Monday, June 27, 2011

Prologue (Part 2) The Last Daughter of Prussia

   For Part Two of the prologue to my soon-to-be published book The Last Daughter of Prussia, I hope to give you, my faithful blog readers, some insight into the background of the novel and what the times were like when my heroine, Manya, a bold aristocratic woman and her lover, Joshi, a charismatic young Roma gypsy, were struggling to survive.

 A Roma gypsy couple at a German concentration camp during WW2

  The Roma gypsies in East Prussia faced disaster during WW2. The idea to make Joshi Karas a Roma came as I was reading my grandfather’s book Schicksal OstPreussenEast Prussia’s Destiny. I learned that there were gypsies living on my family’s estate with whom my mother and my grandparents were very friendly. (See my earlier post - The Forgotten Holocaust.) One night, they disappeared. When my grandfather went to the police to inquire about them, he was warned that associating with ‘asocials’ was a crime punishable by death. Later, he discovered that his Roma friends had been shot or carted off to a concentration camp. I based Joshi’s story on this account. Many Roma were sent to Auschwitz, however, the closest death camp was Stutthof and as it was located near Danzig (the port city on the Baltic coast to which many refugees, including Manya, were headed) I used it as his ill-fated destination.

The Death Gate through which my hero Joshi passed
when he arrived at Stutthof concentration camp.
(Photo M. Gottlieb Sarles)

Roma gypsies arriving at another concentration camp (Belzec)

While the female warden, Elisabeth Martens is a fictional character, sexual exploitation of prisoners by both male and female wardens has been documented in accounts about concentration camps. It is estimated that 1.5 million Roma gypsies were murdered in Germany from 1935 to the end of the war. These gifted people, so unique in their ethnicity, were victims of yet another holocaust – a forgotten one. I wanted them to be remembered.

Lastly, in this chaotic arena of Nazis, marauding Russian soldiers and fleeing humanity were the Trakehner horses – East Prussia’s symbol of excellence and beauty, bred on the land for over two centuries. Loyal to the end, they struggled through that bitterest of winters without food or shelter to save their owners. My mother owned such a horse. I have attempted to reveal his bravery and big-heartedness in both Aztec’s and Shambhala’s characters.

My mother Owanta Gisela von Sanden in Guja, East Prussia
 on her Trakehner Dandy before the war.
 He was an amazing horse. She taught him to lie down while she was on his back.
He did not make it to the west.
Photo: (c) Gottlieb Property

The stables where Dandy was kept  before the war.
Photo (c) Gottlieb Property

The stable building in Guja as I saw it in 2008.  Though completely dilapidated, it is still standing.
I took this photo when I returned to my roots to find my grandparents' estate.
Photo M. Gottlieb Sarles

  The more I read about the Trakehners, the more I felt that they were the true heroes of the trek. Undeterred by race, creed or nationality, they hauled everyone across the ice including Russian and Polish prisoners-of-war and any remaining Jews or gypsies who had survived the Nazis. Obviously, the mass of refugees was German, but the horses weren’t interested in cultural differences, nor did they care about political beliefs. Surely, on that trek there were many Germans who sympathized with Hitler, but there were also many, like my grandparents, who did not. It didn’t matter to the horses. They focused on survival. Sadly, only 25 of the herd of 1200 warm-blooded thoroughbreds from the famous Trakehner Horse Farm in Trakehnen, made it safely to the west. The rest perished along the way, were eaten, stolen or shot in cold blood by Russian soldiers whose leader, Josef Stalin, had given orders to annihilate anything German, no matter how beautiful.

Fetysz Ox,
the famous Trakehner stallion who was tragically shot by the invading Russian Army,
but who nevertheless left his legacy as even Olympic competitors carry his valuable blood today.
This horse greatly influenced my writing of The Last Daughter of Prussia.
I could not imagine that anyone would kill such a beautiful animal
and when I learned of his death, a plot about escape began to form in my head and I started writing and
bringing in the characters, the land. the horses and the war.

 Thanks for reading. There is one more part of the prologue to come, so please stay posted!

