Rubble Girls

Kevin Ostoyich

Kevin Ostoyich

Valparaiso University

Prof. Kevin Ostoyich was a Visiting Fellow at AICGS in summer 2018 and was previously a Visiting Fellow at AICGS in summer 2017. He is Professor of History at Valparaiso University, where he served as the chair of the history department from 2015 to 2019. He holds his B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania and his A.M. and Ph.D. from Harvard University. Prior to moving to Valparaiso, he taught at the University of Montana. He has served as a Research Associate at the Harvard Business School and an Erasmus Fellow at the University of Notre Dame. He currently is an associate of the Center for East Asian Studies of the University of Chicago, a board member of the Sino-Judaic Institute, and an inaugural member of the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum International Advisory Board. He has published on German migration, German-American history, and the history of the Shanghai Jews.

While at AICGS, Prof. Ostoyich conducted research on his project, “The Wounds of History, the Wounds of Today: The Shanghai Jews and the Morality of Refugee Crises.” The Shanghai Jews were refugees from Nazi Europe who found haven in Shanghai, and thus escaped the Holocaust. For this project Ostoyich has interviewed many former Shanghai Jewish refugees and has conducted research at the National Archives at College Park, MD, and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. At Valparaiso University he co-teaches a course titled “Historical Theatre: The Shanghai Jews,” which fuses the disciplines of history and theatre. To date, students of the course have co-written and performed two original productions based on the history of the Shanghai Jewish refugee community: Knocking on the Doors of History: The Shanghai Jews and Shanghai Carousel: What Tomorrow Will Be. In addition to his work on the Shanghai Jews, he is currently working on projects pertaining to the experiences of ordinary Germans during the bombing of Bremen, German Catholic experiences in nineteenth-century Württemberg, German Catholic migration, and U.S.-German cultural diplomacy during the first half of the twentieth century.

Click here for an article by Ostoyich on the Shanghai Jews.

He is currently trying to interview as many former Shanghailanders as possible. If you would like to be interviewed or know someone who might want to be interviewed, please contact Professor Ostoyich at kevin.ostoyich@valpo.edu.

Part One of Rubble Child’s World: Stories from Bremen’s Ruins

In this 75th anniversary year of the end of World War II, AICGS is pleased to present this four-part series of ordinary Germans’ recollections of that time.
Prelude: The End of the War Experience of a Seven-Year Old Girl

I spent my seventh birthday on April 25 in a bunker on the Regensbürgerstrasse.[1] A beautiful, little tea doll with pink skirt, which was tied to the teapot with an elastic band, was the only gift from a neighbor. The following days my mother spent with us three children, born in 1937, 1938, and 1939, and our grandma in this bunker, because our house was bombed out. In the beginning of May, my father, grandma’s only son, came “back from the war.” The left arm was stiff from a gunshot wound and, as it later turned out, stricken with tuberculosis. He had walked for weeks to us from Schleswig-Holstein. He was terribly emaciated, and we children did not recognize “the strange man.” In the bunker he was laid down in the middle level of the bunk beds, because everything was under water as a result of the bombing. There were constant attacks with incendiary and phosphorus bombs. My grandpa was missing in the city. Grandma and Mama searched for him. They also looked under the cloths where the dead lay on the Regensbürgerstrasse schoolyard. The Tommies[2] arrived on May 8. The women helped my mother put the uniform onto my father. Consequently, he was a soldier. Otherwise, my mother probably would not have been recognized as a war widow. The Tommies took my father with them. My mother then visited him frequently in the lung clinic in Oberneuland, always going on foot from Findorff. Here he died on June 10, 1945 at the age of 30.



Introduction: Below the Aerial View

Historians often lament the passing of ordinary voices into oblivion. What we are often left with are the tales of “great” men who led. With respect to Germany and the Second World War, we are often provided with comprehensive treatments of Adolf Hitler, a group of usual suspects such as Joseph Goebbels, Hermann Göring, and Heinrich Himmler, and then faceless soldiers blitzing into Poland, getting bogged down in Russia, etc. With respect to ordinary Germans, one is usually provided with images of right-arm raised masses at Hitler visits or rallies and perhaps aerial footage of bombings and destroyed cities. Who were these ordinary Germans? What were their stories? How did they experience the end of a catastrophic, total war?

