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Last week, Still Hopes’ resident Rosemary Smith gave an encore presentation of her lecture “Growing up in Nazi Germany.” Joined by her family from the surrounding Carolinas, she invited us into a time in her life characterized by deep and complex feelings she still grapples with today. 


Rosemary was born an only child in the German colony of Lüderitz in South-West Africa (in present-day Namibia) in 1931. It was just a few short years before her parents chose to return to Germany where they settled in the city of Karlsruhe. At the time, Hitler was the newly-elected Chancellor of post WW1 Germany, and she will echo what many historians today will remind us about his rise – he was very well liked. Her countrymen were proud of his commitment to rebuilding Germany and bringing them out of the economic hardships brought on by WW1 reparations. Like most children in Germany, her schooling consisted of what she now knows was German propaganda furthering his agenda to expand the Third Reich. Early stages of war were largely ignored by her family, friends, and neighbors – and the atrocities of the camps were unknown by the common citizen. In fact, German propaganda was so effective at the time, they never believed their little town would fall into harm’s way. Victory was certain.


But soon, the war turned and made its way to Karlsruhe’s doorstep. Rosemary was 11 when the bombings began. She often didn’t sleep – she was too concerned with her ability to hear a siren’s warning or the whistle of a falling bomb. The basement became a shelter where her mother would lie on top of her for protection, praying the building above wouldn’t collapse in on them. Teary eyed, she recalled the night her neighbor’s apartment was struck, falling into the basement beside theirs separated by paper thin walls. The little girl next store made it into their shelter, her mother did not.


The war raged and Rosemary will admit, her anger towards allied forces grew. By this point in the war, food was rationed to the point where you were always hungry. Concern for the fate of the war grew. Karlsruhe was eventually decimated after the bomb attacks on Dec. 4th, 1944. She and her family fled to the countryside to wait out the war. The informational hold Hitler had on the general public was still so strong, when the first images of the camps surfaced in Germany, many thought they were a lie. “Yankee Propaganda” her neighbor called it. It took many years for Germans to come to terms with the truth of Hitler’s actions. Rosemary eventually moved back into a rebuilding Karlsruhe. As a young teenager she tried to acclimate to a life after war, but carried with her all of her feelings of fear and rage. She swore she would always hate the people who destroyed her city and her country. She would always hate Americans… and then she met her husband.


Rosemary met her later-Husband, John Smith, at what would resemble a networking party when she was 16 years old. John was in the Armed Forces at the time. Rosemary would fall in love with John and move to the United States and started their family in Raleigh, NC. John left the armed forces, which disappointed Rosemary a little – she was so fond of John in uniform. They raised two beautiful children and built a wonderful life together. Rosemary’s story is an important one because it serves as a beacon of hope for the world. Rosemary can vividly remember the fear invoked by her childhood “enemies.” She can recall the horror and despair her city drowned in as the bombings increased and the rations lessened. But, she still fell in love. In the wake of great and unwavering hate, love found her, and she chose love. It’s a lesson to us all. Today we all might feel the weight of events plaguing our fellow man. However, when the world seems consumed with negativity and strife, remember love is a force like no other.