Just as the title suggests, this personal narratives section includes the personal, first-hand accounts of women who lived in Germany during the Third Reich and were members of the League of German Girls.

Personal accounts such as these are likely the most valuable resource that any educator or student can access. While photos are lovely to give us literally a picture of what life was like, and history books written years after the fact (and often with a modern-day bias) can only give us so much, we can learn so much about daily life from those who were there, and may include little odds and ends that we may have never heard about before.

Most of the stories below have previously appeared in German but are now available in English for the first time, which means that they now are able to reach a much wider audience than before.

We've decided to include some images alongside the narratives - not to show the actual individuals telling the story, but to help remind the researcher and student that these are real people who are remembering real excerpts of their lives. When we research and teach history, we should never forget that there are individuals behind all the statistics and overviews, and that we, too, should be telling their individual stories.

→ Why we need oral history

The Jungmaedel

→ by Giesela Borgwaldt
→ by Ruth Reibnagel
→ by Elisabeth Frietsch
→ by Helga Brachmann
→ by Ilse Kleberger
→ by Ingrid Denull
→ by Marianne Mostowski

The League of German Girls

→ by Giesela Borgwaldt
→ by Ursula Dickreuther
→ by Ursula Sabel

Daily Life in the Third Reich

→ children's clothing
→ children and their parents
→ school
→ the school system
→ children's spare time
→ music and dance
→ personal hygiene

The Way We Were

→ Harvest in Lower Styria
→ You have to grab life by the horns
→ Delivering newspapers

© original text, Helga Brachmann
© translation, Chris Crawford

"What? You were a member of the League of German Girls? I'd have never thought that of you!" Hans was very upset after we'd started to talk about politics at the very end of one of my music classes. This was in 1987. I tried to explain to him, as matter-of-factly as possible, that membership in the League of German Girls had been compulsive at the time and that German girls didn't have a choice and had to join.

Back in those days, in 1938, our group met twice a week: once for the Sportnachmittag, an afternoon of sports, and once for the Heimatabend, a social evening that largely served as an opinion exchange among us young girls. However, my town also had a League of German Girls choir which I joined. We mostly learned old folk songs that we later performed for wounded soldiers at the military hospital in Leipzig. I often had to fill in for the choir's pianist, and therefore my mother insisted that I should only attend one of the regular weekly meetings since this additional commitment took up a lot of my time. At the time, my parents required state subsidies in order to afford sending myself and my siblings to music class, and I had to present statements from my Jungmaedel group leader when we applied, or the funds would be denied. In my case, the group leader was the girl in charge of our choir.

Hans interrupted me at this point. "So, you joined just to get some money, and became part of all the horrible things that happened during the holocaust. Aren't you ashamed of yourself?" To this I replied that I was eleven years old by the time war broke out, and that I didn't hear about the concentration camps or the other things that happened until after the war was over and everything came to light. Hans shook his head in disbelief. "But everyone knew about the concentration camps," he said. "You had to have known as well!"

I tried to explain to him that these extermination camps weren't exactly located in the center of Saxony where I was from, and that, as soon as war broke out, the majority of people were restricted from traveling unless they had a special permit. Listening to foreign radio stations was forbidden by penalty of death, and television did not yet exist in the small town I was from. Late in the war, we were often without power and couldn't even listen to the radio then because we didn't own battery-operated radios. And since I was a student at a girls' school, I did not come into contact with any soldiers, and definitely not any members of the SS who were stationed at concentration camps. Even if I had known any, they would not have been allowed to talk about the camps.

Hans still insisted that I must have had heard something, at least rumors, about the Jews during the war. He just couldn't believe my answer without questioning it. When I started school in our small town in 1934, we had no Jewish teachers. My parents never talked to us children about politics at home. I only remember once incident during a visit to Berlin-Schoeneberg in 1941, where I saw an elderly couple who had yellow stars affixed to their clothing. When I asked my mother about this, she told me that "one didn't talk about these things" and left it at that. In 1942, when I started going to school in Leipzig for my higher education, one of my friends whispered to me that her friend Ruth was forced to leave school because she had a Jewish mother.

Shortly before the end of the war in 1945, my school friend told me in secret that both Ruth and her mother had committed suicide because they were to be sent away to a camp. We were very shocked and surprised by this, and as naive as I was at the time, I commented that going to camp was certainly no reason to slash one's wrists. In addition to my naivety, this message had reached us at a time when we had been receiving one bit of bad news after the other. The Eastern Front had already reached the Elbe river and our school was filled with refugees from the East who slept on straw beds in our classroom and had to live under the most primitive conditions.

At this time, Leipzig had just survived two very heavy Allied bombing raids during which a lot of people had been killed, and large areas of the city had neither water, nor gas, nor electricity. The streets smelled of burnt wood and people were searching for survivors in the heaps of rubble that had once been homes. Everyone went hungry in those days. We hoped - or feared, depending on what your political views were - that American troops would soon take the town. Rumors began to spread. We heard that the mayor had killed himself, and his wife and daughter because he refused to hand over the city without a fight. Grimma, one of the suburbs, was already under American control. Cars with loudspeakers mounted on them circled through the streets asking citizens to immediately exchange all their ration stamps for food, and to hide in their basements for maybe a few days, maybe weeks, while the fighting continued.

Long waiting lines formed at all grocery stores and it wasn't unusual that you had to wait for hours or more. Often, my fellow students cried out of fear and worry for their fathers and brothers who were soldiers, and some were mourning their deaths. All of these circumstances placed the tragic deaths of our former half-Jewish school friend and her mother far in the background.

I had to talk to Hans quietly about these things because I'd previously discovered people listening at the door to my classroom. Finally, I decided to ask Hans directly: "Why did you join the FDJ (the East-German Communist Youth organization), since you never cease to point out how much you hate living in East Germany? I've seen you in their uniform a couple of times." His answer came as quite a surprise in its naive honesty. "I wanted to study music," he replied. Without membership in the FDJ, I wouldn't have been able to attend university." I could only shake my head and point out that this had been the exact reason why I joined the League of German Girls back then. "That's different," Hans replied.

After our discussion, I decided that I needed to write down my experiences in the League of German Girls as an attempt to explain some things to our younger generations who had not lived through the war. My son recently said, "At some point everyone will be interested in the past." I sure hope he is right.

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© original text, Giesela Borgwaldt
© translation, Chris Crawford

My mother kept me from having to become join the Jungmaedel at age ten because I was very small for my age, but once I turned eleven I eventually had to become a member. At this time, membership in the Hitler Youth was compulsory for all boys and girls over the age of ten. We had to attend two meetings each week with the local Jungmaedel group: one on Wednesday and one on Saturday.

Because my family couldn't afford to purchase it for me, it took awhile until I owned the correct uniform. My mother bought the white blouse for me at the store, but the dark blue skirt that it was supposed to button into was homemade and it wasn't nearly as nice as the ones they had at the department store. Aside from the skirt and blouse, we wore a triangular black neckerchief that was rolled up to about three or five centimeters wide. It was wrapped around the neck underneath the collar of the blouse and held in front with a braided leather slide. In the back, only a small triangle of black fabric showed from underneath the collar. We also had the Kletterjacke, which was a short, brown jacket with a lot of buttons, but I never owned one. Much later, changes were made to the uniform and a dark blue jacket was available, which my mother purchased for me.

During our service we were taught a lot of old folk songs, played sports and games, and learned about how the Hitler Youth was organized and about the life of Adolf Hitler. Sometimes our leaders just read storybooks to us. Every year around Easter we went on a field trip to the nearby Baltic coast where we spent the nights on a farm and slept in the hay loft inside the barn. On Sunday mornings we could all see movies or go to the theater at reduced rates. My mom didn't like those Sunday morning events because she felt that going to church was much more important.

