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Simone´s story

My name is Simone, I was born in Germany, I am 42 years old

Simone

 

I have lived in Denmark in 14 years with my husband and our three children. 

My family comes from the German Sudetes area in the east of the country on the other side of the border, namely in what is now known as the Czech Republic. In the period after the war, numerous acts of revenge towards the Sudeten Germans took place because of our affiliations with Germany.

Lawlessness reigned and the murderings and rapes were parts of the everyday life. At the same time, the occupying power was Russian in many places which meant that the hatred towards ethnic Germans was immense. This was the background of my parents' expulsion from the area immediately after the war.

I grew up in Southern Germany, in a town that was built for refugees just after the Second World War. It was here that my parents met each other in the '50's.

We lived in Bavaria. But we didn't really live there. The entire town was one big ghetto. Everybody, including the teacher, the baker and the butcher, came from the same background. They were refugees from east although they didn't come from the same area.

And all the young people in our town came from refugee families. It was always present in our consciousness that this was the reality of our world. We were all familiar with our common history. The grown-ups called themselves refugees and regarded themselves as a group.

I remember our neighbour, he was house painter, he told us that the expulsion of his family was conducted in waggons, packed with many people. On their way and in these tightly packed waggons, they had to throw out the babies that couldn't survive in such conditions. In my childhood, I'd heard many stories of that sort, and to me it was 'okay, just the way things are' and it didn't feel particularly horrifying.

Hurt parents 

My parents told me about the war. In my childhood and adolescent years I believed that the war took place in the remote past. A few years ago, I realised that my parents too had experienced all the horrible things I was told about so many times. This realisation added a whole lot to my parents' stories. The fact was that the way in which they told the stories made them seem almost unreal.

At times, the stories sounded almost like prayers. At other times they sounded like a counting-out rhyme, for instance: I was scared then, they hanged themselves, a family lived there who was completely wiped out. All of that told in the same tone of voice - just like when you say that you will go out to get groceries tomorrow.

My parents had, probably for very good reasons, distanced themselves from the atrocities to such a degree that they were no longer able to tell their story in any other way. Not even to each other, I think. My father was a German soldier throughout the entire war, but I am not sure whether my parents ever got around to talking about what he's been through during that time.

My parents were incredibly scared as regards many things. Now I know that my dad was very anxious in my entire childhood although he appeared energetic and strong. He talked about IT and how IT could happen again. He used to say that we'll see what will happen once the Russians arrive. But always without further explanations. I didn't even know who or what Russians were. Hence to me, Russians became a term denoting something horrible.

I got warned about all sorts of tangible dangers all the time. Like for example cars, which of course are dangerous, when you're riding your bicycle. But in my parents' interpretations a little extra was always added. Meeting a car on your way was suddenly a question of life and death. In the same way, the everyday dangers always included the possibility of 'the horrible'.

Being only a child, I wasn't able to comprehend the magnitude and depth of 'the horrible', which my parents continuously included in the everyday life and the upbringing. But, on an unconscious level, I knew that it was something really bad. At the same time, I have never had the feeling that my parents were capable of protecting me, they were never able to make me feel completely safe.

Simone's roles and anxiety

I was very much a parent to my parents. I did my best to try and make them happy. So if did something good they would be happy. But I never succeeded, not then not later. I know that for a fact now with my adult consciousness. But the childish wish to do so has never left me.

So I did what I could to be a happy girl. I always had a funny story to tell and was a bit cheeky. I had the nerve to say something to my teacher, and my parents liked it. In short, my job was to enliven the heavy house. Besides that, I was a sensitive child that reacted at moods and unexpressed feelings before most others did. It might have been my way to relieve my parents of the burden of having to put words to a pain they didn't know how to express.

As a child, I had countless anxious conditions. My parents were aware of that to a certain degree. For example, I constantly feared that my parents would die. I imagined my parents' funeral and them lying dead in front of me. Because of that I often went to my mother's bed while she was asleep to see if she was breathing. Or I would ride my bicycle from school to home like possessed, fearing that I would find her dead on the floor: And then - whew! - she did not die today.

It was not just occasionally that I feared for my parents' death. It was an obsession. I was especially afraid that my father would die. I remember clearly that I used to bring him his slipper the minute he walked in from work. If he put them on, then he woudl stay at home. If he didn't, then he would be on his way out soon. And then I knew that there would be a danger of him dying.

Secret agreements

In order to prevent the terrible things from happening, I made secret agreements with myself. The purpose of the agreements was that I should do certain things. I'm not sure when and how it all started. I guess it began around that time when children normally play that you're not allowed to step on the lines in between flagstones. Only in my case, the game turned into a rather extensive task.

