I've also recently made available letters written by my uncle Friedrich while he was serving in the army during World War II.

--Kim Moser, 11 May 2005











Memoirs of

Kurt Moser


Ilse Moser



Translated by Johanna Hagenscheid and Klaus Moser

Copyedited by Kim Moser and Lucia Moses (née Moser)

Table of Contents


Thoughts and Memories Between Two Worlds_ 1

Foreword_ 1

Introduction_ 2


1.  The Family4

2. Early Childhood_ 6

3. In a Small University Town10

4. The School Years17

5. Career Choices22

6. Studies23

7. The Disclosure25

8. World War I30

9. Completing School36


10. Clinician39

11. University Lecturer54


12. My Own Practice76

13. Professional Part-Time Occupations84

14. Music-Making At Home88

15. The Years Of The War91

16. On The Run (Evacuation)96

17. The Fate Of The Schoenwalder People101

18. Gramatzkis’ Fate in Usedom_ 105

IV_ 108

19. Rebuilding My Own Practice108

Funeral Oration for Professor Dr. Moser115

Ilse Moser’s Memoirs118




Index_ 156



Thoughts and Memories Between Two Worlds


Erinnerungen und Gedanken

zwischen zwei Welten



for Klaus and his family

Kurt Moser

Stralsund, 1970



Copyright © 1970 by Kurt Moser



Many years have passed since Jürgen and I received my father's memoirs. Although several relatives and friends in Germany have read them, the memoirs unfortunately were inaccessible to those who do not read German. I made several attempts to have them translated, but fell short. Last year, I finally found a translator, Johanna Hagenscheid, and with the additional help of my three children, I was able to finish this longstanding project.

Of my parents, it was my mother who was first compelled to record the experience of our evacuation from East Prussia to the German mainland. She wanted to preserve the memory for posterity. My father came to write his memoirs only after my mother encouraged him to do so. While his way of writing was rather formal, hers reminded me of her letter-writing style, plainspoken while captivating. Most valuable of all is that these memoirs were written at all, giving us facts and viewpoints directly from the source, not from a third party.

Unfortunately, both my parents—at least in their writings—do not step outside the realm of the family and local goings-on to provide a broader view of what took place. They also do not engage in what in German is called "Vergangenheitsbewaeltigung," or dealing with the past. One might argue that they were writing their family memoirs, not a political history. That is true. But if one lived in Germany, especially during Nazism and Communism, it was impossible to avoid taking a stand. And my parents always did that, even if they did not write about it in their memoirs.

There are several reasons for this, in my opinion. My parents lived under regimes that didn't allow dissenting views; one could be arrested just for owning the "wrong kind of book," for example. My father's career suffered during both regimes because he refused to join the ruling political parties of the time. That was the origin of his lifelong hatred of politics.

Because of this political climate, my parents harbored a never-ending fear of authority. It made no difference that my parents were retired and of no interest to the Stasi by the time they wrote their memoirs, so engrained was their fear for their physical survival. They even went so far as to abbreviate certain people's last names to protect their identity. (That doesn't include the names of patients, which also were disguised, though for confidentiality reasons.) I have, as much as possible, written most names in full.

Finally, many Germans, especially those who lost their homes and homeland during the war, had a tendency to focus on their own problems and not see the bigger picture. This was especially true of my parents, who lost not only their homes but lost a child in the war. Contributing to this tendency was the fact that Germans as a rule did not travel extensively to other countries and spend time among other cultures.



Klaus T. Moser-Maync

August, 2001




Our memories are the only paradise

from which we cannot be expelled.

—Jean Paul


Only after long hesitation have I been persuaded to write about my life. I was doubtful at first, because I am well aware that I lack the necessary narrative skills. The dry factual style of scientific publications is more in my line, though even there I used to spend much time polishing and paring it down until the desired clarity and transparency was achieved.

I received some encouragement [Es stellt Verstand und rechter Sinn mit Wenig Kunst sich selber Vor] from Goethe’s words that “Reason and good sense speak for themselves.”

I also feared that in the hectic speed of the beginning atomic age nobody would have the time and leisure to read such recollections. Above all, the young generation estranged from tradition and more future-oriented might show little interest for a past leading back into the age of petroleum lamps and therefore into a world long vanished, even though only a few decades have passed.

But then I remembered how—many years ago—we had been fascinated to read old letters of Ilse’s ancestors, particularly, because they created a lively picture of their times and the circumstances of their lives. And I hoped that my recollections might have a similar fascination for later generations and might even contribute to bridging a gap between the generations, which has rarely been so wide.

Above all—and this was decisive—I was sadly aware of how little my children know about my former life and work. At the time they had reached the age where families talk about such matters, our family had been torn apart due to the war and the situation afterwards. Today we live on two different continents, worse, in two different worlds, which makes any oral transmission of tradition impossible.

We have no choice but to live with the heritage of our ancestors, even though each young generation strives for independence. Today, certain ideologies even attempt to eradicate the past and present of the older generations as sad specimens of a backward age. For them history begins with themselves, the inventors of the atomic age. This is, of course, biological nonsense and, above all, a presumptuousness, which might well carry its own punishment. The recent past shows most impressively, how megalomania leads to ruin and destruction.

From a biological point of view, we incorporate not only the heritage of our immediate ancestors, but the heritage of all humanity, of the whole living universe, and our tribal memory might reach back further than we think.

I have recently come across similar speculations in a penetrating short story by the Czech writer Capek. There we first read: “What has been has been and that’s it!” But then he continues: “But that is not true at all. Even what you believe to be long forgotten still exists. And I think that our memory continues after death.”

This has been of special interest to me, because I have always seen heredity as a kind of materialized memory, and recent scientific publications on genetics contain similar thoughts.

C.G. Jung must have had similar thoughts, though leading in the opposite direction, when he said: “We humans tend to completely forget that in the basement of the skyscraper, which is our soul, we carry the whole past and without this basement our spirit would hang in mid-air.” If we go one step further down into the cellar beneath the basement we encounter the source of all things, whom man calls God and, who, in reality, lives within us.

This does not belong here, though.

At any rate, I have, after all, decided to let my life pass again in front of me in a sort of mental rerun. In this context I find one of Goethe’s remarks most consoling. He declared the man who writes his biography to be the most polite of men, for it is enough to enter into communication with the reader; the reasons are of no importance.

However, I do not intend to meet the standard he set up for an autobiography, because it applies to an autobiography written for the general public and not to one written for a close family circle like this one. I do not want to go into too much detail and I am in no position to describe the great man of the age. All the same, my life has not been without its interests and complications and the age—being a period of transition—is fascinating and remarkable in itself. Many small episodes will charm or amuse, because of close family ties. In particular—as far as the human aspect is concerned—the children will recognize some of their own characteristics or recognize them in their children, in whom we also live on. And they will realize with a smile that, on the purely human side, not so much has changed after all, that there is not really anything new under the sun.


1.  The Family


As a rule, autobiographies begin with the establishment of a family tree, a genealogy, laid out as extensively as possible, including detailed descriptions of the physical, intellectual and emotional characteristics of the ancestors in order to analyze the genotype of the “candidate” in question with a lot of imagination. At times, the description of such pedigrees takes up more space than it should, as for example in “Gestalten und Gedanken” [“Figures and Thoughts”] by Ernst Kretschmer, a colleague of mine, whose work on “Koerperbau und Character” [“Physical Structure and Character”] is widely known.

For reasons that will come up later, I do not have to go through so much trouble. I might return to this topic at a later point. Therefore, I can begin right away, and I hope that the fact that early experiences are more clearly and vividly remembered in old age will be of some help.

I grew up as the youngest and only male offspring of a family consisting of father [Robert] Moser, his wife [Maria Moser, née Moser] , whom he simply called “Mieze,” and their two daughters, Wera and Edith. They were, respectively, nine and six years older than me, and called their parent Vaeting—an affectionate diminutive commonly used in Pomerania, where they spent their childhood—and Muett. Edith was usually called Dittchen, which in East Prussia was synonymous with Groschen, a ten-Pfennig coin.

Naturally I adopted these nicknames and I will continue to use them here.

Vaeting was a real artist in the best sense of the word. His appearance was impressive, and he made a commanding figure as the conductor of his orchestra. His friends in Greifswald called him their Pomeranian Nikisch. With his black mustache, which was always very well groomed, and his restrained temperament, he reminded them of the famous conductor. He must have had a very eventful life, which I learned little about. From his own storytelling, I know only that he ran away from several apprenticeships as a youngster to become a musician and that he finally got his way. He learned everything from scratch in a town orchestra, which was called Die Stadtpfeifereien [The Town Pipers]  at the time. His main instrument was the violin, but he played almost every instrument. I have witnessed myself how he took the instrument of one of his musicians—a string or wind instrument—to play him a part in question exactly the way he wanted it to be played. In the military he also served as a musician. As a violinist, he had played under the conductorship of Arthur Nikisch. He talked with much enthusiasm about him and may have inherited his special preference for Wagner and Tschaikovski. With a touch of irony, he once told me that while leader of the orchestra, he even played the solo violin in a Beethoven concerto and still marveled at his own courage.

He later became a conductor, and after many ups and downs, he became very successful and accompanied a lot of the stars of the music world at the time with his orchestra. But we will get to that later. After he had to give up his orchestra for financial reasons, he worked as a violin teacher, which was quite hard on him.

Vaeting seemed outwardly calm and well-balanced, but when his art was concerned, he could become quite passionate and impulsive. In such instances, he threw prudence to the winds and risked his livelihood rather than accept unreasonable concessions. Commercial thinking was totally alien to him. As a result, of course, his family had serious financial difficulties, especially in later years. However, he weathered them with his irrepressible optimism and good humor.

With all this he was the best father, deeply fond of his children, whose mischief and little tricks he bore patiently. He had many intellectual interests and read a lot, even the scientific and philosophical books I brought home from the university library during my student days.

Muett came from a very wealthy, old family of Koenigsberg [Kaliningrad, Russia] merchants who lived in the Koggenstrasse and reportedly rode through town in a four-horse carriage. In a lawsuit against the tax department, which Grandfather Moser maybe embarked on out of an exaggerated sense of justice, he unfortunately lost his considerable fortune. From these times of wealth and extravagance, Muett had kept a somewhat exaggerated generous manner in managing daily affairs, which sometimes contrasted rather comically with the somber realities of life. Both parents shared a certain nonchalance towards their future, which led to peculiar situations. If they had plenty of money, which was not too often, they lived in style until their purse was only too soon empty again. But even then only the best was good enough. The best dairy-butter, the most expensive coffee, the most delicate sausages were bought. An omelet which did not contain 2-3 eggs per person was not worth having. In this way the money was quickly spent and hard times followed. Such unpleasant consequences were taken in stride, though, especially by Dittchen, who had inherited her father’s easy-going, optimistic, vivacious temperament and therefore was especially close to him.

Wera, on the other hand, had a more complicated relationship with her father. Sometimes, it was even somewhat strained. She took everything to heart, was more serious and more sensitive, and suffered from the economic insecurity. She tended to take even little jokes and gibes amiss.

Muett did everything she could to avoid and settle such small crises, but she could not prevent a certain distance in the relationship between the father and his eldest daughter. For many years, Wera lived in the house of a mathematics professor in Greifswald, whose daughter was a very close friend, and did not come back home. She received some kind of professional training at the “Berlin Lettehaus” to be a secretary or an accountant if I am not mistaken, but she only worked for a short time before she was adopted by an aunt in East Prussia (Aunt Lene Nesselmann). She then led a carefree life on various family estates (Sumpf b. Pr. Holland and Kraussen) until 1912, when she got married to the East Prussian landowner Reinhold Alsen, whose estate in Schoenwalde [Yaroslavskoye], near Koenigsberg, was to play a role in my life as well.

Edith, whom I was therefore much closer to, was always at home. She went to a girls’ school, then visited a teachers’ training college and became a schoolteacher. However, she also did not work long in her profession, which she found quite exhausting. She soon married a distant cousin of hers, the pharmacist Paul Gramatzki, who was called Pegram by the family. He first had a pharmacy in Hennstedt/Dithmarschen and finally in the town of Usedom, on the island of Usedom, in Pomerania. We will come back to these two places later.

Due to Vaeting’s engagements as a conductor, he spent a good deal of time in other countries. At first, he had long engagements in the imperial Russia. Thus the two daughters were born in St. Petersburg and were enrolled briefly in a German gymnasium. That also is why I was born in Wiborg or Vipuri, which was part of Finland at the time and the second largest city of that country. Vaeting worked there as the conductor of the opera orchestra.

2. Early Childhood


Telling about one’s childhood one tends to begin with the first events one can remember. In developmental psychology, the dates of these first memories play a certain role, since they are viewed in connection with the awakening of self-consciousness, thus the first manifestation of self-reflection, which is probably the most important, if not the only characteristic that distinguishes man from animal.

Whether or not this is true I would like to leave open at this point. However, I could imagine that one remembers emotionally very intense experiences without having consolidated one’s self-consciousness at that time.

Generally, the first memories of early childhood are probably hard to pinpoint. I do not remember our time in Wiborg, Finland, at all. I must have been approximately two years old when the family returned to Germany and spent two years in Greifswald. I remember this period of time in Greifswald only vaguely. I darkly recall that we lived in the Brueggestrasse right across from the Marienkirche [St. Mary’s Church], called the “Dicke Marie” [“Fat Mary”]. The large, quiet square in front of the church was where I played my first childhood games. I also remember that I was shown cannon balls stuck in the outside walls of the church, which stemmed from the Wallenstein attack, a story, which obviously must have deeply impressed me.

Since Vaeting’s plans to start his own orchestra in Greifswald or take over the local town orchestra did not come through we moved from Greifswald to Berlin, where we stayed until 1905. We lived in the Treskow Strasse50, in the north of Berlin, not one of the best parts of the city. Close by was the Schultheiss Brewery and I can still smell the pleasant, spicy flavor of malt, which filled the air around it. Our apartment was on the second floor while the first floor was occupied by a restaurant. Years later, when we returned to Greifswald, we also lived in a house with a pub downstairs for a long time and in a way it became a characteristic of the environment I lived in. Whether or not this had to do with the fact that Vaeting liked to have a drink in the evenings [Daemmershoppen]  and play a game of cards—like Richard Strauss, he was an excellent player—I cannot tell. In any case, we had draft beer close at hand most of the time and bottled beer was therefore held in contempt and was never kept in the house. The consequence for me was rather unpleasant. In the evenings and sometimes even at lunchtime I was sent downstairs to get a pint or a Schnitt, which was less than a pint, for our meal. Sometimes I had to get eine Weisse,  a special Berlin beer mixed with raspberry syrup, which Muett and Dittchen enjoyed a lot. These beer errands turned into the constant ostinato of my childhood, which I did not care for since I disliked the smoky atmosphere of a pub.

These Berlin years left more clear and better defined memories, but first I would like to describe a strange experience of self, which must have occurred in my fourth year and which is psychologically interesting. I clearly remember how suddenly a strange, uncanny feeling took a hold of me. Everything seemed changed. My surroundings suddenly had a different face, looked different and I felt small and insignificant. I still remember that this impression, which, in retrospect, I would like to compare to a theater curtain rising before a performance, frightened me very much and I crawled under the table and cried: “I have to die.” Soon, after some comforting words I quieted down, but I often had to think of this peculiar state, which has never repeated itself. It must have been connected with an extraordinary emotion, probably an intense anxiety, since I have not forgotten it to this day. In analogy to similar experiences described in childhood memories by various writers, such as Johann Peter Hebel, I assume this to have been an experience of awakened self-consciousness, where the “I” distances itself from its surroundings for the first time and is overwhelmed by it at first, thus a first “subject-object-experience.” This might also explain why my more dreamlike memories became more clear and more sharply outlined from then on. In this context, it is interesting that, according to Teilhard de Chardin, the awakening of self-consciousness corresponds to the birth of a new world. We gain access to a radically new environment. What happens is some kind of a metamorphosis that is unavoidably connected to anxieties of the soul which, according to his opinion, represent an archetype of human anxiety as old as humanity. This point of view might be confirmed in my own experience of myself.

Thus I remember very clearly the centennial celebrations, the New Year’s Eve festivities of 1900. The streets were lit up at night and full of people. At the Berlin castle the guards came marching up and we saw the emperor (Wilhelm II)  driving along the avenue “Linden,” not in a car, of course, but in a court equipage escorted by cuirassiers.

I also have a very clear memory of a comical “family drama.”

There must have been some minor difference of opinion between Muett and Vaeting, in the course of which he must have approached her in a manner that I considered unjustified, because I grabbed my whip and went straight for him. It must have been a funny sight, the little fellow attacking his huge father. However, everything was resolved with laughter, but Muett still thought it would be wise to remove me from the perhaps not completely harmless presence of the irate master of the house.

I was vividly reminded of this event when something quite similar happened to me. At that time I already was the dignified head of a household myself and my son Juergen, at that time 3-4 years old, tried to attack me. His head was red-hot with anger and his eyes were flashing. I do not remember whether or not something I had said against his mother had enraged him so much and whether or not his sense of justice had prompted him to come to her defense. But it must have been something similar and it also caused much amusement. Obviously, everything has happened before!

There was another disagreeable experience, which has affected me for quite some time. I have mentioned before that there was a pub on the ground floor of our house on the Treskow Strasse. Due to my beer errands I knew the fat host, Daberkow, quite well. One day there was a big turmoil and the whole house smelled disgustingly like phenol. It turned out that the host had been found dead with his throat cut. He had committed suicide. That was my first encounter with the death of a human being and to this day I cannot smell phenol without thinking of the suicide of the big host.

In this context, it strikes me how intensely my early childhood memories are linked to sensations of smell, a confirmation maybe of the important role that this phylogenetically oldest sense organ used to play for man.

Even the whole ritual around death, the “first-class” funeral, left me deeply impressed. The horses were covered with black blankets and wore black plumes on their heads. All this and the conversations I overheard about this dark event were food for my thoughts for a long time.

I must have been a very impressionable, sensitive child. Some highly emotional experiences affected me deeply and raised emotions that stayed with me for a long time until they finally subsided. To a certain extent, this character trait accompanied me into my late years, and may be one of the reasons why I could never steer my ship easily and elegantly through the trials and adversities of life.

For the rest of it, I was considered docile and well-behaved, and in spite of the aforementioned rebellion, I was a rather quiet and shy child. I was somewhat naive and an easy prey for all sorts of pranks other children played on me until I made my first experiences with the hostile world around me and the malice of people. I remember how horrified and beside herself Muett was one time, when I returned from playing outside and my hands and clothes were covered with tar. It was a practical joke by some older boys, who had told me that this would be something wonderful and led me on to stick my hands into a barrel full of tar. Then they disappeared gleefully.

Once, when I had a toothache, I was the center of attention because I dared to go to the dentist all by myself. However, in the waiting room, my courage faded considerably and I tried to leave without success. I was trapped, because the door did not open from the inside. When I returned home after my tooth had been pulled I was greeted as a hero. In reality, the honor was rather on the side of the smart dentist, who had developed this clever trick of illegal detention based on similar experiences with other children.

Soon, it was time for me to go to school. I went to an elementary school, which was called a Gemeindeschule [community school]  and had a certain number in Berlin at that time. My school had a three-digit number; I believe it was 168. I awaited my first day in school with some trepidation, but I was lucky and got a very good and understanding teacher, Leutke. I still remember how proud I was to be the first person in our class to receive an A from him in writing. I must have shown a special dramatic talent for the declamation of poems or stories. The contrast between the dramatic seriousness, which I applied to my task, and my childlike expression and mimic, must have been extremely comical. In any case, I remember how my older sisters used to make me stand on the table and recite a poem, which always caused great amusement. Dittchen, especially, was barely able to hold back her laughter. She had to bite into her handkerchief to stop herself from laughing out loud until Muett finally came in and put an end to the cruel game.

Thus I spent the first ten years of my life in the haven of a harmonious family life, where Muett, a warm and sweet mother, provided a comfortable and sheltered home. The first years of my childhood were quite carefree, particularly since the financial situation of the family during the years in Berlin was good and there were none of the strained circumstances that overshadowed later years.

In Berlin, Vaeting was the conductor of the newly established philharmonic wind orchestra, consisting of 50-60 musicians. At that time, that was a good-sized orchestra. He often went on tour with his orchestra to other towns and abroad. I remember that he was very successful in Duesseldorf during its garden show. Longer trips took them to England and Ireland. I still see him trying to learn English before the trip and having a very difficult time with it. I still kept some documents in Koenigsberg, mementos from these years in Berlin, but of course they got lost in the upheavals of war and flight. One of them, a postcard photograph, showed him in front of his fairly large orchestra. Another one, an illustrated sheet of paper from Glasgow, probably described an open-air concert, since it depicted a music pavilion with the orchestra surrounded by a large crowd, standing tightly packed in the rain with many open umbrellas. Underneath there was a review of the “music-band Robert Moser from Berlin” with details about the program. The Wagner interpretations were especially mentioned.

Despite its success, the orchestra could not survive. Personal disagreements also may have played a part in that. However, in 1905, Vaeting lost his good position and decided to return to Greifswald. In this very music-oriented small town, he hoped to establish his own orchestra with the help of music enthusiasts, particularly from the university.

For me, this was the beginning of a new stage of my life, which lasted until 1919 and included all my later school years, half of my student years and all of World War One.

3. In a Small University Town

(Greifswald before World War I)


In the beginning of the 20th century, Greifswald, or “Gryps,” as the locals called it by abbreviating the Latin gryphiswal densis, barely had 20,000 residents. It was the kind of comfortable small university town, where nothing much happened and the students either were very industrious or inclined to waste their time. Professors and students, particularly the ones in student fraternities, which sported colorful uniforms and practiced fencing, dominated not only the everyday appearance of the town, but also the social life by creating a certain academic hierarchy. A former professor of pharmacology, Geheimrat [high title of a civil servant] Hugo Schulz, who was Sauerbruch’s[1] father-in-law and whose nickname was “the homeopath on the professorial chair,” gave a humorous description of the Greifswald of that time in a little booklet, called “From a Small Town,” which is unfortunately no longer available.

Like most of the small towns of that time, Greifswald had its own town orchestra. It was only capable of providing the music for festivals, celebrations, parades, processions and dances, though. It was not up to serious music. To hear a good concert, one had to go to Berlin. For the culturally interested citizens of Greifswald, this was a very unsatisfactory state of affairs. Therefore, a circle of music enthusiasts, mostly connected with the university and active amateur musicians themselves, founded the Orchesterverein [orchestra association]. Its goal was to raise the general music level and to establish an orchestra, which could also produce classical music. In need of a conductor, they thought of Vaeting, who had spent some time in Greifswald a few years earlier and who was looking for a position just then.

Hence, with the support of the Orchesterverein, a new orchestra, the “Moser-Orchestra,” was founded with Vaeting as its conductor. Reinforced by many amateurs—there were some quite good musicians among them—and musicians from the military band of the 42nd Infantry Regiment quartered in the neighboring town of Stralsund, the orchestra consisted of about 60 players and could also give large symphonic concerts. However, these were not sufficient to finance the whole enterprise, particularly not the 20-30 regularly employed musicians. There were some patrons who supported the orchestra with considerable contributions, particularly Hans Domnick, a lawyer. He was an excellent violinist, a student of Havemann’s, and also served as the leader of the orchestra in these concerts. To survive, the core of the orchestra was very much left to its own initiative and had to compete with the town band, which was not feasible in the long run.

The beginnings were quite promising. Even so-called subscription concerts had much success; in fact, the orchestra was the talk of the town. Forty years later, after our flight from East Prussia, two programs from this time were given to me by a former friend of Wera’s, who had kept them as mementos. To us, these programs may seem somewhat gaudy and not always in the best taste, pairing Beethoven’s “Egmont” and “Eroica,” for example, with the Blumengefluester [Flower Whispering] by V. Blon. One has to keep in mind, though, that in those days, symphonic concerts were not as serious as they are today and the taste of the time had to be accommodated. This also becomes clear in the fact that the audience sat at tables and was used to drinking beer while listening to the “Eroica.” It was already a bold step to request from the audience in the programs not to smoke before the symphony and to ask the waiters not to serve during the symphony.

Tempura mutantur—times change. Today, thanks to the technical achievements of radio and television, we are at the point of slipping back into the former state. One could say that whereas in earlier times people used to shave before going to the symphony, now one listens to a symphony while shaving.

However, the orchestra could not have existed without also serving light muse.

Connecting musical entertainment and business were necessary. The musicians also had to play on guild festivals, on excursion steamboats and at balls in general. With all this, it helped that Vaeting was very popular in all circles of society and that he was generally versatile. In this way, the “Moser-Orchestra” became a dangerous rival for the public town orchestra very soon and would certainly have turned into a deadly adversary if the latter had also been a free enterprise. However, since it was publicly funded and did not need any additional income it could survive the critical period. In addition, the town officials continued to support the mediocre conductor of the public orchestra, and prevented Vaeting from taking his place, even though most people expected it. Hence the “Moser-Orchestra” had to be dissolved after some years, despite its initial great success. Vaeting remained conductor of the Orchestra Society, bringing it to a remarkable level, and continued to conduct the symphony concerts. This can be seen in a program of the “Bach-Reger-Festival” of 1923, which has been preserved. It was his last public appearance and was also witnessed by my mother-in-law.

Another testimony of Vaeting’s great success with these symphony concerts were the many laurel wreaths he was given as a sign of appreciation according to the custom of the times. I remember that the walls in our home were covered with laurel wreaths, some of which were replaced by new ones after some time. For many years, Muett kept leaves of these wreaths in the kitchen so that we were at least amply provided with this spice.

However, laurel wreaths alone do not fill the stomach, and the income from 2-4 big symphony concerts a year was not enough to cover even the most modest living expenses. Therefore, Vaeting was forced to teach the violin. Because of his general popularity, there was no lack of students, but at that time the fee for a lesson was very low. Further, Vaeting sent untalented students back home mercilessly. Still, the income from these lessons provided something of a minimum subsistence. In addition, Vaeting also directed some local choirs, such as the Studentische Liedertafel [a student choir], and gave singing lessons at the local girls’ school, where he was, of course, adored by the girls. He gave chamber music concerts as well, where mostly string quartets were played. The first violin was played by the lawyer Domnick, the second violin and the cello were played by two professors, both very good players who owned valuable instruments. Vaeting was responsible for the viola and also supervised the rehearsals. Therefore, he was allowed to keep the money they made.

In spite of all this, the money situation at home became more and more difficult, especially during the second half of the month. Most of the time it was a problem to provide for the rent or the coal in the winter. In an emergency and as a last resort, Vaeting went out to play cards, and usually brought some money back to be exchanged for food the next day.

Thus Richard Wagner’s words written as a motto for his “Pilgrimage to Beethoven” also applied here, namely that want and worry were the patron saint of the German musician, unless he was lucky enough to have a court position.

I have talked in some length about these everyday aspects of our Greifswald years because they definitely left an imprint on my life later, all the more since I was not blessed with the easy-going, happy-go-lucky attitude to skip lightly over the injustices and humiliations of our position.

Our constant worries about money also were the reason that we led a very withdrawn life. I cannot remember that I ever had visitors. There was no lack of invitations, but Muett never accepted them, knowing fully that she would not be able to return them. Muett hardly ever left the house. A half-hour long walk through the “Neuenkirchener Tannen” [wooded area] on a Sunday already was a big expedition. Since she never had any help at home, I was her maid for all the work. I did all the shopping, very often “on credit,” knew all about the prices, the kinds of meat and sausages and in particularly bad times I had to get a ready-made meal from the nearby pub. I also collected the unpaid fees, which I did not feel comfortable doing at all, especially if I knew the families concerned from school. Already then nobody liked to be reminded of debts. Particularly those for whom money was not an issue could not imagine that such small amounts could be essential for others. Their oversensitive reactions often put me into very awkward positions. Everything that cost money eventually became a problem, even in school, so I was often left out of things. Unfortunately, it even came to the point that our piano and, most painful for me, my violin, which Vaeting had brought back from Finland, disappeared to the pawnshop, never to return. Even the wedding rings occasionally had to be pawned, but they were always brought back.

From then on, I could only play on Vaeting’s violin, which he needed himself most of the time and I could only practice when he was not at home. It was also awkward that he noticed immediately when somebody else had played on his instrument, and it intensified my reluctance. Nevertheless, I used every opportunity to play when he was not around. Once, carried away by my playing, I did not hear him coming and, as Muett told me later, he stopped at the door, listened and said: “The boy does not play badly, he really tackles everything.” I had been bold enough to try out Paganini’s “Capriccios.” When I heard what he had said I felt encouraged and elated. In terms of learning how to play the violin, this kind of situation where I depended on Vaeting’s instrument probably only helped since it forced me to play carefully and avoid careless fiddling around. That may have helped to improve my sound. The chronic lack of money with its often embarrassing consequences, which marked our later years in Greifswald, must have overshadowed my childhood and probably caused certain inhibitions, which I could free myself from only much later. However, it also had its advantages. It encouraged me to secure at least my personal independence. By my later school years, I was already starting to tutor others and check their assignments. Thus I earned some money for my personal use. Later on, I even taught the violin and I felt very honored when Vaeting occasionally handed me over some of his beginners, who annoyed him too much. During my student years, I also earned money by teaching math. During that time, the following amusing incident took place. A young woman, who had obviously overrated my abilities, asked me after the math lesson to check her English essay. I had never learned a word of English. As a student of the old languages I never had any English lessons, but I did not want to admit that to the girl. Luckily, I noticed that the essay consisted of a translation from English into German. I therefore corrected the paper simply by following my feeling for the German language and pointed out some incongruent passages, which she promptly fixed. I went with some trepidation to our next lesson and felt extremely relieved when she happily informed me that she had received a good grade on her English essay.

I started earning some money in Greifswald this way and always kept a small Schwarzenfond [collection of money for a rainy day] to cover my personal expenses. Usually towards the end of the month, when things would become very tight, as it happened occasionally, and there would not even be a piece of bread in the house, I would, of course, help out with my treasures. On these occasions Vaeting used to say with an undertone of appreciation: “I really don’t know where the boy always gets the money from, but he always has money.” This may have helped to create his conviction of later years, namely that I was swimming in money, which, during the first years of my marriage, certainly was not true. He used to joke that his children were his best investment.

Apart from the growing money issues, which gave me an early taste of the hard side of life, it was the music that dominated the atmosphere in the house and had a deep influence on me as well. During the times of the “Moser-Orchestra,” I was everywhere, where the musicians, all of whom I knew very well, were. I also knew all about the programs of the concerts and helped with the transport of the music and the instruments. In this environment, I learned many things having to do with music, for example, that a waltz would not become a breath-taking experience unless not only the first third, but also the second third was accentuated in some way. Everything connected with music became second nature, even more so when I played the violin myself and was allowed to participate in the big symphonic concerts.

Apart from that, though, I lead a normal boy’s life with all its virtues and vice.

After living in crowded Berlin, where we had only the streets to play on and run around in, I enjoyed being close to nature, the fields and woods. We lived on the edge of the town on the Stralsunder Strasse, which, a few houses down, became the Stralsunder Chaussee, leading to the Neuenkirchener Tannen only 1-2 kilometers away. The forest, the nearby Rosenthal and the Kiesower Moor [swamp] were the scenes of the activities and expeditions of my childhood.

Playing Indianer [American Indians] was one of our favorite games, as I was also an enthusiastic reader of such stories. This was initiated by a very old but extremely beautiful copy of Cooper’s “Lederstrumpf” tales [“Leather Stocking Tales”] with magnificent steel engravings. The book was given to me by East Prussian relatives. Its pages had turned yellow and stained and it had the typical damp smell of old books, which I then noticed for the first time and which always reminded me of “Leather Stocking Tales” when I came across it in later life. Later, I was fascinated by “Travel Descriptions” by Karl May, which even caught Edith’s and Muett’s interest. Muett used to read it to us at bedtime. Our fascination, though, did not stop us from eventually falling asleep. I got the books from a small library on Muehlenstrasse. It was located on the ground floor of the building and smelled exactly like my old copy of “Leather Stocking Tales,” the smell of old, damp books. It was run by a little Jew named Loewenthal who looked like a character from an oriental fairy-tale, with his big beard and long caftan. When I opened the door, there was the sound of a loud chime and only after some time did the little Jew silently appear in a dignified pose, scrutinizing the newcomer over the rims of his glasses. The whole experience seemed somewhat exotic and mysterious. I was quickly thrown back into reality though, when I noticed that the little man, according to the sharp business sense of his race, had divided each of the 30 volumes, containing more than 600 pages each, into smaller single volumes, thereby tripling the lending fee.

The preference for the books of Karl May has stayed with me all the way into my “ripe old age.” I especially indulged in them when I was sick, once causing quite an awkward situation for my dear wife. She would get me my precious reading material from a Koenigsberg library, whose owner was amazed about the rapid consumption of so many big volumes and asked her one day: “And how old is the little fellow?”

For my own justification, though, I would like to point out that I am in excellent company. To my immense satisfaction, I read that also Albert Einstein and Albert Schweitzer were avid readers of Karl May, who animatedly discussed their memories of Karl May when, in America, they were both invited to visit a big exhibition of American Indian art. Of course, I also owned a silver rifle like Winnetou, an old air rifle, which I had found somewhere and embellished accordingly. Most of the time it did not work, which did not stop me from being an excellent shot. That almost became my doom. One day, playing Indianer again, I could not resist the temptation to aim at the behind of a boy who stood with his back to me. Understandably, he took it rather badly and threatened to go to the police. In the end, however, I got off relatively easy. Later, during my time as a soldier, my talent to aim proved to be an asset and our youngest son seems to have inherited this talent from me.

Another sport we enjoyed during these years was fencing with old sabers in imitation of the students’ duels. The father of a school friend of mine owned a house where the students had their own pub and their fencing floor. This allowed us to watch their duels and to imitate them. We put the big fencing helmets on, covered ourselves with protective bandages, and went at each other with old exercise equipment. The whole thing was, of course, not dangerous at all.

On the whole, though, I was not a very wild boy and rather preferred more civilized hobbies, all the more since I was physically not very robust.

Above all I enjoyed all kinds of handicrafts. First I cut and glued paper models until shelves and cupboards overflowed with my productions and I gave them away. Then came the fretwork, very popular at the time, which I turned into Christmas presents for all the relatives near and far. My masterpiece was an enormous fortress, which I copied from models. After it was finished and lost its fascination for me, I gave it to the children of Mr. Domnick, the lawyer, who were a few years younger than me. Thirty-five years later, after we had escaped from East Prussia, I met one of the younger sons in Greifswald. He still remembered it, and in return he gave me his sister’s violin, because I had lost all my instruments due to the flight. Today he runs a large film business in Goettingen, though he had originally studied law.

Later, my interest in handicrafts was transferred to the technical field. I was particularly fascinated with electrical engineering, and started to build all sorts of machinery, like doorbells, motors, etc. Above all, I wanted to find a new element, which would provide a stronger current than the “Bunsen” element. Soon, the whole apartment smelled of chemicals, and when the nitric and sulfuric acids started to damage the polish of the furniture, Muett got fed up and I had to quit. So I turned to building an accumulator battery, which I made by punching out the lead sheets myself and filled them with red lead and lead monoxide. Thus I installed my own nightlight. This might sound ridiculous today, but one has to remember that, as a child, I had still known petroleum lamps, which then were replaced by gas lights. At the time of my experiments, people did not have electricity in their apartments yet. Nowadays one would play around with radio or TV sets. Shortly before our Abitur [high school diploma], when we had to write an essay on the subject of our own choice, I handed in a paper of more than a hundred pages about technical progress. Back then, I also wanted to become an electrical engineer.

Another interest, which I spent much of my time on, was my love for animals connected to zoological interests. During my expeditions through fields and woods, I collected tree frogs, lizards and all sorts of animals. I kept them in a terrarium, which I had built myself. In the fall, these animals were usually returned to nature. I managed to tame the very shy lizards to eat live flies off my hand. The high point of my menagerie was the “walking-stick” grasshoppers a school friend had given to me. These strange exotic animals multiply by means of eggs the size of pinheads, dark brown with a whitish spot in the middle. I collected them in a matchbox amply provided with air holes and put the approximately 1 centimeter-long, hatched animals with the others into my terrarium. One day, when Muett cleaned the room she discovered small grasshoppers crawling from all corners of the room, which almost led to a catastrophic end for the exotic animals. Whether the terrarium had not been tight enough for the small eggs or I had left one of the match boxes open by mistake I do not remember.

I also bred canaries, which helped to fill my Schwarzenfond. The starting point for it was a young canary, which had been given to me as a memento by some friend from our Berlin days. Later, a lost female canary took refuge in our house, and the breeding foundations were laid. I taught the young birds to sing by playing them the high notes on my violin. The young animals also became tame very quickly this way. The old male in particular was very attached to me, and after my long absence during the war he immediately greeted me with great pleasure when I finally returned.

The high point of my bird-breeding career, though, was my pigeons. A school friend, whom I had faithfully provided with his homework daily during a long illness, gave me a pair of pigeons from his own flock, together with a large pigeon house. It was put up in the courtyard in front of our windows and we, even Muett, took great interest in the pigeons, and were soon able to see that pigeons are not the peace-loving birds humans want them to be. That they were turned into the symbol of peace shows little insight into animal psychology and almost seems like an irony of fate.

As soon as the first offspring, two brothers, had become sexually mature, they started to court their mother, a beautiful proud peacock pigeon—an obvious case of the Oedipus complex. The fighting was quite fierce and finally, in their rivalry, one broke the other’s still soft beak and I had to administer my first medical treatment, since the animal could not feed anymore. I reattached the loosely hanging part of the beak by means of an adhesive tape and fed the little animal for weeks until the beak had healed and the pigeon could feed again.

Since I felt sorry for the animals penned up in the not very roomy pigeon house, I kept building and enlarging fence structures around it so they could fly around a little bit. After we moved into the nearby hotel Greif,  a restaurant with a big garden and the only concert hall of the town, I installed a real pigeon loft in the attic that allowed the birds to fly freely. They were very tame and the whole flock came to greet me when I whistled to them on my way home from school. After some time, I had approximately 20 pigeons, which I was able to keep until the war started. Then, bird food became unavailable, and we had to get rid of them. That was a black day for the whole family.

By moving to the Greif hotel, we lived right on the broad passageway leading from the Stralsunder Strasse to the field of the shooting-club, where the big shooting match, also called the Schweden Ulk, went on for eight days every year. Shooting galleries and all sorts of stalls were built up on both sides of the passageway. Since my window looked right down on it, I had a good view of the life and activities of the owners and could also see what was going on behind the scenes. Of course, this was interesting and revealing in more than one respect. The big square had the usual fairgrounds amusements, merry-go-rounds, cabin swings and roller coasters, but also the newest “sensations.” It seems remarkable that—apart from the two last Aztecs, who swallowed live frogs in front of the spectators, and apart from the first wild lion and tiger show under Captain Schneider, which was quite wild and exciting since tame animal shows were not known at the time—one of the sensations was the first Kinematographentheater [movie theater], as it was called at the time. Those who remember the wretched flicks shown then would never have expected them to be the beginning of the sound film, which was developed a few decades later, followed by the colored film and finally the TV, the mass medium that dominates the whole world today.

Remembering one’s childhood like this in quick motion, one cannot help but compare it with the conditions and the environment of today’s children, and this comparison is not very flattering for the present. Without being romantic or sentimental, I think that children used to grow up much closer to nature, and that a more colorful environment was a better incentive for imaginative play and for experiencing the world in their own way. Of course, this is only based on the conditions here in East Germany, which I am familiar with. As a rule, both parents work, inhibiting a regular family life in the old sense of the word. Real warmth and intimacy are lacking. Children are taken to day-care centers and nursery schools at a very early age, where they are trained to think collectively in the prescribed manner. At home, there is the constant background noise of the radio and, even worse, the TV, soon having pathological effects. The ability to experience with vivid authenticity soon becomes blunted. This has a bad effect on the emotions and feelings of the young, whose personalities become impoverished. Quite apart from the acceleration of physical growth, the cause of which is still unclear, today’s children appear disturbingly unimaginative, matter-of-fact, impersonal, aloof and reserved. They have nothing childlike about them, appearing more like small grown-ups but not exactly happy ones. The course of this development can, of course, not be turned back, but it seems alarming that the periods of childhood and adolescence are shorter, because human beings need that time to mature not only in body, but also in spirit, and that distinguishes us from all other creatures. In addition, so much time is spent overburdening children’s minds with as much knowledge as possible, since newly acquired knowledge supposedly doubles every 10-15 years. Under these circumstances, I have little hope that there will be a chance or even a vague perspective to catch up with the long neglected development of mind and character and to stop the “Promethean descent,” as Guenther Anders called this phenomenon.

Moreover, I do not believe that we were taught considerably less in my time. However, we were taught to cultivate our own thinking.

I now turn to the memories connected with my school years.

4. The School Years


When we moved from Berlin to Greifswald in 1905, I had already attended elementary school in Berlin for three years. Since I was quick and learned easily, the plan was now to send me to a “higher” school. At that time, Greifswald had a Real Schule [high school stressing science] and a Humanistic Gymnasium [high school stressing the classics]. Both schools were located in an impressive building on the Fleischerstrasse. The central building carried the inscription Non scholae, sed vita discimus. In this proud edifice I would live through the sorrows and joys of my school life. For nine years, I walked the 10 minutes it took me to get there morning after morning, or, to be precise, I ran at a brisk pace to make it just in time. First, I attended the first grade of the Realschule, where I did well and was one of the first students to pass on to second grade. Then, a family council decided that it might be better for me to attend the Gymnasium after all. The school administration did not raise any objections as the family originally feared and thus I was transferred. Even though both schools were located in the same building, the change was not all that easy for me, because the language curriculum changed. The Realschule started with French in first grade, the Gymnasium started with Latin. French was added in third and Greek in fourth grade. By transferring from the second grade of the Realschule to the third grade of the Gymnasium, I was two years ahead in French, but I also had to catch up with Latin, which was not all that easy. Back then, Latin was not only the most important language in the Gymnasium, but also the most important subject, and therefore very demanding. It would have been impossible for me to catch up without private lessons, and we were unable to pay the high cost. A music-loving student who had attached himself to Vaeting saved us by offering to teach me Latin for very little money. In turn, Vaeting helped him with his music—with great success, for the student soon quit his studies to become a full-time musician and, in time, a conductor. In the 1950’s here in Stralsund, I read a review in the journal “Musica” and, to my great surprise and joy, suddenly found his name, Buschkoetter, mentioned very favorably. He had become the conductor of a big West German orchestra.

After a transition period, I caught up with the Latin curriculum of the Gymnasium, so the experiment had been successful. I even eventually did quite well in Latin, although I always preferred Greek, maybe because my foundations there were more solid. At any rate, I always passed easily from one grade to the next, with one exception. A crisis in sixth grade upset me very badly, but the reasons there were completely different.

In sixth grade, we got a new teacher. We had to call our teachers “professor,” but these gymnasium professors had nothing in common with university professors, who did not relish this inflationary use of their title. Consequently, the custom was stopped soon.

Professor Wildenau was our main teacher. He taught us the three main subjects, Latin, Greek and German. He was a small man and tried to compensate for his not very imposing appearance with enormous side-whiskers and a pompous manner, not only in his way of speaking, but in his entire behavior, which created a rather comical effect. He was not particularly popular.

I soon realized that I could not do anything right for this new teacher. There was always something wrong with my answers. He asked me extremely far-fetched questions or ignored me completely as if I wasn’t there. If he condescended to acknowledge my presence, his voice was so obviously derogatory and ironic that I became more and more irritated and finally stopped speaking up at all. My written work in all three subjects was consistently judged “unsatisfactory.” Even my German essays, normally my strong point, were without detailed corrections simply labeled “unsatisfactory in form and content.” My grades slipped accordingly and it did not take long until I, up to then one of the best students of the class, had to sit on the last bench and was one of the worst. This did not go unnoticed, of course. My classmates, who tried to help me at first by prompting the answers, because they thought I did not know them, soon realized that something else was going on. They concluded that “he” obviously did not like me and that things like that happened. I came to the same conclusion. For a while, I continued to do well in all the other subjects, but after some time the obvious harassment of the powerful principal teacher had its effects, and my overall performance started to decline. The other teacher probably suspected some puberty crisis.

At home, the bad grades were not taken seriously at first, possibly because I had never encountered any trouble in school so far. My difficulties were therefore taken as a harmless and probably passing phenomenon. However, at the end of the school year, when my promotion to the next grade seemed in danger, the situation was judged differently. Of course, I had mentioned that I felt harassed because the teacher did not like me but – at least in my presence – this was not taken seriously.

Then, shortly before the end of the school year, something quite extraordinary and unheard of happened. Suddenly, the door to our classroom opened and Dr. Wegner, the director of the school, entered. He was a strict but well-meaning man, equally loved and feared by his pupils. It was to his credit that our school, which had not been well regarded under his predecessor, was now generally respected.

To everybody’s surprise, “the old man” appeared in our classroom and started to question me personally. This questioning was repeated a few times until all subjects in question were covered. I must have done quite well because after that, I passed without further complications and my grades in the three critical subjects were actually quite good. But what had happened? I learned all the details only years later. It seems that Vaeting had turned for advice to a young man he knew through his music and who was doing his teacher’s training at our school. Moreover, one of the sisters of this young man was a school friend of Dittchen’s. He took this strange matter in hand and first talked to the director, who checked all of my former grades, the written work of the current school years and finally questioned me himself. As it turned out, two things came to light. For one, Vaeting had been asked years ago to teach the violin to one of the sons of Professor Wildenau. After a short trial period, Vaeting declared him untalented and sent him home. His father had taken this very badly, and now tried to prove to Vaeting that his son was just as untalented. Secondly, it became known that this teacher of doubtful quality was already involved in a similar dubious affair once before, so he was known for such behavior. After that, the case was resolved quickly. Unfortunately, that was kind of late, for I had to endure the harassment for almost a whole year had made me a little bitter and I did not tackle my schoolwork with the same drive and enthusiasm as before. I held my position among the upper third of my class, but I certainly could have done better. At any rate, I was rehabilitated and kept my reputation as a good pupil, even though I had grown used to only doing the bare minimum, often finishing my homework during breaks or even during lessons. Religion class was particularly well-suited for this purpose. If one was unexpectedly called up, a few pat phrases were always sufficient and one could continue tomorrow’s homework behind the broad back of the pupil sitting in front.

Consequently, I was not particularly well prepared for the Abitur [final exam]. To make things even worse, I developed a bad case of angina just before the finals. As a result, I was rather nervous and tense when it came time for the orals. On that particular day, shortly before the exam was supposed to start, the whole class had to gather in front of the school to hear the results about who was exempt from the orals because of excellent work in the written exam. I could hardly believe my ears when my name was actually called up. I was lucky to be one of the few chosen, mainly because I had done so well in mathematics and the German essay. I ran home to tell the good news, but had to rush right back to school to participate in the so-called Durchsuff, an old school custom, probably an imitation of the drinking habits of university students. Those who did not have to take the orals had to gather in the Ratskeller, a nearby pub, to drink beer and wait for those who had to take the orals, to treat them with cakes.

Since I never had the opportunity to really live out my fear of the orals, it persecuted me in my dreams for years. Even when I was already a well-established doctor, I used to dream that I had not yet passed my orals and was finally forced to go through with them. This caused considerable internal turmoil, for even in my dreams I remembered that I had actually passed my state examination. This dilemma probably acted as a wake-up agent because I used to wake up in a sweat. This dream recurred from time to time and only stopped one or two decades later.

The description of my unpleasant experience with my teacher in sixth grade could cause the impression that my school years were predominantly negative and that such an occurrence should not have happened at a well-run school. However, this event had a purely personal background and constituted an isolated and disagreeable case, which could have happened anywhere.

There were amusing episodes and the usual teacher-pupil anecdotes as well, which were mostly caused by the odd and eccentric personalities of the teachers.

In sixth grade, we had a mathematics teacher, Dr. Bauer, whose strong Saxon accent was the joke of the pupils and provoked their mockery. To make matters worse, he had absolutely no sense of humor, and could not handle the ridicule of his pupils. He was a comical figure, totally lacking in natural authority. In his despair, he tried to pay us back by forcing us to learn mathematical formulas by heart and then testing us unexpectedly. Of course, most of the time his tormentors did not know the answers, which exasperated him greatly. Each time he gave a bad grade he cried, “ich schraeb Sae ein Manko an” [“I’m failing you”], whereupon he was promptly nicknamed “Manko” [“Failed”].

I soon realized that “Manko,” as disliked and feared as he was, was in reality a rather good-natured man who did not know how to handle his tormentors. I felt sorry for him and did not participate in their malicious tricks. Due to this and the fact that I did quite well in mathematics, he liked me and did not bother me with his sudden formula raids, which would have been most unpleasant for me, too. I did not like to learn by rote and was used to deducing the formulas as I needed them. However, towards the end of the school year disaster struck. The grades were already handed in. Nothing much could happen anymore and therefore the whole class was completely out of hand. Much to our amusement he took out his notebook and started to check our formulas and write down his “Mankos.” All the answers he got were, of course, wrong and in his despair he turned to me and said, “Zeigen Sae es ihnen!” [“You show them!”] It was quite a blow when he realized that not even I could reel of his formulas and he cried deeply upset, “Von Sae haett ich das nicht gedacht!” [“I would have never expected this from you!”] I must admit that I was rather upset and ashamed as well about this disappointing misunderstanding.

Another amusing thing happened in eighth grade. Our Greek teacher was an excellent pedagogue with a weakness we all understood too well. Every Monday morning, he arrived for the first class in a terrible mood. To let off steam, he carried on endlessly about the poor performance of today’s pupils. In his time, they were given 100 verses of Homer to translate from one day to the next, while today’s pupils could not even handle 50 verses. One Monday morning, after he had given us his usual lecture, my neighbor, normally a very quiet and taciturn boy, suddenly spoke up with a voice, slow and hollow like from a grave, but very distinctly. He said: “Self-praise stinks!” Everybody was horror-struck and even the angry lion was dumbfounded at first, only to roar even louder. However, there were no further consequences, given that with his sense of humor, he was unable to ignore the comic element of the situation, and he was aware that he played a rather shameful part in the affair if it got out.

On the whole, we had excellent teachers, who did their best and I think of them with much respect.

Above all, they took a genuine interest in us. They took the trouble to know their pupils personally and cultivated personal contacts, which are extremely important but sadly neglected today.

Also, the general atmosphere was proper and clean, and obscenities were not encouraged. I was therefore quite shaken when, some time ago, I came across a ten-year old school magazine of my former school. It contained a list of “famous sayings” ascribed to various teachers, which very clearly demonstrated the difference between my time and the present. To illustrate this I will quote some of the least offensive ones: “You have obviously not yet floated as a puff of smoke over the crematorium!” Or: “I want this class room to be quiet, so quiet that you can hear the gnats piss on the walls.” Or: “I will smash you against this wall so that the undertaker will have to scrape you of with a spoon.” Or: “I will kick you in your trap so that your grinders will march out of your behind in battalion-strength.”

Something like this would have been inconceivable in my time and is probably the product of the barrack-style of the Brown Era. Let me stress again that I took care to quote particularly mild samples.

One often hears today about alleged abuse in the higher schools of those times, but I can attest that in my experience, there was no favoritism at our school. It was of no importance at all whether a pupil was the son of a well-known professor or of modest people. Consequently, I never had to suffer because my family often was short of money and I was therefore often unable to take part in many common projects.

The atmosphere between us pupils was also good. I got on with everybody and had some friends. Nevertheless, I must have appeared strange to some of them, probably because of my behavior during my conflict with Professor Wildenow. Maybe it was for that reason that I was portrayed as Sphinx in our “Abitur-Magazine,” with the following little verse underneath:


In his window seat Moesing

so quiet and so good sits dreaming

and if a teacher starts questioning

he wonders, why does he pester me.

A little wood-whimpering

then blessed calm again,

what do I care for school

smiles our sage quite cool.


“Wood-whimpering” referred to my violin playing. This was generally known because I had played at a school concert, which had been reviewed in the local paper. The fine arts in our school were by no means neglected. We had quite a good school choir, which I used to participate in—I had a rather good soprano until my voice broke. This gave me the opportunity to sing in a production of Humperdink’s “Haensel and Gretel.” The music-loving wife of a professor had produced it together with a group of children. I had my debut as the little sandman; it was a short part, but had some tricky passages that were hard to hit correctly; however, they did not give me any trouble and the lady was very impressed with my good ear. This was my only stage experience. After my voice changed, I lost the ability to hit the right notes completely and had to give up the choir. I even developed an aversion to singing. Instead, I became a member of the newly established school orchestra, where I even gave a solo performance of Beethoven’s F-major Romance. This was in a public school concert when I was in seventh grade. Afterwards, Vaeting paid me his highest tribute by presenting me with a shining silver coin. I was accompanied on the piano by a young teacher, Dr. May, whom I met again quite unexpectedly in Stralsund 34 years later, after we fled East Prussia, when I was looking for people to play music with. He recognized me immediately and remembered our earlier common “appearance.”

We often played together in Stralsund in the years to come, also in public concerts, usually with Juergen, who played the cello.

I do not want to finish this chapter about my school years without mentioning that I found myself again within the walls of my old school in 1945 when, after our flight from East Prussia, we first came to Greifswald. I took Juergen there to register for school after he had come back from Holstein in the fall. The complications caused by the turbulent times immediately evaporated when I told the director that I was a former pupil of his school and that I had also been a member of the school orchestra, which still existed.

Juergen was admitted to eighth grade and soon I sat with him at the desk in the class rooms that were familiar to me from my childhood. That was a rather strange experience.

5. Career Choices


The time between the final exams of the Abitur and the beginning of university studies was called “mule-time”, maybe because at that time one is neither horse nor donkey. During that period I had time to think about my future career, which, for various reasons, was not all that simple in my case. I have mentioned before that I developed a strong interest in technology and engineering during my last school years. Therefore I was tempted to go into electrical engineering, which is also mentioned in my Abitur diploma as my prospective profession. However, to be admitted, a practical year was requested, which was supposed to be physically very exhausting. Since I was lightly built and not very robust it was feared that I might not be up to these demands. Moreover, it turned out that it was financially impossible for me to study at a Technical University, since we did not have relatives whom I could have stayed with in any of the towns that had such universities.

Of course, I had also thought of becoming a professional musician and would have probably made a reasonably good violinist or musicologist. Vaeting objected strongly, though, pointing out that music was a very pleasant spare-time occupation and a source of much artistic enjoyment, but to earn one’s living in this way made for a very hard life indeed. Considering the life we led at home, this was impossible to contradict.

Apart from these ideas, I had no strong inclinations towards any particular profession. This might have been due to the fact that my interests were quite broad, covering the natural sciences, but also questions of philosophy. Medicine might have offered a certain synthesis between these extremes. It was not the work of the medical practitioner that interested me; I was fascinated by the theoretical point of view, the possibility of a more general view of man. Since the study of medicine was the most time- and money-consuming professional training, though, it was also out of reach for me.

I do not remember who proposed a kind of compromise and suggested that I should become a dentist. As a profession it was related to medicine, but the training was considerably shorter and, last but not least, it was also financially rewarding. Thus I started out as a prospective dentist, but it took me only one semester to realize that this was not what I wanted after all, and despite everything I finally turned to medicine. I was lucky that my one semester of dentistry counted towards my medical studies. This meant that contrary to my experience transferring from the Realschule to the Gymnasium, which this change reminded me of, I did not have to catch up with any subject.

