Tilli’s story will stick with you

The overt story is about a girl who grew up in East Germany during World War II and the country’s subsequent occupation by the Soviet Union, but the underlying story is about the strength of women.

“Tilli’s Story: My Thoughts are Free” by Lorna Collier and Tilli Schulze tells how Schulze drew up on a farm southwest of Berlin, first under the rule of the Nazis and then the Soviets. She escaped to West Germany in 1950 only to languish in a battle of paperwork before emigrating to the United States.

This is a different story about Germany in World War II than has been told in the popular media. It is not about Adolf Hitler, the extermination of the Jews or America’s triumph — it is about an ordinary farm family caught in the crossfire of  politics.

As one might expect from a war-era story, much of the story revolves around soldiers, bombs, war atrocities and fear, but at its heart, Schulze tells how education and her mother’s love gave her hope and ultimately led her to freedom. The story begins and ends with the courage and quiet defiance of her mother in the face of a philandering husband and more than one oppressive government. One strong woman raises a daughter to be another strong woman.

I have met this woman, very briefly, before I even knew she was an author. She is the mother of a close friend of my Beloved’s, and she lives in Belvidere, just 25 miles northwest of Hampshire. She self-published her memoir, and now a movie based on her story by German director and writer Matthias Glasner is in the works, to be released in 2013. Don’t wait for the movie, though; the book can be found on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble bookstores and at mythoughtsarefree.com.

The descriptions in the book are compelling — you won’t take the next orange you eat for granted, for instance. Here’s an excerpt I found interesting, a description of Berlin in 1948:

The bombs that hit Berlin during the war had torn off the sides and backs of the buildings, exposing remnants of offices and apartments, places where people had once lived and worked. I didn’t see a single building that had escaped damage. Some had only one wall standing, while others had been leveled into patches of charred, blackened ground. Next to many of these patches stood neat piles of bricks, like sentinels guarding the ruins.

“What are those piles for?” Helmut asked Paula.

“The rubble women put them there,” she said, as the train clicked and clacked its way through the smoky haze.

“What are rubble women?”

“Almost every woman still alive in Berlin after the war ended became a rubble woman. Right after the war, there were almost no men in the city — they were either dead or being kept prisoner. The women had to clear the streets of the rubble left from the ruined buildings. Many women spent all day cleaning mortar off bricks and stacking them up so they can be used again someday. So the city can be put back together.”

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5 responses to “Tilli’s story will stick with you

  1. Thanks for the recommendation! Another book about this era that I totally LOVE and think you would too is “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society”…one of my all-time faves!!!!!!

  2. Thank you so much for the wonderful review of “Tilli’s Story.” I loved your description: “…at its heart, Schulze tells how education and her mother’s love gave her hope and ultimately led her to freedom. The story begins and ends with the courage and quiet defiance of her mother in the face of a philandering husband and more than one oppressive government. One strong woman raises a daughter to be another strong woman.”

    This is indeed one of the messages we wanted to get out with this book, which is in part an homage to Tilli’s amazing mother, as well as to the value of education and the vital importance of personal freedom.

    If anybody has any questions about the book, please feel free to email me at lorna@mythoughtsarefree.com or message me on Twitter (@lornacollier).

    Also, I agree with Courtney –“The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society” is terrific!

    • minnesotatransplant

      I’m glad you enjoyed my review, but I enjoyed the book much more! Well done! I will add “Guernsey Literary Society” to my list of books to read. Thanks to both of you!

  3. Pingback: Lunch with a memoirist proves encouraging « Monica Lee

  4. Pingback: A reading list for memoirists | Monica Lee

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