Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Holding of Hearts

(Photo courtesy Christine Matthäi)

Hi Everyone,

I just spent a beautiful day in the sun, watching kids play on the beach. The magnificent colors of the Bahamian waters enlivened my eyes, and as I watched the sunset, enthralled by the wild array of colors I settled into a deep sense of peace. Nature here is like an ever-changing painting, yet its gift is constant.

At times like these I feel I never want to leave but The Last Daughter of Prussia is taking me out on the road again. My next speaking engagement is at the Rogers Memorial Library in South Hampton, NY.   I have been invited as a special guest speaker because National Holocaust Remembrance Day falls in April and my book discusses another side of WW2 along with a tragic piece of German history that has remained largely untold. If any of you can attend, Id love to meet you. My talk will be on Wed. April 9 from 12:00 to 1:00 pm. (Phone # 631 283 0774 Ext 523.)

The topic of the holocaust is a painful one for Jews but also for non-Jews—especially those of German heritage, like me. Somewhere deep inside I feel that a hidden, shameful mark has been stamped on my soul for being German, for knowing that my country of origin is where such heinous crimes against humanity were conjured up and committed. Although these atrocities happened before I was born, I carry the fear, guilt and shame of them in my heart, my bones, my very DNA. Even if people say, “That was another time, you weren’t involved, you aren’t responsible,” I sit in my personal dungeon and say, “It was evil. The Germans knew it was evil but they did it anyway.”

It is from this raw and vulnerable place that I will be talking talk about my book, The Last Daughter of Prussia. It is from this painful place that I want to tell my audience about another shocking side of the war—a side that is also my inheritance. In telling it I cannot make right anything the Germans did. What was broken, ravaged, and dead remains broken ravaged and dead. However, this story, which concerns a group of East Prussian Germans, is also a part of the greater grief and suffering of humanity.
In telling it I want to hold all people who suffer in the heart of compassion. I want to bring awareness to all tribes who have been abandoned to cruelty and death. I don’t know exactly what repair would look like in this shattering legacy of WW2 Germany, this time in which humans did the unimaginable to each other, but I have a deep hope that in confronting the pain, in naming it, we may, as human beings, have a chance to come together in a circle and hear each other, and from that place move toward reconciliation. 

My prayer is that in giving our broken hearts space for the expression of sorrow, we bring light to the darkness and love to fear and hatred. In the simple compassionate act of staying present with each other and our stories, healing can move into past, present and future generations.

(Photo Courtesy Christine Matthäi)
Until next time

—Marina Gottlieb Sarles

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

One Last Time

Hi Everyone,

As we recover from the holidays and settle back into our daily lives, I think about the many, who, over Christmas and New Year, traveled to different places via cars and planes, boats and trains only to travel home again when the festivities came to an end. I wondered what it must be like NOT to have a home, NOT to be able to return to a corner of the world that means so much to us—a house, an apartment or a cottage we love and cherish, a garden or a wood we frolicked in as children, a sapphire blue ocean or emerald green lake that filled our summers with fun, fishing and an array of curious sights.

As I contemplated these things, I picked up a book my grandfather had written. In German it is called "Die Zugvögel" which loosely translated means  "Migrating Birds." The theme encapsulates The Great Trek out of East Prussia at the end of WW2. In it he describes what he felt like to be walking westward—along with thousands of homeless refugees—away from everything he loved while simultaneously noticing the migrating birds flying back to his beloved homeland.

 I've taken the liberty to translate a few paragraphs as well as one of my grandmother's poems. I've also included a series of photographs that give expression to the things he felt homesick for. I'm grateful; for the legacy of photographs he left behind. I hope that the excerpts will give you, the reader, some insight into what that time must have been like for those whose land vanished, for those who could never return home.

Edith von Sanden leaning on one of
her favorite trees in the garden in
East Prussia before the war.
Once she fled, her hands never stroked the
bark again.
(C Property Gottlieb Family)

Excerpt from Die Zugvögel written by grandfather...

How thankful we would be to God if after all this suffering and grief we could go home to die in peace. If we could just see everything one last time: the river, the lake, the old trees, all the sacred and beloved spots that are woven into the tapestry of our childhood memories. We are a part of these things.

