Saturday, November 15, 2008

Childhood Memories of the Second World War

SANDY: Sven was born in the village of Eksharad, in Warmland, Sweden, a pleasant inland area with evergreens and lakes, plains alternating with rolling countryside. Eksharad sits on a high ridge above the Klaralven River. The main crop is potatoes. Immigrants colonized Warmland. Some were metal workers from Wallonia who brought their craft to their new country. The Eksharad cemetery, across Main Street from Sven’s childhood home, contains many iron crosses of great beauty. Eksharad is not far from the Norwegian border …

SVEN: The world I grew up in was so very different. It seems closer to the 19th century than to the 21st. I was born one year before the war. And, whether my memories are exact or not, I cannot swear, but I know my mother used to bike around with me in the basket in front of her to go shopping. Her friends would go out biking, too. One beautiful day, at the beginning of September 1939, she met some friends, and the first thing one of them said was that war had broken out. For five more years I lived in the shadow of a war that marked society. Sweden never ended up in the war, but it was a close call, many times, especially around 1942-43. The Germans had planned an invasion and were ready to invade, but Stalingrad happened. German airplanes sometimes flew over Sweden. Eksharad was very close to the border of Norway. My mother was the postmistress, and the post office was on the first floor of our house. She was in charge of several employees. As a child, I loved walking barefoot. During the summer of 1940, a hot summer, I remember walking on my heels because the asphalt was so hot. In the distance, I could hear a booming sound. I didn’t understand what it was. There was a real shortage of gasoline. The only cars that had gas belonged to the doctor, the policeman, and a couple of cabdrivers. One cabdriver who did not have gasoline was Viktor. He always had a big wad of snuff in his mouth. People burned coal in a furnace to produce gas which served as fuel. Viktor was working on loading coal into the furnace when I asked, “What is that sound over there?” He responded, “Come on, boy. There’s a war going on.” I did not give it much thought and continued on my way. The winters were terribly cold. That was when Hitler’s soldiers froze to death in Russia, by they way. Here's another memory, confirmed later with my mother, a memory from when I was 3 ½ years old: at the time, there was no automatic alarm system for the town. Instead, a taxi driver, named Erik Carlson, would proceed down Main Street with a siren on his car. When the alarm sounded, everyone in the house, including the tenants and the people in the post office, all ran down to the basement. Some of us sat on the stairs. At first, I found the situation fun, an adventure. But then I looked into the faces of the people sitting around me and saw fear. I became afraid, too ... My first love was the au-pair. We slept together under a warm comforter ... My mother was in charge of several post office employees. She had to handle the mail for 1000 Swedish soldiers, as well as local mail. The soldiers were billeted in the area. There is a photo of me sitting in the lap of one of these soldiers. I remember he had wonderful, warm brown eyes ... There was a bus line from the south of Warmland, all the way up to the Norwegian border. The bus always stopped at the post office. I was playing in the garden when the bus stopped, and three men got out. I had never seen such a horrible sight in my life. Their heads were shaven. The men looked like walking skeletons. Filled with horror, I ran inside to my mother, but she was busy. There was a friendly man named Valfrid who used to tell the ladies in the post office dirty stories. I told him what I had seen. He looked out the window and said, “Don’t be afraid. These are nice people. They are prisoners of war who have escaped from the labor camps in Norway.” ... Since my mother was of Jewish origin, a fact I did not know at that time, she had two rucksacks packed for me and my brother. She said, “If the Germans come, you are to go up to Harald in the deep forest. He is my cousin. He will take care of you.” Many years afterwards, I realized why … On my birthday, June 6, 1944, my mother’s cousin Anders came over with a present. “We have three things to celebrate today,” he said. “Your birthday, Swedish National Day, and the Americans have landed in France: the war will soon be over.”


Brent said...

Hi Sven -

Thank you for the wonderful retelling of your childhood memories. My dad would often tell stories about growing up during WWII. They used to have drills when they had to turn all the lights off in the town where he grew up, even though he lived in Kansas. If the Germans got there, we would have been in SERIOUS trouble.

Take care and keep blogging.

Brent Harding
Sterling, Virginia

Zuleme said...

You should come up here and visit with my in laws, Evert was born in the north of Sweden and recounts stories of working in the forests. He is 80. My mother in law is Finnish and remembers the family farm in Carelia that the Russians took.
There's a guest suite upstairs, you're welcome anytime. It would be quite a fest.
Zuleme in North Conway NH