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© original text, Ruth Reibnagel
© translation, Chris Crawford

At ten years old, German girls were systematically drafted into the Jungmaedel. At the beginning I was very impressed by the uniform that we wore for our service. The dark blue wool skirt made for a wonderful contrast to the bright white blouse. The brown jacket with the many pockets looked just like a real uniform. I enjoyed the way I looked in it, and the black beret, pulled down steeply over one ear, looked very smart.

Once or twice every week we had to attend local group meetings, which set an end to my idle Wednesday and Saturday afternoons. During our meetings, two or three of the older girls who were leaders taught us about the ideals and beliefs of national socialism. They painted the most beautiful pictures of its goals for us. Youth is so easily excited and misused for political goals.

Exercise played a very important role in the Jungmaedel as well. When it was nice outside, we played ball games, ran, and participated in athletics and a lot of other sports, even javelin throwing. During winter we usually stayed indoors and learned songs, especially ones that had a political message.

Because of my poor health I was excused from participating in sports for a long time, but I still had to attend the meetings on afternoons when we did sports. I either watched in boredom or chatted with the other girls who were excused from participating as well. We met at Herder Place, a sports facility in the western part of our town, each Wednesday afternoon. It was very noisy in the wooden buildings there when about a hundred girls went in to change, and then ran outside into the yard in their gym clothes. Their uniforms hung in neat rows inside the building, their brown shoes stood neatly underneath the benches, and our gym bags - most of which were homemade - hung from hooks above those benches.

A whistle and drum beat called us outside. I pushed my way onto the wooden bench just outside the building, past the other girls. The Scharfuehrerinnen stepped forward and their twelve to fifteen girls grouped around them. "Attention! Headcount!" The group leader called. The girls lined up by size, and soon they all stood at attention, facing to the right. It was completely quiet in the yard. "Count," the Scharfuehrerinnen yelled. Instantly, the first girl would turn her head to the left and call out "One", the girl next to her would do the same and call out "Two", and so on. The group leader, a pretty girl with blue eyes had her thick braids pinned up in the popular Gretchen style. She ordered, "Form up in a square!" on which the individual groups would step forward and form a square. The Scharfuehrerinnen stood to the right of their columns.

The pretty group leader now stood in front of us and gave a speech. "Before we begin with our exercise, I need to speak to you. World- changing events are happening as we speak, and today we witness German-speaking regions returning to the Reich. Today, Austria has returned home!" Loud cheering was heard from the twelve- and thirteen year old girls. A lengthy speech about the grateful and happy Austrians followed and she closed, "For all of this we have to thank the vision of our leader. Heil Hitler!"

Those girls who, like me, did not participate in the sports afternoon, had lined up with their groups for the formation. This was during the early days of spring and I was cold in my light summer uniform. After the speech, the girls who were participating went on a 1000 meter run, and those of us who were only watching rubbed our cold hands and stomped our feet to keep warm.

"I could think of better things to do with an afternoon than to freeze my feet," said one of the girls, Ilse. We started to talk about school, which was an inexhaustible topic of conversation. Eventually we sat down in front of the building. Before I took my place, I happened to look into one of the windows in order to fix my hair, and as I began braiding, I noticed one of the leaders inside the building, going from one gym bag to the next, feeling every one of them, and finally taking something out of the last one. She quickly returned the bag to its hook and left. I thought this was a little strange but didn't give it much thought, but I later found out that she was stealing.

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© original text, Elisabeth Frietsch
© translation, Chris Crawford

When I think back to my time with the Jungmaedel, I mostly remember the wonderful scavenger hunts and the many day trips we went on - to Baden Heights, for example - as well as the youth hostel stays and summer camps. Most of my memories are of crafts, singing, hiking, sports festivals, swimming, our beloved group leaders and the many friends I made.

And, of course, I remember my very first dance. Around 1941, or maybe 1942 - I don't recall - a Hitler Youth leader brought his group from Karlsruhe to Baden-Baden to visit our school in the western part of the city. All of the local League of German Girls members were invited to the dance. The Hitler Youth leader knew how to play guitar and how to sing French songs because his mother was French. I was about fourteen or fifteen back then, and danced my first dance with a boy from Karlsruhe. Because dancing was forbidden during the war, the Hitler Youth put up a guard to warn us should we run the risk of being discovered. I thought it was a great event, exciting, and very lovely. The boys served us yogurt with strawberries as a treat. It was an unforgettable secret party.

We were much less influenced by the politics of the time than people think nowadays, and we hardly ever gave any thought to what the leadership was doing, especially at the young age we were back then. We didn't know what a concentration camp was until we found out about them after the war, but we did know that people who spoke out against Hitler or made fun of him were arrested and sent to prison.

We felt really good about our time in the Hitler Youth and I don't remember ever having had any political lessons. For me, the group mostly presented an opportunity to meet other girls my age, and to participate in sports and games.

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© original text, Elisabeth Frietsch
© translation, Chris Crawford

At the age of ten, all German girls automatically became part of the Jungmaedel, which was the little girls' group of the League of German Girls in the Hitler Youth. The group didn't organize girls by their school classes, as was common after the war in the East German communist youth organization, but rather by the street they lived on or the area of town they lived in. Because of this, I didn't really know any of the girls in my group at first.

After joining, I had to get a uniform, which consisted of a white, short-sleeved blouse that buttoned into a dark blue wool skirt. Along with that, we wore the so-called climbing jacket, which was a tight brown jacket that we quickly nicknamed our "monkey skin". During summer, our regulations prescribed that we wore white ankle socks with our black shoes, and grey stockings were worn in winter. Our sports shirt had a swastika on it, and we wore it to sports at school as well. In our group, the black neckerchief and the brown leather slide that went with it were only given to girls who were fourteen or older therefore full members of the League of German Girls.

Our service included two meetings each week - a sports afternoon on Saturday, which was held in Schoeneberg, and a social evening at a local club room that was held on Wednesdays. Oh, how I hated sports! But the social evenings were usually horribly boring. One of the older leaders taught us how to do woodwork with a jigsaw, and she also showed us the Ostmark, Sudentengau, and Bohemia on a big map of Germany.

My father didn't really like the National Socialists but he always told me, "Service is mandatory, and obligations must be fulfilled." To the best of my recollection, my mother was more positive about Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party, but she would occasionally write me a note so that I didn't have to go to the meetings. She tried to arrange it in such a way that my father didn't find out about it. He was a very good person, and an upstanding citizen, but he believed that you always had to listen to your government, even if you did not agree with what the politicians had to say.

On May 1, 1938 our group had to attend a rally at the Olympic stadium in Berlin. I still feel sick when I think back about that day now. First, we had to stand around for hours without being able to see or hear what was really going on. On top of that, it was very cold. Snowy rain was coming down on us and every part of us was like ice, especially our bare knees. Of course, we weren't allowed to wear civilian raincoats or carry umbrellas while we were in our uniform. The only positive part of this experience was that we were all given bags of candies and fresh fruit to eat.

Another part of our service consisted of collecting money. We had to sell small insignia for the Winter Relief. They were little pins, which were pretty adorable sometimes, and they cost 20 Pfennig each. I remember a little harmonica pin, about two centimeters in size. Each week we had a different pin for sale, and some people collected them. We were especially proud when we didn't just sell pins, but also were given donations on top of that. Most of the time they were small amounts - a few Pfennig of spare change - from people in the street.

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© original text, Ilse Kleberger
© translation, Chris Crawford

I was born in 1921, and by the time Hitler came to power I was twelve years old. Both of my parents welcomed national-socialism because my father was unemployed and the Nazis promised people work. Like many people, my father immediately got a job after the elections. The German people were very excited about the changes and hardly anyone noticed that a lot of work served the military build-up.