After my medical state examination, the variety of my interests manifested itself in the choice of my specialized professional career. I decided to specialize in psychiatry and neurology, a border area touching on philosophy, psychology, theology and legal issues. In later years, I thought that I could have gained satisfaction from working in each of these fields, had I chosen them as careers. In retrospect I think that anthropology would have been an ideal field for me, but at the time it did not exist in its present form. At any rate, at the end of my professional career I was mostly interested in psychological-anthropological issues.

6. Studies


After the Abitur, I was invited to spend some time with Wera and her husband, Reinhold Alsen, on their estate in Schoenwalde near Koenigsberg to recover from the school stress and all the excitement. Thus I traveled to East Prussia, originally intending to merely spend my vacations there.

I thoroughly enjoyed the pleasures of a healthy country life, the walks through the fields, the carriage rides, the tours through the stables. Thus my visit lasted longer than anticipated. Finally it was suggested that I should start my studies in Koenigsberg, since we had many relatives in that town with whom I could stay if I did not want to live in Schoenwalde, which was only 15 kilometers from Koenigsberg. Generally, I could count on support. I could not resist this temptation, especially since I had become a little irresponsible due to the carefree life I had grown used to, and I had already missed the official beginning of the semester. A late matriculation was possible, though, and therefore I registered as a student for dentistry. The solemn matriculation ceremony, which should have been especially meaningful for me, has practically slipped my mind for a very special reason.

It was a beautiful warm day in early summer and I was supposed to be in Koenigsberg for the matriculation ceremony shortly before noon. I went to look for Wera to make sure that the carriage, which should take me to the small train station, was ordered. I found her in the so-called “ice-cellar,” where she was busy bottling homemade red currant wine. But it was not only a question of bottling, there was also the tasting, which did not remain without consequences, considering the fast and lasting effects of this beverage, which was also called “Koppskegelwein”  in East Prussia. Wera was already in an excellent mood and soon I was extremely cheerful as well. Koenigsberg and the matriculation ceremony were completely forgotten, when, suddenly, we heard the noise of the carriage outside. I rushed outside and was met by glaring sunshine, which made my head turn. I was quite dizzy when I arrived in Koenigsberg, and the matriculation ceremony, still a very dignified affair at that time, passed like a dream and I could hardly remember anything later.

To economize, and because the semester was already quite advanced, I took very few theoretical courses and concentrated on dental technology. Thus I sat in the technical laboratory of the institute of dentistry on Paradeplatz [Parade Square] and learned how to construct crowns, bridges and dentures. But I also enjoyed Koenigsberg, the big town. I had been given a seasonal ticket for the Tiergarten [zoo], where I was a regular visitor. Most of all, I attended the Tiergarten concerts, which were often excellent.

This pleasant life came to an abrupt end when World War I broke out on August 1st, 1914. Since politics had never interested me the catastrophe hit me quite unexpectedly. The experience probably was the same for most people, who could not imagine a war after 44 years of peace. East Prussia was a border region and therefore threatened by the Russians. Soon, it was haunted by an almost panic-stricken fear of spies and agents. Everybody who did not carry a passport or some other official identification was suspect.

Since I originally had traveled to East Prussia with the intention of spending a few quiet weeks there, I had not notified the police in Greifswald of my change of address. For that reason I only had my student identification, which was not sufficient in such a situation. Under these circumstances I decided to return home immediately to avoid any trouble with the authorities. I managed to get on one of the last trains packed with summer guests escaping from the East Prussian sea resorts.

Thus I found myself back in Greifswald and had to reconsider what to do next. That dentistry would never satisfy me and was not what I wanted to do in life had already become quite clear during my first semester in Koenigsberg. Therefore I matriculated in medicine after the summer vacation. I had discovered that I could count on considerable scholarship money, since Greifswald was a wealthy university at that time and Vaeting’s strained financial circumstances were well known. Despite this, I tried to economize as much as possible, and took only the most important subjects and lectures. Later, in the pre clinical examinations, this caused me considerable embarrassment.

During the two following semesters, the winter of 1914-15 and summer of 1915 I studied medicine in Greifswald. The lecture halls gradually became more and more empty because of the draft and the numbers of the professors and lecturers were reduced for the same reason. Among my former classmates, the war was already taking its toll. I still remember how we were dissatisfied with our times in 9th grade, because nothing ever happened. It had seemed very dull to our young minds, hungry for action. Now we were suddenly faced with times so full of action that, already during the first year of the war, almost half of my former classmates lost their lives.

I worked very hard during the 2nd semester until I was called up. Military duty started at age 20. Because of the small number of students, the lecturers and students became closer, more personal than they had been before or again after the war, for that matter, when the universities were swamped with students. I was particularly interested in anatomy and in the history of evolution, especially the evolution of the brain. Both professors of anatomy were in the war, and the subject was represented by a young lecturer, Dr. V. Moellendorf, who was quite well known already then and would later become one of the world’s most renowned anatomists and the editor of a big anatomical reference book. Moreover, I was an eager client of the university library, where I took out all sorts of books and carried them home. Karl May was now replaced by Darwin, Haeckel, Kant and Schopenhauer. I also took an interest in the religious and philosophical writings of India, which brought me in touch with Sanskrit, which in turn led to an interest in and occupation with languages. I also spent much time on my violin and gave private lessons. Thus my schedule was always packed. All of this was overshadowed by the war. After the first “enthralling” victories, the western front froze in the trench warfare. When Italy entered the war against us, the spectre of a long war and shortage of food became even more menacing. This stage of my life ended when I was called up after my 20th year. Before that, though, I was confronted with an experience which shocked me deeply, and which I could come to terms with only much later.

7. The Disclosure


Shortly before being called up, I was asked one day to come to the town hall to “complete my personal data.” After a few general remarks about my studies the official asked for the personal data of my parents. After I had given them to him he replied, obviously somewhat embarrassed, “These are not your parents. You are an adopted, illegitimate child. Your mother’s name is not Marie, but Clara Moser. You do not seem to know this and therefore we wanted to inform you.”

I expected the ground to open at my feet and I returned home in a state of shock. At first I refused to believe it and suspected some misunderstanding. On my way home though, I remembered many things that had seemed mysterious at the time, but now began to make sense. For example, I had always received strikingly lavish presents from Aunt Clara, and Muett had occasionally made remarks that I had to be particularly nice to her. I had always seen this as a consequence of my not very affectionate manner towards her and had not given the matter much thought.

At home, the veil was quickly lifted. Muett embraced me in tears and assured me that she had simply not dared to tell me the truth and that I should not think badly of her and that, to her, I was like her own child. Vaeting added some remarks, partly apologetic, partly soothing. Among other things, he told me that I could not imagine how much trouble the family had given him. From this remark I concluded—wrongly, as it turned out—that he was, after all, my real father, especially since the official at the town hall had not said anything about my father. I learned only later that my assumption was mistaken and that everything was quite different. Finally, I learned that my real father was a Koenigsberg merchant by the name of Max Maync [1870-1911], who was already dead. To keep the disgrace a secret, Muett had offered to put up her sister, Clara Moser, at her home in Wiborg until I was born, one of the advantages being that it was quite far away. Then they kept me and raised me with their two daughters. This was facilitated by the fact that Muett, whose maiden name was Moser, did not have to change her name after her marriage, because Vaeting was her cousin and his name was Moser as well. As a result, I had the same family name.

It took me quite a while to digest this news. The result was a considerable psychological trauma with two psychologically interesting aspects.

First, I felt unsettled and uprooted. I was not the person I thought, for 20 years, I was. I was not the son of the people I had taken for my parents. I was flooded by a feeling of depersonalization. Subjectively, I had lived a kind of sham life and everybody except me had known about it. The insincerity connected with this did hurt me, of course, even though I was aware that, on the part of my foster parents, everything had been done with the best possible intentions. At any rate, my trust in humanity was thoroughly shaken for the first time.

In this context, I would like to say a few things about the so-called “call of the blood,” according to which the mother and child in particular are supposed to feel or sense their blood relation, even if they have never seen each other before. One can hear and read heart-moving stories about this. I must admit that, on the grounds of my own experience, I strongly doubt the omnipotence of such “blood bonds.” In any case, I have never felt such deeply rooted, instinctive love for my real mother. On the contrary I had felt a certain dislike for her from my earliest childhood, because, or in spite of her trying so   hard to win me over on her occasional visits. Without wanting to generalize, I would still think that the imprint of the immediate environment of a child, and especially the influence of those giving the daily love and care, can create closer and deeper ties. Behavioral studies and observations in animal psychology point in the same direction. Even after I knew of our relationship, I was never able to accept my real mother or even call her by that name. When, shortly after World War I, I was forced to spend some time with her in Koenigsberg, there even were quite unpleasant scenes, where she complained about my reserved manner towards her. Her apartment belonged to a Huguenot foundation of the reformed church, a so-called Stift [old people’s home]. These unpleasant experiences and the whole atmosphere, stifled by dark emotions and tensions, produced a negative, uncommunicative manner in me. Another effect was a withdrawn, brooding facial expression, which disappeared after some time, but always reappeared if this issue was touched upon. This “Stiftsgesicht” [“Stift’s face”], as it came to be called in the family chronicle, also tended to show up at the sight of unwelcome visitors. So much for its history.

I think that at the heart of all these conflicts were not so much the psychological and pedagogical errors that were committed. Rather, it was the violation of the most deeply rooted laws and the most natural demands of maternal behavior. Later, I was able to rationalize much of this, to understand and explain it to myself. I also forced myself to reach a “status vivendi,” or a kind of “coexistence,” to use a modern political term. But I never managed to develop the kind of affection for my mother that is required and expected from a child. These emotions belonged to my foster parents, together with my love and gratitude.

I not only felt self-alienated and uprooted when I was informed of my origins, I also felt debased. To understand this one has to realize that, in those times, an illegitimate birth was considered a disgrace; illegitimacy was a defect. Illegitimate children were “bastards” who did not have the same legal rights as the children born in wedlock. They were second-class citizens, fit only for subordinate positions. This attitude was quite prevalent, especially in so-called “educated circles,” and in Germany it took almost another two decades before illegitimate children would be granted the same rights as legitimate ones.

Since every human being is influenced by the habits and the thinking of his time, I felt degraded and no longer worthy of the professional career I was aspiring to. I felt almost like a criminal fearing detection and I developed a real inferiority complex. Every harmless question concerning name and birth dates of my parents, customarily asked when personal data are established by public authorities, caused a feeling of insecurity in me. I no longer knew whether I should continue to give the names of the foster parents or had to give the names of my real parents now.

Of course, there were also plenty of reasonable and enlightened people who were free of such prejudices, and who tried to make me understand that such views were old-fashioned and, from a biological point of view, nonsense.

In this context, I especially want to mention Dittchen, who showed such concern for me, with her lively temperament and her imaginative, exuberant manner: “Oh Kuerting, don’t worry about it. What people are talking is all nonsense anyhow. ‘Children of love’ are often much more talented than the others. You can see it in yourself. Vaeting was also an illegitimate child and despite that he has become a great conductor and nobody bothers about that anymore. Anyhow, there are many illegitimate children who have become celebrities and even crowned heads were born illegitimate. And, considering everything, Jesus was also illegitimate. And you even have noble blood, since we Mosers are the descendants of a French Huguenot family called Chaux des Essart. This is old French nobility going back to Louis XV and Madame Pompadour. And in a side-line we have descendants of the Polish prince Radziwill.”

I could not resist the involuntarily comical effects of this argument, nor could I close my eyes to the honest and affectionate offer of help which it expressed. Perhaps she also had instinctively resorted to the old psychological trick of overcoming one’s defects by “overcompensating” for them. By the way, in my line of ancestors I really found a lady whose maiden name was Radziwill! [Great-grandmother Christina Radziwill, 1793-1835]

All the same, a sore spot remained and life kept confronting me with realities that caused new conflicts. Thus for a long time, I was unable to lay this spectre to rest.

This may sound exaggerated, oversensitive or sentimental, but let me assure you that it is not. Even in later years, I found myself in very embarrassing situations. Just before our marriage, my good wife almost got into trouble at the registrar’s office because of my origins.

It will be best if I give a concrete example that demonstrates the reality of this issue very clearly. It is a story, which happened to me at the end of the 1920s in Koenigsberg and which sounds so extraordinary and unbelievable that it could come out of a bad novel. At that time, I was head physician and lecturer, and the director of my clinic was an old Geheimrat [high title of a civil servant] with a corresponding manner; that is, quite reserved, stiff and traditional, although conciliatory and understanding within his limits. We were both in his office, going through his incoming mail, when he pulled out a rather voluminous dossier and said, “This is a strange affair, Mr. Moser; we have here an old clergyman of the French-Reformed parish who has caused trouble for this hospital for years by making all sorts of unfounded statements. It is therefore suspected that he might not be quite normal and it was decided to have him examined in our clinic. He obviously is a querulous person. I had suggested to the board to take you for an expert. And now they write back that this clergyman refuses to accept you as an expert, because he claims to know from the church register that you are the illegitimate son of one of the ladies still living in his parish. He said that you sneaked into an academic career, which he considers a disgrace for the faculty. All this is, of course, pure nonsense. Something like this is quite impossible, but it fits well with the querulous, disoriented statements of this man, who, by the way, has also rejected others as biased. In this case it is probably better if I take the matter in hand myself, if you don’t mind. I assume that a brief comment for the record will suffice, since the matter seems to be obvious.” Having said this, he proceded serenely to the next point of the agenda without expecting any reaction from me.

I felt an abyss open in front of me and was grateful that no answer was expected from me. I am convinced that the old Geheimrat would have been as shocked as I was had he been told that at least this statement of the old clergyman was not based on illusion. It surpassed his imagination to such an extent that he saw no need to seriously consider it to be true. Therefore, there cannot be any doubt that this would have been a scandal, which would have cost me my position and my career. I left it to fate whether or not my “disgrace” would come to light, and during the following weeks, my emotional state was accordingly. It was possible, after all, that this ill-fated clergyman would also reject the Geheimrat, who was the superior of an unworthy head physician and lecturer. He could have proved the truth of his statements by means of the church register, even though that would have meant a serious breach of secrecy. This obviously did not happen though. I never heard of the matter again, and my fears gradually died down.

However, a few years later, the old spectre was raised again. National Socialism came to power and everybody had to prove their Aryan origins. University employees were requested to do this particularly thoroughly, down to the fourth generation. Otherwise, one was considered non-Aryan, and consequently lost one’s position.

Since equality for illegitimately born children was part of the national socialist’s program—the only advantage I had from this disastrous regime—the fact of my illegitimate birth was at least no longer incriminating and compromising. The old Geheimrat had died some time ago and his successor was the exact opposite. When I told him why I could not simply produce proof of my Aryan origin, he dismissed the whole matter with a half embarrassed, half humorous remark.

How was I to prove my Aryan origins, though, with my real father dead for more than 20 years, with no knowledge about him and his ancestors and with my birth having taken place in a foreign country? To get the necessary papers together seemed an almost hopeless endeavor. I was close to despair. Feeling bitter and increasingly allergic against these reappearing difficulties caused by my birth, I was ready to give up, all the more so since the completely unreasonable behavior of my real mother made everything even more difficult.

Here again it was my beloved wife who not only helped me emotionally but also took this matter in hand and brought the whole business to a successful end. It is hard to imagine today how much time and trouble, how many errands and letters this meant, how many inconveniences and difficulties she had to overcome. First it was necessary to get a statutory declaration about my father from my mother, who refused to give it. This was not only the obstinacy and stubbornness of old age, she also accused us heatedly that we were only out to compromise her. She claimed to be unable to give us the personal data about my father. All she told us was where he was buried. My good wife immediately started an investigation and it was like a miracle that she discovered the old grave behind some overgrown blackberry bushes. By means of entries in church registers and by further inquiries, she found out that a brother of my father was still alive in Berlin and also found his address. In this the rarity of the name proved quite helpful. This brother wrote back right away and was very nice and understanding. He also immediately sent a statutory declaration to the effect that he knew for sure that his deceased brother was my father. We also received information from him about other relatives and ancestors and finally land was in sight. In addition, we got a very nice and candid letter from one of my father’s sisters [Gertrud Maync], who lived in Stade. Thus my paternal ancestors were slowly lined up. All the documents then had to be sent to the “expert for race investigation” at the interior ministry in Berlin. On October 31st, 1933 I received a report that my paternal ancestors were accepted and my Aryan origins confirmed.

With this settled, this sad chapter, at least, seemed closed. Even in my years in Stralsund, though it happened that I was questioned because of discrepancies in questionnaires dating from different times—my mother’s first name was once given as Marie and once as Clara. In this case, though, the matter could be cleared up by phone.

In this context it is, by the way, remarkable that in the German Federal Republic [West Germany at the time], the equality of status between legitimate and illegitimate children was revoked after 1945. As I write this, I hear on the radio that there are plans to reestablish the equality of illegitimate children, but it is still uncertain as to when this law will be adopted! They are even saying that the biological nonsense about the illegitimate father not being officially related to the illegitimate child is still not abrogated.

I have talked more extensively about this “sore spot” in my life, this unfortunate “complex,” because it overshadowed my whole existence and was often hanging like the sword of Damocles over my professional and social life. Also, it was not without influence on my development insofar as it robbed me of my free-spiritedness and innocence, and considerably undermined my self-assuredness and self-confidence. Consequently, in later years, I always tried to be inconspicuous and went through life—so to speak—with one foot always on the brakes. Since I had a strong aversion against anything having to do with personal data and the filling in of questionnaires, I avoided all changes of place or position as much as possible. This was definitely a disadvantage for my professional career, and ran counter to my basically quite active disposition. Many things that might have turned out differently can probably be explained by this “key experience.”

I want to come back to the year 1915, now, though. My conscription into the army helped me to overcome the first shock, since I had neither time nor reason to brood on the matter. As I mentioned before, the second crisis leading to a total estrangement from my mother only took place in 1919. But that time, the heavens were merciful and sent an angel to heal the newly opened wounds.

8. World War I


In October 1915, I received my orders for the army. After I was found fit for garrison duty, I was assigned to be a medic. For basic training, I went to Stettin [Szczecin, Poland], where I met up with a few former medical students from Greifswald. We lived eight men to a barrack, among them a heavyset butcher with horribly sweaty feet. I still remember our protests over having to share a room with this awful smelling man. One student even wanted to make an official complaint, which, of course, would have led to his own arrest. Luckily, our sergeant was able to calm him down and remove the aromatic fellow. We became accustomed to the military etiquette and learned how to walk and salute; then I was sent as a medic to a reserves hospital in Deutsch-Krone [Walcz, Poland], West Prussia. I gained my first medical experience there, although the two doctors in charge did not pay too much attention to their assistants. The town was rather dull. A fellow assistant was my only diversion. He was a professional painter who used every free minute to paint while I watched him. With his help, I finished three small oil paintings, which I gave away later in Greifswald and Schoenwalde.

The boredom and rather easy work must have agreed with me quite well, because after another medical exam in the beginning of 1916, I was found fit for active service. I went back to Stettin to the Fuesilier regiment 34, Queen of Sweden,” a former Swedish regiment, for more basic infantry training. The regime was not especially strenuous. As a so-called Einjaehriger, or first-year conscript, I did not have to live on the post any longer, but was able to live in a rented room nearby. Thus I had a chance to spend some time in Stettin and its well-known theater. The opera was particularly good and I still remember excellent performances of “Mona Lisa,” conducted by Max von Schillings.

In the summer of 1916, I went as an infantry soldier to the east front to Duenaburg [Daugavpils, Latvia], where it was relatively quiet. The front we occupied was southeast of Duenaburg, which we were able to see through the stereo telescope. Our trench was near a lake, the other side of which were the Russian positions.

Even though fighting never broke out, the Russian sharpshooters sitting in trees across the lake nevertheless gave us some trouble. Once, when I was fetching water for shaving, one such soldier evidently had set his sights set on me, and his well-aimed shot hit the water right next to me. Being near this lake made life in the foxholes wet, and the rats running around at night were not particularly good company. They were especially hungry for our bread rations that we hung from the ceiling with wire. To kill time, we went after the beasts—which, by the way, had a lot of biological similarities to human beings—with our bayonets. Also unpleasant was the fact that our front line, because of the protection of the lake, was only sparsely occupied, forcing us to stay in our positions for a whole year without relief. In the winter, when the lake was frozen, we had to patrol the lake in white winter overcoats, although, at -40 degrees Celsius, we were pretty cold without fur coats. Our only ray of hope was the occasional assignment to Kowno [Kaunas, Lithuania], where the main headquarters under Hindenburg was located. Before our assignment, the old General Field Marshal Hindenburg himself visited our battalion unit and had a pleasant talk with the man next to me. I also saw him on several occasions in Kowno, so I got a rather good impression of the old Prussian warrior tradition.

It was in the spring of 1917 when I suddenly received orders to prepare to march, but not to go on a leave or begin the officer’s course as I initially thought. A new order was issued for all medics who had taken at least three semesters to return to school to finish their fourth semester. Then we were to take an exam, which, in times of peace, would only be taken after the completion of five semesters, and after the exam we would be assigned as medical doctors. The order was probably due to the fact that doctors were becoming scarcer.

I returned to school and signed up for all the necessary courses, including labs. Others were in the same position, and we all waited for the exam date. But things turned out otherwise. We learned unexpectedly that our original orders to report back to the university were a mistake and should have only applied to students who had taken four semesters. Not only were we not allowed to take the exam, but we were also ordered to return back to active duty. Of course, that came as a cold shower to us, and we returned with hanging heads to our original units, where we were received like deserters. According to the new order, though, I was assigned as a non-commissioned officer within a medical corps, a battalion of pioneers, which was situated beyond the front line. The unit was headed by a decent commander who took care of his men, so I was content.

I was assigned two medics, from Wuertenberg and Baden, who, with their strange southern accents, were loads of fun. When shortages arose in 1917, the two tried to augment our army rations with their regional recipes. They caught frogs, which they cleaned meticulously, fried and ate them. Shuddering, I refused their gracious invitations to join them. One time, though, they thoroughly did me in. One day, when the grub consisted of nothing more than a soup of dried vegetables, the medics appeared with a mess kit full of deliciously smelling bouillon with actual pieces of meat. In passing, they said that they got the soup from the bully in the kitchen in a trade for bandages. After I had eaten and praised the tasty treat, they burst out howling and admitted that they had prepared the bouillon using frog legs. But I did not throw up; the dish was absolutely delicious, and after that I joined them for their unusual meals.

In the summer of 1917, I also contracted dysentery, but got over it under the care of the regiment’s physician, an older internist, who also kept me for a few weeks of recovery, sharing his ration of white bread with me and teaching me methods of treatment, which would soon come in handy.

Idyllic life at the pioneer battalion was abruptly interrupted by a new order for me to go immediately to Greifswald and finish medical school. It had turned out that last year’s order was wrong after all.

As nice as the prospect of going back to school seemed, I received the new order with mixed feelings. First of all, I had forgotten most of the material required for the exam, and further, I had become a bit suspicious after having been sent back to the front line before. Not wanting to be disappointed again, I went back home by way of Berlin to get assurance from the respective department that the order was accurate. I was assured rather curtly that everything was correct and I should go back to Greifswald immediately and pass the exam.

Well, that is what I did. It was a rather amusing experience, with obstacles, which I would talk about later quite often. Thus I want to write about them here as well.

My main subject, anatomy, went brilliantly. The examiner and I knew each other. He was a professor who had just returned from the front. As I heard later he had said of me, “Here comes another one of those guys from active duty to take the final—what should I bother to ask him; they don’t know anything.” He was advised not to ask questions about his specialty, anatomy of the brain, a subject that was particularly feared. But since everything seemed to go smoothly for me during my exam, he got on his hobby horse and he was delighted by my knowledge even of his specialty. I received an A. According to the rules, I had now already passed my exam with a B, because one was allowed to make up failed courses, which I could not do because I was only on active duty leave. Physiology and chemistry went well, too, but then came my three most critical subjects, which I had never heard any lectures in. I was particularly behind in botany, because I could not differentiate a violet from a forget-me-not, or a lily of the valley from a snowdrop. Fortunately, it was winter and I could not be tested on the widely-dreaded bed of medical flowers. I had studied plenty of theoretical knowledge, so I fared pretty well. But then the professor fetched a pile of mounted dried leaves from his herbarium for me to identify. Naturally I was way out of my league until the gracious, but despairing examiner finally presented me with a plate picturing a leaf with a grape next to it. Asked what it was I answered, “a grape leaf.” We were both enormously relieved and he said, “That will do, you have demonstrated that you know the material; you have passed.”

I had never attended any lectures in zoology either, because they were not required. Being a Greifswald native, though, I had the advantage of knowing the score. The zoologist, Professor Mueller, commonly known as “Ameisenmueller” [“Ant-Mueller”], was hard of hearing, which candidates took advantage of by prompting fellow students through an open door near the desk. The cheating became so indiscreet that the professor finally caught on and moved his exam to another part of the room. Fortunately, there was a second door there, and I posted an assistant there, as well as at the door near the desk. Both assistants had drilled me before the exam and everything went smoothly. I passed zoology as well.

Then came the worst, physics, a story I saved for the end. In truth, I had always shown a lot of interest in physics. In high school, I was at the top of the class, so I figured I knew more than enough for a medical student. Unfortunately it turned out otherwise. I was warned that Professor Stark, who had recently won the Nobel Prize, did not care whether one was a medical student or not and was liable to ask medical students the most unusual questions. He also demanded that we sign up for two lectures as well as a lab course. However, I had only signed up for one lecture.

The outcome, therefore, wasn’t surprising. I failed the exam miserably, because he was on a higher plane and asked about concepts I had never heard of before. When he realized that this was my last test subject and I had passed all the others, including anatomy, with distinction, that I had just come up from the front, decorated with the Iron Cross and the insignia of the front line fighter, he decided to give me another chance to take the test in the afternoon. It went a little better, but my answers still did not satisfy him. “With these results of yours, I really can’t pass you. Besides, you never took my lab course. What am I supposed to do with you? There is no time to test you again, because you have to go back to the front right away.” Well, I had expected him to say that. Humbly, I said: “Professor, the war is not going to last forever.” (It was over in less than a year.) “Can I possibly sign up for your lab course then?” That surely was the right approach. Thank goodness he replied, “That is an excellent idea. I noticed, as a medical student, you completed your anatomy major with distinction and have good grades otherwise. So I will let you pass with a ‘C’ and after the war you can make up my lab course.”

In those days, one could still pass the medical exam and become a decent doctor without selling one’s soul. Well, I never made up that lab course. First of all, I viewed my promise only as a way to avoid an embarrassing situation, so I did not feel bound by it. Secondly, Professor Stark left Greifswald, and settled in southern Germany as a private scholar.

Upon returning to my unit, I became a Feldunterarzt, or medical N.C.O. This was a new rank for medics who had just finished their exam, and was established only during the war. The rank was comparable to the position of an officer’s candidate, so it was equivalent to sergeant and I didn’t wear any officer’s insignia. Nevertheless I was entitled to a horse and an orderly and was allowed to eat in the officers’ mess hall. The new Feldunteraerzte were stationed in a field hospital to learn the basics of practical medicine so they could be placed as medics in the field later. I was sent to my division’s field hospital, where I officially was to serve until the war was over.

The senior medical officer at the hospital was an active staff doctor who was always around, especially around the new medics, but he was not malicious. He represented the type of doctor the would-be poet, Eugen Roth, describes: “The staff doctor, being an optimist, always finds you healthier than you really are.” He was a surgeon, and therefore headed the surgery unit. On his desk was a picture of his wife, handsome and well endowed. When he was in a good mood, he would rave about her, humming a song with the refrain, “rock it, rock it.”

An older doctor with the rank of officer [Stabsarzt] was in charge of internal medicine. He was an old-style doctor, a heavyset man with a pince-nez, and reliable, hard working and trustworthy. Also part of the officers’ mess were three younger doctors, the chief pharmacist, and last, but not least, the division dentist, whom I will write more about later. He was from the Rhein region, an enjoyable and delightful man whose greatest pride was a long sword he wore even on duty, although it was against the regulations. He was engaged to be married and loved women. This was the circle of camaraderie and harmony where my military medical training took place over the next four months.

We two Feldaerzte had to use horses, so we had to learn how to ride from the Stabsarzt himself. His lessons consisted merely of him chasing after us. However, then he would whip our horses, whereupon they would take off like mad, their riders trying desperately not to be thrown off. Accordingly, our riding skills were rather poor. I was issued a very large mare, named Brigitte, who actually broke down once under my weight after standing for a long time without being fed. Another time, when our field unit southeast of Lake Peipus [shared between Estonia and Russia] was advancing, I was riding a wild little Russian horse that suddenly bolted and ran along the entire front until I finally got him under control, to everybody’s great amusement.

There was hardly any fighting in the East at that time. The work was easy, and we had a lot of free time to kill. Doppelkopf was the card game of choice among the medics. Our Stabsarzt also joined in the fun. But the older more conservative generation was not too keen on the game. Thus he ordered the younger medics to make the fourth man, which we were supposed to consider a great honor. We younger men, though, the dentist included, found this all too boring, and formed our own club, the Mauschelclub.

Mauscheln is a game of chance. The fact that it was illegal made it even more attractive. Sometimes we played for quite a lot of money. Our salary, including the extra pay for front-line duty, was pretty good and occasionally we doubled and tripled our kitty. We called that a small and great intermezzo. But money was not the only reason we played. For me, the fun of the game was to calculate the other players’ moves, based on their reactions, behavior and underlying character, to help me win. We often played late into the night and I have to give my horse the credit for bringing me back to my quarters in total darkness and not winding up near enemy lines.

The high point and also the end of our Mauschelclub was our final game after the war ended. Now in separate assignments at the military hospital in Wesel [on the Rhine river, near the Dutch border], we all got together at the end of November, 1918. We met at the dentist’s, who rented quarters from a wine wholesaler and supplied the wine. That evening I was incredibly lucky and won such an enormous amount of money that I was able to study several more semesters. I completely plundered our host, who was losing especially badly. After all of his money was gone he still did not want to stop playing and produced, teary-eyed, his long sword, his pride and joy, for money, and I gave up all the money I had won from him. He lost again and, like it or not, I had to take his money and sword. They were gambling debts, debts of honor. When I was called in 1936 by the reserves for an exercise as a medic officer—I was the last medical officer in reserve, which gave me the rank of captain—the sword had served me so well that I did not need to buy such an instrument of murder myself.

For the moment, we were still in the East, and after four months of training at the field hospital, I was assigned to several units in Kurland [region southwest of Riga, Latvia] as a battalion medic. I had to do immunizations, be on sick call, treat minor injuries myself, and send major cases to a field hospital. To get around I used a little carriage and a quick, small horse. On the side, I also treated some civilians who wanted to be treated by a German doctor, which was highly thought of in those days. I was usually paid with food, such as butter, eggs and meat, items that were in short supply in those days. I had no problem communicating with people as I had picked up a little Russian. Only on one occasion, when I was invited to the home of a Russian pharmacist, did my Russian prove to be insufficient. His charming wife was from the Baltic region and knew German, but he, a native of the Caucasian mountains, was Russian to the core and understood neither a word of German nor my poor Russian. During dinner, though, a mead beer-like drink, shmakushka, loosened our tongues a bit. We started to dig up Latin and Greek words in an effort to build a rapport. The next day the pharmacist’s kind wife told me how amused she was, listening to our language foibles.

However, this contemplative and almost peaceful way of life in the east came to a quick end in September 1918. I was on my way to the headquarters for my instructions only to find out that it had disappeared. As it turned out, the division had suddenly departed for the west and forgotten me at my remote post. I applied for the necessary identification papers and prepared to join my field hospital in Flanders [region in western Belgium]. I took my time to get there, though, reminding myself that a single person travels faster than a whole division.

My first stop was Koenigsberg. From there I went to Schoenwalde for a few days. On my way to Berlin I stopped at a military collecting center for further directions. There I met a paramedic from my old unit. We decided to spend some time in Berlin before I left. We went to the Wintergarten, where we saw a lively operetta, “Die Faschingsfee” [“The Carnival Fairy”]. Then, we left for Gent [Belgian town].

We did not see much of the Belgium landscape, except some windmills and train cars carrying the most beautiful fruits, vegetables and flowers. At the train station in Ghent there was an air raid and I had to leave my suitcase and duffel bag behind. When we returned weeks later, I made an attempt to collect my belongings and, what do you know, they were still there. I got them back in good condition. Back then, orderliness still prevailed!

I found my division in the area of Bruegge-Ostende. It had arrived sooner than expected. The men went into action immediately. Fighting and casualties were heavy. It was dangerous here and the shooting took some getting used to after being at the peaceful eastern front. I was assigned to a near guard formation as a medic, a less desirable post, since we constantly had to retreat from the English and we knew they would capture us soon if the fighting continued this way. But we were saved by the armistice of November 9th, 1918.

I will never forget the sudden peace and quiet that set in after all the shooting of the infantry and artillery. Likewise, as the soldiers emerged from their foxholes after a while, to retreat in star-like formations toward their units in total peace and order.

In the ensuing retreat by way of Aachen I never witnessed any disciplinary infractions, plundering or mutiny. The so-called “Hindenburg-retreat” proceeded as planned without complications, as far as I could see. After a short rest in Aachen, we went to Krefeld, where we were the last unit to cross the Rhine river before the deadline, once again not having to become prisoners of war.

From Krefeld, we marched back to Wesel [about 40 km], where we ran into old acquaintances from the field hospital and had our last Mauschelparty, which I have already mentioned. I was assigned to a field artillery unit, and a train brought us to Kolberg (now Kolobrzeg, Poland), where it was stationed. I did not see any “red soldier councils” or disturbances there, either. The troops marched into town, which was our unit’s garrison town, and were welcomed by the townspeople. Although we stayed in our uniforms later on, no one ever harassed us.

As there was a shortage of medical doctors in Kolberg, I was not immediately discharged, but assigned as assistant doctor at a surgical unit. Through my connection with an old classmate from Greifswald, a staff officer, I was able to get a leave for Christmas. I was discharged from the army at the end of January 1919.

I would not want to finish this chapter without making a few remarks about my observations of the soldiers in World War I. Having lived under the emperor’s reign for 24 years, 14 years in the so-called “System Time” [Weimar Republic], 12 years under the Nazis, and 21 years since then [Communism], I feel I can compare the two World Wars.

My impression is that the moral-ethical basis of the armies during the emperor’s rule was never fully realized in later years. I witnessed the beginning of the war in 1914 and, later, in 1939. In 1914, everyone seemed convinced that we were being pulled into a war of defense. That was not the case in 1939. At least we from the older generation saw that Hitler started the war, and we anticipated with great pessimism.

The sad ending of World War I does not in any way compare with the catastrophe of 1945. In the fall of 1918 not a foot of German land was occupied. The retreat of the army in total orderliness was a strategic masterpiece of Hindenburg, indeed, his last task, which probably also was the hardest for him. In the spring of 1945, with the whole country in ruins and occupied by enemy troops, Germany was a picture of total disintegration and hopeless flight, reminiscent of the retreat of Napoleon’s armies.

9. Completing School


When I returned to Greifswald, I tried to finish my studies as quickly as possible. Doctors were in great need, and to help veterans finish school faster, special semesters were introduced that allowed me to finish two clinical semesters late in the summer of 1919. Meanwhile, life at home was getting harder financially and food was in short supply. I had to consider leaving Greifswald. My only choice was to go to Koenigsberg, where I had a lot of relatives. I had to forego my stipend, but for the moment I still had some money from the “Mauschel” winnings. First I was invited to stay with Edith, who had married her cousin Paul Gramatzki, a pharmacist who owned a small drugstore in Hennstedt, Dithmarschen. I had plenty of food and helped out at the pharmacy, which proved useful in later years. The little town in Dithmarschen, where Gustav Frenssen had worked had good pastures and showed no signs of food shortages. The townspeople were devoted to the muses. The minister’s wife played the piano well and it was for her that I played my first Beethoven Sonata. There was also an old doctor, formerly a district physician and the first violin of a string quartet. He had composed a wedding and a funeral march in the form of quartets. However, when they were performed the sheets had gotten mixed up, thus two players played the wedding march while the other two players played the funeral march. As some malicious people claimed though, the audience supposedly did not notice.

Paul and Edith—called “Pegrams,” a contraction of their first name initials and their last name, Gramatzki—also advised me to move to Koenigsberg, where I could finish my studies and not burden my family financially. When the new semester approached, I received a letter from Wera inviting me to visit, and I took up the offer.

When I arrived in Schoenwalde, Wera picked me up from the Kleinbahnstation [train station]. She was accompanied by three young women who worked for her as private tutors and servants. They walked in front of us, and Wera mentioned jokingly that she would help me out if I decided to pick a girl from around here. But that did not interest me in the least; I had other problems in those days! As it turned out though, one of those young women, just 17 at the time, later became my wife!

In Koenigsberg I still had to take three semesters before taking my final exam. It was a difficult time for me. I was short of everything and had to save every penny. Most of all I lacked the money to buy my textbooks, which were very expensive. Thus I visited the library to learn the necessary theory. I also used part of my vacation to help out in several hospitals, so, in the end, I had accomplished everything that I was supposed to do.

I spent time in Schoenwalde on the weekends, as well as between semesters, and especially before the finals. Wera and her husband treated me with great affection. He had a suit made for me in Koenigsberg by his own tailor, as my clothing situation was pretty dire. He also gave me a simple but decent violin. I treasured that in particular, since music meant so much to me and had helped me through difficult times before.

Schoenwalde was always bustling with activity. There were a lot of children, young women, the young tutor and two au pair girls, who were there to learn how to keep house on a farm. Numerous relatives visited on the weekends, mostly aunts from Koenigsberg who came for a good meal. Normally, there were 10-12 people at dinner.

For my part, I was a less outgoing guest. In those days I was going through my “Stift’s-crisis,” and was reserved and less approachable. Nor was I cheered by the tutor of the three children, a quiet, nice girl, but with a slight ‘basedow’ disorder, who was obviously interested in me. She always seemed to have one of her heart problems when I was nearby, whereupon I was called for help as a doctor-in-training!

The young girl that Wera had warmly recommended to me on my arrival was a distant niece of hers. She had just finished school the same year in a Pension [boarding school] in Koenigsberg and was now sent to Schoenwalde by her mother, who lived in close-by Labiau, to learn housekeeping for a year while distancing her somewhat from the starvation in the city.

At first, we did not take much notice of one another. As she confessed to me later, she did not even like me much, because of my withdrawn, coldly rejecting, ironically instructive way. As soon as she heard me play the violin, though—I had also played sonatas with her mother once, when she had visited—she told herself that anyone who plays with so much expression and emotion cannot possibly be so cold and emotionally withdrawn, and just appears or acts that way. But why? It was perhaps at this moment when something “clicked” between us.

This young, robust human soul, who had at first seemed to me naive and a little coy, slowly revealed a maturity, purity and depth of soul [Gemuet] that gave me back my belief in humankind. She also had experienced the seriousness and tragedy of life early on. She had lost her father at age four and her elder and only brother just three years before very suddenly to diphtheria. Also, the struggle of existence was not unfamiliar to her, as her mother could not live off the modest head forester’s pension alone and was forced to give piano lessons to make ends meet.

That is how our souls connected and over the years developed a beautiful and deep friendship that reconciled me with my fate.

Since Wera was her aunt, even though they were not related by blood, but only distantly through marriage, “Sie” (official form of address) between her and me, her so-called “uncle,” was soon replaced by “Du” (casual form of address). So at first the friendship between uncle and niece did not arouse any suspicion. But this innocent friendship grew into something more for us. This friendship became the true discovery of the “Du”—a revelation which must have its roots in the subatomic or the astrophysical or both. She became the star of my life, which became endowed with a new sense and meaning.

One day before Christmas Eve, on December 23rd, 1920, I finished my state examination as a doctor of medicine, which went very smoothly. I was one point short of an ‘A’ average, because the examiner in pediatrics as a rule gave out only C’s. Even the chairman of the board of examiners, who spoke up for me, could not change that. Because I was a veteran my work as a corpsman was credited towards the yearlong medical internship one was required to perform after the state examination. So along with the copy of the certificate stating that I passed the state examination I was handed a certificate which qualified me to practice medicine [Approbationsurkunde].

A little later, March 13th, 1921, a Sunday, Ilse and I—who meanwhile had finished her apprenticeship and was living back in Labiau with her mother—met in Schoenwalde. On this day we vowed to spend our lives together. The next day she traveled back home. The charming story of how she told her completely unsuspecting mother about our quiet engagement has been a source of amusement for her relatives for a long time after and should not be omitted here. On that very same Sunday her mother had been to Koenigsberg to hear “Tristan and Isolde” and the next morning at the coffee table was obviously still enthralled by the artistic sensibilities of the piece. The following dialogue developed:

Mother: “Usually I miss you when you aren’t around to enjoy music. Yesterday, for the first time, that was not the case, because you are not yet mature enough for the high song of love, my lovely child. And now, what did you do in Schoenwalde yesterday?”

Then, the lovely child, promptly and laconically: “I...I got engaged, yesterday.”

The impact is said to have been almost overwhelmingly funny, something one can only fully understand by knowing the vivacious and energetic woman her mother was, and by picturing her speechless almost choking on her food.

Our engagement did not stay concealed among all our gossiping relatives in Koenigsberg for long, of course. However, there is nothing more attractive for a certain category of aunts than to spy on a young couple and, similar for old uncles, to get excited about “what shall become of this, when he has nothing and neither has she; the mother-in-law will end up with the children on her back.”

It was irony of fate, though, that of all people, this particular uncle later asked me for a pretty big sum and forgot again and again to pay me back, so I finally sent him the torn promissory note for his birthday.

Officially, though, we made our engagement public in November 1921, after I took my degree as a Doctor of Medicine.


10. Clinician


In 1921, a new part of my life began. My professional training was completed and I was awarded my certificate to practice medicine. Thus I was in a position to seek out a clientele and establish myself immediately. But for several reasons that was out of the question. On one hand, I lacked the necessary funds, and on the other hand I did not feel capable of measuring up to the demands of private practice, due in part to my shortened professional training during the war. Most of all, though, the general practice of medicine did not correspond with my personal preferences. I wanted to specialize. Indeed, I hoped to pursue my earlier interest in diseases of the brain and of the nervous system and thus the study of psychiatry and neurology. So I was quite gratified when Professor Klieneberger, who gave me straight A’s in my state examinations in that exact subject, asked me if I wanted to specialize in it. He could offer me a position at the university hospital for neurological diseases, where he was the head physician. Although this was not a paid position, I would get free room and board and could earn some pocket money on the side by working as a consultant. I could also use some of my time to pursue a post-graduate degree.

Since even unpaid trainee positions, especially at university hospitals, were rare in postwar times, because there were too many qualified doctors, the offer was so tempting that I agreed to take it. After all, the best guarantee for specialized training was a university setting. Back then, an internship took three years. Thus, for this period, the path of my professional life was going to be set and I could also count on eventually being promoted to a paid position as an assistant doctor.

So I moved to the Psychiatric Hospital and Clinic for Neurological Diseases in Koenigsberg. It would become my workplace for the next 14 years. Like all hospitals of this kind, the clinic was situated a little bit outside the city on the so-called Veilchenberg [Hill of Violets]. The hospital was the most modern of its kind in Germany, as it had only been completed in 1913, just before the war.

It was surrounded by open space. The passing road—the old Pillauer Landstrasse—was bordered by old cemeteries on both sides. These, on a walk with our oldest son when he was three years old, inspired him to ask the following rather logical question: “Are all the sick people that Daddy treated at the hospital buried here?”

The director of the hospital was Geheimrat E. Meyer, who was around 50 years old and in his prime when I started working there. Only ten years later, I would bury him. The head-physician, as mentioned above, was Professor Klieneberger, who tested me in my state examinations and got me the position. Neither he nor I imagined back then that I would be his successor only five years later. I moved into a very nice room in the hospital. Like most of the doctors’ apartments, it was located in the attic of the main building. I quickly got accustomed to life in the hospital, because the rapport among the doctors was very friendly. Besides the director, Geheimrat Meyer, and the head-physician, Professor Klieneberger, there were three assistants working and living at the hospital, including an older female specialist.

The Geheimrat, while kind, had a rather formal and impersonal attitude that put a great deal of distance towards him, which was bridged to a large degree by the lively and vivacious head physician, who was the exact opposite. Appropriately, the director’s family was referred to as the “holy family.” Although his wife, the daughter of a surgery professor, was very vivid and talkative—in contrast to her very dignified husband [his first name was “Ernst,” which translates into English as “serious”]—she still clung to the formalities of German academic etiquette. She seemed compelled to peer down from her residence, which was located at the entrance to the hospital area, and watch whether or not the hospital employees showed up on time for work, especially those doctors who lived off campus. Word had it that she had a telescope in her room, which she used to inspect every arrival. When I belonged to that category of commuters after I got married, I avoided the uncomfortable control of her eyes. I got into the hospital by means of two secret paths around the main entrance through the back. She was probably wondering why she never saw me.

At the beginning of my time in the hospital, I had a little experience that was characteristic of the rigid atmosphere at the Geheimrat’s home.

It was customary for all new doctors to be invited to a formal dinner, along with a few selected guests. In other words, I was to appear in formal dress at seven thirty, so I could be passed around the family and tested by Ms. Kaethe [the Geheimrat’s wife] as to whether or not I possessed the required social graces. Well, my wardrobe was in very bad shape in those days. What young doctor had the chance to legally acquire the right clothes for any given situation, considering the increasing prices right after the war? Luckily, though, I owned a flawless tuxedo with fine silk ruffles on the lapels. I had it since my confirmation, but had not worn it much at all for lack of opportunity. It seemed to be the right outfit to wear for this official invitation, and I showed up, on time and reassured. It took a little while until the Geheimrat appeared to mention a little piquedly that I was rather early. To my remark that I was invited to be there at half past seven he replied reluctantly that he must have been mistaken, because the guests were scheduled to arrive at eight o’clock. That was already quite embarrassing. But then he began to scrutinize me critically from all sides—the lights were not on yet and it was a little dim—and I started to feel uncomfortable and worried that I had made another faux pas. He said that it was good that I was early after all, because it would give me time to go back to the hospital quickly to change. Other people from the faculty would be coming, and it would be a rather festive event. Now I was really a bit perplexed, because I had felt pretty safe in my fine tuxedo. Accordingly, I made a remark to this effect, whereupon he, now a little unsure of himself, apologized and disappeared. Instead, a moment later Ms. Kaethe [his wife] showed up. She turned on the lights and saw me in my “gala suit.” She immediately grasped the situation and saved it by acknowledging the appropriateness of my dress with the greatest kindness. Then she scolded her husband, who, in his absent-mindedness, had apparently invited me to come at the wrong time. The rest of the evening proceeded without further incident and if their future treatment of me was any indication, I apparently won the first round. But how would I have fared if I had not had my good silk suit??!

In another humorous example of the rigid, official tone within the “holy family,” a young assistant from the Rheinland [area of western Germany] was invited to be “inspected.”

He was very lively and impulsive and must have felt uncomfortable around this stiff etiquette, which was completely unfamiliar to him. He felt even more self-conscious with the Geheimrat’s wife being his partner at table. It seemed like she wanted to find out if he was a possible suitor for one of her eligible daughters. Therefore, she repeatedly involved him in conversation to the point that he hardly had any time to eat. For dinner we had partridge that was cooked a little long and it was hard to cut. It happened that the assistant wanted to use a lull in the conversation to enjoy this, in those times, rare and delicious dish. He filled his mouth abundantly and thereby managed to ingest some pieces of bone along with the meat. As he was chewing and trying to rid himself of the bones in his overstuffed mouth as inconspicuously as possible, the esteemed lady, to his dismay, started to talk to him again. He lost his head for a moment and did not know a better way to help himself than to fake a coughing attack, while emptying the content of his mouth secretly into the handkerchief he was holding right in front of his face. Thus he was able to freely participate in the conversation. I had watched the incident with amusement from my seat a little further away. And when my young colleague came over after the table was cleared, to describe his misfortune to me in great detail, I already knew.

Furthermore, this man from the Rheinland was quite an original person. At the time, there was no standard collection of neuroencephalograms and thus no reliable source of X-ray images of an air-filled cranial sinus cavity. With heroic passion he enrolled himself in a clinical trial where he allowed air to be injected into his skull in order to produce a normal picture, or rather the standard picture, of a normal human brain. Unfortunately, the entire exercise was in vain, as the pictures soon revealed. The assistant had suffered from meningitis as a child, and as such, the X rays traced the disease’s pathology in an “abnormal” brain.

 Once or twice a year, the Geheimrats held big feasts. One of them was after the Christmas holidays. After the meal, everyone had to file by the gift table lined up against the wall and stacked with presents in order to admire them properly. The youngest son, who extensively bemoaned his own “neuralgia” as child—he is now Director of the university hospital of neurology in Goettingen—once got a half-monkey for Christmas that soon became the talk of the hospital!

After we married, my good wife’s heart nervously started to beat faster when we were invited to the Geheimrat’s and walked up those front stairs to their villa. But my wife’s natural charm (or perhaps it was her charming nature) could often disarm the most difficult of audiences.

One can imagine the excitement the first time the Geheimrats were our guests in our first (furnished, naturally) apartment, and the horror it evoked when catastrophe struck. When the Geheimrat pulled back the chair in the dining room to sit down at the table, he found himself with a badly-glued piece of old-fashioned decrepit furniture in his hand. Instead of laughing, we wanted to die of shame. That’s how it was in those days!!

As mentioned above, the head physician, Professor Klieneberger, was very different. He was amiable, courteous, and so natural so that people connected with him immediately. He married the daughter of a colonel after I had been at the hospital for only a few years. When I got married a little bit later as well, we had very nice, almost family-like contact with each other. The head physician was Jewish, and later, in the “brown times” under the Nazis, he suffered horribly because of this. The Nazis confiscated his apartment and his medical practice, and he finally emmigrated to Bolivia. When I met and greeted him on the street once during that time he glanced around, very shyly. He said to not compromise myself in public, as it could be harmful to me. Of course, I did not let myself be put off by that. And even later, I visited him repeatedly, as a matter of course, which he seemed to appreciate.

The 1st Assistant also was a university lecturer. His name was Dr. Kastan. He was a bachelor and cut a rather humorous figure, and was called “Kastan’s Panopticum” behind his back. He had a phenomenal recollection, especially for bibliographic data. He could tell you instantly which exact page and edition of a journal had the article you were looking for. Most of the time he worked at the laboratory. During the doctor’s visit he fell into a strange rocking motion that bore an awkward similarity to the automatism of an catatonic schizophrenic, even though personally he was friendly and cooperative.

After I started, a few younger colleagues joined the staff to specialize in neurology. Among them was a female doctor, who became mentally ill herself soon after her arrival. This experience started like a comedy and ended very tragically. I witnessed the beginning or respectively the manifestation of the illness in “statu nascendi,” so to speak, which deeply affected me. So I was introduced to the difficulties of my specialty right away.

When Dr. H. came to our hospital to continue her training, the superficial impression she made with her (in those days) very modern pageboy haircut and her very short miniskirt was quite extravagant. After the Geheimrat had critically surveyed her, he said: “She is a little short in all aspects, indeed, but other than that, she seems quite orderly.” She came to us from Munich. When it became public that she had been ordered to pay a 50 Mark fine or serve 5 days in jail for disorderly conduct at the Munich carnival, it created some surprise and consternation that was only compounded by her declaring that she would rather go to prison for five days and save the money. Her room, like mine, was in the attic, but located on the other side and separated from my room by the staircase. After she had been living there for a few weeks, I noticed that it seemed to get pretty loud and noisy in her room in the evenings. I was mostly irritated by her laugh, which sounded a little artificial and went up and down the whole tonic scale. One morning during rounds, the head physician was suddenly called away by a very troubled-looking nurse, and disappeared for the rest of the day. After rounds, a young colleague approached me flabbergasted and said, “Listen to this – I went to visit Dr. H in her room just now and found her lying in a straightjacket, very confused.” This measure was usually taken back then in conditions of severe anxiety. “I think she’s got schizophrenia.” I immediately remembered the salvos of laughter in the evenings that I have heard recently from her room and I said that if she had a psychosis, I would find a mania more probable. And so it was. As it turned out, a nurse had observed in passing that a healthy stream of water was pouring out from under the doctors’ bathroom door. Inside, seeming amused and exuberant, Dr. H. sang and screamed aloud.

Since she did not respond to her calls or words of encouragement and did not open the door (the water was already running down the stairs), the nurse, in her anxiety and despair, called the head physician away from his main rounds. It took him a lot of effort as well before he was able to get the psychotic doctor to open the door. Then, she enthusiastically performed a naked dance in front of him and could only be brought back to her room by the personnel called to help. They gave her medication and put her in the straightjacket, where my young colleague found her when he went to visit. Later, when the head physician went to look after her, he found the patient sitting in her bed. She had cut open her down blanket and was shaking out the feathers, making it look like “Frau Holle’s” [A fairytale figure who makes it snow on earth by shaking her featherbed]. She eventually had to be put in the unit for the mentally ill, and in her manic state, she was one of the most difficult patients there. Her attitude and expressions were so obscene and mean that the staff almost refused to take care of her. It is said to have been especially embarrassing when the distinguished Geheimrat visited her. In her manic urge to joke she made fun of him without restraint. For example:” Oh Ernst, oh Ernst, what thou still learnst.” (“Ernst” was his first name and her joke was a rhyme on his name that had some belittling connotation.) Of course her (more or less) funny outbursts were the talk of the doctor’s cafeteria, which itself was a little bit manic for a while.

She gradually recovered. Her manic phase seemed to fade away, and she was able move back in to her room. She was even allowed to assume responsibility for her unit again, which was inexplicable to all of us. Because I had substituted for her, the Geheimrat announced that he wanted to try to let her work again, at first together with me. She would be informed that I was to watch over her. Soon thereafter, she appeared extremely cheerful and told me she could now take over her unit again. She immediately wanted to initiate all kinds of changes, though to me, she still seemed quite ill. I brought my doubts to the Geheimrat. But he insisted on giving it a try. Of course, it failed, and the poor woman became worse again and had to be brought back to the unit as a patient.

It was then clear to the Geheimrat, too, that she had to be put into an outside institution for further care, which ideally should have happened from the start. The older female resident got the order to bring her there. Unfortunately, despite all good intentions, this too ended in crisis.

In order to protect her, rather than cramming her into an anonymous group transport, her chaperone was supposed to bring her to the train by herself. Unfortunately, to get to the train station first, she used an open cab. Of course, for the patient, this was an invitation to a pleasure-trip with as much fun as possible.

In spite of all the tranquillizers she had been given, she seemed to feel like she was at the carnival in Munich once again. She put her legs up on the coach bench and sang at the top of her voice. She joked with the coachman and made fun of passers-by, so much so that the trip became a sensation for the city and an ordeal for her poor escort. I decided after that to learn from mistakes like these.

The doctor stayed in the institution for quite some time. After a change of mood, she fell into a severe depression accompanied by suicide attempts. She never came back to us. We heard later that she went back to Munich and was brought up on charges and sentenced to prison for attempting abortion. I am quite sure that her sentence was unjust, given her unstable history and certainly pathological state. But no expert witness seemed to have been consulted. Soon after, she successfully committed suicide.

But there were also amusing episodes during my first stint at the hospital. After I began to settle in, I had to help out with polyclinical consultations. This was still in the beginning of the so-called Systemzeit [reference to the Weimar Republic], where liberté(freedom), fraternité (brotherhood) and egalité(equality) were taken very seriously, especially the latter. Once, as I entered the waiting room, a tiny, inconspicuous-looking man attacked me with a flood of words, which did not really make any sense to me. The only thing I understood was that he did not have any time and wanted to be next. I thought he was a patient and made clear to him calmly, but firmly, that no one was given a preferential treatment with us and that he had to wait until his turn. I made it painfully clear that, in those modern times, nobody was more important than anybody else. Baffled, he sat back down on his little bench. When I entered the examination room, the nurse greeted me excitedly. She had already searched for me and even tried to reach me by phone because no less a person than the omnipresent chief of police himself from Koenigsberg had come in person to talk to me about a patient. And, for Heaven’s sake, I should not let him wait.

