Sybille - part 2
May 23, 2008

Posted by BDM Historian

Continuation of the youth book "Sybille and Her Soldier" by Wolfgang Federau, published in 1940. Click here to start with Chapter One.

Chapter Two
Geraniums in the air raid shelter and the old Romans

Since the first months of the war, Sybille had undergone a kind of change, the causes of which she did not quite understand. Until then, she had been, overall, a girl just like all of her school friends, who was sometimes lazy and sometimes industrious, sometimes erratic when it came to doing her duties and tasks, but overall very likable, with many friends, and always up to something. The war, however, had grabbed the attention of even the most carefree and shallow of people, it had left nobody entirely untouched, and one knew of the seriousness of these times, or at least guessed them, and one knew about the size and difficulty of the decisions to be made. That meant, of course, that one became more serious, more pensive.

But for Sybille, war time had its own face. She somehow felt removed from the experiences of others. After all, every one of her best friends - Inge and Ursula, Hanni and Rita - they all had someone who was very close to them at the front. An older brother for one, a father for the other. Ursel, for example - her father had been part of the Poland campaign, then marched into Denmark with his batallion, and had finally ended up somewhere in the far north of Norway. And Ursel had told her, not very long ago, how they had celebrated his birthday, her and her mother - it had been a strange but memorable celebration; not sad, because there was no reason to be sad - he was still alive and well, and he would've liked to see them. But in some way more solemn and nicer than this day had ever been in the so-called time of peace. Each child had purchased or made a little item for the father, and now everything had been assembled on the birthday table. They had coffee with poppy cakes, Ursel's father's favorite, which was not quite as good as in peacetime and which was missing some of the usual ingredients due to rationing, but still tasted amazing. Yes, the strange thing was that it had tasted better than its predecessors in peacetime. Then they had packed all the small presents; had to make several field post packets so they did not exceed the weight restrictions, and then Ursel's mother had sat down on the piano and played father's favorite piece, and everyone sang.

"And suddenly," Ursel had said, "It was just like father was there, just like he was in among us and like at any time he'd put his hand on my head, as he likes to do when he's proud of me. Well, and maybe you're going to laugh at me and think I'm crazy, but it really was like that: our daddy who's hundreds, or thousands, or more miles away - I don't know how far Drontheim is from here, I always only got a D in geography with Miss Klaassen! Very far, anyway, and I suddenly had the feeling we'd never been as close than at that moment."

None of the girls had laughed or made a stupid comment, they all had started to feel quite strange, especially when Ursel turned around so they wouldn't see that her eyes were starting to tear up. But as far as she, Sybille, went, she was actually quite jealous of Ursel's experience.

That, and a lot of other things, were going through Sybille's head now. And about a girl from her class who'd come to school with swollen red eyes and a chalk-white face one morning, in a black-and-white striped, dark dress. After first period, she'd been sent back home by the teacher, and the rumor had quickly spread that her brother Axel, a pilot, had been killed in action. Everyone had known him and really hated him, because he'd always been very stuck up and treated them badly if they happened to meet - as if they were little children, stupid little brats and not young ladies who should be treated accordingly. But now he was dead, and all that was forgotten. What was remembered was that picture of a young, dapper Lieutenant with a fresh, tanned face, whom they would never again see walking in the streets of his hometown, who was now buried in foreign soil, the bloody forehead covered by the laurel wreath of the victor. That was how Sybille and the others imagined it, anyway, and when the sister of the casualty came back to school the next day, they all tried their best to bring her a little bit of joy. She was grateful and even smiled a bit, and everyone naturally left her alone during breaks between lessons at first, to give her room and to watch her from shyly, like a person who was carrying a heavy burden.

Sybille didn't have anyone "out there" who was this close to her. Her father had been dead for a long time, and her brother Peter was nothing more than "a little boy with a big mouth", as she called him when he'd really gotten under her skin and she was seriously annoyed with him.

But now everything started to look differently. Now she could join the conversation. She didn't have to talk about a second or third cousin anymore, standing on guard duty out there in a soldier's uniform. Pah - a cousin didn't interest anyone, especially not with a cousin you barely knew and had only seen once, maybe twice.

Now everything had changed for the better. Sybille had a letter, a real field post letter, and she would certainly get many others. She let her friend Hanni take the envelope, but jealously made sure she got it back. And Carola, the fat, short Carola, the one who kept managing to get fatter and fatter every month even with the rationing that affected everyone, she even got to listen to the first sentence of the letter - just the first sentence, but that was already quite an honor. Everything happened under a veil of secrecy, of course, but Sybille did not get annoyed or upset when she found out that soon half her class knew about the letter. On the contrary - it made her feel more important when someone now told her, "My father things that he can probably come home on leave for a couple of days," or "My brother was promoted to private first class last week", then Sybille could interject with definite casualness: "My soldier wrote in his last letter..."

