Saturday, 22 November 2014

Permutations on Lamps and The People Who Owned Them (III)

“You can’t just barge in here without an appointment”, he blustered. “This is my home and my family and I are about to eat our supper. If you have anything to say about what happens at school you have to bring it up there.”

Mum stood her ground, but he wouldn’t budge. “You have no right to invade my privacy.” He continued to attack us, insisting that he was not going to discuss any complaints except at school. A time was fixed for the next day and we left, having achieved nothing. He had bullied us into submission but his extreme reaction made Mum determined not to let the matter rest. Thomanek knew this, he knew that he would have to answer for his behaviour; Mum, working class, with no more than a basic education and quite unsophisticated, would demand answers from the school establishment.

Alas, she never got them. At least, not in so many words. In 1950s Germany most ordinary people kept their political allegiance, past and present, quiet. My parents, however, were among the few exceptions, foolishly perhaps, but definitely bravely, as they and the family had been during the whole of Nazi-Germany, for which they paid a heavy price. In the 50s the Cold War was raging, with divided and four-sectored Germany the buffer zone between East and West. Twelve million people had fled and migrated from East to West and, until the erection of The Wall in 1961 put an end to it, the mass exodus still continued.

In the end, Herr Thomanek's persecution of me was not due to personal antipathy, but the politics of hatred and fear. He was one of those who had gone on the long trek from East to West.

As a child I was sickly. Weak, under-nourished, too tall, too thin, with lung disease and all the ailments that befell children who had had a poor start in life. I wasn’t the only one, there were many of us. Twice I had been sent to sanatoria, once during the war to the mountains of Bavaria and once after the war to the island of Norderney in the North Sea. It was hoped that mountain and sea air would heal, or at least strengthen, my lungs.

During the time I was a student in Herr Thomanek’s class, Dad was offered a place for me in a sanatorium on the Baltic coast by one of his friends in the Socialist Movement; the problem was the holiday would have to be during term time and require permission from the school authorities. Permission would probably have been granted had the sanatorium been anywhere else but in East Germany, the place many of the teachers at the local schools had called home and had been forced, or had chosen, to leave. Dad, in his naiveté, had committed a monumental blunder. Permission was refused and Herr Thomanek turned against one of his star pupils.

Mum and I still had to meet him. She knew nothing about the politics of the staff room, all she knew was that her child was hurting and she wanted to know why.

We met him during morning break on the half-landing between two floors, leaning against the stone banister. Thomanek was standing above us, looking down. I was half sitting in a window embrasure, crying bitterly all the time of the interview. Although he was physically in a position of superiority, he was noticeably quieter, even conciliatory. The Headmistress had spoken to him and advised that he try to calm Mum down. There had been a meeting, he admitted as much as that.

But what would happen to me?



to be continued


29 comments:

  1. This is an exciting and worrisome story and I look forward to the next post.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Very well-presented, Friko. I too look forward to reading further.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Oh Friko. Heart-hurting stuff and yes, I am also anxious to read more.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I certainly hope that you plan to publish this story somewhere other than your blog. It's utterly fascinating and so well written. Once again, I wait with bated breath.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Fascinating writing; all the more so as we know and care about you. What a privilege to learn about your early years. Not to this degree, but I know what it is to be fought over at school for 'principle.'

    Blessing to know you, as ever, Friko



    Another Morning in Waikiki

    ALOHA from Honolulu
    ComfortSpiral
    =^..^= . <3 . >< } } (°>

    ReplyDelete
  6. All the agonies of growing up added to political tensions in the classroom make for a very engaging story that tears at the heart strings. What will happen? At least we know far into the future that you are happy and well in your home.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Your brave Mum. We take the right to speak up for granted here, and do not always understand that it is difficult to do so in many places. Germany, once so enlightened became a fearful place in the twentieth century. Today in the U.S., we have so much intolerance for a different opinion it is frightening. Will left and right ever try to reconcile? Not in my lifetime.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Friko, now you have got me truly hoping that on my next trip across the Atlantic we will be able to continue conversations and history telling.

    Yes, I do want to read the next episode in this story of complex cross currents affecting you as a young girl. Whatever did happen next, I do know that today, in this still young...but growing its own complexities, century, you are a remarkable woman.

    xo

    ReplyDelete
  9. What a painful time for you! And how vividly you tell this story. I can hardly wait to find out what happens next.