– 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, June 19, 2011

Prologue to The Last Daughter of Prussia (Part 1)

  Here is a draft of the actual prologue from my soon-to-be published book The Last Daughter of Prussia  that I wanted to share with my Blog readers.

  The Last Daughter of Prussia is the story of a young aristocratic woman and her Roma gypsy friend during the perilous evacuation of East Prussia at end of World War II. I hope it will be enjoyed as an intimate novel about love and survival. However, it was inspired by many true stories passed down to me by my family and documented in their diaries.

   Known as ‘The Great Trek,’ the evacuation of East Prussia claimed the lives of nearly half a million women, children and old men who were attempting to escape the Russian Army as it rapidly advanced on Berlin. I want to give the reader some background on what really happened during the winter of 1944/45 and in so doing shed light on a dark chapter in history that has rarely been discussed, yet remains the largest mass exodus of human beings ever recorded. Manya von Falken is a fictional character, but she could be any strong-willed daughter of East Prussia who was swept up in that life-threatening wave of terror and fleeing refugees.

Winter 1944/45
Civilans fleeing through the snow..
If you look closely you can see the column of people stretching for miles behind.

  Up until 1944, East Prussia, the easternmost province of Germany, had been only slightly affected by the war and the people, misinformed by Nazi propaganda about the true state of military affairs, believed that Hitler’s Wunderwaffe (super weapon) would make Germany victorious. Then, on October 22, 1944, a Russian battalion ambushed the small East Prussian village of Nemmersdorf, shooting the grandfathers who weren’t enlisted in the army and raping and killing nearly every woman and child. Reports of this massacre and the atrocities committed spread fear throughout the countryside. The East Prussians realized that they were in grave danger but by then, the harshest of winters was upon them. Adding to their panic was the fact that Hitler and his Nazi henchman, Gauleiter (governor) Erich Koch had protracted the evacuation of all civilians demanding that they stay and fight or be shot as traitors. 

This is not a detailed map but it shows where East Prussia once was.
My family's estate lay near the border of Lithuania (right near the northeastern corner)
Their escape took them to the coast of the Baltic Sea, across the lower lagoon you see pictured,
 into the City of Danzig and then on to the west.
The area that is colored blue has now become Poland and Russia.

  Trapped between two dangerous forces, the people took courage and defied orders. Gathering their lives in boxes and buckets, they harnessed their horses to carts and wagons and fled westward into the icy unknown. Targeted by Russian bombers and artillery they traversed a dangerous, frozen lagoon which was the only escape route open, and where, in many places, the bullet-riddled ice collapsed sending thousands to their watery graves.

The arrows on this map depict the Russian Army's routes of invasion.
By this time, there was no way out for East Prussian civilians other than across  the water.

Hundreds of thousands of people died in this crossing over the Frisches Haff Lagoon,
With them, their brave Trakehner horses.

  My grandparents, Walter and Edith von Sanden, were part of this perilous journey. They survived, albeit with broken hearts and scarred souls. I know because I saw the emptiness in their eyes when I was child. And I read their diaries. I wrote this story for them and for those who did not survive.

My grandfather, Walter von Sanden-Guja
My grandmother, Edith von Sanden-Guja
 I wrote The Last Daughter of Prussia  for the 2.5 million German women and children who could not break the taboo of silence over the rapes they endured at the hands of Russian soldiers. To have been violated in that way surely made them ashamed, but to have been part of a German nation guilty of genocide kept them silent. From accounts I have read and stories told to me firsthand, many women felt that they were paying for their country’s sins while the rapes were happening to them. It is understandable that the Russians were full of wrath after Hitler’s invasion had left 26 million of their countrymen dead. Who is to say how any of us would have behaved in such terrible times? But the systematic rape of women and children was and always has been an unfair act of retaliation. The Russians’ rage should have been vented on the Wehrmacht–the German Armed Forces.

The house in Guja, East Prussia
I imagine this is what my grandparents saw when they turned to look one last time
 before fleeing in that final winter of the war.
As they headed west through the snow, they would have passed the Guja forest.
My grandfather, who was an environmentalist, always said that the forest
was the land's greatest treasure.
Thinking my mother would inherit the estate, he advised her again and again to keep the forest intact,
but of course they left before Guja could ever be passed down to the next generation.