The soldier Ludwig Zelter, whom she'd never met, had become her very personal property. He was her soldier, he belonged to her like the others' fathers or brothers belonged to them. And she didn't feel the least bit guilty when she talked about "his most recent letter". Of course, she'd only gotten one letter from her soldier, but until she got another, this one was the "most recent" letter, even if the others assumed by the term that she had been receiving letters for a long time - after all, good God, it wasn't Sybille's fault if someone thought that!

She wanted to write back immediately, tonight, too. Even though he'd written that all the soldiers on the West Wall had learned the art of waiting over the winter, he would likely be very excited, Sybille thought, if he wasn't forced to wait for a long time when it came to his mail, too.

But she didn't quite manage to turn her intent into an actual action, though. First she dawdled about after dinner, did this and that, and lots of unimportant things, and when she finally sat in front of the desk and looked onto the white sheet of paper and started pensively chewing on her fountain pen - after all, a long letter from her soldier required a well thought-out and equally long reply - the alarm went off. And with the alarm, you had to run to the basement. Already in the hallway she could hear the sound of the flak and somewhere, very far away, the barking of a machine gun.

"The Tommies gave us an extra-long break this time," Sybille said matter-of-factly as they hasted down the stairs.

"But they're making up for it by getting here early," said Peter. "They want to catch up to what they've been missing. Good thing we didn't move yet, at least we won't have to move twice now."

But strangely enough - no matter how fast the three hurried (they prided themselves on getting down to the air raid shelter quickly and efficiently) - it was always the same: the elderly, spindly Miss Schuemmel was already down there, the first one. To the other residents, she was very much like the hedgehog from the fairy tale, who was racing the hare. No matter how fast they ran to the basement - even Peter with his young legs who jumped the last few steps or, to his mother's horror since everything was so dark with the black out lighting, slid down the banister - any time they got to the basement, Miss Schuemmel was already there and yelled quite triumphantly like the wife of the hedgehog: "I'm already here."

This was one of those miracles nobody could find a clear explanation for. Miss Schuemmel happened to live at the very top, in the fourth story of the building, where she had a tiny attic apartment; she was somewhere between 60 and 70 years old and ordinarily not at all fast on her feet. And she even had a lot to do on her way down: she always came down with a gigantic aluminum cook pot, which she was wearing on her head like a steel helmet - "because of the shrapnel", she proudly explained to Sybille who had been pressing her for the meaning of the pot - and she never forgot to bring her bank account book, which she pressed to herself like it was the most important thing in the world. She never forgot the little flower pot with a tiny, sicky geranium, which she always placed on the table in front of herself and stared at as if she'd been hypnotized. This geranium would never be just left behind in her apartment, that was out of the question. "This little pot," she said importantly, "That can save all our lives." She held up a little magazine, a little almanac with the important title "A Thousand Tips", and she had read in it that the leaves of a geranium will turn yellow if there is any poison gas around, and therefore, she relied on her flower pot. "You might as well bring an African hemp or cyclamen, or any other kind of flower," grumpy old Doctor Eisele, who lived below her, had told her. "They'd do just the same. No plant is immune to poison gas, you don't need a geranium." He was an engineer and chemist and worked in an important factory, so he had to know. But Miss Schuemmel had only looked at him condescendingly and contemptuously through her overly large spectacles who made her look rather owl-like, and had stuck to her geranium ...

So Miss Schuemmel was there, as always, with her cooking pot and her flower pot - it was the kind of miracle you didn't wonder about. There was just no explanation - well, there had to be an explanation, but only the building super and the air raid warden knew, but both of them had quite a good time keeping the secret and being amused at everyone else's puzzlement. This Miss Schuemmel, after all, served the great purpose of being a wonderful role model for everyone else by always making it down there so quickly. But that she actually went down into the basement every evening right after dinner, without any good reason, and then didn't leave until two or three o'clock in the morning, well nobody needed to know that....

This unexpected "disturbance of the peace by night", as Peter called the English bombers, had taken Sybille's opportunity to do as much as start her letter. But to make up for it, she sat down directly after school the next day, and this time, her pen just flew across the paper. After all, she had enough subject matter to write about. First, she had to thank her soldier for the wonderful long letter, and then she could tell him about last night, and about Miss Schuemmel, and so on. "When she was sitting across from me, on the other side of the table,"Sybille wrote, "I had to think about you. And I;m sure that you don't look quite as ridiculous underneath your steel helmet, dear Ludwig, like this Miss Schuemmel underneath her cook pot. No, that's something entirely different - the soldiers with their steel helmets all look like medieval heroes, and of course they are heroes, and it would be quite nice if you always, even after the war, could continue to wear your steel helmets. But in the long term, that's probably very uncomfortable and nobody can really ask that of you, right? How you actually look is something I would like to know. As far as I'm concerned, I'm including a picture for you - I'm interested to hear what you think about it. I still have long braids, but I don't like them at all, because the boys always tug on them when we're playing, and so many people act all thrilled and always say, "What nice braids that girl has!" I don't like that at all, and I've been bothering my mom to let me cut my hair. But she doesn't want me to quite yet, and so I'll have to wait. Well, it's no big deal, I'll talk her into it eventually. Besides, it's an older picture of me, it's from January and now it's almost May. I look a lot different by now. Do you have a picture of yourself? I'd like one!"

