Today, my grandmother would have been 90 years old. I was reminded today that when she was my age, about to turn 30, she had spent 12 years waiting for her fiance, my granddad, to return from Russia. Their love story is so beautiful, so immense, so unimaginable in today’s non-committal world that I think it is worth sharing with you.
Starting from the end with a funny anecdote: In order to sustain through the Russian-German negotiations in Moscow, by then fairly aged chancellor Konrad Adenauer kept sipping table spoons of pure olive oil. Negotiations in 1955 involved more than a glass of wine for dinner and he knew that he would have to show endurance. Adenauer and his entourage had come to Moscow to initiate diplomatic relations between the Soviet Union and West Germany, under one condition: All imprisoned soldiers (roughly 15.000) had to be released.
One of these 15.000 was my grandfather. After Germany’s unconditional surrender in 1945, he had been captured in the Russian territory, was sentenced to 2 x 25 years working camp in Northern Russia. In 1943, when he had been home last, he had asked his girlfriend Waltraud, my grandmother, to marry her. I do not know why they did not get married right away, but I am pretty sure they had not guessed it would take them 12 years to be reunited.
From 1943 until 1955, she waited. They exchanged letters, heavily censored by the Soviet Authorities. I remember them telling me, giggling at that time, how they had come up with a secret language of exchanging information so that the letters would not be destroyed. From age 18 until she was 30, my grandmother upheld the belief that he would come back, that they would have a life together. I have never asked her this because she passed when I was too young, but her friends must have told her that she was crazy.
It was in the winter of 1955 when my grandmother stood at a train station in Friedland, in the middle of Germany, waiting for several trains, hoping that her fiance would be on one them. She did not know for sure, because their letter exchanges had been controlled heavily. My granddad was indeed on one of the trains, and they reunited. 60 years ago. It must have been such an intense moment for the two of them.
I am the proud owner of the ring my granddad gave to his wife for their 25th anniversary. Every time I look at that ring, there is a warm, all-encompassing feeling inside of me that reassures me of the intensity of love. Although I have told my grandparent’s story to a couple of people, I think I only now realize the sacrifice. The willpower, the perseverance and resilience. And the faith she has had in love.