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Tag Archives: WWII

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.

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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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C is for Crazy Kids (#AtoZChallege Historical Treasure) @AprilA2Z

(All April you’ll find A to Z Historical Treasures here)

Photo Credit to Life.com

Photo Credit to Life.com

I’m all too aware of what crazy activities children get up to when adults aren’t aware. In mild cases, our four sons may show us video afterwards of what they did. Other times we may end up taking yet another ride to the E.R (It usually IS broken). Some stories they won’t tell till they are adults. Of course, we all think we’re invincible till a certain age or incident forces us to face reality.

Irene was no different–except she lived during World War 2, a time that offered decidedly different risks. Excerpted from Before the Iron Curtain: My World War 2 Childhood when Irene was 12 years old:

By 1941, two air raids were coming each night and at least one by day. Familiar places became heaps of rubble.

Hannelore’s parents had a bookstore where most of the parents bought their children’s school books. Hannelore was my age and we occasionally did our homework for school together. I was at her house one afternoon when an air raid started. Being alone in the apartment, we decided not to let the house warden know we were there when he struck alarms. From the window we watched the planes passed over our building and we tried to count them. They were heading toward the ammunition factories further south of the city. We saw them dropping their bombs, already some overhead, and heard the whistling sound as they were carried by the air to their destination. We heard many close and distant explosions that rocked the building. Smoke and flames boiled up into the sky. Then still another wave of planes came, their wings glistened in the warm afternoon sun.

“They’re coming toward us!” we both screamed. Our faces turned white, we crouched down, sure that we would be bombed. Then the sound of the motors diminished and we knew they were flying away. The bombs whistled through the air before they exploded on the steel mills. Shaken and frightened we waited out the alarm. We never disobeyed an air alert again.

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)

Crazy Kids alright. Irene heeded the call of the air raid signals after that, but tomorrow (D is for Dreams) she recounts another adventure where she talked her way past guards into an area restricted by the Nazis.

Till then…

Shout out to these fellow AtoZer’s:

www.fictionzeal.com

http://marthareynoldswrites.com

http://pluckingofmyheartstrings.com

https://sukanyaramanujan.wordpress.com

 

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Kristin King is author, publisher, speaker, mom, dog lover, military spouse, and NGO president. She has never stayed outside during a bombing but did as an adult confess other things to her parents. Irene is her hero.

 
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Posted by on April 4, 2016 in Memoirs & History

 

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Capital Gazette Covers Local Woman’s WWII Memoir

Nine words changed her life.

“Marry me and I’ll show you the world.”

Link to article here.

Link to memoir here.

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Posted by on July 25, 2014 in Other

 

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