For instance, all the keys in our house had to be positioned horizontally in the key hole. When the keys were placed correctly, my parents were out of danger. We lived in a house of three storeys with truly many keys in closets and doors. As soon someone went to the toilet, a key would have been turned. And I would get a problem.

It became a huge piece of work and I got many ideas of how to avert it. For example, I had to look over the fence in a particular way while I was passing the neighbour's house. And the doormat in front of our front door should lie correctly in order to avert danger and thus easen my anxiety. It was hard work to keep all of my secret agreements.

Every once in a while, it happened that someone interfered or got in the way and I would have to invent excuses in order to correct the mistake. If my mother had pushed the doormat, so that it lied wrongly just as we were about to step outside, I would say that I had to go to the toilet, for example.

Those things used to annoy her and in time I became very good in hiding my compulsive actions so that no one would notice them. I probably knew that it wasn't entirely normal but I was not allowed to tell anyone - that was a part of the agreement. In that sense, anxiety was a lonely business.

Another life

My aunt and uncle, who were refugees as well, had come to terms with their story in a completely different manner. They had become citizens in a real village. My uncle went hunting and played trumpet with the locals. They were integrated, I guess. He felt at home there and so did my aunt and cousin.

I also had the feeling of belonging when we came to visit them in our vacations. It made me feel that there was a world outside our home, the little refugee town, a place where everything could be different. When we were supposed to go back home, I would begin crying my eyes out several days before we left. I could not stop it at all.

When I think about it now, I can see that farewells always were a matter of life and death, escape and expulsion - always in larger proportions than in reality. My parents might have added fuel to the flames though, as they in one way or another enjoyed my reaction, but not consciously of course.

Now, I wanto to say that I have cried others' tears. The depth and the pain that I expressed were totally out of proportions. The pain that my parents maybe did not know how to express had been planted in me. And the same is true of the enormous anxiety that I carried.

A chance

My parents lived in a bubble where they were surrounded by everything they had experienced, something into which I never managed to reach. My problems were seen in the light of their own experiences from the time of war. To me it felt as if I would have to had survived a war before I deserved to talk about difficulties and pain that I felt.

It made it difficult for me to come to my parents with ordinary everyday problems. This went very far and when I, only 18 years old, had lost my boyfriend who had committed suicide, my mother's reaction was: Well, all of our boys were killed during the war and you have not known him that long.

His death occupied a lot of space in me and it was a big drama, but it did some good as well. It felt like a relief because there finally was a coherence between the tears coming out of my eyes and and my experience. And despite the fact that I received no support from my home, it was a deliberating process of grief.

Prior to that, I could not even imagine moving from home. But suddenly, I no longer imagined my parents would die all the time and the anxiety attacks did not come automatically when the phone rang and they did not answer it. The change came over a period of time. Back then, I had written in my diary that this summer had changed my life.

Something inside me said that this was a chance and I could get away now.

So, I decided to leave my hometown and settled in a big city where I worked and studied.

Returning anxiety

I had some beautiful easy years in my youth. My anxiety was distanced thanks to the therapy I received in connection with the grief over my boyfriend's death.

Still, it happened every time I came home, without me being able to comprehend the connection, but as I was approaching the town's signpost I  became increasingly heavy. I ended up feeling totally paralysed and my energy from the big city disappeared.

The fear returned and every time I went out, I had to consider the ways in which I could make it safely from one place to another. It puzzled me back then and I wondered what the connection was.

When I became a mother the first time, the anxiety returned with all its force. My pregnancy was good and I was more positive than ever before. But it came as a shock to me when my child got born prematurely. It brought me back to the dark chambers of my childhood. I connected my fear of death with the normal signals my child would give when he was unwell and coughed, for example. So, unless I behaved, I was sure that he would die on me.

And I made one last agreement in the world of agreements in which I had ended once again. I promised never to leave the Catholic church if my child lived. Since then, I've received therapy several times in Germany and in Denmark. It helped me a lot but has not removed the anxiety. Now, the fear is mostly attached to our children.

Cause, sense and future

A few years ago, I attended a conference in Vejle. The subject of the conference was refugee children and traumatised parents. It was a watershed for me. I felt recognized while they talked about the way trauma is transmitted from parents to children in refugee families.

I felt that this involved my parents, as well. I had never considered that war traumas had any connection to me. I never knew that traumas could be transmitted, i.e. that you could catch other people's traumas, so to speak. I was able to put a tick next to all the described symptoms. I felt that I was given the key to the solution of my problems.

