“You are the granddaughter of a countess,” my father announced as I sat in our living room in Seabrook, Texas.
As a teenager with stringy brown hair and newly removed braces, this statement bolstered my emerging ego. Visions of Princess Diana and the Royal family floated through my thoughts. Little ole me, a princess. I imaged twirling out of the room in a pink ballgown and glass slippers. But the story to follow would prove to be of more importance than my imagined tiara.
“Does that mean I am a princess?”
The Story Unfolds
My father shook his head. “No, not a princess. You are the granddaughter of Count and Countess Von Auenrode.” Shifting his weight on the couch and waving his hand in the air, I awaited the rest of the story.
“Before WW2, your grandfather owned the electric company in Vienna. We lived in a beautiful home, complete with servants. My sister and I even had an Au Pair. Life was good.”
He told me stories of swimming in the lake during the summers and playing with friends before everything changed. On March 12, 1938, Germany invaded Austria in what is called the Flower War as Austrians greeted the German troops by throwing flowers in their path. My father was six-years-old at the time. WW2 would change his life forever.
He had yet to enroll in membership of the Hitler Youth, which became mandatory by March 25, 1939. Though he never told me, by age seven, he would have been enrolled in a group called “Little Fellows” designed for children aged 6 to 10 which activities included hiking and camping. However, my father did recount how the schools changed the official language to High German.
WW2 Hits Home
As a young child, my father only knew the love of family and friends. He grew up in a warm and caring environment with all his needs and desires met. His world changed again when his father marched to the Russian front. I never discovered when he was conscripted to fight. Though, it must have been between the initial date of the attack on June 22, 1941, and the withdrawal of German troops in early 1944.
At some point, the news arrived that my grandfather had taken a bullet to the lung. The military rushed my father to the Russian front to hold my grandfather’s hand as he slipped into eternity. As I write a book about my father’s life, I ponder what he must have endured losing his father in such a traumatic way at such a young age. He would have been between the ages of 9 to 12 years old. However, his life would take another drastic turn.
Thirty-Seven Thousand homes were bombed in Vienna, Austria in WW2. From 1942 to 1944, Soviet and Allied bombers pummeled the city, creating over 3000 bomb craters. The once regal city would be bombed 52 times by the end of the war. One of those bombs had tragic consequences for Countess Von Auenrode.
Faced with my questions, my father told me of a visit to my grandmother in the hospital. She endured burns as the result of a bomb hitting his boyhood home. He sat by her bedside, perhaps pondering when she would come home. After a nurse shooed him out, he left planning to return the next day.
When he returned, he discovered an empty room. Orphaned, the government made him a ward of the state and conscripted him to train in the German Navy. My father told me of his time on the seas aboard a sailing vessel. He hung from frozen riggings and swabbed the decks as frigid seas washed over his bare feet. This time fostered his love for the ocean. Though the waters were icy, and the living conditions snug, the camaraderie was high. He knew little of Hitler’s plans on the mainland.
By the end of the war in 1945, my father was skinny and resourceful at the ripe age of 13. With no family, homeless and starving, he rejoiced when Americans offered him food and shelter. It was the first time he ate Wonder Bread.
His beloved home of Vienna would be occupied for another ten years by American, British, Italian, and Soviet forces. During that time, England approached him to become a spy, gathering intelligence data from the Russians. He kept his spy status a secret for which his life depended on. In the years to come, he would hide in trenches, sever communication wires, and elude capture from his enemies more than once.
The Day The Stories Stopped
These are the stories that dripped from my father’s lips as I grew up. Though technically, I am the granddaughter of Count and Countess Von Auenrode, there is no property and no true claim to royalty. As an adult, I learned my true value is not based on a royal title, historic property, or even a regal family name. Rather, my life is valued in deep relationships, like being a Daddy’s girl. In his eyes, I was a princess.
As my father entered eternity on the Easter of 2019, the stories stopped, but the keys on my laptop did not. Shaping and carving his stories into a cohesive book is now my passion. So, I will keep typing, helping my father’s story sing on blank pages. No tiara needed.
Evelyn Mann, Author of the Historical Fiction (WIP), The Handshake
To follow Evelyn Mann’s journey of writing, The Handshake, go to World War II Historical Fiction page on Facebook: www.facebook.com/mannfiction