Sybille re-read what she had written. No, the letter wasn't quite long enough yet - her soldier, there in the West, probably had plenty of time to read, so he would most likely be happy if the letter was longer, and she decided it would be best to write about school. Something always happened at school, and maybe he would like to read about that.

"In Latin," Sybille continued, "In Latin I got an F today. The first F I've ever gotten, you have to believe. But I wasn't at all sad about it, really. I don't like Latin and it's an elective at my school, and I only took it because my mom wanted me to. I don't know why. It's a horrible language, and not good for anything. The old Romans who spoke it are all dead now, and the Romans now aren't Romans at all, but Italians, and that's a completely different language. Italian, that would probably be more fun for me, because if I ever got the chance to talk to the children of our allies - that would be great. And anyway, Italian probably doesn't have as many exceptions as Latin grammar which I will never, never, never understand. We have Latin class with a Professor Mueller, who is a very old gentleman who was called back to teaching because of the teacher shortage. Mother said, even my dear deceased dad had Latin class with Professor Mueller, and that's exactly what he looks like. He is very strange, and we have been giving him quite a hard time. One of them, I'll have to tell you about. You know, our classroom is on the ground floor, and outside, along the wall, there's a wide ledge on which you can comfortably stand. And one time, we all arranged to climb out of the windows and stand on the ledge, and bend down so we couldn't be seen from the classroom. Then the Professor came in, and when he saw that his classroom was empty, he made a really funny face - he looked really confused, and immediately ran back out. We had expected this, and climbed right back into the room through the window and sat down real quiet and proper at our desks. Then, a short time later, the Professor came back along with the headmaster, and when he saw as all sitting there, he made an even funnier face. He turned really red and embarrassed. And the headmaster didn't know what to do, but of course he had to ask us, and he asked Ella Holz, "What is going on here?" Ella Holz is the best student in class, she's very ambitious. But you shouldn't think that we don't have any esprit-de-corps when it's important, nobody excludes herself, and nobody tells on the others. Not even the Holz would do that - nobody would ever even look at her again if she did. So she stood up and she said: "I don't know, headmaster - the professor walked into the room a couple of minutes ago, and we were all sitting down just like this, and he looked at us real wild as if he couldn't see us at all, and ran outside."

"Good. Sit down," the headmaster said. And then he left, but when he was at the door he whispered to the professor, and some of the class claim they heard him say that it would be best of the professor went to see a proper doctor, after all, he was already quite old and maybe he wasn't quite up to the tasks and challenges he had volunteered for. What do you think about that? Isn't that really funny?"

Phew ... now it had turned out to be a very long letter. And it was about time to close. But just as Sybille had added her best wishes and signed her name underneath it all, she remembered something else.

"PS," she added, "You know, Ludwig, I have to add something. I don't want you to judge us wrongly. In all honestly, we didn't really feel comfortable with this trick at all. At first, we thought it was very funny. But then we saw the professor's face and how upset he looked, and we felt sorry for him. Of course, he probably guessed what was going on, but he didn't say anything, and that was really decent of him, wasn't it? We won't ever forget that. But apart from that: Latin is a horrible language - but that's not really the professor's fault. Again, yours; Sybille."


Sybille - part 1
May 22, 2008

Posted by BDM Historian

My translation of the Suse Harms book "Summer Days in Heidersdorf" went over well with readers, so I have decided to translate the text of another period book for everyone's reading enjoyment. This time around, I'm translating Wolfgang Federau's book, "Sybille and her Soldier", which was published in 1940. The original book features illustrations by Willy Widmann.

Chapter One
A Letter - just for Sybille

It was sheer luck; a rare coincidence; it was even an unbelievable, magical, lucky coincidence, thought Sybille who was trying her hardest to find a word that would properly sum up the occasion. An occasion that could have happened yesterday or tomorrow or any time, maybe not at all, but which was happening now, at such a lucky time. This morning, which Sybille had off from school and when her mother had just left home to go shopping which, now that ration cards had to be used, always took a lot of time since they had to be presented and cut out.

Sybille would have gladly done this task for her mother, of course. She had even offered to go, though not without some effort since she was in the middle of a really good book Hanni had loaned her. But her mother had just smiled and thanked her. "Very nice of you, my girl," she'd said, "but you should enjoy your unexpected holiday." And then she'd left, and Sybille had returned to her room, partially thankful and partially with a guilty conscience. Who knows: if she had been more insistent or more sincere in her offer, her mother may have well taken her up on it.