Twenty-five years ago, the Bürgermeister[3] of Bremen sent out a request to the people of Bremen to send in their reminiscences in preparation for the 50th anniversary of VE Day (May 8, 1945). The response was overwhelming. Over 100 individuals sent in material, all diligently collected and preserved at the State Archives of Bremen (Staatsarchiv Bremen).[4] The material fills four archival cartons. The contents are as varied as the experiences. Some sent in diaries, some letters, some poems. Most sent brief accounts of how they remembered the last weeks of the war and the first weeks of the Allied occupation.[5] Throughout the summer of 2020, AICGS will publish English translations of eight accounts, in four parts, from ordinary Bremer who lived during extraordinary times. Like the entry of the little girl who had lost the father she and her siblings had failed to recognize, the accounts describe in vivid detail a society of death and destruction. The eight accounts are those of two girls, two boys, two women, and two soldiers, thus they provide a variety of perspectives.  The accounts provide an intimacy of detail that is simply missing from the “great men” approach and the aerial coverage of faceless masses.[6] The accounts address all sorts of issues, naturally of fear and grief, but also—and this may be surprising—of resignation and, in some cases, even humor. There is often a reflective quality to the accounts, and it is clear that many of the ordinary Bremer hoped that what they sent to the Bürgermeister would not only document this chapter in world history, but also convey to posterity the cruelty, the bloodiness, and the destruction of war. In this first installment, we encounter two girls who witnessed their hometown of Bremen, Germany, reduced to rubble.[7]

Twenty-five years after these accounts were collected in Bremen, we have reached another major anniversary year for the Second World War. Given the COVID-19 crisis, the 75th anniversary of VE Day came and went without much notice. But we should not forget that ours is not the first time in history when ordinary life has become extraordinary. Ours is not the first time that elemental forces have exposed the fragility of life and the danger of ignorance and hate.

Girl #1: War and Rubble Child in Bremen[8]

The months before the end of the war, in February 1945, I was in the 6th grade, 12 years old, and not in Bremen. My school, a Gymnasium for girls, had been evacuated from Bremen with all the schoolgirls and teachers to a school in Bautzen in Saxony. All the schoolgirls had been individually distributed to families in Bautzen.

It was the fate of war for the students at the time to become separated from their parents in the big cities. All schools were evacuated, meaning students and teachers being quartered in some rural areas or small towns that had not been hit and destroyed by the American and English bombs.

My school, the Schomburg-School, a Gymnasium for girls, and the Karl-Peters-School, a Gymnasium for boys, were located in Bautzen (Saxony).

We students could be lucky and get into a nice family or unlucky and go into a family in which one did not feel happy. I, unfortunately, had the aforementioned unlucky situation. My foster parents did not allow me the least bit of freedom.

Outside of school, I was not allowed to visit my school friends or invite them over, instead I had to remain constantly in the house and was always supervised. After homework I had to darn stockings. We wore at the time in winter long brown cotton stockings, which were attached to a so-called camisole with garters. I owned, at most, 2 pairs of these stockings and they were continuously torn at the heel or toes, so that the darning never had an end.

Textiles were very scarce. They were apportioned through ration coupons, and children received everything in increments, that is, one or two sizes too big. We wore thick, napped knickers with legs to the long, brown stockings.

Given that I did not grow as fast as the others—I was the second shortest in the class—the hose legs of the stockings were too long for me. They reached almost to the hem of the skirt and occasionally peeked out underneath. This did not bother my foster mother, me all the more so.

Every time before I left the house, I first rolled up my hose legs, which then sat on my thighs like little life preservers. My foster mother was 50 years old. She particularly liked to cook brussels sprouts soup in which many thick lice swam. Apparently, despite her glasses, she could no longer see the lice, but I saw them clearly and found it revolting, just like the green dumplings from raw potatoes. It was pure agony for me, I cried a lot and wanted to go home, bombings or no.

