I grew up listening to war stories told by my father, US Army Signal Corps, and my mother, a German child of WWII. This is the third in the series. The others are here and here. And maybe even here, now that I think about it.
The painting has been in my family since before I was born. You can see it behind my radiant mother in this photo:
If you Google artist Wilhelm Schloz, the Wikipedia entry describes him as writer, painter and book illustrator.
What it doesn’t tell you is that he had only one arm, courtesy of World War I. His two eldest sons, both WWII Luftwaffe pilots, were killed in action. And a third son, Oswald, would hurl himself in front of a train desperate to escape service in the Wehrmacht near the war’s end. During those last years of the war, Mr. Schloz and family lived next door to my mother’s family in a formerly prosperous little neighborhood near Stuttgart.
My mother remembers their house vividly. It contained a long gallery hall displaying pieces of armor and had walls hung with art. Tucked into a corner of the garden was a bronze statue memorializing the two dead aviators.
To the rear of their properties was the community bomb shelter. Each family in the neighborhood had their own reserved area of the cave into which they could place their most cherished items in case of an air raid. Nothing was ever stolen.
Inevitably the bombs which were aimed at Stuttgart’s industrial heart would hit a residential area. After one air raid, the Schloz family emerged from the cave to find their house destroyed. It had taken a direct hit and was now a smoldering pile of rubble.
In my mother’s war stories, one person consistently emerges as hero. She is my grandmother, the Oma, who is pictured in my blog header as a young woman. And in this story, she once again saves the day.
Without a moment’s hesitation, she took the Schloz family in. It’s easy to be generous with a full larder, harder when hunger is a constant gnawing presence. Nothing tells the story quite like these “before and after photos” of my Opa, the first taken in 1938, the second in 1946. Whether you had money or not, there just wasn’t any food to buy.
Oma was a skilled seamstress and began taking in sewing to barter for butter. To conserve the meager amount of coal they were able to scrounge, she stayed in bed all day under the goose down covers and sewed. She would light the stove only when the family came home in the evening.
The day of the bombing, my mother and her sister were evicted from their beds to make room for the extra adults. A pot of watery potato soup went on the stove, and life went on as normal.
Mr. Schloz began sifting through the rubble and within a few months had managed to make a reasonably comfortable dwelling for his family in the cellar and there they lived for the war’s duration. During the post-war occupation the families lost touch, my mother’s family evacuated to Austria.
We don’t know exactly how or when Mr. Schloz arrived at Oma’s door years after the war but so he did, with painting in hand. Embarrassed, he apologized for painting it on burlap, but canvas was one of the many things impossible to come by in post-war Germany. In those days, when money was fairly useless, people turned to their skills and talents as currency. And as tokens of gratitude.
I’ve been spending a lot of time with my mother lately listening with renewed interest to the war stories so often told around my childhood dinner table. I’m keenly aware that with my mother go her stories unless I record them somehow. The memory of my Oma’s resilience and courage is not going to fade away on my watch. That much I can promise.
How about you? Do you know your family’s story?
Thanks for reading,