But now she was glad she'd stayed home, because shortly thereafter, the door bell had been rung and the mail carrier had stood in front of her door, digging laboriously in his big leather bag with the large flap and said: "I've got a letter for Miss Sybille Beise. I'm at the right place, aren't I?"

"Yes," Sybille had answered and turned red from excitement and embarrassment, and at the same time she had gotten quite annoyed with herself for turning red. But then she took comfort in the fact that it was rather dark in the hallway and that the letter carrier couldn't see that she'd turned read or that her hands were shaking when she took the letter. "Thank you," she breathed and quietly closed the door. And that moment, the door handle still in one hand, and the letter, a real field post letter, in the other, she would never forget.

Unfortunately, it really stayed just a moment. When she turned, Peter, her brother, stood next to her. "What's going on?" he asked intrusively with his usual curiosity and inquisitiveness.

"Well," Sybille said with fake indifference, "Just the mail."

"For mom?" Peter wanted to know. It seemed like an unnecessary question to him - after all, out of the three, who besides mom got any mail in the first place? Only mom always wrote letters, here and there, to all sorts of relatives they knew, didn't know, or had never met, and to the brother of daddy, their dear, wonderful daddy who'd been dead for so long and whom they couldn't think of without feeling sad. "You have to stick together; you have to nurture the relationship with family and with the extended family," was mother's opinion, and that family was the basis of the whole state and the whole people. Peter always nodded earnestly, even though he only half understood this wisdom, be. But his mother was happy because he was listening and agreeing, and he liked to make her happy, especially if it was so easy and didn't require any sacrifices on his part. But internally, he disagreed, especially if he thought of aunt Natalie whom nobody liked because she was strange and had a spiteful tongue, and uncle Herbert who always complained and never brought any presents for the children when he came to visit, but instead complained about everything and treated mother as if she were a little girl and didn't know what she needed to do or how she should behave.

Anyway: "For Mom?" Peter asked a second time, because, even though he wasn't interested in the answer which couldn't be anything other than yes anyway, he didn't want Sybille to think that she could just walk off without answering.

"No, it's for me." Sybille answered haughtily and threw her head back so that her two auburn braids flew back. The hour of triumph had come. Like a queen, like Brunhild, she walked - no, she strode (Queens stride, walking is for lowly humans) past Peter to her room.

Peter was no sailor, he had an interest in flying and had been working on his second large glider model for weeks. Regardless, no matter how much Sybille was bragging, it couldn't shock him. "Importance!" he said snottily and put into the word all the contempt a boy is obligated to feel toward a girl, even if that girl happens to be a good four years older than him. After all, she's still just a girl.

Sybille pretended she didn't hear him. She disappeared, before Peter could add anything more spiteful, and he annoyedly stomped off into the brook cupboard which, with mother's permission, had become his workshop. This was his own realm where he could be safe and where nobody, not Sybille and of course not mother either, would dare disturb him. This was where he could pursue his ideas and plans - if there was no hammering or gluing going on, there always was a special reason. For example, he couldn't get over a sad experience he'd had during the last field exercise. They had excluded him from all patrols and told him to stay well hidden in a depression in the sand. When he'd finally come up with the courage to complain about this treatment, he'd been told: "Patrols? You? Completely out of the question. Your hair is so bright, they can see you coming from 300 meters in the dark. You'd give us away!"

So that had been the reason, and now Peter was puttering about fervently in his little realm. He had clipped a few strands of his white-blond hair which were now lying neatly in small glass saucers and he tried to treat them with watercolors and even ink to turn them black, or brown like Sybille's braids, or at the very least dark blond. Unfortunately, his labors didn't seem to be getting anywhere, and especially the lock of hair he'd treated with black ink looked, honestly, rather disgusting. But the other colors proved equally unsuitable, particularly since the color washed out as soon as it touched water, and the hair turned back to white. He struggled with his fate of being excluded during maneuvers and having been cursed with a sister who'd been given such nice brown hair and didn't even need it, while he was walking around with white-blond hair and had to put up with being called Whitehead even by the troop leader.

Meanwhile, Sybille sat in her room in the white, comfortable wicker chair, held the now opened letter in her hand and suddenly started to feel strange. A soldier was writing to her, one she had never met in person, one named Ludwig Zelter. She'd never heard the name before and spoke it quietly. "Ludwig," she whispered and thought it was a nice and nicely sounding name. He wrote to Miss Sybille Beise, and that was her. She was fourteen years old and a student in the fifth grade of the Girls' Secondary School - the Obertertia, as it used to be called - and the teachers already addressed her and the other students as "Miss". And a teacher she knew from elementary school and whom she'd recently met on the street had greeted her very politely as if she was a right lady. This soldier, however, he wrote plainly and simply. "Dear Sybille," he wrote. And he didn't call her "Miss" or anything, and she wasn't upset about it, she even thought it was quite nice - so warm, so comradely, and this would allow her to respond the same way. It was almost as if this soldier wasn't so far away, so many hundreds or thousands of miles from her hometown.

