Author Writes of Her Childhood in a War Zone

By Eric Olson

June 18, 2010 Updated Jun 1, 2008 at 4:55 PM EST

Christel: Already I had learned what it meant when sirens interrupted my world. He scooped me up and carried me to the shelter as the rest of the family zigzagged their way down the street toward us. Then it was only a few stairs down to the supposed safety of the gas proof door.

CHRISTEL BEHNKE GEHLERT GREW UP IN A WORLD FEW AMERICANS WOULD RECOGNIZE. SHE WAS BORN IN HAMBURG GERMANY IN 1941, JUST AS ADOLPH HITLER WAS LAUNCHING THE SECOND WORLD WAR. BY THE TIME CHRESTEL WAS THREE YEARS OLD, ALLIED BOMBING HAD TURNED HAMBURG INTO THIS. THIS IS NEIGHBORHOOD SHE GREW UP IN..

Christel: I remember playing in the ruins of the buildings. And we would balance on the basement walls and have a good time.

CHRISTEL GEHLERT HAS TRAVELED BACK TO THAT WORLD THAT LIVES NOW ONLY IN MEMORY. AND SHE’S WRITTEN THOSE MEMORIES DOWN IN A NEW BOOK, ‘RECOLLECTIONS OF A HAMBURGER-GROWING UP GERMAN, 1941 TO 1962’, A MEMOIR, WITH A HUMOROUS TITLE, THAT TELLS A TRAGIC STORY.

Christel: It tells you what war is like and I think it’s not pretty and I think Americans don’t have a really good idea about what war is really like.

CHRISTEL’S FATHER, A MUSICIAN, AND HER MOTHER FOUGHT TO KEEP THE FAMILY ALIVE, SCROUNGING FOOD, COLLECTING RAGS FOR CLOTHES.

Christel: I think they did a very good job because I came away thinking of my childhood as a very good childhood, although there was that lack of things and we were hungry a lot of the time, and cold.

IN 1962 AT AGE 20 CHRESTEL CAME TO AMERICA, FELL IN LOVE AND MARRIED, WENT TO COLLEGE, HAD A CAREER AND RAISED A FAMILY. BUT MEMORY KEPT CALLING HER BACK, BACK TO THE WAR…BACK TO THOSE RUINS.

I thought about it everyday for all my life and I knew that I had to write this book because I had to put some kind of an end to it you know. I’m hoping that this book will lend a voice to the children of war because we hear less about them than all the other things that go on where a war is on. So I’m thinking about the children in Iraq right now…because they are over there probably scrounging around for food and running from bombs. It’s a very timely book.

UNFORTUNATELY CHRISTEL GEHLERT’S MEMOIR IS LIKELY TO REMAIN TIMELY, FOR A VERY LONG TIME. ERIC OLSON OUT IN YOUR COUNTRY.




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