RECOLLECTIONS OF GERMANY IN THE 1940s by Victoria Giraud

Most military  brats of my generation probably put in some time living in Germany at some point in their father’s career.

My first vivid memories date back to that time. Memory is an odd thing, as you age, you start to wonder if the memory is truly yours or what you were told by a parent or family member. Does it make any difference?

The 1940s was a tumultuous and tragic time during and after World War II.  After my Infantry officer father had married Mom and shipped off to Italy to fight, we lived with her parents in southern Virginia. At the end of the war, my family dynamics changed: my father had met an Italian woman he wanted to marry in Trieste, and my mother had met another dashing officer, who had lost his first wife to diabetic shock during the war.

The shift in couples was accomplished shortly after the war, and my new dad, who was already in Germany, had us literally shipped and then railroaded to southern Germany.   I don’t remember the voyage, but I do recall the long train trip from Bremerhaven to Munich because a sliver of coal flew into my eye while I sat at the window. I was only four years old but I do remember the bombed-out city of Munich. A still-standing single wall from an apartment building might continue to hold a feather bedspread the occupant had hung out the window to air out before the building was destroyed.

Since the American Army had been victorious, we took over the best housing in Murnau, which had been and still is a vacation town bordering the Bavarian Alps. Physically undamaged by the war, it was a picturesque town; most homes had window boxes filled with red geraniums in the summer, and there were plenty of places to ski in the winter. We were only 18 miles from Garmisch and the Zugspitze, the highest mountain in Germany, once the site for a winter Olympics in the 1930s.

Young and in love, my parents started married life in an idyllic situation. Although my dad was only a captain, we lived in an 18-room house on a large piece of property where my dad planted tomatoes in the spring. We even had a maid and a houseboy, an older couple who were kind and hard working. The American major next door had two children and their “borrowed” home had a swimming pool, which we all used in warm weather! Army people keep in touch and my parents reconnected with them years later when both couples had retired in Texas.

Before my sister was born in the Munich Army hospital, my folks had a terrific time: besides photos as evidence, my dad’s German secretary illustrated a picture book diary for them before they left Germany in 1949. They traveled to postwar Paris and saved a booklet from the somewhat scandalous Folies Bergere. Americans weren’t used to seeing total nudity on stage! Skiing at a local hillside and on the nearby Zugspitze was a regular family activity. There were also plenty of parties–we’d won the war, after all!  I remember the Chinese theme party illustrated in the secretary’s book, which I now have. Perhaps it was Chinese New Year.

Perhaps there wasn’t an Army school for me since my mother taught me first grade from the mail order Calvert School in Baltimore, MD. It was so advanced that I skipped second grade when we got back to the States. Another advantage for me was learning German, an easy accomplishment when young and surrounded by Germans. I had made friends with two German youngsters, Seeki and Uti, whose names I remember but not the proper spelling. When my folks needed a translator, it was me they turned to!

I have photos of myself in ski boots and a ski outfit holding my wooden skis. My mother told me later I was a fairly decent skier but I didn’t know how to stop myself after coming down a hill. The prize-wining photo of me, probably at age 5 or 6, was taken by my dad for a photo contest. I was in my mother’s dress, hat and shoes and even stockings. Where was Hollywood?

 

 

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