of the ladies in my book club might know, and one of them pointed out that the airman taken prisoner by the Russians in the movie “Bridge of Spies” was also put in a cell with standing water. Living in Holland, I can tell you that the Dutch could not abide a room with even a puddle, they are so determined to control every drip of water.

What pluck and determination Irene had as a young teen. Honestly, she is still like that today. A credit to Herr Hillebrandt’s kindness (K is for Kindnesses), she did learn to play that instrument and was soon riding the rails with Krista again. Her next adventure was near the Reisa black market.

Our next A to Z Challenge bring us to S. S is for….oops. Well, not really. But I used my S topic for M, M is for Music to Survive. I’ll dig up another S for you in a flash.Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 9.42.40 AM

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Kristin King is an author and publisher of Irene Kucholick’s Iron Curtain Memoirs which include Books 1, 2, and 3; My World War 2 Childhood, My Years Hidden As a Boy, My Escape to Freedom. All three books are contained in Survive Little Buddy along with photos, a historical time line, and maps not available in the stand alone books.

 

 
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Posted by on April 21, 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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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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F is for Fear of Rape in Post War Years #AtoZChallenge @AprilA2Z

My Years Hidden As a Boy - 1st Edition Cover

My Years Hidden As a Boy – 1st Edition Cover

You can probably call to mind instances in your own life when fear gripped you, squeezing your chest tight making it difficult to breathe. Most recently for me, being hit by a motorized vehicle while on my bike has changed my life in Holland. Now each time I put my feet to the pedals my heart rate to increases. The dread of what might happen or happen again only worse is the spark of ice-fired fear.

Gang rapes by Russian patrols were a part of the daily life in the Soviet occupation zones for years in post-war Europe. Irene Kucholick’s memoir describes several instances of Russian attacks, some worse than others. In interviews Irene said there were good patrols and bad patrols. On one night in her village four soldiers abducted four women and took them back to their headquarters where they appeared to wait for the commandant to take first pick of the bound victims before beginning their festivities.

“Antony Beevor describes it as the ‘greatest phenomenon of mass rape in history’, and has concluded that at least 1.4 million women were raped in East Prussia, Pomerania and Silesia alone.” I suspect his work probably does not take into account the decades of rebel activities in the mountains of east Congo which is north of where my NGO project operates. Regardless, as recently as 2015 his books were banned in some Russian schools and universities.

This was one time during The Iron Curtain Memoirs that I appreciated the lack of sentimentality typical of Irene’s accounts. At this point, Irene was already “Hidden As a Boy” when she went out.

The Russian solders’ constant search for women was greatly feared by the women in Euba. When the women learned they could not be protected within their homes they left their children and slipped away to sleep in the trenches dug by German soldiers. The trenches were deep and fairly dry. Some trenches had small wooden sheds with straw floors which provided cold but fairly comfortable places to hide. German men were afraid to protect their women from these assaults since they were not allowed to have weapons.

….One night a Russian patrol on horseback came into the area where we lived. One of them knocked on the door. We opened the door and saw a big soldier smiling at us. He grabbed Mama. My thought my heart would stop beating. We knew immediately what would happen to Mama. We screamed as loud a we could. Mama screamed too. Ortwin and Hartmut kicked him….By now five solders were standing in the open doorway… [Irene tells how assault was averted.]

….On those nights when everything was quiet and we heard no “Frau comm, Frau comm,” we would say, “Tonight the good ones are on patrol.”

….One day Mama sent me to Niederwiesa to get a few pounds of oat kernels ground….Ursel and her mother decided to go with me. We walked rapidly and made it to the mill with no problems. We had to wait in line to get the kernels milled. It was late afternoon when we started home….

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

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

At dusk a group of five Russians patrolling on bicycles passed us and turned around to begin following us. We walked faster. they advanced and wheeled around us in a threatening circle from which we could not escape.

There was no doubt as to their intentions. They suddenly wheeled closer, dismounted and grabbed us by the shoulders. Would I be mistaken for a boy? Evidently so, I was to be taken care of first. A hard blow to my face sent me reeling dizzily backward. A sickening kick in my stomach knocked me down. Four of the men grabbed Ursel and her mother, forcing them to the ground. I tried to slip along the wall of the building, thinking the growing darkness would hide my escape. A big hand on my neck shoved me against the bricks. I was warned not to move if I wanted to live. Another blow in my face and stomach left me in great pain and unable to move. I could only lie there and witness the sordid scene of rape. [Excerpt from “Survive Little Buddy: The Iron Curtain Memoirs.” © Irene Kucholick 1996]

According to Wikipedia, “Female deaths in connection with the rapes in Germany, overall, are estimated at 240,000.” Rape-murder was not uncommon. Victims ranged in age from 8 to 80. Yet as recently as 2008 when a feature film was made about this, “it was widely rejected in Germany after its initial publication but has seen a new acceptance and many women have found inspiration to come forward with their own stories.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rape_during_the_occupation_of_Germany)

During last year’s A to Z Challenge I wrote about my project trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and chose to focus on the brighter side, beauty, and reasons for hope. With this Historical Treasure theme the posts are mostly dark this first week. Certainly there were holidays, fun times, even laughter and little reasons to rejoice throughout Irene’s accounts. A few of those are coming. However…

Next up, G is for Gestapo.

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Kristin King is a co-founder of Future Hope Africa, an educational project in east Democratic Republic of the Congo. Although she published Irene’s Historical Treasure, Kristin is a fiction author, mom to four boys, military spouse, and family travel planner. She thanks God that the man in Czech Republic who tried her hotel door knob, knocked, and called “Come, sex, come” for two hours one dreary night in Prague did not get into her room.

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2016 in Memoirs & History

 

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