It's been four, and in many ways tough years since the conference. It was hard to tackle this whole story, much harder than what I had imagined.

Being able to have witnesses to what is going on within me is probably the most healing factor for me. But it is not easy to find someone willing to place thmeselves at that position. And I believe that others do become infected with that kind of story. Hence, one should always talk to a professional therapist who knows how to handle such a story.

My husband pointed out that he finds it a heavy load to listen to my stories full of anxiety. And how does one cope with a spouse's fear? What are you supposed to do when it just repeats itself like the turns of a mill wheel?

I was lucky to find an excellent therapist. Throughout a long course of time, he managed to go back with me and explore the very dark and sad things from my past. It was crucial to me and it helped a lot.

I considereded it absolutely necessary to get professional help in order to get to terms with my fear. I would not have reached the target on my own. Along the way, I have changed my expectations that the anxiety would disappear for good. I know that I have to live with my anxiety. I haven't given up the hope that one day I will get rid of the fear, and if it happens it would be great. But it is no longer my ultimate goal.

I have also stopped blaming myself for my anxiety. I have every reason to feel the way I do, and I no longer yell at myself during my anxiety attacks. On the other hand, I am careful not to transfer my fear onto my children, for as much as it is possible.

 

Brief overview of the Sudeten German history

Kort over Sudetenland

Tyskland = Germany

Polen = Poland

Tjekkiet = the Czech Republic

Sudetenland is in the mountainous area of the western Czech Republic, primarily bordering to the German Bavaria Land, but also Poland in north and Austria in south.

The area is marked grey on the map.

The football of major political affairs

Bohemian dukes that ruled Sudetenland app. 800 years ago regarded Germans of that period as being very good at many different things such as trade, craft, mining and agriculture. In order to get the local economy going, they decided to invite Germans to settle in Sudetenland.

The dukes were right. With their industry and knowledge the German newcomers left their stamp on the entire Bohemian history and culture. Thus, it is possible to trace back the Bohemian glass industry, goldsmith artistry, brewing of beer and sanatoriums to the skills of the German immigrants.

Until the outbreak of the First World War the area belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. By the conclusion of peace in 1918 the Czech and the Slovaks proclaimed a new republic, Czechoslovakia.

The ethnic composition became very uneven. One half of the inhabitants were Czechs, one third were Sudeten Germans and one fourth were Slovaks. The rest were Polaks, Jews, Hungarians and Romanies.

Sudeten Germans were discontent with being reduced to a minority in their own country and reacted by going out on the streets to demonstrate for the right of self-determination as regards their future national affiliation. An affiliation that was oriented towards Austria. But the victors of the War, i.e. Britain, France and the USA, chose in favour of another solution once they had negotiated the peace contract after the German capitulation in 1918.

Demonstrations regarding the question of border-drawing in the Czech-German-Austrian border area reached their climax when the Czechoslovak soldiers started shooting at demonstrators and killed 54 Sudeten Germans in 1919. Later on, and completely contrary to all prior agreements, a direct persecution of Sudeten Germans followed.

For instance, this was apparent in the confiscation of Sudeten German enterprises, prohibition to speak German in public administration institutions, closing down of German schools and a restriction of power of the democratic assemblies in the German-dominated areas.

Because of the extensive persecutions, the political sentiments developed in a strongly nationalistic direction among the Sudeten Germans. As they observed a successful Nazi party with their German neighbours, the Sudeten Germans got affected. And despite a ban on the Nazi party that was issued by the Czech authorities, the political contents lived on under other names.

This became in particular apparent when Hitler sent his soldiers over the border during the annexation of Sudetenland in 1938. The soldiers were welcomed as liberators and cheers in the streets.

The German-friendly attitude lasted, for the most's part, throughout the War and involved military services in the Wehrmacht and co-operation with the German war industry.

The re-establishment of the Czechoslovak state after the Second World War was the beginning of 'a dark chapter in the European history', in the words of the former Czechoslovak president, Vaclav Havel.

This dark chapter meant that approximately 3.5 million people, mostly Sudeten Germans were expelled, or as it is known today, ethnically cleansed during 1946 by the means of highly brutal methods.

The largest part of the exiled individuals ended up Austria or Germany. To this day, the case remains a sensitive issue in European politics and was accordingly on the agenda when Czechoslovakia negotiated admission to the EU a few years ago.

You can read more about the war-related consequences as regards the German population and society at:
www.dachau-institut.de

 


Siden er sidst opdateret 8-2-2008
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