My grandfather Walter von Sanden-Guja
fishing by the River Angerapp
in East Prussia before the war.
(C Property Gottlieb Family)

The lake in Guja
(C Property Gottlieb Family)
(C Property Gottlieb Family)

The tiny temple my great-grandmother had built
by the River
(C Property of Gottlieb Family)
The drawing room in the manor house
(C Property Gottlieb Family)
The pond  that was  home
to the old green frog—a beloved friend
of my grandfathers.
(C Property of the Gottlieb Family)
Excerpt cont…

We long to turn to dust in the same way these things and these living beings will—in the same way our ancestors did. I know that a home is earthly and transitory, yet God placed such a fervent love in our hearts for its existence. For that reason, it seems it would be a beautiful thing if our hands that loved to work the earth could rest there; if our hearts that sang in tune with nature could fall asleep in the same place where so many of our loved ones' hearts stopped beating.

Walter von Sanden


And here is the poem by  my grandmother — I hope my translation does it justice.
It doesn't have a title but I would call it:

One Last Time

If those of us ravaged by grief
Could walk home just one last time,
Our tired eyes would come alive
Our heavy hearts would fly.
If we could hear the birds on the wing
And breathe in the fresh, forest air
Then surely the rest of our lives would be
One endless, grateful prayer.

Edith von Sanden

I wish I could have spoken to my grandparents about their journey, their loss, their grief, their beautiful East Prussia but I was only a child at the time. Now, having extensively researched The Great Trek and East Prussia, their words have a very deep meaning, one that binds me not only to them but to the land of my ancestors, the very earth. Often, I wonder how their genes and interests have influenced me—my love of nature, horses, writing, the spiritual world.

I wish I could tell them that I have been back to visit their home twice in the last years. It looks so different from the vibrant manor house and estate it once was but I still feel the soul of it deep in my bones. In some ways, I know I am a part of it too. While there, I heard the spirits of the land rustling through the birch leaves. I listened to their soft voices whispering between the bullrushes before they were carried across the lake on the beating wings of a pair of swans. I understand what my grandfather meant when he said he would have wanted Guja to be his final resting place. And yet, for all his longing, I trust his soul has found peace.

Until next time,

—Marina Gottlieb Sarles

(c) All content and photos are the private property of the Gottlieb family, unless otherwise stated or linked,  and may not be used without permission.
(c) Privatbesitz Gottlieb Familie

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Dichotomy of a Bird Song

Hi Everyone,

2014 has arrived! I want to wish you, my readers, the very best. Thank you for your support. I hope that you stay healthy and happy and that you prosper and grow in all aspects of your lives while following your bliss. In my heart, I pray for planetary peace.

A peaceful dawn
(Photo courtesy Christine Matthäi

This year was a milestone for The Last Daughter of Prussia. After years of research and writing, the book was published. My gratitude to Wild River Books for helping me birth the novel into the world and to Joy Stocke and Kim Nagy for their creative ideas, brilliant editing, constant support and follow through in the PR arena. It was a busy travel year for me with many book signings in the north eastern USA as well as California. The novel was celebrated in Los Angeles via an amazing party organized by my generous friends, Leonid Minkowski and Linda Marlin. Their kindness has brought the story to the attention of people in the film industry. Fingers crossed.

My friend Linda and me at the party
in Los angeles

A pic of the party which was so elegant
and well thought out by my generous friends

As I reflect on the dawn of this new year, my thoughts travel back in time to what it was like in East Prussia at the beginning of January 1945 when my story takes place. Beside my keyboard lies an open book written by my grandfather, Walter von Sanden, in which he describes the Trek through the snow and wintry landscape as he and my grandmother fled the invading Russian Army. I want to share a few excerpts which I will translate from German to English. I hope do his writing justice.

Just a little paragraph of my grandfather's handwriting.
This is not from the book I'm translating, but it is a
prayer that he once wrote.
Some of the words say:
Dear God, I know that you are love.
Everywhere, everywhere, I feel your presence…
(Photo (C) Gottlieb Family)
… Moving with us in a long column are many sad people, exhausted horses, creaking wagons and worn out prisoners of war. The sky is gray. The endless stretch of ice before us is gray. Our lives are gray. On the howling wind an old hymn reaches my ears: "I call on the power of love which reveals itself in Jesus.…". And then a folk song:  "Be patient my soul, for a new spring follows every winter…". It is my wife whose voice rises above the suffering around us and inside us. Forehead pressed to the wind, she pushes through the snow singing songs about faith in God.

