My First Memory

Marktkirche Essen, 1945

My first memory is of going into a bomb shelter.  It was down some dirty stairs, there were a lot of people, there was a dog (a shepherd), it was noisy.  I mainly remember the atmosphere: dark, cavernous, dusty, loud; and the dog, who seemed very big.  This memory is probably a composite of many such trips; according to my mother’s memoirs, air raids were an almost daily occurrence.

This could have been in Essen, where I was born, or in Berlin, where my mother went to visit her mother.  My mother told me that during one air raid in Berlin, she ran down the middle of the street holding me in her arms, with houses burning and collapsing on both sides of the street.  I have no memory of fires or of bomb impacts.  I did have a fear reaction as a boy to the droning sound of big propeller airplanes overhead.

My mother told me that I was baptized in the Marktkirche (Market Church) in Essen, see photo above; it was already damaged by Allied bombing.  Later in the war, Allied bombing completely destroyed the church.  In this instance, the bombers did the city a favor.  During the 1930s, church authorities had put the church up for sale due to declining enrollment, and the city government wanted to tear it down.

Efforts to rebuild the church began in 1950, but it took more than half a century to raise the money.  The Marktkirche reopened its doors in 2006.  See the church’s website.  When I visited Essen in 2009, the Marktkirche was an architectural ornament in the city’s renovated pedestrians-only downtown.

Essen was a Krupp company town.  My father’s father worked in the Krupp offices in Essen.  Shortly after my father was killed (in July 1941) my mother was assigned to work in the Krupp Co. Historical Department (Archives), located in a residential building squeezed between the Krupp factories.  As my mother recounts in her memoirs, she was able to take me with her to work there, and I spent many of my earliest days in the little garden behind the building.  The other women who worked there helped take care of me.  Some photographs of that situation have survived.

Baptized in the Market Church, coddled in the Krupp Archives … what a beginning!

Here are the baby pictures that my mother was able to save.

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