Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The “Gerhard Zemke” saga (Edith’s half brother)

     Edith has an older sister, Ilse, who lives in Germany. [UPDATE: she died in 2013.] Ilse was born in 1930. Edith was born in 1933.
     Ilse and Edith were the product of the tragically abbreviated marriage of Hermann Schultz (of Bärwalde) and Gertrud Sternke (of Wollin), who wed in about 1929, settling in Stettin, that grand old city.
     Gertrude died in 1934, whereupon Ilse continued to live with her father in Stettin. Edith, however, was a baby, and Hermann could not take care of her. She was taken, happily, by her Aunt Martha, who lived in Bärwalde, the home of the elder Schultzes, with her husband Otto Hänfler.
     Hermann died in a loading accident in 1939.

HERMANN'S WILD OATS:

     In truth, Hermann had a child before this marriage. Evidently, in his youth, Hermann had sowed some wild oats. The story is that, having evidently sown at least one such oat, he left Bärwalde for his “Wanderschaft,” and when he returned, he discovered that he was a father.
     (Wanderschaft refers to a period of "wandering" that a young man would pursue after apprenticeship in his trade. During these wanderings [for three or four years], he would perfect his craft and learn about other people, places, etc. Wandershaft evolved and gradually died out, but a version of it survived during Hermann's time.)
     Hermann apprenticed as a carpenter. It is not clear whether, after his Lehrzeit (apprenticeship), he left for Wanderschaft or if, instead, he joined the army (he would have been seventeen at the end of the Great War). But Edith can recall no stories about Hermann as a soldier.
     And so, perhaps around 1920 (Hermann was born in 1901), he discovered that he was a father. The mother was a girl from a diary family in Bärwalde. Edith cannot recall her given name, but she is sure that her surname was “Zemke.” 
     Reportedly, young Miss Zemke, who named her baby "Gerhard," and who no doubt still lived with her parents, approached the Schultzes about the unfortunate situation. As it happened, one of Hermann's older sisters, Bertha, was unable to have children and agreed to take Gerhard. Edith says that Bertha (and her husband) “paid” for Gerhard, though I suspect that the arrangement was less unseemly than that description might imply.
     (A note about chronology: we have good reason to suppose that Gerhard's future wife, Frieda, was born in 1921, give or take a year. Further, it was understood that Gerhard was "a little older" than Frieda. Hence, Hermann likely was born before 1921—perhaps as early as 1918. Quite possibly, Hermann impregnated Miss Zemke while in his late teens.)
     Bertha was married to a fellow named Hans Lubdowsky with whom she lived in Bärwalde. (Edith remembers the name as “Ludowsky,” but I can only find Lubdowskys among the records for Bärwalde and environs at that time.) Obviously, Lubdowsky is a Polish name, but Hans was otherwise a German.
     Edith recalls that Uncle Hans always had a good and secure job. He was a “Schlosser” by trade, a kind of mechanic who fixed things (in its narrowest sense, it means “locksmith”). Evidently, he had a small business as a Schlosser in Bärwalde. Before his marriage to Bertha, he had worked in the German diplomatic corps—in India of all places. That job entailed wearing a uniform and Edith recalls pictures of Uncle Hans in his impressive regalia. (More on that later.)
     Not long after the arrival of Gerhard, the Lubdowskys moved to the grand, old city to the west—Stettin. There, Uncle Hans secured a good job at the harbor. Edith does not recall the position, but she does remember that he was some kind of “boss.” She was under the impression that he was very good at what he did.
     Thus it was that Edith’s half-brother, Gerhard, was raised by her (and his) Tante Bertha and her Onkel Hans in Stettin. It seems likely that Gerhard was born between 1918-1921. If so, the Lubdowskys moved to Stettin right after that time: certainly by the mid 20s.
     Hermann Schultz also moved to Stettin; he and Gertrud were living there by 1929 or 1930. Hermann remained there until his death in 1939. (Ilse was then taken in by another of Hermann's sisters, but that family fell on hard times and so Ilse eventually wound up living with Martha.)
     Oddly, the Lubdowskys never actually adopted Gerhard—adoptions seemed to be highly regulated and difficult back then. Edith speculates that Miss Zemke (or her family?) took advantage of the situation and, over the years, pressured the Lubdowskys to provide “support.” But there is no real evidence that that occurred. Who knows.
     You’ll recall that, during her childhood, Edith spent about a month each summer living with her Aunt Bertha in Stettin. (She also regularly traveled to Berlin.) The Lubdowskys lived in a part of the city to the southwest of the city center. Their neighborhood was relatively affluent compared to Hermann and Gertrud’s cheaper digs over on Rosengarten (in the old part of the city near the harbor). Unsurprisingly, Edith recalls many visits and encounters with Bertha, Hans, and Gerhard over the years.
     I am under the impression that Hermann made no effort to be with his son. It certainly would have been easy for him to do so. 
     Gerhard was likely born in the early 20s, which means that he was significantly older than Edith and Ilse. Edith recalls that Gerhard loved her but was always “strict” with her, which suggests that he was very much the older brother, an authority figure. (Gerhard was an adult—with a family—by the end of the war; meanwhile, Edith had just turned twelve.)