With pride, I called him inside and, lo and behold, it was the same little man whom I had unconsciously and unintentionally lectured about ideology. I consider it a point in his favor that he did not hold it against me. Everyone at the hospital joked about this for quite some time.

My work at the hospital increased. I soon had to take care of a whole unit myself, sometimes even two. In addition, I often worked the night shift and was also writing my dissertation. In spite of that, I still had time to dedicate myself to my two fiancées, my real fiancée, who was living with her mother in the little town of Labiau, 50 kilometers away from Koenigsberg, and my violin. With the latter in my arms I drove out to Labiau [Polessk, Poland] many weekends on end, where I often played music with Ilse’s mother [Valentine Strehlke]. Once in a while, Ilse visited relatives in Koenigsberg, and came to visit me at the hospital. I will never forget one very cold winter’s day when she came to me, shivering, and radiantly handed me the violin sonata in A-major by Brahms, which she had picked up for me. Since then, that piece has had a special place in my heart.

My future mother-in-law and I had a close bond because of our mutual love for music. She became my favorite and best partner to play with and we harmonized completely. This was very helpful in reconciling those small tensions and difficulties, which arose less out of any personality conflict and more from our own very pronounced identities. In addition to that came the hypersensitivity of the possessive fiancé and a tinge of that proverbial mother-in-law complex toward the robber baron. Occasionally, my dear Ilse felt like a buffer-state between two world powers, and it was not always easy for her. But the storm clouds always dispersed quickly, and over the years we got along very well, and not just where music was concerned.

I met Ilse’s mother for the first time when she visited Schoenwalde. She already had a reputation of being a very kind, though physically short, energetic, self-confident woman with a strong personality. She was, as they say, a real “pistol.” Indeed, I clearly remember the excitement when I heard “Aunt Vally is coming to visit.”

Even Uncle Reinhold found himself anxious about whether everything was going to be all right and go well. It was almost as if we were expecting a princess to visit. One can imagine that I was infected by this a little bit. After all, it was the mother of my Ilse whom I was about to meet! When she heard that I played the violin, she was immediately very interested. True to her provocative form, her first question for me was: “Can you also play the Kreutzer-Sonata?” At the time I had to say no, but was so discouraged that I vowed to be able to show her soon that I could play the Kreuzer-Sonata, too! There, in Schoenwalde, we played a Mozart sonata—she, in a noble sacrifice on the oldest piano in town, which had already been degraded to a changing table for babies. She expressed her admiration for the vigor and impetus in my playing. Later, we played not only the Kreutzer-Sonata many times, but the complete sonata repertoire for violin and piano, including Reger, Strauss and Pfitzner. We especially loved the sonatas by Strauss. The 10th and last sonata by Beethoven was still unfamiliar to her. But she later became so enthusiastic about this piece (and a particular slow movement, which is also very precious to me), that I had to promise her to never play it with anyone else but her!

But all that was still some time away. The first tensions arose as soon as Ilse informed her so drastically about our secret engagement. Thereby, of course, since I was the choice of her only daughter, I moved directly into the center of her thoughts and feelings. It was quite obvious that she wanted to find out about me, name, rank and serial number. She did that in her own lively, active way. She was used to people opening their hearts and revealing their inner thoughts to her just by being under the influence of her personality. That is why she had a big group of young admirers, both male and female, in Labiau. She was their highest and last resort in matters of trust. Many other people were under her influence, and to this day, many years after her passing, they remember her with admiration and speak highly of her.

However, after her daughter told her about us, I received a very kind letter from her. She also bombarded me with a lot of questions, though, most of which, in the opinion of a sensitive fiancé, were beyond purview of a future mother-in-law.

Most of all, though, because of my reserved and cautious nature, it was not my wont to come out of myself completely. This probably came across a little, as I declared that I had the intention to marry her daughter, but not her mother. Of course, this was a great disappointment for her. She was used to people opening their hearts to her immediately. Soon, though, we clarified things person-to-person and got it out of the way. Considering our differences in temperament, it was inevitable that other minor, similar conflicts arose later on. They were always overcome quickly and did not harm our honest affection toward one another, particularly since we always got along in the area of music, where we harmonized completely.

Around that time, we discussed whether Ilse should learn a profession, despite our engagement. Back then, such an idea was not the given that it is today. Rather, a bride used to prepare for her later profession as a housewife, which was fully recognized as one and not judged as second-rate, as is the case nowadays. Today, a mother who is only a housewife is not even taken seriously by her children. Moreover, I had a definite aversion to employed women in those days. In my opinion, they were in danger of losing their typically female traits, such as femininity and their way with family and children. Despite correct popular thought, I still hold the same beliefs today, by the way. And I often find support for this opinion in day-to-day life. If a married woman works full-time, it is always at the expense of the family, namely the children, no matter how much we deny it. Thus today’s marriage is irrefutably very different from the past.

In those days, Ilse was enrolled in a nursing education program. I did not have a paid position yet, so times were not too good. Thus it was impossible to predict when we would be able to get married. In spite of that, I was optimistic in this regard, and I came out against Ilse’s schooling. So, she perfected her housekeeping skills, learning some sewing, mending, weaving and everything else that goes along with these talents. Then, in 1922, I was surprised by an offer to be an assistant at the hospital with a salary increase refracture about 6 months retroactive.

I was paid quite a lump sum, my first self-earned thousand-Mark bills, with which I bought a beautiful, grey fleece coat as a Christmas present for Ilse, who did not have anything warm to wear in the winter. I was very proud of my first present, and she wore it a number of years.

In the fall, Edith Gramatzki in Hennstedt/Dithmarschen asked Ilse if she would come for a year or so to get to know her new relatives and to help a little around the house. We drove there together and I spent yet two weeks of vacation in Hennstedt, where I had studied in 1919. Ilse worked not only in the household there, but also as a substitute organ player in the local church. The Gramatzkis were good friends with the minister’s family and the contemplative, philosophical minister Thomson included Ilse in this friendship, too. Like his fellow countryman, Frenssen, Thomson had been minister in a neighboring town as well. He had a penchant for writing and a good sense of humor. Once, he secretly pulled out all the stops on the organ, just for fun. To Ilse’s horror, the organ roared through the church in fortissimo at a moment meant to be played in a very soft pianissimo. He did not know much about music. One time I played the “Air” by Bach on a Sunday in church, accompanied by Ilse on the organ—it must have been during a service—and he commented on how appropriate the piece was. He actually thought the name of the piece was “Er” [a German pronoun, pronounced ‘air’, but translated ‘he’], and referred to Him, the most magnificent of all!

Ilse did not stay the planned period of time in Hennstedt. On the first of April 1923, according to plan, I received a full scientific assistantship at the hospital. The income conformed approximately to the income of a government official. In addition, I would be making some money on the side with consultations. Thus, it was clear to me that we could finally get married. First, however, I still had to get the permission from my director. This was the unwritten law of celibacy for scientific assistants in those days. Generally, the only known exception to that was if a director’s daughter was the prospective bride. Even Professor Klieneberger had to get the permission of the Geheimrat a few years earlier, when he got married. The director was aware of the fact that I had been engaged for quite some time and did not give us any trouble. The more difficult bridge we had to cross was finding an apartment.

Living space was very scarce after World War I, and the procedure for assigning apartments was not fair at all. The department responsible for this very important area of human life was an orgy of arbitrariness. Around that time, I remember a man who got put off and led up the garden path by the housing department again and again. In his anger and despair, he showed up there with a gun, shot all the windows and doors to pieces and scared the employees to death. Finally, he was arrested by the police and brought to us in the hospital, suspected of being mentally ill. But he was not ill at all. He was just an impulsive and labile man, subject to outbursts, like a lot of people are. He once jumped into the Pregel River and swam across with his clothes and his briefcase, because the drawbridge had just started to pull up as he arrived. As for his short-circuited, impulsive reaction at the housing department, he had my fullest sympathy. Probably every single one of the employees of the housing department felt that this hour of terror served the corrupt, badly reputed department just right, and probably sympathized wholeheartedly with the gunman. I had also diagnosed him with syphilis, so I could with good conscience express doubts about the man’s accountability for his impulsive action. So he got away with a slap on the wrist again.

I did not have to go so far as to grab a gun. Instead, I heard coincidently from one of our many old aunts about a piano teacher who did not live far away from the hospital and was looking to rent out three furnished rooms with a shared kitchen. Even though Ilse was shocked, writing that three rooms would be too big and expensive, I closed the deal. Her stay in Hennstedt was broken off early, and our wedding date was set for May 26th, 1923.

It was indeed quite courageous to marry during that time, because the scare of inflation became more and more threatening and made economic circumstances completely insecure and incalculable. It is probably hard to picture those almost chaotic times today. The value of money, which slowly decreased more and more in the years after World War I, now started to sink rapidly.

First, the value went down monthly, then weekly, then daily, even hourly, until the Rentenmark(currency) was introduced in 1923.

At the beginning of 1923, bills were so devalued that we had to use 10,000-, 20,000- and 50,000-Mark bills for daily grocery shopping. That increased to million- and billion-Mark bills and more, until the currency reform and introduction of the Rentenmark, or Goldmark, respectively. One Goldmark equaled one trillion Papermark. In other words, the 10-billion-Mark bill was not worth more than a penny, so it represented the smallest bill.

The daily calculations with these numbers, which were increasing every day, were difficult, especially for older people. The latter also were hit particularly badly by the complete devaluation and the loss of all their savings. As they were forced to sell all sorts of valuables, the profit was lost within days because the inflation went up so rapidly. Aunt Lieschen Strehlke, for example, was forced to sell a beautiful old diamond brooch, which she originally wanted Ilse to have. She got a big pile of billion-Mark bills, which she kept in an old cigar box to show her presumed wealth to everybody. After three days, she could not even buy a loaf of bread with it. Ilse’s mother sold a valuable antique cup in order to be able to underwrite the wedding for us. My honorium for a consultation, which was usually paid by the department at least a few weeks after the appointment, would become completely worthless in the meantime. Once, the mailman delivered an overdue sum like that, which was around 40 billion Marks. But, because he only had a 50-billion-Mark bill, he said, generously: “You can keep the 10 billion in change, Doctor.” How ironic that I was getting tipped by the mailman. In the past, it had been the other way around. The whole amount was not even worth five pennies. Hence wages were paid every few days in small payments, but they had already lost most of their value because the payroll offices and financial institutions had wasted it with their speculative transactions. Vouchers were given out in order to be able to pay the bills for gas and electricity. The money was hardly enough for the most important daily needs, like soling one’s shoes, riding the tram, etc.

Because the price of groceries constantly increased, it was better to be paid in goods for one’s services whenever possible. Thus Ilse’s mother, for example, received a cabbage or a cucumber for one piano lesson, which equaled the former monetary value of two Goldmark. When a farmer came to the city, he could get anything. All he had to bring was a sausage and he could buy himself a kingdom. As an example, the following joke was told: “A farmer comes to the city to buy a piano. Surprised about the price, which seems very low to him since he has valuable material assets, namely natural products, he says, ‘This cheap? Well, then give me another one of those pianos!’” Butter and bacon were so unaffordable that home fries had to be fried in grain coffee substitute. We could tell how the farmers lacked sympathy for the suffering of the people in the city. Even the hospitable and generous relatives from Schoenwalde had no idea what was going on in the city in terms of nutrition. To meet our calorie requirement, we sometimes even drank a sample-size bottle of liqueur out of hunger. One could still get those relatively cheaply. Also characteristic of the conditions then were our wedding gifts, the most impressive of which was a roast venison, our wedding roast, which a forester friend had given us. Other friends of ours, landowners and farmers, took care of the ingredients for the rest of the wedding meal. Merchants we knew sent little baskets with grocery bags. After that followed a collection of a lot of blue vases, small vases, and little bowls, which were the only available presents to buy and were not even cheap considering the time. But the actual value of them was not more than two or three pennies.

We were particularly amused by one clever present: a small ashtray made out of white, porcelain-like material, with two pigeons touching their beaks!

I want to mention here that we were 14 people at our wedding in all. The church ceremony was held by Konsistorialrat (title of profession) Richter from Koenigsberg. He had confirmed Ilse, and his appearance at the ceremony, which upset the ministers in Labiau a little, was his wedding gift to us. My good girl was so nervous before the ceremony that one could hear her teeth chattering! We stayed in Labiau around 14 more days while Ilse’s mother was in Koenigsberg.

Because of the rapid inflation, though, when we wanted to go back to our own home in Koenigsberg, we barely had enough money for the “big” trip of 50 kilometers anymore, even though I had taken quite a lot of money with me in the first place. This brings me back to the condition of inflation and I want to describe two more examples of it.

The Department of Forestry had set aside a good amount of money for Ilse’s education or, if she married, for her dowry. But the dowry money had to be used quickly before it became worthless. Otherwise, as Ilse’s uncle Kurt Strehlke put it, “we would not be able to buy a chamber pot” with it. Incidentally, we heard of an old government official in Koenigsberg who was retiring. He wanted to sell his good antique furniture. So we bought it fast and had at least some good-quality dining and living room furniture. Since we still lived at a furnished apartment at the time, we had to store it in an attic temporarily.

We experienced how demoralizing the conditions of inflation were even for higher government officials after we had already lived in our apartment for a while. Our landlady, the piano teacher, was away for a few weeks. She had appointed her brother, who was a city commissioner, to collect the rent from us for her. One day, he asked me to come over to tell me that he had wanted me to pay our rent in material assets from now on. This would have equaled my whole month’s salary, and furthermore, it was not allowed. When I told him that I would not agree to it because it was completely illegal, as he should know as a commissioner, he just answered that the times meant that laws only existed to be broken. Then I made my point again unambiguously and we got into a big argument. Ilse, who heard it through the thin walls, was even afraid we would start fighting physically. However, I paid no attention to his request and waited for his sister, our landlady, to come home. She was sincerely embarrassed about the intermezzo with her fine brother and we kept everything as it had been before.

So much about the catastrophical, inflationary conditions those days. For us young newlyweds, our happiness could not be clouded by them.

We stayed in our furnished three-bedroom apartment for about two and a half years. Unfortunately, one of the conditions for getting the place was that we not play music there. The landlady was fed up with music, as she was giving piano lessons and practicing herself. She simply was not capable of listening to yet more music. On one hand, it was understandable. On the other hand, though, it was a little one-sided. After all, we tenants who lived door-to-door with her had to endure her music without having the possibility to at least compensate by making music ourselves. Ilse’s mother found it an unreasonable demand, particularly since our landlady knew how much we loved music and loved playing it. But one had to take up certain burdens in those days if one wanted to find an apartment at all. And, after all, I could play the violin in my room in the hospital as well as in Labiau and Schoenwalde. Another drawback of the apartment was that it was poorly soundproofed. That was especially due to the fact that our rooms and the rooms of our landlady were partly only separated by doors. In order to be able to talk more openly we started to use code names for our landlady and her maid very soon. Her real last name was “Eschenbach.” That made us think of “Wolfram von Eschenbach,” and we used the two syllables of that first name to build our secret code. From now on we called the landlady “Wolf.” From the second syllable we created the name “Ramses” for the maid. This carefully kept secret almost was revealed once, when Ilse’s uncle Hans Alsen from Drewshof came to visit us. When the maid opened the door for him he burst out saying in his somewhat coarse, carefree way: “So, you are Ramses, then.” She looked at him speechless. We were shocked and later tried to make the whole thing look like a misunderstanding to her and we probably succeeded, or so we thought.

Our oldest son [Friedrich, known as Friedel] was born in this apartment on August 31st, 1925. He was not actually born in the apartment, but in a private woman’s hospital. I was still in the Schwarzwald, where I had been sent for a few months due to poor health. I first had been admitted with several symptoms to a general hospital for a few weeks after receiving various diagnoses. At first, Ilse had accompanied me to the sanatorium in Todtmoos/Schwarzwald when it was suspected that I had a lung infection.

The local head physician laughed after examining me, though. He concluded that I was just completely overworked and needed nothing but a decent rest. The strain of the last few years, the malnutrition during the time of inflation, all of that had obviously taken a heavy toll. Indeed, I must have looked quite miserable, judging from a funny little incident that happened around that time and involved a grateful patient of my unit. She gave me a box of eggs for Easter, and as she handed it over to the nurse to give it to me, she urged her, “Make sure, though, you give it to the doctor in person and not his wife. She looks as if she eats the food out from underneath him.” We stayed in Todtmoos together for a few weeks. Then Ilse had to go back home, unfortunately by herself, because I had to stay there longer. Therefore christening our oldest son had to be done telegraphically. Our landladies, two old maids, who did not have much sympathy for children, welcomed him with mixed feelings. “Ramses” in particular, who suffered from all kinds of hang-ups, felt nauseated as soon as she even saw a diaper.

So we looked for another place to live, which we soon found. Only a few houses down on the same street, an old Geheimrat couple—he was a retired physicist—wanted to rent out a few rooms with a separate kitchen in their attic. The kitchen was a substantial improvement indeed, even though the entrance passed right through it. Furthermore, we were also able to use some of our own furniture.

The apartment had a large room, almost like a hall. In the middle of it was a wooden pillar, which reached all the way to the ceiling and looked like one of those stone pillars in the old castle crypts. We divided it into parts that served different functions: a living, dining, writing and music section. That way it looked quite picturesque and cozy. In addition, we had one bedroom and a small kid’s room. The kitchen was a little primitive, and the disadvantage was that one had to walk through it in order to get from the hallway into the apartment, though there was another entrance from the Geheimrat’s into our apartment. One day, Ilse panicked when she came home and could not find Friedel, who was still an infant. It turned out that the Geheimrat’s wife had taken him into her apartment to calm him and herself down because he was crying.

She was a very stately, good-looking lady, who seemed authoritarian although she was very kind and understanding. The old Geheimrat, on the other hand, was a tiny, plain man, who did not look much like anything and also neglected his external appearance quite a bit. He was said to have been mistaken for a panhandler and was once offered money on the street. When we lived there, he already was a little senile and suffering from sclerosis of his brain. He was bound to his room and later to his bed. I had the doubtful honor to be his personal home-physician, as his “colleague” of course, which helped build personal binds and later paid off as a dedication in form of a two-volume edition of the “History of German Music” by Hans-Joachim Moser.

We did not stay for long in these very romantic rooms though—once, a pigeon flew through the window into our bedroom and stayed with us overnight, like a greeting from my adolescence, which had not been so far away at that time—probably not even a year, because we found our very own flat.

After we got through the inflation, conditions soon began to normalize. Our finances also improved.

My job at the hospital had become more and more extensive and responsible. Through my dissertation, which was even published in a scientific journal, I had developed a taste for my line of work. And my occupation in the scientific field, which I had always been very attracted to, increased. I wrote a number of other scientific articles, increasingly held lectures for medical societies and others in the field, gave educational seminars, speeches, and more. All of this was in addition to my job at the hospital, which was connected to extensive consulting work as an expert in court, so I had to work more at night. That is probably why I ended up in such bad physical condition, which made a longer time off work and the mentioned stay in the Schwarzwald necessary. After that, I went back to work with renewed strength. A few older colleagues retired, so I soon became first assistant. X-ray diagnosis became more common in my field and the diagnostic methods of contrast by pumping air into the hollow spaces of the brain and injecting iodine oil in the space surrounding the bone marrow was introduced.

I was put in charge of setting up a complete X-ray unit in the hospital and familiarizing myself with those methods so I could carry them out as well. This was very much in my own interest, because over time I had been drawn more toward neurological rather than psychiatric issues. Later, the so-called “instrumental diagnostic” became one of my major priorities.

By the way, as in the game of chance in the war—and, later, in the area of love!—I remained very lucky in work as well. The very first patient I used the new methods on became a famous case and therefore I remember it well. She was the younger wife of a librarian at the university and had been treated unsuccessfully in various hospitals and clinics, and as a result, her legs grew increasingly paralyzed. Doctors suspected multiple sclerosis or a defect in her bone marrow due to vertebral tuberculosis, and things like that. Finally, she came to us, which usually was not an easy decision for a lot of people. People tended to avoid the clinic, because of its connection with the mentally ill. By then, the woman could not walk at all anymore and had to be carried in on a stretcher. While examining her, I immediately suspected a tumor in the spinal cord, which I was able to diagnose with the new X-ray method. It was benign it was thus operable. The operation was completed successfully and the patient came back to us for further treatment. When she was released a few weeks later, she could already walk down the stairs by herself. A few months later, to everybody’s astonishment she was dancing again at a university party, which made her—and me!—the talk of the town. Unfortunately, it was rare for cases in my field to have such positive outcomes. The diagnostic X-ray methods that were new at the time are considered a standard part of every doctor’s equipment nowadays. Back then, though, they were exceptional, and by using them, I was able to diagnose other cases of brain and spinal cord tumors, after which they could be operated successfully. Thus a fruitful teamwork developed between the surgical hospital and us. I also was lucky enough to save a hopeless case of tetanus. The patient was a morphine addict who got infected by injecting herself through her dirty clothes. I injected the antitoxin into her spinal cord for the first time, using a spinal tap to obtain a fast and direct effect.

All of this obviously helped me build a good reputation at the hospital, which I am only mentioning because it is relevant to the following development.

While the Geheimrat and his head physician, Professor Klieneberger, had a very good and harmonious relationship it started to grow quite tense in 1925. As so many times in life, the reason for that was once again the troublesome money, the “nervus rarum.”

Professor Klieneberger, who lived in the city instead of the hospital since he married a few years earlier, had opened his own private practice there, which was going very well. As a result, his scientific research suffered. Further, it became obvious that he was starting to let his obligations at the hospital slide. Most of all, though, he enticed the patients away from the Geheimrat’s private practice to his own. The Geheimrat, of course, took offense at that. Despite his nobility he had certain mercantile weaknesses. So of course, the two of them had a big quarrel, and Professor Klieneberger had to leave his position at the hospital. It was all very unfortunate, especially because the atmosphere at work, which had been so harmonious before, suffered greatly as tensions grew between the director and the head physician.

After Professor Klieneberger’s dismissal, we staffers were concerned about whom the director would hire as our head physician. I did not even consider the possibility that I would be a candidate for that position, because first of all I still was very young to take on that much responsibility and second, because I had not yet finished my dissertation. Normally, the latter was a condition for this position since one of the functions was to act as a substitute for the Geheimrat and hold lectures for him.

But a big miracle came to pass. The Geheimrat asked me if I was willing to succeed the Professor and become his head physician. I did not refuse. Quite a few scientific articles of mine had already been published, so nothing stood in my way of completing my dissertation, which the director had promised me anyway. Thus I made the decision to stay in the hospital and adopt an academic career. I had always imagined that as my ideal.

The fate of Professor Klieneberger should shine yet another light on the unfortunate differences and conflicts. It should explain his negligence at work and his partial tactless, avaricious behavior, which seemed so unlike him, in a different way. For the second time, I had to experience the tragedy of a colleague becoming mentally ill himself.

Like everybody else, I had wondered about Professor Klieneberger’s behavior, which did not at all seem in keeping with his character, as I had come to know it. But I blamed his newly appeared mercantile attitude on the temptations, which might be a consequence of having one’s own practice, and I did not think much more of it, especially because in a way, everybody is eager. I felt more estranged by the unscrupulous and impossible way he tried to win over patients. He ordered the gatekeeper of the hospital, for example, to send all the patients, who were on their way to the Geheimrat’s consulting hour, to his own practice in the city and to tell them that they would be treated much better over there and other such tales. I became completely puzzled, though, when I witnessed his odd behavior at the goodbye party the doctors of the hospital organized for him when he left. Out of the blue, he suddenly started to recite his own poems and to boast about his abilities and merits, which was not like him. When I came home that evening, I told Ilse right away that I didn’t like at all what I had seen, and that I could not rid myself of my suspicion that something was wrong with the professor. I would not be surprised if he became ill. I started to inquire a little bit, and heard from a colleague, who had been a prisoner of the English with Professor Klieneberger during the war, that the latter had told him he had suffered from syphilis as a young man. So he lived in constant fear of eventually getting paralyzed. If he recognized the first signs of it, according to the professor, he would shoot himself in the head. That is why he had waited to get married until he was beyond the age of being in danger of paralysis! I then remembered that he had complained about headaches lately, and I could not get rid of my premonitions about a coming catastrophe.

Six months had probably passed when Mrs. Klieneberger called me, her husband having suddenly taken ill. I found him paralyzed and confused, with symptoms of a paralyzing brain disease. I immediately arranged for his brother, an internist, who lived out of town, to take him to a neurological hospital outside of East Prussia. There, he successfully went through a malaria treatment and was released as “cured.”

Despite his immediate admission to a hospital outside of town, the news about his illness spread quickly. First, people said, as they so often do in such cases, that he was a “victim of his profession.” But then, unfortunately, the nature of his disease became public, and some questioned whether a doctor who has had paralysis could ever work in his profession again. Other difficulties came up. Patients who had been examined by him raised questions about his expert opinion, saying that it stemmed from a paralytic. Finally, I was asked to give an opinion about whether or not Professor Klieneberger could still work as a specialist and expert witness. Of course, I refused out of personal reasons because I did not want to judge my former head physician, and recommended a special clinic outside the area. Handling delicate situations with the Professor was difficult. Surprisingly, though, he bore his misfortune quite well. Of course, that was a result of the mild damage he had suffered. Everybody who knew him before his illness could see that. He was not quite the same anymore. The spark, liveliness, spirit, and witty, inspiring nature was gone. His mellowness, the former charm of his personality, was simply missing. Since a doctor usually does not know his patients until they become ill, this was a very sad, but medically speaking, a very valuable experience, and I used it accordingly. People who did not know Professor Klieneberger before would have found him completely normal and healed, but unfortunately, that was not the case. Looking back, though, it became obvious that his attitude, which had led to the quarrel with the Geheimrat, and the director confirmed it with dismay, were signs of the onset of the disease. Not only his fellow specialists, but also the professor himself did not recognize the coming of the illness, even though he had always lived in fear of it and wanted to shoot himself rather than get sick with this particular disease. However, he forgot to take into account that the patient can easily fail to recognize the onset of his disease because he does not feel sick at all. It really is tragic that he believed himself past the endangered age for this disease, got married and had three children with good conscience, and then got sick, anyway. And in addition to that there was his fate as a Jew during the Nazi regime. That deeply shocked all of us.

But that was much later, and I want to come back to the beginning point of this story. I had become head physician and at age 30 was the youngest head physician of all university hospitals of Koenigsberg.

Around that time, we finally got our own flat in a new building of the university, on the same street where we already lived. Thus it was our third place in the same street. The apartment was on the third floor, and we climbed around on the construction site to follow its completion with excitement. The place had four rooms, a big hallway, a big, beautiful balcony and lots of conveniences, including a bathroom. When the time came and we were finally in our own four walls, we felt like we were in heaven. We had purchased new furniture and we even had a piano, which we could play undisturbed. In short, a new stage of life began.

One would think that nothing on Earth could bring me to set another foot into our old apartment. But force of habit was able to accomplish just that. We had probably lived in our new “palais” for a few months already when one day, coming home from the hospital, I was lost in thought, and out of habit, walked up into our old apartment instead of going to our new “paradise” just a few buildings down the street, like an old horse trots back to his stable. So I walked up the four steps very “subcortical,” as we neurologists call it, opened the door to the kitchen, and indeed there was a woman, who I mistook for my wife, standing at the stove with her back facing me. I began to tell her about my latest experiences when she turned around and I looked into a very astonished, completely unfamiliar face. I was so shocked about my mistake that I hastily burst outside as if chased by demons without a word of explanation. Arriving at home, Ilse could probably tell that I had just experienced something terrible, because she asked me very concerned what had happened to me. When I told her about my adventure with the strange woman at the stove in our old apartment, she could only laugh and shake her head about her absent-minded husband.

After about two years, we moved into the apartment on the floor below us, which had become available and was a little more spacious and comfortable. But we stayed in the house at Hardenberg Street 28 as long as I worked at the hospital, about 10 years.

After being appointed head physician, I prepared my habilitation, which was protracted a little, though, because I still had to finish a large writing project. When I showed it to the Geheimrat, he did not consider it long enough. The work concerned problems of schizophrenia and was treated only  theoretically. He wanted me to add clinical examples, which in my opinion did not belong into this project. Instead, I wrote a new work about a criminal pathological issue, which I could make any length by using clinical cases. Of course, this took some time, but in the end, this habilitation (about “The so-called self-inflicted drunkenness and its meaning for crime through alcoholism”) won the Geheimrat’s approval. By the way, I was advised beforehand to print my habilitation on handmade paper, because the Geheimrat supposedly judged the importance of a work by actually weighing it in his hand. I thought that was exaggerated, but as I found out later, it was true. Thus it was not until the summer of 1928 that I was finally ready to hold the feared exam lecture in front of the faculty (about compulsory conditions after complications of epidemic Encephalitis) and my opening lecture in the university auditorium (about psychic hygiene). As I was already accustomed to being a substitute clinical lecturer, this was nothing new to me. But Ilse, who was present at the ceremonious opening lecture even though she had just given birth [July 4, 1928] to our Juergen two weeks before, got terribly excited, probably in part because of the solemnity of the event (dean, full professors in gowns, the two bulldogs with the insignia of the university standing erect next to the bougie, me in a dress-coat, etc.). Besides me, the first assistant of the anatomical institute, Dr. Alverdes, a friend of ours, qualified as a university lecturer. His son, Gerd, would later be in the same class as our son Friedel. After the ceremony was over, we went with Alverdes to the famous Blutgericht, a wine cellar in the former castle, where we celebrated appropriately. Alverdes became professor of anatomy in Leipzig. He got a professorship there and built a new anatomical institute after the war. When we lived in Stralsund, he got my address from a former assistant of mine who had moved to Leipzig, and he and his wife visited us in the early 50’s. Since Mr. Alverdes passed away, his widow has come to visit us almost every year when she vacations at the coast or on Ruegen [largest German island] with her son, an actor in Schwerin.

 A few months later, Juergen was baptized, and because we now had our own apartment, we celebrated with many guests and a lot of music. A relative of ours who had been in Riga [in Latvia] and was now engaged at the Koenigsberg opera house as a singer, a student of Monika Hunnius, by the way, was there as well. Her name was Else Christiansen, and she was a beautiful, charming woman, who also had a very nice personality. She sang songs, which Ilse’s mother accompanied on the piano. Then I got out my violin, too. Thus Saint Caecilie, patron saint of music-making in the home, stood watch at Juergen’s crib.

Friedel, who was three years old at the time, was very disappointed by the actual baptism ritual. We had told him about the priest (Pfarrer), of course, who presides over the ritual. And now he looked around for the driver (Fahrer, same sounding word, but different meaning) in vain, which he must have understood instead of “Pfarrer.” He had probably imagined the priest on a bicycle or motorcycle racing through the church. Friedel was not very excited about the arrival of his little brother and the first thing he asked was, “Will this strange boy stay with us forever?” Later, when Juergen was screaming, he covered him with a pillow in such a way that he could hardly breathe and shouted angrily, “You are bothering me.” When nothing else worked and he felt at a disadvantage to his needy little brother, he started to pee in his pants again to get his mother’s attention of his mother while shouting, “Anything Juergen can do, Friedel can do better.” A typical regression reaction out of jealousy. Over time this abated, though, and the two brothers got along fine.

11. University Lecturer


After my habilitation, my obligations became yet more extensive. In addition to my functions as the only head-physician of the hospital and occasional substituting for the Geheimrat, I now had to hold my own lectures. Besides the required lectures, which were given by the special professors most of the time and were supposed to introduce the students to the subject and prepare them for the big medical lectures, I held another special lecture. Most of the time, it was about the diagnosis of brain and bone marrow tumors, which I had given a lot of special attention to in the context of the X-ray work I was practicing. Further, I was in charge of testing some of the state exam candidates.

I was also closely involved with the social events of the university and faculty, where we got the chance to get to know one another a little better. Particularly nice were the faculty parties, which were less formal. On one such occasion, we met the anatomy professor, Mr. Berg, and his wife, whose maiden name was Dubois, an aunt of Gertrud’s, so to speak. Of course, back then, we did not have a clue about the relations that would bind us some time later. Mr. Berg was quite the gentleman, taking Ilse to dinner once. Sometimes, we also participated in the official doctors’ events, such as the time we went to the slightly ill-famed doctors’ carnival, which almost all the professors usually attended. For the most part, those kinds of parties were not really our thing. That’s why we double-dated with the first assistant and his wife, who were very funny and well-spirited friends of ours and very suitable for events like this. He, Dr. F., came from Wuertemberg and was very funny. He went as a woman (“Dame”), with a big, black, curly wig (“Bubikopf”) and dressed accordingly, which made him look almost provocative and vulgar. When the gynecologist made a fitting comment at the party, Mr. F. gave him a spiced answer, quick-witted as he was, which left him astounded and slack-jawed. Then, he made a joke to seduce the Geheimrat, who, of course, did not recognize him in his feminine mask and looked quite embarrassed. To get into the mood, we had a bottle of champagne before going to the carnival.

Then there was the coalition of clinical head physicians, which, by the way, included wives and met every month to indulge in skittles. In reality, though, this get-together was much more about hanging out together casually and exchanging thoughts and views, partly about professional, partly about personal issues, than it was about playing skittles, which was practiced on the side, so to speak. We always liked to participate in it, because the atmosphere was really friendly and collegial. After 1933, we heard that the Nazis had had their informers in our skittle club as well to find out about the political views of certain people.

 In our house, which was almost exclusively inhabited by university employees, we also had nice personal contacts with people. This was especially true of the head physician of the surgical university hospital, Professor Mueller, who lived right below us. Our children, who were the same age, became friends as well. In another wing of the house, the assistant master and hydrobiologist, Professor Steinecke, who was a virtuouso cellist and had actually studied music for a few semesters, lived wall-to-wall with us. We made music together, too, and his wife—he died a couple of years ago after long illness—still writes to us regularly.

Professor Szegoe, a mathematician from Hungary, lived in our house for a brief period, too. We still remember him, his charming wife and their little son Peter, vividly, and would have never thought that Juergen, who did not even go to school yet back then, would meet him about 30 years later in the U.S., then a mathematics professor himself!

In those days, I sometimes attended special conferences and conventions outside of East Prussia in the Reich [reference to the German mainland], as we used to say then, which we could only get to through the Polish corridor,  the foreign land, so to speak. Thus living in East Prussia felt like living in a German colony. Most of the time, when Ilse was able to come with me, I added a few weeks of vacation to those conference trips.

For example, we connected a professional meeting in Dresden with a stay in Saechsische Schweiz [mountain region in Saxony], another one in Bonn with a trip on the Rhein River, on which we also visited Cologne and Mainz. After a convention in Breslau we spent a few weeks vacation in Riesengebirge [mountain range in Silesia, Poland]. On this trip Ilse used the time that I had to spend in Breslau [Wroclaw, Poland], to drive to Liegnitz [Legnica, Poland] to visit a few Schleswegian aunts. She experienced a little adventure on this excursion, which demonstrated to her the evil of the world, particularly of men. She was later teased quite often for her naïveté. We had made plans to meet at the train station in Hirschberg [Jelenia Gora, Poland] and then to continue our trip together to Brueckenberg [Bierutowice, Poland] in the Riesengebirge.

I sat in the waiting area of the station in Hirschberg and did not have to wait long until Ilse appeared in the door. Scared, she kept looking behind herself while watching for me. Then she hurried up to me, relieved, saying, “Thank God you are here. I was so afraid that he was still coming after me.” What happened? When she had arrived in Liegnitz she stopped in a restaurant to regain her strength and orient herself to the area. Inside, an older, “very sympathetic looking gentleman” sat down at her table and started to involve her into a serious conversation about literature and art, in which he proved himself to be an educated, nice man, and Ilse was completely guileless. Then, the conversation started to become more personal. At first, he told her about himself, that he was married with kids, whose pictures he showed to her. That made Ilse trust him even more. But then, he started to ask her questions after he had ordered a liqueur for her, which she did not appreciate in the first place. When he heard that she was alone for a few days while I was at the convention in Breslau until we met up to go to Brueckenberg, he said excitedly how that would fit into his plans perfectly. He was on his way to Brueckenberg, too. They could drive together and spend a couple of fun days—and nights—there! He had always wished for someone as natural, refreshing and charming as her, but had never found her. In addition to that he started to touch her tenderly [fing er an zaertlich zu werden]. At that point, my unsuspecting angel finally realized his intentions, and that was the end of her innocence. Now she started to feel scared of this nice, older gentleman and she wanted to leave. But he would not leave her side and became more and more aggressive. She became so afraid that she took a taxi to drive her to her aunts’ house. At the last moment, though, the man managed to jump into the car with her, where he continued to talk to her and harass her. In her despair, she finally asked the driver for help, who stopped immediately and the tedious intruder disappeared.

 When my good wife told me all of this, she was still very nervous, and even though I could not help but smile silently, I felt a little bit like the “rider on the Bodensee”[Reiter auf dem Bodensee], and I swore to myself that I would not let my young wife travel around on this Earth by herself again.

Through closer contact with the teaching staff, I had the chance to get a closer look at the happenings behind the scenes, which, unfortunately, revealed quite a few negative aspects of the university activity. Thus I recognized more and more how “Kabale und Liebe” [intrigue and love] were involved here as well. A very unfortunate “economy of connections” was practiced there. And an exaggerated, defined, mercantile attitude was present among the medical professors, which sometimes seemed much stronger than any economical interest. Even my, so distinguished Geheimrat was not free of that, which I did not learn about in full scope though before his death. Some younger colleagues used quite mean ways to spy on or even steal topics of scientific projects from each other. Thus one time, when I was gone for a few weeks, an assistant took advantage of my absence. Using a lame excuse, he asked Ilse for some lantern slides, which I had collected for a project. Unsuspecting, Ilse gave them to him, and he turned around and used them for his own presentation.

But such negative and disillusioning events can be found everywhere in life, and have to be calculated and digested. All in all, I felt very satisfied and in my element at work, and we did increasingly better financially and were able to travel to beautiful places. I would like to emphasize the latter, because I developed a distinct and utter dislike for traveling much later, which obviously was not always the case. This was not just related to the uncomfortable side effects of travel anxiety [Reisefieber], but to a large extent to the changed circumstances after the Second World War.

For probably seven years, we summered for three weeks with the kids in Kahlberg, a very pretty place on the East Sea that was famous for its ocean breezes and fragrant aroma of the woods. We also traveled to the Black Forest, which we already knew and loved from my stay at the sanatorium. We also often went to the giant highlands, where we once met up with Aunt Edith Alsen and spent a few enjoyable days.

Once, I was forced by professional circumstances to take my vacation in March, and because I was especially hungry for temperature and sun after a hard Prussian winter, we decided to go to Italy. Back then, that was not as common as it is today. First, we went to Oberbozen [Upper Bolzano, Italy], and from there we went to Venice, among other places.

Soon after my habilitation, the Geheimrat started to get sick. The signs of a coronary sclerosis, inherited from his father, who actually died of it, started to show, and I had to substitute for him in the big medical lectures more frequently. Then, when he suffered a stroke (a cerebral insult starting from his heart) with light consequences of paralysis and speech problems in 1930-31, the whole responsibility for the hospital rested on my shoulders. The situation was even more difficult, because his brain complications were kept secret so no one would suspect that he was affected mentally, and to prevent a premature pension. As soon as the symptoms had more or less gone away, he decided to participate in a special convention that was already underway in Breslau. Part of him probably wanted to demonstrate his recovery to the outside world and he did not want his wife, who was understandably concerned, to convince him otherwise. In her despair, his wife, Kaete, begged me to go to the convention as well, in order to keep her husband, who usually was a good and clever contributor to discussions, from participating in them. She was afraid, not unjustifiably, that it could lead to disaster because of his speech disability, which had not yet completely disappeared. To confirm the so-called Dublizitaet der Faelle[2], the wife of the former head physician Professor Klieneberger, who had been treated for paralysis a couple of years before, complained to me about not being able to keep him from going to Breslau as well. I should also try to talk him out of it, and if I could not succeed, I should take care of him so he would not embarrass himself on the way to or at the convention. I was not able to change his mind. Thus I had the delicate task of going to the convention as the secret guard of my own boss and my former head physician, who was actually in a terrific mood. The city of Breslau had invited us, meaning the Society of German Neurologists, for the first time since World War I to come to an official reception and dinner in the former castle of Friedrich the Great. Lit by candlelight, the old, venerable rooms of the castle were most impressive. Fortunately, the convention went without complications concerning my two problem children. Thus I was very relieved when the convention was over and I could go to the giant highlands for a few weeks vacation with Ilse.

 Soon after, the Geheimrat’s health got worse, and his heart problems increased. He did, however, celebrate his 60th birthday in 1931, which brought upon special trouble and obligations for me as well. It was my job to put together a special anniversary edition of the scientific magazine he had founded, which meant a lot of writing on my part, and contacting his former students, who were asked to make written contributions. Of course, I wrote an article as well; I believe it was about the propagation of the epidemic encephalitis [Gehirnentzuendung] in East Prussia. Then there were the celebrations of the day that had to be endured, official affairs, with speeches and toasts.

All of this, though, was just a rehearsal for the ceremonies which were held at his funeral. He died of a heart attack in December of that same year. At first, his body laid in state in his office at the hospital, where two assistants had to hold the death watch until his body was transferred to the crematorium. I had to give eulogies to the hospital staff and the students, speak at scientific societies, write a necrology for scientific journals, etc.

 Most difficult of all was the speech at the crematorium, where all of the corporations showed up in full dress [in Wichs]. The Geheimrat had been a corps student. It was a very colorful picture. After the university director and the dean were finished, I, as the closest colleague, had to speak at the coffin. Unfortunately, I was sick with a bad case of angina and had been in bed with a fever the day before. I had even asked the first assistant to come over, explaining that I probably would not be able to hold my speech the next day, no matter how much I wanted to, and that he should be prepared to substitute for me. The poor man was so shocked that he almost collapsed, and begged me not to ask him to do that. He just would not be capable. Thus, despite my miserable condition, I had to get myself to the crematorium the next day, come what may, to give a eulogy for his students. Ilse, who was present as well, said later that my pale look on my face was especially impressive!

The death of a hospital director is a very incisive event for the whole management, partially because it might mean profound changes and upheavals for the entire organization, which can affect the other doctors, especially the older ones. Namely, it is not rare for the new director to bring in his own staff members and assistants, in particular, his own head physician. Under certain circumstances, the old staff might then be in danger of losing not only their positions, but their entire career, leaving them to start from scratch.

Thus I was prepared already for a profound change in my professional life. But the professorial chair, which had become available, was not occupied that quickly. Rather, I was temporarily asked by the ministry to function as director of the hospital and fulfill the obligations of the professorship until the position was filled. I practiced these functions for two semesters, nearly one year. At the same time, I was named a member of the general council and the closer faculty, which had only two non-professors in it. Even though I had a lot more obligations and responsibilities this year was the most satisfying and productive time for me professionally. I also found myself in good health despite the professional pressure, which might have been in part due to my feeling of independence and freedom. In a way, I felt in my own element. My medical lectures were well visited and appreciated. The hospital staff was very good, particularly the specialists, who were very qualified, and I soon had more assistants than the Geheimrat. The climate at work became very satisfying after I took strong measures when a couple of young colleagues tried to disturb it. I continued the special scientific meetings in the evenings and still held lectures in scientific societies as well. Everything went very well and I enjoyed the trust of the patients and the faculty. Thus I was very happy.

My financial situation had become much better, too, because I also received lecture fees for the big medical lectures, which were obligatory, as well as fees for holding the state examinations. Up until then, I had not known that I was supposed to be paid for those. I assumed that the examinations were part of the honorary duties of a university lecturer, which I happily fulfilled and enjoyed. Even though I had held examinations already for years, substituting for the Geheimrat, I had never received money for that. Also, I was never paid for taking over the big medical lectures when the Geheimrat got sick. This did not bother me much anymore, though, because the money was no longer so important for me. I had already learned from my youth that having money was extremely important to live. But I never became interested in money for money’s sake. Of course, it is bad to not have money, and it certainly can remove anxiety and make life more enjoyable, but other than that, money always seemed like a necessary evil to me. I obviously did not inherit much of the commercial talents of my merchant ancestors. One day, the university bulldog appeared and told me that he had money for me. When I reacted surprised, not knowing what the money was for, he explained that it was the money from the examination fees and wondered why I had never received it before. It came out that the money went into the Geheimrat’s pocket, which blurred his shining nimbus a little bit after all.

But another surprise was still to come. One day, the Geheimrat’s private secretary, who was now working for me and who always had collected the honoraria of the private patients in the hospital, came to me with a list of sums and the money that had come in, wanting me to sign the receipt. I almost fell off my chair when I saw how much money there was. Now, I did find it quite shabby indeed that neither the assistant who takes care of the private patients unit, nor me, who practically took complete care of it when I substituted, had been paid a percentage of that money. I obviously had been a complete idiot in matters concerning money, and to a certain degree I stayed like that. Even later in my own practice, nothing was as hard for me than writing liquidations.

In my opinion, though, I changed these habits, which raised my esteem in the eyes of my co-workers. Nevertheless, enough of the money was left for me in order to start a solid savings account. I had always believed that hospital directors should not have private practices, except as an expert consultant or witness, because it keeps them from fulfilling their actual tasks and obligations, which then get put on their colleagues. Their arguments for needing their own practice are not unjustified, though. They say that the patients in a practice represent a different category than the in-patient cases at a hospital, and that the experience and knowledge about outpatient treatment is important not only for self-fulfillment, but also for teaching and for research. However, there are plenty of opportunities for that in the consulting hours of the outpatient department, which is part of a hospital. Nevertheless, I did see the big temptation and danger of being overwhelmed, and these experiences confirmed my belief.

I want to mention one more event from my interregnum, which caused quite a stir. It brought up differences I had as the substitute with the director of the university at that time. Professor Mitscherlich was a very popular and well-earned professor of the agricultural faculty. He called me one day to tell me that he thought it would be helpful to give the doctors of Koenigsberg a chance to hear something about psychoanalysis, which was not well known at that time. He had contacted the famous psychoanalyst, Professor Schulz-Henk in Berlin, whom he knew. He was willing to come and hold a lecture for the doctors. Because I was probably interested myself, he continued, he would be willing to make his writings and books available to me beforehand so I could orient myself. This was indeed a very unusual demand of an agriculture professor to a medical professor. It was a request which seemed to me even more incomprehensible as I thought about what a committed and conciliatory man Professor Mitscherlich was. But, of course, this story had yet another aspect to it. As so often in life, there was a woman behind all of this, Professor Mitscherlich’s wife. She was a hysterical woman with a great desire for praise, and had been treated by very same psychoanalyst for many years. She drove to Berlin for her sessions, for which her husband, whom she controlled and terrorized completely, paid enormous sums. Thus everybody pitied him. Of course, the idea that the confessor and friend of her soul should hold a lecture in Koenigsberg came from her.

So I told his Magnificence politely but very directly that I did not see the slightest need for the doctors of Koenigsberg to be lectured in psychoanalysis, which I knew something about but which was still very controversial. As a representative of the subject, I could not support his suggestion. But he was not satisfied with that answer, and the whole situation increased in gravity. In those days, the fight between traditional medicine and the psychoanalytic “belief system” was still in full swing, which contributed to the heated temperaments. Finally, I did not know what else to do, and I had to tell him that as an agriculture professor, he was operating way beyond his scope by getting involved in medical issues. He then turned to the medical faculty. They were even less excited about the whole thing, because the director was popular and well-liked.

After the real intentions for this whole undertaking became clear and the disastrous influence of psychoanalysis was demonstrated on the very family of the director, the medical faculty joined my opinion completely, after some indecision. Thus the lecture did not take place and later the faculty even expressed their appreciation towards me for my strong handling of this matter. Much later, after World War II, probably in 1946, when we lived in Stralsund, I was asked by the department of health to give my expert opinion on whether or not the honorary for a psychoanalytic treatment of the psychoanalyst from Berlin, Professor Schulz-Henk, was too high. I could affirm it with good conscience.

This obvious mercantile attitude of psychoanalysts, which struck me back then in one of its best-known representatives, was recently confirmed by something I read in the booklet “Psychiatry Of The Present,” published just a few years earlier. In the essay, a psychoanalyst wrote that the honorary question was bluntly discussed more thoroughly in reference to Freud. This was the first time I read that in a scientific essay. Freud, he wrote, had already been dissuaded from a free psychoanalytic treatment. The “victim of materialistic values” obviously was a prerequisite for the success of a psychoanalytic treatment, which probably also depends on the solvency of the patient. For, he writes, coverage through health insurance would make the therapeutic effect inert. So even patients on a public health plan should pay an additional honorary, preferably monthly! It would therefore seem as if the poor wretch would have to accept his neurosis as incurable! Further, it says that doctors deal with the open honorary discussion in the same prudish, hypocritical manner than they deal with sexual issues. This shows not only the one-sided ideological thinking, but also the unreasonableness and polemic attitude characteristic of representatives of psychoanalysis. I became more skeptical when I read the warning to other psychoanalysts to ask their patients not to discuss the amount of the honorary during the treatment period with a third party! I was indeed quite shocked to find such discourse in a scientific essay. By the way, the criticism of being prudish and hypocritical in claiming their honorary does not apply to doctors, because, at least as far as I have experienced, a lot of them have a mercantile attitude themselves and are everything else but prudish when it comes to their honorary. However, aside from the fact that years of psychoanalytic treatment harms a patient economically and can almost ruin them, as in the case of his Magnificence in Koenigsberg, the method itself is rarely very effective. I recently confirmed that in some literature, too. A Bulgarian author who has a negative attitude towards ideology in principle, though, calls psychoanalysis the worst method of treatment and harmful to the patient. He calls it the biggest and most devastating mistake in the history of medicine. Even the president of the American Society of Psychology and a leading psychologist in the U.S., Professor O. H. Mowrer, asserts that psychoanalysis at its best achieves a suggestive impression, but does not work as a healing method.

In fact, he was more and more convinced that the main premises of Freud were wrong. Psychiatrists and psychologists would increasingly turn away from the theory and practice of psychoanalysis. There was not the slightest evidence that psychoanalysis was of permanent use to individuals and “we have just as much evidence that psychoanalysis as an overall outlook on life is not only non-therapeutic, but even harmful.”

The fact that the heated discussions about psychoanalysis are not over to this day, even though they do not have the intensity from 35 years ago, becomes clear in an essay about psychotherapy published in the first quarterly issue of “Radius” in 1966. The opposing opinions of a psychoanalyst and a psychotherapist are printed on the same page.

Today, my view is that Freud’s concept, which in itself was ingenious, was discredited especially by all the aberrations, one-sidedness on one hand, and uncritical generalizations by small minds on the other hand. Every psychopathologist today knows that sexual experiences are not the only experiences that can develop into a complex. On the other hand, the belief that almost every long object is a metaphor for the male gender and all round, curved objects stand for the female gender opens unlimited possibilities of interpretation for any imaginative mind. That does not change the fact, though, that Freud recognized the importance of the unconscious in the development of complexes and introduced us to the dynamic of the psyche. A lot of different psychotherapeutic methods are still based on those basic ideas.

To be fair, it also has to be admitted that the fanatical attacks on Freud’s theories were not free of anti-Semitic intentions and resentments. This contributed to the one-sidedness and harshness in the polemic of the opponents.

But enough of this whole issue!

The period of total independence in my work, which had been so satisfying to me, was over way too soon. In the end of 1932, Professor Bostroem from Munich was called to take over the professorial chair in Koenigsberg as the successor of our Geheimrat. He was only superficially familiar to me from conferences, so I knew nothing about him personally. So there was great excitement in the hospital when he announced himself one day to look around before accepting the job offer. Of course, I was aware of the fact that my future was depended on this visit, too. Because I had functioned as a substitute director for so long, I was so used to working independently and could not imagine working for a new director unless we got along on a professional and on a personal level. Of course, Ilse was very nervous as well about how things were going to work out with him, and I made plans to bring the future director home for lunch if everything went well. Everything did go well, in fact, very well, and I brought him home with me. He was about ten years older than me and had an easygoing attitude. He was natural and kind and also had a good sense of humor. He liked the hospital a lot, which after all was a new, very modern building, and he expressed his approval of me. It was almost funny how we agreed on every topic and issue we discussed later. In addition, I liked him very much personally, especially after he explained right away that he did not have the intention of changing anything, particularly in the area of personnel. He rather wanted to take over everything as it was.

Ilse was very happy that I did not come home by myself, and immediately liked him a lot. Thus we had a very relaxed and fun meal with wine and connected on a personal level, which evolved into a friendly relationship between our two families.

It was not until some time later that Professor Bostroem actually moved to Koenigsberg and was officially put in charge of the hospital, which I continued to direct until then. He had a very difficult time deciding to leave Munich and his friends there. Apparently, his wife was really afraid of the “Far East.” Some people imagined it to be similar to Siberia; cold, without culture, and primitive, particularly the inhabitants. As hard as it was for the Bostroems to come to Koenigsberg, it would be even more difficult for them to leave again about seven years later, when Professor Bostroem got an offer from Leipzig. They had settled in so well and felt so comfortable and had learned to love the beauties of East Prussia and made good friends, so the separation was a tearful one. Sometimes even just a short weekend was enough for them to travel from Leipzig Koenigsberg to spend a Sunday at the Kurische Nehrung.

After the new director took over the hospital, most things basically stayed the same, my situation included. Professor Bostroem quickly established a good rapport with the staff and patients, and was also very popular among the students, who especially appreciated his frank understanding and his noble character. The team spirit among the medical doctors was especially ideal, because the former cast order, which was somewhat hierarchical, had disappeared. Instead, there appeared to be an easygoing, cooperative tone, where the director acted almost like the “Primus inter pares” towards the older colleagues. It was interesting, though, that Professor Bostroem tended to diagnose manic states frequently in the beginning, matching his own symptoms. At the same time, we would suspect schizophrenia, but he thought we would diagnose that too often. Thus I remember the very drastic case of a young actress whom he sent to the unit to be admitted as a manic patient. I thought she was in the early stages of schizophrenia. He defended his point of view very enthusiastically: “But, dear Mr. Moser, she is an actress, a lovely woman by the way, and they just have so much more temper and passion. The old East Prussians do not quite understand that. There are more maniacs here than you think.” When he found the lovely actress a few days later in a typically catatonic state, he looked a little disconcerted after all. Thus we established that a psychiatric diagnosis can depend to a large extent on the personality of the diagnosing doctor.

Unlike his predecessor, the new director paid the medical assistant of the private patient unit a share of the private honorary. It also went without saying that I received my share for substituting and the fee for the examinations I held, as Professor Bostroem was used to doing in his old job in Munich. Further, he let me handle the acceptance, distribution and correction of all medical appraisals and I got a part of that honorary as well.

 The impression of the former villa of the Geheimrat changed completely. As the Bostroems moved in, the former academically stiff and distanced atmosphere, which demanded reverence and holy respect, disappeared, making room for an easy-going, natural tone and friendly openness.

To a large extent, that was due to the warm, motherly, spiritual personality of the new house wife, who had no traits of a chefeuse, even though she was a doctor herself.