My grandmother Edith von Sanden
(Photo (C) Gottlieb Family)
There is a long passage following this one which describes their journey across the frozen Frisches Haff lagoon— it corroborates what I wrote in my book. After several days of heartbreaking, gruesome sights they make it on to the Nehrung, the thin strip of land that leads to Danzig.

The trek

Here my grandfather continues:
… The road is far too narrow for the amount of traffic it needs to contain. The wagons come to a grinding halt. There must be some kind of obstacle in front of us. Suddenly, we are overtaken by speeding cars. Our hands shake as we stand terrified on the slippery ice. I look inside the passing vehicles that honk at my nerves. I see the Powerful Ones—the so-called leaders—warm and dry in their leather seats—and my thoughts turn bitter with rage. Again we move. It is a cruel and hard trek. My wife's strength is failing.

Exhausted, we finally arrive at the first arm of the Vistula River. The ferry is still sailing. We find a spot between another wagon and some horses. Chunks of ice float on the river's current. The air, gray and wintry, lies over the water and the land. The Russians are a dangerous threat here too. Our escape route lies parallel between their front and the Baltic coast and we must tarry here for quite a while longer.

My grandparents did make it to the other shore and then Grandfather wrote…
The roar of cannons is always present.The high road we are on runs through the flat countryside which is bare, except for the silent linden trees that stretch their wet, black branches to the heavens. Oh! What's that? A cheery birdsong—a brief, little verse, repeated only twice. "Much too early, much too early," a titmouse warbles as it flits to the upper limbs of a dark tree.

A Tufted Titmouse
(Photo Wikipedia)
I trudge on as if in a dream and find my soul at home again. I'm coming from the lake, along the well-worn path that runs beside the bubbling brook high with spring water. I'm carrying my fishing nets and turn toward the park, into the alley lined with linden trees that my grandmother planted. I stop and hang my nets to dry in the sun. The catkins on the hazelnut trees swing in the breeze…the  titmice sing…the soil is rich and black. 

The park in Guja, East Prussia
(Photo (C) Gottlieb Family)

The river that ran past the house in
East Prussia
(Photo (C) Gottlieb Family)
My grandfather preparing to go fishing
(Photo (C) Gottlieb Family)
Spring is coming! Spring is coming! Soon it will burst forth in all its beauty as it only does here at home….But then, I return to harsh reality. I am plodding through the snow and now  the titmouse sings, "Nevermore, nevermore. Nevermore will you go home."

The house in Guja as my grandparents left it
in January 1945 when the Russian Army was
(Photo (C) Gottlieb Family

Those words, written so long ago in the middle of a bitter winter, led me to think about my grandparents, who, at the dawn of a new year, faced death with every coming day. How good my life is, how quiet and sunny and abundant compared to theirs 69 years ago when they fled East Prussia through snowdrifts and sleet with bullets flying at their backs. How grateful I am never to have known that kind of terror or the need to stay vigilant in order to survive.

I sit here at my desk in a state of relaxation overlooking the Bahamian sea. Outside the mockingbirds whistle their lively tunes from the silver buttonwood trees. A yellow crowned night heron on the prowl for a crab, squawks impatiently when the gardener disturbs him. And oh! 'What's that? A tiny yellow breasted banana quit has come to sit on my window sill and is chirping a tiny, high-pitched verse—"tsip, trip,"that sounds more like" peace, peace." I pause to reflect upon the meaning this bird's song has for me…It's very different from what my grandfather heard because, unlike him,  I am not gripped by the cruel hard hand of war. I wish the whole world were free of guns and hatred and fighting. I wish we could all hear the birds sing a song of peace.

A little kingfisher.
 My grandfather was an ornithologist
who took a legacy of photos before the war.
He loved birds.
(Photo (C) Gottlieb Family)

A photo he took of a little ringed plover.
(Photo (C) Gottlieb Family)

'Til next time….

—Marina Gottlieb Sarles

(c) All content and photos are the private property of the Gottlieb family, unless otherwise stated or linked,  and may not be used without permission.
(c) Privatbesitz Gottlieb Familie

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Making Tracks with Trakehners

Feiner Prinz
(Photo courtesy of Terry Armstrong)

Hi Everyone,

Meet Feiner Prinz, a gorgeous Trakehner stallion! I had the pleasure of meeting Feiner Prinz at the American Trakehner Association Convention in Ohio this month where I was invited to talk about
The Last Daughter of Prussia. Here he is in all his regal beauty! A truly fine prince! (Thank you to his owner Margaret MacGregor for allowing me to stand beside such royalty!) As I held his halter strap, he placed his soft muzzle close to my ear and for a moment, The Great Trek out of East Prussia flashed before my eyes. In the warmth of his breath I thought I heard him whisper, Hey Marina, what if my equine ancestors and your grandparents helped each other on that dangerous journey, that fateful flight across the ice? Maybe we're connected through our families.