"Dear Sybille," he wrote. "I received the care package that you and your fellow students have sent to me, and shortly thereafter I've also gotten the other one, the book and chocolate you sent me yourself. I was very happy to get both, and I wrote a letter of thanks to your class, but now I want to write you separately. You said in your letter that you would like to send a soldier, any soldier, a little something every now and again, a little greeting from home which, after all, is his home as well. Your letter did me especially well because it just so happens that it's very much like you hoped: the one who got your letter is someone who's not getting mail from anyone else. My parents are both dead and, unfortunately, I have no siblings. So it's nice to know that there's someone far away back home who's thinking of me - even if that someone is a fourteen year old girl which, by my calculations, you would be, and therefore still a half or whole child. But wait, I have to correct myself: I'm not really alone because I'm a soldier, and as such, I'm a part of an Army that is marching to defend and protect its people and Fatherland. And that means I'm not alone after all, because all soldiers have comrades and comrades are people whom fate has forged into a strange kind of community, because if something good happens to one, the other is happy as well; if one is wounded, the other's heart feels for him. Comrades laugh together, and they work together, and they fight together, and maybe they even die together. And sometimes I think, even though I don't have any siblings, we're much closer than any two blood brothers can be. They know me so well, in every detail, that they can guess my every move, my every thought before I can do or think them. And so, in a sense, I'm not alone at all. There's a little circle of others who, previously, all lived their own personal lives, and now we're one and we belong together, and that makes even the most difficult times easy.

I don't know if you can even understand this at such a young age, dear Sybille. If not, then your mother - I'm sure you have a good, concerned, loving mother - then she can probably explain it to you much better than I could ever try to. But I think that probably won't be necessary. In this time in which we live, where once again the future of our people is in the balance, in this time the boys and girls grow up sooner than those in previous decades. And even a fourteen year old girl will understand, if not with her mind, then at least with her heart, what I'm getting at and am trying to express so awkwardly.

You wrote that I should tell you about myself and about life out here. Well, there's not a whole lot to tell. We're somewhere in the West and are doing our duty. You'll probably say - or at least think - that isn't a whole lot. But it's a lot more and a lot more difficult than you can probably imagine. Waiting is always harder than doing, than acting, and when you've been doing it for seven, eight months, since getting sent here from Poland, then that's a whole lot. It's a difficult ordeal that can tire even the best over time. But that's exactly what we cannot become: tired, and so we always have to do something, even if there's not really anything to do or when we're off duty. Because then we always have to work on ourselves to make sure we don't become complacent. So that we can wait until we're called upon and sent where we're needed.

Now, Sybille, you might want to know where I'm at, where we're stationed, my comrades and I. You probably think it would be nice to see the town on a map. And I have to disappoint you again. Because with such a question, the soldier has another important duty besides being able to wait, and that's being able to keep quiet. Chattiness about military matters has done too much damage in times of war and peace already, and therefore it is good when you've learned and know that keeping quiet isn't just a soldier's virtue, but a holy duty. Somewhere in the West is where I'm stationed, one among many, and that has to be good enough. I'm sure it's good enough, because you're Sybille Beise. You're the girl who sent the soldier Ludwig Zelter a nice letter and brought him great joy. For which he is now thanking you again and particularly heartily."

Sybille had first read over the letter hastily, and then she'd read it sentence by sentence, and then, the third time, she had almost spelled it out, word for word. Now she almost knew it by heart. There she sat, on her little chair; it was cool in her room, which faced north and which even in summer rarely received any sun, but she wasn't cold. She was very warm and very content. And even proud. Yes, very proud. Because this letter was the very first letter she had ever gotten in her young life. The notes that she and her friends exchanged underneath the desks at school didn't count. And besides that, she only occasionally received a greeting card from an aunt or another relative, from their summer vacation, from the beach or the Alps, or in particularly fancy cases, maybe from Italy. A letter, particularly such a wonderful letter that you couldn't forget, that you read like a chapter from a very good and sad and serious and nice book, such a letter she'd never gotten before.

"And it's just for myself," Sybille thought, and was happy to own something that was just hers, her personal property. She wouldn't tell anyone about it, and she would keep the letter with her. It would be best, probably, if she made a special kind of pocket for it. She was very good with such small work and sometimes, she even thought to turn this talent into a profession, maybe an artist or something. She didn't quite know what being an artist would entail, but she did know it was something special and was sure that she would like it. And anyway: she'd reply to the letter right away, today or immediately, since it took so long until the letter would reach its destination. This one had taken eight days, so it would take fourteen days until she could be excited to get the next letter, and so on. There would be many, many letters, and it would probably be worth making a special pocket for them.

