Sunday, July 3, 2011

Prologue Part 3 - The Last Daughter of Prussia

  This is the final part of the prologue which will be published in my upcoming novel The Last Daughter of Prussia.

My great-grandmother Magdalene von Sanden at her home in East Prussia.
She was a true daughter of the land, deeply spiritual in the sense of being connected to all things,
nature in particular.
Photo (c) Gottlieb Property–Familienbesitz Gottlieb

I went back to search for the estate home (now Poland) and found her grave hidden in the forest.
 It is quite amazing that the headstone is still standing after all this time.
Photo (c) Marina Gottlieb Sarles
  I hope what I have written in the first two sections of the prologue helps the reader understand the turmoil of those final winter months of WW2. As my research unfolded, I realized that I had to write a love story – one that was set in this tumultuous time and gave expression to the agony and inspiration that lovers from different ethnic backgrounds experienced. I wanted to include their triumphs and tragedies as well as those of their families. And how could I leave out the Trakehner horses whose determination on the trek was the purest expression of courage and love?

Pythagoras a famous Trakehner sire prior to WW2

  I wanted to make the story interesting for readers who perhaps wouldn’t read history books and who might lump all Germans together without sympathy for the plight of the East Prussians.

East Prussians fleeing on the great trek

  Having said that, I must confess that despite all the digging up of facts I did, the book often wrote me. Many nights, I encountered ghosts hovering by my bedside, their silent voices imploring me to bring their story to paper. I’m a writer but I have also dedicated many years of my life to the healing arts. I find it possible to walk the threshold between reality and the spirit world. However, for this book, my intention was to stay grounded in factual details.

Nevertheless, the ghosts came. Looking into my dreams with hollow eyes, they urged me to view the columns of starving women dragging their children through the snow. I saw babies frozen to death in carriages, old men shivering by the wayside, hearts so broken at the thought of leaving their land, that they could not take another step forward. I heard the whine of bombers, the blasts of artillery and guns and I watched the horses falter and fall on bloodstained fields of ice. Each time I awoke, I found myself feeling more and more obligated to remembering. I felt a moral responsibility to these people who never dared to speak of their ordeal because they were German. I felt the need to give a voice to those who could not talk about their vanished land because the memories were just too painful.

The crescent-shaped island in the middle of the Guja Lake, East Prussia.
It was a view they saw every day from their verandah
 but once they fled, the island was only a memory swept away on the tide of war.
Photo (c) Gottlieb Property - Familienbesitz Gottlieb
  I began to understand my grandmother and her dream to return home to East Prussia, the land of golden amber and green forests full of elk. In her heart she knew the dream would remain unfulfilled for as long as she lived. She would never stand by the sparkling Guja Lake and watch the swallows soar against the sapphire colored sky. The yellow wood anemones pearled in dew would droop low to the ground without her ever picking one again. When she turned to look up her house on the hill, the heavy oak door to the foyer would stay closed.

Yellow wood anemone painted by my grandmother Edith von Sanden
Photo (c)  Gottlieb Property - Familienbesitz Gottlieb

  Perhaps, her loss is justified in God’s eyes for in some miniscule way it helps maintain the balance on the scales of devastation where the corpses of genocide are piled high. But does the judgment that decrees, ‘Germans deserve every awful thing they got,’ lessen her loss? I think not.

  I honestly hope that the readers will not think I am diminishing the ungodly cruelty of the holocaust. I am profoundly aware of the atrocities committed by Germans against Jews and others who were murdered and forced into death camps. While researching the camps, I felt my own life force dwindle to a tortured breath. I felt the piercing shame and terror deep in the DNA of my own German bones. Still, at the risk of being condemned, I want to say that the people of East Prussia were also victims.

Photo (c) Christine Matthäi

  My grandmother has been dead a long time, but from her unseen place of refuge I still hear her whisper, “Tell the story so that others may know what happened. Tell it so that people remember and have compassion for anyone killed in hatred, prejudice and war. Tell it for the Jews, the Germans, the Roma gypsies – every slain tribe and forgotten soul, and for any unjustly slaughtered animal in the history of humanity. Tell it so that healing may happen in all hearts. I have done what she asked, to the best of my ability.

(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

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