1916 - 1971 (54 years)
||Gisela Sophie Gertrud Eichenberg |
||18 Jun 1916
||MEMORIES OF MY LIFE (EUROPE) Written by Gisela High (nee Eichenberg) after her first visit back to Europe in 1958 20 years after leaving Hamburg (aged 22) to live in S. Rhodesia, due to Hitler's policies. (Typed out from Mom's pencilled notes. Some German place names etc. I cannot decipher exactly. If anyone can help me out with the correct spelling I'd appreciate this information. I have added names and few other facts for further information). Yvonne Budd Gisela's 2nd daughter). |
Born in the middle of World War 1, 1916, in Hamburg, Germany. Hamburg, one of the 5 Hansestadt (sp) has been an international seaport on the River Elbe for many hundreds of years and therefore, rather cosmopolitan. It is noted for it's parks and gardens, lakes and waterways right in the centre of the city and beautiful cemetery, Ahlsdorf (sp). like a park. Also Stock Exchange Trade with the whole world, churches, which still stand, huge port and docks for all the large ships, university , international centre of learning and culture, and large hospitals.
My mother (Maria Teresa Cresta, known as ˙Sita' or 'Teresita') was of Italian nationality before her marriage, though also born and brought up in Hamburg. Her father, Mario Cresta, my grandfather, came from an old Genoese family, which had it's origin somewhere on the slopes of the Alps on the Italian side, therefore the name, "Cresta", which means mountain crest.
I remember my "grandfather Cresta" (as we used to call him in contrast to my father's father, "grandpa Eichenberg") on one of his rare visits to Hamburg, as a rather distinguished looking man with snow white hair, very bushy grey eyebrows and sparkling dark eyes. He used to call me "KIeine Mulattin (sp) because I was so dark with a mass of curly black hair and small stature.
He had retired from Krupps after World War I and lived in Italy. He was involved in an accident with a tram (train) in Rome in 1926 and died there from his injuries, at the age of 60. His marble tomb is on the famous Campo Santo in Genoa. My grandmother "Cresta" was German nationality, born in Kassel, but her family moved to Hamburg when she was a child and they lived in one of the old, roomy villas on the banks of the Alster, which still stands today, with park-like gardens stretching right down to the water, but the front gardens have now all been converted into public parks, where I strolled last year, with hundreds of swans wandering about quite tame and used to passers by.
My father's father, "Grandpa Eichenberg" (Paul), born in Adelebsen, was the founder of an extensive merchant firm, importing grain and fodder, also coffee from Brazil, soya beans and oils from the far East and also a department for terminal market. He was honorary president for the Chamber of Commerce for 25 years a very hard working, well-known and well-liked man, with a very dry sense of humour. He was one of the delegates present at the signing of the Versailles Treaty chosen Justice of the Peace.
My grandmother Eichenberg (Gertrud Henriette Hesse) was born on the banks of the Elbe at Ovelgome (sp), one of the oldest suburbs, now a real harbour district. They had a lovely 3 storey villa in Flottbeck, a garden suburb on the way to Blankenese (sp) which I visited last year again. This house used to be the family centre and I can say that my happiest childhood memories of Christmas in the traditional German style, parties and even family weddings, are connected with that house. It had a roaming garden with lawns, hedges and a huge orchard in the back, which used to be the 'heaven' of our childhood days, at harvest time in June and July, for strawberries, cherries, raspberries, black, red and white currants, gooseberries of all descriptions etc. and in autumn, of apples, pears, chestnuts, hazel and walnuts all the delicious fruit and vegetables in the world!
My grandma "E" was very proud to even grow mealies and Palestinian artichokes there, which were considered an absolute delicacy in Germany. I have one brother, Rolf and numerous cousins, male and female (now scattered all over the world). I can say that I had a happy, sheltered childhood and school life until the age of 12 -14.
Then a great many unpleasant things began to happen. First, in the family, the death of my grandfather "E" in 1927; the subsequent loss and liquidation of "Eichenberg and Co' a terrible blow to my father who was the main successor to the business; the divorce of my parents in 1930, an unavoidable disaster and blow to me at the age of 14 and subsequent move, with my mother and brother, from our beloved country residence, into a flat in town; the imminent assent of Hitler's Nazi Germany with it's policy of race persecution and hatred and ultimate world domination of the 'Master Race' with the ultimate result of World War 11 in 1939.