Ilse got along with her very well immediately and was accepted in the family circle as if she was one of them. Now she did not have to get nervous anymore when she walked up the stairs to their villa. The last hampering reminiscence disappeared one day when she was walking by the Bostroems’ garden. Their kid were busy building a snowman when she overheard them saying the rough, Bavarian, words, “Now we will cut off the snowman’s ass.” In the “holy family,” something like that would have been unheard of! Later, Ilse would tell Mrs. Bostroem about her impressions and experiences with the Geheimrats, and she received the fullest understanding.

Once Christmas came closer, Ilse, who had introduced Mrs. Bostroem to the customs and habits of the area, showed her the traditional baking of the famous marzipan from Koenigsberg. As most of the time, when one wants to demonstrate something and it does not work, the almond dough did not quite come out as it was supposed to. This demonstrated the difficulties of the whole thing right away. But in the end, everything worked out fine.

Having lived in Munich, the Bostroems were used to celebrating the Carnival in a big way, and they organized a big children’s carnival. About 50 kids were invited and it was a lot of fun. Ilse helped a lot with all the preparations. Back in Koenigsberg, we still had a picture of this first children’s carnival, where Professor Bostroem—only called “Pascha” by his wife, a nickname we later used for him as well—held our son, Juergen, in his arms.

Like a bomb in the spring of 1933, the seizure of power by Hitler, the Nazi regime, interrupted this beautiful time, which had been harmonious in every aspect and had begun to be very encouraging for my professional career. We had been a little concerned before as the Nazi party won more and more votes in the elections, but we had not cared so much about it. When it came to politics, we went with Goethe’s saying: “Polit’sches Lied, garst’ges Lied” [political song, nasty song]. Then, under the Hitler regime, the unemployed, who used to hang around in front of the employment agency, playing cards, disappeared, and the panhandling stopped. Eight to 10 panhandlers daily had rung our doorbell before and Ilse had always given them something, which led them to mark us as an especially lucrative resource, which we unfortunately discovered too late. An overall order seemed to settle in, and we even put some hope into the new regime.

But those hopes would very soon prove themselves mistaken and fatal. The first taste of that was the anti-Semitism, which the new ideology had made their banner whim. We had been in Italy when Hitler came to power. When we came back we were surprised to hear that people had assumed we were Jews who had fled Germany in time. Our name had probably given them reason to think so. I had just demonstrated its Salzburgian origin to Ilse in Bozen [Bolzano, Italy], because it was a very common name there and could be seen on the sign boards of shops, stores and handyman companies. A neurologist in Koenigsberg, whose name was Jacob and who had worked at the neurological hospital before opening a special practice in the city, experienced something similar. People painted swastikas on her sign board and things like that. In the beginning, people apparently showed a panicky fanaticism and saw a Jew in every other person, similar to the panic regarding spies and agents during the war. That soon calmed down, but unfortunately only temporarily, as later events proved. I have already mentioned the difficulties I had when I had to come up with the necessary proof for my Aryan descent. Who was not afraid of suddenly coming across a non-Aryan grandmother one did not know about in the course of this forced ancestral research? This could mean the loss of one’s existence, even one’s life!

Smaller experiences left us feeling puzzled. For example, Ilse had given Friedel, who was seven years old at that time(!), a hat that looked similar to the uniform hats that the youngest group of the Hitler Youth (H.J.), the “Pimpfe,” later wore. One day, Friedel came home crying and told us that members of the Hitler Youth had knocked off his hat and taken it. When Ilse went to their office, she was told that the hat had been confiscated because it looked like a piece of the uniform, and wearing it would be interpreted as an abuse of the Hitler uniform! It was not until we made a lot of noise that Friedel got his hat back.

Another time we witnessed an SA man jumping out of an SA[3] group that was marching by to slap an old man’s face because he had not greeted the SA flag with the insignia, the so-called Hitler greeting, by raising his right arm. As it turned out, the old man who had been treated so roughly was a blind war veteran. Then the shady burning of the “Reichstag” took place, and most of all the “Roehm-affair,” where the arbitrariness and terror of the new regime was demonstrated totally unvarnished by shootings of completely uninvolved people. And no trial followed. Now we saw what the regime was all about, and we started to keep to ourselves.

Then there were all the experiences at the university as a consequence of Nazism.

The Jewish university lecturers slowly disappeared, one by one. The people in leading academic positions, such as the director and the dean, were dismissed and replaced by party members, thus Nazis. I lost my membership to the closer faculty and the general council as a result, because only party members were allowed there besides the professors. Nazi officials trained senate and faculty members at political meetings on how to perform their obligations towards the new regime. Nearly everyone complied. Only one or two left the room out of protest, as Professor Bostroem told me. Rather the opposite was true. A lot of people were in a hurry to join the party and could not become a member fast enough, sometimes out of fear, but to a large extent out of plain opportunism and careerism.

A particularly typical and sad example for that was the head-physician of the surgical hospital, Professor Mueller, who lived below us. We were friends with him and had had good times with him, even going on car trips together. After he had always agreed with our point of view, he came home one day with a party badge on his jacket. He told Ilse that he was going to an SA home tomorrow morning—a Sunday—to clean windows. When she told him that she could not understand that at all, he answered quite brusquely that he would rather go to clean windows in an SA home than continue to listen to the complaining. On top of that, he got on good terms with the area commander and his family, and finally some time later got the professorship for orthopedics. This is how many people did it.

It was proved once again that politics ruins character. By the way, money and intelligence can have the same result as well. People’s intelligence, however, generally failed as the Nazi regime infiltrated the universities. Old friendships came apart, people lost trust in each other, and mistrust increasingly spread. Fortunately, the Bostroems felt the same way we did, which solidified our good, friendly relationship. Of course, the hospital organization was not spared the consequences of the Nazis being in power. Those consequences were hard to tolerate and demonstrated the repellent methods of the new government. In the beginning, for example, we once received an order to call the banner roll every morning with the whole personnel while hoisting the new Nazi flag. My dear Professor Bostroem was very shocked, and I can still hear him shout desperately that he would not be able to do it. I should please do him this one and only favor and call the roll for him, which I finally did, though unwillingly and reluctantly. Fortunately, this order was rescinded only a few days later.

There were some difficulties with patients as well. Thus I remember one particular example. The Nazis had arrested the general director of an East Prussian bank, Mr. von Hippel, using some lame excuses. Mr. von Hippel was a very reputable man and respected everywhere. Ilse also knew him because she had gone to school with one of his daughters in Labiau. The Nazis apparently had abused him so badly that he had a nervous breakdown while he was in jail and had to be admitted to our hospital for treatment. Here they insisted on putting an SS guard in front of his room, which they tried to justify with the allegation that he was a criminal who was likely to escape. All of that was nonsense, of course. All Professor Bostroem’s protests did not help. The remark that we were a hospital and not a prison was ignored. When the patient felt better and was able to walk around in the hospital garden, he also was only allowed to do so with SS men in black uniforms right and left of him. Inside, we had to tolerate that reluctantly, because otherwise the patient would not have been able to get any fresh air at all. To outsiders, it made a horrible impression to see a patient of the hospital watched over like a criminal by Hitler’s personal guards.

Professor Bostroem was particularly troubled by this case, which also moved him on a human level. He also was upset by the disrespect towards his authority as a doctor and hospital director.

The following example is also relevant One night, the district council admitted a patient from Koenigsberg to the hospital, officially, so-to-speak. He was said to be mentally ill and dangerous to the public. During the doctor’s visit in the morning, the nurses explained that he would always talk about being secretly overheard. Thus he apparently suffered from persecution mania. Further, he would hear voices, obviously hallucinations, because he would go over to the electrical plugs and light switches and act as if he heard something. It sounded very much as if the man really suffered from a psychosis. But when we examined him, he did not seem mentally ill at all. Aside from this fear, he seemed rather orderly. We sent the nurses out of the room, which visibly calmed the man, and he told us that he was politically harassed. He was afraid that there had been microphones installed in his room to overhear him and conversations that were going on. Determining whether allegations like that have any truth to them can be very difficult. However, we had already gotten so clever from living in those times that we could very much imagine that the patient’s allegations were true. That the Gestapo [Geheime Staatspolizei; secret state police] was controlling the phone lines and listening in on phone conversations was already public knowledge. One time, a postal official had come by to fix our telephone, claiming there had been a disturbance in the line. Since then, we trained ourselves to talk low and put the coffee warmer, which was lying around for that purpose, over the telephone whenever we had a critical conversation. Because the patient was obviously calmer after a few days and did not show certain psychotic symptoms, Professor Bostroem and I took full responsibility and decided to send him home without getting official permission first. On top of everything, we heard that the allegations of the so-called patient had been absolutely correct. He was in fact overheard with microphones in his apartment; when it became obvious that he was suspicious, the government tried to render him harmless, at least temporarily, with the help of a doctor, who followed the party line and admitted him to the hospital. The fact that we sent him home so quickly quite upset the departments in charge, but they did not dare to take action against us.

Eventually, the team spirit among the doctors at the hospital, which had been so good before, was tainted by the disastrous influence of the Nazi regime because nobody quite trusted anybody anymore. It became particularly awful when our first assistant, who had finished his habilitation after me, had to leave the hospital because he was half-Jewish. His successor had the very noble, old, aristocratic name, “von der Heydt,” which was probably supposed to imply trustworthiness. He soon turned out to be a cunning intriguer who had also joined the Nazi party. On a superficial basis, we never really liked him, with his vulture-head and deceitful countenance. At first, though, he acted very sociable and orderly and tried to put his best side forward. Then I realized that he was trying to get on good terms with me and manipulate me into liking him. When he did not succeed, he cleverly tried to plot against me with Professor Bostroem. Professor Bostroem, who unfortunately was too credulous and goodhearted, did not want to see the warning signs. Then the noble gentleman got in a hurry to join the NSDAP [Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiter Partei, official title of the Nazi party], thus to become a member of the party. In so doing, he hoped to gain the necessary backing and influence and pave his way for the future, which to a degree he succeeded in doing. After I left the hospital, he became head physician and a professor. Professor Bostroem quickly realized what kind of person he was, and this hurt their relationship. Bostroem told Ilse some time later, when the two met in Nidden [Nida, Lithuania; on the Kurische Nehrung, a narrow tongue of land] on the high dune that her husband’s sad experiences with the noble Doctor von der Heydt were among the most disappointing of his life. It really affected him deeply and he had a hard time accepting that he had misjudged a person like never before. Ilse, understandably, could not suppress a certain satisfaction that we had been right in our judgment after all, and she told me triumphantly. Of course, we felt quite bad for her husband, who had fallen for this cheat.

After all this, I realized that I could not stay at the hospital much longer anymore, particularly since there was no prospect of continuing my academic career successfully and getting a professorial chair some time soon under these circumstances. I was promoted, though, to “extra ordinaries,” an extraordinary professor, in 1934, following the request of Professor Bostroem after I had proved my Aryan descent. We were all in Kahlberg [Krynica Morska, Poland; on the Frische Nehrung [Mierzeja Wislana]] on vacation when the telegram arrived. We celebrated the news with the Strehlkes, who were there with us.

In addition, my name appeared on a list for candidates of other promotions, but nobody made a secret out of the fact that I did not have the slightest realistic chance at getting a professorial chair since I was not a member of the Party. Thus in 1936, I decided to give up my position as a head physician in the hospital and open a special practice in Koenigsberg while keeping my position as a university lecturer. Before that, I was also appointed a member of the Erbgesundheitsobergericht [High Court for hereditary health issues], which was the last decision-making authority concerning sterilization of people with hereditary diseases. These were almost exclusively insane or imbecile patients, thus patients from my special field.

Professor Bostroem, who had the same function, and I were very happy to work in a position like that. Not only did we officiate as expert witnesses, but we also had direct and immediate influence on the verdict and therefore the ability to prevent great harm at a High Court level.

It is probably necessary to insert a few notes about the law that was introduced by the Nazis to prevent the propagation of people with hereditary diseases. The law required the forced sterilization of all ill people to whom the law applied. In order to register all of them, all questionable cases had to be reported to the health department. Then the department wrote a proposition for sterilization and sent the case to the Erbgesundheitsgericht (EGG), which was the first authority to decide. One could file an appeal, which brought the whole case to the Erbgesundheitsobergericht (EOG). The EOG was the final authority. It consisted of several chambers. Each of them had a jurist who was the chair of the chamber, and two witnessing competent judges, one special doctor and one appointed doctor.

 In some of the cases that were covered by the law, it was not even clear if the diseases were hereditary. This was especially true for epilepsy. In cases of imbecile patients, it was enough to prove that they were born with their weakness for the law to apply, even though that was not the same as having an inherited mental disability. Aside from that, the uncertainty of diagnosing  mental illnesses—schizophrenia, for example—was the biggest problem. Thus the new law, in practice, was already on shaky ground, and on top of that, the proceedings depended on officially appointed doctors, who were all party members and “wild” Nazis, with few exceptions. Namely, in the beginning they wanted to sterilize all registered patients indiscriminately. They wanted to get on good terms with superior officials by presenting the highest number of sterilization cases, which contributed to that. The court for hereditary health issues, as the first authority, decided out of routine most of the time, assuring them that in case of any complaint, the high court would deal with it.

Thus at the high court, there were many opportunities to operate as a filter and a barrier and fix the grossest mistakes and false judgments.

The meetings were held in a hall at the castle of Koenigsberg. Old, beautiful oil paintings of the former Prussian kings looked down on us from the walls. An aged Oberlandesgerichtsrat [high district justice] who had familiarized himself with the medical material most admirably and just was a very wonderful man in general chaired the high court for hereditary health issues. Not only did he fully understand the medical uncertainty, but also greatly understood the fate of the people who were affected by the law. He also shared our basic concerns as doctors; so we worked together very well. In addition, he displayed extraordinary conscientiousness and judiciousness. Last but not least, we liked one another personally. I especially liked his adept and kindly humorous way of dealing with people, a result of his life experience. And most of the time, these people were mentally damaged in one way or the other, at least the ones who appeared as the main characters of the proceedings.

Thus it was not surprising at all that under his aegis, especially in the chamber Professor Bostroem and I were worked in, a lot of the proposed sterilizations were rejected even after they were approved in the first stage. I believe that way over half of them were rejected. As a result, the ministry asked us after a while the embarrassing question–“Why?–and demanded an explanation while clearly hinting that it looked almost as if we were flouting the law. “I gave them an explanation,” said our dear high district justice, Mr. Boguhn, with a smile. “I told the ministry that this was not our fault, but based on bad judgment of the court for hereditary health issues, which wanted to sterilize all these people who in fact had to be ruled out. And besides that, there are only doctors from the university working here at the chamber of the high court and they are very reliable and responsible man.” Then they left us alone. The new law had particularly catastrophic consequences in cases of people who were imbeciles since they were born. The transitions between a normally gifted to a weakly gifted to an imbecile are so vague and the medical definitions are very subjective.

In these cases in particular, the Nazi doctors wanted to forcefully sterilize a lot of harmless citizens, who, even if they were not any “mental heroes,” had a modest level of intelligence and were definitely not mentally ill. Thus these were the kinds of cases we had to deal with most at the high court.

One such case, which the high court had had a hard time solving, turned out to one of my most humorous courtroom successes.

A well-behaved master tailor from Koenigsberg, who apparently had attracted attention because he was so bad at computation, had gotten into the hands of a fanatical party doctor. The doctor wanted to sterilize him because of an inherent mental weakness. Because the tailor really could not calculate, the court in charge decided without hesitation in favor of the “Hitler-cut,” as the sterilization procedure was called tastefully back then. The tailor filed an appeal, and one of his arguments was that he had delivered brown uniforms to high party officials in the past and they had been very satisfied. To the chamber of the high court, the man did not seem imbecile at all, but it was confirmed that he really could not calculate. Conflicted about whether or not that was enough to diagnose him with a mental disability, the chamber ordered an in-patient examination and consultation at the university hospital so they could form an expert opinion. At that time, the director, Professor Bostroem, was not in Koenigsberg anymore and his successor, Professor Mauz, was known to be very careful and restrained regarding problems of hereditary illnesses. Thus we assumed that he would deny the existence of a mental disability. To our great disappointment, though, the hospital’s expert opinion concluded that the man was in fact mentally disabled after all. To the chamber, the reasoning of the expert opinion appeared to be very “thin,” the technical term used, and not convincing. Thus we could not reach a decision whether to sterilize the man. Instead, we gave the case to yet another chamber, which could not reach a verdict, either. So the case rested for quite a long time until the chairman of our chamber, Justice Boguhn, finally had enough and called on me for my advice. Of course, I could not tell him anything but to send me the file again. When I saw it again, I realized that the tailor was in fact a master tailor. He had managed to take the master exam successfully, which certainly required some intelligence, despite his weakness in math, which was without a doubt. Further, I read that he had worked not only for brown officials with great success and he had never seemed mentally disabled or mentally abnormal in any other way to anybody. Finally, it struck me that the hospital used I.Q. tests that were definitely too demanding for a simple-minded crafts master and the man on the street. It did not consider practical intelligence at all.

So I told High District Justice Boguhn that I was not satisfied either with the expert opinion of Professor Mauz, which he, by the way, had signed without ever seeing the patient, which, as I found out later, he often did! I told Justice Boguhn that the tailor did not seem mentally weak to me, but that I could not say anything definite without ever having seen the patient myself. So Justice Boguhn asked me to participate in yet another chamber meeting, which had to be the very last one, though. He would chair the meeting himself and try to find a suitable official doctor as a third witness. I agreed to come and was curious about the outcome myself.

In the meeting, the tailor understandably seemed a little angry at first, because he had believed the trial to be over already. Other than that, he appeared very inconspicuous. He did not shine by extraordinary brightness, but there was no sign of mental disability whatsoever. It was true that he could not do math, but he only failed when it came to mental computation, though he was able enough to help himself on paper. It was so obvious that we were dealing with an isolated disability similar to a reading problem and not with a generally defected intelligence of pathological measure. Thus I referred to the fact that a talent for computation is not the only measure of intelligence.

It was known that it could work the other way around as well. The most talented math genius can be the biggest idiot. Of course, this is only true when it comes to mechanical computation and not true for mathematicians!

This made sense to everybody, and everything seemed good so far, so I started to dictate the reasons for the verdict. Then, somebody remarked that these were rather theoretical explanations that would interpret the diagnosis or comment on it simply in a different way instead of disproving it or adding new and relevant facts about the diagnosis. The other courts that had dealt with this case had made this point as well. But this would not be enough to refute an expert opinion of a university hospital, which is an authority. In addition, their opinion was based on several weeks of in-patient observation of the tailor. This was not legally justifiable. We would have to come up with another diagnosis, a physical one rather than a psychological one, if possible, so it would be immediately recognizable and convincing. I was asked if that was possible for me. If not, we had not achieved anything new. What a difficult situation we were in. What were we to do now? The spirit in the room fell, and this Gordian knot seemed beyond solving. I asked for the written report of the hospital again, and as I read it one more time, I found a section I had not paid any attention to before, which now seemed more important in this context. Namely, it read that the man had a microcephaly, a skull that was too small, so to speak. This often was the case for mentally disabled people who were born with their disability. This diagnosis was an important basis for the assumption that the tailor was mentally challenged.

While I read that, I suddenly had an idea, because the head of the man had neither struck me as being abnormally small nor as having a microcephalic shape. I sent for the tailor to be brought back into the meeting room and asked him, to his astonishment and that of my colleagues, briefly, “Mr. X, tell us the size of your hat, please.” He answered a little confused, “I am a size 54, Judge.” I sent him outside and said, “A head radius of 54 cm is completely normal. I am only a size 54 myself, even though I am a little taller than him. Thus the man has no microcephaly as the hospital claimed. Otherwise, I have one as well. Since the hospital states that microcephaly is a main reason for diagnosing mental disability, I must be disabled myself according to the hospital’s opinion. Here is the fact you need to state a new diagnosis that contradicts the hospital’s opinion. It is in the physical area, as you asked for. Thus it is strong enough to convincingly refute the expert opinion of the hospital. If this is not enough, then even God can not help us.” For a brief moment, the High Court was puzzled and stunned about the unusual, not very academic argument. Then, probably triggered by the situation, everybody burst into such laughter, the likes of which I never heard again in these holy rooms.

The sterilization of certain girls and women was another difficult and gray area. Some of these girls were either a little too needy for love or had lived a loose lifestyle. That did not automatically mean that they were shameless or morally depraved. Some overly eager Nazi doctors, though, jumped at these girls and wanted to sterilize them on grounds of moral insanity. Professor Bostroem and I resisted these cases vehemently. Such an opinion was not medically justifiable. Besides, we did not feel a special calling to function as moralizers. In this respect, the chairman of the High Court was on our side and usually rejected those “cases” with particular enjoyment. Sometimes, the situations were quite funny. I remember a very nice girl who was everything but insane. She was supposed to be sterilized though, because she had been seen coming out of the woods with her hair and clothes in disarray. Generally, she had a reputation for not being very serious. Out of fear, she tried to deny everything and defended her little adventure in the woods and her condition, explaining that she had been attacked by a buck deer. When Justice Boguhn smiled and said in his understanding, mellow way, “Well, Lottchen, I believe this buck deer had some pants on,” she turned red and was very embarrassed. This proved the existence of a sense of shame and therefore spoke in her favor.

Such humorous episodes were an exception, though. Usually, the pictures and situations that unfolded in front of our eyes in those meetings were quite sad and tragic. The sterilization not only meant a severe psychological trauma, but had consequences for the family life of the victims as well. Sterilized people, for example, were not allowed to marry genetically healthy people, only people who were themselves sterilized.

Many engagements were broken off only for this reason, sometimes under very dramatic circumstances! Farmers also suffered if they had registered their farm as heritage in order to keep it in their families. They lost everything once they were diagnosed with a hereditary illness that led to sterilization. I witnessed such a tragic fate myself, namely with a patient who was falsely diagnosed with epilepsy and sterilized, despite my repeated warnings about diagnosing epilepsy as a hereditary disease. Epileptic seizures can occur with any brain disease, but in this case, my warnings (Kassandraruf), which had already become infamous, were in vain. It was probably already at the beginning of the war when the patient came into my office and told me he was an epileptic. He said I would not even have to examine him, because the diagnosis had been made by several different hospitals and he had already been sterilized. He asked me only for a prescription for his pills, which he had finished. He was scared to get a seizure again, because he had had such a headache lately. Because I was extremely careful with people with epilepsy and I was used to examining their eyes as soon as they mentioned having a headache, I automatically grabbed the eye mirror. I diagnosed a massive pupil stowage in his eye, a sign of pressure in the brain, which implied a brain tumor. I immediately sent the man to a surgical hospital, where they removed a tumor from his brain the size of a fist. Unfortunately, he did not recover from the operation and died a few days later. After his death, the relatives paid me a visit. They told me that the deceased had been a farmer on an inherited farm. He had lost his property because of the sterilization, which, as it turned out, had been a mistake. Based on this new information, they wanted to reopen the case in order to save the property for the family. I immediately contacted the chairman of the High Court for hereditary health issues to help them. But he told me that a verdict that has been reached by the High Court in the last stage of the proceedings is irreversible. Clarifying this matter would be legally extremely difficult from a legal standpoint, even though the case seemed very simple. Thus I unfortunately could not do much more except provide the relatives with an appropriate medical report and refer them to the responsible legal officials.

I probably spent more time writing about hereditary health issues because of my position at the High Court, and also because I contributed some knowledge to sterilization law. Perhaps it is interesting, though, to read about this shady chapter of brown times and about one old forefather’s experience with it.

Because I was very busy in different parts of town during the end of my work at the hospital and knew that I planned to open my new practice soon, which would require me to be more mobile, we bought a car in 1935. Having a car was not as common back then. Today, every other person has a car and almost every student is motorized. We had a four-seat, very stable “Hanomag,” which served us well for ten years. Like everything else, we had to leave it behind with a full tank when we were forced to flee.

Ilse and I went to driving school at the time. Our driving teacher had a typical East Prussian name, Naujocks. He was a very nervous man with little pedagogical habits. With no explanation, he put Ilse behind the wheel and had her drive into the city immediately. That was more risky back then; today, women are generally more familiar with technical things. It was very funny when Ilse took her driving exam. She was ready to stop the car and take a deep breath of relief because everything had gone so well when she stalled the motor. But the engineer who conducted the exam was a very reasonable man with a sense of humor and he just laughed wholeheartedly.

By the way, the kids were already much more interested in and knowledgeable of technical matters than us parents were back then. When Juergen was about 2 or 3 years old and not even fully able to speak, he was visiting his grandmother in the countryside in Labiau one day. He was not even able to tell the difference between a duck and a goose, but he already knew a lot about cars. One time a car drove by and he asked his grandmother if it was a “Dixi car,” leaving her speechless.

We went on a lot of trips with our Hanomag [brand of car] and got to know the real East Prussia with its beautiful landscapes that way.

Once, when I was on a trip, Ilse had taken the kids to visit Labiau. On her way back she had an amazing experience. Just before Koenigsberg, the gas pedal got stuck. Thus the car was driving at full speed and howled accordingly. Very alert, Ilse pulled out the key immediately. Nevertheless, Friedel, who was 11 years old at the time and sat next to Ilse at the door, panicked and said, “I am out of here.” He jumped out of the car while it was still driving fast. Ilse told me later that she was so shocked, her heart almost stopped beating. She was afraid to find him in the roadside ditch with all his bones broken. After the car came to a stop and she stepped out, though, he came running towards her, undamaged but pale as death. It was a miracle that nothing had happened to him. He must have had a guardian angel. Ilse stopped the next car and a few doctors we knew were inside. They examined Friedel thoroughly and confirmed that nothing was broken. The defective car was fixed quickly at the next mechanic’s. At home, the shock reverberated a little, but other than that everything was fine. From then on, the nervous Friedel was not allowed to sit in the front of the car anymore, which is generally forbidden for children nowadays anyway. Even Juergen, who was generally very calm and had been sitting in the rear, was deeply impressed by this event and probably remembers it to this day.

The end of my tenure at the neurological hospital was coming closer and closer. Leaving it was not easy for me. After all, my entire professional development to date had taken place in those rooms. Ten years after I left, when the Red Army marched into Koenigsberg in 1945, the hospital ceased to exist entirely.

Professor Bostroem said good-bye to me in a very honorable and warm way by organizing a celebration with the entire staff. Then, a new chapter of my professional life began.

Since I have already talked a lot about the effects of Nazism on our lives, to stay within the context of history, I would like to add a few more experiences we had with the brown regime before I talk about this new chapter of my career.

The episode with Friedel’s hat, which I have already mentioned, was only the prelude to the permanent fights and concerns we would have with the H.J. (Hitler Youth) once two of our sons had to join this organization at the age of 10.

It started with Friedel, who, being the older one, had to join sooner. After his first “service,” he came home with orders not to tell his parents what he had done there. The boys were particularly encouraged to spy on their relatives at home, and it was their duty to tell their leaders (Fuehrer), who were sometimes not older than 11 or 12 years old, about the political conversations held at home. Back then, it was not rare for children to help put their parents in jail by denouncing them.

Another goal of the service was to condition the boys to physical toughness, which simply culminated in bottomless crudeness and overexertion. Thus one day Friedel came home from a Sunday’s service, which had consisted of a 25-kilometer march, completely tired and exhausted. He had barely managed to get himself to our front door to ring the doorbell. We found him lying totally debilitated on the doormat like a picture of misery. Another time, when Ilse had given him some tea in a bottle for the way, they said that no one was allowed to have their own drink. To demonstrate their sense of camaraderie and solidarity, everybody had to pour their drink into one big container. Now everybody had to drink a mixture of tea, coffee, fruit juices, seltzer and I don’t know what else. As a result, of course, everybody got horribly sick to his stomach. Friedel had a terrible diarrhea for days and Ilse still remembers as if it were yesterday how he confessed to her that he had to use a whole role of toilet paper in one day. Of course we complained, but we were only able to achieve very little, if anything at all. When things got too crazy, I put on my uniform from the Wehrmacht (German army), which was the only thing that impressed those guys and made them respect me at least a little bit. Then I went to the highest district official to protest. Once Hans Decker became very angry, too, about the nonsense with the boys, and with his Herculean stature, he went to bring those leaders to their senses. We still remember the following story very well. Friedel had had an ear infection and had recuperated to the extent that he could go back to school, but was not able to participate in the demanding physical program of the H.J. service yet. Accordingly, I gave him a written excuse with a medical diagnosis. After some time, an adolescent bully came storming into our apartment after repeatedly ringing the doorbell. He planted himself in front of me with his hands in his hips and told me in an insolent tone of voice, “I can’t accept your written excuse, Mr. Moser.” Normally, this could have been very amusing, but I was already so irritated by all the trouble back then that Ilse, who was standing nearby, was afraid I would start to get physically aggressive with the boy. But I just yelled at him and threw him out.

A few weeks seldom passed without an incident like that. Finally, we sent Friedel to the so-called rider’s Hitler Youth. Friedel had been takng horseback riding lessons, which he had strongly desired. The boys in the rider’s Hitler Youth were orderly and the whole organization was more civilized. Albrecht Thomasius was in the rider’s H.J. as well, and Friedel became friends with him. Albrecht visited Juergen in the United States many years after the war, after he was released from Russian captivity.

Since we had already learned from our experiences with Friedel, we sent Juergen directly to the air Hitler Youth. They did a lot of crafts there, which he actually enjoyed. One time, he constructed and built a model sailplane by himself, which he even won a prize for. But he had trouble here as well. Another time, a boy took away and destroyed a model Juergen had built with great effort, out of envy or to play a practical joke on him. That time, Juergen came home very upset and inconsolable. When it came to collecting fees and donations, the Hitler Youth boys were not always very honest. Ilse once caught a group of boys spending the whole collection on candy.

Juergen, being an extraordinary student, and with his blond hair and blue eyes, was selected by his school to visit a special school of the Nazis, a so-called “Napola” [Nationalsozialistische Erziehungsanstalten, a special school for elite students to promote Nazi ideology; included paramilitary training]. He was not interested though. When we asked him if he wanted to go, he just said, “What would I do there?” Of course, we would have never agreed anyway.

The persecution of Jews in the beginning of the Nazi regime, which I already described, ebbed at first, only to increase more and more in later years. One of the most unheard of pogroms against Jews was the so-called “Kristallnacht” on November 9th, 1938. The synagogue was set on fire, Jews were chased out of their apartments and deported, Jewish stores were plundered and their owners beaten up, and Jewish children were thrown into the ice cold water of the Pregel river by members of the S.S. That night, our doorbell rang continuously, but we did not open it because other doctors had been assigned to emergency service. Possibly people had assumed that we were Jewish when they read our name on the doctor’s nameplate. Once Ilse saw a few elderly “ladies” point at our name plate while walking by, saying, “There’s another one of those Jews who settled here. He was probably suspended from the hospital.” When we tried to find a garage to rent for our car after moving to the center of the city and Ilse would mention our name, the first thing people would ask was, “Are you Jewish? If you are we can’t sublet the garage to you.”

It was just unbelievable how people who were generally reasonable and very peaceful could be so influenced by the hateful propaganda and act mean and brutal themselves, especially young adults of course. Below us lived an official judge, Gerhard, whose oldest son got hired by the S.S. because of his tall, slim appearance. He was a very good-natured, yes, actually a good-hearted boy, who would not have harmed any living creature. His parents were against the Nazis. On the day of the pogrom, he came home particularly happy. Thus his father asked him what he had experienced that had been so fun. His son answered to the father’s horror, “Oh, we just plundered Jewish stores and gave the owners a good thrashing. That was fun!” His parents were devastated.

A few days later, a very shy patient came into my office and asked me, quite scared, if I would come to see a sick woman, even though she was Jewish. She had suffered a nervous breakdown after the horror of the pogrom. I put on my uniform, which had to bear the brunt once again, and drove to the patient. When I arrived I was confronted with a horrible picture. Old and young people had been crammed together into a few rooms that were equipped only with the barest necessities. Among the people were a few who were sick and had been without any medical care, so I had quite a few patients to attend to right away. I will never forget this miserable picture and the incredible gratitude of these poor people—I could barely escape their hand kisses.

At this point, I would like to mention that in East Prussia, we had no idea about the concentration and death camps where t the Jews were later brought. Officials always claimed that the Jews were used to build the east dam and would come back after that. For years, the Nazis understood how to keep their terrorist acts a secret and were very successful, at least in East Prussia. I did not hear about the killings of mentally ill and disabled people in gas chambers until 1944. While I was on a train on my way home from a foster home, where I was doing some work, I met the director of an East Prussian mental hospital. Since the two of us were alone in the compartment, he told me, very upset, that he recently had been asked to come to Berlin, where officials ordered him to “eliminate” some of his patients. He was completely devastated and did not comply.

One main propaganda tool used to spy on individuals at the time was the so-called community reception (Gemeinschaftsempfang) on the radio, where Hitler or Goebbels or other high Nazi figures gave an hour-long speech. In companies and within the family as well, everybody had to sit in front of the speaker and listen. Nobody wanted to risk being squealed on by servants or even by family members, denounced and defamed for sabotage. In this way, the government planted mistrust. The political differences of opinions broke up friendships, marriages and families. We experienced that among our own relatives as well. The Gramatzkis from Usedom, called “Pegrams” by the other relatives, where Ilse spent six months shortly before we married, announced their visit one day. We were eagerly looking forward to it because we got along with them really well. Both he and his wife were members of the NSDAP, which especially surprised us because Pegram himself had belonged to the Freemason lodge (Freimaurerlodge), and its members and former members usually were not accepted by the Nazi party because they were said to be disposed toward Jews. In addition, he was a very religious man—hence, his nickname “Pastor Pegram”—which did not fit into the ideology of the Party, either. However, despite all that, he managed to become a Party member. As far as his wife, Dittchen, was concerned, it was not too surprising. She got excited easily and was an impulsive, not very critical human being. In her case, as in the case of many women, the deification of the “Fuehrer,” Hitler, most likely had still other than just political roots.

Even though we knew that the Pegrams sympathized with the Nazis, we were still shocked and disappointed when they turned out to be fanatics who would have loved to wear their party badge on their nightgowns. Thus it was not possible to prevent arguments, even though we tried to avoid political conversations.

It began when the only comment Dittchen had for Ilse, who wanted to prepare a particularly nice lunch to please her guests, was that she should have saved the money and donated it to the “Fuehrer” instead. It continued in the same tone, Hitler this and Hitler that. During lunch, the conversation turned to children’s education. Naturally, we ended up sharing our experiences with the Hitler Youth. Of course, that triggered a wave of indignation from the Pegrams, who did not have any children, by the way. Dittchen, in particular, could not stop defending everything. She doubted our own experiences of the deplorable state of affairs and threw out one Nazi slogan after the other. Finally, I had enough and in my anger, slammed my fist on the table, which made the good, red cherry soup spill all over the clean, white tablecloth. Naturally, the mood changed accordingly!

Our sweet little Wera from Schoenwalde, a dedicated Hitler-follower, was still very naïve in January of 1945. So, when I talked about sending Ilse and Klaus to “the Reich,” she just said: “Why would you want to do that? Our “Fuehrer” will make sure that East Prussia will be freed in time. Our Ortsbauernfuehrer [head of the local farmer’s community], who I am sure you know, told us to stay here in order to sow the fields in spring.” She still believed the same thing when she came a few weeks later with Gretchen and her children as refugees to stay with us. Then, after she had gotten all the way to Danzig [Gdansk, Poland] in her escape, she went back to her destroyed estate of Schoenwalde close to Koenigsberg. She had to pay for her naïveté with her life.

By the way, as we experienced ourselves in Koenigsberg, the high party officials were the first ones to leave the city as soon as the situation got critical. One night there were cars, which had quickly been confiscated for that purpose, standing with running motors in front of the party’s headquarters. Because we already suspected what that meant, Ilse tried to persuade them to take at least Gretchen and her four children with them, but she just got the dismissing, “comforting” answer that we all would have to die at some point. We should have expected something like that. The next morning all these brown heroes were gone.

I did not have any trouble in my career stemming from the political situation once I quit my job at the neurological hospital. One story, though, shows very clearly how everybody was spied on and to what extent the Nazis got involved in all private affairs of the people. Thus I want to tell this story in a little more detail. The eye doctor, Mr. Lempp in Koenigsberg, who was a very good piano player and could be proud to say that he had been a student of Busoni’s, met a young man once on a Sunday excursion between Cranz [Zelenogradsk, Poland] and Sarkau [Lesnoi, Poland], who had been bitten by a snake. Mr. Lempp provided the necessary medical aid and made sure the man received a serum injection. It turned out that this man was the American Vice Consul Bywater, who lived in Koenigsberg with his mother. In conversation, Mr. Lempp found out that he was a big music lover and an avid cellist. Thus the two of them developed a nice friendship, playing music together while I joined them as a violinist. We met quite often to play music, mostly Brahms, whom Dr. Lempp especially loved. The most popular piece was the piano quintet in F-minor. Most of the time we played at Dr. Lempp’s place, but sometimes we also met at our place or the Vice Consul’s. Afterwards, we usually sat together, drank a glass of wine and had long and deep conversations—not only about music! Because the Consul had grown up in Germany, attending a very exclusive boarding school, his German was excellent. His mother, was born in Switzerland and spoke German fluently as well. Both of them were extremely nice people, whom we totally harmonized with—again, not only in the area of music! We shared the same political opinions and discussed current events. We all agreed that, in any event, even if the outcome of the war was favorable for the Germans, Germany would face a very difficult time, maybe even annihilation. Bywater was particularly interested in our experiences with the brown authorities [Nazis]. Ms. Bywater, who was very religious, was interested in the Nazis’ stance towards the church. She did not want to believe the stories her son told her about the persecution of clergymen until Ilse confirmed them. The church had been divided into two main camps by the politics of the Nazis. The so-called Deutsche Christen [German Christians] were Hitler-friendly and mostly party members. They also took an anti-Semitic stance. For example—and this revealed their real Christian conviction!—they excommunicated Jews who had been baptized Protestant, thus the party would not put up with them any longer. The others called themselves the Bekennende Kirche [Confessional Church] and they strongly opposed the Nazis. Thus their more popular and influential clergymen were exposed to chicanery and persecution. We witnessed one minister being arrested for listening to a foreign broadcasting station on the radio. He “passed away” in jail, whereupon his devastated wife tried to commit suicide by throwing herself out the window and was fatally injured.

This as a simple aside.

It was at the beginning of the war when I was ordered to come to the district headquarters to discuss a matter. There, the colonel immediately demanded to know whether I intended to continue seeing the American consul. He asked me how I got the idea that my actions were appropriate and told me that I was compromising myself because I was a medical officer in the reserve. Well, now I knew what this was about! When I told him that I was meeting the Consul on a strictly private basis and we would simply make music together, he answered that nobody would make music for that many hours. He continued to tell me about a particular day where I had stayed at the consul’s place until 2 a.m. and concluded that it could not have been simply for the purpose of making music. He wanted to know what I had been doing there for so long. Because I had known the colonel in the past to be a harmless man who was visibly insecure, I followed the old advice that the best defense is a good offense, and argued that the United States was not our enemy (this was long before Hitler declared war on America in December 1941). I argued that to the contrary, I had observed that our officials were extremely polite towards the Americans. Thus I would not see any reason why I should be any less so. I went on to say that I suspected his warning had political rather than military motivations. He gave in immediately and admitted to have gotten the order to warn me from a different side than the military. Then he requested semi-officially that I discontinue my contact with the consul. Even if America was not our enemy yet, it was possible that it would become one in the future and I could run into trouble. He wanted to warn me about the danger of the impending war with America.

The message was very unequivocal, and we did not have a choice but to not join the regular music sessions anymore, at least the ones at Bywater’s place. Of course, we told Mr. Bywater and his mother the real reason we couldn’t come to their house anymore, which they fully understood. In addition, the Nazis took a similar action concerning Mrs. Bywater, who was taking a gymnastics class with Ilse. After all, the Bywaters probably knew more about foreign affairs at the time than us. They also knew that we were acting under pressure when we did not visit them anymore. Mrs. Bywater still came to visit us in secret a few more times and brought rare food and luxury articles like meat and coffee, which we were not able to buy during the war but foreigners still got plenty of. When Bywaters were ordered to leave the country a few months before Germany declared war on the United States, they came over to our house one last time to say goodbye. In order to avoid putting us in danger they parked their beautiful, big car in a small side street away from our house.

After the war, we tried repeatedly to get in touch with them, but did not succeed. All we found out was that he had become consul in Honduras and later went to Italy.

In the beginning of the war, I had a dispute with the Nazi director of the university, Mr. von Gruenberg, a cousin of our friend von Gruenberg, because the Nazis once again demanded that the wives of university lecturers prove their Aryan descent. Namely, the wives were not supposed to have a single drop of “dangerous” blood in their bodies and had to provide evidence that they were Aryans as well. Apparently, some half-Jewish or one-quarter Jewish women had been able to work their way around that, which gave the Nazis reason for another, more thorough raid. I was so irritated about this nonsense that I just wanted to refuse to participate, but a few colleagues advised me to file Ilse’s papers yet again so as not to endanger her or me unnecessarily.

Finally, on our flight from East Prussia, I had an encounter in Gotenhafen [Gdynia, Poland] with an official of the frightening S.S. who did not want to let me board the warship on which I was supposed to be the accompanying doctor for 200 refugees. I jumped onto the ship just as it was about to leave, whereupon the S.S. official threatened Ilse, saying that he would make sure I never stepped foot onto German soil alive again.

He did not succeed after all. In the spring of 1945, when we lived as refugees at Hildegard Doehl’s place (her maiden name was Alsen) in Greifswald, we experienced once more how Nazism could destroy family ties and turn family members into fanatics.

Soon after our flight, the Alsen family fled Stettin to stay with their daughter, Hildegard. Uncle Victor Alsen was a very nice old man, but an “incurable” Nazi.

His wife, Aunt Elisabeth, was the reasonable one of the two of them and shared our opinions fully. At the same time, though, she secretly let us know right away not to talk to Uncle Victor about the war, explaining that he was completely undiscerning and incapable of changing his opinion. It was not possible, though, to avoid the subject all the time, and there were unpleasant situations. We will never forget the day just before the capitulation, when Goebbels held his last radio speech from the bunker in Berlin. He shouted with pathos, “Berlin was German, is German and will always be German!” Uncle Victor said to us triumphantly, “Well, there you here it yourselves! You never want to believe it!” A few hours later, the news of Hitler’s and Goebbels’ suicide came over the radio. Then, when Greifswald was occupied, uncle Victor bitterly said to us, fully misunderstanding our views, “Now you have what you always wanted!”

These were our last impressions of Nazism; then the brown nightmare, which brought chaos and misery to the whole world to such an extent that it has yet to be overcome to this day, was over.


12. My Own Practice


Since I had decided to give up my position in the hospital and open my own practice, we tried to get comfortable with the idea of giving up our apartment and moving into the city. Because we wanted to have the practice and our living space in the same place, the apartment we lived in was too small, anyway. Further, its location was impractical because we were living in an outlying suburb. It made much more sense to open a practice closer to the center of the city.

Even though it was not that hard anymore to find apartments, at that time it still seemed quite difficult to find a place that met all of our needs and suited us. But we were lucky and we found an ideal luxury apartment with six and a half rooms, central heating and much more. It was located close to the center of the city and at the same time a little bit away from the city noise, close to the lake of the castle and its beautiful gardens. The streetcar connections to other parts of the city were very good. Besides all that, the place had yet two more advantages. The former head physician of the neurological hospital had been running his own practice on the ground floor of the house until shortly before we moved in. Thus it was already known to the public that there was a neurological practice in the house. In addition, the concert hall was located right across from our house. All the big concerts and other public events took place there. When people came out of the building after the concert, the sign of my practice, which was mounted outside of the house, was right in their field of vision. This was the best advertisement I could imagine. Furthermore, it was very nice to live that close to the concert hall since we loved attending concerts ourselves. We only had to cross the street and did not even have to check our coats. It was such a long wait to get them back after the concert that it could really disturb the good mood after a beautiful evening. Friends and relatives who enjoyed visiting concerts soon started to take advantage of that and dropped off their coats at our house, which saved them a couple of bucks, too!

Our new apartment—Vorderrossgarten 48—was on the second floor and had a very long, wide hallway that led to all the rooms. On one side were the professional rooms, the waiting and consulting rooms. This area was separated from the living area by a door in the hallway. Then there was our dining room and living room. The latter, which had a little balcony, was more Ilse’s domain. Across from these rooms were the very large and spacious children’s bedroom and our bedroom, the maid’s room, the bathroom and the kitchen.

The highlight of the apartment was my huge consulting room (360 square meters = 3348 square feet), which had a front similar to a bay shaped like a half-moon with five windows. That is where my desk and the “confession chair” stood. Next to that were the examination couch and all the instruments a neurologist used to have, which were not very extensive and consisted mostly of electrical equipment. The rest of the room was nicely outfitted with club furnishings, “Soeneken-bookshelves” with glazed fronts on the walls, cabinets on wheels and shelves for the patient’s files. The waiting room was nicely equipped as well. We furnished it with wicker furniture, because a neurologist’s office has to appear especially warm and homey and not sterile, matter-of-fact and cold. People envied me for my nice office furniture.

I did not need to hire a receptionist or nurse because Ilse helped me as much as necessary. Our maid opened the door during consulting hours, which sometimes led to surprises, though. One time, Ilse walked in just as our new and somewhat simple-minded maid from Masuria welcomed the patients with the equivocal words: “The waiting room is over there, and here,” pointing at the hall-stand, “you can hang yourselves!” Fortunately, none of the depressed patients took up that invitation! I later hired a secretary to come in on an hourly basis, because my written work had increased significantly. I had to write about 1,000 expert opinions on adolescents every year.

In our living room, which was actually Ilse’s room because it contained her desk, we hung dozens of deer antlers on the wall above the couch. They came from Ilse’s father, who had been a head forester. Thus we slept on moose blankets that had been softly tanned to resemble chamois. They came from a moose her father had shot.

The piano stood in that room as well. In the end, we had an old but well-preserved Bechstein grand piano, which had a history behind it. Namely, Liszt himself had played it. The general music director from Koenigsberg, Franz Reuss, who had been a godson of Franz Liszt’s, had owned it before us. Other famous pianists, such as Edwin Fischer, had played that piano as well. Thus it was always played with a certain kind of holy respect.

We did not have to wait long for the first patient to show up, even though Koenigsberg had four neurologists in addition to me. I was already known well enough in the city, and word that I had opened my own practice quickly spread through town. My credentials served me, confirming Goethe’s famous quote that a title has to prove itself first (“Ein Titel muss sich erst vertraulich machen”). This concerned the female clientele more, though. However, in the first few weeks, it felt quite unusual to be self-employed and stand on my own feet without having the steady income and the money I had made on the side in my former position. Namely, Ilse, whose relatives had been civil servants for generations, worried a lot about how we would get by. These worries soon proved to be unnecessary, because I made more than 1,000 Marks from private patients alone in the first month. In addition, I was licensed to accept all insurance plans and continued to be asked to work as an expert witness for different official departments. Further, there were a few beds in a close-by private hospital that I could use for in-patient observation and treatment.

I was lucky in the beginning, because I got a case that was quite easy to treat successfully. A young man with a benign tumor in his spinal cord was operated on, with great results. That case caused a great stir. The man was very grateful, the more so because he was engaged but had not been able to get married due to his illness. After he was cured and happily married, he wrote me for years and faithfully reported the arrival of every new baby to me!

One of my first house calls was a little dramatic. One Sunday, the phone rang unexpectedly and a frightened, female voice nervously told me that her brother, a dentist, had suddenly become insane. She felt pursued and he was threatening her and her sister, who lived there with them, with a whip and a loaded gun. She had already called several doctors in the area in vain and the neurological hospital told her that they could not pick him up unless a doctor had examined him first. She begged me to come immediately. The police, whom she had called in her panic, said it was not their problem to take care of because he was a sick person. So we got our little car out of the garage and left. Ilse was afraid to let me visit that dangerous man by myself. When we arrived in front of the house, we saw a giant man standing behind a window and gesticulating wildly all over the place. Ilse already pictured me as a “victim of my profession,” killed by this wild, crazy man and got really scared. But everything went quite well. I have learned what I have learned as the saying goes (Gelernt ist gelernt). Once I made known I was a doctor and took out my stethoscope to examine and treat his “stroke,” the agitated patient calmed down a little. Then, I entered into his mania by engaging him in conversation while inconspicuously putting the dangerous instruments like the whip and the gun out of his reach. After that, I explained to him that he had to get an injection for his heart to prevent a heart attack, and he obediently lay down on the couch. Once he was horizontal, I had won the game. He got a big dosage of a strong tranquilizer, which made him fall asleep within a few minutes, and I arranged for him to be brought to the mental hospital. He was suffering from an acute state of schizophrenia. I could hear Ilse’s big sigh of relief when I returned to the car unharmed.

Of course, it does not always work out this smoothly, but the dangers a neurological doctor faces are generally a bit exaggerated. The esteemed police, though, whom one can call when dealing with very dangerous mental patients—which doctors try to avoid for the sake of the patients and their relatives—are likely to evade such situations most of the time. Thus one time, for example, they tried to refuse forcing open a locked door that a mental patient was hiding behind. It was not until I was badly cut up that they opened it. Such cases are rare, though. Cases of severe mental illness generally just make up a small percentage of the patients in a neurological private practice. The rest of the cases are neurological diseases of all kinds and a large amount of cases are on the border between psychological and neurological, mainly a large number of so-called neuroses. For that reason, I explored psychotherapy more and more, which usually does not get enough attention in hospitals and clinics. I also performed hypnotic treatments more often. I believe I have never impressed my good wife more than one time, when she entered the consultation room unsuspecting and found a hypnotized patient of mine lying on the couch in a deep sleep. This impression was only topped when, after having asked an alcoholic in hypnotic state to write me a postcard on a specific date three months later to tell me how he was doing, the postcard arrived on the right day. These things are still very impressive even though they are really natural.

Generally, most people have the wrong image of a neurologist’s job. Usually, they think of a “psychiatrist” as it was viewed in the old days. They do not even know that a psychiatrist is also a neurologist, which makes him responsible for all kinds of physical and neurological diseases like neuralgia and nerve infections—not to mention the well-known sciatic nerve [Ischias]!—and all the physical brain and bone-marrow diseases. People are more familiar with his treatment of a wide range of psychological cases psychotherapeutically, from borderline cases to cases that are closer to the norm. The sinister cloud that still surrounds the profession, though, probably stems from our occupation with the mysteries of psychic diseases. It is quite true that a doctor, particularly in this special field, meets the strangest people and has the chance to access the most hidden depths of the human soul.

I would like to discuss a few cases that come to my mind as ways to illustrate what I am talking about.

For example, I will never forget the highly dramatic treatment of a young woman who suffered from a hysterical paralysis of the legs. This case gave me an insight into the mysterious world of hysterical phenomena for the first time. Despite Freud and Kretschmer, these phenomena are not yet fully understood when it comes to the psychic functions and physical symptoms. Even though all of this is more than 40 years ago—I was a very young assistant doctor at the time—I still remember the proceedings vividly.

The young woman had been admitted to our hospital because both of her legs were paralyzed, which doctors believed to be of hysterical nature and had treated psychotherapeutically for years without any success. Thus it became an obvious suspicion that the paralysis might have organic reasons. The girl had been bed-ridden for almost a year at that time. This had caused some light stiffness in the joints, which was easy to get rid of with the right treatment, but despite examining her repeatedly with all kinds of chicanery, nobody was able to come up with a physically pathological diagnosis. Still, the girl could not walk and the doctor’s opinions about whether the reasons were hysterical or physical were divided. Finally, my impression that the girl’s suffering was of hysterical nature solidified, which was probably more based on intuition than rationale. Thus, being the responsible doctor on that particular unit, I suggested an electro-suggestive treatment, which was performed very successfully on patients with “war-hysteria” and had given rise to a lot of comment at that time. After I got the Geheimrat’s permission and after the necessary post-treatments, I went ahead and started the all-out attack of this heroic power cure. In the beginning, I did not seem to achieve anything either, but as the treatment went on, I saw that the patient was increasingly resisting being healed and apparently unable to overcome her own resistance. Thus I decided to use higher voltage. The girl started sweating all over and lost control over her bladder functions. The assisting nurses started to look worried, and I did not feel too comfortable, either. But lo and behold, all of a sudden she started to move her legs. She was able to walk a few steps at first with some support and then even without any help. Then something happened which deeply disturbed me and made such a lasting impression on me that I have not forgotten it to this day. Suddenly she collapsed, crying, and crawled over to me on the floor, grabbing my knee, kissing my feet and thanking me profusely for freeing her from the evil spirit that had overpowered her. Even the nurses present, who had probably thought of hysterical paralysis as being more or less a taboo illness and its treatment some kind of punishing procedure, looked quite puzzled. However, the girl was no longer paralyzed and could be released soon.

Back then, I already did a lot of thinking about this evil spirit that had taken control of the girl and had gone forth like the Devil in those miraculous cures written about in the Bible. Only the saints in the Bible cured the people more gracefully through faith, while I needed a heroic fight to do so. However, who still has enough faith nowadays to make miracles happen?! The psychotherapists of today certainly would have turned up their noses at my rigorous method and would have preferred a real, analytical treatment to uncover the underlying motives and the whole dynamic. The girl, though, as the unsuccessful attempts in that area showed, did not have enough substance to do that. In addition, it would have taken years and cost a lot of money. In this case, success was on my side.

In the beginning of my time in Stralsund, I was able to obtain a similar “miraculous” cure, which was less exhausting though because it concerned a much simpler case. A young girl on crutches was brought into my consulting room. To the astonishment of the other patients in the waiting room, she left without crutches, which contributed quite a lot to the popularity of my practice.

The story of one man from Koenigsberg shows how unusual the ideas are that some of these sensationalists, mostly childlike hysteria patients who are desperate for admiration, come up with. He got a strange sense of joy from swallowing 3- to 4-inch nails, so the X ray showed quite monstrous pictures. The man had to be operated on repeatedly, which did not keep him from indulging in his absurd passion. He also came to our house once and proudly presented himself to Ilse as “the nail swallower.”

Not always as relatively harmless as this man are people who are hysterically predisposed in their personality, oftentimes women. Not rarely, these cases lead to a tragic ending, as I dramatically experienced once towards the end of my time at the hospital in Koenigsberg.

Mrs. v. B., who belonged to the best social circles in Koenigsberg, terrorized her whole family with her erratic extravaganzas and her desire for attention, and even threatened to ruin them financially. On the request of her husband, an esteemed military official, Professor Bostroem, agreed to admit her to our hospital. She soon became the horror of the entire unit. Not one night passed without her calling for the doctor in charge, usually for a bagatelle in order to have a conversation with the doctor, if she liked him, or to annoy him, if she disliked him! When she did not like the food, she rejected it with disdain. She was too lazy to go to the bathroom, so she stayed in her room, neatly wrapped her excrement in paper, and kept it in her bed. When her husband came to visit her, she threw him right out the door along with his hat and umbrella. She was very well-behaved and nice to Professor Bostroem, who treated her himself and, because of his good nature, did not want to believe the negative reports of the staff until he was convinced himself. He still could not decide whether to take stronger measures or dismiss her from the hospital, though, and he did not feel it would be right to admit her to a mental institution either, because she was not really mentally ill. Before he went on vacation, he made quite clear to me that he would be happy if she was not around anymore when he came back! Then, the eyes of the whole unit—actually of the whole hospital—focused on me, full of hope and expectation. My situation was not enviable, but I nevertheless decided to take radical action and end these unbearable circumstances. I had to be very careful and diplomatic, because scheming hysterics like her tend to take advantage of any weak spot and are capable of anything. Unfortunately, Professor Bostroem did not think that the prerequisites for an incapacitation and admission to an institution were given in her case, which I personally would have supported. (She did end up being treated in an institution years later, by the way). So my only choice was to ask her to leave the hospital if she continued to act the way she did.

