When I think of how unlikely it was for my dad—born in Stettin, Germany (now Szczecin, Poland)—to get together with my mom—born in Oakland, CA—and parent four of us, it’s pretty sobering.
Having heard many stories in my life of him scrounging food post WWII in order to survive, I asked him to write up a few paragraphs.
I was 5 years old in 1943, living with my grandparents in Wriezen, Germany. Potatoes where a big part of the daily diet. My grandparents had a rather large piece of property where they grew all of our vegetables and fruit: apples, cherries, grapes (which were mostly used for making wine), and berries. The main crop: potatoes. We also had laying hens for some animal protein & fat.
The thing that most profoundly sticks in my mind in terms of food is…potatoes, a lot of potatoes, at least during most of WWII. Later, toward the end of the war and after, food was so scarce that even potatoes weren’t very available. By then, I was 7 years old and was able to forage the fields and woods for anything that was edible. My grandmother—who lived to the ripe old age of 96—taught me what was good and what to avoid. I ate a lot of weeds made into sort of a spinach soup, flavored with bones and other stuff my grandmother scavenged from trash cans.
When we got back to my grandparents’ home after having been evacuated for the last few months of the war to a suburb of Berlin (Kleinmachnow), food became a little more available, and the main sustenance again was potatoes with a little salt added, and sometimes some margarine. Occasionally there was some meat gravy and a little meat to go with the potatoes, which was a real treat. Lunch usually was a sandwich of homemade bread & homemade jam.
In Nov, 1947, I was finally reunited with my parents and siblings in Tellingstedt. I had only happened to be visiting my grandparents in 1943 at a point where the war became so intense I was unable to get back. After the war ended in 1945, it took my mother almost three years of red tape to get me back.
I was a couple months short of 10 years old. Due to the diet of mostly potatoes but far too few of them, I was very malnourished. I was a skinny runt, but otherwise healthy. So in the summer of 1948, off I went to a North Sea coastal resort to gain some weight. I remember fish was plentiful and also meat and vegetables and fruit, but always lots of potatoes. I fattened up a bit by the time I got back home to resume my diet of mostly potatoes and bread—but meat and fish had became more plentiful. Still, often, the main meal of the day was potatoes, salt, and margarine or schmaltz.
And the fact is, I still love eating potatoes.
As far as living out the first years of the post-war period in the Russian controlled East, all I can say is that all of what I remember of their treatment is bad. What little food we had from the garden and fruit trees, they just helped themselves to whenever they wanted. They were mean and nasty to kids like me, even shooting at me just to scare the hell out of me. They didn’t help with the huge food shortage.
In 1952, the entire family of two parents and seven children were fortunate enough to be sponsored for immigration to the US. They left out of Bremerhaven on the USNS General M. L. Hersey (T-AP-148), passed through Ellis Island and bussed it across the country to Reno, Nevada, where my dad & mom met in high school and where I and my three brothers were born.