Excerpts

DIVIDED LIVES


Ursula Bosselmann's story

Ingrid Wecker The following are two pieces from Ursula Bosselmann's story.

Ursula had two sisters, Gisela and Irmi. Irmi was born with mental and physical defects, and Ursula's mother always feared that Irmi would be killed by the Nazis. Ursula's story still stuns me because of the tragic, but courageous, lives of all the women involved.

Ursula's Jewish grandmother committed suicide before she could be deported; her mother was deported to Theresienstadt concentration camp, and after the war, her sister, Gisela, contracted an incurable disease, and committed suicide. Ursula's grandmother felt she would have a better life in the afterworld, as she had fought and was exhausted in Hitler's world. Indeed, many Jewish and "Mischling" women did not own their own lives, so by taking their life, they reclaimed power over their destiny.

Ursula was an "illegal" dancer during the Third Reich, and later became a theologian. She managed to work in German congregations in other countries for over forty years. Not until recently did she return to Germany and settle down the street from where she used to live; an unconscious decision, she claims, to forgive, just as her studying to be a theologian was to forget.

She spent ten years in psychotherapy with the famous psychiatrist Margarete Mitscherlich after reading her 1967 groundbreaking book, Die Unfähigkeit zu trauern, Grundlagen Kollektiven Verhaltens (1975 translation: The Inability to Mourn: Principles of Collective Behavior) that Mitscherlich co-authored with her husband. The book discusses the "collective rejection of guilt and its psychic consequences for the individual as well as society." It sold more than 100,000 copies in the original edition.

Germans had unresolved conflicts resulting from the collapse of their society. Ursula desired to be healed by this woman, and indeed she was. She had migraines for three decades that finally disappeared.

Ursula appears to be one of the few testifiers who has integrated her split selves.


Excerpt From "Introduction"

What struck me about Hamburg were the cast-over, deep shadows, years before we had to darken the windows in the evening because of plane attacks. In spite of that, I have come back to this city after exactly forty years, for I have my roots here. I love my father city. It is, yes, really the city of my father.

I love the Alster with the white fleet, the many yachts and swans. And the large old houses between Rabenstraße and Eichen Park. And naturally, Jungfernstieg and the Neuen Wall. I love Uhlenhorst, where we lived in the Overbeckstraße, went on Graumannsweg to the school, and were confirmed in St. Gertrud Church. And I add to that Eppendorfer Landstraße where we survived the war and all of the terror, and where my parents' apartment stood until 1985.

In addition, around the corner, not far away from Hamburg, are the Baltic Sea and the North Sea. One sensed the sea wind near us and it was suggested that sometimes you could smell it. I have a special love for the ocean. Already as a small child, I had dug on Timmendorfer beach on the Baltic. Keitum in Sylt became our summer paradise.

Berlin is the city of my mother and, above all, the city of my grandmother. Because it was always the autumn holiday in our youth that we spent at our grandmother's in Berlin, the street names--Wilmersdorf, Charlottenburg, Lietzenburger and Emser Straße, Kufürstendamm, Unter den Linden, Brandenburger Tor, Grünewald, Potsdam--sounded like children's melodies that accompanied the falling green and yellow leaves.

We traveled a last time in peace on Easter to Berlin. That was in 1933. After that the forthcoming events [of Hitler's Reich] crept up on us children like something eerie and unnamable. We were only aware in part, but not in whole, because everybody's parents remained silent as long as possible.


Excerpt From "Isolated"

In October 1936, Gisela and I returned home. One afternoon, our mother got us together for "a meeting." In my memory, it was horribly dark in the living room where we were supposed to sit together. My mother disclosed that she was of Jewish background, that is, "not Aryan."

My mother was baptized. together with her brother at the age of three in January 1898 in the Dutch Reformed Church in Hanau and on March 11, 1910, confirmed in Berlin. My grandmother, Hedwig Moral, was confirmed on February 13, 1903 in Berlin, and had declared her resignation from Judaism and her simultaneous conversion to the religious organization of the Protestant church.

Grandfather Moral was a dissenter but received his "last rites" at his cremation in 1923. However, after Hitler's Nuremberg race laws of 1935, the facts of the case didn't count. It didn't matter whether or not you were baptized or confirmed. Because of the race laws, which had not been explained earlier to us, we could not do an Abitur (college entrance exam), be in the BDM (Nazi girl's group), or in the "work service," and could also not take up any kind of profession that required a state exit exam. She didn't say that we also were forbidden to marry.

My mother told me many years later that I had cried. It was not common to cry in our house. I believe also that I never again shed tears over it. The shock was too great.

From one minute to the next everything changed: there was no future, no destination, no joy. Suddenly, we were no longer Germans and according to the official state version we were no longer Christian even though Pastor Speckmann just had confirmed us a year ago. And we hadn't the slightest notion about Jewish culture or religion. Hence, we also didn't belong to that side!

Before I knew what was going on, I stood by my mother, but after I knew, I think my relationship with her became more difficult. Perhaps I blamed her for our miserable situation. Of course she was blameless.

For young people today it is hard to imagine that at home we asked no questions. It sufficed that indefinability hung in the air. We especially would have never asked about Hitler's Reich. To probe the feelings of others, especially parents, was taboo. The door to the world slammed brutally shut.

There I stood at eighteen looking into nothingness.

 

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