Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Christmas at Isenschnibbe

Christmas was wonderful at Isenschnibbe. A few days before, there would be a big party at the Manor House. Everyone on the estate would come.

We children never got to see our Christmas tree till Christmas Eve. We would go to church at the St Nikolai Church and sing carols, and have a lovely service with Pastor Franz.

Then when we came home, Mother would let us into the room where the Christmas tree was. It would be our first sight of the Christmas tree. It had lighted candles and lovely decorations. We had all sorts of fruit at Christmas we couldn't get at any other time of year, particularly during the war: satsumas, oranges, bananas. And we left shoes out for St Nicholas.

Mother, Father Gisi and I would sing carols in front of the tree. It was lovely.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Christmas Tree

Every Christmas we had a Christmas service in the St Nikolai Church.

It was lovely. Pastor Franz led the service, we sang carols, and we had a beautiful tree lit up with candles.

One year, there was a little girl there with her grandfather.

I can't see the tree, I can't see the tree, she said over and over. She was blind, so her grandfather helped her touch the leaves.

My mother was devastated. It was so sad.

Friday, 2 December 2011


When I was ten, I was given an accordion. My dad said, it's all very well learning the piano, but you can't take it out with you.

So we got a beautiful accordion decorated with green mother of pearl from the Manger's shop and I learnt how to play it. .

When the last potato was dug, we had Harvest Festival. There were lots of Polish women who worked on the estate, and they would dress up in their colourful clothes. It was lovely. Then we would process from the fields following someone holding the last stalk of corn, and we would make music on the way.

Then there would be a big party, in the room below the distillery (the estate had it's own brewery, and even a train line that came into the courtyard), and in the afternoon we had tea. In the evening there would be big feast for about two hundred people, and we hired two cooks who would cook the food in the Manor House and bring it over.

There would be proper musicians, but in between I would play the accordion. Once I went wrong and I was so embarrassed.

My dad was the hero of the day. Because he was the one who gave everyone their money.

Everyone enjoyed themselves. And I loved playing my accordion.

The accordion has been passed down first to my niece, and now to my eldest daughter, who is teaching herself to play. We are hoping she'll be able to play for Rosemarie in the hospice this weekend...

Wednesday, 30 November 2011


After the war the Amis (Americans) came. But at first they were afraid to come into Gardelegen because they thought there were soldiers hiding in the woods. It was daft. The soldiers wanted to surrender before the Russians came, but the Amis were afraid of their own shadows.

They were very lawless days, so Dad locked up the gates of Isenschnibbe, and wouldn't let anyone in. He and the other men guarded the boundaries. There was a lot of looting, and the pigs beyond the walls got stolen.

One day I looked over the wall and saw a black man wearing a top hat and tails. It was the first time I had seen a black person.

In the two days before the Amis came to take Isenschnibbe, a train carrying slave workers from Nordhausen came into Gardelegen. The war had ended and the SS officers in charge were told to shoot them. So they were rounded up in a barn and shot, and the barn burnt. It was on the Isenschnibbe Estate, but a mile away from where we locked in, so we didn't know.

Some of the prisoners escaped, and the Gardelegers helped them by hiding them in ditches.

It was terrible, but we didn't know it was happening. Maybe if the Americans had come in time, it would have been avoided.

This account is slightly at odds with what I have read about the story online. From the distance of so many years and knowing what we now know, it seems impossible to imagine this happening so close to your home, but things were very confused and frightening. Law and order had broken down, and they were difficult days. I am not sure the people locked in Isenschnibbe and the other Gardelegers could have prevented this from happening, even if they wanted to.

Rosemarie initially thought that the victims were Jews, not slave workers, but we read the story of the slave workers in the Information Office in Gardelegen. This may account for the description of slave workers in the following link: It is without a doubt a terrible crime to have happened in Gardelegen, but I genuinely don't believe the majority of Gardelegers would have wanted it to happen. (Isenschnibbe was two miles from Gardelegen, and the barn a mile away from where Rosemarie's family and estate workers were holed up. People were very afraid, and many would have stayed in their own homes. The reports seem to suggest that German soldiers, and Hitler Youth were involved, but I don't know how local they would have been. ) Having said that, Rosemarie has an album with pictures taken of the bodies, and it is truly horrific. A dreadful blight on a beautiful town.


Elfriede was my best friend. We met when we were ten.

Elfriede came from Kochte, and was a weekly boarder in Gardelegen, because it was too far too go home. She preferred to be at our place, then be at the boarding house, so during the week she was always with us at Isenschnibbe. Which was very nice.

Elfriede had two brothers, Otto and Fritz, both of whom survived the war.

When the Russians came, Elfriede's family had four hours to pack up their things, and had to leave their farmhouse behind. Luckily they could go to Otto's place.

I didn't know what happened to Elfriede after the war, but when Mother came to live in Wolfsburg in the 1960s, Elfriede found her, and then found me.

So then we could see each other again. Wasn't that lovely.

When the Wall came down and people could go back to the East, we visited Kochte with Elfriede, and she also told us this story. The farmhouse had been huge, and well run, but it was in rack and ruin, and iit was clearly a devastating experience for Elfriede to go back. But like Rosemarie, I think she was also grateful to have survived.

Auntie Ellie

Auntie Ellie, was my mother's sister. She was five years older then Mother and always delicate.

Ellie went to Prussia for a long time and that is why she called Auntie Yetel, the old auntie there Grandmother Auntie.

Ellie married an artist called Walter Fricke. Uncle Walter was always painting. Once Grandfather Heidtmann sent them a lovely fresh bacon - a huge one. And he took the bacon and sold it to buy paints.

Ellie and Walter lived in Holzminden, but then Auntie Ellie wasn't well and whenever we had holidays, she came to stay with us to see Mother. And it did her the power of good.

When Ellie was in labour with Ansalde, my cousin, she nearly died. She remembered a feeling of floating on the ceiling and looking down at her body. But then she thought, there is a baby I must look after, and that she must get back to her body.

So the baby came and all was well.

Friday, 25 November 2011


The only person I saw after the war was Elfriede. I didn't see any of my friends from Weimar. Times were so uncertain. The mail being uncertain, I didn't pursue to find out what had happened to them.

Brigitte Dosse was one friend whom I liked. Quite a big girl.
Then there was Brigitte Ilsen. Her father was a vet.

When the Russians came, they came so fast, we were still in Weimar. I took Brigitte Ilsen home to Gardelegen, because she had to go to Berlin and then on to Stralzand in the Baltic.

I never heard of any of them afterwards. They couldn't write. Maybe things were difficult as everything was opened. That was really a shame.

Brigitte Dosse. I hadn't thought about her. She had an aunt at the River Weser. Maybe they had gone there.