Photo Courtesy Terry Armstrong

Yes, I thought, we're e all connected—humans, animals, the whole world and probably all meetings have a reason even though we might not know it. As I held him I wondered how many of his equine ancestors had been touched by my family's human hands—especially my East Prussian grandparents and great-grandparents who loved and bred Trakehners for so many generations. Certainly, we know that after World War II, the re-establishment of this magnificent warmblood breed—and beautiful modern horses like Feiner Prinz — depended on that handful of pure-bred Trakehners that survived the bitter trek. They were the unsung heroes of that journey giving their hearts to pull their human families westward in wagons through snow, artillery zones and finally over a treacherous frozen lagoon where many fell to their icy deaths. I wrote the book for them because the horses could never tell their story and in saving hundreds of thousands of lives, the Trakehners did the impossible.

Photo Courtesy Susan Bertke

Photo courtesy Susan Bertke

Photo Courtesy Susan Bertke
I met such wonderful people at the ATA Convention. Everyone was so down to earth, their dedication and love for the breed visibly palpable in that warm Ohio air. Majestic Farm is a wonderful place with clean, airy stables and riding halls. I loved watching the mare and stallion inspections, seeing their graceful fluid movements and floating trots, assessing their measurements and the ways they conform and are put together. I even got to sit next to Erhard Schulte and ask him questions as a few of the horses were being shown. Meeting Erhard in person was special as he is one of the foremost specialists on Trakehners who freely shared advice with me while I was writing.

 Erhard Schulte and me at the ATA Convention Oct 2013
(Photo Courtesy Ann Dionne)
Thank you Ann Dionne for driving to see me after so many years.
There is no time. Friends forever! Many lifetimes!
At this same exciting event another one of my supporting angels drove to visit me —Donald Bertke. It was our first face-to-face meeting and I was thrilled to be able to personally thank him for his expertise. Without him, my heroes, Manya and Joshi, might never have made it out of East Prussia. He explained barges and loading procedures, broken steam lines and escape routes to me, all via e-mail for a couple of years without even knowing who I was. Some people are just like that.

Donald Bertke and me at the convention
Photo courtesy Susan Bertke
(Thanks Susan for your great pics!)
It really was a fabulous experience, the icing on the cake being that I could talk freely about my book to a captive audience and share my innermost feelings about the East Prussians, Romani Gypsies and brave Trakehner horses during World War II. I only wish my mother could have been with me but perhaps she and my grandparents were watching from the bleachers on high.

That's me telling my story
(photo courtesy Terry Armstrong)
Thanks Terry for your patience with pics
In conclusion, I want to thank everyone who invited me to the convention and helped me while I was there: Karen Stopek, Eileen Krause, Wally Cullen, Margaret MacGregor, Tim Holekamp and Kelly Gulick and so many others. Also thanks to the many who bought books. Never in a million years would I have dreamed that when I started writing The Last Daughter of Prussia I would be presenting the material to such a prestigious, knowledgable group of Trakehner lovers.  I feel a true bond and deep gratitude.

Until next time,

—Marina Gottlieb Sarles

Friday, September 27, 2013

You Tube Clip—East Hampton Library Talk

Hi Everyone,

 Just a few words to keep you posted as to what's going on. I'm in between speaking engagements for the book tour and back in the Bahamas for only a few days. Leaving on Thursday to speak at the American Trakehner Association Convention in Ohio and then on to Los Angeles where my dear friends are hosting a book signing. Meeting people is wonderful and fulfilling whilst traveling is exhausting... but when I feel tired, I remind myself of what the refugees on the trek went through, how tired they must have felt, how hungry, cold and terrified.

