WWII: Painful Memories Everlasting…

Today I met an elderly lady that was another lost treasure of history and memories long forgotten by many; Gretchen was her name. Although approaching 80 years of age, she was as spry and energetic as anyone. Her mind was clear and sharp and her enthusiasm to share was overpowering.

Her family had survived the carpet bombings of the Allied Forces in the city of Dresden dresdenGermany in WWII. Like so many others on both sides of the war, they had lost everything they owned.

War is hell; any war.

When Gretchen and her family returned to the surface from their fallout shelter, there was nothing left of their home. Strewn before them was a maze of rubble and shattered memories. All they had left were the clothes on their backs and their lives. Neighbors and friends, all perished in a matter of minutes.

Knowing that the bombings would continue, they had to flee to safety. Their plan was to head north to a families farm near Juelich. They found a friend with a car and drove to the other side of the city where her Aunt, Uncle and their children lived. Her father told them to wait in the car, he would be right back as he dashed into a small grocery to find the rest of the family. The store stood in a row of buildings common to many older parts of German cities. As they sat patiently waiting in the car, the slow wail of the air-raid siren began to wail. As she retold the story, she imitated the sound. Her pitch and voice perfectly echoed the mournful sound of the alarms. She explained to us that the slow siren meant they had time to seek shelter. When the siren began to increase its cadence, the bombers would be nearly overhead.

“Wooooooooo-eeeeeeeeeew,” she moaned, her eyes glossing over as she spoke. There was an eerie echo in her voice and for a second, I could hear them too. Death was approaching once more.

Before they could unload from the car, the siren went into the fast pace wail of impending doom. They scurried for the store, but there was no time; the bombers were already overhead. They dove for the nearest shelter in the store where her father had disappeared moments earlier in search of his brother and the rest of their family.

Germans had wisely made the shelters beneath the buildings connected in case one was bombed, there would still be a way out. These connecting portals were blocked off with wood partitions in order to protect one from the other. She described how they had just reached the safety of the basement below the grocery and someone was already talking to her Uncle through the partition. Yes, they had found them. For a brief moment, she felt joy in knowing they were also safe. In the next moment, she described the excruciating sound of the impact of the bomb that literally threw them to the ground and extinguished the candles.

For what seemed an eternity, she could not hear. Only the smell of smoke and the vibration of other bombs exploding resonated through their bodies as they lay helpless to the death that fell from the sky. Slowly, the sound of cries of anguish began to melt back into her consciousness. Everyone in their part of the basement would be safe. Sadly, there were no more voices from the other side of the partition; only the distant drone of planes as they flew away.

Her father had never reached his brother nor their extended family. He would lead the rescue team as they dug out the destroyed building next to the grocery to try to save anyone that had still lived. They found her Uncle and the rest of the family all next to the partition, trickles of crimson drool leaked from the corners of each of their mouths as they sat in their deathly slumber; all had perished. Had the partition not been there, the force of the blast would have certainly killed Gretchen and the rest of her family. Gretchen and the rest of her family emerged from the rubble finding their escape car demolished. Their hope of safety was in Juelich, which was over 30 miles away.

With no other choice of survival, Ruth, her mother, and three sisters set off on foot. Her father remained behind to help in the rescue effort like so many other men who weren’t selected to serve in the army for one reason or other. They became the hope of survival for so many buried beneath their own homes and businesses.

She couldn’t recall the entire journey except for an accident that occurred, which caused her to fall and break her nose. She recalled the pain and being unable to breathe that night. Fear of dying surrounded them like the darkness that enveloped the destroyed landscape. She recalled her fear of dying being an everyday occurrence. They finally found a doctor who came and cleaned up her injury enough that she could once again breathe freely. They continued on foot for a couple more days and then got a ride from a kind farmer who was headed in the same direction. They eventually made it to safety and their grandparents home. Her father would join them later upon his return from the hell that Cologne had become.

She finished and looked up. Tear rimmed eyes still portrayed the pain from so long ago.

“There is so much more, but it was so long ago,” she swallowed before continuing on, “You see, God was our only hope.”

No matter when, how or why we find suffering in our lives, it is part of who we are. If we have faith, we know that God uses these to make us stronger. But when suffering becomes more than we can bear, we must call on the Lord. He is our hope, our salvation and our life eternal.

We only have to seek Him.

No matter the hell you are going through, there is hope. Like Gretchen, seek God and He will listen to your pleas.

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.” -Jeremiah 29:11-13

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One Response to WWII: Painful Memories Everlasting…

  1. Tim Cunnup

    Tim thank you for sharing this awesome story of faith. It is incredible what people have endured and what a testament to their faith.

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