Thursday, February 23, 2012


Sixty-seven years ago today, the Royal Air Force, as part of the Allied offensive against Germany, bombed my mother's home town of Pforzheim.  Just ten weeks later, Germany surrendered.  My brother has written a tender, insightful post about the bombing here.

In December of 2000, we took our chidren to Europe to pick up Rachael from a study abroad in France.  As part of that trip, we met up with Mom in Germany and spent several days together.  She took us to Pforzheim and showed us all her favorite places: the place where her gymnasium once stood, the bridge where she kissed her boyfriend, her favorite shops and parks. 

She took us to Sophienstrasse 34, where the apartment building her family lived in used to stand.  It is just one block from the Enz River, shown below:

These are the steps that Oma and Uncle Heinz ran down to get to the river, where they huddled in terror during the bombing.  

The memorial marker in the Pforzheim Cemetery lists the date of the attack and the number killed:

The stones that mark the mass graves are each inscribed with about twenty names of those who were known to be killed:

In another portion of the cemetery is the grave of my mother's uncle, Gustav Adolf Schmid, who died in 1962.  Look below Gustav's and Anna's names and you will see the name of their son and my mother's cousin, Karl Schmid, who was killed in action during World War II:

Pforzheim has been beautifully rebuilt, as have so many other European cities, with an eye to recreating and restoring the past:

At the time, all we had was a 35 mm camera, and these seven pictures are all that we have of that day in Pforzheim.  If we could go back, we would take ten or twenty times as many pictures.  We also tried to take notes while Mom was talking, but she kept saying, "No, no!  Don't waste time with that!  I'll write it all down for you later!"

Unfortunately, later never came.

No book about World War II has affected me more than The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I first listened to an excellent recording of the book, and have since read the print version. Most of my World War II reading has demonized the Germans, and as the daughter of a German immigrant, I appreciated a story that was sympathetic to the average German citizen (although Liesel Meminger, the main character, is anything but average).

Liesel, a Jewish girl, is the equivalent of a foster child in the home of the Hubermanns, a childless German couple. Her love for them, her friendship with a young Jewish man the Hubermanns hide in their basement, and her friendship with Rudy, the boy next door, are at the heart of the story narrated by a mysterious character who seems to know the past, present, and future of each character.

While this is not a book about Pforzheim, in many ways it is a book about my mother's experiences. The descriptions of the air raids and general life during the war match up poignantly with the stories she shared with us. Liesel is within a year or two of my mother's age during the same time period, and the story takes place in a fictional town outside Munich, a city about 160 miles from where my mother lived. It was a profoundly emotional experience to read Zusak's tender telling of a life not so different from my mother's.

In 2013 The Book Thief was made into an excellent movie of the same name.


  1. One of my biggest regrets in life is that I never went to Germany with Mom.

    The cemetery pictures are interesting. I've never seen them before.

  2. I always learn so much when I read your posts. I also read your brother's--agree with him on all points about war. Thanks.

  3. Thanks to both you and Dave for your posts!