Voices from the Other Side: Jean Goodwin Messinger
There are millions who died during the Holocaust and not only Jewish people endured the wrath, cruelty and horrors that befell the Jews during this horrific time period. Both the Germans and Russians inflicted their own brand of torture on anyone who dared to question or defy them or in some cases were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. The many voices heard within the pages of this book will remind everyone that these events really did happen. People were physically forced out of their homes to live in shelters that were filled with filth, smells and lacking food and warmth, the story will make you proud to be an American and hopefully remind everyone how lucky we are to live in a country where choices are our own and the decisions we make will affect us but they are our decisions. Within this review I will talk about some of the heartfelt and heartbreaking stories and spotlight just a few as you take several trips back in time to Germany and Europe during a time period many would like to forget but never should.
Creating memories to remind everyone of the impact of war on the lives of those who endured the hardships, families living in fear for their loved ones, not knowing their whereabouts or if they were alive, leaves more than just a lasting impression on the minds and in the hearts of so many. The mental and physical infirmities resulting in personal damage and mental anguish will vividly be imbedded in the minds of those who survived forever. Author Jean Goodwin Messinger wrote Voices From the Other Side to remind families, friends, loved ones and children to record the memories of their parents, grandparents and their own memories keeping a permanent record of what they endured in life for others to read and to be reminded of what so many choose to forget or deny. To quote the author in the introduction: “ I hope readers and listeners will learn from and be inspired by these revelations form “ordinary people,” like people you may know- exploits of heroism, endurance, and courage, as well as adversity of unimaginable severity.”
From the real life stories that will captivate readers I have chosen to share some of the events of those who opened their lives to all of us. Many are now in their later years and some have passed, but it is their voices you will hear as some served in the German armies or military, others suffered at the hands of the Nazis and Russians and many used their ingenuity and survival skills to witness the amazing freedoms afforded to them in America when they arrived.
The numerous narratives told in the first person by those who experienced the bombings, destruction, fear, torture, hunger, loses, combat and horrific treatment by those that felt superior or felt they were above reproach during the time the Hitler seemed to brainwash and mesmerize so many, these stories will help readers gain a true and more accurate perspective of the war and what so many went through and some still will never forget.
As you read the stories and hear the voices of those that will explain how they survived you will marvel at the fact that not one story contains any distain, hate, anger and each one is presented in an honest and straightforward way allowing themselves to find it in their heart to forgive. Each story told in such a direct way and presented so straightforward and you are amazed that they do not harbor any animosity or anger or self pity. The many accounts will foster hope within the reader of how the “human spirit is remarkably strong and resilient under the most unimaginable adversities.,,,”Frieda’s grandfather died on the refugee flight and the author relates how he was left by the side of the read. This story was quite heartbreaking and the account quite unique.
A young girl living on a farm under meager conditions just wants to have a normal life like other children. School is important to her but the distance to travel there is quite far and at the age of 14 Frieda Rosin Wuest realizes that her time was limited and might be over. But, the principal of her school encouraged her parents to allow her to attend high school even though at times she and others received severe beatings and the discipline was quite stringent. But, when the war began in 1939 her life turned upside down and the end result was she and her family had to move to another farm. At the age of 19 things came to a head and without any warning she and her family were told to leave their home in the dead of winter and with few provisions and not much food they were forced out finally arriving in West Germany before leaving for America in 1952. Her brother was one who got lost in the army and no one knew his status until 1948. Just how this family makes it to New York and then to Colorado is quite amazing. Having to get sponsored and sleeping in a small space with so many others with no plumbing, having to pay for their meals and hoping to get some kind of work, Frieda and her family survived and where she winds up and where she is now you will learn when you read her story.