While Sybille still thought about this, she head the door close - that could only be mother. Sybille jumped up, ran out of the room like a tornado, and her face was glowing so much, her mother asked surprised, "Na - child? Sybille? What's going on?"

"Oh, nothing," Sybille replied and suddenly acted as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred, as if nothing in the world had changed. And only when she noticed that Peter had stuck his head out of the broom cupboard, pulling an angry face - apparently, his experimentation into dying her couldn't bring a proper result and he'd have to put up with laying in another depression in the sand during the next maneuvers, never getting a special duty, never getting promoted - well, only when Sybille noticed her brother was sticking his head out the door and really listening in to find out about the letter, only then she whispered to her mother, "You know, mom, I just got a letter."

"A letter?" Mrs. Beise wondered. That was indeed unusual and had never happened before. "From whom?" she asked, now curious herself.

"From Zelter," Sybille replied triumphantly. "Ludwig Zelter, of course." She looked at her mother expectantly.

Zelter? Zelter? Mrs. Beise thought intently. She couldn't think of anyone by that name, and she looked completely puzzled and even a bit funny how she was trying so hard to figure out who it was. Sybille would've loved to laugh, so funny did her mother's face look at that moment. But her laughter turned to indignation at the fact that her mother, her dear mom who normally knew her so well, couldn't figure it out now that it was so important.

"That's the soldier I wrote to," she said upset. "I told you, back when my class sent the care package, and that I afterward sent another, separate package, just myself."

"Oh, that ... of course!" Mrs. Beise breathed a sigh of relief. Back then, she'd thought it was rather nice of Sybille. And now the awaited answer had arrived - how nice. But the mother was rather surprised that the girl was so excited about this.

"Don't be mad, mom," Sybille said quietly when Mrs. Beise held her hand out for hte letter, which the girl was waiving like a victory flag. "But the letter was meant just for me, and ..."

"Alright, alright - of course," Mrs. Beise lowered her hand. She was a little sad: her Sybille, her daughter ... they always had shared their thoughts, hopes, plans, and opinions. Her daughter's soul had been laying open like a book before the mother, since she was a girl and so different from Peter, who had willful at an early age and who was going his on path. And now, now she started having secrets from the mother. Did that start so early? Mrs. Beise tried to think back to her youth, but she couldn't remember how it had been back then.

She smiled a little - Sybille shouldn't see that she was upset. "You're right, child," she said. "It is your letter, after all." And she turned toward the kitchen to start preparing lunch.

Sybille followed her. She should really help a bit, and even wanted to at first. But then she sat down at on the bench. She took the letter out and read it for the fourth time.

"You know, mom," she said after awhile, a bit reluctant and unsure. "I ... well... would you like to hear some of the letter? There's something in it for you. But only if you'd like to listen."

"Of course, child, I'd love to," Mrs. Beise encouraged her daughter. And the smile that now came to her lips was a different one, expectant and much more optimistic.

Sybille read slowly and with proper pauses the section that talked about comradeship where the soldier Ludwig Zelter had mentioned Sybille's mother.

When she finished, a silence settled, which was finally interrupted by Sybille's question: "So, what do you think about what Ludwig wrote?"

Ludwig she said, of course. The name rolled from her lips without a pause. It was as if she had spoken it every day for many years, it seemed so familiar.

"I think that's quite nice," Mrs. Beise said. "He understands his duty very well and has risen up to meet it. He seems to be a very good person, your ... your soldier."

"I could read another bit," Sybille said and sighed happily. "For example the one where he talks about having to wait. That's kind of nice, too. Only if you have the time and want to listen, though."

Yes, Mrs. Beise hat time, and she wanted to listen, she didn't let there be any questions about that. She was a real mother, and real mothers, no matter how much there is to do and to worry and to work on, they always have time for their children and their small and big worries and needs and joys. Always - even if that means getting their own tasks done late at night.

Sybille read on, the last bit of the letter. And when she reached the end, she thought that the picture her mother was getting of the soldier Ludwig Zelter would be incomplete if she didn't read the beginning of the letter as well.

"So," she finally said with a sigh of relief, "That was all of it. And he has such a ... such distiguished handwriting" - the difficult word gave her problems, but now that she had pronounced it, she was very proud of herself and felt that she needed to repeat it - "very distinguished handwriting, really, you'll see yourself, Mom." And she handed the letter to her mother, the letter she'd gotten and that was just for herself, that nobody else was supposed to read or handle, like she'd sworn to herself. She didn't sit closer, either, when Mrs. Beise took the letter, read it from beginning to end, studied it, and properly praised it. Only when that had happened, when the mother had said a lot of nice and even cordial words about the soldier, only then was Sybille happy.

