On the 12th of December 1903 – exactly 111 years ago – my grandfather was born: Theodor Franz Maria Hespers. To me, my grandpa is a myth. A hero. And someone who has been and will continue to be a profound influence in my life. He died on the 9th of September 1943 in Berlin Plötzensee – he was killed by the Nazis.
You remind me of women in the 70s – or, more precisely, of what I imagine women in the 70s to have been like. When a friend of mine wrote these lines to me a couple of days ago, he unknowingly spelled out what I have been thinking for years. Both of us probably don’t have a clue what women in the 70s were really like. But, not for the first time in my life, I asked myself: Who am I, really? What am I doing in this time? I am young on the outside, but my values and general attitude could belong to someone at least 20 years older.
Whenever I am asked about my family, I like to say: my father is one year older than my grandma and two years younger than my grandpa. This reply is usually followed by confused frowns and awkward silence. But it’s true: My father is 83 years old. He experienced the war. That doesn’t just mean he was alive when Germany was ruled by the Nazis. He really experienced the war. He grew up in a time, in circumstances that we can’t even begin to imagine. And even though my father is the same age as my grandparents, they played different parts in my life: He was the one in charge of my upbringing.
Even though I grew up with stories from the war, they confuse me just as much as any other person born long after the end of the war: I still find it hard to imagine how anyone could have possibly survived it. Fear, flight, resistance, hunger and misery. My father’s stories were comparable to blockbuster movies about World War II: They were touching, gripping, frightening – but felt far away and long ago, somewhere in the past.
Until recently, they were just stories. At times, I’d even be the first one to say: I’ve had enough; I don’t want to hear it anymore. But the older I got, the more I felt connected to these stories. I’ve begun to understand that we shouldn’t take for granted what we have, right here, and right now. The peace we have been living in is incredibly fragile. It could go back to how it was before in no time, if we don’t pay attention. And, for many people, war isn’t in the past at all: It is very present in their everyday lives.
In this blog I would like to share the stories. It was especially the story of my grandfather, which started it all for me, but also the story of my father and, consequently, my own. It is a story that covers 111 years until today. I’m happy about every person who’d like to accompany on this path. To be honest, I don’t really know yet, where this is going. We will see…