The next day, when the nurses reported to me that she had behaved like a fury again, I calmly told her that I would be forced to transfer her to the unit for agitated mental patients if she continued to act like them. Although I did not think she belonged there, I had to think in the interest of the other patients of this unit who needed rest and quiet time. She promptly answered, “You will not dare to do that. I am a personal patient of Professor Bostroem, who would never think to do something like that.” Despite her opinion, I dared to. During my next visit, I found her visibly impressed and humbled. Then she asked to be transferred back, which I agreed to on the condition that she was would not make any more trouble. The next day, she asked to be released, and I agreed again, which she obviously had not expected. She took back her request right away, only to take revenge for feeling treated unjustly, as I experienced later.

I had just gotten home from the hospital and was about to sit down for lunch when I received a phone call. On the other end was a woman claiming to be a doctor. She said she had treated Mrs.v.B. in the past and would like to know about her development so far. Since I knew that she had already been informed by Professor Bostroem, I was short and plain-spoken. Besides other things, I even used Nietzsche’s well-known quote about the “whip one should bring when going to one’s woman.” As soon as I hung up the phone, I had a bad suspicion and I called the woman back. She said that she was not the one who had just called, confirming my fear that the patient herself called and pretended to be her former doctor. She had secretly sneaked into a nurse’s room with a telephone and managed to make the call to deceive me. This was too much for me after all, and I ordered her discharge. I told her I had no time for her nonsense. She protested and claimed that she could not be released by me as long as Professor Bostroem was not back, but she was not able to convince me now. I informed her relatives, ordered a cab and simply had it take her home. As I heard later, the staff danced for joy as her car left. For quite a while after she was discharged, she behaved more or less reasonably at home, maybe because of the psychotherapeutic effect of the drastic information she received about herself in that phone call. Almost a year later, though, she developed severe difficulties again and her husband committed suicide out of desperation. As I already mentioned, she was admitted to an institution after all.

If it was true that Hitler was a hysterical psychopath, as some people in psychiatry assert, which I question, it would prove that such people are capable of destroying entire races. It would confirm E. Kretschmer’s quote. We lock psychopaths away in sane times, but they dictate us in troubled times.

This reminds me of quite a wonderful experience with a patient, which demonstrated to me how careful a doctor has to be when diagnosing mental illness. I like to use this example in my lectures for that very same reason.

The patient was a young teacher who visited my practice and asked me to test his blood for arsenic poisoning. When I looked surprised and wanted to know why, he said, a little insecure and worried, that he believed his wife tried to poison him, though he did not know why. For some time, the tea she prepared for him tasted strangely bitter, and he was afraid she was putting arsenic into it. When he asked her, though, she denied it. Since then, he also felt physically different. He did not have much appetite and suffered from headaches frequently, which had not been the case in the past. He could not find any other explanation.

If a person comes to a neurologist with such a complaint, the latter will probably almost out of reflex assume a beginning mental illness with fantasies of poisoning, hallucinations and delusions. Of course, that was the first thought in my mind as well. The longer we talked, though, the more the man lost the restlessness and self-consciousness he had showed in the beginning. Generally, he did not seem like a psychotic at all. So I suggested to him that I would write to his wife first and ask her to come in for a conversation, whereupon he said that she would not show up anyway. When I explained that this was valuable in itself, he agreed. To calm him down I also examined him but could not find any external signs of poisoning. Then I remembered that the area around Memel, where the patient came from, was still known for its “humanitarian usage” of arsenic, also called “Altsitzerpulver.” Farmers would give small dosages of arsenic to their parents to send them into the next world a little faster so they wouldn’t have to support them for so long. Thus I intuitively sent the man to a medical hospital and requested a very thorough test for poisoning, to be sure. Then I wrote to his wife and asked her to come into my practice for a talk about her husband and to please notify me of the date and time beforehand.

As her husband had predicted, I did not get any response. Instead, I got the test results from the hospital a little later, revealing an unmistakable arsenic toxicity in his blood! I told the teacher, whose wife was soon arrested for attempted homicide of her husband by poisoning. She pleaded guilty in jail, then committed suicide. It came out later that she had lived quite a lavish lifestyle. She had embezzled significant amounts of money and also spent part of her husband’s income without him noticing. Because she was afraid, she wanted to get him out of the way by making use of the old “custom” of Memel.

Less dramatic and more joyful was the case of a young teacher who was almost misdiagnosed with a mental disease as well. To stay true to the principle of duplication of medical cases, I want to mention this one briefly. She was sent to me by the department of her school to be examined, because she had harassed the latter more and more with querulous writings that took on manic characteristics. Thus she was believed to be mentally ill and was discharged, whereupon she protested. At first sight, one could assume she was a querulous maniac, but she did not seem like that when I looked at her whole personality. She was open-minded and warm, and begged me to help her so she could keep her job, which she loved. She came from a family of teachers and was devoted to the profession. Thus I gave this case a lot of some attention and found out that the school department had indeed treated her unjustly once, which they finally admitted to me. This ambitious and sensitive young woman, who, by the way, had the best credentials, had not been able to get over it, and slowly worked herself into a whole web of querulous blame and prejudice that almost seemed like a real mental illness but were only neurotic manifestations. With a lot of work, I was able to decrease her complex and to guide her out of her unreasonable attitude and opinion. Then, after a few months, I was able to suggest that her department give her back her old job, at least provisionally, which they did. And it worked out fine. For years, the little teacher joyfully reported to me that everything was going well for her and stirringly expressed her gratitude. Until 1945, we received a beautiful bouquet of roses from her every Christmas!

The opposite, though, is common as well. A mentally ill person can stay unrecognized for a long time and even testify in court as a significant witness. I experienced that myself in a trial I was involved in because of a car accident. Because the story is amusing in many ways, I will finish up by telling it briefly.

In the beginning of 1939, I had a small accident with an army vehicle, with no serious consequences. The shamelessness of the driver, who tried to pass me on the right, upset me so much, though, that I asked Ilse, who had been sitting next to me and had witnessed the whole thing, to get a policeman to write a report. When we were asked to go to the police a few weeks later, they showed us a completely incorrect drawing, which showed our car in the middle of an intersection. The driver of the other vehicle claimed that we should have let him pass. It was obvious that the soldier (enlisted in the Wehrmacht), had conspired with the police officer. Despite our protests, I was ordered to pay a fine of 150 Marks. Of course, I disputed the findings, and hired a lawyer who confirmed to me that I was in the right and that Ilse would be able to testify to this effect. The day of the trial came. As usual, the case against “Defendant Moser” was announced in the waiting room outside the court chambers. Ilse, who was not used to the formalities in court, was so shocked and upset at the same time that she has not gotten over it to this day! Because I was known in court as the one and only sworn expert witness, the judge was very surprised to see me and said, “What? You are the defendant now? Oh, I see. A simple traffic violation!” The truth quickly came out, but the driver of the army vehicle had brought yet another witness, who claimed such strange things that the court, perhaps tempted to go on a drive on such a beautiful summer’s day, decided to go the “scene of the crime.” Thus the judge and the prosecutor took off their robes and drove with Ilse in our car, while the other people took my lawyer’s car. Because Ilse was still full of “piss and vinegar” and had not realized in all the tumult that the people in our car represented the High Court, she vented her frustration completely and voiced her indignation about the so-called “Defendant Moser” and about the fact that the police had brought a completely incorrect drawing. She described the accident so naturally and dramatically that both court officials had trouble suppressing their grins. They affirmed her statement that she would never call the police again in her life. If one felt right, it was always better not to involve the police in the situation. At least Ilse’s spontaneous description had convinced them of its truth as well. At the scene of the accident, it soon became clear quite that the testimony of the army’s witness could not possibly be true. Thus he was seriously reprimanded by the court. The whole story ended gloriously with my being found innocent at the expense of the state treasury. The court advised me to sue the soldier for his irresponsible driving, but I decided not to because the war broke out soon after and not much would have come of it anyway.

Let me get to the point of the story now. About three months later, a patient came into my practice whom I diagnosed with an advanced paralysis. He seemed familiar to me, and I could not figure out from which context, so I asked him if we had seen each other anywhere before. Lo and behold, it was the questionable witness from the trial who had gotten hired by the driver to testify the way he wanted. Without a doubt, he had already been ill back then and therefore had not been a reliable witness.

These should be enough examples from the “workshop” now. After all, they were simply intended to give a little insight into the nature of my profession. More about this is written about in a fabulous way in a book by the retired Freiburger psychiatrist, Professor A. Hoche, and can be read about there!

13. Professional Part-Time Occupations


In addition to my practice and the lectures, I had other commitments as a specialist for public authorities. As I already described, I was working at the High Court for hereditary health issues until the end of the war. Furthermore, I was contracted as a doctor by the Wehrmacht (German army), which meant that I had to substitute for the specialist of neurology at the Wehrmacht whenever he was sick or on vacation, providing medical care in the neurological unit of the military hospital, the infamous unit VI. This was only a limited engagement, though, a “seasonal” one, so-to-speak, which was familiar to me from my occasional activities as a reservist.

Mainly, though, I worked as a part-time youth psychiatrist for the child welfare department of East Prussia on an ongoing basis. I was asked to take on this function shortly before I gave up my position at the neurological university hospital. I had this part-time commitment until 1945, thus more than 10 years.

I have to say that of all the areas in my field of expertise, youth psychiatry was not necessarily the one I felt was my best, but I familiarized myself with it quickly and had some quite interesting experiences. First of all, it was my responsibility to examine all children and adolescents up to age 20 who had been put into remand homes for education due to subjective or objective neglect. I had to check them for any neurological or psychological anomaly and report on my results. Furthermore, I participated in the development of a help and education plan as well as in the decision-making about possible dismissals from the home. Usually, the teenagers were observed at the remand home for a few weeks before they were introduced to me.

I worked closely together with the director of education of the child welfare department, director Meyhoefer, who also was a minister and ran an example of a boys’ institution in Altwalde, close to Wehlau [Snamensk, Poland]. He was a very sensitive man with noble ideas who was interested in many things, and I got along with him very well. If there were too many examinations to do on one afternoon, I would spend the night in Altwalde and we would sit together until late at night with a glass of wine having deep conversations. After the war he came to Lauenburg [Lebork, Poland], and I corresponded with him until he passed away.

His substitute was a young minister. His name was Gotthardt Schulz and he did not appear much like a minister. He was very nice and did a fantastic job connecting to the adolescents. When he visited us in Koenigsberg, he usually brought a box of tin soldiers for our boys. He later ran a big remand home in Rastenburg [Ketrzyn, Poland]. We are still in touch with him as well. He is head minister in Bruchsaal close to Karlsruhe [in western Germany] now and still writes us faithfully.

When I first started working in this field, I was quite shocked when I saw the living conditions most of the uncared for children came from. It almost seemed as if I had fallen among thieves. I will never forget one report a social worker wrote about her visits to the families, whose children had been registered as having been neglected. She found some of them in front of their house playing with their own excrement. When confronted, the mother was indignant and answered, “What is the big deal? Children love to play ‘baking cakes.’” Much worse was what she discovered in another family. She found the children helping their mother wrap the pieces of their “Grandpa,” who had passed away and had been cut into little pieces by the mother, with newspapers, shoving them into the oven so he would burn better!

Of course these were very extreme examples that recall the cannibalism of prehistoric men. One could find quite a lot of evidence for the primitiveness of people back then, especially in Masuria.

Thus I was even more pleased and impressed by the exemplary institutions and their accomodations, the tone used there, and their perfect organization. Teenagers who had been dismissed from school had the chance to learn a craft because some of the teachers were craftsmen, and the girls learned everything they needed to know to run a household, including all kinds of needlework, sewing, etc.

Since it was my responsibility to inspect all of the 25 institutions once a year and they were located not only in Koenigsberg, but also on its outskirts, we really got to know East Prussia and its landscape. We went by car, and Ilse accompanied me. We were welcomed everywhere with great hospitality, and often we simply added a few vacation days here and there in the area. Thus we drove from an institution in Goldap [Stebark, Poland] to the Rominter Heide [a moor/heath], from Angerburg [Wegorzewo, Poland] to the Jaegerhoehe, visited the Tannenberg memorial, the battle fields of Tannenberg, and the fields of the battle of World War I around the lakes of Masuria. Last but not least, we got to see Rudzany, also called Niedersee [Jezioro Nidzkie, Poland], and the Johannisburger Heide [Puszcz Piska, Poland], the largest forest in Germany at the time. We actually got lost with our car there because the signs along the route were so confusing and there was no one far and wide. We were lucky enough to finally meet an old shepherd with his herd who inspected us thoughtfully, leaning on his shepherd’s crook. He pointed us into the right direction, saying, “If you want to go to Johannisburg, you have to go that way.” We also visited the sanatorium close to Nikolaiken [Mikolajki, Poland] with its Stinthengst [large wooden sculpture of a fish] symbol a few times. There we wandered on the footsteps of Ernst Wiechert [writer], who came from that area, which one has to know in order to fully understand his writings. We will never forget those quiet, mysterious lakes and the beautiful, wide, dark forests of Masuria, where it was possible to not meet a single soul on miles of hiking.

Most of the institutions were provincial. There were still a few confessional homes, Protestant as well as Catholic, but they were run by the office of the province, too. Sometimes, we encountered customs in the confessional homes that seemed a little strange to us. One time when we visited a strict Catholic home for girls—probably in Heilsberg [Lidzbark-Warminski, Poland], but definitely in the Catholic Ermland [area southwest of Koenigsberg]—we were welcomed very festively by the respectable Mother Superior in her stiff monastic garb, and she asked us to come in for breakfast. Then she disappeared. Because the table was set for three people we assumed that she would eat with us, and we waited. But she did not come back, and finally it was made clear to us that she was not allowed to sit at the same table with us because we were Protestant. In spite of that, we enjoyed the meal, because, as usual, we were served the best food the house could possibly offer.

Because of her strong interest in church, Ilse once asked a Mother Superior if the religious atmosphere provided the girls much support in terms of their discipline and education. The answer she received was a little resigned, but caring “Oh, no,” that was unfortunately not the case. The girls would only pray on the day the professor came, and even then the only thing they would pray for would be that the professor would allow them to leave the home soon!

In another institution exclusively for girls, the director complained that the girls had become very difficult since the headquarters of the “Fuehrer” was in the area and the S.S. men came regularly to drop off their laundry for cleaning. They acted as if they had been electrified by the excitement because they had been chosen to wash and iron their “Fuehrer’s” laundry. Thus they were not interested in anything else. Of course, there was nothing I could do about that.

One time I was welcomed in a provincial home with Hitler songs. The director probably thought she would make a particularly good impression on me and presented the songs very formally. I was able to make them stop quickly.

Because all the women and girls had to work in the ammunition factories soon after the war started, it was forbidden to hire private employees [e.g. domestic help]. Exceptions were made for households with a private practice, but of course we were not able to find anybody. For quite some time, the child welfare department helped us out by sending us girls who were about to be sent into similar households as a transitional period for the girls. Of course, the best girls were chosen, which did not prevent us from experiencing quite a few adventures with this “elite.” Overall, they were very hardworking and useful, but their interest in men was uncontrollable, especially in a big city like Koenigsberg, with all its temptations. Thus we once had a Catholic girl who was quite skillful and hardworking. She had a phenomenal memory and was also very musical. Even though she had never learned Latin, of course, she was able to recite the longest Catholic liturgies in Latin. Despite our watching over her, though, the police picked her up one day because she was believed to be a source of a newly transmitted sexual disease (Gonorrhea).

Another very orderly and nice girl, who really had some substance and did not seem superficial at all, suddenly disappeared on an ugly, rainy day. Ilse, of course, was very worried and checked the runaway’s room with Uncle Kurt Strehlke, who was just visiting and witnessed the whole drama. After taking a look at one of the walls, he said to Ilse with his dry humor, “Well, if you put sayings like this up on her wall, you should not be surprised if the girl acts upon them.” It was a pious quote from the Bible: “Seek the Lord and ye shall find him.” Uncle Kurt continued, “She simply went out to find the Lord.” (In German ‘Lord’ is translated as ‘Herrn,’ which can also mean ‘gentleman’). And of course, this was exactly what had happened. The next morning she came back soaked from rain and remorse. She explained that she was powerless whenever this came over her and she could not resist the urge to go out. Well, what could we do about that? In Schoenwalde, Uncle Reinhold Alsen used to say that when a dog is in heat, tie him up and lock him in a room. He repeated that when a dog squeezed through Ilse’s legs to escape when she opened the door of the room the dog was locked up: “Lock them into a room AND tie them up.” Since then this became a familiar saying, but unfortunately it is not applicable to people the same way.

Once, we witnessed a very theatrical, staged suicide attempt of a girl who was supposed to go back to a remand home because something had happened. The home sent a social worker whose nickname was “The Girl Grabber” (“Die Maedchengreifersche”). She was supposed to pick up the poor sinner. The latter was so shocked about having to leave us that she cut her wrists open with a razor blade in her room. When the “Girl Grabber” opened the door, she saw her in a theatrical pose on the bed with bleeding wrists. She had only scratched herself superficially, though, and had to leave after all. Of course, Ilse was the one who got worked up about this experience the most. She was way too nice to these girls, who had to be handled with some toughness.

This became very clear in the case of a 20-year-old, a very strong, robust, thick-set person who was capable of doing the work of four people at once. We were quite satisfied with her in the beginning. As always, though, she slackened soon and became unreliable. Ilse found out very soon that she smelled like cigarette smoke and strange apartments when she came home from grocery shopping or from her walks with Klaus. Because she did not have much to wear when she came to our house, Ilse generously used her own clothing vouchers to purchase quite a few clothes for her. One day, when I walked by the kitchen, I overheard through the open door the girl complaining bitterly about the bad treatment she was receiving in our house. She said, “This is worse than prison.” The ingratitude and insolence towards Ilse was too much for me after all. Like a vengeful archangel, I entered the kitchen and, to Ilse’s shock, I slapped the female Goliath’s face right and left so that her head shook. Silently, I thought, if she were to hit me back, I would become like jelly. I felt quite nauseated by this, and washed my hands and drank two Cognacs afterwards, which I had never done before. And the result? Ilse told me later, quite disturbed, that as soon as I had left the room, the “Brunhilde” had said humbly and sadly, “If the Professor had just slapped me earlier, I would not have said something as stupid as I did!” We did not keep her that much longer. The mentality of people like that requires a tough and consequent discipline, without which they cannot hold up in life for long.

While working for the child welfare department, I examined and observed around 10,000 teenagers, and had to show up in court as an expert witness in some of these cases. With all the material and experiences I gathered, it was tempting to put them toward scientific use. Back then, I had already started to explore the problem of acceleration in particular and the extent and kind of this work were inviting me to do that more. I even had started to evaluate and write quite a few statistical reports and charts. Of course, all the material got lost during the war, as well as other notes of mine and a lot of things in general.

14. Music-Making At Home


Even though I was quite fulfilled with my versatile professional obligations, we never stopped making music, because it was simply a part of our lives. As I already mentioned, the program of the concert hall next door offered symphony performances and featured artists, and we often took advantage of it. It could not have been easier for us, and sometimes we decided to go just a few minutes before a concert began. Because East Prussia, being a state right at the border, was particularly rich in culture, we were able to hear most of the great artists of that time who often gave performances in Koenigsberg while traveling through the East. I just want to mention a few of them. Some of the great singers who repeatedly came were Schlussnus (whom women loved in particular), Schmidt-Walter, Onegin, and Emmy Leisner. Famous pianists who played there were Arthur Schnabel, Edwin Fischer (who was very popular), Elly Ney, Walter Gieseking, and Serkin. Visiting violinists were Adolf Busch (whom I especially liked), Hubermann, Kuhlenkampf, Alma Moodie, and many, many more. The conductors were very good as well. Apropos of a vacant position, a lot of well-known guest conductors visited to apply. Among them were Abendrot, Jochum, Knappertsbusch, and Hermann Scherchen. I had met the latter, who was somewhat known to be a “noble communist” (Edelkommunist), through the wife of the opera director, Dr. Jessner, who had worked at our hospital. Hermann Scherchen complained a lot about his strained nerves and asked me to treat him, and he became one of my rather prominent patients. He was not suffering from anything serious, but simply from the common nervousness and sensitivity of musicians and artists in general. In addition, he was emotionally stressed because of a conflicted love affair with a famous actress, whom he apparently married later. Basically, he was a man of extraordinary vitality. He died recently in Switzerland.

One time, Furtwaengler and his Philharmonics came to Koenigsberg as well. Unfortunately, I could not attend the concert because I was sick with angina. Ilse and her mother went, though, and they were very excited. They had dinner at the restaurant of the concert hall before and discovered to their excitement that Mr. Furtwaengler was sitting at the table next to them. Of course, they “checked him out” eagerly!

Even the opera of Koenigsberg was not far from our apartment. We simply had to take the bridge over the lake at the castle to be there in five minutes. Its program was quite good and offered modern performances as well. I remember a fine performance of Hindemith’s “Cardillac”  and of an opera by Korngold, probably “The Dead City” (“Die Tote Stadt”).

Most of all, though, we played music at home with much enthusiasm, and our large apartment was well-suited for it. If there was no piano involved, we played in the waiting room; otherwise, we played in Ilse’s room, where the piano stood. Then we opened the doors in between so the listeners were able to stay in the other rooms and did not disturb us or were not disturbed by us! We mostly hosted quartet evenings, after which we usually sat together for a while with a bottle of wine. Hardly one or two weeks passed without us making music, and this was in addition to the music we made within our own family.

I actually had two string quartets, in which I played the first violin. The first one was founded when I worked at the hospital. The regular cellist was the head physician of the pediatric university hospital, Dr. Erben, while the other roles, mostly doctors as well, changed quite a lot. At the end of the war, Dr. Erben was captured by the Russians, and he returned only years later. Now he works as a pediatrician in Mecklenburg, and even visited us once. A brother of his wife was the head physician on the pulmonary unit of the Krankenhaus-West hospital until recently. He visited us when we moved into our new apartment in the Krankenhaus-West hospital in Stralsund, because another sister of his who had occasionally joined our quartet evenings in Koenigsberg remembered our name when she heard it on the grounds of the West-hospital. Thus our music gatherings from Koenigsberg brought upon new friendships even years later.

In addition, I had a pensioner quartet that was put together a little more seriously. Before me, the old senate’s president, Dr. Springer, had played the first violin, which became more and more difficult for him the older he got until he switched to second violin. He was a fanatical music lover and a dedicated quartet member who was available any time of day or night. In earlier years, he had had an important role in the musician’s community of Koenigsberg and he had a lot of interesting stories to tell. Overall, he was a very nice, old man. For example, he knew the famous violinist Josef Joachim, a friend of Brahms, personally, and was always with him whenever he gave concerts in Koenigsberg. The viola was played by a retired postal minister who was a bit simple and managed to play his parts only reasonably well. One time, I saw a partly weird, partly embarrassing situation. The two old gentlemen started to fight so much that the quartet almost fell apart. The old senate president had asked to play first violin one more time in the Rasumowski quartet [by Beethoven] for old times’ sake, which we of course agreed to. In the second movement, though, catastrophe struck and the old man had trouble managing some rhythmically difficult sections. The usually quiet viola player became very angry. Starting with mumbled comments like, “If you cannot do it anymore, you should rather stop,” the two got into a more and more heated argument until the postal minister jumped up, packed his instrument and stormed out. I felt really sorry for the good old president, but fortunately the tensions were smoothed out soon and we sealed the reconciliation with a photograph, which showed the president in the chair of the first violin. I believe that this picture of the quartet still exists. Ilse thinks it is in one of the photo album which got to the U.S.A.

The cellist of this quartet was an older merchant or trader whose skills on the cello were not that great anymore. He was a very enthusiastic friend of music and quartets, though, and had a quite respectable theoretical knowledge of music. He was very pedantic, complained a lot, and easily used the wrong tone of voice. Thus we treaded carefully around him. Fortunately, though, I did not experience that side of him too much. I stayed in contact with the old president, Dr. Springer, for sometime even after the war. He wrote faithfully that he still practiced his violin every day, despite the fact that he was almost 80 years old. One time, he wrote how impressed he had been in Koenigsberg by Juergen’s mathematical talents when he met him on the way to a rehearsal once and Juergen explained the thesis of the 17-angle to him. At that moment, he wrote, he said to himself that Juergen was born to be a mathematician.

Another cellist we sometimes played with was Professor Steinecke, an assistant master and hydro-biologist who had actually lived in our house some time before we did. He was very musical and had even studied music for a few semesters. We stayed in touch with him by writing for years after the war as well. Since he passed away a few years ago, the two women still correspond with each other.

Besides all of this, we also had people we made chamber music with, which included a piano. Most of the time, the eye doctor, Mr. Lempp, whom I already mentioned, was included. He adored Brahms and loved to play his music. This way I got to know almost all the trios by Brahms, the three piano quartets and the piano quintets, which we played frequently. In this case, the vice consul, Mr. Bywater, was usually our cellist, but I already talked about that.

During the last period of our time in Koenigsberg, Dr. Lafite, who worked in the finance department, lived in our house. One time he visited my practice, and I found out that he was originally from Vienna, where his father had been a musicologist. He himself loved music and played the piano quite well. Thus it happened that we made music together with him and he sometimes just came to visit us, too. He was an extraordinary loving and nice human being, and our sons used to be very amused by his Viennese social expressions such as “Compliments, Mr. Professor,” and “Kiss your hand, Madam.” The last time we saw him was in February of 1945 in a snowstorm. He was searching for a carriage that was supposed to bring him, his luggage and a woman to the harbor, from which he hoped to get to Pillau and then to Vienna. We even gave him the address of the Pegrams in Usedom and said he would send us a note if he managed to get out of East Prussia alive. We had not heard from him since, so we assumed he had died on the way. When we were in Stralsund, we tried to find out what happened to him by contacting a violinist, the daughter of a doctor we often used to play music with. She was getting married to another musician in Vienna. Obviously, she was not interested in finding out anything, though, because we never heard from her again. A few years later, Ilse got a letter from a former friend of her mother’s who lived in Vienna. Ilse asked her to inquire about Dr. Lafite, whose name could not have been too unfamiliar to the musician’s community in Vienna, considering his father’s popularity as a musicologist. She wrote us back quickly that Dr. Lafite had happily reached Vienna in 1945 and had unexpectedly died from a heart attack in 1951. He had gotten married, and we later heard from his wife that he had gotten an important position in the Ministry of Culture. On the side, though, he had been very active as a music critic and publicist. He had founded and published the Oesterreichische Musik Zeitschrift. His wife even sent me several editions of it, which had a few of her husband’s obituaries in them. We regret to this day that only because of the lack of interest, the stubbornness and ambivalence of the violinist from Stralsund—character traits we usually do not find in musicians—we did not get in touch with him while he was still alive. I am sure it would have made him happy to hear from us.

Finally, it needs to be mentioned that we made a lot of music within the family, too. Since Juergen took cello lessons, we even had a trio in our own household, with Ilse on piano. One Christmas during the War, Ilse and Juergen surprised me with a Haydn trio. It was the Trio No. 6, which we called our Christmas trio ever since. When Juergen became a member of the German anti-aircraft force, he took his cello with him where he was stationed in order to contribute some music to the Christmas celebrations. Later, shortly before the capitulation of East Prussia, he had to leave it behind in some bunker, which made him quite upset. Whenever he visited home for a few days, we quickly arranged a music gathering. Once, I even found a flute player to join us. When I had to leave Koenigsberg, I was not able to take any of my three violins with me!

15. The Years Of The War


Since I was a medical officer in the reserve, I received my call-up order to the beautiful sanatorium Rauschen [Swetlogorsk, Russia] on the Baltic Sea a few days before the official mobilization. They were putting together a military hospital there and I had to build the psychiatric unit. After the two-week long campaign through Poland, though, the doctors were sent back home without having had to work much at all. I only had to visit a military hospital once for inspection, where I diagnosed a spinal cord injury on a soldier who could not walk and had been accused of faking his symptoms. This was going to be my only “active” involvement in the war. However, I had to sit at home with my suitcases packed and wait to see how they were going to make use of me. December came closer, and we thought for sure that we were going to be able to spend Christmas together when I was ordered to Allenstein [Olsztyn, Poland], where a train brought me to a small town in the Roehn [mountain range near Frankfurt in western Germany]. I could not quite figure out the deeper meaning of this whole undertaking, though, because I did not have anything to do there. A lot of people who had relatives or friends in the area asked to be excused for a few days to visit them. Because it was too far to go back to Koenigsberg, I did the same thing and went to Erfurt, which was not very far away. There, I spent the Christmas holidays with the Strehlke family. When I came back, I found out that almost everybody was away because there was no sign of engagement yet. So I simply decided to get a leave pass to go to Koenigsberg, where I arrived, despite the ice and snow, just in time to spend New Year’s Eve with my family, which made them very happy. Soon after that, I got the news that I could stay in Koenigsberg until I heard otherwise. Thus I waited at home again on standby, ready to leave any day, which was quite unpleasant. Then I became sick with a very bad tonsillitis, after which I had trouble with my heart and thought I might have diphtheria. A doctor I was friends with, though, diagnosed me with toxic tonsillitis, which had led to light complications of the heart. My heart got better soon, but my tonsils, which had caused me problems for years already, had to be taken out. This was done in a military hospital, because officially I was still a member of the Wehrmacht. The operation went fine and I got a few weeks of vacation to recover. I was declared only fit for garrison duty, after which the association of doctors claimed my services for the civilian population. Almost every neurologist had been called up, and civilians were not cared for enough. Thus I was officially exempt from the Wehrmacht. In the meantime, it had become summer again, 1940, and I was able to go back to work in my own practice and take on my other former functions as well.

This improved our standard of living, because my income as a medical officer was naturally much lower then my regular income. Most of all, though, the conditions of nutrition for my family changed a lot. While we had depended on our food stamps and rations before, which were not very generous, we now benefited from grateful patients who lived in the countryside, often as farmers, and helped us in the most heart-rending way. Thus we were cared for until the end of the war. One patient, from the area of Suwalki, the so-called “New East Prussia,” whom I had treated successfully for her epileptic seizures, was especially grateful. With a certain kind of persistence that is typical of people with this illness, she sent us “express packages” with the most wonderful things in them for such a long time that we started to think she came from a land of luxury. Even when we were called in the middle of the night to pick up one of these packages from the post office, our usually not-so-motivated maid was electrified, expecting the most delicious contents, and insisted on picking it up immediately! When I drove to the remand home in Altwalde, I usually came home with the car full of produce from the garden and farm. Thus our nutrition did not suffer from the war.

Other than that, though, we increasingly felt the consequences. Friedel was soon ordered to join the Reichsarbeitsdienst(RAD) [construction and maintenance unit, in which one year’s participation was mandatory] for one year before joining the Wehrmacht, and our worries for him began. One day in 1943, Hans Decker showed up at our house. He was a medical student from the area around Cologne who had been stationed in Schoenwalde for a few days before the campaign in Russia. Now he had been moved to the student’s company in Koenigsberg to continue his studies. He could not find a place to stay in Koenigsberg and had gotten our address from our relatives in Schoenwalde, so he wound up on our doorstep looking for a place to stay. The improvised emergency lodging became a permanent solution and resulted in a close friendship. He stayed until around June of 1944 and became somewhat of a fourth son, our vice-son, sharing all our joy and suffering. Later, he slept in the large “children’s” room together with our boys, with whom he got along very well. Thus he became the second soldier in our family. During the last few years of the war, his brothers and friends, who were also in the Wehrmacht by that time, often stopped at our house on their way to the front, making the social life at our home quite lively. Sometimes it was late at night or even in the middle of the night when the doorbell rang and some unexpected visitor in uniform stood outside. Ilse, of course, insisted on serving them food and helping them to gather strength before they continued their trip. One night, she made ninety potato pancakes to satisfy their hungry stomachs. To this day, the sound of the soldier’s cooking utensils rattling against their backpacks and the characteristic smell of their uniforms evoke very uncomfortable memories of the war for Ilse. Because the soldiers felt so cared for in our house, they soon honored us with the nickname, “Front Headquarters Moser” (Frontleitstelle Moser).

Our friendship with Hans Decker outlived the war. During the first years after the war, Ilse and Juergen visited his parents, who lived close to Cologne, and Hans took care of Juergen when he came to Goettingen to study there. After Hans got married, he and his family went to a hospital in the Lausitz [area south of Berlin] because it offered a better opportunity to finish his surgical training. Then he stayed in the East, which revived the old friendship. For a few years, he has been the head physician and surgeon at a confessional hospital in Wittichenau/Oberlausitz [50 km north east of Dresden].

We hosted another guest during the war, in 1943, although not for that long. It was the wife of the actor and cabaret artist Werner Finck (cabaret, “The Katakombe”), a known opponent of the Nazis, with her son, Hans Werner, from Berlin.

We knew her from the time before she got married, when she lived as Eva Timreck in Koenigsberg not far from us and gave piano lessons to our boys. She and her child had been evacuated from Berlin because of the increasing air raids. In one of his little word plays, her husband called her “my little Eva-cuated.” She stayed with us until she found a permanent place to stay. Her husband had repeatedly gotten into trouble with Goebbels for political reasons and had even been put into a concentration camp for a while before he came to the military “on probation.” He visited us two times in the four months his wife was with us. Those visits were a lot of fun, because he knew how to enlighten a whole room simply by being present with his involuntarily comical personality. Sometimes, when he visited us or other friends, he performed comedy, during which Friedel and Hans Decker especially were not able to stop laughing. One time, the telephone rang and woke us up in the middle of the night. When a phone call from Rome was announced, we prepared ourselves for the worst, but it was only Werner Finck. He wanted to take advantage of a free phone to thank us for a birthday present we had sent for his son!

So our house was always full of visitors, and it was not always easy for Ilse to meet the different needs and wishes of the “extended family,” particularly in those wartime conditions.

In 1944, Juergen was called up for service in the FLAK [Flugzeugabwehrskanone; anti-aircraft unit]. He stayed with an anti-aircraft artillery close to Koenigsberg, where the boys could still be taught by their school teachers and frequently come home on Sundays. Nevertheless, the war started to have a greater effect on our family life. The news from the front became more depressing and alarming, and the whole economical situation got increasingly worse. Further I was more and more overwhelmed with work, because I must have been the only neurologist left in East Prussia who did not have to go to the military. Therefore, I was asked by courts in and outside of Koenigsberg to be an expert witness for the most unusual cases. Thus I vividly remember a very adventurous case involving a spy or agent who was working for Poland. He had been suspected for a while and had been finally arrested after a whole battalion had surrounded the forest where he was hiding. Then, it came out that the man did not seem completely mentally healthy. Before the war, he had already spent years in an East Prussian mental institution because of innate insanity. Even after his latest arrest, he clearly seemed mentally ill, and the doctor who was consulted by the court diagnosed him accordingly. The court still needed a specialist’s opinion, though, and they sent me the whole case file with the old and new information as well as the former case history from the time of the man’s institutionalization. They also asked me to meet the man at the remand prison, where they would transfer him so I could examine him. Since I was very interested in the whole case, I studied the information very carefully and discovered two very interesting things. The first one was that the man had been arrested and suspected of espionage under very similar circumstances before the war and then was institutionalized in an East Prussian hospital. Second, his case history indicated that he had become smarter and wiser during his stay in the hospital, although he was neither able to read nor write and generally acted very sick when he was admitted. It did not take long until he was able to write his first request for dismissal to the district attorney with the clumsy handwriting of a first-grade student, full of spelling mistakes. He was denied his request, but some time later, he made a second request that was much improved. When he was denied this one as well, a third request followed that was worded quite cleverly and in very good handwriting. When the district attorney noticed this development, he asked the director of the hospital how it could be possible that a highly mentally ill person made such progress. He wondered if the patient’s mental diagnosis should be revised. I had a lot of fun reading the answer of the doctor, who was cornered and did not want to admit his error. He tried to explain that successful mental health institutions like his were able to achieve very good results, even in cases of mental illnesses known to be incurable. This case was such an example, he continued, and he supported the patient’s request. The man was soon released and did not act conspicuously since then—until he was arrested again for espionage activities. Then, he immediately fell back into his mental illness, which, of course, was feigned.

Thus I wrote to the court that in my opinion the man was pretending and that I did not even think it was worth it to bring him to the prison in Koenigsberg for me to examine him. I thought this was the end of the case for me, but unfortunately, it was not. The court notified me that the whole case was being brought in front of a special court, and since the defendant’s life was at stake, I should be present at least for the main proceedings. Thus I did not have another choice but to drive to Marienwerder [Kwidzyn, Poland], where a dramatic epilogue to the whole story took place. The man sat through the trial with a fixed stare, did not say a word and let the saliva run down his face. At first sight, he actually looked like a catatonic person (Katatoniker). Only when I observed him closely could I recognize an understanding expression rushing over his generally motionless face, which showed that he was following the trial attentively. Of course, it was very difficult to convince the judge that the man’s state was not real, but simply faked. He played his role really well. Again and again, the judge argued that he could not imagine a person being able to fake such a state for weeks. I even told him about our friend, Dr. Finckh, a former assistant at the neurological hospital, who had been in British capture in World War I and had successfully faked a catatonic state for months until he was actually declared schizophrenic and released. Back home in Germany, the psychiatrists did not even want to believe at first that he was healthy and had just acted sick! But I was not able to convince the judge. Finally, I told him that, being the judge, he was not bound to my expert opinion and he could simply ask the opinion of another specialist.

After the tension built more and more, the prosecutor suddenly rose and sarcastically said to the judge, whom I liked purely for his kind personality, that this was no longer necessary. Just then, a guard gave him a letter that the defendant had unsuccessfully tried to smuggle out of prison. In the letter, he had written to his relatives that they did not need to worry because he was acting as if he was crazy just like he did years ago, and it looked like he was successful again!

Of course, this was a surprise of some kind. The defendant was shocked. Then, he became very lively and talkative all of a sudden and tried to deny everything, which simply proved that he had understood everything fine and was not crazy at all. Thus I was vindicated, and the old judge just shook his head. I did not feel too comfortable with the whole thing, though, because it probably meant that the man had to die. Rather than wait for the verdict, I went back home as fast as I could.

After this intermezzo of my work as an expert witness, I want to go back to our circumstances in East Prussia in the last year of the war. Although the general situation got more and more tense, we were at least spared the direct consequences of the war and able to live a somewhat peaceful life.

Then, all of a sudden, in August or September of 1944, the Anglo-American air strikes hit Koenigsberg like lightning out of an already cloudy sky. They burned down the city, which had almost half a million residents, and started the misery which continued for the next six months, while the Russian Red Army completely destroyed the residue of the city.

Ilse wrote in more detail about what happened to the city and to us in her memoirs, which I believe are with Klaus. Thus I will keep my descriptions of those events shorter. In order to stay within the context, though, I do want to write briefly about the following occurrences from my point of view.

After the air strikes, we brought Klaus to Schoenwalde to get him out of the immediate danger zone, because we expected more attacks. We also brought our most valuable things there—among them my valuable Matthias-Klotz violin—but they were quickly confiscated by the Russians while we were still in Koenigsberg. During the air strikes, Ilse’s mother’s house was completely bombed out, and she fled in the middle of the night in her nightgown and bathrobe to Bartenstein [Bartoszyce, Poland], where we found her only after one week.

Our block was relatively spared from the bombings. As a colonel from the air defense later told me, he had protected the area where I lived in particular because he knew I lived there. I had treated his wife, who was suffering from multiple sclerosis, for a long time.

Life in the city was slow and hard after it had been hit right in its mainspring by the air strikes. The front slowly came closer, the streets were emptier and friends disappeared one after the other, mostly in secret. The Christmas holidays of 1944 were hard, and we had premonitions about the coming end.

In the beginning of 1945, the direct artillery attacks by the Russians started. One of the first grenades hit an emergency pharmacy very close to our house. The owner, pharmacist Schw., a friend of ours, wrote the report about the last days of Koenigsberg, which we added later. Fortunately, when a dud went into my room and right through my desk, we were not at home.

On February 8th, 1945, we heard that Friedel was missing after the big offensive by the Russians, which had started on January 14th, 1945. A lieutenant of his tank corps delivered the news to us in person. It happened during the fights over Gumbinnen. Friedel’s letters and the excerpts of them that we picked give information about the time he spent in the Wehrmacht. Those writings are with his brothers now.

One day at the end of January, Wera and Grete and their four children stood on our doorstep. They were on the run. I brought them to stay in a bunker close to the garage where we kept our car, which was very close to our house. The streets became more and more unsafe because of the low-level attacks. Once, we just barely escaped such an attack while we were out getting lunch.

Ilse was ordered to help build barriers and dig anti-tank ditches. She refused to participate, though, if German soldiers were going to watch over her while she worked, because they usually went into hiding during air strikes while the women had to continue working!

One day, the phone rang and an official of a department I had never heard from before was on the other end. He requested that I register immediately for the “Volkssturm.[4] Of course, I rejected this insane proposal, explaining to him that I was still with the Wehrmacht and responsible for providing medical care for civilians. I never heard from them again.

In the end of February 1945, we were told that all women and children had to leave Koenigsberg immediately. Thus the day we had to separate had come, since I was not allowed to leave Koenigsberg. Ilse, her mother, and Klaus, as well as the refugees from Schoenwalde, were picked up with trucks and driven to the harbor. From there, they were supposed to go to Pillau by sea and then to safety.

I stayed home alone. The next day Juergen came, who had been called in to “defend” the city. Later, though, he was flown out of the inferno together with the other boys, but we did not know about that at first. After a few days I got the order to come to Pillau to be the escorting doctor on a ship of refugees, which was supposed to sail to “the Reich.” Thus I went on my way in a snowstorm and minus 20 degrees Celsius with a suitcase full of medicine and my most important things. With the necessary papers in my pocket, I left for good the land that had been the home of my choice.

16. On The Run (Evacuation)

(Usedom and Greifswald)


Ilse probably described the events of this chapter in her writings in more detail as well, so I will keep it short.

From the harbor in Koenigsberg, I got to Pillau [Baltisk, Russia] in a coal barge. Some of our war ships were still in Pillau, fighting wildly against the front. After I arrived in Pillau in the morning, the first thing I did was to go and search for my family. I needed to find out if there even had been a refugee transport arriving from Koenigsberg, which was not that easy, because there were about 50,000 refugees in this little town, partially staying in camps. It became late afternoon on this cold winter day, and I still wasn’t able to find out anything. I was almost ready to give up my search when I accidentally overheard that a group of refugees from Koenigsberg had been brought that day to the navy camp in Schwalbenberg a few kilometers away. Even though it was already getting dark, I went on my way and soon saw a huge campsite with barracks, which I was not going to be able to search through on the same day. Resigned, I mustered the wide paths in between the large barracks, which probably gave shelter to thousands of people. All of a sudden, far away, I saw a little boy wearing the same kind of hat Ilse had made for Klaus. As loud as I could, I shouted, “Klaus, Klaus!” The little boy looked my way and happily shouted back: “Vaeti, Vaeti,” [“Daddy, Daddy”], and started running towards me. He took me to the barrack where Ilse, her mother and the relatives from Schoenwalde were staying.

Because the camp was run by the navy, I asked for the commander of the camp. I naturally wanted to take Ilse, my child and mother-in-law with me, which I had permission to do. When I heard that the commander was a medical officer, I was not worried and did not expect any complications. I did not consider, though, that this young doctor might have a different understanding of esprit de corps among colleagues. He gave me a lot of trouble and said that it was out of the question to take my family with me. Instead, he wanted to know how I had gotten inside the camp site and why I was not with the army. He said he would give me something to do immediately and stupid things like that. Of course I told him what I had to say to that. Then I told my family to get ready to leave and secretly abducted them early the next morning while it was still dark outside. On the street, I stopped the first car that came along and it took us to Pillau. There I put them on the ship, which was going to take the group of refugees I was supposed to escort. The ship was an old, wooden box with a crew from Latvia. It had to ride at anchor for another week because its convoy was not yet put together. Thus I had some time to attend to the refugees, about 250 people. I was shocked to discover mothers with their toddlers and babies among them, which was actually forbidden, because there was no appropriate food for them on the ship. So I organized baby food and some other things. Ilse wrote about the experiences we had on this old boat named “Bru” in more detail. One night, for example, we were almost hit accidentally by another ship. I barely managed to prevent a panic among the refugees, who were resting on the straw in the hull of the ship. When the journey finally began after a week’s wait, it was over much sooner than expected. It already ended in Gotenhafen [Gdynia, Poland], close to Danzig. There, everybody had to disembark. A couple of leaders from the Hitler Youth, self-important adolescents, took everybody to large halls, where one could still see dead bodies of earlier transports lying around. Of course, I found that unacceptable and, being the escorting doctor, I still was enough of an authority to these young boys and was able to convince them to bring everybody to a regular campsite. As soon as we arrived there, a voice announced through the speakers that the Russians had broken through Elbing [Elblag, Poland], which meant that our connection to “the Reich” was now cut off. Once again, we were trapped as we had been in Koenigsberg, and only able to escape by sea. Another week passed before all of that was organized. During that time, I turned my responsibility for the refugee transport over to the director of the camp and moved with my family to a different camp with better living conditions.

Ilse and I had just brought my mother and Klaus there and had gone back to the old camp to get our luggage when the air raid warnings started. We did not want to leave Klaus and his grandmother alone in this critical situation, so we decided to go back in spite of the warnings. As soon as we arrived at a big bridge we had to cross, the big spectacle began. The rattle of rockets and other weapons made Ilse want to turn around and go back. I pushed to keep going, though, and we started a non-stop marathon over the long bridge with our heavy luggage. We still get scared today thinking about that moment. Very exhausted but happy, we arrived on the other side and stormed into the first house until the air raid warning was over.

Despite all my efforts, I did not initially manage to get a new commission as an escorting doctor because everything was so chaotic. The front came closer and closer, and we were frequently under attack. One morning, we woke up to great agitation in the camp. A grenade had hit one of the barracks in the middle of the night, killing and injuring people. We had slept so deeply and were already so used to all the shooting that we had not noticed anything!

Finally, I got the order to escort a refugee transport as the doctor of the convoy, which was supposed to go by sea to the West. Unfortunately, I heard about that only in the last minute, so we hardly had time to pack our things and almost missed the boat. From far away, I could see how one ship after the other was already leaving, and I ran ahead, leaving the luggage with the rest of the family to try and catch at least the last one. It was a torpedo training ship, which had cast off already and was about to leave. I managed to talk to a mate and found out that this was the ship with the refugees that had been waiting for the doctor for a long time. In the meantime, a brown official from the S.S. came up to me and did not want to let me on board, which resulted in a big argument.

Without hesitating, I jumped on board while the ship was leaving and ran to the bridge immediately, where I explained to the captain, a nice, young naval officer, that I was the doctor who had been assigned to the transport. Then I tried to explain that my family, which had arrived at the ship in the meantime, had to come with me by all means. Klaus, who saw me on board of the slowly departing ship, probably got scared that I would leave without him and screamed from the top of his lungs, “Vaeti! Vaeti!” This convinced the captain of my story. Even though the ship was already quite a distance from the quay, he maneuvered back until the rear reached it. Then, a few crew members jumped off the ship and lifted the grandmother, mother and child on deck while the rest of the crew watched with amusement!

On the ship, we met Edith Alsen from Drewshof, who had somehow cheated her way on board with her old coachman, Gustav. We sailed within sight of the burning East Sea coast of Pomerania, which was already occupied by the Russians. Despite the danger of mines and submarines, we arrived at our destination, Ueckermuende, where I declined my medical responsibilities for the transport. I was very happy about that, because there was a more than 40-year-old woman among the refugees who was expecting a baby any time. Considering her age and the conditions on the ship, though, this could have become quite difficult, so I was under a lot of pressure during the whole trip!

We spent the night in Ueckermuende in a freezing cold, large room. The next morning, we went to the train station to catch a train to Usedom, where Pegrams lived. There we had planned to rest a little and recover. Of course, the train station was packed with people, all of whom wanted to go somewhere, so it was impossible to get tickets.

Despite Ilse’s protest and concern, I took my little “community” and simply led them across the tracks and got on a train, which was destined to go to Stettin via Pasewalk but was still waiting outside of the station area. In order to get to Usedom, we had to switch later to a train that went into the opposite direction. When we stopped at one station, we actually saw a train that went the opposite way, and I had the feeling it was the one we needed. Head over heels, we switched trains, which meant we had to work our way out of one crowded train into the other with all our belongings, ignoring the protests of our fellow travelers. As we found out later, we had actually switched to the right one.

In Usedom, we arrived looking like tramps or thieves and Pegrams were shocked. Through their loving care, we soon recovered, and after a few days of rest, we drove to Greifswald. After I had completed the medical supervision of the transport, my next order was to get myself to the closest university city and be available in case I was needed.

In Greifswald, we stayed with Hildegard Doehl, née Alsen, whose husband, a lawyer, had been called up and was in western Germany at the time. Initially, she fixed up her husband’s office, a large, spacious room, to accommodate us. Later, though, we moved into a “room” in the attic, which was really more like a chamber, because Hildegard’s parents, who had fled from Stettin [Scszecin, Poland], had to be accommodated as well.

I looked up the director of the university hospital in Greifswald, who knew me from different conventions and was able to get me some work at the hospital, though initially unpaid.

In September, we buried Ilse’s mother. The stress of the flight had taken all the remaining strength of the 77-year-old woman.

In the end of 1945, Juergen came to live with us. After he had been released, he stayed with distant relatives in Oldenburg/Holstein and worked in a quarry for a few more months. I found work for him in my old high school.

As a refugee woman, Ilse frequently had to work for the Russians.

Klaus was not doing well physically at all because he was suffering from so-called refugee’s disease, characterized particularly by difficulties with the digestive system. All of us had this problem more or less because of bad nutrition, and it had taken its toll on Klaus’ health.

I made a lot of music because old friends from Greifswald had given me a violin to use. I even almost got to own a real Guarneri violin, which had been kept in a bank safe, but the Russians had already taken it. Besides other events, I participated in chamber music performances in the university and in Greifswald’s traditional serenade performance in the garden of St. Spiritus.

I am sure Ilse wrote in more detail about all of this, as well as the conditions at Doehl’s house and our lives as refugees in general.

When everything started to settle down a little bit, I started to look for an appropriate place to work, as my job at the hospital was only provisional. I mainly thought about my own special practice and drove to the ministry in Schwerin, where I presented my papers, which I had saved. Because there were not enough teachers, the department offered me a professorial chair right away, but they made clear that I would have to become a member of the new party. Application forms were right there. When I responded rather non-committally, they lost interest in me and did not help me in my search for a place to open my own practice. I had contacted the nearby Stralsund before, where only two doctors were practicing provisionally. Both of them were over 70 years old. Thus on my way back from Schwerin, I went to Stralsund. I had thought about Guestrow as well, but people had strongly advised me against it because the internal disease specialists did not accept any neurologists near them. The larger cities already had plenty of practicing neurologists, let alone West Germany, which had far more than enough doctors. I was even warned against Stralsund because the doctors there were known to be difficult and exclusive, but I did not care about that too much.

When I arrived in Stralsund, I went directly to the head physician of the county. I overwhelmed him a little with my comment that I was coming directly from the ministry, which was not a lie. Thus I got his permission right away to open my own special practice. Unfortunately, I still needed the permission of the ministry in Schwerin, which probably remembered my non-cooperative behavior. They let me wait for quite a while, but on August 1, 1946, only after reminding them repeatedly, I got the permission to practice in Stralsund, where I had already rented a furnished three-bedroom apartment with a kitchen. We moved there [Sarnowstr. 41] on Aug. 16.

In Stralsund, a new and probably the last chapter of our lives began. We have stayed in Stralsund for more than 20 years now. Stralsund has 70,000 residents. It is a Hanseatic town with a view of the island Ruegen. We have managed to build a beautiful new existence for ourselves, but we have never felt fully at home here.

Of course, that is partly because of the sense of eradication we experienced and the loss of our old home where we had started to share our lives, and maybe in part because we lost everything we owned as well.

I had already started to evaluate the loss of my collected scientific notes, and the loss of my violins was most painful. We probably were a little depressed from all of that, but we never lost our courage. Almost more depressing were the disappointing experiences we had with the German people. It might have been that we matured and were able to see more clearly and with fewer illusions, while we were repeatedly confronted with the lower instincts of man.

It started as early as our flight and was particularly bad in Greifswald, where refugees were perceived as mere intruders and people of secondary value. A helpful attitude towards refugees was a rare exception. Craftsmen, for example, explained that they did not work for refugees and, once, when Ilse went to the dentist, he told her, “You are just a refugee; my assistant can treat you.” Refugees from Stettin were sent back remorselessly on the pretext that the Polish were going to accept them after all. Excited and hopeful, they went back to their homeland, where the Poles took their last belongings and almost beat them to death.

Even within our own family, we experienced exploitation and heartlessness. The name Ilse Moser, for example, was taken as a symbol. The name of the former maid was Ilse and the washerwoman’s last name was Moser. In their eyes, therefore, Ilse could or should embody both of those functions. At Ilse’s mother’s funeral, while pointing to the gravesites, somebody said the following, which probably beat any record of hard-heartedness: “Look how much space the refugees are taking away from us. Imagine how many potatoes could we grow here instead.” When Juergen came back to us over the border from Holstein, no one shared our happiness in any way. Instead, people complained that there would be one more person who would use the bathroom and make demands on the kitchen stove. On a later visit at our house in Stralsund, our relatives said that we were obviously doing undeservedly well. I made sure that was their last visit.

Their comment might even bear some truth when it comes to the tragic stories of so many other refugees. I am thinking particularly about the fate of my two sisters, Wera and Edith, which I want to describe at this point. I also want to remember the fate of many other unhappy families who stayed in their hometowns. We could have easily shared their destiny.


17. The Fate Of The Schoenwalder People


I had to leave our relatives from Schoenwalde, namely Wera, Gretchen, and their children to their own devices in the Schwalbenberg camp, close to Pillau. I could not take them with me because the supervisor of the camp did not even want to let my own family go. Another problem was that I only had permission to take my wife and children onto the boat. So I was already in trouble for bringing Ilse’s mother along, whom authorities at first refused to allow on board. We were a little relieved when we heard that the camp was going to be cleared in a few days and the refugees were going to be transported farther by sea. In fact, they ended up leaving Pillau even a little earlier than us because our ship rode at anchor in Pillau for a whole week, waiting for its convoy.