"Now I'll really help," Sybille said and attacked the vegetables with ardent zeal. Because, if the day had given her something good and unexpected, it was only right if she now did everything to prove worthy of such a present.

(to be continued)


Recipe #1

Recipe #1

Posted by BDM Historian

My collection includes a Dr. Oetker's recipe booklet, which was printed in the early 1930's and includes many nice recipes that can be easily duplicated today - particularly since most of the Dr. Oetker products listed in the recipes are still easily available, even in the American market.

I'll list some of the recipes in translation (and with translated units of measure) on this page for everyone's cooking pleasure - and don't forget, you can take these recipes to re-enactments since they're authentic for the 1930's/1940's time period!

You will notice that period recipes can be quite vague in terms of baking instructions - instead of giving duration and temperature, they often give you something along the lines of "bake on medium heat" or "bake for about 40 minutes". Some degree of experimentation is recommended and necessary when working with these recipes.

Recipe #1
Quality Apple Cake


3.2 oz butter
2 eggs
1/2 box Dr. Oetker's Bundt Cake Mix
3 tbsp milk
spritz of lemon juice
1/2 liquor glass of rum
sliced apples
1 oz almonds


Whip melted butter and slowly add the eggs, Bundt Cake Mix, milk, lemon juice, and rum. Smooth the finished dough into your greased cake pan and layer sliced apples on top. Top with a pinch of sugar and almond slivers. Bake on medium heat.


One Girl's View
May 16, 2008

Posted by BDM Historian

One thing that I commonly see among living historians is that they set up their uniforms and equipment exactly how it is shown in the manuals of the time period they portray, rather than by reference to a large variety of pictures.

What people often don't realize is that manuals, especially military manuals, are often a rough outline of how things should be done, which is quite frequently completely ignored by individual units (units may also have their own way of doing things) and by individual soldiers.

Let's take a recent example: setting up your Army LBE (load bearing equipment). There is a manual which tells us how to do this: what goes where, how to put it together, what should be on the LBE. However, the LBE is hardly ever set up by the manual. Soldiers move the items around where they're most comfortable. Things are taped down with 100mph tape or tied down with parachute cord. No manual tells you how to do these things - soldiers tell each other how it's done or how their unit does them.

Things are no different when we talk about the League of German Girls. Just because some activity or requirement is on paper in one of the League's manuals or publications, does not necessarily mean that they were actually done. The recollections below, which were submitted to this site by Ken Cashion of Luddite Publishers, are an example of this. My sincere thanks go to him for letting me use his text on my site.

A Berlin Girl and The BDM

In the production of my book, "Berlin Girl - Her Story 1929 - 1952", I interviewed a woman name Helga who had lived in Germany then. Most of her story is in the book, but there is some information that is not significant enough to be in the book, yet should be recorded to help fill in details of her life.

In particular, is her relationship with and experiences in the "Bund Deutscher Mädel," League of German Girls, (BDM).

I had a copy of the BDM membership requirements and code of conduct and Helga and I sat with these and we discussed each requirement. She has a good memory and remembers many dates. I am confident that she was telling me all she knew of the situation.

I was surprised with how little she was involved in BDM requirements. After talking with her more, I learned that the BDM was a very individualistic organization. There were not only regional differences, but even differences in the individual leader's interest and the leader's group activities.

As I said, the following questions and answers are not in the book, but are relevant to her experiences just the same.

For the full information on her life during this period, one would need to read "Berlin Girl." The book is available from Luddite Publishers at

Ken: "Helga, the Jungmaedel League in the Hitler Youth (JM) was for girls ages 10 to 14. Is this when you joined?"

Helga: "Yes, I was was 1939."

Ken: "The League of German Girls in the Hitler Youth (BDM) was for girls ages 14 to 17. Were you a member then?"

Helga: "Yes. This was a natural occurrence at that age."

Ken: "Was there any ceremony when you passed from JM to BDM?"

Helga: "No."

When she was 14, in November 1943, she was living in Caputh, southwest of Berlin and Potsdam. The war had progressed to the point that many of the requirements were being ignored, as were ceremonies.

Ken: "What about the requirements of the Jungmaedel Challenge?"

I went through each requirement - 60 meter run in 14 seconds; long jump of 2 meters; ball throw of 12 meters; 2 forward rolls and getting up without use of the hands; 2 backward rolls; jumping through swinging rope; participation in a one-day trip, etc.

Ken: "Did you do any of these things?"

Helga: "None. I do not remember any of the girls I knew doing these. Though, I remember some girls had some trips. But I cannot say for sure that they were BDM-related or perhaps school or church related."

Ken: "What about membership fees, financial aid, or insurance?"