In February 1945, we heard from our teachers: It was back to Bremen! We gathered together with our fully-packed cardboard suitcases in the morning on the train platform in Bautzen. Nobody knew when our train would arrive, because all trains had delays because tracks were constantly bombed. So we sat then with our teachers a whole day long on our suitcases and waited. When the train finally came, it was already full, but still many people crowded into the wagon, and somehow we managed to squeeze ourselves in. Somewhere in the Erzgebirge we had to alight and lodge for a week in a home until we could continue on another train. We found out later that on our departure day Dresden had been subjected to a fire storm through a bombing attack in which thousands of people were burned alive. They were sucked into the flames by a powerful gale force.

As we sat on the train, we knew that, under the circumstances, we might be attacked by American or English strafers and we deliberated over whether we should hide under the train or take cover in the open field. Thank God nothing happened during this journey. We arrived safe and sound at home with our parents.

It was high time as well, because Germany had turned into a battle zone. From the east came the Russians, from the west the Americans and the English. When I arrived home, I was happy because my parents were alive and our house was still standing, and I was unhappy because my brother had been killed in Russia. He would have turned 19 years old in 1945.

We did not have school any more at this time due to the many air raids, that meant for us free time, of which me made great use. We played in the ruins, boys and girls. In school we were strictly separated into girls’ and boys’ Gymnasiums; on the street nothing separated us. We were war children and our playthings were dangerous, [primarily] ammunition that we found somewhere and then denotated in the ruins. That is, the boys did this, we girls were more careful and observed the detonation from respectful cover. We spent a great deal of time in the concrete bunker. I lived and still live today in the Braunschweiger Straße, near the Weser Stadium. The bunker is still there today.

We children were more light-hearted than the adults, because we were still free from the burden of responsibility.

I remember exactly the days and nights we spent there. Each of us had a bag with belongings, which we carried with us into the bunker upon the air-raid alarm. It was mostly papers, such as birth certificates, photos, and several pieces of clothing. With the first sounds of the air-raid alarm they were grabbed. Mothers hastened with their baby in the one arm and bunker bag in the other arm through the streets, grandmas and grandpas dragged themselves there. We children were more light-hearted than the adults, because we were still free from the burden of responsibility. At night we ran in pitch darkness, because no street lamps were permitted to burn and every window had to be equipped with blackout blinds. Every family had their regular place in the bunker. Thus, always the same people sat on wooden benches against the wall in a poorly lighted room made of concrete; women, children, and old people, because the men were soldiers. The women knitted in order to use the time. Given there was absolutely no wool or cotton to buy—for we found ourselves in the seventh year of war—one knitted the most impossible yarn. Ancient sweaters were picked apart again, and the wavy yarn with many, many knots became a new sweater. The finest of the fine were white gunny sacks, in which there had been sugar, thread by thread they became knee stockings or sweaters. They scratched incredibly on the skin. My neighbor had a seemingly inexhaustible supply of gauze bandage which she tangled.

Everyone listened with one ear to the conversation of the neighbors, with the other ear to the outside through the thick bunker walls. After the alarm siren, which roared from all the schools and public buildings, came a pause until the bombers were over Bremen and it let loose. Initially, the anti-aircraft defense roared, and then came the impact detonations of the bombs, at first from afar and then closer. The louder the crash, the closer the impact, the greater the fear.

We distinguished between incendiary bombs and high explosive bombs. The incendiary bombs, which especially were dropped during the first years of the war, smashed through the truss and immediately set everything aflame through escaping phosphorus. Because of this, it was compulsory to have sandbags at home for extinguishing. In the beginning, the Bremer thus stayed at home, first, in order to be able to extinguish quickly and second, because the cellar mostly remained unscathed. They reinforced the cellar with thick supports and set up temporary beds.

Later, the bombers dropped high explosive bombs. They were far more dangerous. An incendiary bomb destroyed only the truss, a high explosive bomb whole blocks of houses. Through their powerful explosion they collapsed the house walls and within a wide perimeter the windows were smashed and shattered. The Bremer nailed glass paper or cardboard in front of the window opening.

Given that our house remained standing, I never experienced the powerless feeling of despair and sorrow when all worldly goods were burned and one did not know how to move forward.

In the hours between the aerial attacks, we children played on the street. One of our first games had been the collection of flak shrapnel, which were extremely popular on account of their bizarre form. The best trading objects were pieces of guiding rings that were colored. We laid them in wooden cigar cases and were entirely disappointed when the light metallic luster was gone and they began to rust.

