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


  1. thank you for keeping the memories alive Marina :

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