Their thoughts must have remained with the many sentimental objects they left behind;
the photos on the walls, the old hunting knife, the candlestick holders, the dangling watch chain.
  More parts of the prologue to come....

– 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

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

More from the Two Worlds - East Prussia and The Bahamas

  A short while ago I promised to post a few more photographs from the two worlds – East Prussia and The Bahamas – that have molded both my inner and outer existence, but I also want to say that it is from the unseen depths of these worlds that my book The Last Daughter of Prussia was wrought.

  I was born into family of storytellers who gifted me with their history. For that I am grateful. But my family were spiritual people too. They walked close to the earth. They taught me that nature is holy and that communion with God can be found in the emanation of a plant's stillness just as easily as in the loud roar of the sea.

  Nature has sustained me throughout life. For me, there is a wisdom in nature that brings with it the ability to be still. It is that same stillness that has empowered me to write.

                                                         Waters of Both Worlds

On the River Angerapp
My grandfather Walter von Sanden is seated in the back of the boat.
My great grandmother Magdalena is near the front.
Grossvati had a deep love for the river – for every fish that swam beneath the ripples
 and every bird that was mirrored in the water's surface.
My heroine Manya in The Last Daughter of Prussia also possesses a deep reverence for the river and for nature.

On the Bahamian Sea
The vast stretches of turquoise water are like a warm inviting embrace,
holding and permeating the spirit with beauty and pure silken awareness.
In the Bahamas, the sea is my place of refuge, my sacred moving meditative altar.

                                                              Fishing in Both Worlds

Blacksmith Buttgereit of the Guja estate in East Prussia fishing by the Angerapp River long before the war.
He showed my mother Owanta how to use rods and nets.
 When the river was frozen he taught her how to read the ice like the pages of a holy book.
In my novel the character Helling is largely based upon this man. 

My father Ejnar Gottlieb in 1949 with his bounty after spearfishing in the Bahamian ocean.

My son Nikolai with his catch of crawfish which are actually spiny lobsters.
They taste great with just butter and lemon.
Through the generations of my family the principle of fishing for  food
while still respecting nature has been passed down.

Swallows nested in the barn in Guja.
They knew that the horses would not harm them, neither would the stable lads.
My grandfather took this photograph of a parent swallow feeding its hungry babies.
Like these nestlings we depend on nature for our physical survival but I think nature gives us much more than that.
It shows us the way home. Every animal it totally itself. It doesn't wear a mask or try to  project a mental image of itself.
It simply is.
My grandmother Edith von Sanden in East Prussia with her tame raven - the model for her bronze sculpture below.
In my novel I call him Meister Eckhart.

Meister Eckhart
This bronze is exhibited in the East Prussian Museum in Lüneburg, Germany.
It won the gold medal for the international Art in Hunting Exhibition in 1954.

Photo by Christine Matthai
One of the many hummingbirds that grace my Bahamian garden.
Darting here and there they always make me feel as if I'm glimpsing spirit.
And like them, something in my soul wants to hover  at the beautiful moments of life.

(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, June 5, 2011

Interview – Marina Gottlieb Sarles by Mackey Media

Interview with Marina Gottlieb Sarles

Freeport, Grand Bahama Island - In this interview recorded at Mackey Media Ltd,  I explain the inspiration behind my new book The Last Daughter of Prussia. This interview is the first of several video segments about the novel – a story of love and persecution born out of the intense beauty and unspeakable tragedies of the people of East Prussia – a land my ancestors called home for countless generations. 

Inspired by the voices of those who came before me, I felt compelled to write about the East Prussians' raw and terrifying exodus during the last bitter winter of World War II. 

When I was a child my grandparents, Walter and Edith von Sanden recounted bits and pieces of this ordeal and their flight across the ice, but somehow their voices were always hushed - as if their story had no place in history or in the heart of humanity – as if  being German diminished their right to have feelings of suffering or loss. 

I wrote The Last Daughter of Prussia for them and for all people who have known love and suffered loss.