…On April 6, 1945, as American troops approached Bad Neustadt, Radio London instructed civilians to avoid railroad stations because they would be bombed. The Siemens factory was next to the tracks so the frantic slave workers sought shelter nearer the village. In her oral history, my mother commented:

“…[we] were not allowed to go into the shelter because it was only for the Germans, which was idiotic. Across the river were already American troops. Some people had the perception that things were changing. Others had none, as is usually the case.

The Liberation—the most idiotic thing that I did before Liberation was that I stayed in factory.”

Initially I was surprised that my mother chastised herself for not heeding Radio London’s warning. But actually, self-blame was in character; when it came to keeping a step ahead, anticipating, and strategizing, she was a perfectionist. After bombs struck and killed several workers, my mother and some friends ran from the factory across the bridge over the Franconia Saale River to Bad Neuhaus. Then they clambered up the hill to the castle. I checked the map of the village and searched for photos of the mount. If you were fleeing from the northwest to save yourself, as they were, it was a steep hike. 

“We were watching the dogfight of two planes,” my mother told her interviewers. 

I imagine the roar of two aircraft swooping and diving murderously, shooting and ducking as they fire at one another. My mother presses herself against the cool gray sandstone of the castle wall. While the planes growl at one another and the pilots ready themselves for another joust, my mother runs for cover under the arch of the main gate. The din of the swarming fighters, a series of shots—and then one plane suddenly pitches and yaws violently. Something is wrong with its wing. Is it the American plane? Or has the Yankee outwitted the Nazi? As one plane tumbles to Earth, the spectators spot the unmistakable iron cross on its wings.

And then the moment my mother had awaited for six years: 

“And then suddenly we looked down, and there were American tanks in Bad Neustadt. We were across the river. Absolutely unbelievable feeling. And German soldiers were fleeing.”

There she stood on that hilltop literally at the precipice of freedom. Did she watch in stunned silence? Did she and her friends cheer and applaud? My mother’s wartime travails, which had begun with warplanes, were ending with them.

Asked to elaborate on her feelings, my mother either could not or would not articulate them. Instead, she continued to detail events, but reaching back almost forty years and revisiting the trauma made her narrative choppy:

“It wasn’t until next day that I was liberated. I still tried to get to the shelter. I couldn’t get in. The bridges were bombed. The Saale River is a very tiny river. And then Americans came.” 

Twice? Twice excluded from the shelter? The petty rigidity and inhumanity of the villagers shocked and galled me….