Elsie Thieme was born in Germany and spent her early years in Jena, where she was educated and attended ballet school. She performed in a number of ballet productions in East Germany after the Russian occupation. Elsie was forced to escape to West Germany after a brush with the authorities. She continued to perform in Europe and throughout the Middle East and later travelled in South America and the U.S.A. Because of all her travels Elsie is proficient in many languages. She currently resides on the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia, with her partner Ray.
woke up in the middle of the night as I heard my mother screaming, ‘Come back
to us! Don’t leave us alone.’
got up quickly and went to her room, “Mom, what is it?”
I had the most frightening dream about your father running away from us, with
something like a big cable or wire in his hands, and there was gunfire and
explosions behind him. When is this war going to end?”
“Mom, calm down, you are only worried because we haven’t heard from Dad for a long time now, and there is heavy fighting going on in Russia. Please, Mom, try to go back to sleep.”
little brother Wolfgang woke up, “Elsie, what’s happening?
Do we have to go to the bunker? I
didn’t hear the siren.”
no, Wolfgang. Mom had a bad dream.
Go back to sleep and be quiet, you’ll wake your brother.
We might not have an air attack tonight.”
went back to bed but I couldn’t get back to sleep.
I was really scared for my dad, as there was a big battle in Stalingrad
(Russia) where he was stationed. I remember, when I was little, him picking me
up and dancing around with me, ‘How’s my little ballerina? My little Elsie, you are going to be one of the greatest
dancers one day! You will be the
best ballerina in Germany.’
please come back to us, don’t die so far away.” I was crying now. Getting out of bed, I lit up a candle to make sure no light
was showing through the windows, which were draped with black paper because of
the blackouts, and I started writing my father a letter.
hope this letter will reach you. I
miss you so much. You always gave
me hope and you believed that I could become a good ballerina, but everything
has changed. I don’t have much
time to go to ballet classes anymore. The posters on the walls in our city say,
‘The Fuhrer expects your sacrifice’, so us children sacrifice our time after
school and on holidays. This summer we went to the villages and helped the
farmers bring in the harvest, because most of the men are in the army. Dad, I am very proud to help our fatherland, but Mom thinks I
should do more homework and go more often to ballet classes. Dad, I know you
will agree with me that first we have to win the war. Our Fuhrer will do it if
we all give our help for our fatherland.
hugs and kisses,
there goes the siren again. Get up Wolfgang, Erich, come on; let’s go to the
The enemy planes are near – I can hear them. Mom, are you ready?”
please take your brothers and go without me; I am not feeling well.”
please come or we are all going to stay here and die together.”
bomb must have been dropped nearby, as everything was shaking and the windows
were rattling. Mom jumped up, took Wolfgang in her arms, and grabbed the little
suitcase where we kept all our important papers (birth certificates etc.). I
took my brother Erich’s hand and we all ran down the street to the bunker.
As the war went on – year after year, the air raids got worse, and
there were so many disasters and so much destruction.
4:00 am the next day the siren sounded, letting us know it was safe to leave the
bunker. We went home, thanking God
that we were still alive and that our house hadn’t been destroyed.
* * *
winter was very cold. It was 15° C
below zero. Even our toilet water
froze. We had very little coal and
wood left. We hardly ever had any,
unless my brother and I went into the forest to find some fallen branches.
It was just about impossible, as we had so much snow that year, and all
the wood was wet and damp. I was
feeling desperate; I didn’t know how to help my mother find any more firewood
– but then I heard from the kids in our neighborhood that they knew how to
come by some coal.
take me with you. My mother is sick with a bad cold and we all are freezing in
of the boys asked me, “Can you run fast and keep your mouth shut if someone
asks you where you got the coal from?”
yes. Please, take me with you.
I am a very fast runner. In
school sports I was always the first in running.”
he said, “Go to your house and bring back two big old bags or sacks to carry
your coal in.”
are we going?” I asked.
“Don’t ask any questions, just follow
walking for about an hour we arrived at the train station, and there I saw a
cargo train with many wagons full of black coal that was transported every week
to some factories. Sometimes the
train would not stop, but would pass very slowly through the station.
started to run towards the train, when the leader of our little group caught my
arm and threw me on the ground yelling, “Do you want to get us all into
trouble, you stupid little girl. Don’t you see the stationmaster?”
waited until another train arrived and the stationmaster went to the other side
of the station, and then we all ducked down and started running towards the
wagons with the coal in them. My
heart was pumping so fast! It was the first time that I had stolen anything in
my life and I was really scared, but thoughts of my family freezing kept me
quickly took as much coal as I could fit into my bags, and then I ran away with
the other kids. It was a hard walk
back with the heavy bags, but the thought of the happy smile on my mother’s
face when she saw all this coal kept me going!