    ReplyDelete
  10. How terribly the complications of history are played out, in this case on the head of a single family and one small, innocent child! Among many almost imponderable aspects, I'm struck by this: "Permission would probably have been granted had the sanatorium been anywhere else but in East Germany, the place many of the teachers at the local schools had called home and had been forced, or had chosen, to leave. Dad, in his naiveté, had committed a monumental blunder." I want to think, why couldn't Thomanek separate the issues out--your welfare, vs. what happened to him--but then of course, in my question lies something of the answer, wholly unsatisfactory though it is.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Quite intrigued. I have read all three just now and adore how the lamp is woven throughout. Hard for me to imagine such an ordinary item being a luxury - but you really enlighten that with part 1. Excellent writing.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Hugely unfair! I don't quite understand why the holiday would have had to be during school term (certainly the health authorities knew that children had to go to school); the whole problem would probably not have arisen if Herr Thomanek had never known about the sanatorium.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Hi Friko - you're relating times we don't understand, or can't comprehend .. and those days of rules, regulations, and 'standard norms' of wartime Germany .. the times when people weren't allowed to think, or couldn't because they'd been blinded by controlled society, or because they didn't have the enlightenment to think and be able to speak and work round subjects as we do today.

    The attitude of the bullies, the righteous in a position of control ... things have changed, but they are so much more polarised in many ways - thankfully many of us can see the world in a better way ...

    Being sickly in those days, with your family struggling anyway ... I can't wait to see how this develops ... so sad to read - yet you're here now and able to tell us ...

    With thoughts Hilary

    ReplyDelete
  14. Can't wait for continuation, Friko.
    My childhood is very similar yours, disease, sanatorium, malnutrition...Fortunately, those times ended.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I was the ill child in our family and also had to visit such places for my lungs - I can understand. As sad as this story is, I look forward to the next installment, because I am hoping this young girl's life improves.

    ReplyDelete
  16. We're hooked. I'm eager to see if Herr Thomanek ends up being this story's villain or if it plays out differently!

    ReplyDelete
  17. Your sharing these memories open up the world to the rest of us; those were difficult times, and you were caught in the web of politics and class expectations. You set the stage beautifully. Looking forward to the next installment.

    ReplyDelete
  18. That's sad, but your memories of that time are so interesting and different from anything I've experienced.

    Love,
    Janie

    ReplyDelete
  19. Ah, and now I am going to have to wait, for I'm on holiday myself, and very soon -- even this evening -- will be without an internet connection of any sort for a week. No matter. The posts will be here, and so will I, once I return. Wonderful writing!

    ReplyDelete
  20. I spent some time catching up here on the first three installments of hit story. Very interesting - I look forward to hearing how it plays out.

    ReplyDelete
  21. People are so often discouraged form speaking up politically - even amongst their friends. It's really sad.

    ReplyDelete
  22. your childhood was so different than mine and not just age difference, I wasn't born til 1950, did not live through the war and the war never came to us anyway. I love reading your stories of growing up in Germany.

    ReplyDelete
  23. How horribly frightful when individuals take out their personal feelings about issues on a child -- an innocent, basically. This must be a frightfully difficult memory and I am grateful for your sharing it and offering insight into your upbringing.

    ReplyDelete
  24. I don't understand so much of this. Did Herr Thomanek turn on you because you wanted to go East? The place he had been forced to leave? Surely he realised it was to be for your health and not for political reasons! I've never understood politics nor the fears that arise from someone being different. In spite of irrational fears, surely Herr Thomanek knew that he should not allow such fears to colour his classroom behaviour, especially to the point of victimising a student.

    ReplyDelete
  25. I only understood all this behaviour only years later ! Some of the teachers in my school in Bonn also had a doubtful past behind them and everybody shut up !

    ReplyDelete
  26. Oh, the complexities of life and being a child in a very difficult world. Off now to read part 4.

    ReplyDelete
  27. I agree with Perpetua. I can't express my thoughts any better. I didn't not have to live through those terrible political times. And, to think how ill you were just breaks my heart.

    ReplyDelete

Comments are good, I like to know what you think of my posts. I know you'll keep it civil.