Gretchen wrote a detailed report about their experiences after that, and I want to show some excerpts of it here:


“After staying in the camp close to Pillau for four days we received the order to go down to the harbor. Soldiers helped us to carry our children and the luggage. The ships that were waiting there were already overloaded, and a whole crowd of people was still waiting at the quay. Everybody wanted to get on a ship. A friendly soldier said, “Come on, Mommy,” and grabbed me like a child to lift me over the bulwark, followed by Mudding (Wera), the luggage and the children. …The ship, a small coal barge, was overcrowded. We had to climb a long ladder deep down into the hull. The straw, which had been lying there already since the last transport, was so dirtied by people’s vomit and other things that we felt nauseated simply by the smell. There was nobody but old women, who fought and beat one another. There was no place to sit, and on top of everything, everyone was in a hopeless mood. It was torture. After about 30 hours and a terrible storm, during which the ship had almost been turned upside down, we arrived in Neufahrwasser... Mudding and I were okay, but all the children got seasick. After our arrival, we were sheltered very primitively in large halls, from which we were supposed to go on cargo trains to Gotenhafen [Gdynia, Poland]. From there, our flight supposed to continue by ship. Because the train wagons were not heated and we often laid around there for days without going anywhere, we decided to go to Mittmann’s, mainly because of the children. So we went and were welcomed with so much warmth and kindness. This was probably our first mistake, because within a short time it was too late to leave. Thus we found a nice apartment and lived quite well there until the Russians came on March 23.The last days of the shootings were not very pleasant, nor was the horrible tension and the fear of the horde. During the attacks, we all waited close together for the bomb, which would free us from our misery. On the last night, we stayed in a safe bunker. Finally, when the first Russian came, the tension was resolved, but then it all started. The nights were horrible, Zoppot was in flames. Kicked and beaten, we were forced into some bunker under a lame excuse. In the partly destroyed houses, they assaulted us, and whoever tried to escape was grabbed by the next man and thrown on a couple of hard chairs. If we had finally managed to run home through the burning streets, some other drunken beasts would be waiting for us. This was probably the worst experience I have ever had. Day after day, the screaming of the frightened children, when I had to leave to go with a man. Then we were allowed to move into Mittmann’s apartment again, and we lived there a little more peacefully. We hardly dared to go out on the streets, and when we did, we dressed up as old women. We found work with the Polish on the electricity plant. I fixed up the whole garden of the engineer. I got sunburned and was able to do there whatever I wanted. We did not have much bread and basically lived off the things the children would find in the deserted basements. On May 20, I went to get my pass to Koenigsberg from the Russians, my second mistake. Because we no longer had any of our papers, we could have stated a different place as our original home. We were just trying to survive, though, and somehow we believed that we would still be able to find some of our belongings back home. Therefore I decided to go back to Schoenwalde; a home is a home, after all. On the third day of Pentecost (Pfingsten), we left Zoppot in a cattle truck with our small backpacks. We went through Dirschau to Bromberg. At some point, we were put into a camp and robbed of everything by the Polish. Now we hardly had anything left to carry, which was not so bad, because Mudding did not have much strength left to keep going and Elke was quite weakened as well. In Thorn, we were spit on and called “German Pigs” by the Polish. We were quite happy once we had left the Polacks behind and were on Russian territory. After eight days, we arrived in Ponarth, a suburb of Koenigsberg. We were starved and looked like black people from riding on the coal wagons. In a tremendous heat, we dragged ourselves through Koenigsberg, which was entirely destroyed. It was very sad to see our lovely old Koenigsberg, now a Russian neglected city of ruins. The first night, we were welcomed and cared for very kindly by some nuns in Dr. Mueller’s hospital in the Koenigsstrasse. There, we were able to wash ourselves and get a good night’s sleep. The next day, on May 29, 1945, we started the last stage of our journey. We got a lift to Transitten in a military jeep. Elke was given a big loaf of bread in the car, and after we got dropped off we sat down in the ditch and ate to our hearts’ content. I have to admit that the Russians were always good to the children, and that was often our salvation. As we came closer to our old home, the boys got so exited that they ran ahead. They came back with the sad news that our house was burned down, though, and we all started crying. Two compassionate Russians gave us a loaf of bread again and we moved into the “Kirchenkrug,” a hostel that provided straw beds for a large number of people. About 20 Germans were already there. The next day, I went to look for work right away. Schoenwalde was full of Russian military, and the women had to clean up for them, scrub houses, etc. I was lucky to find work in a kitchen. The cook was a very nice Russian man who loved the children dearly. I always had enough to eat and could take home as much as I wanted. Under the Russians, though, nothing was “for free.” There were a lot of reasons for envy and generally, no boundaries existed anymore. Everybody showed their true faces. We had to swallow quite a lot, also because we belonged to the hated rural landowner class. Mudding suffered a lot from all of that and was completely worn out, very apathetic and indifferent. Soon, we moved into our old straw house. Mudding lost more and more weight every day. She was just a skeleton after a while, but she still took care of our little vegetable garden with the greatest devotion. In between, she had to rest and lie down. She suffered from diarrhea and hardly ate, and her condition got increasingly worse. A Russian doctor said that it was not typhoid, but that she had to be brought to the hospital in Koenigsberg. We could not find a way to get her there, though, and so she got worse from day to day. The last 10 days, she only had tea and water soup, but her body would not even keep that down. She always asked for me. Most of the time, though, I had to work during the day and could not take care of her that much. It was unbearable to see her suffer like that. Minister Czygnan, who had been with the Friedenskirche and had substituted for Minister Mudrack when the latter had been called up, had returned to Schoenwalde as well, and he often came to talk to her and give her courage and comfort. She was very receptive to that, which made me feel a little better. On July 14, she was finally relieved of all her suffering. She had a nice funeral. All the Germans brought flowers and garlands. Alfred Brosche built the coffin, and we buried her on a beautiful summer day. Who would have thought that she would have had to die like that? Poor, dear Mudding!

We soon had to leave our place, and we moved into the former meat inspection house across from Wengel’s place and behind the town pond. We lived there for about six weeks. I injured my hand and I was not able to work for about six months. Thank God, we often met compassionate Russians who gave food to the children, even if it was only a little bit. Soon we had to move again. This time we moved into the house of Wengel’s cottager, close to the mill. We lived there for the next eight months. Then I got a roommate, the former accountant of Count Kanitz-Mednicken. She was a very nice, well-educated human being and I was so happy to finally meet a person again who I was compatible with. We went to work together. The boys always got water and wood and were really very hard-working. During the winter, we went to the rye hills, which the Russians had planted everywhere. Using sticks, we looked for grains, which we ground in the coffee grinder. For months, the only thing we ate was rye soup and homemade bread; no potatoes, and nothing to put on the bread. We never got sick, though.

In autumn of 1945, the last troops left, and it became very unsafe for us. Germans were robbed by tramps all the time. They broke the locks to our apartment as well. One time, we lost all of our better clothes and coats.

Around Easter of 1946, we were thrown out of our place again and we moved into the school building. There, we got a cozy room in the attic. It faced east, and we managed to make ourselves quite comfortable. We mainly lived on stinging nettles, but we were always healthy, even though bread was rare. One time, we simply were not able to find anything edible anymore, and I decided to try to find work again. The brickyard seemed to be the right place because the people there worked eight hours a day. On the collective farms, on the other hand, the workdays had unlimited hours and people had to work on Sundays as well. Work was very hard, and unfortunately, I did not get any food stamps for the children as I had been promised. The kids picked a lot of berries from our garden and we ate tons of them. I got one piece of bread for each of us per day for my food stamps.

In June, I received the first letter from Heinz [her husband] and a postcard from you, dear Ilse. I was so happy. Soon to follow, I got a more detailed letter with the news of everybody. How happy and how sad I was then. I was often surprised by the matter-of-fact-attitude and calmness that I maintained through everything that happened. I blamed myself quite a lot for that, but everybody became so apathetic and even capable of thoughts like, “Now everything is going to be easier, now I will only have to feed five people” (for example, after Mrs. Nagel passed away). Then, the starvation came during the cold, snowy winter of 1946-47. We only had one slice of bread and sugar beets to share every day. Every evening, I went to the sugar beet plantation to get a sack of beets. The children were very frightened for me, and one time, I actually ended up in a bunker, where I had to stay for one long and freezing cold night. When we did not have any beets, we dug out the old beet skins from under the snow and ate them. We dragged ourselves through each day with our swollen legs. I started to have difficulties with my heart, but the most depressing thing was to come home and find nothing to eat. The poor children, I felt so bad for them. They were so unselfish and they never gave up before they found something for us to eat, even if it was just a frozen beet or a few potato skins. We never begged. The Brosche family, in Condehnen, sometimes sent us a few frozen sugar beets or flour through Minister Czygan. Day after day, I had to cut trees in the woods, sometimes in temperatures around minus 30 degrees Celsius. Day after day, the weather was rough, and everything seemed to have turned against us. When the first stinging nettles came out, our spirits slowly awakened once more, and again all we had to eat for weeks were the nettles and our pieces of bread. Finally, in June, I got food stamps for the children and I was given 1800 grams of bread each day. Then, our situation started to improve. Here and there, we would be able to come up with some food again and we slowly recovered. We had been skeletons with big swollen legs. In the summer, we were recruited for the harvest on the collective farms in Conrad’s forest. Day after day, we were binding wheat, but at least we were able to take some home. I was so happy when the children recovered. Then word got around that we might be able to leave soon. We waited for quite a while, and our patience was challenged in a big way. Finally, on November 26 [1947], somebody woke us up in the middle of the night: “Get ready, you are going to Berlin!” I could not believe it. I got ice-cold and my teeth were chattering, I was so excited. Then we quickly, very quickly, packed our stuff. We were already more or less prepared anyway. On November 28, we left Koenigsberg, “Now, good-bye, my dear homeland.” Despite everything, we all cried when we left. Silently, I said, “Good-bye!”

These were roughly our experiences throughout those three years. It was difficult, but probably necessary. Everything in life happens for a reason, and I actually became more peaceful and discerning in general. It is comforting to know that we don’t have that much more to lose, but hopefully only to gain. I often think of all those poor people who are still suffering there. This winter will take its victims as well, though probably not as many as last year. I could write so much more, but I am going to stop here for today. We were grateful from the bottom of our hearts that we escaped this hell and, while the train took us further and further west, we sang wholeheartedly, “Now, we thank you, God!”

I have to add that Schoenwalde is now inhabited by poor Russian citizens who barely make a miserable living there. The church is now a movie theater and a dance club, and the graveyards are destroyed and have cows and goats grazing on them. The whole area around Schoenwalde is uncultivated as is generally most of the land in East Prussia....


This much by Gretchen Vogel, née Alsen [Kurt’s first-cousin once removed, but raised as his niece], about the fate of Schoenwalde, which had represented a center point for the closer and extended family. We experienced beautiful times there and, after all, Ilse and I met each other there for life.

Gone with the wind.

I want to complete Gretchen’s descriptions with eyewitness reports about the last days of, Koenigsberg, our home city of choice. Most of those reports were written by our pharmacist, Mr. Schweinike, and do not need to be commented on. They are included in the appendix.

Everything gone, ruined, dead, gone with the wind.

18. Gramatzkis’ Fate in Usedom


The story of the “Pegrams,” as we used to call Paul and Edith Gramatzki, born Moser, the pharmacist couple in Usedom, is very sad as well.

In the end of March 1945, after we fled from East Prussia, we stayed at their house for about three to four days before we continued our trip to Greifswald. During that time, everything indicated the coming collapse in Usedom, too. Besides us, they had accommodated and kindly helped out many relatives who were fleeing, before and after us.

Seeing these heartbreaking stories, which demonstrated the horrible consequences of Nazism right before their eyes, their illusions about the brown regime probably vanished. The fateful end must have led to an incredibly disappointing and shocking awakening, especially in the case of Edith, who had been completely blind in her fanaticism for the “Fuehrer.” Again and again I ask myself how it was possible that good people who could not harm anybody, people who had done so much for their families and, who were generally respected and liked throughout the whole town for their helpfulness and generosity, could fall for the cheap siren-seduction of the brown regime so unquestioningly. How could they be so completely sucked into the mass propaganda? Both of them, Paul as well as Edith, certainly were what one would call “good Christians.” It must have been some kind of superstition that took hold of the good people, too. Maybe it was some kind of belief that was triggered emotionally and made people blind to reality. Thus they would willingly believe and adapt to the fairy tales of the millennium, the tales about the superior race and the great future of Germany. These might be based on archetypes, which are deeply rooted in the German spirit and were used and awakened by the clever propaganda of the Nazis.

The Pegrams endured their disappointment with self-control and a certain pride, and they did not have to feel bad about anything they actively did. Their mistake was simply passively believing and following everything the Nazis said. That did not keep them from doing many good things in the name of the swastika, for example, in the charitable Volkssolidaritaet. Thus they were respected for their humanity, even by opponents of the Nazis. Nevertheless, they told me that they would not be able to bear it if the Russians, and with them Communism, came and delivered them into the hands of the Mob. On the day before we left, Paul secretly told me that they had decided to poison themselves in case the Russians came and that he had some potassium cyanide in the house.

While in Greifswald, we received two more letters from Dittchen (Edith). In the first one, which she sent on April 2, 1945, she wrote how much she had wanted us to stay at her house. It would have been so much nicer, she wrote, if we had all stayed together. Further, she wrote that people were talking about an evacuating the island and that anti-tank ditches were being built. Soon, she continued, the Bolshevism from East and West could meet in Germany.

Then she told us that she had received a letter from Wera from Gotenhafen, which greatly shocked her. It was terrible.

Two days later on April 4, 1945, she wrote again how she had such a hard time accepting that we had to live apart again so shortly after we had met. She continued on about how everything was becoming more and more lonely, that some people were being evacuated but the official eviction order was yet to come. She hoped it would become a little calmer where she lived and that the war would be decided at a different place. She said that she still had some hope left, even though rationally, she could clearly see the end coming. In spite of everything, she seemed to have a spark of hope that a big “miracle” would happen, although deep down she probably did not really believe in that anymore. She hoped to see us one more time in the good, old “Gryps” (Greifswald). Her wish came true before the bitter end. In this last letter though, the hopeful, melancholic mood came through again and again: “The son of the major helped me to dig over the garden. Soon I will plant potatoes, but for whom?! Well, it does not matter. We have to do what we have to do until the very end. Oh, how much I would like to have you all around my table to take care of you! What do you remember from old times, Kuerting, and what might ‘Gryps’ look like now?”

A few days later, Dittchen came briefly to visit us in Greifswald once more. She wrote about that experience on one last postcard on April 11, 1945: “Traveling through the spring with its beautiful sunshine, passing by green birches and spring flowers was just wonderful.” It was a postcard with the pharmacy’s label on it. Paul had designed the label and it still hangs in the hallway of the pharmacy in Usedom as a framed embroidery. Being the last sign of life we received from the Pegrams, this postcard, with a Hitler-stamp on it(!), is enclosed in the appendix. We did not hear anything else from them. The Russian occupation followed, and there was no connection whatsoever for months. In August 1945, we received a letter from the Pegrams’ assistant, Christel Boehming, whom we had met during our stay in Usedom. We had written her to find out if she knew what had happened after all the letters we had sent to Gramatzkis had remained unanswered. This is her letter from August 21, 1945:


Dear Moser family,


Just today I received your dear letter.

I have waited to hear from you already since some time and I started to doubt that you were still in Greifswald. Let me try to describe everything that happened in detail now. I hope I succeed; it is certainly not so easy for me.

Mr. and Mrs. Gramatzki had taken a farmer up on his offer to drive them out to the forest at night, where a bunker had been made available to protect us from the attacks. During the day, we took care of the pharmacy as well as we could. I do not know what had moved them to stay at home that night after all. Maybe the decision to commit suicide had finally been made. I do not know. However, they had set up the medication storage room in the basement as their sleeping and living room, and probably spent their last night there. They had enough of everything down  there to survive for about four weeks without any outside help.

Friday morning, intense shooting hit our town, and at night the Russians occupied it. The next night and day were not nice at all, but it probably was the same everywhere, and I do not want to go into any more detail.

On Saturday morning, I heard in my hiding place that the Gramatzkis had committed suicide. Even though they had talked a lot about it many times before, I still could not believe it was true. So in the afternoon I went into the city. It was a terrible picture. There I saw my dear mentors and I was shocked. Mrs. Gramatzki was lying on the big couch in the front of the apartment and Mr. Gramatzki next to it on the carpet. It looked as if they were sleeping peacefully; they must have died without suffering. Everything around them was chaotic and thrown around. Shocked, I ran home and the crazy circumstances made it impossible for me to leave my hiding place for the next eight days. During that time, the two good souls were buried on the premises of the pharmacy.

My God, how it looked in the pharmacy when we came back there for the first time again! It was terrible to see how this household had been robbed and plundered. I could not find anything. Sheets, clothing, blankets, silver, dishes, even some of the beautiful furniture had been carried out. The rest was taken away by the Russians while we watched. Nobody was able to do anything about it because it was an unwritten law that the Russians could do whatever they wanted in any house whose owner was missing. Once the graveyard was reopened, we buried them at the parent’s grave sight. Both of them were so happy and vivid and I can’t conceive that their lives could be over so suddenly.

Then a man named Dr. Schoenfeld moved into the house for a while, and he took some of their things as well. People say that he bought them, but at least he should have asked first whether or not someone would like to have them in their memory.

Now a new pharmacist lives there, but he is only an employee, since the whole property has come under government control. He is trying to live as best he can with the last few pieces of furniture. He is a refugee as well and cannot go back home because of the Poles!


As soon as we were able to get a connection to Usedom by phone, which had been impossible because the island had been isolated after the bridge had been bombed, I contacted Dr. Schoenfeld. He had been a practitioner in Usedom for years, knew the Pegrams well, and had treated the parents until they died. Thus he knew that I was their closest relative. I tried to find out more details, especially about the existence of any belongings or souvenirs of theirs. I received a brief and unfriendly answer though, in which Dr. Schoenfeld said nothing was left of their belongings and it was in vain to look any further. Ten years later, this “colleague” came to Stralsund as a general practitioner. He avoided meeting me, and I have never asked him about the Pegrams again, even though I heard from other sources in the meantime that he indeed has some of the Pegrams’ things, apparently even personal things, such as letters. I felt disgusted by him! During our first years in Stralsund, I treated the wife of the owner of a hotel. She had owned a restaurant in Usedom across the street from the pharmacy and had known the Pegrams well. She had seen them in front of their house the night before the Russians came. The next day, she witnessed the plundering by the “dear” Germans. Other people who lived in Usedom and later became my patients confirmed this to me.

Only after several years did we visit the Pegram’s grave site, which was right next to the parents’ graves. The graves were being taken care of by an old woman, supposedly still commissioned by Edith. We spoke to her, and once she heard who we were, she remembered that Edith had talked about us. She showed us a golden ring Edith had given her and she offered it to us. We wanted her to keep it though, because she seemed very attached to it.

With the help of a lawyer I tried to find out more from the court in Usedom about the Gramatzki’s former possessions, but I just got the laconic answer that all their possessions had been confiscated and brought under government control.

Thus we do not have any tangible memory of the Pegrams. They live on in our memory, though, and everybody knows that is the one thing that cannot be taken away from us.


19. Rebuilding My Own Practice


Compared to the order of my professional life in the past, I experienced the exact opposite order while building my new life’s work in Stralsund. While my own practice was the last stage of my activities in Koenigsberg, it began my work in Stralsund. After the government-controlled health offices were created, I soon took on leading positions in these offices. First, I was the director of the neurological-psychiatric outpatient unit of the hospital’s outpatient department. Then I became head physician of the whole institution. After that, I was the head physician of the special neurological department, which had an integrated outpatient unit. I had created that department in the county hospital. Finally, I became the medical director of the Krankenhaus-West, which had a capacity of about 100 beds and had special units for psychiatric, neurological, orthopedic and pulmonary diseases.

For nearly 20 years, I was occupied with the most diverse medical functions in Stralsund, and I experienced all kinds of things that might be worth writing about, because they might provide some insight into life in the first post-war years and later. Before I start with that, though, I want to talk about one particular issue that has been subject of many discussions to this day. Why did we stay in East Germany instead of going to the West once we decided to leave Greifswald and were moving anyway?

People asked us this question again and again, and we had to recognize that they seemed not only to misunderstand but even misinterpret our decision.

To start at the beginning, it was completely accidental that our refugee transport only took us to Ueckermuende and not further West, as many other transports before ours had done. Many people from East Prussia were taken to the area of Holstein (in West Germany). The Pegrams were the only people we knew near Ueckermuende, and we went there first. The next university city, where I had to register after I had completed medical supervision of the transport in order to wait for my next assignment, was Greifswald. Greifswald was also the city where I spent my youth, so it was familiar to me. We felt rather lucky back then and therefore did not see the slightest reason why we should flee further west on our own. This could have been a rather questionable undertaking, because the war was still going on, and after all, I was still a reserve member of the Wehrmacht. Besides that, everybody was certain back then that the Russians would not get any further than the Oder River, because everybody thought that the war would be over by then.

When the Russians actually came, it was already impossible for us to go further west because Ilse’s mother was in much worse health. We had to admit her to the neurological hospital, where she died on September 13, 1945. Further, Klaus’ health was not good either due to poor nutrition. So it was not really an option to flee with him into the unknown. Once he got better and signs of the division of Germany became clearer, we did indeed think about going to West Germany, especially once we saw that I would not be able to build a professional existence in Greifswald. We were in contact with Hans Decker for that reason. He had suggested that we visit his parents in the West, which was impossible at the time, for the reasons I mentioned earlier. At the end of April, he telegraphed us, writing that it was not clear whether or not we could move there. Then, in May, when we asked him about the whole state of affairs, he answered in more detail that the problems were not clarified yet. We still have his letters. He wrote that he had put off writing us because he wanted to wait until he had better news for us, but unfortunately he could not tell us anything positive. He had received the major’s decision: “Unfortunately, I cannot grant your request to permit Professor Moser and his family to move here. I can only accept refugee families who are officially referred to this county by the public refugees’ assistance,” and so on.

Despite that, Hans Decker suggested that we come to stay with him. Once we were there, all the formalities could be worked out, he said, and he certainly meant well. We did not want to go if everything was so uncertain, though. Thus we slowly approached the Stralsund project. Around the same time, we contemplated going to Bruehl, a town south of Cologne. Hans Decker mentioned that there was a possibility of establishing a practice for a neurologist. To investigate further, we contacted Dr. Keuthen (or Dr. Johnen), who was knowledgeable about the issue. He was a relative of Hans Decker’s. After weeks of waiting, though, he wrote back, rather discouraging. Under these circumstances, we did not have much of a choice but to go to Stralsund for a new start. By the way, no one back then expected the division of Germany by the occupying powers to last that long. Generally, people thought it would be a matter of a couple of years. Nevertheless, in the first years in Stralsund, we still thought about going to West Germany. Thus when Ilse visited the Deckers in Cologne in 1947, she made thorough inquiries at the local doctors’ association about the possibilities and prospects of establishing a neurological practice. They showed her on a map how overflowing the West was with doctors and said that if I were not actually in fear of my body or life, it would be better to stay in the East where, after all, people needed medical care as well. Generally, this was the tenor of everything we were told, and it was not unfounded. In 1949, when I went to a specialists’ convention in Goettingen and investigated the possibility of establishing a practice there, people confirmed that there were too many doctors, particularly neurologists, in West Germany. Even doctors I knew dissuaded me from coming to the West. They argued that it was difficult to get a start there and that the patients were quite spoiled, especially when it came to the decor and equipment in the office. Thus one would need to open a line of credit in order to open a practice. They added that all the competition, especially in my field, had led to a lot of profit-mongering and quackery. All of this would have made me quite uncomfortable and was not at all in line with my professional demeanor. On top of that, I did not feel that my health was stable and robust enough to fight in such an unfortunate competitive climate. My old stomach ailment acted up again and, last but not least, the war had generally taken its toll on us. We were still a little depleted and not as flexible or adventurous anymore. Furthermore, I started to get my feet on the ground professionally in Stralsund more and more, and our economic situation improved every year. Even though we had a hard time adapting and we did not get much closer to the land and the people, the number of patients in my practice continued to grow and grow. They depended on me in such a touching way, and I really had the feeling that I was answering a very important calling, especially under the prevailing external and political circumstances, which were very difficult. Before every vacation, people got worried and asked me if I was leaving for West Germany, in which case they didn’t know what would become of them. Every time I came back, I was welcomed in a very kindly and friendly manner. Of course, it became more and more difficult to part from all that and start from scratch the older we got. Only when I reached retirement age and there was no obstacle to legal immigration to West Germany did we seriously discuss this issue again, especially because the division of Germany became increasingly acute and more permanent. I was not eligible to receive retirement in West Germany though, because I had not received any government wages in Koenigsberg for a number of years, even though I had been a tenured professor there. Instead, I had lived off my private income—and I want to add that I lived very well. As a retiree in West Germany, I would have had to rely on contributions from social security. As we found out during our visit to Hamburg in 1965, that contribution would have allowed us only to live at a subsistence level. In East Germany I was much more secure economically. Aside from all of that, since Juergen as well as Klaus had emigrated to the U.S., and as retirees we had the opportunity to spend four weeks a year in West Germany, we did not see a compelling reason to leave Stralsund for good anymore.

These are basically the reasons that led us to finally stay here, despite everything. Some other aspects, all of which I can’t possibly cite here, probably played into our decision as well. For example, regarding the suggestion of the Decker family, we had reasonable doubts about moving into such a Catholic area, where, in our experience, religion plays an extraordinary role. We also witnessed repeatedly how colleagues who left East Germany to go to the West had a very difficult time establishing themselves, especially in the beginning, unless they had influential patrons in the West who paved their way. Unfortunately, I did not have that. Most of our friends from the past who were in West Germany did not do too well. Even a lot of former professors were living very modestly now and the younger generation was busy enough taking care of themselves.

It is worth mentioning, by the way, that Hans Decker, who had suggested we should come to the West, moved to East Germany himself a few years later because he could not find a training spot to become a surgeon in West Germany, an indication of the overflow of doctors.

Now let me go back to our move from Greifswald to Stralsund, which took place August 16, 1946.

A patient of mine who owned a truck had offered to bring us and the few belongings we had collected during our time in Greifswald to Stralsund. Because he was working during the day, it was pretty late when we left. He must have transported lime or artificial dung with his truck before, because, once we arrived, all our things as well as ourselves were covered with a thin layer of white dust, which did not smell very good and triggered sneezing. It was a beautiful night with a full moon. The house we were going to live in for the next 14 years was a well-tended, one-family villa, located in an outlying suburb of the city in a pretty neighborhood of other villas with beautiful gardens. We smelled trees and flowers, so we felt as if we were in paradise.

The bottom floor of the house that had been assigned to us included three beautiful, large rooms, which were furnished, as well as a spacious glassed-in veranda, our so-called “wintergarden.” A disadvantage was that we did not have our own kitchen. Instead we had to share the landlady’s kitchen, which was on the bottom floor as well. Back then, though, that was really common and we were lucky to find a sublet that included the use of a kitchen at all.

After having lived in the little room in the attic in Greifswald, being in these new, decently, though not fully furnished rooms with parquet floors throughout, felt as if we had been moved into a castle. We were quite relieved that we arrived at night in the dark, because we would have made a gypsy-like impression with our things, some of which came from the junkyard. Therefore we did a lot of cleaning before we even went to bed.

The next day, we started to build our new life. For me, that meant that I had to find a way to practice my profession. I literally had to start from scratch. The only things I possessed were an ear-trumpet, a little hammer to test the reflex with, some puncture needles and an emergency kit with some injections, which I had taken with me from Koenigsberg for the refugee transport. Fortunately, my field is modest in this respect and does not require too many instruments. Equipped with the little hammer, a needle, and enough knowledge and experience, it is possible to make the most fantastic diagnosis. Of course, today even neurological equipment has been “perfected.” I am thinking of the importance of brain-wave tests today. Neurology is one of the few fields, though, where doctors are still aware of the significance of the so-called simple medical methods of diagnosis. Psychiatry hardly requires any special technical equipment, anyway.

The large room that was next to the veranda and exited to the hallway was designated my treatment room. The hallway, which was really more like an entrance hall, had to serve as the waiting room. Unfortunately, the rooms were not fully furnished and there was no desk in my treatment room. Back then, it was not possible to buy one, either. Thus a simple table had to serve as a desk at first. Fortunately, there was a couch I could use for my patients. Further, I was able to borrow an old medical instrument [pantostat] from an elderly surgeon. It had been standing in his basement unused for a while, and even though it did not function reliably anymore, it helped to make the room look more like a doctor’s office. So did an old sunray lamp our landlady gave me. In Greifswald, I had already found some paper, which was more available then. I needed it to write down my medical diagnosis, reports, etc. The only thing outside of the house that indicated that there was a private practice inside was a wooden sign on the fence, which Juergen made himself, I believe. The next day I was able to start.

And did I start. I did not have to wait long for my first patient. Later on, so many people showed up that the improvised waiting room was not big enough. We had to start using the stairs, which led to the floor above where our landlady lived, for people to sit on. Mrs. Ortler, being an old resident of Stralsund, seemed to have successfully spread the word of a neurologist opening his practice in her house. Of course, the fact that I was a professor was especially appreciated in the provincial little town of Stralsund. As usual, all the old chronically ill people showed up in the beginning, hoping for a wonder cure by the new professor. I was actually lucky to find a couple of rare diagnoses among them that had not been recognized before, and the news of that got around quickly.

Another circumstance contributed to my popularity among the residents of Stralsund. Because of the shortage of doctors after the war, it was common for every doctor who moved to a new place to provide general medical care for the people living in his district, even if he was a specialist. Further, he was supposed to keep an eye on the hygienic conditions of the grocery stores in the area and conduct the official injections for the young and old residents. Thus I soon had a very busy practice soon, which Ilse loyally helped me manage as a receptionist. That way, she received medical insurance as well and became eligible for social security later. I had to pay a pretty high contribution for her health insurance though, more than I would have had to pay if I had hired a stranger! Because my work as a neurologist increased, I was soon overwhelmed with the obligations of being the general practitioner in my county, so I gave up that responsibility. Instead, I had to be available as a doctor to parts of the harbor and the companies located there. I was not at all happy about that at first, especially because I had to show up every time a ship arrived. I did not realize until later, though, how fortunate it was to get that responsibility. First of all, there were some fish-trading companies, and I had to control their health records regarding obligatory injections, and things like that. Further, there was an oil-mill and a potato flake factory. On every control visit, I was given products to take home as “samples,” so to speak, so our food situation got much better. I was grateful to the director of the health department, who liked me. He was able to understand our situation as refugees with two growing children. For a long time, all we ate was what we were able to find, such as potatoes that were thrown in the garbage but were still edible. Ilse also collected wild vegetables such as stinging nettles, which made good spinach, or mushrooms, elderberries, haws, sometimes a stem of rhubarb or a sugar beet.

Whenever our landlady made apple cake from her stock, she threw away the apple skins. Those days were a special feast for us. As soon as she left the kitchen we, particularly Juergen, would quickly pick the skins out of the garbage can and eat them. Because we lacked just about every kitchen utensil, we became pretty inventive in finding or building things. Many things were lying around on the streets and Ilse became an expert in finding useful stuff. Juergen cut a can in half and punched holes into it using a nail he had found. So it became a potato grinder, which rendered us great service for years and years. We should have kept it as an exhibit! An old doctor who was living in Stralsund and was on the board of directors of the evangelist salvation army helped us a lot. Through him, we got some dishes, a washtub and the most necessary pots and pans. He also made it possible for Klaus to participate in the daily Quaker’s meal, which was donated by Americans and which we were especially grateful for. Klaus was particularly starved and miserable from all the diarrhea. The Volkssolidaritaet also helped us. The president of that organization was a patient of mine with whom I still have contact today. She went to the West as soon as she was able to.

A special problem during the first year after the war was the heating. We had come to Stralsund in mid August 1946 and in October, it was quite cold. A little bit later, and unusually early, a very hard and long winter began. The house had central heating, which we could not use, though, because there was neither coal nor briquettes nor coke. We hardly had any wood either, so we had to collect some in the forest or buy it under the table for a lot of money. In my treatment room, which had no double-glazed windows and therefore was particularly cold, we had a slow combustion stove. It was supposed to heat the next room as well, but that turned out to be an empty promise and we replaced it with a small, iron stove. Then Mrs. Ortler, our landlady, put a small tiled stove into our living room, but that did not heat the place enough at all. The bedroom was impossible to heat. So we ended up sleeping in the living room after Ilse’s face almost froze while she was in bed one time! However, we were happy once this hard winter of 1946-47, which also was worst nutritionally, was put behind us. The winters were lighter in the following years, and once the general economic situation improved, we could start using the central heating system.

In spite of all our external difficulties in the beginning, I tried to find people in Stralsund to play music with soon after we moved there. That was not too easy, especially because people tended to meet us refugees with great mistrust to begin with. Further, Stralsund is a famously non-musical town. As a residual of Hanseatic times, a merchant’s spirit still prevails here, and money plays a big role. The theater conductor recommended a piano player named Mr. May. During our first conversation, we discovered that he had been the assistant master on probation in my high school in Greifswald many years ago. I had been a senior there at the time, and in one student concert he had accompanied me in a Romance in F-major by Beethoven. That was a strange meeting after 34 years. Now we made a lot of music, and Juergen, on his cello, was the third man of our trio whenever he was in Stralsund. Once in December of 1946, we played at a benefit Christmas party and each of us was rewarded with a nice assorted plate of food and a Christmas cake. When Klaus saw that, his eyes became huge, he was so impressed by it and wanted it so much. Later I also played music with a former assistant master who also played piano. Even though he had only nine fingers (he had lost the tenth due to blood poisoning), he had gained back his technique through hard training, and we were able to start playing bigger pieces. The search for string musicians for our own quartet turned out to be more difficult. As I already mentioned, refugees were not trusted at all. It was obvious that people suspected that the music was just an excuse and we had other intentions! That mistrust slowly faded and the newly found musicians could not play music with us enough! After Juergen left, we won over a cellist from the theater orchestra, who continued to play with us for many years. Before him, a teacher named Mr. Wessel, a very sincere and nice man, played the cello. Even though his technique was not that great he was an enthusiastic quartet member and knew many pieces, which was very important for the job. In addition, there were two sisters, a gynecologist and a pharmacist, who belonged to our quartet. They played the violin and the viola and participated with a great deal of fun. Once in a while, professional musicians joined us and expanded our chamber ensemble. Thus we were even able to play string and piano quintets, Mozart’s clarinet quintet and the string quintet by Dvorak, which is rarely played, as well as the string quintet by Schubert for two cellos. With our largest cast, we even got as far as playing the string sextet by Brahms.

In the beginning I played with Juergen at all kinds of events, which, as one used to put it, we framed musically. We played in culture clubs, at church, and other venues. Our musical evenings regularly took place at our house more than once a month. Whoever was interested came to listen. We have very fond memories of the painter Elisabeth Buechsel, who was already in her eighties and joined us frequently. She was a particularly nice listener, because she was so interested and had such an inspiring personality. Her “Hiddensee[5] pictures” made her famous.

It remains to be mentioned that we rented a small piano at first. Of course, it was a makeshift one, but at least that was better than nothing. One day we got really lucky when a completely strange couple came to ask us if we would be willing to take their “Bechstein” grand piano into our care. They were planning to leave and wanted to feel that their piano was in good hands. We were happy and made that promise with a good conscience. Of course, we were very grateful and it made a lot of things possible for us that had not been possible on the rented piano. We were also grateful that our landlady, who was not always easy, had no objections to the fact that we played music in the house. We highly appreciated that. After all, making music involves a certain amount of noise!

My professional life was subject to a number of changes. When I worked exclusively in my own practice, I was not considered a member of the “Intelligencia,” which meant, besides other things, that I only got a food voucher with poor apportioning. Therefore I decided to work part-time for the newly established neurological unit of the outpatient’s department of the hospital. Later on, I worked there full-time, because it was not possible to run the practice at home anymore. It had grown too big and we were running out of space. Further, I was not able to purchase the necessary materials, such as filing material, paper, electrical equipment for tests, needles, and so on. It was also impossible to buy furniture, and I did not even have a desk, which was unacceptable in the long run. In the outpatient department of the hospital, all the things I needed were available and working was much easier. In addition, because I had moved into a different group of people, I received better food vouchers now, as did everybody who belonged to the Intelligencia! There was a lot of work in the outpatient department, and the office grew and grew. In addition, we had to conduct consultation examinations in the county hospital, lectures and never-ending meetings and conferences. Upon the doctors’ request, I became the head of the outpatient department after the director had been taken away [abgeholt], and I stayed in that position for the next five years. During that time I established a neurological unit, first in the county hospital. Later, that unit was moved to the Krankenhaus-West, where we finally found our own apartment after four years of subletting. We enjoyed that very, very much.

This is roughly our biography. It was very different from what we had imagined it to be.

My professional goal had actually been the scientific side of neurology, which I might even be better at and I had already been promised a professorial chair. Then, through the political upheaval that began in 1933, which later changed the whole world, I lost that chance. Since then, there was no career growth without politics and party membership. In this respect, though, I have always been colorblind. As it is generally known, doctors have a privileged access to strange diseases, and I have always been hindered by a rare form of “brown-red-blindness!”

Therefore, my professional career rather reflected a kind of evasive or makeshift reaction, because it always took place in the practical area. I was happy and satisfied, though, despite the different goals I had at first, because the awareness and ability to help represents the most fundamental meaning of medicine. I definitely had plenty of opportunities to do that!

I could tell a few more interesting tales about my activities in Stralsund, especially as medical director of the Krankenhaus-West, because I often found myself in grotesque situations there, sometimes even criminological tasks. Of course, that often resulted in a lot of trouble and worry too, but on the other hand, I got very satisfying results as well, which were received with appreciation. On my 70th birthday, which I took as an external milestone to retire, my colleagues organized a big celebration that included the entire staff. Some representatives from the district office of Rostock came as well, and big speeches were given.

Now I am almost 76 years old and still work as a consultant for family and marriage affairs with a gynecologist. I have the pleasure to receive a lot of gratitude.

Since I retired from my position at the hospital, we were able to stay in our beautiful, large official residence with a garden because, as my dear, good wife used to say, I am scheduled as an ancient monument. We are very happy to be able to stay here.

We are very grateful for the fact that our children and grandchildren have gotten to know our last abode of our work and life. Even though Klaus’ children were still very young, they, at least Kim, might have some vague memory of the big journey over the ocean to Europe to visit their grandparents on their father’s side in Stralsund. Juergen’s girls, who were already older, probably have more personal recollection, even though the different languages made it more difficult to connect to each other.

For us, the biggest tragedy is that our family has been completely scattered due to contemporary history. Therefore, our grandchildren know neither the country their fathers are from originally, nor their fathers’ home the way it really looked in the past.

These memoirs are meant to represent a small substitute for that loss. Future generations, though, will probably feel as if they stepped back into prehistoric Neanderthal times when reading this.


Funeral Oration for Professor Dr. Moser

July 21, 1895 – June 25, 1982


July 1, 1982

by Dr. Otto Sieblist


Highly respected Mr. Professor!

I may admit to an old psychiatrist, who might look down on us from another world just at this moment, that the anticipation of this hour has always pressed upon my life like a nightmare. Now that the presumed duty to keep your distance, which you never forgot about while you were alive, is lifted off you, you might answer me with a visible wink of your eye, “Well, dear friend, this feeling in connection with me cannot be completely unfamiliar to you from earlier years.” You would probably refer to the time I first started working with you. That was thirty years ago.

Since then we knew each other, dear ladies and gentlemen, and he probably knew me much better than I knew him, for I knew him quite little, very little, considering how long it was we knew each other. That is why I mentioned the “nightmare.” For a sarcastic smile about my admission, which may show some connection, some shimmer of commonality, it is now too late.

I have to ask your forgiveness if my tone does not quite seem appropriate for this hour or this occasion. It is simply an expression of my embarrassment. I say this with grief: I don’t know if anybody who is present here, except for his honorable wife and his sons, can say about themselves that they have been close to him. Now, you see, having to recognize that at the grave of a man whom one has been around for so long is the same as admitting a failure, because one has neglected to fulfill his humane duty. The fact that he might have made it difficult for one to get close to him does not change that.

The people who were at least a little closer to him knew that next to his profession, which he was a master in because he remained a student until the very end, music was his second big passion. Thus it would not be too strange if I quoted Hanns Eisler at this point, who starts the obituary for his teacher Arnold Schoenberg with the following words: “I do not need the Chinese saying, ‘The one who does not honor his teacher is worse than a dog,’ to recognize that Arnold Schoenberg was one of the greatest composers of the 20th century. His mastery and originality are astonishing, his impact was and is enormous. It is not possible to think about the history of music without including him.”

Well, the man we are burying here today is definitely no Arnold Schoenberg, but, ladies and gentlemen, he is no less than Kurt Moser and he was my teacher.

Because his modesty is not able to object anymore, I want to make the following statement here. Today we are burying, among other things, an intellectual, whom no one of us, I think I can dare say, can hold a candle to. One should not underestimate the value of that! Only he who has once realized what immeasurable suffering can stem from diluted thinking and uncontrolled mental reactions and emotions can fully appreciate the pleasure of an incorruptible clarity of mind.

It was this clarity that made me respect and admire the professor from our first meeting on. Of course, it was also this clarity that made him an uncomfortable colleague, boss and contemporary, but let me continue to quote Eisler right now:

“I appreciate his weaknesses more than some other people’s strengths.”

When Professor Moser settled down in Stralsund in 1946, he already had an impressive career behind him, which only few people knew about, even though his academic credentials led people to suspect it. Let me give at least a brief summary of his professional life here.

After finishing medical school at the Albertus-University in Koenigsberg, the young Dr. Moser started to work as an assistant in the local psychiatric and neurological hospital in 1921. In 1926, he became head physician. His mentor and the director of the hospital was Geheimrat Ernst Meyer.

After completing a number of scientific essays, the head physician wrote his professorial dissertation in 1928, writing a psycho-pathological, criminological study. After Geheimrat Meyer’s death in 1931, the department appointed Dr. Moser director of the hospital and to the professorship as well. He held the main medical lectures for one year and gave several special seminars. Years of fruitful collaboration with the Professor Bostroem followed, and they soon developed a close personal friendship.

In 1934, Dr. Moser received tenure. His multi-faceted written work includes about forty published articles and essays. His extensive work about the epidemic development of Encephalitis Lethargica in East Prussia has received international acclaim and general recognition. Further, he made two contributions to the “Big Handbook” by Foerster-Bumke.

During the Nazi regime, medicine, particularly our special field, experienced increased political pressure, which Professor Moser rejected completely. Thus he left his workplace to start his own neurological practice in Koenigsberg. Until 1945, he kept his responsibility as a psychiatrist for adolescents for the province of East Prussia, which he had since 1934. It gave him the opportunity to prevent some harm within his area of influence.

After involuntarily leaving his hometown of choice and working temporarily at the neurological hospital of his old hometown, Greifswald, Professor Moser moved to Stralsund. His achievements here are known to those of us who are older because we witnessed his work.

After working in private practice for two years, Professor Moser took over the neurological outpatient unit of the newly opened outpatient hospital in 1948. Besides that, he worked extensively as a consultant. From 1959 to 1965, he directed the neurological unit, which he had established in the district hospital. Next to his work, which was dedicated to the practical side of medicine and which he always felt very involved in, Professor Moser significantly influenced our field with many lectures and demonstrations.

Since 1945, though, he did not give rise to comment in his special field anymore, which might surprise some people. Nevertheless, in 1954, he was offered a professorial chair in neurology and psychiatry at the newly founded medical academy in Dresden. He rejected that offer, though, because of his advanced age.

In the October 1964 issue of the journal “Progress of Neurology and Psychiatry,” Mr. Kolle put together a genealogy of neurologists in the German-speaking area, a number of “family trees,” which, as the author wrote, were supposed to become part of the third volume of a collection called “Famous Neurologists.” The third chart shows our deceased as a descendent of the so-called “First Berlin school,” which was founded by Carl von Westphal. Among its representatives, Professor Moser can be found in the fourth generation.

Mr. Kolle continues to explain that the men listed in the chart would not deserve to be memorialized there if they had simply remained followers of their teachers. “No,” he writes, “these men have earned their place in the history of neuropsychiatry because of their independence.”

I had the honor to be Mr. Moser’s student since 1952. During all these years with him, I have repeatedly come to realize one fact with satisfaction, the highest respect and an unsentimental sympathy: this man has always remained a fellow student. Something “routine” never existed for him. Well into his old age, he repeatedly experienced and acknowledged that which Robert Schumann stated about music: “To learning there is no end.”

As Professor Moser’s assistant, I constantly found opportunities to admire the disciplined clarity of his thinking, the confidence in his judgments, the terseness of his wording and his precision at work, which was always the same and which was intensified by his high sense of responsibility. However, Professor Moser does not only continue to live on in the memory and work of his students and former colleagues. He does not only live on in the grateful thoughts of countless patients. More than fifteen years after retiring from his position and work, his name still bears some kind of a mythical tone in this city, where he practiced his profession for more than two decades.

As we say goodbye to him, we feel as though a whole generation is leaving us with him, a generation that overlapped with our era and that has taught us many significant things. For a lot of us younger ones, back then still much younger ones, this generation naturally seemed anachronistic to some degree and we were driven and haunted to distance ourselves from that.

Let me come back to Mr. Eisler one more time. In his Schoenberg obituary, he continues: “Decline and decay of the middle class. But what glow!” Even the point of view and the resigned, withdrawn attitude of our honorable deceased during the last years of his life partially mirror the decline and decay of a past epoch. That is probably everyone’s destiny.

Once we who he left behind leave his grave and look back while continuing on our way, we can see the glow of that twilight shining on his familiar stature, standing upright for us as a warning sign and obligation to use our intellects.









Ilse Moser’s Memoirs




by Ilse Moser


Copyright © 1964 by Ilse Moser




The first sign of a direct threat to East Prussia by the advancing front appeared in the summer of 1944. At the time the three of us, Vaeti (Kurt), Klaus and I, were spending our summer vacation in Frauenburg [Frombork, Poland] at the “Frische Haff” [Zalew Wislany, Poland]. Shortly before that the celebrations for the 400th anniversary of the Albertina-University of Koenigsberg had taken place. Many visitors had come to Koenigsberg from all the different universities, but as soon as the official celebrations were over they left the city in great haste.

For us, who lived there, life continued undisturbed. Friedel was a tank gunner at the officer school in Eisenach and Juergen was stationed as an air force soldier with a heavy anti-aircraft troop in Lauth [circa 10 km east of Koenigsberg], close to Koenigsberg. Because the front was constantly retreating and all the adolescents and other people who could be of some use were suddenly called up to help build the Ostwall[6] [East dam], we hardly got to enjoy our vacation and decided to come home early. We had left our apartment in Koenigsberg in the care of a medical student from the student company, but we did not even find him at home when we got there because he had suddenly been ordered to serve as a doctor for the builders of the East dam. The entire student company had to interrupt their studies.

More and more we felt this mood of an impending disaster coming over us, and the only way to deal with it was to work a lot. At night when the street noise faded, we could clearly hear the thunder of the cannons. The practice continued as always, even though patients who had vowed never to leave Koenigsberg did not show up for their appointments because they had taken the next best opportunity to leave after all. Even our circle of friends got smaller and smaller. People simply left overnight and nobody knew where they went. That was painful and increased the feeling of nervousness.

Then, at the end of August [the night of the 26-27th, 1944], the British air attack came down on us like a tragic disaster. The Russian air raids we had had to deal up until then paled by comparison [June 1941, Fall 1941 and Spring 1943]. When we heard on the radio that large groupings of British airplanes had been seen over the Baltic Sea and were flying towards Stettin [Szczecin, Poland] and Koenigsberg [Kaliningrad, Russia], we all went to the basement right away, breaking with our usual habit. We had rearranged the basement so we could sleep there, and as soon as we got there, bomb after bomb fell on the city. The whole attack “only” lasted one hour, but the consequences were devastating. Entire parts of the center of the city, our neighborhood included, had become a sea of flames. Across from our house, the Stadthalle [concert hall], where we had seen all the beautiful symphonies and artist debuts, was burning. It was simply because of the direction of the wind that our house was spared from the fire.

For the first time we experienced the horrible consequences of such an attack this close. Homeless people were sitting in front of our house on their little bundles with the few belongings they had saved. Children were searching for their parents and wounded people were crawling through the streets. Wherever we looked we saw nothing but suffering, misery and endless grief.

Exactly three days later [the night of August 29-30th, 1944] we heard the same warning on the radio: “Strong formations of British airplanes heading for Koenigsberg.” Full of worry, we went into the basement again, for now we knew what to expect. The second attack lasted about half an hour longer than the first one. The bombs went down precisely where the first attack had missed. Had it not been so horrible, we would have been impressed by the amazing technique and accuracy. Thus whatever had not been destroyed in the center of the city during the first attack was destroyed now. The bombs came hailing down. Right next to our house, a phosphorus canister ripped a big whole in the ground, and the windows and doors in the basement banged around from the air pressure. It was terribly scary. Klaus was sitting on my lap. He was trembling all over, and out of consideration of all the children in the basement, we tried to make light of the whole experience.

Because I was the Luftschutzhauswart [air raid warden], I had to check the house from time to time. Almost all the windows were broken from the air pressure, some of the doors were ripped off their anchors, and because of the draft caused by the open doors and windows, the firestorm swept through the house with burning pieces and dancing sparks. First of all we tore down all the curtains. We were shocked to see the fire come closer and closer to our house. Soon the smoke became too much and we had to leave the basement. We put our most important belongings in a little wagon, took Klaus and left into the unknown. We were surrounded by fire, and the heat was terrible.

Because we lived so close to the lake, we had the advantage of not being completely encircled by the fire. Members of the Wehrmacht [German army], who showed a lot of goodwill, were very kind and willing to help guide the civilians out of the fire. Not only was the air glowing hot, but the firestorm was so strong that we were surrounded by red sparks. Klaus bravely walked beside us. If we had not been so threatened, it would have been a grandiose sight, but we were. We simply could not believe it.

At the lake, we lay down and rested with many hundreds of people and watched with woe in our hearts one beloved home after the other turn to ashes. The people who passed by told horrible stories about the narrow streets of the Sackheim and Loebenicht,  the old parts of the city, where they came from. There was no getting out for anybody who was the least bit hesitant. A lot of them had horrible injuries from the fire and black faces from the soot. They called for their children and relatives and searched for the rest of their belongings. The lake rose in waves from the firestorm, overturning the boats. Many people threw themselves into the water to ease the pain of their wounds.

In the morning we moved on. We passed by burning houses, the Tattersal, where all the competition and riding horses had burned to death. Now they lay around in a horribly-smelling mass. Finally we came to a Katholisches Erziehungsheim [Catholic educational institution], which Vaeti knew well from his activities in the welfare department. We cleaned ourselves as well as we could, which was not easy, because there was no running water, gas or electricity. Then we brought Klaus to the local train station to send him to Schoenwalde. The separation was heartbreaking because he did not want to part from us. Afterwards, we tried to get to our apartment, usually a 15-minute walk, which took hours now. Most of the streets were closed because of the destroyed houses, and they were full of rubble and glass.

When we arrived, our feet were sore, but we were incredibly grateful to see that the house was still standing. It had been saved by a firefighter squad of the Wehrmacht, whose group captain was a patient of Kurt’s. Just as we were trying to fix up the apartment as best as we could, Werner Nitsch showed up. He was a horseman and was stationed with his squad in Schoenwalde. He had orders to secure any furniture that was left out on the streets. Thus he suggested that we bring our most valuable things, such as silver, scientific books, upholstery, carpets and porcelain to Schoenwalde to protect them from a potential third attack. Our rooms were emptied quicker than we were able to watch. Many miserable people were sitting outside in front of the concert hall on their belongings, which they had saved from their burning houses. Now they waited for their departure into the unknown.

Suddenly I got very worried for Otiti (my mother)[7], who was living in a home for old people about two and a half kilometers away from us. In the afternoon I left with our maid to look for her. We could not get there directly because all the streets were full of rubble, glass and collapsed houses. It looked terrible and by far exceeded anything we had expected. We did not see a single house along the way that was not destroyed. Sometimes they were still on fire, and we were glad to have taken our gas masks with us. A couple of times the air was filled with so much smoke that we could not breathe. On the sidewalks we saw burned bodies. The bridges were not usable, because they were still burning as well. Even the houseboats and posts in the Pregel River [Pregolja, Russia] were scorched. Amid all this, children and old people were wandering and running around, hopelessly searching for their relatives.

I was devastated by this miserable picture, and it was hard to believe that every beloved and important thing was simply gone. The old castle, the university, the opera house, and “Graefe und Unzer” [large bookstore], everything was destroyed. Once we finally got closer to the home for old people, after many detours, we saw that it was completely burned down as well. Only the walls and the chimneys were left. I was thunderstruck. Everything was empty and deserted and nobody was left to give us information about the residents. I went to the beautiful, well-tended garden, which was destroyed now, too. Otiti’s deck chair was still standing there intact, and about 100 meters away from the house I found an enamel pot that had always stood in the cooking-oven. This was the only indication that Otiti had ever lived there. I felt miserable and it seemed to me as if I was standing at the grave of my parent’s home. Then we went home with the terrible uncertainty about Otiti’s fate.

At night we went to Schoenwalde in one of Werner’s wagons. There, good Aunt Wera [Alsen, née Moser] had fixed up her dining room for us. It was furnished with our own furniture and we felt very at home there. Very early in the morning I went back into the city. As we got close to Koenigsberg, Juergen came riding toward us on his bicycle. He had been excused from service like all the soldiers of the air force to find out about the whereabouts of their parents and relatives. How happy we were to have each other back healthy!

Everyday life was very hard at first. There was no light, no gas, no electricity, no water; even the phone lines had been destroyed. For the first few days, the NSV [National Sozialistische Volkswohlfahrt, a Nazi charity] provided food, so we did not have to cook. We continued to spend the nights in Schoenwalde. The area where the garage for our car had been was completely destroyed and one had to climb over mountains of rubble in order to get to the yard with sixty garages. When I decided to try to get there people laughed at me, because everything was burned anyway. I could not let it go, though. If anything, I just wanted to see our Hanomag [car brand name] one more time. I could not believe my own eyes when I saw it standing there intact. Only the windows were broken, but other than that, it was ready to go. Werner got horses to pull the car over the rubble and we were happy to have it available to us again. Of all 60 cars, only two had not been destroyed, and one of them was ours.

Little by little, everything started up again. Even the practice started up again and our fears of a devastating third attack gradually faded. Only a few houses were still standing in our area and the most important stores, like grocery stores, moved in there.

Soon we had electricity and could run the household again. Five days after the attack, while spending the Sunday in Schoenwalde, we received a postcard from Otiti. She was alive and had been brought to Bartenstein in a truck. I was so relieved and these questions that were eating me up were finally resolved. I decided to drive there and bring her to Schoenwalde right away. I anticipated our meeting with some concern, because I knew that Otiti had been hit right in her mainspring. The home had been the joy of her life, with all her many memories, her beloved music and the grand piano. After asking around in many offices, I managed to find out her address. I was shocked when I found her sitting on the couch in her robe and slippers. We were so moved that we could not speak a word. She had left the burning house in the same clothes she was wearing then. She had nothing left, not even her wedding ring, no coat, no dress, no purse, not even hair pins. Everybody can probably imagine what that must feel like. With vouchers from the NSV, we bought the most necessary things, so at least she was able to travel. Although we tried to deal with the whole situation with some humor, I felt very, very sad. Everything seemed so senseless.

We went to Schoenwalde on the same night, where we walked in the most beautiful moonlight through the fields to the mansion. There Otiti planned to stay temporarily until she could come to live with us. She was very depressed because she felt completely uprooted and had to give up her beloved independence so suddenly. Now many people around her gave her presents and clothes so she had what  she needed to get by. She suffered a lot, though, and she constantly regretted that she did not die in the fire that burned down her home.

Soon after, I made myself visit all the places I had particularly liked. The streets were now passable. The first thing I saw, closest to where we were, was the church of the castle, which had turned into rubble. A little bit further away was my beloved Loebenichtsche Kirche [church], which was present in so many of my memories. I had been confirmed there in 1918. The chapel where we used to have our confirmation classes was almost gone, and a crucifix clattered in the wind. I can hardly describe the feelings of abandonment and hopelessness that I had while walking through the streets with burned out ruins on either side. The echo of my own steps sounded hollow. Twenty churches were destroyed in those attacks. When the Catholic church was destroyed, the only thing left was a picture of the blessed virgin. Now it was standing in a pool of flowers, which followers had brought to show their gratitude. That was very impressive, and people were grateful for every little beautiful thng in this hopeless gray landscape.

