My mother grew up in Munich, Germany and the stories she told of World War II trumped anything my Dad had to say about his time as the Captain of a U.S. Navy Ship.
When Germany lost the war my 24-year old mother and her military employer, a family friend, suddenly found themselves in northern Germany with no purpose and no way to get home to the south. The rail lines were bombed out, the currency had collapsed, and food was scarce. My mother and her boss found a strange little three-wheeled car and when it ran out of gas and there was no more to be had, they picked up a horse.
I have photos of my mom smiling in that car, and of the German captain atop the horse. How they could seem so OK while traveling hundreds of miles under difficult circumstances to get home is an odd juxtaposition.
When mom arrived home to Munich, little of what she had left was still there. Much of that beautiful Bavarian city lay destroyed by allied bombs, with the architecture of her youth in piles of bricks, glass and mortar.
And that was the lighter toll. With so many soldiers sacrificed, two-thirds of the population of Germany after the War were women. They would be the ones called upon to literally rebuild their country.
Mom told me how she reported to work in the city center each day, was handed a crude wooden wheelbarrow, loaded it up with bricks, and walked it in a long parade of other women with loads of bricks to a location a few miles out of town. They dumped the bricks, turned around and did it again for months. And it happened like this in every major German city. Mom never complained that the work was boring or hard. Like the odd trip home by horse, there was a peaceful acceptance in recalling what had to be done.
I thought her story was rather unique until I met a young German woman recently who told me there was a name for the women who did this, and I don’t know if my mom ever knew it because she completely immersed herself in her adopted country of America beginning in 1947. She emigrated before the name trummerfrauen, or Women of the Rubble, was created.
Much has been made of Rosie the Riveter, the fictional American woman who represented so many others who built the planes and tanks in factories while our men fought overseas. But we should also remember the trummerfrauen, Women of the Rubble, of Germany. Domestic victims of Hitler's War, they did not invite conflict but they got one, right in their neighborhoods.
I would guess in many countries there are names for the women who saw a tough, physically demanding problem and worked it. If you know any, I'd love to hear from you.
Happy Mother's Day to women of strength everywhere.