When Kerstin Lieff was going through her German/American mother’s effects, following her death, she came upon an extraordinary collection of letters, written by her mother during the final days of World War II when, as a 19-year-old, she was working as a nurse in the besieged city of Berlin. They were love letters, addressed to a young soldier at the front. Filled with the young woman’s longing and hope in the face of disaster, the poignant letters were never mailed, because the postal service was no longer functioning, and she had no idea by then where her lover was, or whether he was still alive. Margarete’s beautiful letters form a coda to a book that provides an unusual picture of coming of age in wartime Germany and in the terrible aftermath of the war.
Drawing on hundreds of hours of taped interviews with her mother, Kerstin Lieff has recreated Margarete’s story from her childhood and her child’s eye view of the rise and fall of the Reich through the family’s increasingly desperate circumstances as the war’s end neared. In the final days, as the Russians moved toward Berlin, there were terrible rumors and fears. With the war’s end, Margarete and her mother found themselves on a train, which they believed was headed for freedom, but, instead, after a long, grueling journey, took them into the heart of Russia, and, finally to a Gulag, where they were to spend two horrible years before finally returning to a Berlin which was no longer home to them.
A vivid recreation of a largely untold side of the war story.