On October 1, we let go of our maid because she had become very undisciplined, but also because she did not have enough work. I could only bear this life by working a lot, so I did all the work myself. We tried to furnish the maid’s room as comfortably as possible, and on October 1, we got Otiti to stay with us for good. I know it was hard for her to come and live with us, and she never felt completely at home.

Friedel wrote us letters full of worry, for he had heard on the radio and read in the papers about the terrible attacks. Thus he was desperately looking for a sign that we were alive. Since he was in Luebeck for training, it was hard to reach him, and he had to wait a long time until he heard positive news from us. The tank gunners had been used a lot for clearance work in Eisenach. Thus he had seen the disastrous consequences of attacks like that and he thought of our Koenigsberg with fright. He asked for a vacation and came to see us on October 2, 1944, for 14 days. Juergen was still in Lauth with the anti-aircraft artillery and came once a week for an afternoon. Wheneverpossible, we tried to enjoy these special afternoons by sitting together and making music, because we could not get rid of the unsettling feeling that these special occasions would come to an end soon.

Juergen missed having any kind of mental activity during his service. They did have school once in a while, though, and they had to do some homework as well, but it was always makeshift. In reality, the boys sat in their barracks quite bored. They often had to be on standby, especially at night. Juergen always said he could only bear that kind of life if he “shut down.” Friedel had given up his idea of becoming an officer and had gone back to his troop in Zinten [Kornewo, Russia]. He did not like all the theory the training required, and he had a hard time accepting that those comrades who ingratiated themselves with their superiors went further than those who simply did their job. He rebelled against that, got into arguments and became more and more stubborn. His main motive for leaving there, though, was to get to the front. When he was granted leave from Eisenach [Thuringia] for 16 days, we enjoyed every single day very consciously, because we knew that he might be sent to the front any time after that. For him it was a reason to be happy, but for us, it was cause for great worry.

Hans Decker, our medical student, suddenly appeared with bag and baggage on our doorstep. The front retreated so quickly that the East dam had been run over. The office of the student company was moved from Koenigsberg to Bueckeburg in the Harz mountains. Thus we had to say goodbye to Juergen as well. I took as much time as possible for Friedel. He was so disturbed by the rubble that he hardly went outside so he wouldn’t have to see all the deep sadness. The days with him were full of harmony and all the difficult conflicts we had had with him before had disappeared. The separation and his life at the military had made it clear to him what his home and parents meant to him and he had recognized that it was the only place he had security and support. It was such a liberation for us to see how he had changed and become the nice boy again he had been before the tumultuous years of 1941-42. His openness and his humor were back and we were incredibly relieved.

Friedel went to Juergen’s superior officer to request a vacation for Juergen, which he was given. Thus for a few days both of our “big boys” were at home. I felt rich and secretly kept asking myself, “How much longer?” We were laughing again and the atmosphere had not been that happy for a long time. The two “big boys” enjoyed their little brother a lot, too. On October 18, Friedel went to Zinten and a few days later he was transferred to Spremberg [120 km southeast of Berlin, near the Oder river] as an anti-tank gunner, but he returned after six days. He visited us for a few rushed hours with a comrade and then he went to the front. He explained briefly that he had put in a request while he was in Spremberg to be used in the defense of his home province.

At the end of October, Hans Decker visited us one last time. He packed up all his stuff that we had found in the basement we used as an air raid shelter, and on November 2, he left East Prussia for good.

Soon it got cold. Coal was scarce and the central heating was only rarely activated. It was cold and uncomfortable even inside. Thankfully, Friedel wrote us two to three times a week, always excited about all the new things he was experiencing. He was happy that he had finally been sent into action. Because Juergen didn’t have his regular day off once a week anymore, I visited him from time to time, which was easy to do on the Samland train. The trains were dark, cold and unfriendly. Then I would come into the barracks, which was only lit with a candle. Eight to 10 boys would sit in the room around a table, waiting for the frequent warnings. When I saw the boys, 15-16 years old, sitting there in their uniforms, and thought about what they were about to experience, it drove me quite insane and made me doubt the sense and reason of life.

Christmas came. It was the first Christmas that we were without Juergen or Friedel, which made it very different. Poor Otiti was so sad as well. That contributed to such a depressed atmosphere, and we felt a leaden weight resting upon us. The front was very quiet and we waited for the Russian offensive daily. We tried to make Christmas Eve as happy as possible for Klaus, for why should this young child’s life already be so overshadowed by the world’s sufferings?

The night before Christmas Eve, we went to visit Juergen in Goldschmiede [10 km northwest of Koenigsberg] and brought him the cello, which he wanted to use for the Christmas celebrations. He was very happy because his cello had comforted him many times before. On the second day of Christmas he came to see us, which gave us great pleasure. We had a very quiet New Year’s Eve with sad presentiments and I have to admit that I have never started a new year with so much nervousness and fear as the year 1945. One could only hope for enough resistance and strength to endure what was coming.

On January 12, we suddenly heard on the radio that the Russian offensive had begun. We knew what that meant. The party offices worked feverishly to evacuate as many women and children as possible. Klaus, who was staying with us again, and I were supposed to leave as well. I decided to stay though, because Vaeti had to stay as a doctor and I did not want to leave him or leave East Prussia, where I knew my boys were soldiers. On January 22, the last train took off for the Reich [the German mainland] and a lot of our friends left with it. In addition, there were large boats bringing people away, too, and Kurt wanted me to take a transport for mothers and children with Otiti and Klaus. I packed everything, but when the date came closer they said the transport was overcrowded. I was glad, because it meant I could stay. We talked to our relatives in Schoenwalde on the phone about the extremely serious situation, but they laughed at us. They had gotten some information from the head of the local farmers, who did not think the situation was so critical. He warned people not to spread rumors that would worry anybody. Further, he said that anyone who left their “place” would be shot. Wera blindly believed all of this and did not understand why we were nervous. We hung up the phone, shook our heads and waited for the inevitable to happen.

On January 20, just four days after this phone conversation, our doorbell rang and Wera, Gretchen, their four children, Mrs. Nagel and Ms. Juedz, their au pair girl, stood on our doorstep as refugees. The Russians were already in Labiau [Polessk, Russia, near the Kurisches Haff (Kurskij Zaliv, Russia)], 25 kilometers east of Schoenwalde. We improvised beds, which was not easy because we had brought all of our good things to Schoenwalde and had only the bare necessities. We were astonished by how little the Schoenwaldians had prepared their flight. They had no backpacks, only very heavy carriage suitcases that they were not able to carry alone. Further, they did not pack any food because they assumed that they would be able to go back home in a few days! It was difficult for these spoiled people from the country to get used to these different conditions and the children, back then they were 11, 10, 6 and 2 years old, were particularly loud and undisciplined.

The second day they were with us, the first grenade hit Koenigsberg. It killed three men in the house next to ours. As Koenigsberg had become the front, there were no warning sirens anymore. Thus one had to be prepared for anything at all times. Living on the second floor became dangerous, so the Schoenwaldians and their children spent most of the day on the ground floor, which had been empty for a while. On January 25, Gretchen went out to Schoenwalde with her au pair girl one last time to get some food. She came back heartbroken because she had not been able to recognize her farmhouse. It was full of soldiers. All the closets had been plundered. There was no food left, the preserve jars in the basement had been poured out onto the floor and tanks were parking in front of the house. A captain took pity on the two women and gave them a lift in his truck because the fighting was about to start any moment. On the road they were attacked by a low-flying airplane, and it was a miracle that they survived.

Gretchen, who usually was so calm and thoughtful, arrived completely worked up. The roads were congested with convoys. Tipped-over wagons and cars were lying around on the side of the streets. The scattered belongings of people were trampled down by the people who followed, and many people looked for accommodation and help in Koenigsberg.

We tried to arrange ourselves with the eight folks from Schoenwalde as much as possible. Wera watched the children, Gretchen and Ms. Juedz looked for places to buy groceries and I took care of the cooking. The apartment was barely heated because the water pressure was not strong enough to get to the second floor. For that reason, as well as the constant air raid danger, one could not sleep upstairs anymore. The owner of our garage gave us a cellar on his property. We furnished it and brought food, lights and cooking utensils. That way, at least we knew that the Schoenwaldians were safe. Mrs. Nagel, our 72-year old tailor, and Otiti slept on the ground floor of the apartment.

From day to day, the shooting increased. It roared the whole day, most of the time starting at 5 in the morning and continuing until late at night. The smoke shells sounded scary. In addition, the air raid attacks were ongoing. Often the airplanes flew really low and shot at the civilians. The children were not allowed to leave the dark basement anymore.

Vaeti and I were given a room in the Krankenhaus der Barmherzigkeit [a local hospital], which was very close to where we lived. This way, Vaeti would be affiliated with a hospital in case there was a Russian invasion. The three of us usually went there around 6 at night and read Klaus a story in the light, warm room to distract him a little. We never knew how we would find our apartment in the morning and if we would see all of our loved ones again, though. Often we barely managed to get to the protective basement in time and the bombs started dropping while we were on our way to the hospital. Everything was lit clear as day by flares that we called Tannenbaum [Christmas tree].

Gretchen and I cooked upstairs in our apartment and carried the food downstairs to the basement. To heat the stove, we collected wood and other usable material from the rubble. Many families who had fled from the closer and more distant suburbs of Koenigsberg were accommodated in our basement. Among them was an infant only a few weeks old. People gradually lost any feeling for property. All the basements were broken into and people took useful things from the abandoned apartments. We wondered how all of this would end.

We saw our relatives who lived Auf den Hufen [name of a neighborhood] only rarely. It was difficult to get there because of the constant shooting. One day Uncle Fritz came to tell us that Bertha Gramatzki and the gynecologist Doris Kunkel had committed suicide by poisoning themselves. Bertha was found dead in the morning.

Doris survived and suffered in the hospital for quite some time before she died. Dear Wera just shook her head and said that there was no reason to kill one’s self! She still did not see the seriousness of the situation. One day I went to visit Aunt Lieschen Strehlke one more time in the home for old people on Hardenberg Street. She was in a lot of despair and repeated over and over again, “I believe that we are seeing each other for the last time today.” That turned out to be the truth. Nobody knows where and how she died. We assume that she was on one of the boats that sank.

In the beginning of February, party officials went around to muster all women who were still somewhat capable of doing physical work to clean up rubble and build barricades. They threatened to punish anybody who did not comply. I went once but never again because I thought that those ridiculous barricades were senseless since they were made out of old rubble, frameworks of cars, bent rods and so on. They would never block an attack. Further, it was irresponsible to have mothers work under constant grenade shelling, separated from their children. Last but not least, I found it undignified to have to work with soldiers guarding us with rifles and fixed bayonets. I told the leader of our district what I thought and he was indignant about my rebellious behavior, but he left me alone.

Soon we received communal food. We had to pick up our food in a bucket from the basement of the concert hall. They gave out good, nutritious hot pots, bread and jam. We did not get it without standing in line for a long time and as people waited, the mood was often irritable.

Juergen had stopped coming home regularly for a long time. His troop in Goldschmiede had been encircled and some of the boys had been captured by the Russians. Juergen had only gotten away because he was in the city, following a different order on the day they were encircled. The remaining boys were ordered back and fourth. For a short time they were in Koenigsberg, only to move to a different place shortly after that. He had placed his cello under a dugout and never saw it again. We did not know where Juergen was anymore. One day during a snowstorm, he suddenly showed up on our doorstep, wearing a military coat that reached down to the floor and a rifle over his back. He said that he had become a gunner and was supposed to defend the barricades in Koenigsberg. When he left in the afternoon, we felt terrible for him and everything inside of us rebelled against the crime of using these children. Most of them were 16 to 17 years old.

On February 8, a tank lieutenant visited us. He said he had come for a consultation, but I got very scared for Friedel immediately and that was in fact what his visit was about. He had come to tell us that Friedel had not returned to the German base and was reported missing after an intense tank attack on January 14, 1945. Our tanks had had to fight against a large predominance and had been forced to retreat. Because the shooting was so heavy, the sergeant had ordered that the crew of five soldiers leave the tank and run to the German base, which was only 200 meters away. Everybody arrived. Only Friedel was missing. They assumed that he was shot in the head and died immediately. Had he been injured, he probably would have shouted for help. They had to give up the area. Maybe the Russians found him and put him into a military hospital or carried him off. Who knows? All our research was in vain and we are still waiting for some certainty. The lieutenant, who spoke very kindly about Friedel’s sense of humor and his companionable attitude, gave us two photographs of him, and that was the last thing we heard. His name was Lieutenant Wehberg.

Friedel’s sergeant, Krevat, confirmed the chain of events. They were members of the 8th company of the tank regiment number 31 with the Feldpostnummer 33871 [military postal numbering system] and it happened close to the villages of Tutschen [Vatutino, Russia], Wittkampen and Bersbrueden, between Schlossberg [Dodrowolsk, Russia] and Gumbinnen [Gussew, Russia]. I do not have to talk about how we felt after we heard this news. On top of that, all these people were living with us, the shelling was still going on constantly, the Russians were just 5 kilometers away from Koenigsberg and the scary roaring of the smoke shells and low-flying airplanes did not stop. Whenever I had some time I went upstairs to our unheated apartment to calm down.

Soon the party headquarters emptied out and the offices of the Aerztekammer were almost empty. The chaos increased daily. Many confiscated private cars were parked in front of the building of the Arbeitsfront [party organization]. One time, when I asked if they could give Gretchen, who was blessed with many children, a ride to Pillau [Baltisk, Russia], I was told sarcastically that we would all have to die some day. Nevertheless, the influential party officials used those cars to get themselves to safety and they were gone overnight for good. The post office closed, and soon we were completely cut off from the rest of the world. I was often overcome by a strong fear.

One day, I heard by accident that Juergen was going to be in the harbor barracks for one day, which was located quite far away from us. I took a bicycle and went on my way. It was whistling and roaring around me, but fortunately nothing happened to me. They were at the barracks for only one hour before they had to continue on their way. I was lucky to see him and speak to him. I will never forget the expression in his eyes when I told him about Friedel. Nobody knew where they were going next. With every separation we felt more hurt.

Meanwhile, Wolfgang Vogel “celebrated” his 9th birthday at our house. His only wish was to be able to return to Schoenwalde, but the farmhouse had been burned down for a while already. Heinz had injured his hands and knee. When Gretchen tried to visit him she was told that he had been shipped to the Reich. Wera and her family found a much better place to stay, a renovated bunker on the same property they were on before, though a little bit more comfortable. We even got her some linen goods from Bertha Gramatzki’s heritage, so they were taken care of quite well. Wera got more and more quiet and serious. There was no room for us to stay with them, so we stayed in the hospital.

One morning when we came into our apartment, a dud had ripped open the wall to the consultation room and gone right through the desk before rolling to the door. Otiti had been in the apartment against our advice and easily could have died there. Specialists carried the dud out of our apartment.

On February 24, somebody knocked at our door at the hospital at 6 in the morning. It was Gretchen. She had come to tell us that all women and children had to leave at 11 o’clock the same day because the way from Koenigsberg to Pillau had been cleared. We started to pack feverishly. We were only allowed to take what we could carry on our backs, and that was not much. I packed documents, photographs, Friedel’s letters and the most necessary clothing. In addition, I put on many layers of clothing, took some food and then helped Otiti and Gretchen. The latter did not have a backpack so we sewed something together quickly and took some blankets. Now we had to say goodbye to Kurt because he had to stay. We were way too worked up about everything to really grasp what was happening. I can still hear the sound of the door to the apartment closing behind me. I knew that this was the beginning of a life without a home.

It was an ice-cold day. We were supposed to be on the Rossgaerter Marktat 11 o’clock, whereupon trucks would pick us up and bring us to the harbor. Even there one could feel how scary a big crowd of people can be. The squashing and pushing was terrible. Everybody wanted to be first and it did not matter if other people would be trampled to death. Wera preferred to walk to the harbor. Kurt made sure we got on a truck with children and elderly people. We almost got squashed.

After we got off the trucks at the harbor, we stood jammed on the quay and waited for hours to be put on a boat. The children were freezing and screamed and the soldiers and wounded argued that they had not fought for their wives and children to be sent off like sheep. We had our iron ration with us because there was no food provided anymore. Poor Otiti turned more and more pale. We stood like this for six hours until we were finally told to get on a coal barge. Those boats were very deep and open and we had to climb down a ladder. Boys from the H.J. [Hitler Youth] were hired to help with the boarding and they did an exemplary job. The floor on the bottom of the ship was only covered with paper. Above us we could see the cold sky (-15 degrees Celsius) with a lot of stars and a full moon. The trip took six hours, and at midnight we arrived in Pillau. Gretchen lay down on top of her children so they would not freeze to death.

Even on this trip we witnessed intense scenes. People indulged in hateful tirades. Some of them asked where all the fine and rich people were. They claimed that those people had apparently been able to leave in time, even though it was they in particular who deserved this kind of treatment, and so on. These hateful accusations were not completely wrong. The members of the university, the government officials and party officials, even many doctors, had secretly left under cover of darkness and although that was against the law, they had done it anyway simply by bribing the necessary people. Nonetheless, there were many other well-off people who were on the boat as well.

Because Pillau was overcrowded with thousands of refugees, we were put on trucks again and brought to the Schwalbenberg camp, which was six kilometers away and consisted of many barracks. We came into a large barrack, which had room for about 240 people. In the middle and along the sides was a layer of straw, each separated by an aisle. It was relatively warm and every person got assigned half a meter of space by a sailor on duty. The bright lights were on the whole night and a sailor watched to make sure everything was kept in order.

An old man and a child died in only the first night. They were put on a wheelbarrow and carried away the next morning. We were numb, and to even think about sleeping was out of the question. I thought of poor Vaeti, who was left all alone in horrible Koenigsberg, and our boys and our home. In the morning we got warm soup and everybody had to clean his little corner. Then we women had to take turns taking care of the sanitary facilities. In the meantime we crouched in the straw, for there was only one chair for 10 people. To get our food, we had to stand in line, and whoever did not have a cup or container would not get anything. Gretchen panicked because she did not bring anything with her. We started looking for empty cans in the garbage and found one for her and each of her children. The mood among all of us was miserable.

Many people decided to go back to Koenigsberg, and every morning a few more people were gone. Klaus was very upset and difficult to comfort as well. I did not take my eyes off him so he would not get lost. On the fourth day, the weather was sunny and beautiful and I let him play outside right in front of the door with Vogel’s children for a little while.

All of a sudden Harald Vogel came storming in, shouting: “Uncle Kurt is here!” I could not believe what I was hearing, but it was true. Kurt arrived very exhausted. He explained that he had been ordered by the Aerztekammer [State Medical Board] the day after we had left to be a medical supervisor of refugee transports. First he tried to find out where we were, but no one was able to give him any information. So he searched for us in Pillau among the ten thousand refugees on his own, but soon gave up because it was hopeless. Then somebody told him that some refugees had been brought to the Schwalbenberg camp and he went there. He asked in every barrack, but had no luck until he spotted Klaus’ colored hat in the sun. Both of us believed it was a miracle that I had sent Klaus outside at that moment, because otherwise he would never have found us. We were unbelievably happy to have found each another and decided never to separate again, no matter what.

Vaeti had to return to his headquarters in Pillau and he planned to tell us the next day how to proceed. When he came to pick us up at 11 o’clock, he had an unpleasant encounter with the medical officer, who did not want to let us go. In the end, we snuck out. Vaeti was told to medically supervise the Latvian cargo ship Bru [572 BRT, built 1919; mentioned in the book Ostsee ’45 by Heinz Schoen]. Unfortunately, and with great regret, we had to say goodbye to our relatives from Schoenwalde, because it was impossible for Kurt to take all eight of them with him. It was already difficult to take Otiti with us. After much hassle, he got permission to take only his wife and child with him.

On March 1, we secretly left the camp, jumped on a carriage that was going our way and got to Pillau on time. After much searching, we finally found our ship, a very unpromising wooden cargo ship with a high superstructure. In front of it was a dense crowd of screaming people, all wanting to get on the boat. With Vaeti’s letter from the health department, we managed to get on board. We soon found the commander of the transport, a merchant from Koenigsberg who was very energetic and busy. We were permitted to put our luggage in the crew members’ chapel. Everybody climbed down into the body of the ship, which was divided into two stories. A thick layer of clean straw covered the floor, and people lay down very close to each other with their luggage at their head.

Once the ship was full, people were divided up. Some were responsible for food management and others were supposed to supervise. We were shocked when Kurt found out that there were 13 babies on board and no food for them. So we managed to get condensed milk, sugar and starch. I did the cooking. The crew was Latvian and not friendly towards Germans, and the captain strongly forbade anybody to enter the kitchen. My task was to give out drinking water, which was pumped in the kitchen through the kitchen window, and I did that from morning to evening, except when the crew was cooking. Then I had to leave the kitchen because it was very small. We had a hard time believing how well they ate, and I felt so sorry for Klaus when he saw their food with shining eyes and was not allowed to have any of it. I started to cook at night because we had to make 65 bottles. It wasn’t easy, because the rough sea would always make the milk spill over.

Vaeti also had a lot of work to do, because he had to make sure conditions were sanitary. At first there was only one bathroom on the boat. It was frozen and hung over the edge of the boat. An 11-year-old girl fell into the water, but was saved. Kurt asked specialists to build a few toilets, which did not take very long. Most of the time we stayed in the mess hall, which had hard wooden benches and was freezing cold. At night I put Klaus on the table to sleep. I was concerned about Otiti, who couldn’t really sit anymore, and decided to find a place in the straw for her. Everybody refused to move together until I threatened to stop cooking for the babies. That helped, and they made some room. Then she was at least able to sleep.

The snowstorm (-20 degrees Celsius) was getting worse, so  there was no chance of us leaving anytime soon. Although the motor was constantly running, we lay at anchor in Pillau for days. One night I went outside and I saw a huge ship following a course directly towards our dark ship. It was a scary sight and looked almost ghostlike. The image of the “Flying Dutchman” immediately came to my mind. Above it was the twinkling firmament! Thankfully the crew of our ship noticed the other ship just in time. They ran outside and screamed warnings at the top of their lungs. The big ship stopped, but it still led to a relatively small collision. Everything fell upside down and it started to smell strangely like fuel downstairs, so we had to assume that something was broken. Panic broke out. The commander of the transport and Vaeti had a hard time calming people down again. The captain said the damage was minor and easy to fix. A tugboat was called by wireless message, and it brought us back into the harbor of Pillau.

The storm kept on and people became increasingly irritable, particularly because no one would give us any information about the departure of the transport. On top of everything, there was a mentally ill old man who had to be tied up in a small room because he was dangerous to the others. Finally, on the fourth day, we were told that we were ready to leave. We joined a convoy, which consisted of a few warships, submarines and other refugee transports. Under normal circumstances, all of this could have been very interesting, but now we were hopeless, worn out and deep in our hearts, very sad.

We arrived in Gotenhafen March 6 after a terribly stormy trip, which caused many people to get seasick and have diarrhea. In Gotenhafen we were welcomed by party representatives, who, as to be expected, behaved very arrogantly. We were given a railway shed to stay in. Not only was it ice-cold, there was no straw on the floor, but worst of all, there were still dead bodies from the prior transport lying around inside. The transport commander refused to go in, so our journey continued.

We came into a camp of barracks, the Wesellager, which was run by a young Hitler Youth leader. Inside the barracks, the floor was covered with a very thin layer of wood wool, which only reached to the knees when lying down. It was covered with brown paper. On top of everything, the young man seemed to love giving orders. Being the doctor, Vaeti got a room for himself with two sleeping places on top of each other. We could not take Otiti inside with us and she had to stay in the large room under the care of some nice elderly ladies we knew. For meals, each person got half a liter of Eintopf [stew] and hot coffee, which we looked forward to every morning at six o’clock. The camp was not heated and we were very cold. Klaus threw up during the night, and it was not easy to clean it up because we neither had soap nor warm water or an oven. We had been there two days and we still had not heard anything about the continuation of the transport.

The roar of the cannons came closer and closer and Vaeti decided to go to the Aerztekammerto ask if we could be put into a different camp. They assigned us to a camp that was about half an hour away by foot, but the conditions were much better for Klaus and Otiti, who was getting weaker and weaker. We brought the two of them to the new camp, then went back in the dark to get our luggage. We had to cross a very long footbridge, and as soon as we had reached the top with all our heavy luggage, a low-flying air attack with shooting started. We were hardly able to see or hear anything. Bullets whistled around our heads. Vaeti kept shouting to keep running forward! We did not look right nor left and were so glad when we reached the street, where we found protection in the bunker. Otiti and Klaus were happy to have us back safe.

Now we had two relatively nice rooms, which were heated a little bit and had one bed each. Then we just needed to wait again. The bombing increased, and we could see the flashes of enemy fire. Air raid attacks were common at night! Our light sheds shook from the attacks, and one night we heard such a noise and explosion that we dared not move at all. There were no bunkers.

In the morning, we discovered that the neighboring shed had suffered a direct hit. I had to stand in line for food for a long time. It was shocking to see those miserable figures, almost dead, old and fragile, ragged, dirty and starved. I went on short walks in the area with Klaus and discovered the garbage pile of the kitchen. There we found many raw potatoes, which we gathered and cooked. Finally we felt full again.

I could not stand the constant waiting and hopeless atmosphere, so I volunteered to help in the kitchen. The electric bread slicer was broken, so the bread had to be cut by hand, thousands of slices. I got Vaeti and Otiti to help me. It was cozy in the kitchen, and we were able to warm up. On top of that, there was some extra bread for Klaus. When Otiti entered the warm air, though, she had a fainting spell and we had to lay her down on the bed. We called the camp doctor, who gave her a shot. Vaeti did not have anything with him and, besides, it had more impact if a stranger talked to her. With us, she was difficult and defensive.

Once we dared to go to Gotenhafen, which was terrible, wasted and primitive. The snow had melted, leaving thick mud everywhere. We saw a completely dissolved march of the Wehrmacht. The soldiers were ragged and disorganized, and we felt increasingly frightened. We decided to stay in the camp so as not to lose each other in the chaos.

On our 8th day there, Vaeti was suddenly told by the Aerztekammerto medically supervise a torpedo training ship, which was going to leave at 4 that afternoon. We quickly packed everything, then waited for the bus for hours to take us to the harbor. Fortunately, Otiti was somewhat on her feet again, so we could take her with us, even though she did not want to go with us. When the camp inmates noticed we were leaving, they started to protest, saying that we were getting to safety while they had to stay. They did not want to believe that Vaeti had been assigned by the medical council and were sure we had bribed somebody. I often felt disgusted back then by the lower instincts of humankind.

The bus finally came and took us to the harbor, where we had to search for a long time to find the right ship. Because Otiti and Klaus were too weak to carry their luggage, Kurt and I had to split theirs and carry it in addition to ours. I almost collapsed on my way down the gangplank. Vaeti went ahead and I could not believe my eyes when I saw the ship leaving already. I heard Vaeti talking to the sailors and they returned to ashore and took him on board. We were still far away, though, and neither Otiti nor Klaus were aware of how serious the situation was. At the end of the gangplank stood a fat SS man with a machine gun who screamed at us, demanding to know what we wanted and accusing Vaeti of being a traitor and abandoning like a coward. He said that he was going to make sure that Vaeti was going to be shot upon his arrival for desertion! Meanwhile, the sailors came and took us, Klaus screaming at the top of his lungs. They lifted us up high, and other sailors grabbed us and pulled us onto the ship that had only reached the gangplank at one end. They threw the luggage on board, and then the ship left at full speed. The SS man had given us all that trouble for nothing. We sat down exhausted, for the stress of the last few hours had been unbearable.

After we were on the water for a couple of hours, I heard someone shout “Ilse,” and found Aunt Edith Alsen from Drewshof standing right in front of me. We fell into each other’s arms, unable to speak a word. She had been hiding in the cabin the captain had assigned her to because he had sneaked her on board and the inspectors would have forced her off the ship if they had found her. Normally only mothers and children were allowed on board. After the ship departed, she dared to come out of her hiding place. She had given the captain a silver case. We talked for a long time. Aunt Edith had been separated from her group. All she had was her coachman Gustav and a couple of suitcases with her.

The young sailors, who had made their cabins available to the refugees, acted exemplary. They greatly improved the atmosphere by singing, playing the harmonica and telling jokes. We did not have a cabin because we had come on board so late, so we had to stay outside on deck as long as we could. Like all the other ships, this one was overcrowded. The food was very tasty, but scarce. The captain allowed us to use his cabin, where we already found two BDM [Bund Deutscher Maedchen, Hitler Youth for girls] leaders, who acted very pompously. They lay on the corner couch. We were so happy to finally be able to stretch out on the floor.

The captain rarely came in. He had not slept for nights and lived off cognac and strong coffee. He staggered the whole time, because the trip was by no means without risk and he had all the responsibility. He rarely left the bridge. We passengers were not really aware of how much danger we were in. One time there was a submarine warning, and another time the ship had to drive away enemy airplanes. We sailed pretty close to the Pomeranian coast and saw all the cities in flames. Meanwhile Aunt Edith was lying in her cabin deep down in the body of the ship with terrible seasickness.

We went ashore in Swinemuende [Swinoujscie, Poland, on the island of Usedom]. There had been a surprise attack the day before and everything had been destroyed. Most of the targets were refugee ships, and parts of those ships were now sticking out of the water. The luggage, strollers, and sad belongings of so many people were floating around. It looked terrible. We were transferred to a different ship because ours was supposed to go back to Gotenhafen to pick up more civilians. It was amazing how hopeful and optimistic the captain and his crew were. Did they really believe it?

In Ueckermuende [on the mainland], our journey finally ended. Aunt Edith, who did not want to leave the transport, got on one of the trains that were going to continue the transport and waited for it to depart. Because of the bad condition that grandmother as well as grandson were in, we decided to go to Usedom, where we had already sent some of our belongings. First we had to look for a place to spend the night. Vaeti asked a colleague, but he had nothing to offer, and recommended a restaurant that had made room for refugees in a ballroom. We dragged ourselves over there, had some food prepared for us, and were happy to finally be in a warm place again. From there we called Uncle Paul and Aunt Edith Gramatzki, Vaeti’s sister. They were running a pharmacy called Adler Pharmacy in Usedom. We spent the night on some straw in a bitterly cold, large ballroom.

At half past five the next morning we left for Usedom. We were welcomed very warmly there. Otiti got a beautiful bed with white sheets in a little room of her own and we were put in the Pegrams’ bedroom. We had not felt that comfortable in a long time and were so tired, we fell into bed. Besides us, Erika Alsen with Ekkehard and one of Uncle Paul’s nieces, along her two children were staying at the house. The house was full and we did not want to be an extra burden on the food supply, so we registered right away with the NSV [National Socialists’ Society]. The food they gave out was not bad. The next day I did our laundry, packed the things we had sent to Usedom and gave them to the post office on Gramatzki’s advice. We stayed there for three days.

Vaeti finally felt he had to fulfill his responsibility. Besides that, the island was being cleared of refugees. Vaeti was supposed to register with the closest health department as soon as he finished his last transport. He decided to go to Greifswald since he had lived there before. A cousin of mine [Hildegard Doehl], the daughter of Uncle Victor Alsen, lived right at the train station with her two sons. Her husband was in the war. We put our luggage there and asked if Otiti and Klaus could stay there while we went to the health department. Cousin Hildegard was still working as a secretary in a women’s hospital and was quite surprised to see us arrive in the condition we were in. She had a relatively large apartment and insisted that we stay with her. Since she was going to have to take refugees anyway, she preferred to have us. We agreed reluctantly, because it is not always easy to accept help from relatives. Thus we were skeptical. Otiti was put in the dining room, while we got the office (her husband was a lawyer). The health department promised Vaeti an unpaid position as a volunteer assistant in the neurological university hospital to start with.

In the meantime, four weeks had passed since we had left Koenigsberg, and we were very concerned. We did not know anything about Juergen’s whereabouts. Vaeti had last seen him on February 25, 1945, when they hung out together in our apartment. They had enjoyed a jar of goose meat and a bottle of wine together before they said goodbye to each other. Now it was March 25. So as not to make Hildegard nervous about food, we ate at a little restaurant as long as we could afford it. We were eating there on the first Sunday after our arrival. I was sitting right across from the door when it suddenly opened. There was Juergen! I cannot describe how I felt. I thought I had a vision. The whole restaurant took part in that reunion. We had agreed that Erika Heinemann, a friend of mine in Ludwigslust, would be the person to contact to find out about each other’s whereabouts. On February 28, the anti-aircraft troops went on board to leave Koenigsberg. On March 3, they came through Gotenhafen to Mecklenburg. From there Juergen was sent to the RAD camp [compulsory work service during the Nazi regime] in Neustadt-Glewe [40 km south of Schwerin], near Ludwigslust. Juergen visited my friend to ask if she had heard anything from us, but she had not. At that moment, the postman put a postcard of mine with our address in Greifswald in her mailbox. He was given a few days off right away to visit us and we experienced a wonderful reunion that felt like a miracle.

Our flight was now over and we had to start building our lives from scratch. We soon realized that staying in the big office, which was right next to Uncle Victor’s room, could cause conflicts with our relatives. Their afternoon nap was holy to them. Their routine was the same as it had been during peacetime and they did not want to be disturbed by anything. Thus on our first day, when Klaus rolled a ball around, they called us on it right away. When a room that was 16 square meters became available upstairs in the attic, we decided to move in. It had a working oven and we were more independent up there. It was furnished with a couch, a lounge chair and bed. Unfortunately, I had to cook in the apartment downstairs and could only get into the kitchen by walking through the bedroom and children’s room. That was embarrassing for both parties.

Even the bathroom was downstairs. By this point we were all suffering from the typical refugee’s disease, a strong, persistent diarrhea. Otiti had particularly bad symptoms and even during the trip had not been able to keep any food down. She did not want to admit it, though, and continued to deny it even though I had repeatedly witnessed the consequences. Overall, she was not the same person anymore after all these terrible experiences. She almost seemed spiritually dead to me. Despite everything, she did not want to give up her independence and went to the NSV on her own to find housing for herself. She found a place in a young woman’s living room and took her things and moved into the Langenstrasse  on the same day. I was skeptical and told her not to go, but she insisted, not wanting to be a burden to us. Juergen and I brought her luggage to the new place and I left with a heavy heart. She had a lounge chair in the common living room and no closet, or dresser where she could put any of her things.

A few days later, Juergen left to go back to his RAD troop in Neustadt-Glewe. The same day, Mom’s landlady came over and said that she could not stay with her because she was not clean anymore and was messing up her beds and her apartment. Then I was asked to come to the NSV, where they scolded me. They accused me of being a cruel daughter who was not taking care of anything and was obviously trying to get rid of her own mother and said I was responsible for her. They did not want to understand that I could not find a place where I could take care of her appropriately. So we started to search again. We went to homes for old people, convents and hospitals, but none of them had any room. It was very discouraging and I found it degrading that there was no help to be found for an old, sick person.

In the afternoon, Mom came home and said she had found a place with a very nice old lady on Stralsunder Strasse. She refused Kurt’s suggestion to move into the neurological hospital, where he had set up a bed for her. I openly discussed everything with the old lady and her niece, and they insisted that they did not mind. They said that they had the same disease and that they would take care of everything. All my efforts to convince them otherwise were unsuccessful. They were so compassionate, friendly and almost repellently helpful that I became even more suspicious. I visited Mom as much as I could and started to wonder why she neither got any of the food that belonged to her from her food stamps nor any of the extra food I brought over. It was always gone. Nevertheless, Mom was delighted.

On April 12, we heard that Koenigsberg had been taken. We heard only little from Juergen. On April 25, Greifswald suffered a light air attack, which was repeated two days later with greater intensity. All of us sat in the bunker, fearfully anticipating what was going to happen. The next day I went to look for Mom right away and was shocked to see that, of all the houses, hers had been hit. She sat there, the picture of misery. Pieces of glass from the window had fallen into her bed, and it was a miracle that she was not injured. I immediately realized that she was not going to be able to stay there. On top of all that, the landlady and her niece suddenly were so hostile toward her and me that I got scared. They screamed and raged at us and threw abusive language at us that made me shudder, and I did not understand why. I took Mom with me and left the two to their fate.

Thankfully, Hildegard suggested that Mom could sleep in the big office with her. I was very happy about it, because then I could actually take care of her. She slept on the floor on a sack of straw and came upstairs for her meals. She changed more and more, though. She was paranoid about getting what belonged to her and therefore wanted her own loaf of bread. Further, her personality was becoming so different that Klaus did not like to be with her anymore. Of course she noticed that, and it hurt her feelings. She blamed me for not raising him properly. Slowly I became so weary and irritated that I was very grumpy as well and I dug myself deeper and deeper into the work that needed to be done around the house to distract myself. Meanwhile, Klaus still had  bad diarrhea and poor Mom had “accidents” quite often as well.

On April 30, Greifswald was taken. We did not know beforehand if it was going to be defended against the enemy. Thus we did not know whether it was going to be taken in a fight or given up peacefully. People hung out white banners everywhere and we sat fearfully in the bunker. The next morning we suddenly heard that the Wehrmacht food depot was open and civilians could go and take from it what they wanted. Hildegard and I went and were shocked by what we saw there. People had broken into the rooms and ripped open and smashed everything, and we were literally standing up to our ankles in a mixture of rice, flour, coffee beans, tomato sauce and grouts. Consequently, all the food was worthless, of course. We still managed to get a basket of soup flower and a few other little items. Other people had carried off entire carts full of cans. We were disgusted by it. On top of it, we were afraid that the enemy could come any moment.

Around 11 o’clock, it began. We sat inside behind closed curtains and heard the hooves of the troops’ horses. Everything went peacefully, but we felt terribly sad that this was the end after all the fighting and all the suffering. Uncle Victor asked us sarcastically if we were happy now that the Nazi regime was finally over! This comment actually hurt my feelings. We all felt numb and did not know what to do. At any moment the Russians would ring the doorbell, search the house for watches and other valuable things and look for women, so we were scared.

In the morning of the first day, two women in our house were raped. It was particularly repulsive to see so many women and girls forming a lane and welcoming the Russian troops by throwing flowers when they marched in. At that moment I was actually ashamed to be German. The sight of our Wehrmacht after it had been captured was horrible. Ragged, hopeless, numb and tired, the never-ending masses of soldiers stumbled along the streets. They were completely deranged and guarded by Russians. We had a hard time believing what was happening and had to hold back tears.

On May 8, Germany surrendered unconditionally and the entire Nazi horror was over. A very difficult few weeks followed. Beside the inner struggles, we were all sick with terrible diarrhea. Klaus became weaker and weaker and more and more miserable because he hardly kept any food in his system. Kurt took him to the neurological hospital daily, where he could play in the big garden. There, he also was not under the influence of his cousins, who were running wild from having to grow up with a working mother and no father. They stole food, lied and made a lot of trouble, which made Hildegard very unhappy.

The starvation increased. Bread was very scarce. People had to stand in line forever to get bread. And they often ran out of bread before it was your turn! At first we started to stand in line at 7 o’clock in the morning. Then we came earlier and earlier. Eventually, we were leaving the house at 3 o’clock in the morning to stand in line. Most of the time, 50 to 60 people were already waiting when we go there. If there were 100 people or more, we would not have a chance, because they only gave out a limited number of food stamps.

Wherever we went, we looked for something edible. We brought turnips from the fields, found old vegetables in the garbage near the allotment gardens that were still usable, and picked wild fruit. A patient sent us some potatoes. When those were gone, we went on our way and got one Zentner [50 kilograms] of potatoes 18 kilometers outside of Greifswald and lugged them home. I worked a lot in the Alsen household, cleaning, washing dishes, doing laundry, which helped me forget my worries for a while. Kurt frequently played cards with the family.

Unfortunately Hildegard was very unpredictable, and we often disagreed. She envied me for having my husband and said that I did not even know how lucky I was! We often experienced the world so differently that it was impossible to agree on anything. Then she would come home from work, dress up and go out. However, there was very little left of the connection that we once had. She was overbearing, cold and very numb, not only towards us, but in her entire outlook.

Soon the women were ordered to register with the employment office so they could be used wherever needed. Klaus’ and Otiti’s illness was not a valid enough reason to be exempt. On July 9, 1945, I had to go for the first time. I registered and they told me to work twice a week. I had to check in with the employment office Mondays and Wednesdays and work Tuesdays and Thursdays. The first time I had to go to the city hall and help clean it out. The second time I was told to go to the riding grounds, where we had to carry tree trunks and dig holes. Some of the women and girls got involved with the Russians and did not even think about working. Most of those women were simple-minded, and lot of them were refugees. Then I had to clean windows in the barracks, weed the fields in the country, unload briquettes, clean the school, collect confiscated things, clean horse stables, and so on. It was not fun. I had to take Klaus with me because I did not know where to leave him. At least he got warm food and some bread, because the Russians were very nice to children. Klaus always looked very shocked when he saw me working under Russian supervision. Since there were no tools, we had to search for some old linen bags and wash the floor on our knees.

At this point, Mom was living with ??? [unknown]. She kept her room clean and sat in front of the window most of the time, watching the beech trees outside, where the birds chirped and sang in the evening. Then she read from the Testament. She seemed so serene, as if she was already leaving this world. From time to time she got diarrhea, which was always difficult to cure. One day the housing committee came and confiscated the big office where Mom was staying. They said that a whole family would have to stay in there. Thus Otiti had to move in with Klaus-Peter  [one of Hildegard Doehl’s children] in the anteroom. That really affected us. I arranged the sack of straw and her belongings in one corner and put a bed curtain around it. I was very dubious though, because people had to pass through this room to get into the kitchen and the other rooms. Since seven people were living there, there was constant traffic from early morning until late at night.

One morning, about eight days later, I found her completely devastated. She had had another big diarrhea accident, and worst of all, it had happened in this room where anybody could enter at anytime. After that, we decided to see there was room for her in the neurological hospital. Thank goodness they did, and we moved her to the hospital on August 13, 1945, a beautiful sunny day. First they had to check her in at the office, and it was a long time before she actually got the bed. On the way to the hospital I felt very conflicted with the world and God about how such a good religious person like my mother could get pushed around like that and not find any peace. All Mom had to say to that was that she saw a deeper meaning in everything. I did not understand that.

People who still had everything they had once owned were very coldhearted. They lived off their reserves and wouldn’t let us forget what undesirable intruders we were to them. That hurt our feelings immensely, and we didn’t see it changing anytime soon.

Kurt was playing music at the home of a professor who still had everything and did not understand our situation. At the same time, Herta Nitsch, née Alsen, suddenly appeared. She had been living near Greifswald on an old farm with her children and a group of refugees and had heard from us. She had gone through a terrible ordeal and had been sick with typhus. Now she had to work hard to earn bread for the children and herself. In addition, the people she was with treated her badly because she had been the wife of a landowner. It was moving to see how she coped with her fate. She walked around in wooden shoes. We tried to get things for the children. I was so happy to talk to somebody from the past. She sat upstairs with us whenever she came to visit, because Hildegard was so cold to her. There we sat for hours, talking about old times and wondering where Gretchen, Heinz, Hans and Aunt Wera might be. Our common misery brought us closer together.

It was so moving to see how happy Otiti was in her white bed at the hospital. She was literally revived, even though she was in a large room with many other women. She felt lively and happy again and remembered old times. I visited her as often as I could and I was grateful to know that she was in good hands. Suddenly, on August 30, Vaeti came home from work and said that Otiti had been acting confused all day. Her state got worse, so she had to be transferred to the “Pavillon” the next day. She was very restless and searched around in her bag and talked completely without context. She spoke from the past and always seemed be looking for something. Then she did not want to eat anymore and gave her bread away to the other patients, bread I needed so badly for Klaus. At night, she tried to climb out of her bed at the foot end. She fell out and broke her clavicle.

Naturally, she was in a lot of pain. It was horrible for me to see her among all the mentally ill patients who stared into space and screamed loudly. Otiti probably did not fully realize where she was anymore. She simply said that people there did not understand what she wanted. On September 4, I found her asleep, and from that day on, she remained in a distraught state. She did not eat and lay in her bed with her eyes closed, and I often thought she had already died. Big flies crawled across her face but she did not notice them anymore. Meanwhile, I was still working. On September 13, 1945, at half past noon, she closed her eyes for good. I was grateful that her poor, haunted life had finally found the rest she had longed to find for so long and that she had died so peacefully. She really had to go through a lot until the very end before she could go.

Now, of course, I had to run countless errands. No carpenter wanted to build a coffin. They all claimed to have no wood. If I had had anything to trade, we might have been able to negotiate, but without that there was no chance. I ran from one place to the next in vain. Thus I went to the mortician. When she read on the death certificate that Otiti was a head forester’s widow, she advised me to go back to the forester’s office, which would most likely give me a voucher for some wood. She was right. I felt really sad that I could not tell Mom that the “color green” had done her a favor one last time. Then I went to the clergyman of the Jakobi church, Minister Wenslaff, whom Mom had particularly liked. He was quite impersonal and in the end he said, “God bless you” in a very businesslike manner.

I began to believe more and more came that it was wrong to be attached to any earthly values and goods and to expect anything from mankind at all. I detached more and more and, in a way, I could only be positively disappointed. The mortician was very helpful, sensitive and understanding and helped me as much as she could. I did not see Otiti after she died because Vaeti did not want me to. She was lying in the morgue with many other bodies, and Vaeti said that it would be better to remember her the way she used to be and not the way she looked after her death.

At 10 in the morning on Tuesday, September 18 [1945], she was buried. The funeral rites were very festive and the minister discussed the 90th Psalm as well as he could. I was very involved in my own thoughts in that moment. For me, this was also about saying goodbye to my childhood, my parent’s home and the home that Otiti embodied for me. Under the circumstances of the time, I was just grateful that her suffering was over and that she had found some peace after all. It was hard to accept that we had caused her a lot of suffering and grief due to our differences. I was the last thing she had left on earth, so she wanted me all to herself, and since I could not give her what she wanted, we would often quarrel, which was not our fault. I have only one wish. I hope that in the end, she understood that our difficulties stemmed from the conditions and flow of life in general, rather than a lack of understanding for her on our part. Now she rests in the beautiful cemetery of Greifswald with many other refugees.

Our hopeless life continued. Mail delivery was still suspended, and we did not know anything about our two older ones. That was an unbelievable torture. As time went on, it became really hard to deal with the tight living space, the constant darkness and the primitive cooking, and we would get into arguments. Everybody was overwhelmed and irritated. Kurt was especially bothered by the way Hildegard treated me, and the only reason he did not confront her was because I did not want him to, since a confrontation would inevitably lead to a fight.

In the beginning of September, mail delivery finally resumed, and we heard from Erika Alsen that Juergen was alive! I could hardly believe it. In October, we received the first letter from him. He had marched back to Holstein with his troop from the work corps (RAD) before the collapse. Upon arrival, they were told that whoever wanted to stay could stay and whoever wanted to leave could leave. Thus Juergen packed his backpack and marched, all by himself, to Oldenburg, where he believed Aunt Edith Alsen was. Instead he met Aunt Kaethe and Claere Alsen with Dorothee, who worked there as a nun. They did not know him, but welcomed him warmly nonetheless. He was given a place to sleep in the kitchen and found himself a paying job in a gravel and turf quarry. When he was not working, he sang in the church choir, helped out his aunts and kept himself mentally busy as well as possible. The work was quite difficult and exhausting for someone his age.

When we received his first letter, we were very happy and we asked ourselves whether we should advise him to stay there or come home. I favored the second option, while Vaeti preferred the first. Thus we left it up to him to decide. We were not in the position to pay for him to go to school there and I was moved when he wrote in one of his first letters that working in the gravel quarry was not going to be his life’s profession and that he had decided to become a carpenter. At the same time, though, he had registered to cross the border and come back. I could not watch any man on the street who was coming home without thinking it might be Juergen, and it was painful to imagine him walking around as ragged as some of them were.

On November 27, while we were sitting together and eating our skimpy meal, we heard heavy steps coming up the stairs. There was a knock on the door and our dear son stood in the doorway, clean and well-dressed. It seemed as if he was given to us all over again. He had been arrested at the border and put in jail for five days. He had lost his notes and tables of logarithms, which he had made himself. After we had exchanged the most important news, Vaeti went to register Juergen for the lower school at Vaeti’s old gymnasium. Then he borrowed a cello, and Juergen was finally able to soak up music and science again, which he had been deprived of for so long.

Unfortunately, we had difficulties with our landlady, our cousin, who felt we were wrong to let Juergen stay with us without asking her first. After all, she contended, he would be another person living there and putting additional burden on the stove and bathroom. But these arguments and accusations did not affect us and we did not pay much attention. She even said that all our worries about whether Juergen was all right had been unwarranted since he came back unharmed in the end! Well, she was a little emotionally underdeveloped!

So the four of us lived in our little room in the attic. Vaeti and I shared a bed, Juergen slept on the lounge chair and Klaus on the sofa. I cooked our morning pudding with our pots in our little oven and we lived very contentedly and happily, thankful the four of us were together. Otiti would have been so happy had she at least lived to see Juergen come home! It was often quite crowded with Klaus playing in his little corner, Juergen doing his homework and Kurt practicing the violin. The food situation worsened. We collected stinging nettles and other plants and tried to find wood wherever we could, for it was getting colder. The oven was very easy to heat.

Vaeti had gotten together with a Studienrat [title of a secondary-school teacher] who was managing the music activities in Greifswald. The two put together a string quartet and they played regularly in the auditorium of the school, and sometimes at the home of the viola player, Professor Steinhausen. Occasionally, they also played piano trios. Slowly their spirits awakened and they decided to inspire public music life again. They started to rehearse for a public concert, which was performed on October 12, 1945, in a sold-out university auditorium.

The following program was played:

Johann Joachim Quantz: Trio-Sonata for flute, oboe and piano

Mozart: Quintet for two violins, two violas and one cello

Beethoven: Quartet for piano, violin and cello


It was a wonderful, dream-like evening. It was hard to believe that amid all our horrible experiences and starvation, there was still something so beautiful that we could be distracted from everything else.

Then Christmas came. It was so different from how we usually celebrated it. We missed Friedel. The four of us sat with a tiny tree in our attic. While presents were being distributed in Frehls’ apartment, we sneaked downstairs into the hallway and Vaeti and Juergen played our beloved old Christmas songs on the violin and the cello. Despite our sadness, the four of us were still happy to have each other.

Juergen worked ambitiously in school and avidly played music, and Vaeti played music as well. It was the only way to make life somewhat enjoyable.

My specialty was to find usable things in the garbage and in deserted barracks. One time I found a blanket, which I used to make myself a work dress. Another time I found an old military coat and made a pair of pants and a jacket for Klaus. Then I found a few old ties, which I sewed together to make a useful piece of fabric. More often I found potatoes, which greatly improved our meals. Bread was so scarce that we had to limit our daily portions so we would get by. In the meantime, Vaeti had been promoted from unpaid voluntary assistant to assistant, and grateful patients sometimes brought him something to eat, such as fish, a loaf of bread or mushrooms. All of these things were of great value to us.

On May 3, 1946, another chamber music concert took place. A trio-sonata by J.S. Bach, a quintet for flute, oboe, violin, viola and cello by J. Chr. Bach, a Stamitz quartet and Mozart quartet were performed. Once again, the university auditorium was completely sold out.


Schubert Evening in Greifswald: The culture society offered an exquisite evening of music dedicated to Franz Schubert in the auditorium of the university. A circle of music lovers in Greifswald, Kurt Moser and Otfried Gunther (violin), Alfred Scholz (viola), Hans Below (cello), Albert Schroeder (base) and Hermann Konrad (piano), performed the quartet opus 125 in E-flat major and the quintet opus 114 in A major, the so-called Trout Quintet. Rarely will we have the chance to hear such a performance again from a group of professional and amateur musicians. In the fourth movement of the quintet, the variations were differentiated from each other with extraordinary finesse. Irmgard Zieske from the Greifswald Theater sang one of Schubert’s most beautiful songs. Hermann Konrad accompanied her on the grand piano with great sensitivity. Her soft yet strong alto, which suits the romantic aspect of the music very well, her excellent pronunciation and the simplicity of her performance, which avoided the use of any tricks, were greatly appreciated by the audience.



How often had I experienced these feelings when Otiti playing the piano parts. A lot of memories resurfaced as I listened. It was like a dream to hear these pieces again, and I was able to forget for a moment how sad and dreary the world seemed.

On July 19, 1946, the traditional serenade concert took place in the yard of the St. Spiritus cloisters. It was a warm summer night. We could see the stars above us and the tower of the Nicolai church in the background. Everything was dark. Only the little desks of the musicians were lit. The audience, which had shown up in great numbers, sat still, very moved, and everybody was probably grateful that something like this was happening again. Without his music, Vaeti most likely would not have been able to survive all that misery.


“Serenade in Greifswald: For many years, the serenade concerts in the dreamy, tree-filled St. Spiritus courtyard, under the picturesque silhouette of the powerful Nicolai church tower have been part of the summer arts events in Greifswald. It is thanks to the culture society that the traditional concert is resuming this year.

The exquisite program drew exclusively from the second half of the 18th century, the golden age of chamber music. Despite his self-reliant, clear and strong themes, Johann Christian Bach is clearly influenced by his great father. With the confident play of the flute, the performance of his quintet opus 11, #4 in E-flat major was perfect in form. Karl Stamitz was represented with a quintet, again in E-flat major, for oboe, violin, viola and cello. Because of its detailed outline, it was filled with the spirit of the pre-classical music epoch. C. von Ditterdorf’s work recalls the work of Haydn. We heard the andante and minuet from his string quartet in E-sharp major, which is generally known as his master piece. The program was closed by Mozart’s Divertimento for string quartet and two horns. Here andante and minuet with their enlightening flow and complex melody are embedded in the delicate structures of the allegro as the cornerstones of the whole piece.

The circle of professional and amateur musicians deserve our appreciation and respect. They were Kurt Moser and Gerd Gassen  (violin), Paul Robakowski (viola), Hans Below (cello), Otto Bierwerth (flute), Oskar Manzke (oboe), Joseph Meisen and Fritz Schlewin (horn).”



Vaeti slowly considered looking for an appropriate position. Many efforts were in vain because he did not fulfill the political requirements that were expected from a university lecturer. By fortunate coincidence, a possibility to open his own practice happened to open up in Stralsund, and we even found an apartment there. The last months at my cousins’ had been so unpleasant that we could not wait to leave the inhospitable house. A kind patient of Vaeti’s offered to bring our things to Stralsund in a truck. We waited the whole day for him and we had to watch our belongings, which we had already carried downstairs in the morning. Finally, at 11 at night, he showed up. Everything went on the truck. We did not own much more than some worm-eaten furniture, rusty old kitchen utensils and ragged clothes. It was a beautiful night with a full moon. We sat on the open truck and bid farewell to Greifswald. Fog came up and immediately we thought of the poem by Claudius, “Der Mond ist aufgegangen” [“The moon has risen”]. At midnight at August 12, 1946, we arrived at our new home, the ground floor of a villa. We felt as if we were in paradise. Everything was so elegant, clean and nicely furnished. Juergen was completely overwhelmed and took off his clumsy shoes right away so he wouldn’t dirty the light parquet floor. He helped put away everything because we were ashamed to have anybody see our ugly things in the middle of this beautiful place. We were so glad that it was dark when we arrived and our dear neighbors could not see us. They would have thought that we were peasants or gypsies.

