Family stories
Maria Brunnenkant
Interview recorded: by Laura Kuzaj Bielefeld 10.12.2020

Maria Brunnenkant

When Maria was only a few weeks old, the cruel and inhuman World War II was already raging. Her first years of childhood are marked by nearly losing her brother in a bombing attack on Bielefeld and Enger, the absence of her father, who was criticizing World War II and the Nazi’s attitudes towards Jews, and her mother, who got sick (cardiac asthma) and distant because of World War II and its consequences.

How would you describe your family’s social status and childhood?

My father earned a good wage. He was an engineer in the Gildemeister factory (today DMG Mori Aktiengesellschaft) and made cutting machine tools. My mother stayed home with us in our flat a few streets from the Kesselbrink, the main square in my hometown Bielefeld. When the Brits and Americans bombed our city, which they did very often, we all hid in the basement. Later, my mother developed cardiac asthma, probably from the bombing and the anxiety connected with it. But I was not afraid because my family was there, especially my father. He was my best friend.

How did you talk about the events of World War II and your attitude towards the Nazi regime in your family?

My mother did not talk about it; she never really did. But my father talked to my brother and me about the war. So, I was aware of the war but to Mani, he talked more, I think. Mani was a few years older than I was then, so my father thought Mani could handle more of the real happenings and should be more aware of the horrible things the Nazis did. When we visited my mother’s brothers, who believed in Nazi ideology and Adolf Hitler, Mani told them: “My father says we will lose the war anyway!”

How did the conversations about the Holocaust/Shoah change after the end of World War II? 

Mother’s attitude did not change; she was close-lipped about the happenings of the war and did not want to recall any of that. She was a remarkable woman, but World War II shocked her. With me getting older, my father started to explain to me what the concentration camps were and bought me books about them. The books were helpful because we did not really get taught about the Holocaust at school. It seemed like people did not want to talk about it, being afraid of saying something wrong and trying to overcome Nazism by forgetting it.

Before you told me about your expressions of how the dialogue about the Second World War and the Holocaust/Shoah developed, you said that your father was sure the Nazis would lose the war. Did he actively resist the Nazis?

My father worked at Gildemesiter and when he had lunch breaks, he saw the Jews who were forced by guards to go to Bielefeld central station to get deported to the camps. It made him very angry and when his supervisor got wind of it, he transferred my father to Dresden. “ If you criticize Hitler, you do it somewhere else!” told my father’s supervisor. My mother was anxious and begged him: “Watch your mouth, or you will go to the camps with the Jews!” He had to leave Dresden and move to Munich because working in Dresden, he also criticized the Nazis. A few days after his arrival in Munich, Dresden was heavily bombed, so his having to move from there was a good thing after all. When the Allies took over Munich, he was captured but managed to escape and headed home to us. He survived because he worked as a driver for the soldiers. One of them visited his mistress while having to watch my father, and while the soldier and his mistress were spending time together, my father hid in a pipe organ in a church that was near to their meeting place.

This is a very touching story, and I am happy for you that your father returned healthy to you, your mother, and Mani. But how was the time for you without your father? And how was it when the Allies took over? 

Before my father was transferred to Dresden, he had taken care of our well-being. Mani and I were sent to a friend of my parents who lived in Enger [a small town, some 15 km from Bielefeld – L. K.]. We had a nice life there; the town was small, and we had a nice garden. When Bielefeld was bombed and the Allies tried to destroy the viaduct, I heard it even in Enger. I lay down on the grass in the garden and felt the earth vibrating from the bombs. I will never forget that feeling in my life, ever. Bielefeld was damaged severely by the bombs, including the roof of our house. But the airplanes with the bombs bombed Enger too. Once, there was a day when my mother asked Mani to come to Bielefeld from Enger and help her in the flat. As the airplanes headed for Enger and the bombing started, Mani got scared and went back to the house of our parent’s friend. Fortunately, he never took the train to Bielefeld because this train was bombed. My mother and my uncle did not know it then, and as they heard of the bombing, they went to the train’s remains to search for Mani. When my mother got a glimpse of the passenger’s list, she was relieved because my brother’s name was not on it.

Maria and I talked much about her memories and as we connected the past and the present, we both said: “Never again!” Maria said: “Now, people are starting it [hurting people of other origins or with other opinions than themselves] again. Who votes for the AFD? Why are people like them [people hostile towards other cultures, etc.] allowed to demonstrate for their hostile thinking?” And I can only agree with her.

The interviews are given in the original language or a transliteration of it with preservation of national, regional and individual speech peculiarities.

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