“There is nothing good about war, simply nothing.” Ingrid* grew up in Berlin and was only one year old when World War II started. Despite her young age, memories of the war stuck with her; above all the bombings, day and night. The warning of an upcoming bombing which led to hurried packing of the absolute necessities, followed by the fearful waiting for it to be over. Hoping that your house would survive. That you and your family would survive. Sitting in the cellar, she heard the howling of the bombs, saw the smoke and fire rising from hit buildings and this has stayed with her ever since. Whenever she hears sirens she tears up straightaway.
One day on their way home Ingrid and her mum were told to seek shelter in a bunker nearby from an upcoming attack. Next to a school Ingrid was taken by a gut feeling, terrified of going to the bunker and went to the school’s cellar instead for safety. The school was hit once, leaving the exit blocked but no one was injured. The bunker, however, was hit repeatedly and every person in it died. “It was a hint of fate”, she says, well aware that it could have been her in that bunker.
“Looking back everything was horrible, but back then it didn’t appear that way. You simply lived with the war.” Ingrid and her mother often visited the nearby countryside where extended family lived but in end effect stayed in Berlin with her father who worked there. They were lucky enough to not lose their house in the bombings, a fact she is still so grateful for.
She does not see her fate worse than anyone else’s. It affected everyone who had to experience it, which makes it one of her biggest wishes that no one ever has to experience the same. “I’m a pacifist”, she declares, “and yes, it’s the war that made me one.” Living in the nation’s capital was somewhat different though. The war did not end with the unconditional surrender. “Berlin was only worse because it was fought for until the very end. And it was occupied by Russians.” For another 48 hours the Russian army was allowed to do as they pleased in Berlin. Only then did the commanders enforce regulations on their troops. Ingrid does not know how the other countries acted once they had won, she can only talk from experience but she can certainly say it was horrible.
‘The Russians are coming’ was the most feared phrase on the street, even before they came. Their army had built up a reputation and the inhabitants of Berlin tried to protect themselves as best as they could. Now seven years old, Ingrid remembers hiding with family and neighbours in the home’s cellar while the Russian soldiers were patrolling the streets. Yet they came into the cellars and took the women. Back then she obviously did not understand what really was happening; now she knows the women were being raped. “I can still hear the women screaming, fighting not to go outside with the men.” Ingrid also remembers a neighbour dropping to his knees, tearing open his shirt, begging the soldiers to kill him, as long as they’d let his wife be. “I have to tell you though”, she pauses, “it is the war that brutalises people… and I am sure our soldiers did not always behave correctly either, quite the contrary.”
Her mother had a plan to try and escape these attacks: an old hat and horrible, thick glasses which she did not even need. “That way they thought it was my grandmother’s lap I was sitting on”, she remembers. It was successful. Furthermore, to hide from the nightly attacks they fled to the ruins and housed in those cellars. Overall, fourteen people lived there for nine days, being provided with food by the few men who were left. Trying not only to hide from the troops but also from other women who blamed part of their suffering on those women hiding from it. Ingrid herself did not experience any harm, they were friendly to the children, even gave her sweets – which had been stolen from her aunt’s shop just before.
Her father was taken by the Russians on a Sunday morning. Ingrid still remembers the name of the fairy tale he was telling her at that moment. She watched through a window as her father was taken away in a van. She saw him at the one visit her mother and her could do before her father was moved somewhere else, never finding out where he actually was. He was gone for three and a quarter years.
Just over two years after her father was taken, Ingrid lost her mother. As food was rare in Berlin, people went on trips to gather food from the countryside, trading in all their belongings for just a few potatoes or beet roots. On one these trips their train was stopped by some soldiers, Ingrid’s mother was dragged out of the carriage and raped on the tracks. She died a few days later from the aftermath. It was not until she was older that Ingrid found out what actually happened to her mother. “I still see her on the stretcher, on the way to the hospital, the last image I have of her.” She then grew up with her family, “I am so grateful for my family, they were amazing.” A year later, her father returned. It was incredible, but overshadowed by having to tell him that his wife had died a year before.
She shares her story to show what war does to people and why there should never ever be a war again. But if we look at the world today, we see many of those. Her one wish for the world: “We need more pacifists.”
After hearing Ingrid’s story we realise how many more horrors come with a war, and that certain topics are not discussed. After almost 70 years, women and children still suffer under the effects of war – and it is time that this gets recognised and fought against.
*Ingrid is a 74-year-old woman now living in Bavaria, Germany.