Once upon a time … well, at the beginning of World War II, there was a young girl. She was called Elfriede, lived in Mannheim, and had a job she didn’t like in an office she didn’t like at all.

Her mother Johanne had a militant mind and liked to stand at her living room window telling to the passers by the latest Nazi crimes. She knew about that because her husband, an electrician and radio technician, had assembled a radio set which enabled her to listen to the forbidden enemy broadcasts in French and English. She had had quite a good education and had learned several languages but that is another story…

Occasionally she hid people who were in danger, endangering herself and her family. It was a good thing that the “block-warden” (responsible for a street block under the Nazis) was an old friend of the family. When a police raid was expected he would warn them, nobody was ever caught.

But things grew worse, the situation more dangerous and Elfriede hated her job more than ever. Her brother had already been called up, he was serving in the Air Force and shaping up to become an officer. A good point for the family but not good enough to protect their belligerent mother. In fact the family trembled from 1933 to 1945. In order to escape her detested firm, and because it looked good, Elfriede joined the local FLUKO (air control).

Her father, as a highly qualified artisan, had to join the home front protection. Their job was to fight fire during the air raids, and to repair the damage to water and power supplies and so on. Later on, they were sent to help out in other bombed towns. That is how he was taken prisoner by the French in Freiburg, but that is again another story…

In 1940, after the end of the French campaign, when the Air Force was looking for female staff in transmissions, Elfriede and her FLUKO pal Martl jumped at the opportunity to travel abroad.

They were sent to Rennes in Brittany where they were very comfortably housed in a hostel with nice rooms for two, a terrace and a park. Their home was, of course, guarded by the military forces, and they were disliked by the French but they could take a stroll to the shops in town or a walk in the Botanical Garden.

They had to go through the Garden anyway when they went to or came off duty, and quite nearby lived the old countess to whom Elfriede brought greetings from the German part of the family. They were invited for tea a few times but, on the whole, they always saw the same faces when off duty, and talked about the same things.

One day Elfriede needed a new pair of gloves, for a lady didn’t go out without gloves. She actually never did during her lifetime.

She entered a shop which boasted all sorts of fashionable articles. The girl behind the counter spoke excellent German and the two girls took to one another. Martl, too, met the young Frenchwoman whose family had left Rennes upon the arrival of the Germans, and consequently felt a bit lonely. Her father came into town only once a week to visit his daughter and check on the shop. The three girls spent more and more time together, Colette was sometimes asked to come to the hostel for a ping-pong match or a musical soiree or a play.

Elfriede and Colette became fast friends, and, as girls do, they spoke about marriage and children “later, when all this is over”, and they promised to give their eldest daughter the others first name.

But there was still a war on. The Resistance became more active. There was a typhoid breakout in the hostel which was thought to be the fault of the French cook who was a member of the Resistance. The girls were put into quarantine and two of them died.

The French-German friendship had been watched. A bomb went off in Colette’s shop and she had to leave Rennes. Just once she was able to smuggle a little letter through to Elfriede, it still exists.

D-Day came in 1944, and the German retreat, but that is ….another story.

Elfriede, after having been taken prisoner by the Americans, came back home. She found her mother ill with tuberculosis and nursed her until her death in August 1946, because there was “no room for an old woman” in the sanatorium.

During autumn 1946 the Helm dancing-school organized the first evening dances, and a ball for New Year’s Eve. Elfriede’s friend Martl very energetically swept her along, introduced her to Helmut, who was a very good dancer, and on New years Eve a spark leapt between them and they became a couple.

They married, at Elfriede’s wish, in December 1947, and their daughter was born after an eight months pregnancy on the target day of the currency reform. A very important thing! Why? Because every person living at midnight on target day, was given 40 DM starting money! I came along at 18:30.

Sorry, I forgot: Elfriede and Helmut were my parents, and my birth was certainly the only moment I showed any mathematical ability. I was called Colette because, for my mother, a promise was a promise.

For two years she searched unsuccessfully for her friend Colette through the Red Cross. After that, she became convinced that something terrible had happened to Colette and her family because of her. Finally she suppressed the whole thing, even “forgetting” Colette’s family name.

But… this is not the end of the story, on the contrary: you will just have to wait a little for the second chapter….

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