I joined the Hitler Youth in 1933 and became a member of the Jungmaedel. Because I was an only child at home, I was happy to now have a lot of new friends who were my age. I had a lot of fun during the social evenings and hikes, and enjoyed singing and music a lot. We were also given political talks, but they did not interest me and I wouldn't listen. I really enjoyed wearing the uniform: the dark blue skirt, and the white blouse with the black neckerchief that was folded around the neck and held together with a leather knot. Along with that, we had a short brown jacket that was called the climbing jacket.

We had leaders who were just a little older than ourselves and we adored most of them. My best experience during my time in the Jungmaedel was our camping trip to Ruegen island where we sang songs, went swimming and hiking, put together plays, and generally had a good time without any politics. My worst experience were the political parades we had to attend, which I found to be extremely boring. Once we were also attacked by a Communist youth group.

Collecting for the Winter Relief was a lot of fun. We believed that the money was going directly to help poor families and didn't expect that a portion of it also went to support the military. Aside from that, we also traveled a lot around our hometown of Berlin and we went to Mark Brandenburg, Ruegen, East Prussia, and Danzig, which was all German at the time. In my free time I enjoyed drawing, making up stories, riding my bicycle together with my friends, playing table tennis, and especially reading. My Jungmaedel group never had sports afternoons because we had gym class in school.

I became a leader in the Jungmaedel but only kept my position for a short period of time because my family moved to a different city. I never joined the League of German Girls in our new hometown because I started to disagree with the national-socialist political beliefs. But after the war in Poland started, I returned to the League of German Girls and was sent to occupied Poland to help set up a German kindergarten.

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© original text, Ingrid Denull
© translation, Chris Crawford

I was born in 1925 and my father signed me up for the Jungmaedel when I was eleven years old in spring of 1936. My father was a public servant and as such, he was required to join the Nazi party in order to keep his job, but he had managed to keep from doing it. He expected that there would be repercussions if he didn't sign me up for the Jungmaedel, though. I wasn't interested in politics at all but my parents resented that Hitler was able to take power in 1933.

I was enthusiastic about the service because I enjoyed music and wanted to compete in singing and playing the recorder. I had an opportunity to do this in the Jungmaedel and for awhile I even belonged to the Berlin Recorder Group, which had the special honor to practice and perform for the radio at the station on Masurenallee. The music group was organized by the Hitler Youth, but I was also active with my music in the Lutheran church group that I belonged to. I least liked having to meet at Pankow market place on Sunday mornings because church was at the same time. Sometimes I didn't go because I also belonged to the Lutheran youth group at church. I think that I was very lucky that our leaders didn't talk a lot about politics during our social evenings. I later heard from others my age that their groups spent a lot of time talking about politics, which was very boring for them. I am still in touch with some of my former comrades from the League of German Girls, even though we were separated for many years because of the Berlin Wall.

My mother made the uniform for me because my parents wouldn't spend the money on purchasing a uniform - I was still growing. You had to pay for everything, even the insignia. Mine said "Ost Berlin" on it. We even had to buy the backpack for hiking. Because my uniform wasn't exactly like the ones sold at the store I always had to stand in the center row during formations so that it wouldn't be so obvious. I liked the blue skirt and white blouse, but I thought the khaki climbing jacket was too uniform.

My best memories of the Jungmaedel are of the trips we went on. After I passed my first aid course that was given by a female doctor, I became a medical service girl and was responsible for my group's first aid kit when we went on trips. The first aid kit included about the same things you would find in a car or travel first aid kit nowadays. We went on a weekend trip to Utzdorf near Bernau. In 1938 we went hiking in the Harz mountains and in 1939 my group traveled to East Prussia where we hiked from Memel to Cranz and then took the train to Marienburg and the ferry to Swinemunde. This was the last ferry trip there in August of 1939 because the ship was used by the Wehrmacht thereafter. When we traveled for two weeks, everything we needed was carried in our backpacks, and the blankets were probably the heaviest thing we carried. We didn't have to pack any food because we spent the nights at youth hostels and ate there. Some hostels had very good menus with several courses, but others only served vegetable soup that hardly had vegetables in it. We only slept in tents if the hostels were full, and the tents were provided there.

I still had time to follow my own interests outside my service with the League of German Girls. It was hard for the other girls to understand that I enjoyed the Lutheran youth group and that church was something nice and important to me, but they never gave me a hard time about it, although the church youth group I belonged to was officially forbidden. I also enjoyed playing piano, and going to the movies and the theater. I still remember a lot of the movies I went to see, and some of my favorite actors and actresses were Willy Forst, Hans Moser, Werner Kranz, Kristina Soderbaum, and Anny Ondra, who was the wife of Max Schmeling. I also liked the opera and recall a lot of the singers, like Erna Berger, Martha Moedel, and Walter Ludwig.

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© original text, Marianne Mostowski
© translation, Chris Crawford

I'll start with the BDM Eastern Action since this is a closed chapter in my life. We had to fulfill a mandatory service year after graduating school, and this took place either with families that had a lot of children or on a farm where help was needed. We had to be at least fourteen years old and graduated eigth grade. I went to secondary school and graduated at age sixteen.

From age ten to age fourteen you belonged to the Jungmaedel and then went into the League of German Girls until age eighteen, after which you usually joined the Labor Service and worked for a year, either in manufacturing, or on a farm, and you lived in a Labor Service camp during this time. But because I was a sports instructor in the Jungmaedel, I never changed to the League of German Girls, I always stayed in the Jungmaedel. In 1944 I was given the opportunity to volunteer for the Eastern Action after graduating school. This work only took half a year, from April until October, and counted as a whole service year.

The hut I lived in in our camp always housed girls from Plauen and it wasn't insulated for winter. Because of that, we only stayed there from April until October when it wasn't too cold. We didn't receive any training prior to volunteering for this service, we were just eight girls from the Plauen area who were all around sixteen years old. We had an eighteen year old leader who was in charge of our group and had been to this camp several times, and therefore knew the area well. The town we stayed in was called Giwartow, which was part of the Konin township in the middle of Poland, halfway between Posen and Warszaw. Bessarabia-Germans and Germans from the Black Sea had been "returned to the Reich", as Hitler called it, into this area. Their families were of German ancestry but had left German territories generations ago and lived in enclaves in Russia.

We worked with those resettlers. Some of those families' husbands had been drafted and were at the front. The farmer's wife I worked for, for example, had lost her husband in the war and was alone on the farm with her two five-year old twins. We went to our farms in the morning to work, and had to help with everything there was to do: cooking, watching the children, cleaning, and doing the shopping in the city. In the evening we returned back to our camp, sometimes completely worn out, because some of the farms were far away. I had to walk about an hour to get to my farm, myself. It would be unimaginable for people to expect this of sixteen year old girls nowadays. But we did it with pleasure, because we worked for our fatherland and thought we were helping our country win the war. Because we didn't have the media that we have now, we didn't know what was really going on. Only sometimes we could hear the roar of cannons far away because the front was going through Poland by this point. When I was getting ready to return home in October, the front had moved so close that the resettled families had to leave their homes again, this time really "back to the Reich"!

Even though our everyday work was very hard, our evenings at camp were a lot of fun - singing of old folk songs, swimming at the lake, birthday parties, etc. Everything was put together with little equipment but lots of imagination: we had story and recital evenings. Everything had a great niveau. We didn't have television back then and we experienced a great comradeship that you don't really find anymore nowadays. We were there for each other and helped others if they felt bad.

There was a neighboring camp of BDM girls fulfilling their serivce year, which was about 100 kilometers away from ours. They never returned from their service and nobody knew what happened to them.