Lucky for me, I have only pleasant memories of school and school friends, who remained friends even until now. (I saw some of them again' last year). Leaving school in March 1933, soon after Hitler's dramatic rise to power there, my education was interrupted, in that I left with a certificate similar to Cambridge, but did not go on for another 3 years to matriculate, which had been my intention. I now know that I might have made it, but coupled with much unpleasantness. I entered the apprenticeship of a lawyer's clerk, running errands to the Magistrate's court, attending legal lectures at a commercial school, as well as typewriting and stenography altogether interesting.
However, after only 6 months, two of the solicitors in partnership with a third, were struck off the register, like so many others of Jewish decent or religion and I saw an opportunity of going abroad to Denmark, into a Danish family, as 'mother's help' and governess, which I took because I had already been to Denmark with my mother and brother. My mother had very good friends in Copenhagen, a doctor's wife and family with whom we spent a delightful holiday in their summer bungalow/log cabin on the Kattegat. So off I went, at the age of 17, full of courage, youthful zest and a happy-go-lucky attitude.
Well, those two years in Denmark proved to be the happiest years of my life, although not always easy. After one year, I changed the family to another - the lady, being a school friend of my mother's, was unfortunately, a very bad-tempered sort of a woman, who often made my life hell, but in the friendship with the doctor's family, who treated me as one of them, I found all the happiness of a happy family life - a spot of romance with one of their sons who, though slightly younger than myself, was already on the way of following in his father's footsteps of becoming a doctor himself one day. He possessed a microscope, vast collections of stamps, butterflies, stones and coins of all descriptions and, quite apart from being a very striking-looking and handsome fellow, tall and fair, Nordic-looking, simply fascinated me with his various interests.
We became great friends -not lovers, please, he and I were both far too shy for that, but we could sit and talk about books and things of interest, for hours and I was just happy to sit with him and listen to him expounding and being with him. I was invited to many parties and dances through these friends and their relations and enjoyed the famous Danish homely atmosphere and hospitality to the full. Unfortunately, these two blessed years came to an end in 1935, as I could not officially take up work as a foreigner in Denmark and had had enough of being pushed around by my ill-tempered host.
I decided to return to Germany to my mother and brother. So I parted from the 'dream prince' of my youth too and his parents and brothers, to return once more to the land of my birth, which, under Hitler, had changed completely into a newly awakened and powerful nation, full of sabre rattling and mouthy speeches by political leaders, such as Hitler, Goebbels, Goering and sinister organizations, such as, S.S., N.S.K.K., Hitler Youth etc. under Himmler. However, the individual person's liberty was not yet so threatened, especially in Hamburg, still an international port and 'free' city.
I joined a commercial firm at once, where I had 3 years extensive training in all departments, also visiting commercial school to freshen up my shorthand typewriting. Then, at the end of 1937, came the final blow. All firms had to dismiss all their non-Aryan staff. I was one of them. It seemed to me then, for the first time that I realized the seriousness of our position in Germany; as though we had lost the ground beneath our feet and home was home no longer.
My brother had already left for Italy in April 1936. We only met for 6 months after my return from Denmark. My mother had succeeded to get him apprenticed to a large tobacco co. through an influential director of Hamburg's large tobacco firm 'Reemtsma' (sp) I did not know then that I was not to see him (my brother) again for the next 22 years. My father had 'burnt all his bridges" behind him and with the help of his mother and family, immigrated to Southern Rhodesia (in 1935).
More and more people were leaving Germany, not only Jews or so-called non-Aryans either. The great stream of refugees began, to countries all over the world; mostly to England. People inside Germany began to whisper, in fear of being denounced, deported or just disappearing without a trace. Streicher had launched his infamous racial propaganda campaign in conjunction with Goebbels, culminating in the Inhuman and outrageous Nuremberg laws, which forbade, by, capital punishment, any intercourse, physical, cultural or friendships between Aryans and non-Aryans.
Although Hamburg remained to the last, a 'Free' and independent city, in the end it had to succumb to Nazi power too and we were caught in the maelstrom of political intrigues, together with the small and large centres in Germany - just like insects in a huge spiders net, extending it's evil web further and further into the personal liberty of men and women, Aryan or non-Aryan alike. Many friendships were broken and even marriages were broken and life became more and more intolerable. I began to make serious preparation for my emigration to S.Rhodesia at the beginning of 1938, which took me 6 months to complete.