Christel Pfeiffer: Her account of her wartime experiences includes what happens after the war. Imagine the Germans arriving and attacking within 12 hours an entire city. There was tremendous, fire, smoke and the walls of so many homes blackened. How would anyone survive especially when all routes were barred? Christel was born in Berlin and as she relates grew up near Dresden. She hardly escaped the disastrous” Allied phosphor bombings in February 1945. Next, she and many others had to escape the Russians and then after the war we learn how she was able to support herself in Heidelberg. She had a skill that no one else had and that made her presence quite valuable.
Many children had to escape and many parents were wounded or killed. Children of all ages had to survive and one young girl named Anna with severe phosphor burns will harden your hearts against those that caused it and make you wonder just how she managed to survive. Her appearance alone might have been difficult for the other children to see and medicines were not available. There was nothing for pain. This poor child probably according to the account might not have made it very long.
She begins our journey by speaking about her parents. Her father was talented and loved to paint. He was loved. He thought of himself as a socialist she relates and he would not tolerate any behavior that appeared “superior to others.” Explaining it to our Christel, we learn about her experience with a cap with a black brim and why her father did not feel that she should flaunt her status to others. Her mother passed away at 37 leaving her with her father and two other children. Her grandmother or Oma came to live with them but things changed when her father remarried. Within pages 38-40 we learn that her father was in the army, what happened to him and the result of his passing away and her brother winding up in a mental institution? Her life was hard. She continues to describe the life of the forgotten children of Dresden, when the first alarm sounded, the enemy planes approaching the dark clouds, the helping in the gym, working to assist in the hospitals for wounded soldiers. Working everyday with other students and remembering one precious four-year-old child. Imagine walking in fear, the loud boom of artillery fire, and the day before the end of the war. Russian tanks, private cars, and adventure she thought as she was living on a tank. Not being allowed to pass and driving all night you begin to wonder where she got her strong spirit. Marching for days, mounds of weapons to be destroyed and a band of people led by an unofficial leader, a sergeant who decided to become their protector. A touch of deceit would bring her some good luck as she passed herself off as an English girl and from there the rest you just won’t believe. Would you hire yourself out on a farm? Would you return home? What happens when her stepmother decides that she needed to leave and go somewhere else? Read her story and then see her beautiful face smiling on page 59 and know that she is truly amazing.
Anita Griffith shares her story of how ordinary German civilians were impacted with the horrors and complexities of war. Born in 1930 in Dresden she relates her life along with her brother Gaston. They were the children of a successful doctor and their mother came from a rich family and could not even cook. Having little time for their children they learned the proper protocols when allowed to address them but things would drastically change when their father was arrested and never returned. Forced to belong to the Gund Deutscher Madchen, she began to socialize. But, a pivotal date of February 13, 1945 would change it all. Imagine what happens when the Russians arrived and they do whatever they want to those that survived. The cruelties, the indignities, the murder and the fact that she at 13 had to hide and felt threatened is terrifying. She had to protect and care for the babies and the atrocities inflicted by the Germans followed by the Russians would harden anyone’s heart. When she finally left the farm she was confined to for one year she was different. Her brother fled to West Germany and she went back to Meissen. Read what the Russians did next, where she and her mother wound up and what she finally became as her marriage did not work out, she worked in an American laundry and what happens when you find out the hidden truth about her husband. Do you divorce him? What about your kids? You have no money, no home and only his word that he would care for you forever. Where is Anita? Find out when you read her story.
The stories are heartfelt and there are many more. Read them. Hear the voices from the past and relive what so many choose till this day to forget and know the Holocaust really did happen.
Hear the voices of Renate G. Justen, M.D. and learn what happens to a Jewish child that is mistreated and a victim of anti-Semitism casting a big shadow over her childhood. Next read Mutti’s Story about a heroic mother that withstood the advances of someone that was supposed to feed and protect her family and how this amazing woman took action, preserved and never gave up. Potatoes and Pitchforks: learn more when you read pages 183-192. Read the stories, hear the voices from the other side told by those who lived it. Inspiring German WWII Memoirs shared by author Jean Goodwin Messinger. A definite must read.
Fran Lewis: Reviewer