I do want to include one experience I had during that time. On July 20th, 1944, my farmer's wife sent me to the township of Konin to purchase some items for her farm. In the afternoon I was sitting in a small cafe that was open only to Germans to have lunch. The radio was on, and because I hadn't had a chance to listen to the radio for several months, I paid attention to it. A special bulletin came on suddenly: "There's been an attempt on the Fuehrer's life, but he survived because he'd left the room." I was shuddering because I realized that nothing good would have happened to us BDM girls in Poland if Hitler had been killed. After the war I thought, if only it had killed him, so that the lives of all those other people killed in the war could've been saved!

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© original text, Giesela Borgwaldt
© translation, Chris Crawford

After a period of time I was made a group leader. The best thing about being a leader was that we marched next to our groups during a hike or in a parade, and we got to pick the songs that we sang while marching. The leaders also planned the social evening and had to make sure that all girls in their groups attended regularly. If a girl was sick or had another reason not to come to a meeting, their parents had to send a written note to excuse them, just like they had to do for school.

The Maedelschafts-Fuehrerin, recognizable by a red and white lanyard, was in charge of a group of approximately ten to twelve girls. The Scharfuehrerin, who wore a solid green lanyard, oversaw four of those groups, and the Gruppenfuehrerin, who wore a green and white lanyard, oversaw a group of four of those, which consisted of between 150 and 200 girls. The rank designations were different in the male Hitler Youth.

In those days, we didn't greet each other in the street by saying "Good afternoon" or even "Hello", but with the so-called German greeting of Heil Hitler. When you spoke those words, you held your hand out about shoulder height, preferably a bit higher. The person who was greeted in this way replied with the same. Older people, or people who were disabled would just lift their forearms - my father, for example, was wounded in the shoulder during World War One and couldn't put his whole arm up.

We also greeted our teachers this way in school. As soon as the teacher entered our classroom, we would all stand up from our seats. While the teacher walked to his desk in front of the class, he would raise his hand and say, "Heil Hitler", or he'd stand at attention by his desk and give the greeting. Then the whole class replied, "Heil Hitler, Herr Lehrer."

On all important holidays throughout the year, such as Labor Day or Hitler's birthday, our youth groups marched to Stephan Place in front of the town hall for ceremonies. Local party and Hitler Youth leaders gave speeches and we sang a lot of the songs that we'd learned during our group meetings. At the end of these ceremonies we always sang two specific songs - first, the first verse of the national anthem just as it is sung today, and second, the Horst Wessel song. During the Horst Wessel song we had to give the German salute and hold it during the whole song, which had several verses. That was not at all easy, especially for the younger children, and I still remember that the arms kept lowering and that we eventually used our left hands to hold our right arms up. We didn't look very festive at all doing that.

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© original text, Ursula Dickreuther
© translation, Chris Crawford

The Hitler Youth never played the important role that people often ascribe to it in our little town of Hochberg, which was generally thought of as a rather communist town, anyway. At least it didn't play a very important role for the girls, and particularly not after Allied bombing raids started. But we learned so many nice songs during the group meetings that I enjoyed attending them, and I stuck with it. I'd learned so many different songs that I could have spent half a day singing before I had to repeat myself. Girls from better families who could afford formal training to learn an instrument volunteered to play during the group meetings and passed their enthusiasm for music on to the rest of us. Of course we also had to go through some political lessons, but we just suffered through those. I never actually felt indoctrinated.

For the male Hitler Youth, things were very different, especially for the older boys. They marched and played all kinds of games in the woods and fields. They learned scouting, setting up ambushes, and did all sorts of other things that teenage boys enjoy doing. They even had motorcycle groups! Looking back, it was very obviously paramilitary training that the received, but we never looked at it that way back then because we enjoyed getting to do these things. As the boys got older, many of them began to get bored with the Hitler Youth activities and stopped attending meetings. The boys got into a lot more trouble for skipping out on their service than the girls did, at least until the bombing raids began. After they started, any enforcement of their service obligation was entirely impossible.

When an important person came to visit our city, we all had to stand by the side of the road in our uniforms and wave little flags to welcome them. Sometimes this turned out to be a lot of fun. For example, when Robert Ley, the head of the German Labor Front came to visit. During the visit, the Hitler Youth drum major accidentally let go of his staff during the parade and it flew in a wide arc right into us girls. We laughed and giggled like crazy as the proud drum major with his gold epaulettes and a bright red face ran over to the side of the road to pick it up. Robert Ley probably didn't even notice because he was so drunk. At least that's what people said about him later.

When I was about fourteen years old, the regional leader of the League of German Girls came to visit our town and made all of us stand at attention to check if our fingernails were clean. That was the very last time I ever stood at attention. It wasn't that I was against national socialism - after all, I didn't know anything else. I never even realized that anyone could hold different political beliefs until I was about nine years old and tried my best to decorate a large Sunday cake with black, white, and red berries in the pattern of a swastika. My aunt Rosa looked at my piece of art critically and said it looked "good enough to eat" with a sort of evil smile. I didn't really know what to make of that.

When I was a bit older I realized that my aunt was strongly "against it", and I was ashamed that this had to happen to me. My very aunt Rosa! I started to get scared for her as well, and I often took up a position in front of her door so that I could warn her if someone was about to walk by in the hallway, since aunt Rosa regularly listened to foreign radio stations. On Sundays, we went for long walks with her Jewish friend and his Christian wife and child. Sometimes we were visited by French prisoners of war who worked in my aunt's factory and were allowed to go out on Sundays. She would put her homemade wine out and speak to them in French. Sometimes, two or three very funny Ukrainian women who also were foreign workers in my aunt's factory would come by for afternoon tea.

I once was assigned an essay about a political subject that I had a lot of trouble with, and I asked helplessly, "What am I supposed to write about this topic - The Winter Relief and I?!" My aunt took me by the sleeve and pulled me over to the kitchen window. She pointed up into the sky where a group of fighter planes thundered past our town and said, "Look up there. There goes your Winter Relief!" It was even worse when I had to write about an article that had been published in Hakenkreuzbanner magazine. When I read the article to my aunt to get some help from her, she got very angry and yelled, "That's all lies." I couldn't believe that the newspaper would print lies since everyone would know that they were lies. My aunt said, "That's why they say, "he lies as its printed". ("Der Luegt wie gedruckt" is a German expression meaning someone is lying so well that people are taking it as the truth.)

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© original text, Ursula Sabel
© translation, Chris Crawford

During my school years I had to attend the Hitler Youth social evening once every week. Girls belonged to the League of German Girls and boys to the Hitler Youth. I didn't learn a lot about politics there and I was fortunate enough to have a group leader who enjoyed singing. That's how I came to know such a large number of traditional German folk songs. By the time I graduated school I knew that I wanted to do something in the musical field.

Back then, the girls in the Hitler Youth also had a uniform just like the boys. The girls' uniform consisted of a dark blue skirt with a buttoned-in white blouse and the Fahrtentuch, a triangular neckerchief that was held by a leather knot in front. My parents were very skeptical of the political leadership and everything that had to do with it. Since we got our only news from the state-controlled papers and radio, we had to do with a lot of hearsay information to figure out what was really going on in Germany. I think my parents may have sensed what lay ahead. My father was a public servant and as such, he was required to join the Nazi party in order to keep his job, but he somehow managed to stay out of it without getting in trouble. Because of my parents opinions about the whole thing, I was not allowed to purchase and wear the uniform, even though they allowed me to attend meetings.

One day, however, I'd finally begged and annoyed my parents enough so that they gave in and purchased the proper uniform skirt for me at the department store. It had holes that the buttons on the blouse was supposed to button into - but what was I supposed to do? I didn't have any blouses with buttons along the waistline, but I really wanted to wear my new uniform skirt! My mother used some cord as a belt to tie my skirt to make it fit properly, and I wore a sweater over it to hide the cord. But that wasn't a permanent solution! I thought and thought about it until I finally had an idea. Back then we didn't have pantyhose, and therefore we wore a long shirt in winter that had buttons to attach our long wool stockings into to hold them up. With my mother's help I sewed buttons along the edge of my shirt to be able to button my skirt up that way. Fortunately my solution worked well, because it took a long time before my parents gave in and purchased the correct blouse for me.

