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I was born on 18th of April 1931 in Kellen near Kleve, at the Niederrhein. My early childhood was a happy, protected one.
My father worked at the water pumping plant in Kleve, he was a non political, quite man, happy to spend his time with the family in the garden. My mother was a housewife and dedicated mother of six children. She was a devoted catholic and thus my upbringing was in the spirit of the catholic church, which was nothing unusual for a family in the area of Germany we lived in.

September was one of the highlights of the year for me and my sisters, the fair would be in our village. The year of 1939 was very disappointing for me, as the fair abruptly stopped when the news of the outbreak of war was announced. Not being able to spend my pocket money which I had saved for months made me very sad. I had no idea what war meant. In fact, life in Kellen went on much the same as before, although my father had build an air raid shelter in the garden. It was a one room affair made out of old railway sleepers. It contained a table and benches and made a wonderful playhouse for us children. I recall it only being used a couple of times in earnest.

At the age of twelve I wanted to join the BDM, because I loved the organised games, singing and hiking sessions. My parents were not too keen, but let me go to the meetings after all. We collected money and made little fieldpost parcels, which were only allowed to weigh up to 100 grams for the troops at the front. We would fill them with sweets and biscuits, lovingly knitted wrist warmers and scarves.

Kleve and thus Kellen escaped most of the action untill 1944. I attended school as usual and my father did his duty at the water pump plant. I do remember the first air raids over Kleve vividly, because the searchlights from the Flak batteries impressed me tremendously. Us children tried to copy this by using torchlights.
The first daylight attacks by allied bombers left a frightening impression on me, as they seemed to fly down the major streets to Kleve and attack anything that moved.

In August 1944 we had a visit from my uncle, my father´s brother, a member of the SA. He had brought a uniform for my father, but my father refused to wear it, because he was against the party. I must admit that at the time I had no idea how bold this step of him was, opposing the regime. I am very proud of my father!  My uncle started a big debate with his brother, but luckily he took pitty on us in the end, warned us that Kleve was going to become part of the front and that all civilians had to be evacuated.

One December night in 1944 the evacuation started and we frantically packed clothes and vital papers into suitcases. Me and my sisters were allowed one doll each, no more. Much was left behind, including the BDM uniform which I had given to me by a school friend only days before. In the early hours of the morning we set off. My parents hearts were broken. Me and three of my sisters were looking forward to living in Friedrichsbrunn, a little village in the Harz mountains.

It was a beautiful area and us girls loved the fact that our new school was a mixed one. We generally enjoyed life there. My parents found it harder to adjust, especially as the area was a Nazi stronghold and they had to perform their "Heil Hitler" in every shop.
On 3rd April 1945 my mother died at the age of 46. She had had a weak heart, the move and not knowing how her two oldest children were doing, finally seemed to have broken her completely. Two weeks later the house we occupied was nearly hit by a bomb when the nearby woods was attacked by Americans. My older sister Sophie was standing in the front porch at that time and a bomb splinter hit her leg, resulting in her being in hospital untill June.

A day later was my 14th birthday, a very sad birthday indeed.
Watching through the window late that day, I saw German troops coming out of the woods, hands above their heads. The Americans never went into the woods again after driving those soldiers out, but simply put mines along the edge of the trees instead. Soon Americans were billeted in the house my family occupied and we were forced to move into one room. I was now the "oldest" woman in the house and responsible for most of the basic cooking. The Americans treated us well and even gave us food parcels. I once opened a packet and started to eat it before I realized that the supposed to be chocolate was soap. At about the same time I saw the first coloured man in my life, I simply ran away before overcoming my fear.

Like many of the evacuees on the East German border, we were anxious to get home before the Russian advance. The railways network was smashed and many people made their way on foot. As my sister Sophie could not walk at all, my father rented a wood burning steam lorry sometime end of June, beginning July 45.
My father spent weeks cutting wood for fuel to get us home to the Rhineland. The steam lorry, although noisy and slow and sensitive to every pot hole, got us home in a day.

Arriving back home we found out we had nearly nothing left but the bare walls of our house, even the roof was gone. Some of our furniture was piled against the gaping windows, some was in the street, but most of it was stolen. You can´t imagine the mess, it was heart breaking. Some of our friends brought back some of our belongings, but much had been lost during the battle of Kleve in early 1945.

Ration cards were handed out, but there was never enough food. I did some needlework to earn enough for a bit of bread and milk. My father was slowly deteriorating due to the loss of his beloved wife and home, my oldest brother and older sister not heard of and sister Sophie still unable to walk. So it was up to me to get that bit extra food in for the family, but especially for my two younger sisters.
Sometimes I would walk 30 to 50 kilometres to obtain food from farmers. Once I travelled all the way to Cologne to swap my mother´s fur pelt for bread. Third Reich currency was worth next to nothing. My much prized accordion, which had been a birthday present and looked after by a friend during our evacuation time, fetched quite a lot of potatoes and flour.

In October 1945 my brother Heinz returned home. My sister Sophie recovered, although being slightly handicapped when walking.
The house was eventually being rebuild by all of us, step by step, bringing life and happiness back into our lifes.

I know that I was protected from the worst aspects of the war. It was only afterwards that the true horror struck me. I do remember the looting in the streets, the vengeance of released prisoners, the horrific tales emerging from the concentration camps and even the general air of disbelief......and I never want to see anything like that again.




A young woman, Anneliese van Heck in 1950



 
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