P.: Where and how did you spend your childhood? Tell us about a normal day.
G.: I grew up in a well-ordered household together with my parents and my two sisters up to the beginning of World War II. We usually had to get up at 6.30 a.m., school started at 8:00 und finished at 1:30 p.m. Then I went home for lunch. Our father arrived later – he was a miner. After the meal, we did our homework. During spring and summer, the children had to help in the garden with orchards and potatoes and then our day was almost over. We sometimes had time to play football in the school yard.
At that time we all thought to have too little leisure time, but today I would say that there was an equilibrium between free time and duties.
P.: Do you have other memories of your childhood?
G.: I have several good and some bad ones. First the good ones: I grew up with parents who appreciated us children und who educated us well. As a bad memory I recall the fact that our house was situated between two schools and that is why I could constantly be supervised.
P.: If you compare your free time as a youth and that of the young today.
G.: Well, TV, which is very important today, did not exist. Our parents had a radio and that was all; radio was the only source of entertainment. Apart from that we played games or we children did sports.
P.: Do you see a difference in the way of children’s education then and now?
G.: It seems to me that nowadays children are educated more freely. We in our childhood would not have noticed this because it was normal for children to obey adults and follow our parents who were in control. We had to fulfil our duties without questioning them. We followed a common pattern and thus never judged our education in a negative way.
P.: Give an example of such ‘duties’ or of your parents’ expectations.
G.: I was expected to hand in good school reports. Our written papers had to be signed by them. Above all, I had to be an applicant scholar. After the first four years at primary school I attended a Grammar school for the following 9 years, from Sexta, Quinta, Quarta to Oberprima and then did my A- Levels, which we call ‘Abitur’.
P.: Did you like school?
G.: I took a great pleasure in attending school. This was, of course, due to my good results.
I assume there was more discipline than there is today, not only at school but in society as a whole. Youth respected their elders – respect was taken for granted. This is an important difference to today.
P.: Was your ‘social status’ at school important?
G.: Yes, I wanted to be accepted by my classmates. So I tried to be good at sports.
P.: What about teachers then and now?
G.: I can only refer to my own experiences: We always had excellent teachers who tried hard to give their best, who helped us in difficult situations and who were fair to each of their students. This was the more important as part of my years at school took part during WW II, a time when learning had become difficult. Air raids often interrupted our school day and at home we often had to seek refuge in sheltered rooms.
P.: Let us approach the topic of gender roles then and do you realize a different role of men and women?
G.: Yes, the role of the sexes has become different. Nowadays many women have got jobs, which in the past was a rare exception. Women used to be the guardian of the house. They worked in the garden and were responsible for the education of the children. Take, for example, the laundry for a family of five persons. This was hard work as there were no washing machines. The laundry was done every 5 to 6 weeks and by then there were piles of it. Tumble driers did not exist either.
I remember that it was out of the question to bring a girl-or a boyfriend home, which seems to have become normal today.
P.: Do you think that people were more helpful in your youth than they are today?
G.: I would answer in a positive way. This was in particular due to the war situation: bombardment of towns, destroyed houses and thus lack of accommodation, difficulties in providing oneself with sufficient food – all this made people more willing to help one another.
P.: What was it like for you to go to war?
G.: In the beginning, we young ones were enthusiastic. It was just like that. As boys we had been drilled in the ‘Hitler Youth’ organization and had been influenced by Nazi ideology.
So we did not think of war as negative. My father’s opinion though was quite the opposite. He as an anti-Nazi was often threatened to be imprisoned.
I can never forget the time of war, especially the bombardments and the hardship we had to endure. Like all other youth of my age, I was drafted in 1943 and had to join an anti aircraft unit. Our school had already been evacuated to a town in the East because of air raids in the industrialized area of the
Heavy industry supplied the Reich and the Army with coal, iron or steel. Our
battery of 16 –year-old soldiers was first transferred to Upper
Silesia and was finally moved to the concentration camp of
Auschwitz-Birkenau. There we realized what had been going on. No one today can
imagine the shame and grief we felt.
P.: Which pieces of advice would you now give to us young?
G.: One should reflect about the enormous changes that have happened since the 1950ies.
Today we live in what might be called a ‘consumers’ society’, in a world of abundance and affluence here in the West where most of us possess more than is needed in everyday’s life.
We have sufficient food, often too much so that people waste it or throw it away. Incredible to those people who have experienced hunger and misery in their youth. I remember the first years after the War when, for example, oranges were first offered on the market: one family of 5 persons could purchase 3 oranges after queuing up for a long time. Nobody today can imagine such a situation any more. Our experiences were quite different from those of the present generation.
So my advice to the youth is: be less materialistic and consider more human values, be more thoughtful and never forget how well-off we are and, last of all, do not only criticize each and everything.
P.: Thank you for this interesting interview.
G.: You are welcome.