When we were supposed to have our photo taken for the Hitler Youth ID cards, I still had no complete uniform and had to borrow the pieces I was missing for the picture. To go with my "fake" blouse, I borrowed both the neckerchief as well as the leather-like brown jacket with the sleeve insignia from one of my friends. It turned out to be a very nice photo of me and I still have it today.

During the summer of 1939, I was allowed to attend a ten-day trip to Duisburg with my group. We went on a big steamboat and traveled up the Rhine river along with many other League of German Girls members. Our unit took the boat until Mannheim and then hiked along the Neckar river to Duisburg. Along the way we stayed overnight at youth hostels and it was a wonderful adventure. The high point of our trip was a visit to the theater at the castle in Heidelberg where they played "The Thieves" by Schiller.

I have two more stories from my early years in the League of German Girls. After attending meetings regularly for some time and with my parents permission, of course, I was put in charge of a group of younger girls whom I was to oversee once a week. I loved being their group leader and we sang, or did arts and crafts. Unfortunately this didn't last long because my mother decided that I needed more time to study for school and I had to quit my position.

The other story took place by the side of a road in the Muehlheim forest. We had hiked about two hours toward the forest outside the town of Muehlheim as a group. Hitler was expected to be there because a very important man in the steel industry owned a villa there and was celebrating his birthday. Hitler had agreed to a visit because the heads of the industries and their wartime production were very important to him. We stood by the side of the road in our uniforms for a long time and played games to shorten the wait. After several hours of delay, we finally saw a group of vehicles arrive, and the first important person that we spotted was Rudolf Hess, who rode in an open car. Hitler, finally, drove by in the very last car. He proudly looked down onto his youth and gave the party salute left and right. We lifted our arms and yelled, "Heil Hitler!" He passed quickly but we considered the wait worth it - we'd seen him. It wasn't really that big of a deal.

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© original text, Ursula Dickreuther
© translation, Chris Crawford

During this time, boys still had to wear black sleeve protectors during their first years at school to keep them from dirtying up their sleeves with black ink. The short pants that boys wore in summer, which would now be considered shorts, went down to the knees, but boys from more wealthy families wore pants that were shorter, or they wore Bleyle sailor suits. In winter, boys wore long pants like the adults. With the exception of work clothing, pants weren't cleaned nearly as often as they are cleaned today. They were brushed down with a clothing brush daily, and repaired if there was any damage. Stains were removed using oak tree bark, and the pants were freshened up with tea leaves. They would be ironed on Sunday to get ready for the upcoming week.

The trousers of grown men always smelled a bit strange - a mixture of burnt wool from ironing, and tobacco from the small bags they kept in their pockets. One also has to mention the unpleasant smell of ironed-in urine, because every now and again a bit sprayed onto their pants when they were using the restroom, especially if they were in a hurry. That was the famous Eau de l'Homme, the smell of man.

We did not have T-shirts back then. The men wore button-down shirts that did not get changed very often, depending on what they did for a living and how well off their family was. The shirts had to be ironed with a metal iron that was heated up on the stove-top, only few families had electric irons back then. Over their shirts, boys wore wool jackets, pullovers, or vests. Both girls and boys were equally tortured with the so-called Leibchen, which was a white undershirt with long elastic bands buttoned into its sides that, in turn, buttoned into the stockings. The stockings were held up on the outside of the leg and hung down on the inside of the thigh, which was very uncomfortable. It was a big improvement when they introduced shirts with four straps that held the stockings up equally.

Most children begged and annoyed their parents until they were allowed to get the uniforms of the Hitler Youth or League of German Girls. Finally - something new! Parents usually were forced to give in because they didn't want people to think that they were "against it", but for most children, that one uniform was it. After all, who could afford to buy a new one year after year!

My granddaughter recently came home from school and when I asked her what the new math teacher was like, she replied: "He's impossible! He's wearing bell-bottom pants and sandals." I thought back to my math teacher back then. When he was standing at the blackboard in front of class, his skinny behind would face us and we could see a large, crooked patch repair on his pants' back seam. He also didn't have any shoe laces. After he'd been bombed out several times like most of us, he was lucky to find two pieces of string to tie his shoes.

Or our poor German teacher, who came to class everyday with the same two runs in her stockings (we did not have pantyhose back then). We would always place bets which leg the runs would be on that day. Aside from her clothing, she was one of those people who seemed to have been born a few decades before her time. She was such a free and charitable person, so full of humor and so witty, that she scared us a little back then. We weren't used to her ways and often found ourselves to be too surprised to laugh at her jokes. I should probably note here that all female teachers back then were single, because when a teacher married, she had to leave her profession. To my knowledge, this rule existed into the 1950s.

Pants - girls only wore pants for winter sports in those days. Other than that, pants were unheard of, no matter how cold it was outside. Even after the war when things began to change, girls who came to school or work wearing pants were often sent home and instructed to "dress properly" before returning.

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© original text, Ursula Dickreuther
© translation, Chris Crawford

The relationships between parents and their children were very different back then. Children, of course, were loved and cared for from the time they were born, just like at any other time in history, but the general feeling was that nature sort of "throws them in" as an afterthought. The church tried to keep families from limiting the number of children they wanted, but what were people who lived in the city and had limited space and money to do? In my town, I only recall about six families who had five or more children. In three of those families, religion played a major part in the number of children they had; in one family, the mother gave birth of two sets of twins; and the other two families lived in poverty. After thinking about this for awhile I remember that the families on our road mostly had only one or two children each, except for two families that had three children. Every household on our street belonged to average middle-class families.

Things were still very different in the countryside where the influence of the church played a much more important role in the remote farming communities, and social control was a lot stronger than in the cities. Farmers often had a large number of children, but often they did not have the ability to provide the proper nourishment for them and they either got little food or only received one-sided nourishment. This was partially caused by the fact that their mothers had to work in the fields in addition to keeping the house and didn't have the time to cook. In both the city and the country, tuberculosis was also still a very common problem.

The use of language is an interesting topic by itself when it comes to the subject of having children, which was almost a taboo topic. Women weren't pregnant, they were "in a family way", and only ladies of the upper class were "in good hopes." Most women were "awaiting something little," upper-class ladies were "awaiting a baby" and only unmarried women were "awaiting a child."

Back in those days, children had to integrate themselves into the daily household workings as quickly as possible because keeping the house nice was very time consuming. Nowadays, it is the other way around - the households mostly revolve around the needs of the children.

People believed that the soul of a child had to develop just like the body and mind did. People back then could not imagine that a complete soul would be present from the very beginning. Books about raising children either did not exist, or existed with a religious point of view, which was most commonly that "he who loves his son punishes him." A strict hand in raising your children was meant to chase out the evil as early as possible so that the good could thrive. To achieve this, the child's own will had to be broken first. You shouldn't forget at this point that our parents had been born as servants of the church and also the Kaiser, and for generations, had been taught to submit to those in power or to do as they were told by the church.

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© original text, Ursula Dickreuther
© translation, Chris Crawford

Class sizes at my school were extremely large during the war because we did not have a lot of teachers left. By the end of the war, each class consisted of around fifty students, and strict discipline was the only way to keep us in line enough to hold any lessons. As far as our female teachers were concerned, we had two types - the strict Christian professionals, and the motherly types.

