March 02 Wolf Stories

The following excerpt from German Boy: A Child at War, Broadway Books, October 2001, provides an insight into life as I lived it as a boy in a rundown refugee camp outside Fassberg air base about the time of the start of the Berlin airlift in the spring of 1948:

 
"In addition to the arrival of spring and the return of the English to Fassberg, there occurred an event of even greater significance to us Fluechtlinge.  The Waehrungsreform was an event of such magnitude that it profoundly changed the lives of every one of us.  With this currency reform, I decided, that the war was over for me.  The shooting might have stopped in May 1945, but I had never really felt that the war had ended for us Germans.  During the three years after the war, our suffering had continued unabated.  In many respects, it was worse after the shooting and bombing stopped.  The dying continued; now, though, the victims were mostly women, children, and the old, and the causes of death were different.  For me, war was not just the shooting of guns and the dropping of bombs.  It was all the other things created by war which continued to make life difficult for many and impossible for some - fear, hunger, disease, exploitation and abuse, and rape of women of all ages by force and through circumstance.  Until the conditions we had been enduring changed, there was no peace for me.  I handn't known how it would happen, but, with the implementation of the Waehrungsreform on June 20, 1948, two days before the arrival of summer, I knew that this war had finally ended for my country, for my family, and for me....
 
It wasn't only the purchasing power of the new money that so fundamentally changed our world of subsistence and deprivation, but even more, it was what the money represented - a new beginning, a fresh start.  Maybe it would provide the means for transformation from what we had become to what we secretly wanted to be.  Maybe the new money would end the despised black market, which represented the darkest aspect of our daily lives.  It was, above all, a market in sex.  It deprived young women of their dreams and forced mothers to view themselves as chattel, as goods, valued by another as being worth a few cigarettes, a pair of nylons, two candy bars, a bar of soap, or a can of coffee.  One pack of cigarettes was the value of a woman, the value of my mother, my friend's sister, my neighbor's daughter, the ex-Stuka pilot's wife.  With the pack of cigarettes or the can of coffee she received for letting a man possess her, the mother, sister, daughter, or wife would try to obtain on the black market the food she needed for her children or aged parents, who were waiting for her in a home no more than a ruin or in an abandoned Wehrmacht barracks.  For me the black market at its worst was the memory of a milk can filled with soup, the soup that kept my sister and me from starving to death in the brutal winter of 1945.
 
Although everybody at one time or another had to fall back on the black market to obtain something to keep a family functioning, it was not a frivolous choice.  It was usually an act driven by the necessity to stay alive, to maintain the body if not the soul.  The family that did not count a young woman among its members was at a disadvantage in the day-to-day struggle for survival.  The black market, the conditions of scarcity it thrived on, and our years of living in the rotting Wehrmacht barracks had stripped our lives to their bare essentials.  Sex was so pervasive in our environment that it had become currency for us, the destitute.  Personal humiliation had become our daily norm, and most of us didn't even recognize it for what it was anymore.  The dirt of our lives was not only under our fingernails and on our unwashed bodies but had penetrated our souls.  Barracks life, poverty, untold needs, and the usurious market that satisfied them ate away at our self-respect.  With the currency reform, I had hope that the black market would at least change its nature.
 
The warmth of the spring sun, the new money, a new job, and the general excitement surrounding the reopening of the air base changed my mother, too.  No longer did I see the haunted look of past violence and fear of the future in her eyes.  Her face again looked younger as she smiled and laughed.  I looked at her closely over dinner one evening.  I could barely discern the roundish scar on her neck made by a Russian bullet three years earlier.  I knew there was a corresponding scar on the other side.  It was almost unnoticeable, but I knew it was there.  I admired this brave woman, my mother, my hero, my friend."  From German Boy, pages 344-347.