Shot down over France
A MUSICAL PRODIGY:

     The youthful Gerhard turned out to be a musical prodigy. By the time he was five or six years old (in the 20s, living in Stettin), he was playing his accordion on the radio and making other public appearances. Edith remembers that he was very comfortable with his role as a performer. He was outgoing and good looking and very charismatic; he played a musical instrument. As he grew older, this seemed to make him very popular with the girls.
     He continued to play that accordion until the end of his life.
     Edith tells of a teenaged Gerhard visiting the Hänflers (i.e., Edith’s family) in Bärwalde. He was always willing to play his accordion. But he didn't make a living with it. Edith says that, back in Stettin, Gerhard eventually worked with his father (i.e., Uncle Hans) at the harbor.

GERHARD MEETS HIS MOTHER ONCE:

     It seems that Gerhard only met his real mother once.
     After she turned Gerhard over to the Lubdowskys, Miss Zemke got married and had a family in or around Bärwalde. After that, she seldom or never contacted the Schultzes or Lubdowskys.
     One day—perhaps in about 1941—Gerhard came to Bärwalde for a visit. (He was a young adult but had not yet married or joined the military, recalls Edith.) Tante Martha suddenly said to him, “Let’s visit your mother.” Gerhard didn't seem very interested.
     Taking Edith with them, they found their way to a large field in the country. In the middle of the field sat a house in relatively poor repair. It was the home of Miss Zemke and her family.
     They could not find her in the house, but, as Edith recalls, Gerhard did finally meet his real mother. She can recall no details. Perhaps Gerhard had no interest in connecting with his real mother.
     On the other hand, he always took the name Zemke.
     Edith recalls that she went to school in Bärwalde with one of Miss Zemke’s children, a girl. One day, the girl accosted her and declared that she was Edith’s sister. Edith was not pleased.

THE WAR YEARS:

     Edith explains that, as a young man, Gerhard exhibited a great enthusiasm for airplanes and he dreamed of becoming a fighter pilot. When the war started in 1939, Gerhard was keen to enlist in the Luftwaffe. Eventually, he did that. It appears, however, that he was married by the time his military career began.
     Enter Frieda. Frieda, an orphan, was raised in Wollin—which, coincidentally, was also the birthplace of Edith’s real mother, Gertrud. As a young woman, Frieda had traveled to Stettin where she worked as a domestic. When the circus came to Stettin—a big event—there would be a splashy trapeze act involving a wire strung between the towers of a church. The circus solicited “volunteers,” who would be carried by trapeze artists in some way from tower to tower.
     Frieda volunteered. She was chosen. There she was, in the sky, on a wire.
     Edith speculates that this peculiar event brought Frieda to Gerhard’s attention. At any rate, the two got together. Edith also speculates that Bertha and Hans were happy to see Gerhard dating a “good” girl for once. He had many girlfriends who were less than perfectly respectable.
     Gerhard and Frieda married. I’m guessing that that occurred in 1941 or so.
     Gerhard joined the Luftwaffe and became a pilot. But soldiers occasionally went on leave, and Edith has a vivid image of an air raid (in Stettin? Bärwalde?), with Gerhard holding a large fire hose and being thrown around like a doll. Very comical. This might have occurred in 1942 or 1943.
     During Gerhard’s military service, Frieda lived with Bertha and Hans. By 1944, the little family included Gerhard and Frieda’s first child, Gerd Udo.
     Toward the end of the war—perhaps in late 1944—Gerhard was shot down somewhere over France and then captured. Ultimately he was put to work at a vineyard. The story is that he was treated very well by a fatherly French vintner or farmer, and Gerhard came to love his time in France. When, after a couple of years(?), he was told by authorities that he must return to Germany, he didn’t want to leave. But he did.
     Meanwhile, Frieda and the others were experiencing the fall of Germany and its chaotic aftermath. The little family was bombed out twice in Stettin in the years before the war's end. (During the many bombings, they hid in Stettin’s famous underground bunkers, which still exist.)
     At some point, they were compelled to live in a kind of makeshift cabin or "garden house."
     When the Soviets advanced across eastern Germany (in 1945), Edith and her Tante Martha (along with a few others, including Ilse) managed to flee from Bärwalde by train. They actually passed through Stettin on their way west, barely ahead of the invading Soviet army.
     But, for whatever reason, such opportunities did not arise for the family in Stettin. This was very unfortunate, for the Soviet invading army was notorious for raping and pillaging. Uncle Hans had tried to prepare for the invasion by building a secret space in their house created by a false wall. This is where they hid when the Russian soldiers arrived.
     But, for some reason, a neighbor who knew about the hiding place squealed on the Lubdowskys, and the Russians found the little family. The upshot: Frieda was gang raped and Uncle Hans was shot and killed. (Hans was perhaps in his fifties.) It is unclear what happened to Bertha, though she survived. Little Gerd Udo, a baby, seemed to come to no harm.
     When the soldiers saw Uncle Hans wearing his impressive diplomatic corps uniform in a photograph, they assumed that he was a high official. That was reason enough to execute him on the spot. Frieda, who is still alive, has never shown any interest in describing what happened to her on that day. It is a matter undiscussed.

AFTER THE WAR:

     After some time (months?), suddenly, Germans were chased from Stettin (to be replaced by Poles, who had been chased from their homes by the Russians), and so Bertha, Frieda, and Gerd Udo left the city in haste, perhaps by train. They eventually made their way to the part of Germany where Edith and Martha settled—the area to the south of Hamburg. They made contact with Edith's group.
     At that point, refugees were forced to live with other families in cramped quarters. Freida had been placed in a room in the country somewhere and she worried that she would never be able to keep Gerhard around if he were forced to live there. He was strictly a city boy, she thought. And so she made a trade with someone in Hamburg.
     Eventually, Gerhard arrived from France. He united with his family and they eventually prospered.
     Gerhard was very fond of Edith and would take her places in his car. Somehow, Gerhard always had some sort of car, even if it was little more than a converted motorcycle.
     He was a real operator and he made money working the black market. He knew how to get things.
     Gerhard had a peculiar soft spot for down-and-out prostitutes, whom he would bring home to stay with the family. Edith recalls some embarrassing situations encountering these girls at Gerhard's home.
     Nevertheless, Edith recalls that Gerhard was a good provider and he took good care of his family. Bertha continued to live with them until her death in about 1954. (Edith recalls that Bertha and Martha died at about the same time--right about when Annie was born. Edith had left Germany for Canada in 1951.)

     Frieda and Gerhard had two other children: Inge and Harold. Harold eventually died in an automobile accident on the autobahn. Inge had several children that Frieda ended up having to raise.
     Gerhard was likely unfaithful to Frieda, but eventually the two seemed to settle into happy married life. Gerd Udo seemed to do well. Oddly enough, his son became a professional accordion player.
     Gerhard eventually worked in the harbors. He was a hard worker, says Edith.
     He had a bad heart. That killed him in about 1983. (He was in his early sixties.)
     Since then, Frieda has visited the Bauers of Trabuco Canyon. She stayed for six weeks!
     Not long ago, the Bauers received a letter that referred to Frieda's age. They determined that she was born in 1921.
     It seems likely, then, that Gerhard was born at least by 1921.
     A few years ago, Gerd Udo's "girlfriend" sent a letter to the Bauers, declaring that she and GU would be visiting. She even described all of the places that the Bauers would be taking them to. But, at the time, Gunther had just experienced his heart incident, and so they told the girlfriend that the trip would have to be put off. The girlfriend did not take this well. She was indignant.
     Luckily, Frieda stayed out of that little bit of unpleasantness. The subject of the trip has not come up since.
     Evidently, Frieda remains among the living. If so, she is ninety years old. One hopes she is happy.

1 comment:

Hey, this is a family blog!