The first type of teacher would call a student who had written an especially good essay to the front of the class and tell the rest of her students to "take a good look at her because this is what a good student looked like." The poor girl then had to spend the entire lesson standing next to the teacher's desk - on one hand, this was a great honor, but on the other hand, it was preemptive punishment to prevent the honor from going to her head. This sort of teacher usually preferred students from "better" homes and neglected or ignored that stupid, poor, or those children who'd been born out of wedlock. The motherly type of teacher, on the other hand, would give away her own apple to a good student, help along the slow learners, and take a girl aside if she suspected there was trouble at home. This is particularly remarkable considering the size of our classes.

My favorite teacher was short and fat, and always wore nice costumes and silk blouses. She even taught gymnastics that way. She would demonstrate the exercises as well as possible. Sometimes her breasts bounced underneath her silk blouse, or we could see her underpants. As far as exercise is concerned, those lessons weren't exactly effective.

We only had young teachers until the war started, and then the young male teachers were all drafted. Some of them returned because they'd either been unfit for service or crippled. Back then, boys and girls were educated in separate classes and we only shared music class with the boys in first grade. Our music teacher was a cruel man. He once stabbed a boy in the mouth with a violin bow because he hadn't opened his mouth wide enough while singing.

As the war progressed, some of the older teachers were drafted as well, and very old men were pulled from retirement and returned to teach in the classrooms. They were often very tired because it was expected of them to show the "right" enthusiasm. One of our old teachers found a way to avoid giving the Hitler salute in the morning - as soon as he entered the room, he'd call out a math problem for us to solve. Another of our old teachers had turned to the so-called German Christians, which was a group of Lutheran Christians who supported national socialism. This teacher always opened with a prayer, of which the last two lines were, "and keep the Fuehrer safe everyday so that nothing harms him. Amen." He also always asked which girls in our class had not attended the BDM meetings that week, and then gave them extra homework. He used his cane a lot on us, and had to purchase a new one regularly. Each new cane was named after the first girl he hit with it. The last one that I can remember was called "bad Gertrude". He hit us twice for bad handwriting or being absent-minded in class. I remember one girl who'd been hit twice returning to her seat crying, holding her swollen fingers under her armpits.

By the time I entered high school I no longer was a shy little girl anymore, but started rebelling against the teachers whom we had to address as "sir" and "madam" in those days. Our English teacher was a young man who'd returned from the war. He was good looking and full of enthusiasm. Finally, a teacher that I could have a crush on! He was also smart. If he heard us making noise in the classroom when he came up the hallway, he'd open the door and yell, "Open the windows, it stinks in here!" and we embarrassedly went silent because he was insinuating that we were "little stinkers" rather than young ladies. Once, he had to fill in for our German teacher and immediately realized that we were bored with the subject at hand. So he quickly turned to love sonnets and began to recite works by Heinrich Heine.

Shock! Embarrassment! It went completely quiet in our classroom afterward because we were all blushing and looking down onto our hands. That particular poem was almost obscene to us because we were so prude back then. To us, love was romantic and a little bit wrong at the same time - we didn't use the term "sex" back then. We had a general idea of what to do, but didn't know the details. Once we were old enough to no longer believe that the stork brought babies, we were just left hanging with no other explanations or education.

In the breaks between classes we'd push our tables and chairs toward the side of the room and use the free space in the center to practice tap dancing. We'd clip and clap around until one of the teachers put a stop to it and sent us into the yard for some fresh air.

Compared to today's teenage boys, the boys back then were exceptionally peaceful and only fought or roughhoused in jest. I only once saw truly aggressive behavior in our school, when a boy in one of the upper classes who apparently considered himself to be the alpha male, stopped a boy from another class who'd been talking to one of us girls. He ran into him, pushed him backward, and then put his finger into the other boy's face and said, "Don't you ever do that again!" The one he'd pushed had just returned from the frontlines where he'd lost an eye.

When I think what my own sons were like at the age of sixteen or seventeen, I realize just how much the boys lost in World War II because their natural lust for life had been smothered by the war and the country's circumstances. Some of them already had their draft notice, and the rest of the boys were expecting them in the mail any day. Some of them were put under much pressure to "volunteer" for the SS at sixteen that they rather went and voluntarily joined another branch of service. Late in the war, whole classes of boys from all-boys schools were turned into flak helpers. And everyone - boys and girls alike - had the same worries back home. many of them had been bombed out several times and didn't own anything anymore.

On August 14, 1944, our school, which had just been restored after it was damaged in an air raid, was destroyed completely. For most of us, this was the end of our education.

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© original text, Marianne Mostowski
© translation, Chris Crawford

I'm going to talk about the German school system in the Third Reich this time. The first school was elementary school which was called Volksschule, or peoples' school, back then and everyone had to attend it for four years. You started there when you reached age seven. The classes were separated - either just boys or just girls.

For students who couldn't or didn't want to go to another school after elementary school it lasted eight years instead of four. You didn't get a special diploma after your eight years and went on to job training or work as an untrained helper.

After fourth grade you could take an entrance exam to change either to the middle / secondary school, which lasted six years and ended with a final exam, or to a so-called "higher school for girls" for which you had to pay tuition. Boys either went to a high school (grammar school) or a so-called Gymnasium, a comprehensive secondary school, for eight years.

A lot of boys, including my husband, finished with their wartime Notabitur, a special diploma given to boys in their last year of school who volunteered to leave school early and join the armed forces. My husband was in the service from 1939 until the end of the war. He spent the last years at the front in the East where he was wounded in early 1945 and sent home on convalescent leave. He was then captured just before the end of the war and spent three years as a prisoner in France. When he returned home in 1948, the university didn't recognize the diploma as valid, so at age 25 he had to return to school for half a year to get his high school diploma in other to attend university. With this little side-note to my story you can also see how things went for a lot of returnees after the war.

I went to school during the war years, and because of this we had an average of forty to forty-five students in each class because we were very short on teachers. Because I lived in the East where we didn't see as many air raids during the early years of the war we often had children from the Rhine or Ruhr areas in our classes who'd been sent out here to keep them safe. They were mostly staying with host families or relatives.

From 1944 on our region was affected by air raids as well and we had an alert nearly every night. That means, when the sirens went off, we - often ripped from a deep sleep - had to run to the shelter, which was usually the cellar in each house. But if a house was hit directly, even those shelters weren't safe and everyone was killed! If the alert went later than midnight we were allowed to come to school an hour later than normal in the morning, but if the "all clear" was sounded prior to midnight, we had to be on time. You can imagine how tired we often were at school!

I finished school with Mittlere Reife (secondary school diploma) in spring and then joined the Eastern Action in early summer of 1944 and then the Labor Service.

The classrooms looked pretty much as they are shown in old movies - very simple, one bench next to the other. A lot of the time the school benches were much too small for the older students. Each classroom had a photo of Hitler on the wall and also a large map on which we marked the front each week with pins.

We only had to wear our BDM uniforms during special holidays - for example, Hitler's birthday, November 9th, and so on. Other than that everyone wore their own civilian clothing.

Because the food situation became worse during the end of the war, schools passed out vitamin tablets. Each student was given one tablet a day which was a lozenge that you put on your tongue and let melt. I don't know whether the pills made any difference, but passing them out was always a welcome change in our school routine.

In middle school we had a very extensive curriculum and I think that we had a much better general education than most high school students nowadays. In my first year of middle school we started with English as our first foreign language, and from the third year on we got a second foreign language class. Because the Fuehrer had just signed a friendship agreement with the Duce, Italian's leader, we got Italian instead of French until graduation. But that wasn't the case at all schools, most of them were taught French as their second language. And boys' secondary schools also taught Latin.

Out curriculum in middle school included math, algebra, geometry, music, foreign languages, German, literature, history, art (painting), a lot of sports, and during the last two years also typing, stenography, bookkeeping, needlework, cooking, and a little bit of botany. I still ask myself today how we managed to cram in all of those classes but we learned a lot and generally knew at least a little about most subject. We could then build on this basic knowledge, depending on what we were interested in and suited for. I always notice that I know a lot more than graduates now whose general knowledge leaves something to be desired because they are getting a much too one-sided education. Of course we were also influenced politically but we didn't notice it negatively, it was just part of the curriculum.

