A Glimmer of Hope

Ruth Altendorf's third and final column on her experience during the end of the Second World War

Eventually life became more normal again. The theatre in Freiburg rented a chalet in the Black Forest to assemble all the artists still under contract, and so it happened that we lived for awhile in Altglashuetten, a village high up in the mountains. It was a welcome respite after all we had experienced. We were especially glad that my sister who, at age nine, had yet to see the inside of a classroom, had a chance to catch up. In Colmar, the schools were used to house the army and in Konstanz they had no room for displaced children.

Needless to say that we were quite happy experiencing life in a village far removed from the problems of war and its aftermath. But not always was it peaceful there either. One morning we were awakened by French soldiers in full gear and armed going from house to house with the order to stay inside. They were looking for one of the top Nazi leaders who was rumoured to hide out in our area. Armed soldiers were stationed everywhere, especially on several mountain tops, to stop people from escaping. It was a tense day but, when the search was over, life went back to normal again.

Eventually, my brother and I became restless and decided to travel for a day to Freiburg, the city where we had spent the first years of our lives. My father and brother had talked much about the devastation of the city and I wanted to see it with my own eyes.

When I saw the ruins, I was filled with great sadness. If the world looks like this, I thought, who wants to be here? Aimlessly I walked through the ruins until I found myself in front of the cathedral, the center of the city. Seemingly, not much damage had been done to this magnificent building, it looked as if only its windows had been blown out. There it still was, standing amidst the rubble, its tower pointing to the sky like a finger. More and more people gathered there as if they wanted to draw strength from it. Inside a choir started to sing and listening people became transformed.  Perhaps there was hope? Perhaps not all was lost?

Slowly the hopelessness disappeared and, looking at each others’ faces we saw a glimmer of hope!

Final Notes: Sigolsheim was restored again to the way it was before. In a grand gesture there is now a special War Cemetery to honour pilots from both sides. Freiburg, too, has been building to its former glory, with the help of old building plans found among the ruins.

Just a few years ago, however, it was found that the top part of the cathedral tower had suffered far more damage than originally thought and still needs much work to make it safe enough to walk up. When I heard this I thought that this is not unlike what happens to people after such traumatic experiences: some show the damage that was done to them right away, with others it is not so obvious until much later. And then, there are those who think they have forgotten about it all, only to discover that it takes very little to bring it all back again!