Monday, May 30, 2016

Mindful Monday- Listening To My Ancestors

Remembering The Soldiers Whose Lives Were Forever Altered By The Threat of Combat

   Today is Memorial Day and I have stopped to listen to my ancestors. I looked through old photograph albums to find our soldiers. The first was August Lindner, my great- grandfather, who must have been in the Prussian army. I don't know much of his story but I suspect he was very proper as he taught my grandmother to be. He had 10 children, eight of them were girls.

August Friedrich Lindner (1841-1921)

Walter Paul Betterman (1912-1996)

This is my uncle Walter. He came to America twice to visit and I found him to be a very practical, logical man. He left a personal history and I loved this paragraph describing the feelings he had being finally released as a prisoner after WW2.

"On a Saturday afternoon I arrived, seeing the Hirschberg valley before me with the Polish Eagle on top of the City building. I will never forget this view, even having the the Riesenggebirge panorama in the background. On this Saturday I crossed paths with my youngest sister Marta, and on the same evening my mother and sister Hanna, and early Sunday morning I was with my wife and children. As no-one knew whether I was alive or dead, the surprise was impactful. Ulrich played in front of the house. He was four and a-half and knew who I was immediately."

Erich Titze (1915-1939)
My uncle Erich lasted only one day, dying in Poland the day after he arrived there. I met his grandson two years ago and thought how he would have loved knowing his progeny.

Kurt Titze (1911-1977)

My father left a journal which gives much more detailed information about his war experiences. When I read his words I can hear his voice and I remember how he wanted me to understand. He wasn't just trying to be honest but he wanted us to understand how he viewed his life.

    "As we approached the battle front we were shot at with MG's. Many soldiers left the train to fight but we went deeper into the Russian woods until we were only 50 miles outside of Moscow. We saw the tops of the tanks which were lined up along then streets of Moscow.
    The assault on Moscow failed and the German soldiers had to retreat into the winter landscape. Many had frostbite and some froze to death. Then we marched two days and two nights up along the road. We saw suffering and malnutrition. The front came closer as we marched. Sometimes we had to lie in the snow lie sardines on bales of straw. If you asked how we endured I would say you become like an animal. The greatest joy is eating and resting even if it is in the mud. There was nothing that warmed the heart more than obtaining food. We saw patriots who were hanged from trees. 
    We found an old hut by a farmhouse and started a small fire inside for warmth. The walls were covered with newspaper clippings to keep out the light. These small fires would give us a little light to read or to search for lice or fleas. We had to leave because the hut burned to the ground. 
   Lying along the roadway would be Russian women and their naked children. The German soldiers took the bread crumbs away from these starving Russians. Horseflesh was a delicacy. We cut trees and built bunkers. Once two children walked out from the front line. A ten-year old had a gun shot wound. The other child, a 14 year-old girl, was being dragged by her pig-tails because these children were thought to be spies.
     The weather was often wonderful sunshine and sometimes the front was quiet. Disease spread everywhere and I was overcome. I began to retain water and my skin was swollen as if it would pop. The water retention went away but I was not healthy for six months. Some comrades died. 
     The greatest joy of my life came when I was shipped home to recover in a hospital back in my homeland. I was finally back in civilization where I could sleep between sheets,have light to see, and someone waiting upon me. Soldiers live in such filth day in and day out.  Month after month we patrolled the front line and became hardened to our condition. But my situation changed. For two weeks I lay in a hospital in a fortification in Konigsburg."

  This is where my mind wanders today as I learn to listen. I'm trying to stay mindful of what my ancestors wanted to leave behind for my benefit. 

May is a month to explore listening. You can read more about my Year of Mindfulness here.

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