Helga: "I assume that I paid my dues or I wouldn't have been a member. I don't remember how much they were, and I remember nothing about financial aid or any kind of insurance."

Ken: "Jungmaedel service includes: once weekly a 2 hour social evening and a 2 hour sports afternoon, participation in one trip each month, participation in camping trips, and that sort ... Did you do any of these?"

Helga: "We had no routine weekly meetings. We met only when there was some special purpose or activity to be planned. In these cases, the attendance was considered mandatory. As I said before, I was involved in no trips or routine sports activities."

Ken: "Did you participate in Jungmaedel role call?"

Helga: "No."

Ken: "Did you participate in parent conferences and membership drives?"

Helga: "No."

Ken: "What about participation in festivals and their preparations?"

Helga: "Yes. These activities were formal and we were prepared for these. It depended on what the overall BDM was doing. We were just told what our part was to be."

Ken: "And participation in rallies?"

Helga: "Yes. If there was any formal gathering in our area, we were expected to be there looking our best... and we did... and we were."

Ken: "What about collecting for the Nationalsozialistische Volkswohlfahrt (NSV), [national welfare program]?"

Helga: "Yes. This was an active part of BDM and I participated in these collections.

Ken: "The conditions and methods for greeting and saluting are spelled out in the BDM procedures. The correct greeting is always, "Heil Hitler" with the stretched-out arm at eye level. How often do you remember doing this?"

Helga: "Only at a proper function with some dignitary. It was a formal show. We never saluted each other and not even our BDM group leader. Our meetings occurred when there was something to discuss. We were busy with school and school work and didn't have the time others might have, or think we should have had. We were simply too busy to make the BDM some sort of club.

Her group leader had a lot of responsibility at home.

Ken: "You were also to greet your acquaintances, relatives, teachers, and recipients of the Mother's Cross with the German Greeting. Did you do this?"

Helga: "Never."

Ken: "Additionally, you were to meet leaders of the various party leaders with the German Greeting. Also, every BDM girl and Jungmaedel. Do you remember doing any of this?"

Helga: "Yes, but again, only in the case of formal gatherings. We never did that in the streets or even at BDM meetings."

Ken: "And what about the German Greeting at the presentation of flags, singing or playing of the National Anthem or the Horst-Wessel-Song. Do you remember doing any of this?"

Helga: "Yes. We did those things then but again, only at formal gatherings. We didn't do it at our meetings."

Ken: "There were many behavioral policies about what you should and should not do. One such was that you were not to hang around restaurants and bars after 8 p.m. and you were not to be out after 9 unless on official business. Do you recall this?"

Helga: "These were enforced by male Hitler Youth but didn't apply to me because I had a strict mom who kept a careful eye on me."

Ken: "And you were not to go to amusement parks in uniform. Do you recall this?"

Helga: "Yes, but we only wore the uniform for formal or BDM business so this was not an issue. I was generally doing my school work and most of the other girls were, as well."

Ken: "And you are not to hitch rides on a trip?"

Helga: "I remember that, but it was a non-issue because we didn't take trips."

She volunteered one restriction that was left off the list.

Helga: "We were forbidden from watching movies rated 18 or older."

She remembers this because she was in such a movie when a male Hitler Youth member put a flashlight in her face. She was known in Caputh and she was only 14. She was escorted from the theater.

Of historical interest: she did not have BDM-issued shoes and had never seen a BDM Berchetesgarden jacket until I showed her a photograph of one. Her blouses did not have buttons along the waist, nor did her skirts have button holes.

She remembers the diamond-shaped, red/white Hitler Youth pins and patches, but the only patch she wore was the triangular shoulder patch on which was her province (Brandenburg).

She never had a backpack or any other "required" uniform issues. She had no hats, pins, or flags, and no cuff titles.


Overdyed Kletterjacke

Posted by BDM Historian

I know I haven't written in my notebook in some time. On one hand, this was due to the fact that I've been busy with things outside of this website, and on the other hand, I've just not had a whole lot to write about. Hopefully I'll be able to add entries more frequently in the future.

Today, I have an interesting piece to show you that was sent to me by one of our readers in Europe. He purchased a jacket at auction that "looks like a BDM Kletterweste" but is dark blue, and wanted me to take a look at it. I think the pictures will be very interesting to readers and collectors, and he's graciously agreed to let me show them in my notebook.

When I first saw the photos he sent me, I noticed two things right away: first, that it was absolutely the cut and style of a BDM Kletterweste; and second, that it has replacement buttons which appeared to be an odd color - like they had been dyed blue. I asked him whether he could do a closer inspection of the jacket to see whether it was possible that it had been dyed, maybe for civilian use after the war, and the detail photos he's sent me definitely support that guess.

Clicking any of the photos will get you the full version.

Inside lining with pocket.

Replacement buttons.

When the seams are pulled apart, the original tan color can be seen.