Getting ready for the talk  at the East Hampton Library

  I am posting this video clip of a talk I gave at the East Hampton Library last weekend where I met a wonderful man— Ed Naujoks—a survivor of the Great Trek out of East Prussian who calls himself an "Old Prussian Rebel." Ed drove all the way from Connecticut to Long Island and I so enjoyed sharing information with him and meeting his lovely wife Faith. Our conversations were rich and touching and his stories corroborated all of my research. I'm so happy we met. What is interesting too is that my grandfather used the name Naujoks in his diaries and in my novel The Last Daughter of Prussia I did the same. There's a sentence in the scene where Manya witnesses the terrible Russian ambush on Nemmersdorf that reads like this:

  Manya heard sharp blasts and looked toward the church. Beyond it, in Farmer Naujok's field, men were lined up. One by one, they jerked and fell as bullets ripped into their backs. 

I just find that life is full of coincidences or perhaps I should say there are reasons and guiding forces for every encounter in our lives.

Ed Naujoks— a survivor of the Great Trek and me at the library

The you tube video clip you see here is a part of my talk at the East Hampton Library. My wonderful publicist, Kim Nagy, of Wild River Books is the person introducing me.

Kim Nagy, my publicist of Wild River Books with me
in Shelter Island

  While in that old prestigious library I felt as if I was breathing in rich air laden with centuries of literature. Again I recognized the importance of storytelling. Stories keep the pieces of humanity in our remembrance so they don't get lost.

  Thank you everyone for coming. Special thanks to Dennis Fabiszac and Steve Spataro for inviting me to speak.

Until next time...

—Marina Gottlieb Sarles

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Last Daughter wins Global E Book Award

Hi Everyone,

  I have been so busy traveling and working on talks for my upcoming book tour that I have hardly had a moment to spare. The good news is that the Los-Angeles-based Global Book Awards run by author and publisher, Dan Poynter, leading authority on e-book publishing, awarded The Last Daughter of Prussia an Honorable Mention. So in the category of Historical Fiction, The Last Daughter is a Global Ebook Award Winner!

  I am thrilled about this prestigious award which also creates a buzz and word of mouth publicity. It feels awesome to have such a wonderful acknowledgement for the years of research and writing, for the many times I sat with the story and photographs, wondering what my grandparents went through  when they fled the invading Russian Army and embarked on the Great Trek out of East Prussia in the bitter winter of 1944/45— a journey on which over half a million people perished.

The Great Trek out of East Prussia
Winter 1944/45

  Reading about what so many desperate people—Romani Gypsies and Jews— were forced to endure in the camps, in this terrible holocaust, was unbelievably painful. I often thought I would have to stop because my heart hurt so much and my sleep was forever interrupted by the nightmarish images. There were days I just spent crying. But through it all I felt a calling to also write about the plight of the East Prussian people; the brave Trakehner horses whose flight from their homeland is one of the greatest, most tragic sagas of equine and human history. One that is seldom discussed. German civilians who fled—mostly women, children and elderly people —never felt they had a right to speak about their suffering, loss and the countless rapes they endured. (An estimated 3 milliion women were raped many to death.) How could they dare speak in a land where Hitler's corpses of genocide were piled so high?

My reflection in the glass at the
 Stutthof Holocaust Museum, Poland
as I look at the bones and ashes
of thousands of people who died in there.
One of the most painful moments
during my research
  Still, it is important that everyone's story be told so that healing can happen and the buried traumas undisclosed secrets and emotional taboos are not perpetuated into future generations. It is important that wounds be brought to light and aired so our DNA can heal from the scars of our lineage and we can begin to understand the dysfunctional patterns that often affect us.

My mother, Owanta Gottlieb von Sanden
as a little girl in East Prussia
before the war
Photo (C) Gottlieb Family
 I am grateful to my readers who write and tell me that reading The Last Daughter of Prussia helps them acknowledge the overwhelming legacy of postwar grief, as well as the physical and psychological toll of unspoken painful family memories.

  One audience member said “Sarles’s reading was really incredible last night. I want to thank her and acknowledge the healing that I saw. It touched me and I am struck with the power of it all and the way that people opened up to their most vulnerable places, most probably long held in their hearts.”

Photo (C) Courtesy Christine Matthäi

 I don't add that quote lightly as I don't want to seem grandiose but if healing can happen in only one heart then I feel writing the book has been worthwhile. My fervent prayer is that many are touched and find the clarity and courage to unravel the details of their own family stories.

—Until next time

—Marina Gottlieb Sarles

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Another Untold Story: My Lenape Indian Lineage

Hi Everyone,

  Last week I shared a story of hunger and faith about my grandmother that was edited out of the final draft of The Last Daughter of Prussia. I want to share another one. I enjoy this process because these  pieces reveal a lot about my East Prussian roots.

