As the train made its way out of the West German station, its riders were cordial and chatted as they settled in for their courageous journey to see family and friends in East Germany. It was early 1954, and Germany had been divided into occupied zones in 1945 at the close of WWII. Few knew what to expect, and for some this would be their first and only trek back to their former homes, or to homes of loved ones, in what was now the Soviet occupation zone beyond the Iron Curtain.
All signs of joy and happy anticipation ended abruptly as word spread through the train that they were nearing the crossing point into communist territory. All human voices fell silent as even the children seemed to sense how East Germany was now oppressed, isolated by the hate of war, and occupied by evil men filled with lust for power and driven by greed. The silence brought stark fear to the good travelers that day, most were against Hitler from his start, and now they saw with their own eyes the manmade divide in their homeland, all from a senseless madman’s world war. It brought tears.
A once unified Germany was now in shreds. Everyone felt the pain of family torn from family, and for those trapped on the wrong side of the divide, there was little hope of ever leaving. Already, special permission had to be sought even by those wishing to make this trip to visit relatives, and permission was rarely, if ever granted, to citizens of East Germany wishing to travel in the reverse direction. Those living in the Soviet zone were now captives of the communists, prisoners in their own land, and everyone knew the day was coming when no one would be allowed out or in.
Many of the walls weren’t up yet but would soon come, with barbed wire, watch towers, dogs, and the Stasi who could kill with impunity. Questions asked when crossing at checkpoints were frightening to many, whom quickly recognized that they had a lot to fear in the East. Items brought in, and time allotted for each visit, were closely scrutinized. Only a few ‘necessary’ letters were allowed to cross between borders, and only after being read by the Russians, the Stasi. Even then, 90% were always blacked out. Yes, a simple black marker was used to blot out what little comfort could be shared, and this would continue until 1989
Having lost most possessions under the Nazis during WWII, the only joy left to the people now was hope of re-building Germany and putting behind them the many “lost years” under Adolph Hitler, a man that, like some leaders of today, was once a pauper and hand-picked to lead a nation down a very wrong path. Some things don’t change and elections have been won by cheating liars for a long time now, and the people suffer until these rulers are removed.
The silence was said to be deafening. Fear of the unknown ran high on the train heading east that day, as it did on all days no doubt. Once it arrived at its first check-point, in what really now was Russia, people again of course were questioned as to their business there, and then re-directed to other silent trains to continue their quiet journey inland.
The woman on the train that cold fall day in 1954, was my mother, and the young daughter whose hand she held so tightly was me. We were going to see the grandmother I had heard so much about but had never met. I still envision my mother seeing her mother again that day after seven long years of total separation. I’m smiling, what a beautiful day that was.
We arrived in mother’s hometown late in the day. This was her place of birth, yet I sensed that mother felt fear as we made our way to grandmother’s home. For, nothing was as she had known it. What was once a large thriving farm that supplied food and jobs for so many, was now owned by yet another totalitarian state. First Hitler had deprived this family of the farm they had worked so hard to build, and now the Russians had stripped them of anything remaining, cash or real estate holdings, all taken by the socialist state.
On the land this once prosperous middle class family had owned, stood a few smaller stone dwellings built back in the 1800s. These small homes had no running water or heat except for a fireplace, and to one of these small structures my mother went. When we were greeted at the door, mother cried and held on tight to the woman, my then 70 year old grandmother, who after a lifetime of hard work and toil,was given this meager space to live out whatever remained of her health and life.
The other people we met there that day were her only surviving brother and his young family. A happy day it was for all after so many years of separation and so much hardship for her loved ones under such evil and misguided leadership. It had been a difficult journey, but a train ride worth taking, just once. It was the last time my mother would see her mother in this life, and all too soon, we had to tear ourselves away to retrace our route back to West Germany and from there off to America and freedom.
We left behind a land that could no longer provide for its people and journeyed to one that to this day is still the best in the world. Those left behind in East Germany wouldn’t see freedom or know their family and friends again for many decades to come. Not until 1989, when I too held onto my child, and watched with floods of tears what Europe called freedom, and a wall came down to finally free those left in the east, behind the Iron Curtain.
The old ones are long gone, and I was never able to find the cousins we left behind. They were raised under Soviet law, and still to this day I wonder about them and pray for them. I know the brainwashing they went through, having made a friend here that was raised in East Germany and seeing firsthand the affect it had on her being there till age 10 under communist rule.
I sometimes cry over how ugly it all was in Europe, during and after WWII, and how it still is in some lands, and how this ugliness is spreading again now. History always repeats, so when the “change” imbeds itself throughout the world, you too may find yourself on a silent train. You see in the early 1930s my grandmother never believed she would lose anything to any kind of “change” within her country, so she stayed, and she paid the very high price of losing everything, including a son. And it’s all so familiar to our times today.
To this day, the German peoples haven’t forgotten the fearful days of the Stasi, nor the distrust and spying on each other. This article is a must read to learn today’s Germany and how it’s people feel about the past under Soviet rule: In Germany, legacy of Stasi puts different perspective on NSA spying.
Let’s keep America strong and free and not leave a closed, fear led, watched over society for our children to inherit like the one the USSR made and the ones the Socialists and Communists continue to make to this day in other lands, and the one that’s wanted here. Keep America Free!
God Bless the USA!
1989,November 9 the Wall comes down,freedom!
See – Merry Christmas 1954 , the journey to America