In the last year of the war, we collected no more flak shrapnel. We had grown older and it was clear to us all that the war would soon come to an end.

In the city center, in the meantime, almost all the houses had been destroyed by the many bombings. Miraculously, though, the city hall and the cathedral stood unscathed among this desert of ruins.

At the beginning of April 1945, we heard murmurs in the distance during the day. My father said it was the enemy artillery. Achim and Verden had already been shelled by the advancing English.

Englishmen and Americans dropped leaflets in which they implored the Bremer to surrender. It was most strictly forbidden for us children to pick up and read a leaflet. The rumor circulated of poisoned candies which would be dropped and of fountain pens. If one unscrewed them, they would explode and tear us to pieces.

Shelter trenches were excavated near us at Osterdeich and Brommyplatz. We played Hide and Seek in them.

As the front advanced ever closer, the Bremer prepared themselves for the end of the National Socialist Reich. They hid or buried their last valuables. My father hid his self-distilled potato schnapps, which was an excellent means of barter. Everything was in dissolution; however, through the newspaper and radio came the instigation to fight to the last. On the house walls, placards were plastered with the inscription, “Weser-Ems not on your knees”[9] and were meant to incite the population to persevere and fight. But most Bremer longed for surrender. Constant hunger, fear for husbands and sons at the front, sleepless nights in the bunker, and the despair, if the house was burned down, had demoralized the population.

Most Bremer longed for surrender.

In the last days of the war, we no longer came out of the bunker, because there were now artillery impacts in our street as well. My father reported to us that now our house too had been hit. That an outer wall of the upstairs was gone. On April 26, 1945, Bremen was occupied.

The Bremer were summoned by the English to leave the bunkers and go home. The official day of surrender was April 27, 1945. The laws and regulations of the military government came into force immediately. At the beginning no one dared go onto the street. Shop windows were barricaded and white flags hung from the windows. In the Ilsenburger Straße the English had occupied a house, and I could see them from the window. Only in the following days did we dare to leave the house.

We were curious about the English soldiers. We saw their kitchen scraps next to the occupied house, and were eager to have the stale white bread they had thrown away. We had been hungry for days, that is, we were actually always hungry. The allocated food was so meagre that it was not enough to fill oneself up. So we as children made “English conversation,” in which we asked for bread and chocolate. But the English did not have much themselves. Entirely different from the Americans, who came later.

Men and boys searched for discarded cigarette butts and collected them in order to roll up cigarettes from the remaining tobacco.

The time after the surrender was characterized by a tremendous ravenousness for anything that could be eaten or smoked. At first nothing changed regarding the meagre food supply.

Thank God it was spring. We had no school and enjoyed our free time. My girlfriend and I possessed a Wipp Roller [kick scooter]. My father mounted boxes on it. We rode this to the wrecked houses and collected among the ruins intact bricks for the self-build reconstruction of our attic. We now rummaged constantly in the ruins and felt like treasure hunters, because there was still a lot to find there. In the gardens behind the bombed-out houses, we girls picked tulips and daffodils and presented them to our mothers for Mother’s Day.

After the English came the Americans. They looked to us lean Germans fat and overfed. They looked at the time probably just like we do now. And, for the first time in our lives, we saw “negroes.” A new vocabulary word became extremely interesting to us children: “chewing gum.” Whoever had got hold of a piece, was fiercely envied by the others. “Show it to me.” Then the lucky one took the chewed, formless object from the mouth, held it between the fingers and pulled it apart. We were fascinated, no one rested easy until he too had no chewing gum. The Americans were stationed on the Hamburger Straße. We could soon say “Have you chewing gum?” and “Have you chocolate?” impeccably.[10]

The hunger that had been going on for years and the craving for chocolate, bean coffee, and cigarettes drove young women into searching for an American, instead of a German, boyfriend. Now they had a piece of this amazing abundance, but were labelled by their German neighbors as “Yank sweethearts” [Amiliebchen]. The product of the German-American relations were often occupation children, who were chocolate-colored, because the father was a “negro.”