Crest of my forefathers in East Prussia

  The story I'm going to tell you is true. (At least that's what I was told by my mother.) My editors thought it could be a book of its own because it is almost too farfetched and presented in the novel it would have detracted from the main storyline and readers would not have believed it. So, at my editors request, I relinquished it, albeit with a twinge of regret as I think all writers who have to give up beloved pieces do.

  The story is about my ancestor, Wilhelm Schlüter who lived in East Prussia during the mid -1700's. Wilhelm was a horse breeder and a businessman who travelled to America— the Philadelphia area to be exact. Not only did he make a good part of his fortune there, he also found the love of his life—a Lenni Lenape Indian woman whom he married and took back with him to East Prussia. (It sounds crazy, right? But it's true. My brother Fred wears their wedding band on his finger. So we kids who are of Prussian and Danish descent, actually have Native American Indian blood in our veins). Even back then the world was small!

The woman above is NOT my ancestor.
 However, I imagine Elkwoman might have had a face
like this—so strong within herself.
I believe  that she and Wilhelm had 3or 4 children.
(Photo FB  Native American Indians - Old Photos)

My grandmother Edith von Sanden (born von Schlüter)
—a direct descendant of Wilhelm von Schlüter and
his Native American wife.
Here she is teaching me, as a toddler, about flowers
(Photo (C) Gottlieb Family)
  Sometime after Wilhelm returned to East Prussia he was summoned to appear before King Friedrich Wilhelm I. The King had decided that he wanted to assume the responsibility of breeding a perfect cavalry mount—later known as the famous Trakehner breed—that was both beautiful, trainable and enduring. He enlisted my ancestor to bring his best horses to the royal stable. In return he bestowed  a title of nobility on Wilhelm whose name then became Wilhelm von Schlüter. (The von denotes nobility.)

Kaiser Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia
who bestowed a title of nobility on my ancestor
Wilhelm von Schlüter.
My ancestor bred good horses and
this king was interested in establishing
a powerful breed fit for his army.
(Photo taken from the internet
  Anyway, before these scenes (which I had written in fictional form) were edited from my manuscript, I had created a powerful, mystical character out of my Lenape Indian ancestor. (Lenni Lenape means Human Beings or Real People in the Unami language.) I called her Elchfrau—Elkwoman and throughout the book she visited my heroine, Manya, in dreams and visions showing her the way and giving her guidance about her horses, the trek and her love life. I loved Elkwoman. I still do. So often I think of what it must have been like for her in the 1700's coming from her Native American way of life to East Prussia. I imagine her to have been a wise medicine woman. I see her walking through the rich green forests of my forefathers' land, stopping to pick herbs and comparing the fauna and flowers, the birds and wild animals to what she had left behind.

A moose in East Prussia that
Elkwoman might have encountered.
The Lenape depended on the meat of the animal
and they used the hides to make moccasins
and clothing items. Sadly the moose has
been extinct in the Northeastern USA for over 150 years.
However, there are large numbers in Poland
which used to be East Prussia.
(Photo from a book:Von Memel Bis Trakehnen)

Grasses and bull rushes by the bank of a river tributary
in East Prussia
(Photo (C) Gottlieb Family)

A bathing spot in the Angerapp River
How gorgeous the sight must have appeared
 to Elchwoman
who came from the Delaware River region.
(Photo (C) Gottlieb Family)
  When I sense into her soul I feel that she was happy in East Prussia because it was rich, untouched land, full of clean rivers, fresh air, and rolling hills beneath azure skies dotted with fluffy, cumulus clouds. It must have reminded her of the land along the Delaware River. I see her fishing in the lakes and cantering across fields full of dandelions. I hear her singing her native chants while she tanned the hides of deer, wolves and moose. I watch her bare feet stepping softly on the wet moss by the riverbanks, her hands deftly picking the tall grasses and bull rushes which she wove into mats and baskets. I feel her gratitude for the sacredness of all nature, the life-giving warmth of the sun, the protective spirit of the sky, the ever-present cycles of the moon. These are images that run through my head, things I feel inside me. Are they real? I don't know but I am keenly aware of my own intimate connection to nature and my spirit whispers that her knowledge is in my genes.

