May 9 – Victory Day
“Celebration with eyes full of tears” as the song goes.
This is a weird time of year for me. There are so many family stories associated with it.
I remember what my mom told me about the end of the war. It was an absurdly sunny day, and American soldiers were coming down the road from the hills and into her Saxonian village, and they all looked so. Tired.
They were eventually replaced by Soviet soldiers. Mom remembered being scared of them, because some of them looked just so foreign. (Probably soldiers from places like the Uzbek SSR or the Yakut ASSR.) Also, apparently the Soviet soldiers didn’t associate as freely with the local population as the Americans had, and apparently they didn’t smile much; so, yeah, weird, scary adults. She retained a lifelong, let’s call it “respect”, for those huge military hats; and at the same time, a love for the sound of the Russian language. (Mom never learned more than just a few words of Russian, but always made me read my Russian homework to her because it sounded so lovely.)
Anyway, Mom, all of 6 years old at the time, was astonished at this “peace” thing she kept hearing about. The way she pictured it, “peace” meant that you now could go to a grocery store and ask to buy half a pound of butter JUST LIKE THAT. That is, the end of rationing. Dunno if there actually was any butter to be bought, but YOU COULD ASK FOR IT. Mind. Blown.
(I grew up lower middle class and during peacetime, so my mind was blown by the fact that a kid could care about buying butter, of all things, instead of important stuff such as, idk, candy.)
Meanwhile in Saarland, Dad’s dad, from whom his family hadn’t heard for far too long, had ended up in a POW camp in (I think) Thuringia, and eventually died there. Auntie (Grandad’s little sister) told me how they found out about this: They’d had an employee from that area who, once the war was over and it was safe to travel again, went home to see family, and her friends and relatives asked her about the town where she’d been working. When she mentioned the town’s name, one of them, who worked at the local cemetary, remembered that they’d just buried someone from that very town. Turns out it was my grandad.
Another aunt, whom I’d always thought of as “my Swiss aunt”, was actually born in what used to be the easternmost part of Germany, and is now Poland. She came to (what still is) the westernmost part of Germany as a baby when her family fled from advancing Soviet forces, and only moved to Switzerland as a young adult. Still, she’s Swiss through and through and speaks the local dialect like a native and everything, and I didn’t find out that she wasn’t actually born there until I was 30 or so.