I had neither an interpreter employed by the Americans, nor a Yank sweetheart at hand, but rather an uncle in America, who sent us care packages. These packages all had the same precious contents: chocolate, bean coffee, condensed milk, canned meat. No present, no package, that I have received later in life, was as precious and valuable to me as my uncle’s care packages.

The American cans were made of tin plate, like all the cans today as well, but at the time that was an entirely fine material. My father used the empty American tin cans for preserving. We had a plot and, in summer, fruit and berries, but no preserving glasses. Now plums and cherries were preserved in American tin cans. My father had developed the following method: He collected the empty cans from the rubbish heap of the Amis, and cut suitable lids from the cans. The fruit was filled in, and the lids were soldered airtight with soldering iron and tin onto the edge of the opening, which had been turned over with a hammer.

Aside from care packages, my uncle also sent packages with discarded clothes and shoes. Few things fit, but, at the time, almost every woman could handle this with a sewing machine. Everything was made to fit. The shoes that did not fit were traded for suitable ones in one of the shoe trading centers that shot up from the ground like mushrooms. At the time, the Americans loved shoes with a combination of white and brown upper leather, as can still be seen in old films from the 30s.

We enjoyed the summer after the capitulation, because it was still without school. We continued to play in our bomb-sites, still found ammunition all over, and used it as firecrackers. A miracle nobody got hurt. On the open spaces at Osterdeich, the Americans played Baseball and Rugby in their free time, which we found very funny, because we did not understand the rules. American expressions like “OK;” or the curse, “god damed” [sic]; and “come on,” came into fashion, just like jazz music, which my father fiercely rejected.[11] When he was in the room, I was never allowed to turn on the “negro music.” Other than that, we persistently played soccer and dodgeball on the street. We collected everything that could serve as a trading object, for example, the remaining gasoline from old American gasoline canisters, which were stored at the Osterdeich or old American automobile tires, the tube of which we used as rubber boats.

School started up again only in autumn. Several teachers were no longer there. They were denazified, that is, locked up, because they had been active National Socialists.

At our girls’ school previously there were almost only old female teachers, and they were all back.

We had an attraction at the beginning of school—that was the school food, arranged by the Americans so every child received something warm to eat once a day. Every school received a huge pot apportioned with hot soup, and every student received his soup in his lunch pail, an aluminum pot with lid. The school food was good, the only drawback was that it was always the same two types of soup: biscuit soup and date soup. The date soup was more interesting, because every now and then it still had the date seeds, with which we practiced distance spitting.

Hard times followed with hunger and cold. The townspeople were poor as church mice and rode in overcrowded trains to the countryside in order to exchange their last valuables to farmers for eggs and bacon. The black market flourished everywhere.

I was now no longer a rubble child, rather a bobbysoxer in clanging shoes with wooden soles, old clothes and a coat made of uniform material. The metamorphosis into a teenager began after the Currency Reform of 1949 with petticoat and nylons.[12]

Girl #2: Hopefully, It Will Never Be Forgotten[13]

Dear Esteemed Herr Bürgermeister,

Perhaps I can contribute a little to providing an understanding of this time to posterity with my remembrances of the last months of the war.

In the last months of the war, at the beginning of 1945, my brother, then 10 years old, and I, 13 years old, were in Vogtland on account of the children relocation to the countryside. My brother was brought into a camp for boys in Elsterberg, my classmates and I to the building of a former riding school in Roderisch. The end of the war was close at hand. One tried to keep us children far away from everything and conceal all the bad events. Naturally, we noticed the changes. What used to be important, was suddenly meaningless. The daily start with the hoisting of the flag was discontinued. The school instruction was sketchy. There was no more singing. We wondered at the serious faces and often crying eyes of the adult leadership. We stood with the residents of the village on the roadside and saw the sad procession of refugees pass by. Many people cried. We witnessed the terrible, inhumane bombardment and destruction of Dresden from afar. We sat frightened in the cellar of the house, listened to the roar and detonations of the bombs. We were to be taken back to Bremen. But the rumor spread among us that afterward we would be deployed in the Volkssturm. I already saw myself with anti-tank rocket launcher in hand in a trench and felt completely sick about it and not the least bit brave.

What used to be important, was suddenly meaningless.