A lake in East Prussia that Elchwoman
 would have walked along.
My grandfather  in East Prussia
before the war preparing to set his
fishing nets.
As a  Lenni Lenape, Elchwoman
would have known how to fish too.
(Photo (C) Gottlieb Family)
  So before I ramble, let me include an outtake from my novel. This was how it read before. It's different now— you can read the new version in the book which you can purchase on amazon if your interested, but hopefully this will give you a glimpse into my heroine's life. And just a note here: my editors were right. It couldn't stay the way it was because the story of the Great Trek was so strong in and of itself that it needed to be told in a straightforward way. So I bow to them with gratitude. (And maybe I'll just write another book about Elchfrau.)

My editors Joy Stocke and Kim Nagy
of Wild River Books
enjoying a glass of champagne at
the launch of my historical novel
The Last Daughter of Prussia
Photo Courtesy Christine Matthäi

OUTTAKE  from the novel:

   No matter how depressed the baroness might be, she loved birthdays. She never forgot to place a wreath of violets and white chrysanthemums on the breakfast table. She always brought out the Meissen porcelain, too, and the antique silver cutlery and the gifts.
  Overcome with eagerness to see what gifts awaited her, Manya pulled her dressing gown on and hurried down the stairs to the glass-enclosed winter garden.
  Usually her father was the first to greet her, but this morning she saw only her mother, who smiled from her seat at the breakfast table.
  “Happy birthday, Liebchen,” she said. “I have a special gift for you this morning.” She set a buttered Semmel roll on Manya’s plate. “Until now, your father gave you presents meant for tomboys, but at twenty-one, you’re a woman.”
  Manya blushed. Her mother was not usually so direct. She sat down in her chair and watched as her mother retrieved a small silver box from her powder blue cardigan pocket. “Take it,” urged the baroness, holding the gift across the table. “It’s a piece of your heritage.”
  Manya took it and looked at the lid.
  “Who is this?” she asked, running her finger over the miniature portrait of a woman with dark braided hair and chestnut colored eyes that were kind yet penetrating. Behind the face stood an elk with imposing antlers.
  “She’s beautiful,” said Manya. “But she looks foreign. What does she have to do with our family?”
  “Open the box, and look your other gift. Then, I’ll tell you the story.”
  Carefully, Manya lifted the lid. Inside, was a gold ring, set with a large amber cabochon, carved and polished into a glowing oval. Two diamonds sparkled on either side of the honey-colored resin. The gold band was engraved with WvS + MvS, 1744.
  The baroness spoke softly. “That ring has been passed down through six generations of women in our family. You are the seventh.” She paused, as if weighing her words. Then, quite suddenly, she whispered. “I believe the ring has mystical powers. Those who’ve worn it claimed to have compelling dreams.” She swallowed, “I can testify to that.”
  A chill ran across Manya’s skin. Something in her mother’s voice sounded fearful.
  “I’m not sure I understand,” said Manya glancing up.
  The baroness let out a sharp sigh and picked up her teacup with trembling fingers.
  “It is a strange story,” she murmured. “But here’s what my mother told me.” She took a sip and continued. “Long ago, in the 18th century, we had an ancestor named Wilhelm Schlüter. He traded furs and amber, traveling all the way to America to a city called Philadelphia. He worked with an Indian tribe, called the Lenape, who had settled on a river called the Delaware. One day, while he was in a village bargaining with the tribal elders, he fell ill with a terrible fever. They brought him to the chieftain, whose daughter, Moshanna, was a medicine woman. When Moshanna saw Wilhelm she recognized him as the white man who had appeared in her dreams and who would take her to a foreign land. And that’s what happened. Moshanna nursed him back to health and when he came around Wilhelm fell in love with her. Not long after, he returned to East Prussia with Moshanna as his wife. Strange, no? A Lenape Indian and an East Prussian.”
  Manya studied the tiny portrait. “Mother,” she said, astonished, “is she the Elchfrau, the Elkwoman that people talk about in the villages? The spirit Helling says can bring back any horse that gets lost in the forest?” Her mother nodded. “Why haven’t you told me about her before?”
  Her mother’s eyes fixed on the ring. “I couldn’t talk about her. When I wore the ring I saw terrible things, bodies without faces lying dead in the village square. Our forests burning. Our rivers crimson. I didn’t want to see anymore so I buried the ring in the garden.” She chewed at her lip. “Oh, child, I’ve never been strong! Sometimes I feel like the slightest thing pushes me over the edge. But you are different! You are strong! You will know what must be done when the visions come.”

Until next time,

—Marina Gottlieb Sarles