We had to purchase our own textbooks, but children from poor families got them for free. It was common for us to purchase used books from older students.

Teachers did not favor members of the League of German Girls or the male Hitler Youth over their other students because at that point, membership was compulsory and everyone was a member, so everyone had a uniform to wear during holidays and special events.

When I think back now, I remember teachers who didn't agree with the regime, but they did not voice their opinions or they would have been relieved of their positions. Today, of course, I know that those who had other ideas were sometimes taken to concentration camps or other "reformatories". But we also had teachers who were true Nazis, and very dangerous people.

When we met one of our teachers at school, in the school yard, or on the street, we had to greet them with the Hitler salute. Every lesson also started with the Hitler salute as soon as the teacher entered the room, during which we all had to stand up.

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© original text, Ursula Dickreuther
© translation, Chris Crawford

Back in those days, children and teenagers had to help more around the house to make life easier on their mothers who did all the chores in the home. Just carrying up firewood or coals for the kitchen stove and oven from a basement that often was four or five stories down, cost a lot of time and strength. Floors had to be scrubbed, waxed, and buffed. Vacuums had been in existence since the early 1930s, but many households did not own one. We had rugs, and to clean them they had to be carried down into the yard, thrown over the carpet rack, and then beaten and brushed. Hardly anyone these days knows what Geolin is, but each Sunday we had to use it to shine door handles, signs, and any other brass fixtures in our home.

Once we had finished our many chores at home we would go down into the street to play. In those days, children could still play in the street without being in danger. Only the heavy traffic areas on shopping streets or in the town center were off limits to us because there, work cars and trucks (private people usually did not own cars), horse carriages, and trolleys drove by. But we had a quiet little street in which we played hide and go seek, ball games, and jump rope.

On Wednesday afternoon, older children had to attend their Hitler Youth meetings. Once a week we also had youth group meetings at our local church. During summer we often went to go swimming in the Rhine or Neckar rivers, and on the very few winter days that we had snow we went sledding on any hills in our mainly flat region. We usually stayed out fairly light at night then. It was so beautiful to sled in the light of gas lamps where it was quiet, and many children weren't allowed to stay out as late as us.

We also rode bikes, scooters, and had roller skates. The skates were very simple, made from iron, and strapped onto our regular street shoes. They made a lot of noise even though we kept them well-oiled. In winter we'd also go ice skating.

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© original text, Ursula Dickreuther
© translation, Chris Crawford

We really did not have a lot of things to do or places to go unless the carnival or a circus came to town. We didn't have television back in those days, and most households only owned a radio after the Volksempfaenger was introduced as a cheap radio most families could afford. Some families also owned a gramophone and generally only the parents were allowed to touch it.

How valuable such a gramophone was is probably best illustrated in a story about my friend's grandmother. She was almost deaf at the time of this story and had to use a hearing aid that you had to scream into if you wanted to communicate with her. She had been left the gramophone by her dearly departed husband and took great care of it. It stood in her bedroom where nobody else, in her opinion, had any business. She kept the door locked and carried the key in the pocket of her apron.

After lunch, she usually spent some time reading her Bible and then she sometimes fell asleep. This was the moment we waited for. One of us would carefully take the key out of her apron, unlock the door to her bedroom, and turn the handle on the gramophone. Immediately, a tenor's voice started to blare "Annemarie, Annemarie, komm doch mit in die Laubenkolonie. Meine kleine Taube, komm mit in die Laube! Annema-Annema- Annema-" At this place, the record was scratched, and it was also usually the time that my friend's grandmother stormed into the room, rolled her eyes at us, turned off the gramophone and pushed it out of the room.

We would then go to my friend's upstairs room, and when we ran out of things to do, my friend would lean over the sink, form a funnel with her hands and started to sing loudly "Annemarie, Annemarie!" Shortly afterward we'd hear her grandmother rush to the bedroom downstairs thinking her gramophone was on again. Poor grandma, she kept falling for this prank time and again.

When I was older, the BDM and Hitler Youth leaders in my town tried to organize a winter party. I have one of those meetings to thank for meeting my husband who was sent by his Hitler Youth unit to escort me to the practices because I was the only girl there. We practiced a classical piece for a concert, and when the violins in the upper rows whined, the flutists snickered, and the conductor looked angry. The local Bannfuehrer sat in the last row and watched our practice. After some time, the trumpet man pulled the u-shaped piece that collects spit from his trumpet and emptied it out behind himself - all over the Bannfuehrer! The actual concert was later cancelled due to the heavy bombing raids.

I also took ballroom dance lessons. I had to wear my aunt's stockings and shoes for them because I did not own any proper dancing apparel myself. The stockings were a thick blend of silk and cotton, and while my aunt's shoes were very fashionable and pretty, they were too small for me. Because of the blackout regulations we weren't allowed to open the windows at dance school and the floor-to-ceiling mirrors constantly fogged up from the breath and sweat of 74 teenagers. It was so bad at times that puddles formed on the floor. The boys' clothing was almost beyond description, especially since this was in the third war year. My dance partner wore a jacket that he borrowed from a rather stout (and much shorter) family member, which was huge around his waist but the sleeves ended about two inches below his elbow.

The way home from class was always a lot of fun. We would dance the new steps we just learned in the empty streets and places under the moonlit sky. Streetlights weren't on because of the constant air raids. I was a part of the very last class at the dance school and our final ball that was supposed to be held in spring of 1943 was cancelled due to the defeat at Stalingrad.

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© original text, Ursula Dickreuther
© translation, Chris Crawford

Because we did not have hot water from the tap in our apartment building, we only washed with cold water everyday. In winter we had hot water bottles that were filled up with water heated on the stove before going to bed to keep us warm since our bedrooms were not heated, and in the morning we would take the still luke-warm water to wash up. Our big washing day was on Saturday.

Late on Saturday afternoon, my mother would call us in from playing outside. Karl, my youngest brother, had to go first and was scrubbed down in the big wooden tub that my mother also used for the laundry. Afterwards he was manicured and pedicured and then it was on to the rest of us, youngest to oldest, and all in the same dirty water. My mother had to continually re-heat buckets of water on the stovetop to keep the bathing water warm for us.

Later on a peoples' bathtub was introduced, which was a large zinc tub in which you could finally stretch out for a bath. It was this way in most households in the city as well as in the country. Downtown we also had public bath houses where you could take a shower for 50 Pfennig or a hot bath for one Reichsmarks. Dishwater, however, still had to be heated on the kitchen stove at home. We didn't have any dishwashing liquids at that time, and I still shudder when I remember the greasy ring that would form around the edge of the dishwashing bucket, which I had to scrub with ATA of Vim cleaner.

Our apartment building did not have bathrooms in the individual apartments. Instead we had a communal bathroom which was one floor below ours. It was still very common to have a chamber pot in almost every bedroom which we used during the night and emptied each morning. We also did not have toilet paper during that time. Instead we cut up our old newspapers and put the pieces onto a wire on the bathroom wall. At the age of ten, I really enjoyed reading all of those bits and pieces of paper and I have this system to thank for some of my early education.

But let's get back to the kitchen - this is where our mother bathed her children, laid out fresh clothing for the entire family and polished our shoes. Taking good care of shoes was very important because children usually only had two pairs of shoes - one for summer and one for winter, and they had to be taken care of to keep them in good condition. On Sunday morning everyone put on their best clothing and the children were strictly warned not to get them dirty.