My mother had sent us in the preceding weeks a neck pouch, money, and bread stamps. In the event that our return journey to Bremen were not to work out, she had instructed me to get in contact with my brother and try to return on our own. We were fortunate and nothing stood in the way of our departure. The boys from the Elsterberg KLV camp[14]  were supposed to board the line to Dresden. I later found out that they had not come along. I was very unhappy because I felt responsible for my brother. In Dresden we had to change trains and had a long layover. The faces of the people there appeared petrified. It was terrifying and bleak.

Arrived in Bremen, I found my mother lying in bed. During one of the last of the often-repeated air attacks she had not gotten into the above-ground bunker and raced holding my little sister by the hand to the nearest underground bunker. Above them, they heard the buzzing of the enemy planes and the shooting of their on-board guns. She stumbled and fell down, instinctively holding the little one high. She injured herself pretty bad.

Soon, fortunately, my brother arrived in Bremen as well.

We were five siblings. My approximately two-years-older sister performed her Service Year in a butchery. The family was evacuated. My sister tended the house and at the sounding of the alarm she diligently took the valuables of the family into the bunker. Because she was a sound sleeper, she tied a string around her wrist. Upon the howling of the sirens, the neighbors, to be safe, pulled on the string, which was hanging out of the window. But she often did not notice this. She also helped with cleaning-up operations after air attacks and had seen terrible things.

My father was the head of security at Focke-Wulf[15] and barracked there. We seldom saw him. He grumbled a lot. The picture of the Führer in our living room was often the cause of violent outbursts of anger. My mother implored him, however, to be quiet, on account of the people. I sometimes hung a dishtowel over the picture.

We spent the last days of the fighting around Bremen almost exclusively in the high-rise bunker. There was hardly any thought of sleep. In the bunker it was tight. The air was bad and stuffy.

Suddenly, it was said, the English are coming!

People streamed out of the bunker. The sun was shining. With mixed feelings we saw them approaching on the street. One still heard artillery and other battle noises. In front of the bunker the tanks disbursed into a semi-circle. The gun axles were aimed threateningly at the bunker.

Later we saw how the wounded German soldiers were collected.

Our house had not been destroyed in the war. The English had billeted themselves there. They dug foxholes in the dike and on the side of the road. Behind the dike lay the now abandoned anti-aircraft emplacements, moored balloons, and spotlights.

During the day we were allowed to stay in the house. We still spent the nights back in the bunker. The soldiers behaved themselves like cocky boys. They made battle with our potatoes. From one side of the dike to the other. They fried themselves chips with our fat rations. They were friendly to us children.

When my mother complained that our books were being burned in the garden, and, furthermore, in her outrage, declared that the English could only have won the war with the help of the Americans, the result for us was a complete ban from staying in the house.

Many leaflets were dropped in the last days before the end of the war. There were horrible images of completely emaciated people—and many, many dead from the concentration camps. My mother was shocked profoundly. She could not believe it. She forbade us to look at the pictures. In June we received the news of my older brother’s death. He was killed in action, very close by, in Tarmstedt, on May 29 [sic].[16] A farmer’s wife remembered him well—he had asked her for a piece of bread. “Boy, stay here, it is all over,” she said. “No, I have to,” he replied. He ran to his death. There were already enemy soldiers in the next house. They buried him right there in front of the barn. On March 7, 1945, he had turned 18 years old. (My parents still received for him the Order of Merit. For bravery in the face of the enemy.)

I often asked myself later what my father may have experienced and known during these terrible years.

Unfortunately, I could not ask him about this. My husband and I had emigrated to Australia.

When we returned about sixteen years later, my father was no longer alive and my mother lay dying.

Fifty years have passed since a bloody, cruel war.

Hopefully, it will never be forgotten.

