Skip to main content

Pieternella (Nelly) 1941-43

The words on the back of the photograph of the young man read:

"In remembrance of my beloved son Gerd. For my little, dear Nelly! From Frau Marie Weers.
Gerd was born 25.3.23, on a Sunday, in the morning at 8 o'clock."


Each day people's lives are changed forever in big ways and small by those whose lives touch theirs.

This is how it was in 1941 when Kaatje (Kitty,) my mother's sister, who was 11 at the time, came home in a state of excitement. She couldn't wait to tell the family about the wonderful new friend she had made. His name was Gerd von Minden; he was 18 and in the Kriegsmarine; the German navy; on a boat docked in the Schie river in Rotterdam. Before long, Kaatje brought him home to meet her family, with his 19 year old friend, Kurt Reske, who was from Prussia

They found a place of friendship, and family, in our family, while they were stationed in Rotterdam from 1941-43. Oma used to wash and starch parts of Kurt’s uniform and he would bring them bread, which he had access to because he was a cook on the ship. Mum was in her 15th year when these boys--for that is what they were--came into her life.

When Mum shared this part of our history with me when I was a teenager, she struggled. But she wanted me to know, and I knew that whatever she was trying to tell me was very hard. I tried to guess what it might be, but my guesses were far off and for many years afterwards I tried hard to reconcile myself to what she told me.

A dark spot of shame grew in my heart, even as I tried to understand. Not shame of her--how could that be? But it wasn't the history I wanted. It was only in recent years that I came to terms with it through writing the story and sharing it--and letting go of judgements I had no right to make.

We see things in black and white and yet real life is not so simple. I don't know what I would have done in their situation. Would I have forbidden my children to speak to the enemy in the streets? But these were boys, more like older brothers than anything. They gave the children chocolate and made friends of them. My uncle, who loved horses, made friends with the soldiers in the cavalry.

In 1943 Gerd was sent to the Adriatic Sea – they never saw him again. He died on the 12th of October 1944. He was 21 by then. The boy who they knew was terrified of dying in the water, drowned when his ship was torpedoed. Kurt’s boat was sunk too, but he survived, although in ill health. He was sent home to Germany with TB. Kaatje too, died in 1942, of blood poisoning. She was only 12.

Kurt, who is in the group photo above, fell in love with Mum. He kissed her only once, and they lost touch when he and Gerd were sent away. In 1944, when Mum was 18, he wrote from Germany, and asked her father for her hand in marriage. Mum never saw the letter, but her father wrote back and said that if he really loved her, he would not ask, because of his illness.

I look into Gerd's eyes in the photo and grieve a life lost so young, an only son. It seems important to tell the small part of his story that I know, here. I'm glad that he found a welcome somewhere, when he would never see his own mother again.

As the war swirled around them all, there were darker shadows yet to come in all of their lives

Nelly's story will continue in two weeks. Next Monday, Christopher's story continues.


Marilyn said…
SO marvelous a tale, I read it twice!
Belinda said…
Marilyn, thank you.
People get caught in the circumstances of their times. I think that stories like this ask us to think more deeply about the people who lived then, the situations they found themselves in and the decisions they made. It is too easy to look at the past without realizing that it was, at one time, present. And in the 'present tense' friendships were simply friendships and kindness just an act of the heart rather than a statement of politics.

Popular posts from this blog

Just Joy!

Our family has a standing date for Sunday dinner on the first Sunday of every month. Not that we don't see each other at any other time, but we all know that particular Sunday is pretty much for sure--and I look forward to it so much--the front door bursting open and our house being filled once more with the voices and vibrancy of six grandchildren and their parents. 

This week Spero, Brenda's new Australian Shepherd puppy came too, and met his extended family, leaving Molson at home to have a rest! He was duly adored by all of us.

He came with a dazzling array of toys and is proving a fast learner, already sitting on command and responding to Tori's training. I was so impressed at her technique of quickly rewarding a turnaround from any slight naughtiness with praise for "good sitting," or "good" any other desirable behaviour! 

Tippy had her hair cut stunningly and bravely short the day before; making a statement about who she is as a unique individual, o…

The Secret Adventures of Susan's Scottish Scarf

By Belinda (with a lot of help from Susan :))
I was saying goodnight to her at the front door this week when she told me. There was apparently more to the scarf around her neck than I knew. 
The scarf had been a gift from me for Susan's birthday on Tuesday December 18th. It had been her 60th; and that day I had treated her to lunch to celebrate. 
We met at a tiny restaurant, Port Soiree, in Schomberg,near her office. It was a restaurant neither of us had been to before and it turned out to be a gem, with artsy ambiance, amazing food, wonderful service and modest pricing. In other words, it was perfect!