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

1 comment:

  1. So achingly beautiful. Thank you for sharing these precious words and pictures. I trust that the story you tell in The Last Daughter of Prussia brings peace and comfort to all your ancestors—and to everyone today fortunate enough to read this unforgettable story.