Meantime I joined an export firm with a non-Aryan head (married to an Aryan and later divorced). I 'brushed up' my English by private lessons and was already corresponding through this firm with firms all over Rhodesia, where my father was representing this firm at the time. Meantime, events mounted to such a pitch of international tension that it came to Chamberlain's visit to Godesberg to try and avoid war and a month later, in Sept. 1938, to Munich. All boats had already been stopped, including mine, due to leave via the coast of Africa for S. Rhodesia on 1st. Oct.
However, I can say, Munich, however shameful it was regarded with all it's implications for the rest of the world, saved me and many others from a terrible destiny and gave 'breathing space' to countries unprepared, such as England, France, America etc. My mother had left for Italy. I was staying the last month with my Grandma "E", who had already helped so many of the family to go abroad and was now helping me. That valiant old lady, who stayed behind and faced later deportation to the fortress of Theresienstadt at the age of 72, where she suffered for approx. 2 years and finally, miraculously, was released by an international body of mercy to Switzerland and then joined my uncle in Sweden, where she spent the rest of her life in peace, recovering from those terrible years. (Information from Theresienstadt archives re Gertrud E.: 'Gertrude Henrietta Eichenberg was deported to Theresienstadt, Czech Republicoslavakia on July 20, 1942 on Transport V1/2124. Sent to Switzerland Feb. 5 1945 on Transport EW34119.
In 1945, the Hebrew Sheltering & Immigrant Aid Society sent Ernst Lamar (Eichenberg), her son, a letter that she was in Zurich, Switzerland at Camp Les Avants, without baggage and in need of financial assistance. At that point, her youngest son, Kurt, who had imigrated to Stockholm went to pick her up and took her to live with his family. She died 1951 in Stockholm with Lutheran funeral. Her ashes were brought to Hamburg to be buried at Neiderstedten Cemetery with Paul.').
She saw me off at the port of Hamburg, together with an aunt (Elizabeth) (who committed suicide in 1942, (26 Oct.1941, age 50) being faced with deportation to an destination and who could not face it, but preferred death) and two valiant and loyal school friends. As the ship sailed slowly out of port at night and the lights of that glorious city of my birth disappeared in the distance, I could hardly believe that it was really true that I was leaving. Only when we had passed the German border somewhere out in the North Sea, did I feel really free and capable once more to start a new life in a new country. That is now 21 years ago.
I went back last year for the first time, visiting Italy first where my brother and mother now live, seeing them again after 22 years and then went to Hamburg, so gloriously built up again out of the ruins of destruction and war. l saw some of my old school friends again and my godfather, an old friend of the family, now 70 years old, (Erich Ravenburg) entertained me for a fortnight. I also visited old neighbours and strolled in the evergreen parks and cemeteries 4 Ohrbisdorf (sp) and Nierstadten (sp) and put flowers on my Grandmother's and Grandfather's last resting place, where they sleep in peace in nature's beautiful green and flowering garden.
I visited Hagenbeck's famous zoo again, the delight of our childhood. I walked through the rooms of my grandparent's house, now divided up into flats and yet so familiar and other houses where we used to live, all still standing - neighbours going about their business of life and wondered how ever such a tempest could have swept over those never forgotten places, leaving them yet so tranquil and undisturbed, as though those 20 years had never been.
I also went to Copenhagen and saw all my Danish friends again, who gave me such a heartfelt and warm welcome and entertained me for a fortnight, both in the city and out in that same summer-house by the shores of the Kattegat. The places all unaltered - still the same - the young people grown into men and women, married, with children and homes, like myself. They were perhaps outwardly changed, more mature men and women and yet inwardly I found them all unchanged still the old loyal friends. A storm of terrific force had gone over them all, yet it had not really broken any of us. They wrote into my diary, "Happy to see you again after 23 years, in which we have not changed" and they said, "It is nice that you are here, just as though it was yesterday that we had parted."
I found the 6000 miles had been well worth the traverse back into the land of my youth. Europe, over which a hurricane had swept, was glorious in all its beauty of landscapes, forests, meadows, mountains and valleys, seas and beaches, once again. This seems to me to prove that out of darkness comes light and God, who has led us safely through all those dark years, will not desert us if we trust in Him. Signed by G. High
||Fled Germany to Southern Rhodesia in 1938. Didn't know that she was Jewish until she was teased in school during the Hitler regime. |
||24 May 1971
||3 Jun 2009 |