I got back, I called out, “Come out, Mom, look what I have.”
I can’t,” she said. “I am in bed.
think I have a fever.”
felt my mother’s forehead. “Mom, you are burning up.” I became very
worried as at that time in the war we couldn’t find a doctor to call at our
house, and if we took her to hospital on the tram in the freezing cold, she
surely would die.
go to the Vogels down the road and ask Herr Vogel if he would come and see me.
He is a male nurse.”
ran down to his home and started pounding on the door. “Please, open the
Vogel opened the door. “What is it, Elsie?” she said.
Vogel, is your husband home?”
he just got home from the hospital.”
was feeling a little relieved now. “Could you please ask him if he would come
to our house to see my mother? She
is very sick.”
I will come,” he said from inside.
he arrived, he told me to take my brothers and go into the other room.
We all huddled together, waiting.
about half an hour, he came to us and said, “Listen, children, your mother is
very ill. If I am right, she has
pneumonia. I have given her some
medicine for now, and tomorrow I will bring some more from the hospital, but you
will have to do the rest Elsie. I
know that your ration cards for food are not much, but you will have to give
most of it to your mother. She
needs plenty of milk and butter to make it through the illness.
She is already pretty weak. I
guess she has been giving you children most of the food.
I’ll be back tomorrow after work.
My wife will come over in the morning to see how your mother is doing.
Also, Elsie, change and wet the towel that I have put on your mother’s
forehead every five minutes until she falls asleep.”
he left, I wet the towel again and put it on Mom’s forehead as he had asked.
“How are you feeling, Mom?”
very tired,” she said. “I guess the medicine is making me tired, but I have
to get up and make you children some dinner.”
I said, “if you want to be well again you will have to do as I tell you.
Don’t worry about us; I will take care of my brothers.
You just relax and try to go to sleep.”
next day Frau Vogel came over and told us to go to school, as she would sit with
our mother for the day.
my way to class I had an idea. I
knew that, on the farm where I helped to bring in the harvest in the summer
time, they always had more food than us city folks.
So, after asking for permission to leave school early, I took off for the
farm. When I arrived I was asked to
come in to dry myself by the fire.
tell me,” said the lady, “what brings you here in this bad weather?”
told her the story about my mother’s illness and how she needed more food to
came all this way to help your mother,” she exclaimed.
“Well, let me see what I can do to help you. I think this will help you out.”
She gave me butter, milk, ham and bread. Then she told me that on her next trip into town she would
bring us some more food.
hugged her and thanked her, and left for home.
It would take me at least two hours because of the snow. In summertime it was easier, as I could ride my bicycle.
soon as I got home, Mom and my brothers were curious as to my whereabouts.
where in God’s name have you been?” Mom asked.
I showed her all my bags of food.
dear God! Did you steal all that food?” she asked.
Mom, I went to the farm and a kind lady gave it to me.
Now, you must relax and I will cook you a nice meal.”
with the help of our neighbors the Vogels, and that wonderful lady from the
farm, our mother gradually became stronger.
that she was getting better, I could start going back to my dancing classes
again. Christmas was close, and every year around that time our ballet school
would perform a play for children. This
year they were playing the fairytale, Hansel
and Gretel, by the brothers Grimm, and I hoped to be in the play.
next day at ballet school the teacher was selecting the dancers. We were all lined up. After
the leading parts of the older girls were selected, she said, “Now, I need
four girls to play the angels.”
held my breath, and prayed that she would choose me.
I heard her calling out the names, which she had already picked out
beforehand. Suddenly, I felt a girl
push me, “Can’t you hear?” she whispered.
Elsie Thieme,” the teacher was calling out. “You will be the fourth
was so happy and excited! It would
be my first chance to dance in front of an audience.
next day we started rehearsals. We four angels danced beautifully around Hansel
and Gretel while they were sleeping in the forest. I worked hard during our
rehearsals, so that I would be perfect and the teacher would give me an extra
solo in the dance. It was like a
dream come true.
was feeling better, and she was in the audience with my brothers for the
performance. I had only one wish
left – that the war would end soon so that my dad could come home.
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