A terribly cold winter followed. There was no burning material for the central heating, so all the rooms stayed cold, except for one room that had an oven. During Vaeti’s business hours, Juergen moved into the laundry room to do his homework, because it was bearable there. The rest of us hung around until the last patient was gone. Once, I got frostbite on my face while I was in bed. Most of the time, the pipes were frozen. Food was still scarce. Our main meal was a big pot of water with herbs, cabbage and other vegetables, thickened with a few raw ground potatoes to make it a little creamy. It was slimy, but it tasted good. Everyday I searched for wild fruits and mushrooms. We collected wood to heat the oven. Next to us, a refugee family from the Sudetenland had moved into the house. When they fled, they had been allowed to take 1.5 Zentner [75 kilograms] of baggage per person, which made them rich compared to us. They took some of their fabrics to the countryside and traded them for eggs, butter and meat. The woman of the family used to look at what we were eating. Then she would shake her head and say compassionately: “I could never eat that kind of grub!”

At Easter of 1947, Juergen got his Abitur [German high school diploma]. He could not find a spot as a student there, so he moved away. It was very difficult for all of us to say goodbye again. A few times a month I sent him packages with potatoes, because there was not enough to eat anywhere.

Vaeti tried find some fellow musicians immediately after we moved to Stralsund. It was not easy. People were not very open to refugees because they were afraid of being asked for something. Besides that, people were generally not very hospitable. Stralsund had been a city of merchants that became an industrial city dominated by ship-building, so money, wealth and material goods played a much bigger role than the arts. We could feel the difference in comparison to a university city.

After a while, Vaeti found two Studienraete [title of a secondary-school teacher] who were piano players. It turned out that one of them had accompanied Vaeti when he was a Primaner [high school student] in the Greifswald gymnasium. Vaeti played a Beethoven romance at a celebration. Back then, the man had been a candidate for a professorship. It was a happy reunion. Then they found a few string musicians, and Vaeti was able to have a complete string quartet. He hoped to get support from the Kulturbund [government-run culture club]. They gladly helped him, because at that time, anybody who showed any initiative was welcomed. A few small performances were organized, and even Juergen participated in them.







For the first time, on Monday, October 28, 1946, at 8 P.M. the House of Culture in the Friedrich-Engel-Strasse is happy to present:



Professor Dr. Moser . . . . . . . . . .Violin

Dr. May . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Piano

Juergen Moser . . . . . . . . . . . Cello



1. Mozart: Trio, B-Flat Major No.2 for piano, violin and cello

2. Schubert: Sonatine, D-Major No.1 for violin and piano

3. Haydn: Trio G-Major No.1 for piano, violin and cello



1.00 Reichsmark (2.00 Reichsmark for non-members)


We invite you to the performance and ask you to tell anybody who might be interested!


The first performance was on October 28. People were grateful for these evenings, because they helped break the numbness that everybody felt. Two performances followed around Christmas. Juergen and Vaeti came home particularly proud and happy after one of them. They had received a loaf of raisin bread as a token of appreciation, which they presented to us on the coffee table. Klaus eyes became shiny when he realized that for once he get to eat until he was full. Later the performances stopped and music was only performed within private concerts in the families.

Meanwhile, Klaus had started school, though later than usual, because the schools had been closed. It was forbidden to teach children privately, or at least so the officials told us. Once school started, though, it came out that the children of the locals and older residents had been taught privately and were now put in second grade. On one hand we were angry, but on the other hand we told ourselves that it might be better, considering Klaus’ physical condition. All the starving and illness had made him quite sensitive and sickly. Luckily he was chosen to receive meals for the following months that had been donated by Quakers in the U.S. He slowly gained strength and made up for what he had been missing for so long.


Another performance:






1st Sunday of Advent



Haydn: Trio, C-Major

Claudius: Christmas Songs

Beethoven: Piano Quartet, E-Flat Major



Hildegard Steersman, Song

Elisabeth Wick, Grand Piano

Dr. May, Grand Piano

Professor Dr. Moser, Violin

Juergen Moser, Cello

Werner Darm, Viola


I still went on my “garbage searches,” because there was too little to buy. Usually I had a plan for each of my investigations, and most of the time they were successful. It was especially difficult to get through special events like birthdays or Christmas, when we wanted so desperately to be able to give Klaus some joy, since he had had sacrifice so much. On a garbage pile we found the framework of an old scooter. I painted it nicely and kept searching until weeks later, I found wheels that fitted somewhat. We found a good mechanic who attached the wheels to the frame. Klaus was so proud and happy. Once he was older, he probably was a little embarrassed, since this scooter was out of place! We made things ourselves as much as we could. We drew picture books and built games. He certainly valued that more and appreciated those things more than today’s lightly spoiled children would be.

Very slowly, our lives regained normalcy. Vaeti decided to give up his private practice to take on a position in the outpatient’s department of the Poliklinik. Our apartment had become too small for his growing practice and we did not have enough furniture. Nothing was available to buy yet. Furthermore, Vaeti did not have enough instruments and electrical equipment. It was not an easy decision, but we did not really have a choice because it was the general tendency for private practices to close.

I felt so sorry for Vaeti. Around 1943-44, he had just completed the entire inventory of his private practice in Koenigsberg. He had gotten the most advanced equipment and even purchased a file cabinet with different colored files for different categories: privately insured patients, patients on a health plan, cases where he had given his expert opinion, different areas of his scientific writings, etc. He also had collected all the material for an X-ray atlas. It only had to be assembled to be published. All of that was and still is irretrievably lost and cannot be brought back. He had built a big reputation in East Prussia, gained a lot of experience and gathered a lot of material. After the Nazi regime, however, he never really found his professional place again. He accepted his fate, though I know that it caused him a lot of grief. He often had to do work that he was overqualified for. The most gratifying thing about being a doctor is to be able to help others, no matter what position one is in. Knowing that probably helped him a lot.

We have now lived here 19 years, but we have never become rooted. We have lived a life of duty here. The joy we once had suffered significantly. We probably have had it easier than others, since at least the four of us stayed together. For example, Vaeti’s cousin [Wera Moser] literally starved to death, and his other cousin [Edith Gramatzki] committed suicide with her husband in 1945. All these things that we had never imagined possible before the war! Because of the terrible experiences of the war, old values we had been taught when we were young were lost for the younger generation. I hope that the generations to come will be more grounded and won’t be betrayed like those who lost their childhood because they had to become soldiers at such young age.



Since this book still has so many empty pages, I want to add a few things about the past that might be of interest to you later.  From my own experience, I know how it feels to want to know something about the past but have nobody left to ask.

Let me start with my parents. My father’s family is from West Prussia, probably going back many generations, while my mother’s family is from Silesia. My father was born in 1861 (1861-1906). He studied forestry at the school of forestry in Eberswalde and Hannoversch-Muenden and finished his exam around 1886. My mother (1867-1945) was trained at the “Stern’schen” Conservatory in Berlin by Professor Garnsheim to be a pianist.

Unfortunately, she was not able to finish her exam for lack of finances. Nevertheless, she had dedicated her life to music. My father experienced music as an “intrusive art form” from time to time! He played the horn. My parents met in 1890 in Braunsberg [Braniewo, Poland]  and got engaged soon after that. Since it was hard to find forestry work in general around the turn of the century, and particularly to find a position as a head forester, they had to be very patient. Thus they were engaged for almost 6 years.

In 1896, they got married and he found a position in Frauenburg [Frombork, Poland]  in the Ermland  [area southwest of Koenigsberg] with a starting salary of 210 Marks! Finally, in 1897, 10 years after his exam, he got his first head forester’s house, called Klein Naujock, 3 km east of Labiau [Pollesk, Russia]. Since neither of them were wealthy, life was not easy for them. A head forester’s house requires agriculture with livestock and fixtures, so it is necessary to have some kind of capital to start with. Without that, the beginning is very difficult. In spite of that, those years were probably the happiest ones of their lives.

On November 28, 1899, their oldest son, Fritz, was born. Then on June 7, 1902, I came. Soon after that, my father started to feel ill. Nobody knew why, and once they found out what was wrong with him, his illness had already progressed so much that there was no cure and he only had little time left to live. This was a terrible shock for my mother. The area they lived in was very wet and swampy, so my father was transferred with his wife and children to Walsrode in the Lueneburger Heide near Hanover. He was even sent to undergo treatment in Karlsbad to help his kidney disease (Bright’sche Nierenkrankheit), but nothing helped, and he died in April 1906. My brother was 6 years old and I was about to turn 4!

Since my father had only worked for the government for a brief time, the widow’s pension was quite small, and my mother had to think of a way to make some extra money. When we had to leave the 13-bedroom house in 1906, we moved to Koenigsberg, where my mother wanted to run the household of her brother Fritz, who was still a bachelor at that time. But the two siblings were too different and my mother was still very upset by what she had just gone through, so they did not get along very well. She decided to find a way to support herself and us. In Labiau, 40 kilometers away, a piano teacher had passed away and my mother was advised to settle down there. All her old friends helped and we got a pretty apartment. She found enough students, so she was able to forge a new beginning.

A spot in the Civilwaisenhaus [orphanage] in Potsdam opened up and with a heavy heart, my mother decided to put my brother Fritz there, mainly because the schools and learning conditions in Labiau were not satisfactory at all. So this little boy commuted back and fourth between Potsdam and Labiau by himself all the time. Saying goodbye was a tragedy every single time for all of us, because he got very homesick. He was a very gifted boy, most talented in mathematics and music. He played the piano and switched to the organ later. His hearing was very good.

In 1914 the war started, and things became quite chaotic. We had to let go of our maid, my mother lost some of her students, and food became scarce, and a friend of ours who was an army captain advised us to leave Labiau because the front was already very close. We left to stay with friends of ours in the Lueneburger Heide, and after a very exhausting trip that included endless rides in cattle trucks and cargo trains, we finally arrived. We stayed there for three months and I went to school there. When we heard that we could go back, we were very happy. We even found our house quite in order, except for a few things that had been stolen. Now everything was marked by the war, starvation and lack of clothes, especially shoes. I ran around in wooden sandals that were broken all the time.

In the summer of 1916, we were expecting my brother to come home for his summer break. I was just putting new sheets on the bed when we received a telegram saying that he had gotten sick. Soon after that a second one was delivered, saying that my mother should come to Potsdam immediately. I stayed in Labiau by myself, scared to death, and four days later I heard that Fritz had died. He had been a lower sixth grader at the time. He had suffered from hidden diphtheria, which eventually made it impossible for him to breathe. This was a big shock to our family once again. My mother never really got over it, especially since Fritz’ personality was closer to hers than mine was. Again, music was a comfort to her.

Labiau was a garrison during the war, so a lot of troops were stationed there. We knew an officer who kept his eyes open for musicians to send to our house. This way my mother was able to choose from different opera singers and violin-, cello-, horn-players, etc.

Not a week went by without somebody performing chamber music of some sort at our house. Many of the musicians were close friends of ours, and it was a very inspiring and exciting time, which I enjoyed a lot in my adolescent years. In general, Mom was good at gathering interesting people around her. She knew what people’s needs were and helped them. Therefore, people were constantly coming and going in our house. A violinist whom I remember in particularly was a painter in Osnabrueck. Mom played almost the entire violin literature with him. I also remember a cellist, the Swiss consul Japha, who was especially sensitive. If not for him, many of the beautiful piano quartets and quintets by Schumann, Dvorak, Schubert and others would not have been arranged to be played. Further, there was the opera singer DuBois Raimond, who liked to sing many arias by Wagner. All of this was only happening because of the war, which had swept all these different people to our little Labiau. Diversions like these made us forget the hunger and the misery. The girls founded little knitting circles and we made socks, scarves and gloves for the front soldiers. Every other pleasurable activity was despised because despite our youth, we were very aware of how serious the war was.

In 1917, I had to leave Labiau to go to high school in Koenigsberg. It was a big change for me and I had a hard time adapting. At the Lyceum [girl’s boarding school], the rigor was almost mediaeval. They would not even let us walk to the mailbox without a guard!

Around that time, it became very hard to find any cleaning maids because they were needed for other work during the war. Thus we students offered to clean the school and the boarding-house. We were given theater and opera tickets in return. I was exposed to a lot of culture early on this way.

In 1918 I was confirmed, which was very overshadowed by the war and everything that happened afterwards. There was fighting[8] in our street and we could not go to school for days. I finished my exam in 1919 and went home for three months. Because I was thin, tall and undernourished, Mom decided to send me to Schoenwalde, the mansion of one of my father’s cousins. There I was supposed to learn housekeeping skills. I was there for 1 1/4 years and did everything required to run a household in the country, including poultry work, gardening, cooking, laundry, baking, cleaning, babysitting, etc. I enjoyed my time there. A lot of young people were there, and we all got along very well and the atmosphere was mostly fun and happy. There I met the brother-in-law of the house, who studied medicine in Koenigsberg—Vaeti. We soon developed a friendship, and in March 1921, we got engaged. First I went back to Labiau for a brief period. There I learned tailoring, sewing and weaving, all things, which I would be able to use soon.

Before we got married, I stayed with Vaeti’s younger cousin, Edith, in Hennstedt/Dithmarschen for a while. She was married to the pharmacist Paul Gramatzki. Life in this childless household was completely different from the life in Schoenwalde. We discussed problems and issues all the time, read good literature and listened to lectures. It was great to be fed so much information while I was still young. Back then, theosophy and anthroposophy were controversial topics. Inflation was well underway then. Money declined in value by the hour and we literally were not able to afford anything.

Finally, in December 1923, inflation ended with the introduction of the Rentenmark, and we were able to plan ahead a little bit again. One Rentenmark was worth one trillion Marks! The Forstwaisenverein [organization for orphans of forresters] had given me some money so I could learn a profession or afford a decent dowry. The money lost its value in no time. It was barely enough to buy a few pieces of old furniture from a house sale. Farmers were doing really well at the time because the prices for wheat were rising faster than inflation. They hardly knew what to do with their money and bought the craziest things. One farmer, for example, was buying a piano and, after he heard the price for it, he said, “Oh, why don’t you give me another one of those little pianos.”

It did not make sense to try to do anything about our situation, and because we were already engaged and Vaeti had a good position, we decided to get married in the midst of all that chaos. Mom sold an antique cup and got enough money for it to pay for half of the wedding menu. Our wedding gifts consisted mostly of little blue vases, which one would barely pay more than 20 cents for nowadays. One of the best gifts was a basket with 5 pounds of flour, 5 pounds of semolina and 5 pounds of sugar. About 16 of our guests were relatives. Thinking back, I realize that almost all of them died of unnatural causes such as starvation, suicide by poisoning, homicide or drowning, or they were simply reported missing. What a terrible balance. Only a few of them are still alive. Who would have thought that!

It was a beautiful wedding. The minister who had presided over my confirmation ceremony came all the way from Koenigsberg to Labiau for our wedding ceremony and everything went very well. Vaeti and I had to borrow money to pay for the return ticket of about 10 Marks because the money had lost value during the short time of our wedding.

We moved into the furnished three-bedroom apartment of a piano teacher. Her condition for us moving in, though, was that we would not make any music! That was hard for us to swallow, but apartments were so rare that we were lucky to get one at all. Since Vaeti and I both had modest natures and had grown up with very little, we carried the misery of the inflation, lack of money and its consequences with stoic calmness. After all, everything was much easier being young and happy. Many things felt absurd. We could not afford to take the streetcar, let alone make any bigger purchases.

When the inflation ended, our financial situation changed immediately. Vaeti got a steady, good salary as the medical assistant in the neurological university hospital. In August 1925, I was expecting our son Friedel, though this was overshadowed by Vaeti’s illness. He was sent to the Black Forest to recover, and I went with him. All the various, vague diagnoses did not turn out to be true, thank God. He was simply overworked, needed a fattening diet and some rest! I had to go back home by myself in August.

We were so happy about Friedel! When he was a year old, we moved into a more private apartment with a physicist [Volkmann] who had a very original personality. Since he worked very intensely on his science projects, we were only allowed to have Friedel where he would not disturb him much. That caused us some difficulties. Finally, after yet another year, we got our first own apartment in a new apartment building. We bought furniture and felt as if we were in heaven. Finally we were able to do whatever we wanted. When Juergen was born, our happiness was complete. Friedel was very jealous though, and the first thing he said when he saw Juergen was, “Will this strange boy stay with us forever?” He once put a couch pillow on Juergen’s face, saying, “He disturbs me” [“Der stoert mir!”] Later, they grew to love each other, even though Friedel had a hard time when he realized that he had to work so hard for things that would easily come to his brother.

In 1928, Vaeti finished his habilitation. He became head physician, which was a fulfilling though time-consuming position with a lot of responsibilities. He has achieved a lot, considering his sensitive physical nature. All his published work was written at night, since he was busy working in the hospital and giving lectures during the day.

Vaeti did not have a very happy or easy childhood and adolescence. He was born in Wiborg, Finland, where his mother [Clara Moser] had gone to see her sister [Maria Moser] and her brother-in-law [Robert Moser].  The latter had become the musical director of the Italian opera in Wiborg after working in St. Petersburg. The sickly little boy had not been anticipated with much joy, and they took him into their family as if he was their own and raised him with their two daughters, Wera and Edith. Later they moved to Berlin, where Vaeti went through his first few years of school. From there his stepfather toured with his brass band through England and Scottland, where he was very successful. He was a tall man of imposing stature with black, curly hair and an almost Southern European temper.

In 1904 they moved to Greifswald, where Vaeti completed his Abitur at the classical gymnasium. His classmates complained that life was boring. Nothing was happening, they felt, and every day was the same as the one before. Soon that would change. Around Easter of 1914 they finished their Abitur. Then the war started. Almost all of Vaeti’s fellow schoolmates died in the war. Vaeti started to study dentistry, but switched to medicine shortly thereafter. He was called up in 1915 and participated in the war until 1918, in the East as well as the West. During a leave of absence, he finished his premedical examination. After the war he continued his studies in Koenigsberg. It was difficult for him because he was missing everything that other students had, even though he received scholarships and was able to make some money on the side by tutoring students in mathematics and German and by giving violin lessons.

He lived in a room with no windows in his mother’s home. She gave piano lessons next door. He did not have any books and had to go to the library to study the required literature. Of course, he did not have any money for anything extra. By gambling [Mauscheln] during the war, he had “earned” some extra money, which he now used to live on. In Christmas 1920 he finished his state examination and received his degree soon after. Professor Klieneberger immediately offered him a voluntary assistant’s position at the neurological university hospital, and the poor years of his life were finally over. The arts played an important role in his parents’ home. In the beginning of the month, they would live big and eat well, but towards the end of the month, bread was scarce and they would have to borrow money. Since his stepfather taught a lot of violin lessons in the later years, Vaeti learned to play by listening. He hardly received any regular lessons.

When his father was gone, he secretly took the violin and practiced persistently. As long as Father Moser was directing the orchestra, Vaeti played in it, too. Thus he grew up surrounded by music. It was nice that son-in-law and mother-in-law got along so perfectly when it came to music, since that was not necessarily the case in other areas. When Mom met her son-in-law for the first time and they started to talk about music, her first question was whether he could play the “Kreutzer-Sonata.” That was her way of finding out whether or not a musician had high standards and could be taken seriously. Vaeti could not forget that question and practiced and practiced until he had the sonata down. I will never forget the first time they played it together.

We had a nice group of friends in Koenigsberg and we got together regularly, went on Sunday trips, made music and went bowling. We were all young and funny and happy. The harmony between us began to be disturbed in 1933, when the political climate changed drastically. We started to see each other less as people withdrew and we did not understand each other anymore. Thus the poison started to work. A good friend of ours became a member of the NSDAP [Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiter Partei, official title of the Nazi party], and started to act very differently. He was a surgeon and he did not find anything wrong with being ordered to the S.A. clubhouse on Sundays to clean the windows. When I laughed about that, he remarked sharply that he “would rather clean windows than listen to people nagging all the time.” That was clear. And that was just the beginning.

When Vaeti realized that it would be impossible for him to have a career at the university hospital under these circumstances, he grabbed the chance to take over a private neurological practice that became available. We moved into a beautiful, practical apartment in the center of the city and in the autumn of 1936, he opened his own practice. It was going very well, and on the side he held lectures and worked for the Fuersorgebehoerde [welfare department], so he was very busy. Politically, things just continued in the same manner. On Krystallnacht, Jewish orphans were dragged out of their beds one night and thrown into the Pregel River. That was too much. Since a lot of the university professors were Jewish, it was very tumultuous. We were close to many of them and it was horrible to watch as they were dismissed first and then sent out of the country. We particularly followed Professors Klieneberger’s and Berg’s story. A friend of my mother’s was deported to Theresienstadt one night. But enough of that; it is simply impossible to get over that disgrace.

Even proving our Aryan descent, which the university demanded all the way back to our great-grandparents, was a terrible hassle. Since some of our ancestors had been born in foreign countries like Poland or Finland, it was almost impossible to get those documents together. Vaeti already got very scared just seeing documents like that. For months we were not sure whether they would dismiss us or accept us mercifully! I can’t even describe how shameful and frightening all of this was. In the middle of all this, though, there were hopeful moments with like-minded people. During a quartet evening at the home of the eye doctor, Dr. Lempp, we met a very nice cellist who was an American vice consul in Koenigsberg. We started meeting very regularly, alternating homes, to make music. Afterwards we would sit together for hours and talk, and everyone was deeply concerned about where all of this was going.

One day, Vaeti, who was still a medical officer for the Wehrmacht, was ordered to come to the Wehrmacht’s headquarters. There they asked him if he intended to continue his contact with the consul and what we had done at his home on a particular night until 2 a.m. Vaeti answered accordingly, but we suddenly realized how people were kept under surveillance. Soon the diplomatic relationship between America and Germany ended. America entered into the war and the consul and his mother moved away. When they came to say goodbye, they parked their car a few streets away from our house in order not to raise any suspicions about us. Yes, that’s what happened! His name was John Bywater. The last thing we heard about him was that he was living in Belize, Honduras.

In the middle of all this chaos, we were expecting Klaus. The two boys were full of excitement and pleasure of anticipation. Their only worry was “that it could be a woman!”

We had quite a few grotesque experiences during that time. The boys, like all the children, were in the H.J. (Hitler Youth). Friedel had had a serious ear infection and therefore could not participate in the H.J. service. Vaeti wrote an appropriate medical note. Shortly thereafter the doorbell rang and a 14-year-old boy stood in the door, asking for Vaeti. When Vaeti came, the boy put his hands on his hips and said, “Mr. Moser, I cannot accept your note.” I was afraid that Vaeti was going to slap him in the face, but the cold shoulder Vaeti gave him was enough. That was how things were done by the Nazis. The children were asked to spy on their parents. They frequently had events that they came home from either very late or sweaty and dirty. It was hard to stay sane. But you, Juergen, can probably remember some of that yourself.

When Klaus was born he was a tiny, little fellow. I believe he weighed around 5 pounds. He had red hair and was called “little fox” by the nurse in the hospital. He was a little sickly, and Friedel was indignant whenever Klaus was sick and we would not call the pediatrician. One time he said very angrily: “Keep on doing what you are doing, but don’t be surprised when he dies!” He loved his little brother dearly. This poor fellow (Klaus), never has he really experienced normal times.

By the end of the war, our apartment was overcrowded with people. We were even nicknamed “Front Headquarters Moser” [“Frontleitstelle Moser”]. Hans Decker lived with us in 1943-44 and his brothers, Theodor and Bornel, stayed with us before they went to the front. Then Eva Finck, the wife of the cabaret artist Werner Finck, and their son, Hans-Werner Finck, came to us as refugees or “Eva-cuated.” Later, everyone Schoenwalde came. And then, all of a sudden, everything was over.




Please don’t laugh about the triviality of some things I wrote down here. Maybe they do, in fact, remind you of life in your parent’s home in Koenigsberg. In some way, they are a horrible documentation of our time. Of course, all of this is a very incomplete skeleton of what happened. So many more things took place than what I described here, beautiful as well as sad. Time is simply too scarce to write in great detail.


Ilse Moser, née Strehlke

1964, Stralsund



[Written by Ilse Moser, formerly Strehlke, in 1981. Translated from German into English by Klaus Moser and Kim Moser in 1985.]


Dear Klaus,


In order to answer your questions more thoroughly, I have to go further back into the past.

After finishing the Lyceum [girls’ school] by Easter of 1919 in Koenigsberg, I returned to Labiau, and my mother decided to send me to Schoenwalde for a year so that I would regain some strength after the years of hunger and evacuation from 1914 to 1918 before starting my vocational training. Schoenwalde was a farmstead of 800 Morgen [500 acres; 1 Morgen equals 2553 square meters, 1 Acre equals 4047 square meters]. The household had two girls and two house daughters, who were learning how to housekeep, and I was to become one of the house daughters. Because I did not want to get favored treatment as a relative, I worked twice as hard. The farm was owned by Reinhold Alsen [1880-1932], a cousin of my father’s. He had met Wera Moser [1886-1945] at the wedding of my uncle Fritz Hahn to Elizabeth Gramatzki in about 1908. Wera was good looking and attractive. Reinhold and Wera fell in love and got engaged and married in Schoenwalde. Wera was in charge of the whole household and we were under her direction. The workday started at 6 a.m. and hardly ever ended before 10 p.m., without letting up.

Back then, housekeeping was done totally differently from the way it is today. There was still no electricity in the country. Kerosene and carbide lamps were used. For cooking, we used a coal stove, burning wood, which was frequently damp and wet and we had to cut ourselves. Doing the laundry was a gigantic undertaking in a household of that size, because everything was done by hand. In addition, we had to feed the chickens and take care of a large garden.

Part of the reason the household was so large was because the famhands also had to be fed. There were three children in the family. Herta was born in 1912. Margarete (Gretchen) and Hans were twins, born in 1913. The twins needed extra supervision, because they got into all kinds of mischief. We also had to churn the milk by hand, which was very strenuous. We were on good terms with Wera and we had a trusting relationship.

One day, while we were working in the garden, she said, “Tomorrow my brother will visit!” I was speechless, because a brother had never been mentioned among our relatives[9]. In contrast, however, her sister, Edith, a teacher, was mentioned a lot. Of course, I was interested in her brother—what he did, how old he was and why she had never brought up his name. However, her answers to my questions were evading and short, so I eventually gave up asking. Nevertheless, I was curious about this mysterious brother, who actually showed up the next day. We all picked him up from the station and were in a happy, high-spirited, and playful mood. He, however, was very quiet, serious and earnest. He barely smiled. I could hardly imagine that a person of 24 could be that way. He observed his surroundings coolly and critically, was deeply submerged in books, and—according to my youthful judgment—was above the rest of us. In the beginning we had little contact, and he called me “Sie” although his sister was my aunt. He had been in the war from 1915 to 1918, which had taken its toll on him mentally and physically. Uncle Reinhardt took good care of him nicely: he had a suit tailored for him and gave him a violin. This violin resulted in a change in our relationship. I overheard him playing the violin one day and said to myself that someone who can express himself musically so deeply with such warm tone must be different from the way he shows himself. Little by little, we talked about personal matters and problems in life and realized that we had something in common.

Half a year had passed when he confided in me about a difficult situation he faced, which stirred me deeply too. He had learned during his induction into the army that his parents were not his true parents. But he was only told who his real mother was, not his real father. So he had to assume Robert was his father. All this was a terrible shock to him, needless to say. He raced home to get an explanation. When he got there he was hugged and told their relationship would not suffer, and that it would remain the same as before. His parents explained to him that they had not talked about it in order to protect him. But it still nagged him. It hurt him, especially when he learned about his real father. He was told no more details. He did not want to know anything else anyway. He closed himself from the rest of the world.

A beautiful friendship developed between us, one that could in no way be compared to today’s perception of friendship. It was good for him to be able to talk to someone. I learned that he had studied three semesters in Geifswald. The war interrupted this, and he now intended to continue his studies in Koenigsberg. Since he needed money badly, he reluctantly followed Clara’s suggestion to live with her. She lived in a Stift [old people’s home] that belonged to a French Reformed church, which rich ancestors had donated money to. It was a one-room apartment with a kitchen and a corridor. The living room had an alcove, separated by a curtain. It was a tiny, windowless room with just space for a bed, wardrobe, table and chair. In an apartment next door lived Clara’s sister, Anna, who had been married to the late Friedrich Fischer.

Vaeti [Kurt] lived in this tiny alcove, and during the day he went to university lectures or to the university library to study or read. He hardly owned any books himself.

However, as soon as he and his mother began to live together, they fought and argued. She called him unthankful and unaware of her sacrifices, which he had no way of knowing about anyway. In any case, Vaeti rejected all blood bonds since then. All in all, there were severe nervous tension for both sides until Christmas, at least for Vaeti. The trips to Schoenwalde were pleasant diversions. There he could eat well and be in peace. In order to survive, he earned a little money on the side by tutoring in German and math and giving violin lessons in Koenigsberg.

Unfortunately, there were other relatives who visited Schoenwalde and created lots of extra housework, to the dismay of the house daughters. Thus our free time was gone. From time to time, the two sisters, Clara and Anna, also showed up. That is where and how I got to know Clara. Of course, I was prejudiced against her. She was small, dainty, very concerned about external values, conventional, always dressed impeccably, and only did what was proper. She had no individuality and appeared prudish, like an old maid. Once, when she noticed that Vaeti and I intended to go on a walk, she remarked, “Little Ilse, one doesn’t go out alone with a young man into the woods.” And that had to come from her! I just ignored it. Unfortunately, all our relatives had no idea that we had a platonic relationship. They all watched us everywhere and suspected us of something.

At Christmas of 1920, Vaeti took his exams and received a voluntary assistant position in the neurological clinic of the university, where of course he had his own room. He felt as if he was in seventh heaven when he could finally leave the crowded room in the charity. In the meantime, I had finished my time as a house daughter and went back to Labiau. I took some courses in tailoring and weaving and helped out my mother at home, because she had little time left after giving her many piano lessons. On March 13, 1921, Vaeti and I had a date in Schoenwalde. My mother went to a performance of “Tristan and Isolde” in Koenigsberg that day. In the evening, when we both met at home again, my mother described her impressions enthusiastically. She remarked that she always enjoyed going to the concert with me, except in this particular case, because, in her opinion, I was not mature enough to understand that kind of “noble love story” [das hohe Lied der Liebe]. When she asked me what I had been up to, I just said briefly and to the point, “I got engaged.” She almost choked on her food. After Vaeti was promoted in November 1921, we formally announced our engagement. Unfortunately, that caused arguments and bickering within the family. Uncle Fritz [Hahn] wrote an enraged letter to my mother (his sister), complaining that he had not been asked for advice before the engagement. He considered the engagement to be nonsense, because Vaeti and I had no way of supporting ourselves, and he did not want to be responsible for raising our kids. This Uncle Fritz borrowed money from Vaeti later. Vaeti tore up the I.O.U. note for Uncle Fritz’s silver wedding anniversary. Those 23 relatives could really be a pain.

Until our wedding on May 26, 1923, I spent time with Vaeti’s sister, Edith, who was married to a pharmacist, was childless and lived in Hennstedt in Schleswig-Holstein. I helped her out, and had a nice time. However, inflation started to rear its ugly head. Since the wedding was so soon, it did not pay to start my vocational training.

Once we had our own place to live, I convinced Vaeti that it was not quite right to totally ignore Clara. We invited her to visit sometimes, especially on birthdays. It was her habit to show up with abundant gifts, far beyond her means, which embarrassed us. For her birthday, she invited all the relatives. The table seemed on the verge of collapse from the fancy cakes and whipped cream. But Clara had a stomach problem and was not allowed to have any of it. We found all of this so contradictory. This was not our style. By the way, she was a good piano player and earned money giving lessons. Other than that, she received a pension. Her parents, who were wholesale merchants, and her family were rich. Her father had lost everything as a result of a lawsuit. Three years after the inflation was over, we finally got our own apartment and things could have remained fine if not for the rise of the Nazis.

During the Nazi takeover, Vaeti happened to have a vacation scheduled. Since East Prussia is inhospitable and cold at this time of year we decided to go to Bolzano (Northern Italy) , where it was sunny and warm. Vaeti always needed a vacation because of his excessive schedule. We enjoyed our vacation, but followed the political developments with anxiety and apprehension. When we returned, we were eyed suspiciously and suspected of trying to hide abroad. Many of our close relatives and acquaintances had suddenly discovered their National Socialist leanings and our nice circle of friends quickly disintegrated, which led to a distrust that tended to undermine relationships. Then the hunt for our ancestors started. Everyone had to produce proof of their Aryan descent and had to fill out official forms to prove it. The university asked for four generations of Aryan ancestors. If the forms were not filled out and returned by a certain deadline, one was not considered Aryan and one lost one’s position.

I have to add that at that time, it was considered a blemish and a defect to be born illegitimately. In many professions, especially at universities, those suspected of being illegitimate would not be accepted. I talked to Juergen about it many years ago and he asked why Clara did not get an abortion. It was incomprehensible to him that at the time, abortion was illegal and was punishable by prison. Today, everything has changed 180 degrees. At that time, for instance, a landlady would lose her license and be jailed if she knew of a tenant who brought someone to his or her room whom he or she was not married to. It was looked on as pandering.

I have to add that during the search, I came up with some information of extrinsic value, even if it did not get me any further with the required date. Robert Moser had a concert engagement in Wiborg (then part of Finland, now Russian), in 1895. There she went to have her child and gave it to someone to care for, whether temporarily or permanently I don’t know. I suspect the latter. The child was very weak and sickly. Marie had pity, took the child and raised it. This noble act is admirable, especially since she herself was not living a life of luxury.

Clara went back to Germany with her heart at ease and took on a job as a lady companion for a very rich lady. It was a large house with an ample social life of rich people. They made long trips abroad, had a good time, and Clara had a good and trusting relationship with her rich boss. Clara may have regularly given Marie and Robert money to help pay for the baby’s care. But during her time as a lady companion she became arrogant. When the woman died, Clara went back to the same church-owned charity.

My ancestral search started with Marie and Robert, but they knew practically nothing, no dates, no birthdays and no ancestors. So I had no choice but to speak to Clara herself. When I asked her the decisive question (about Max Maync’s background) her answer was, “How should I know?” When I replied that she, after all, should know, she started to break down and cry, reproaching me and blaming me for tormenting her and offending Vaeti. She just would not face the damage that was done to Vaeti. One could not reproach Vaeti, who was ignored for almost 19 years. Only when I explained that her reluctant attitude would endanger Vaeti’s career did she start to open up.

(I always had the suspicion that the only reason she cared at all was because Vaeti had become successful and she was proud of that. Had he not been as smart and had he been in a low profession, she would not have cared at all for her son.) She explained her act with Maync by saying she assumed he was unable to reproduce.

In my opinion, that only means that love was not the issue. After all, she was 10 years older than him and should have known what she was doing. When Kurt was born, she was 35 years old and he was only 25. Then, she remarked, “Shortly after asking me to marry him, he died.” That was 11 years after the birth, though. They did not live together. She lived in the charity, he in the Luisenallee. What he died from is not quite clear, either. Some people say it was atrophy of the muscles, others claim he had paralysis. He was only 41 years old when he died. During this unpleasant conversation, we agreed that she should produce a sworn statement that she was Kurt’s mother. And she did. We still did not know his birth and death dates, though. She told me where Max was buried, but even she could not come up with any dates. As far as I am concerned (considering what little information I got), I consider the relationship between Max and Clara a one-night stand.

One day I went to the Steindammer cemetery. After a short search I found a family vault, surrounded by a rotten and overgrown gate. And I actually found a gravestone with his date of birth and death. With this information I went to the Steindammer church office, which issued me a birth and death certificate. They also had the names of his parents, whose birth certificates I was able to get from their respective church offices. I had the same luck when I followed the same procedure with his four grandparents. The papers revealed that the descendants of the female side came from East Prussian landowners. The male line also originated from East Prussia. However, I don’t know where the name “Maync” came from.

I also learned from the documents that Maync’s parents had lived the last few years of their lives in St. Georgien Hospital in the Turnerstrasse. My mother once had a nice two-room apartment in the same hospital after her evacuation from Labiau to Koenigsberg, which was totally bombed out in August 1944. I tried to find out more about the Maync couple at the hospital office, but to no avail. No papers existed anymore. Someone gave me the address of Max’s brother, Paul, a merchant in Berlin. I wrote to him and immediately received a sworn statement saying he was informed of the incident. Of course, I was glad to have this paper. At the time, however, I was not interested in finding out more about him. That’s why I do not know his marital status, whether he has children, etc. He sent me the address of his sister and mother, who lived in Stade [near Hamburg]. Both of them kindly wrote back to me and included a document. Of course, I later lost them.

Three years ago, I wrote to the registry office in Stade, inquiring of anybody with the name “Maync.” All I received was the death certificate of Maync’s mother [Elise Maync, née Hellenstein]. So I assumed that the sister [Gertrud] left Stade. She probably is no longer alive.

Getting Clara’s paper was easier because Marie knew her relatives. To get my documents was no problem either, although at the time some of my descendants lived in the territories occupied by Poland, such as Thorn [Torun, Poland] and Graudenz [Grudziadz, Poland]. Getting Vaeti’s birth certificate from Wiborg was time-consuming. After much waiting, we received a baptism certificate from the same church that gave all the important facts, which sufficed. Of course, it was a nerve-wracking time. All these certificates and statements were sent to the Ministry for race research, where they were checked out. Then they produced assessments and a judgment for 150 Marks that Vaeti was Aryan. This was in October 1933. That sure took a load off our minds. To this day, though, Vaeti is still unable to deal with filling out official forms. This business continues to haunt him. As long as he held a job, it was inevitable that he would constantly be confronted with his past. Had he been adopted, he would have had much less difficulty.

You probably know that the family name “Moser” originated in France. They fled as refugees (Night of Bartolomaus, 1685) to Germany. Their original name was Chaux des Essart. They took the name Moser and spread all over. I guess the Mosers mainly came to East Prussia. That explains the name Frederic appearing and the existence of the French Reformed Church in East Prussia.

I had asked Hans Joachim Hahn, the ancestral researcher, to look around and keep an eye open for those last names. He said that he had included the names Moser, Strehlke and Maync in his files of family names. But he had never come across any of them except Moser, which appeared quite frequently. His research mainly concerns the Hahn family, which goes back to 1600.

In June 1934, Vaeti and I went to a meeting in Heidelberg or Bonn. Shortly before our departure, we learned that Clara was admitted to a hospital for an intestinal illness. We felt obliged to visit her and found her in bad shape. We were glad that we took our trip because while we were gone, we received notice of her death (June 8, 1934). We were glad to have been spared the funeral services. Now the case was finally closed.

The humorous part was that Vaeti got the inheritance, which consisted only of debts she had accumulated in antique, craft and general food stores. It was for the fancy gifts she had given us. Vaeti paid up everything and hoped to be in the clear. A year later, relatives notified us that they had purchased a fancy tombstone and had had it installed without his consent. Vaeti refused to pay in full, and paid only part of it. After the two great bombings of Koenigsberg in August and September 1944, I made a final trip to the graveyard and saw a picture of horror. The grave was totally overgrown, all the tombstones were broken—a picture of deterioration—and so the chapter was finally closed.

I am sure that this report, my dear Klaus, will be disappointing to you, because it is more about us than about Maync, which was your main interest. But you have to admit that everything is so mixed up and complicated. Besides, there is so little I know in spite of the effort I put into it. But my research is not done. I have looked in telephone books, but without success. At least you know who your parents are. All those many adopted children of today don’t know their descendants and are left hanging in the air.

It is reassuring to know that Vaeti lived 19 years in normal and loving, though not easy circumstances, which influenced him.





42nd Infantry Regiment10


Aachen (town)............. 34

Abendrot (conductor)............. 88

Adler Pharmacy........... 132

Aerztekammer [State Medical Board]128, 130, 131

Albertina University........... 119

Albertus University........... 116

Allenstein... 91

Alsen, Claere........... 137

Alsen, Edith (Aunt)... 56, 97, 131

Alsen, Elizabeth (Aunt).... 75

Alsen, Erika........... 132

Alsen, Hans48, 150

Alsen, Herta........... 150

Alsen, Hildegard75, 98

Alsen, Margarete (Gretchen)........... 150

Alsen, Reinhold... 5, 23, 44, 86, 150

Alsen, Victor (Uncle).. 75, 132

Altwalde.... 84

Alverdes (Doctor)53

Alverdes, Gerd............. 53

Anders, Guenther16

Angerburg. 85

Aryan........ 27


Baltisk...... See Pillau

Bartenstein. 94

BartoszyceSee Bartenstein

Bauer (Doctor)............. 19

Bechstein (piano).. 77, 113

Belize...... 149

Below, Hans... 139, 140

Berg (Professor)............. 54

Berliner Weisse..... 6

BierutowiceSee Brueckenberg

Bierwerth, Otto........... 140

Blutgericht. 53

Boehming, Christel106

Boguhn (Justice). 67

Bolzano... 152. See Bozen

Bonn......... 55

Bostroem (Professor). 60, 66, 70, 80, 116

Bouguhn (Justice). 66

Braniewo.. See Braunsberg


Breslau55, 56


Brosche (family)103

Brosche, Alfred........... 102

Bru (boat).. 96

Bruchsaal... 84

Brueckenberg............. 55

Bruegge-Ostende (town)... 34

Brueggestrasse.............. 6

Bruehl...... 109

Buechsel, Elisabeth (painter)113

Bueckeburg........... 123

Bund Deutscher Maedchen........... 131

Busch, Adolf (pianist). 88

Buschkoetter (Herr).... 17

Busoni....... 73

Bywater, John (American Vice Consul)73, 89, 149


Caecilie (Saint)............. 53

Cardillac (opera).. 88

Chardin, Teilhard de7

Chaux des Essart... 26

Chief of Police (Koenigsburg).......... 43

Christiansen, Else....... 53

Cologne..... 55


Court for Hereditary Health Issues............. See Erbgesundheitsgericht

Cranz........ 73

Czygnan (Minister)........... 102


Daberkow (Herr)...... 7

Daemmerschoppen........ 6

Danzig....... 96

DaugavpilsSee Duenaburg

Decker, Hans71, 92, 108, 109

Department of Forestry. 47

Deutsch-Krone (town)... 30

Dicke Marie............. See Marienkirche

Dirschau.. 101

Dixi car...... 69

Dodrowolsk............. See Schlossberg

Doehl, Hildegard..... 132. See Alsen, Hildegard

Doehl, Klaus-Peter... 135

Domnick (lawyer). 14

Domnick, Hans (lawyer). 10

Dresden..... 55

Drewshof.. 48, 97, 131

Dubois (Frau)............. 54

Duenaburg (town)... 30

Duesseldorf. 8


East Prussia55


Eisenach.. 119, 122

Eisler, Hanns (composer)........... 115

Elbing........ 97

Elblag....... See Elbing

Erben (Doctor)............. 88

Erbgesundheitsgericht (EGG)... 65

Erbgesundheitsobergericht (EOG)... 65

Erfurt......... 91

Ermland..... 85, 144

Eschenbach (Landlady)............. 48

Evangelist Salvation Army... 112


F. (Doctor)54

fencing. 10, 14

Finck, Eva149

Finck, Hans-Werner149

Finck, Werner............. 92

Finck, Werner (cabaret artist)... 149

Finckh (Doctor)94

Fischer, Edwin (pianist). 77, 88

Fischer, Friedrich151

Flanders (town)............. 34

Fleischerstrasse............. 17

Foerster-Bumke. 116

Frau Holle. 42

Frauenburg... 119, 144

Frenssen.... 45

Frenssen, Gustav... 36

Friedrich the Great..... 56

Friedrich/Friedel49, 53, 62, 70, 71, 92, 95

Frische Haff........... 119

Frische Nehrung [Mierzeja Wislana]65

Frombork. See Frauenburg

Furtwaengler (Herr).... 88


Garnsheim (Professor)........... 144

Gassen, Gerd........... 140

Gdansk..... See Danzig

Gdynia...... See Gotenhafen

Geheimrat.. 46

Gemeindeschule............. 8


Gent (town)34

Gerhard (Judge).. 72

Gieseking, Walter (pianist). 88

Goebbels... 72, 75, 92


Goldap...... 85

Goldmark.. 46

Goldschmiede... 124, 126

Gotenhafen75, 96, 101, 130, 133

Gramatzki family..... 72

Gramatzki, Bertha. 125

Gramatzki, Edith45, 143

Gramatzki, Elizabeth150

Gramatzki, Paul. 5, 36, 105

Graudenz (Poland)154

Greif (hotel)15

Greifswald4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 11, 12, 14, 17, 21, 23, 24, 30, 31, 32, 35, 36, 75, 96, 98, 99, 105, 106, 108, 110, 111, 112, 116, 132, 133, 134, 135, 136, 137, 138, 139, 140, 141, 147

Grudziadz. See Graudenz

gryphiswal densis.... 10

Guarneri.... 98

Guestrow... 99

Gumbinnen95, 126

Gunther, Otfried. 139

Gussew..... See Gumbinnen

Gustav (coachman)..... 97, 131


H. (Doctor)42

Hahn, Fritz150

Hahn, Hans Joachim154

Hannoversch-Muenden........... 144

Hanomag... 69, 70, 121

Hardenberg Street.... 52

Harz (mountains)........... 123

Hebel, Johann Peter....... 6

Heilsberg... 85

Heinemann, Erika... 133

Hellenstein, Elise.... 154

Hennstedt/Dithmarschen. 5, 36, 45, 146, 152

High Court for Hereditary Health Issues............. See Erbgesundheitsobergericht

Hindenburg (General Field Marshal)30

Hirschberg. 55

Hitler... 72, 75

Hoche, A. (Professor)............. 83

Holstein21, 99, 137

Hugenot..... 26

Hungary..... 54

Hunnius, Monika.. 53


Iron Cross. 32

Italy........... 56



Japha (cellist, Swiss consul). 145

Jelenia Gora............. See Hirschberg

Jessner, Dr. (director of the opera)88

Jezioro Nidzkie............. See Niedersee

Joachim, Josef (violinist)89

Jochum (conductor)............. 88

Johannisburger Heide.... 85

Johnen (Doctor)109


Kaete (Frau)56

Kaethe (Ms.)............. 40

Kahlberg56, 65

Kanitz-Mednicken (Count)102

Karlsruhe... 84

Kastan (Doctor)41

Kastan’s Panopticum............. 41

Kaunas..... See Kowno

Ketrzyn..... See Rastenburg

Keuthen (Doctor)109

Kiesower Moor..... 13

Kirchenkrug........... 102

Klieneberger (Professor). 39, 41, 45, 50

Knappertsbuch (conductor)............. 88

Koenigsstrasse........... 102

Koggenstrasse............... 5

Kolberg (town)............. 35

Kolobrzeg. See Kolberg (town)

Konrad, Hermann139

Koppskegelwein.......... 23

Kornewo.. See Zinten

Kowno (town)............. 30

Krefeld (town)............. 35

Kretschmer, E.............. 81

Kretschmer, Ernst........ 4

Kreutzer-Sonata... 44

Krynica Morska. See Kahlberg

Krystallnacht........... 148

Kuhlenkampf, Hubermann (violinist)88

Kunkel, Doris........... 125

Kurische Nehrung61

Kurland (town)............. 34

Kurskij Zaliv............. See Kurisches Haff

Kwidzyn... See Marienwerder


Labiau37, 144

Lafite (Doctor, Finance Department)............. 89

Langenstrasse........... 133

Lauenburg. 84

Lausitz....... 92

Lauth....... 119

Lebork..... See Lauenberg

Legnica..... See Liegnitz

Leisner, Emmy (singer).. 88

Lempp (Dr.)........... 148

Lempp (eye doctor).. 73, 89

Lesnoi....... See Sarkau

Leutke (teacher).. 8

Lidzbark-Warminski............. See Heilsberg

Liegnitz...... 55

Liszt.......... 77


Loebenichtsche Kirche122

Louis XV... 26


Luebeck.. 122

Lueneburger Heide.. 144, 145



Mainz........ 55

Manzke, Oskar........... 140


Marienwerder............. 93

Masuria76, 85

Matthias-Klotz (violin)... 94

Mauz (Professor)............. 67

May (Doctor)............. 21

May (Herr, pianist). 112

Maync, Gertrud.. 28

Maync, Max..... 25, 153

Maync, Paul........... 154

Mecklenburg..... 88, 133

Meisen, Joseph........... 140

Memel....... 81

Meyer, Ernst (Geheimrat)............. 39

Meyhoefer (Director)84

Mikolajki.. See Nikolaiken

Ministry of Culture.. 90

Mitscherlich (Professor)............. 58

Mittmann. 101

Moellendorf, V. (Doctor)............. 24

Moodie, Alma (violinist)88

Moser, Clara........... 147

Moser, Edith4

Moser, Hans-Joachim. 49

Moser, Juergen... 7, 21, 53, 69, 70, 89, 90, 98, 99, 110, 111, 112, 113, 114

Moser, Klaus. 73, 87, 94, 98, 108, 110, 112, 114

Moser, Maria4, 147

Moser, Mieze (Frau)...... 4

Moser, Robert4, 147, 153

Moser, Wera4, 5, 23, 36, 73, 95, 99, 143, 150

Mowrer, O. H. (Professor)............. 60

Mudrack (Minister)........... 102

Muehlenstrasse............ 13

Mueller (Doctor)102

Mueller (Professor). 32, 54, 63


Nagel (Frau)........... 103

National Socialists’ Society (NSV). 121

Naujocks (Herr).... 69

nervus rarum............. 50

Nesselmann, Lene (Aunt)............... 5

Neuenkirchener Tannen.. 12

Neufahrwasser........... 101

neuroencephalogram experiment............. 41

Neustadt-Glewe.. 133

Ney, Elly (pianist). 88

Nida......... See Nidden

Nidden...... 65

Niedersee.. 85

Nikisch, Arthur (conductor)4

Nikolaiken. 85

Nitsch, Herta........... 136

Nitsch, Werner........... 120

Nobel Prize32

NSDAP.. 148



Oder River108

Oesterreichische Musik Zeitschrift............. 90


Oldenburg/Holstein........ 98

Olsztyn..... See Allenstein

Orchesterverein........... 10

Ortler (Frau, landlady)... 111, 112

Osnabrueck........... 145

Otiti......... 121



Pascha...... See Bostroem (Professor)

Pegram.. 5, 72, 97, 132

Peipus (Lake)............. 33

Petersburg, St........ 5, 147

Pfitzner...... 44

Pillau... 95, 96, 126

Polessk..... See Labiau


Polish Corridor............. 55

Pollesk...... See Labiau

Pomerania4, 97

Pompadour, Madame26

Ponarth.... 102

Pregel River46, 121

Pregolja.... See Pregel River

Psychiatric Hospital and Clinic for Neurological Diseases39

Puszcz Piska............. See Johannisburger Heide


Quakers.. 112


Radius (publication)............. 60

Radziwil, Christina27

Radziwill (Polish prince)... 26

Raimond, DuBois (opera singer). 145

Ramses (Maid)............. 48



Rauschen... 91

Reger........ 44

Reichstag... 63

Reuss, Franz (music director)77

Richter (Konsistorialrat)........ 47

Riesengebirge............. 55

Riga........... 53

Robakowski, Paul..... 140

Roehm Affair............. 63

Roehn (mountains)............. 91

Rominter Heide............. 85

Rosenthal... 13

Rossgaerter Markt. 127

Rostock... 114

Rudzany.... 85

Ruegen53, 99



Saechsische Schweiz. 55

Samland (train)........... 123

Sarkau....... 73


Scherchen, Hermann (conductor)............. 88

Schillings, Max von........ 30


Schlewin, Fritz........... 140

Schlossberg........... 126

Schlussnus (singer).. 88

Schmidt-Walter (singer).. 88

Schnabel, Arthur (pianist). 88

Schoenberg, Arnold. 115

Schoenfeld (Doctor)107

Scholz, Alfred........... 139

Schroeder, Albert.. 139

Schultheiss Brewery.. 6

Schultz, Gotthardt (minister)84

Schulz, Hugo (Geheimrat)............. 10

Schulz-Henk (Professor)....... 58, 59

Schumann, Robert. 117

Schwalbenberg (refugee camp).... 96, 101, 128

Schwarzwald............. 48

Schweden Ulk............. 15

Schweinike (pharmacist)........... 104

Schwerin53, 98

Scszecin.... See Stettin (town)

Serkin (pianist)............. 88

Snamensk. See Wehlau

Society of German Neurologists............. 56

Spiritus, Saint (cloisters)........... 139


Springer (Doctor)89

St. Mary’s Church.. See Marienkirche

St. Spiritus (garden). 98

Stade (town)28

Stadtpfeifereien, Die... See The Town Pipers

Stark (Professor)............. 32

Stebark..... See Goldap

Steindammer cemetary153

Steinecke (Professor, cellist, hydro-biologist)54, 89

Steinhausen (Professor)........... 138

Stern’schen Conservatory.......... 144

Stettin........ 98

Stettin (town). 30, 75, 98, 99, 119

Stift........... 26


Stralsunder Chaussee13

Stralsunder Strasse.. 13, 133

Strauss...... 44

Strehlke family............. 65

Strehlke, Kurt............. 47

Strehlke, Kurt (Uncle).. 86

Strehlke, Lieschen125

Strehlke, Lieschen (Aunt).... 46

Sudentenland........... 141

Suwalki..... 91

Swetlogorsk............. See Rauschen

Swinemuende........... 132

Szczecin.... See Stettin (town)

Szegoe (Professor)............. 54

Szegoe, Peter............. 54


Tannenberg memorial85

Tattersal. 120

Theresienstadt........... 148

Thomasius, Albrecht71

Thomson (Minister)45

Thorn102, 154

Thuringia... See Eisenach

Timreck, Eva............. 92

Todtmoos.. 48

Torun........ See Thorn

Town Pipers, the........... 4

Transitten. 102

Treskow Strasse6, 7

Turnerstrasse........... 154

Tutschen.. 126


Ueckermuende97, 108, 132

Upper Bolzano............. See Oberbozen

Usedom5, 72, 97, 132


Vally (Aunt)44

Vatutino.... See Tutschen

Veilchenberg............. 39

Vipuri.......... 5

Vogel, Grete95

Vogel, Wolfgang........... 127

von der Heydt (Doctor)64

von Gruenberg............. 75

von Hippel (Herr).... 63

von Westphal, Carl..... 116

Vorderrossgarten.......... 76


Walcz....... See Deutsch-Krone

Wallenstein.. 6

Walsrode. 144

Wegner (Doctor)18

WegorzewoSee Angerburg

Wehberg (Lieutenant)........... 126

Wehlau...... 84

Wenslaff (Minister)........... 137


Werner, Hans............. 92

Wesel (town)............. 35

Wessel (Herr, teacher)113

Wiborg.... 5, 6, 25, 147

Wiechert, Ernst............. 85

Wildenau (Professor)............. 17

Wilhelm II.... 7

Wittichenau/Oberlausitz. 92

Wittkampen........... 126

Wroclaw... See Breslau

Wuertemberg............. 54


Zalew Wislany. See Frische Haff

Zelenogradsk.. See Cranz

Zieske, Irmgard........... 139

Zinten...... 123

Zoppot.... 101


[1] Well-known German surgeon, 1875-1951

[2] Expression used when an incident or event happens more than once (repetition)

[3]  Sturm Abteilung: a paramilitary organization that harrasses and arrests people, originally used to protect the Nazis during their rallies; recruited largely from the Hitler Youth

[4] Military unit established in September 1944 for men between the ages of 16 and 60 who hadn’t yet been drafted; saw action in parts of eastern Germany, such as East Prussia.

[5] Island directly west of the isle of Ruegen

[6] Military fortification line (bunkers, tanks, etc.) behind the Eastern Front, designed to hold off the advancing Russians; ultimately ineffective. There was also a Westwall on the Western Front.

[7] Nickname for her mother, used by the mother’s grandchildren

[8] Reference to the 1918 revolution in Germany

[9]  In reality they were cousins, not siblings. See Chapter 7 (The Disclosure).

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