Family Histories

Over on our Instagram account we asked students to write a short text and send it to us. The short text would be about a family tale or heirloom — some story that was important to the family. Here are some responses. We decided to keep them anonymous.

What a ride

I have decided to write about a story from the Second World War. To give you some backstory, my family and I am from Denmark, whom had surrendered with minimal fighting to the Germans. The story is about my grandfather who was around five years old when the Nazis took Denmark. He comes from a wealthy family; his grandfather having owned a hotel and his father owning a cinema at the time of the story. His mother was from Sweden but moved to Brande in Denmark when she married his father.  

On the day of the incident my grandfather´s mother was out doing the shopping. She had left the stroller outside the shop while she bought the food. This was, and still is very normal in Denmark. It is considered safe to leave your baby and dog outside while you shop, of course with certain precautions. So, this was nothing abnormal. While my grandfather was sitting in his stroller a German military tank came by out on regular patrols.  To say it plainly and inconsiderably the German soldiers kidnapped my grandfather. This sounds rather dramatic however my grandfather to this day believes, however wrong it might have been to snatch a child out of his stroller, that their intensions were good. One must remember that many young boys were sent to war, these particular boys being no older than 17. In all probability, the soldiers were just trying to have fun. They drove my grandfather around in the tank, showing him the town. When his mother came out from the shop she panicked.  One can imagine a parent´s anxiety in a time of war realising their child has been taken. The family searched all over town with no luck. Dread and horror were lurking around the door and my grandfather´s mother could do nothing but look for her child. Later in the day the young German soldiers returned my grandfather to the place they had snatched him. The shopkeeper quickly notified his mother and my grandfather was returned to the family´s welcoming arms. Overall my grandfather remembers nothing but delight being given a town tour from a “cool” tank. Later in the year the same soldiers built a snowman in the backyard for my grandfather, much to his parent´s dismay. I believe it is important to see all sides of the war and this one is one of the few pleasantries my family experienced under German occupation. I want to make it clear that I do not, nor does my grandfather, condone the German soldier’s action however I also believe that one must have empathy when discussing children acting like soldiers in war. 

We are now at the very end of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), in the Canary Islands. My great aunt Amelia has fallen in love with a German young man. When the Civil War comes to an end, the World War II starts, and Hitler starts building a bigger army. When this young man is convocated, he is faced with a dilemma: he does not want to go. First, because he refuses to leave Amelia, and secondly, he does not agree with Hitler’s vision and acts. But he knows that, if he does not go, Hitler’s army will try to find him, and, if it does, they will most likely kill him. He also knows that staying in Spain is not the best thing to do, as Franco is a great friend of Hitler, who helped him during the Spanish Civil War, and will send him to Germany if he is ever found. There are lots of boats leaving from the Canary Islands to South America, Africa… He decides to take one of them, without telling anyone, suddenly disappearing. Amelia, as well as his other Spanish friends, get no more news from him. Amelia falls ill no longer after he left, and keeps going more and more sick… until she dies. Her mother (my great grandmother) always said she died because of love. She anyways did have a serious illness, but not enough determination to fight against it. No one ever heard about that young man again, and we will never know if he finally survived, died, kept his freedom or if he was found and taken to the army.

My grandfather grew up in Hungary, while the Second World War raged and in its aftermath. Eventually, he fought his way out of the country and made his way to the UK where he left everything behind and began anew. But that’s another story. I’m going to write about the youth of Janos, anglicised John. Now, the story I will tell is a bit hazy, not all of it is gospel, as my grandfather can’t tell his tales anymore. 

Janos grew up in a town, along a river. During the war, it was one of those landmarks where conflict tends to gather. The river was full of debris, full of blood and horror. But there was a busy bridge crossing it, and my grandfather and his friends, being kids, thought it was a good idea to jump off of it and into the shrapnel-filled river below. My grandfather’s friend, Zolly, jumped in, but after an unnaturally long time, he still hadn’t risen to the surface. So Janos decided to investigate, and jumped in after his friend. Zolly had a piece of metal in his forehead, and was knocked out, trapped. My grandfather dragged Zolly to the surface and eventually to a riverbank. He shouted for help, worried about his friend. Luckily there was a doctor walking along the riverbank, who helped Zolly until more help could arrive. What would have happened, if the war hadn’t filled that river with blood? What would have happened, if Janos hadn’t jumped into the river after his friend? If the doctor hadn’t been there? What would have happened…I may not be sitting here today. 

That’s how my grandfather became a hero. But again, I do not know how true this tale is. My grandmother remembers another story, where Janos played less the role of a hero. My grandfather, who told me this story a decade ago (which I dutifully wrote down), may have only tried to tell his young grandchild a story that would make her eyes go wide. In any case, the tale is (only) a drop in the river that is time.