Thursday, August 28, 2008

Point of View

By some strange coincidence I have seen several movies recently that are set in or about the time of World War II: Gosford Park, Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day, Notorious, and Casablanca. I have always been interested in WW II, how it started, who were the key players, how it effected society, art, people. So much of what we are taught about the war here is very one sided, but I have been fortunate to have a couple of chances to chat with people who experienced the war from the other side.

Friede is a long time friend of my husband's family. She has lived next door to them since B was a boy. Friede is in her 90's but you would never know it to see her playing with my niece and nephews. Whenever we visit B's family I sneak over to Friede's as often as good manners will allow and spend hours chatting with her. She is just about the feistiest person I have ever known and I admire her immensely.

Friede was born near Frankfurt, Germany. Her mother was a very devout Catholic who somehow ended up married to a very irreverent Protestant. Her father once swept up the straw, laid out for the towns Passover procession, and fed it to his animals. Friede's mother insisted that she be sent to the nuns for school but, maybe because of her father's bad influence, she spent a lot of time in trouble. There was the time the Mother Superior discovered that Friede and her friends had been eating holiday cookies during the year so that there were none to sell at Christmas. She had to stay late and help bake cookies to make up for her pilfering. Or there was time she started selling holy water door-to-door until her mother found out and made her return all the money.

Later she went to dance school in Frankfurt, and was good enough that she was invited to teach despite the fact that her instructor used to call her a cow. She danced in the ballet at the Frankfurt opera house and was known for playing pranks. During a run of Aida she was cast as a fan bearer. She "fell asleep" during one of the performances and "accidentally" hit the diva in the head. Evidently, the diva wasn't very popular with the rest of the cast.

Friede's family must have been very talented artistically because her brother was a musician. In the years leading up to the war many of the theatres and music halls were closed by the government and he had trouble finding work. Eventually the only job available to him was playing in the military band and he joined the army. It didn't last long though. They eventually trained him to fly planes.

During the Nazi years, the opera was only allowed to perform political pieces. There was a play where a this "heroic" character with an iron fist would hit a table and the edge would fall off. The table had been pre-cut to so that when the actor slammed his fist the table would break on cue. She and the ballet turned the table around so that when he hit it , the wrong edge fell to the floor. She said the audience roared with laughter.

The opera was later closed and she was forced into the service. She said the first night in the barracks she was so eaten by bed bugs that she chose to sleep in a chair instead. She was shipped to a post near the Russian front. Upon arrival she received a telegram informing her that her brother's plane had been shot down over Russia and that he was dead. She said she was so shocked that she just sat down on her suitcase in the middle of the road, not knowing what to do. She remembered that a local woman seeing her distress brought her out a glass of water and how touched she was by the woman's kindness. She has never talked to me much about being in the Army. I'd like to think that Friede kept up her rebellious tendencies and continued to cause trouble where she could.
I can't help but wonder what her life would have been like if the war had never happened. Would she have continued dancing? As far as I know, she never dance professionally again although her ballet slippers have pride of place amongst her belongings.

After the war, Friede married an American soldier and moved to the U.S. They never had children of their own but she must have hundreds of children in her community to whom she has been surrogate grandma. At church on Sunday's, I have seen her sneaking M&M's to all the little kids who come and tell her good morning.


Ms. Math said...

Friede sounds like an amazing woman - how wonderful for you to have met such an interesting character!

Bee said...

Wow! How blessed you are to know Friede. No wonder you are willingly to risk wearing out your welcome. Somehow, I don't think Friede minds.

Jennie said...

Friede sounds amazing. I have an old lady I visit and I love listening to her talking about her life.

Kathi said...

I loved reading about Friede. I would have loved to sit and listen to her tell these things.

When you mentioned her getting into trouble I couldn't help but the think of my girls' movie "The Trouble With Angels," with Hayley Mills and Rosalind Russell.

My father in law was full blooded German, but born in the US. He was in the medics during WWll and stationed in France. Once in awhile he's take care of the wounded Germans. He was able to speak with them and even played checkers with them. They told him they were so happy that the Americans caught them and not the Russians. I wish my father in law was here today to tell more.

Thank you for sharing Friede's story. I enjoyed hearing about her.

Hugs and prayers for you, Kathi