Laundry day was a day of hard and draining labor because everything had to be done by hand with only the help of a wash board and a brush. Laundry day for the whole family was usually done once every four weeks and took the entire day. Because my mother didn't have time to cook that day we only had soup for lunch. Drying our laundry often took several days because there were few places to hang everything inside the apartment, and if the weather was bad outside, it took even longer. Although I have read that washing machines were invented to make more money for the energy companies and not to make life easier for housewives, I would like to erect a monument in honor of the man who invented them. He is the real liberator of women!

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© original text, Trude Rittmeyer
© translation, Chris Crawford

Fellow members of the League of German Girls from Vienna had been in service in the German East in 1941. In 1942, they wanted to send us to Lower Styria, a region that had belonged to Austria until the end of the First World War and that was inhabited by Germans.

I was the camp leader for Miethsdorf, a village between Murek and Radkersburg. There were about fifteen of us and we stayed in a classroom of the village school. Our work as done on farms in the villages around Miethsdorf, and if I remember correctly, the farms were chosen by the local head farmer. Because we'd previously been to the Warthegau where we worked a lot supervising the children of farmers during the harvest, our groups brought a long a lot of homemade toys this time. But the villages in the Abstal valley had few children, and we ended up displaying the toys we'd brought along at the school. During the village social evening we put together at the end of our time there, they received a lot of admiration as well, but few takers.

I was assigned to the local head farmer, who was unmarried and had a large farm that he worked together with his two unmarried sisters and his elderly mother. At first, I only helped around the house, in the stables, and with baking bread. For us city girls it seemed very strange to be allowed to eat as much as we wanted from the boxes of apples that were ready to be carted off! Aside from the apples, the diet was very different for most of us: for breakfast and dinner we had barley coffee and buckwheat grits which was called "Heidensterz" in that region; and salads that were prepared with a dark, thick rape oil.

During the last weeks of our camp we helped in the fields during the grain harvest. The villages did not have any machines. Instead, men cut the corn grain with scythes; and women and girls collected and bound it with rope. It was very hard to lead it all onto the high harvest wagons.

It was during this time that we discovered our love to the Mur river ran near the village. Because we only had limited opportunity to wash in the schoolhouse we were living in, we hiked down to the river to swim every evening. I can still remember the paths we took to the Mur, between corn fields that were bigger than I'd ever seen before.

At the end of our harvest help we all got together in the little town of Luttenberg which had a lovely marketplace. On the market place we put on an impromptu play, "Schwan kleb an." I was tasked to find costumes for this play, and I still remember that the people willingly lent us whatever we needed. Wherever we went, the people were very friendly and considerate. I'm still proud of the time the old farmer's mother told me after a really hard day's of work: "You helped so much today! We didn't think you city girls could even work like that!"

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© original text, Trude Rittmeyer
© translation, Chris Crawford

When mother Stine was telling her stories, all of us Jungmaedel sat very still and listened breathlessly. We didn't just listen outwardly to her story but also became introspective.

Mother Stine was our matron. But she'd not always been our matron. One day while us Jungmaedel had been looking for a home to hold our meetings, we'd found a little house that had an empty shed in the back yard. This shed became our meeting place. Mother Stine lived in the little house together with her daughter-in-law who had a lot of children, both boys and girls.

Sometimes we found a large vase of fresh flowers in the middle of the table of our little meeting place, sometimes a plate of cookies, and on the last meeting before the holidays even a Christmas stollen. It was always Mother Stine who put these things out for us; and in return, us Jungmaedel would carry water for her, chop wood, or help her with her large garden. Such work was beginning to get difficult for Mother Stine because her back was starting to get stiff and her legs were tired.

But she could tell such great stories that we never wanted to go home because we had so much fun with Mother Stine, who technically was Grandmother Stine already. She knew a lot of legends and fairy tales, but different ones than people usually tell. Gretel said once, "It's as if Mother Stine really experienced all of those fairy tales. You could believe the giant is still walking around Obenwald and terrorizing people in the mountains!"

And she knew wonderful stories about the animals and plants in the forest because her father had been a forest warden and her husband, Franz, had been one as well. Her oldest boy also wanted to go into the forests, her second one became a farmer, and the third was a gardener in the city. They were all good boys, and the husband, Franz, was a good man as well. But none of them had returned home from the Great War. Now Mother Stine only had her youngest boy left who lived in the little house with her. He'd become a mail carrier because there was no money for him to become anything else, and because he couldn't stand sitting still in a building and preferred to be outside even if it rained or snowed, in any wind or weather.

She'd had a husband and four healthy boys, and now she only had one... The other day when the weather was stormy and wet outside, Mother Stine told us about the Great War. Not about the war on the front and in the trenches, not about grenades and cannon thunder, no, about the war as the wives and mothers remembered it. About the hunger and suffering, and the hard men's work they were doing, and the fear for her husband and son and brother in the frontlines. But we also felt the pride that was in those women, and in our mothers, because they had helped during a hard and important time.

Mother Stine worked for two forest wardens during the war. She fed the wild game in the areas that her husband and her oldest boy had taken care of. She also worked at home and helped her daughter-in-law on the farm. She never gave up during this time. Not even when, within two weeks, the mail carrier came to her twice with the letter notifying her that her son had been killed. Not even when her husband was missing and the third boy was killed after a long, hard year, on the Western Front.

"We had to keep going," Mother Stine said. We all shook hands with her and held her hand tight when she said goodbye that afternoon. First, she looked at us very seriously, but then her grandsons and -daughters were calling for her outside. Then she laughed and said quietly, so that we could barely hear her but would remember forever: "See, those are here instead of my boys who are buried out there. Those, and you Jungmaedel. And now smile again! You have to grab life by the horns, and next time I'll tell you more stories!"

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© original text, Trude Rittmeyer
© translation, Chris Crawford

Our newspaper woman who delivered the Hamburg Daily had had an accident and could no longer deliver all the papers on her route by herself. She asked whether we could send a Jungmaedel to help her, and naturally we did. I received my first 34 newspapers at 4:30 in the afternoon at the Hamburg train station. Mrs. Boldt accompanied me on the first day to show me the route I should take. She wrote the names of her customers on a slip of paper for me. For some customers, she gave me special instructions -

"For S.H.D you put the newspaper onto this radiator. That's where they pick it up everyday." and "Here at Klinkrad's inn it's to be delivered to the kitchen in the back." One home had a very large dog. "When I whistle," Mrs. Boldt said, "he comes running as if he wants to eat me. But as soon as I give the newspaper to him, he's quiet. Oh, he's chained up today." He didn't really look like a dangerous dog, but I'd get to know the real him soon.

Because I didn't have to deliver a large number of papers, it didn't take long for Mrs Boldt to show me the way. The next day I went by myself and everything went well at first. Then I reached the house with the dangerous dog. I looked around to see whether he was sitting somewhere in the garden, but he was nowhere to be seen. I went into the yard. A woman was hanging the wash out back. "Take the paper up to the house, please," she asked of me. I went up and placed it on the enclosed porch. When I came back out, the dog was laying down on one of the pathways in the garden. "I better run to the gate before he sees me," I thought and started to run. This was stupid of me, because as soon as I'd started running, he came after me like a tornado. He was barking and snarling I stopped and stood still. By then the woman had come up and told me, "You shouldn't be running! I was worried he'd bite you!" I went on to deliver my other papers. "Only four more," I thought - but what was that? Alarm! Well, I could still take those few before taking cover. But no, I'd delivered the first one, and the shooting started already. So I stayed in the hallway of my next customer's building until the "all clear" sounded, and then made it home without anything else happening.

By the next day I already knew all the customers without the note, or so I thought. The dog came to get the paper from me at the fence this time. The others were delivered to Kahle, Rieck, Priegnitz, and Spacholz. I was done. Done? I still had a paper. Where didn't I deliver? I read the note and realized I'd forgotten Schlecht, and had to go back. On the following days it was a lot more fun because I knew my way and it was a lot more fun to deliver papers than I'd thought at first.

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