Conclusion

For a few years now, I have been using a diary of an ordinary teenage girl in a course titled Hitler and the Third Reich at Valparaiso University. Most of the students have noted that before reading the entries they had only thought about history from the top down. They have explained that it was through reading the diary entries that they first started to realize the Second World War actually affected ordinary German people. Some of the women in the course have remarked that the Third Reich and the Second World War are usually presented exclusively from the male perspective, to the point that one could easily conclude women did not even exist in Germany between 1933 and 1945!  In the United States, popular depictions usually focus on Adolf Hitler, a few henchmen, marching male soldiers, and propaganda footage of SS-men (often from Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will). Most students do have some awareness that other perspectives exist, and many have encountered Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl. The students have become accustomed to Anne Frank and the perspective of ordinary Jews within the Holocaust. But being confronted with the diary of an ordinary German “Aryan” teenager—one who was not rounded up by the Nazis, who gladly participated in the activities of the Bund deutscher Mädel (League of German Girls), and who lost loved ones in the war is something entirely new and uncomfortable. To get a full picture of the war, we need to encounter the perspective of that ordinary German teenage diarist, the perspective of the girl whose soldier-father (whom she no longer recognized when he staggered back from Schleswig-Holstein) then died within two months of the war’s end, and the perspective of the “rubble girl” who played hide-and-seek in shelter trenches. We also need to heed the words from the woman whose mother had tried to shield her from the awful pictures in the leaflets found among Bremen’s ruins at the end of the war: “Hopefully, it will not be forgotten.”


Kevin Ostoyich dedicates this article to the memory of his grandfathers, George H. Jordan, Jr. (January 5, 1918 – July 11, 1994) and Steven M. Ostoyich (June 21, 1921 – February 7, 2009), both of whom fought for the U.S. Army during the Second World War.

Kevin Ostoyich wishes to thank Marion Alpert and all the wonderful archivists and staff members at the Staatsarchiv Bremen for being so welcoming and helpful over the years and Dean Jon T. Kilpinen of the College of Arts and Sciences at Valparaiso University for his ongoing support.

The research for the “Rubble Child’s World: Stories from Bremen’s Ruins” series was conducted while Kevin Ostoyich was a guest professor at Reutlingen University.  He wishes to thank Regine Lechler-Fiola, Richard Schilling, and Baldur Veit for their friendship and support.

The texts in this article were translated from the original German by the author.

[1] Strasse or Straße means “street” in German. I have kept Strasse or Straße as in the original German throughout the text.

[2] The singular “Tommy” or plural “Tommys” or “Tommies” referred to the English. I have changed “Tommys” to “Tommies” whenever the former is used in the original.

[3] Roughly the equivalent of a mayor.

[4] Staatsarchiv Bremen 9,S 9-25.

[5] Some of the materials that were submitted were used for the publication of the book Kriegsende in Bremen. Erinnerungen, Berichte, Dokumente (eds. Harmut Müller and Günther Rohdenburg (Bremen: Edition Temmen, 1995).

[6] In Germany there has been a concerted effort to counter the “great men” approach, as scholars have generated works in the field of Alltagsgeschichte (the history of ordinary life). A classic work in the field with respect to the Third Reich is Detlev J. K. Peukert’s Volksgenossen und Gemeinschaftsfremde: Anpassung, Ausmerze und Aufgefehren unter dem Nationalsozialismus (Cologne: Bund-Verlag GmbH, 1982), published in English as Inside Nazi Germany: Conformity, Opposition, and Racism in Everyday Life (trans. Richard Deveson) (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1987). It is fair to say that in the American popular imagination, the history of the Third Reich is still dominated by the top-down “great men” approach.

[7] Note:  The identity of each individual has been withheld.

[8] The first author we encounter titled her account “War and Rubble Child in Bremen.”

[9] For an example of such a placard/poster, see: https://www.warmuseum.ca/collections/artifact/1023687/ “Wester-Ems nich inne Knee.”

[10] “Have you chewing gum?” and “Have you chocolate?” are written in English in the original.

[11] “OK,” “god damed,” and “come on” are written in English in the original.

[12] Note: The Currency Reform began in 1948.

[13] The second author wrote her account as a letter to the Bürgermeister of Bremen.

[14] KLV camp = Children evacuation to the countryside camp.

[15] A factory of aircraft.

[16] She most likely meant to write April 29 instead of May 29 here. Tarmstedt was occupied by the British on April 29, 1945. (For the date of the British occupation of Tarmstedt, see 750 Jahre Tarmstedt. Tervenstede 1257 – Tarmstedt 2007, p. 60 at https://www.tarmstedt.de/files/Tarmstedt/Dateien/Tarmstedter%20Chronik.pdf.)

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