Thursday 4 August 2011


Photo courtesy Stephie Lierzer Pichler

This is not a view from my kitchen window, you say? Well, I am forced to agree with you. Still, it IS a view and not a bad one either I think. Furthermore, a window IS involved, a window into the past, as well as into my soul.

In the picture, I am standing on the lofty ridge of Gleinalpe, the majestic divide between Upper and Lower Styria. You of course are well aware that Styria is one of the oldest Duchies in Austria. What on earth was I doing there, when instead I should be shooting nice pictures of Hammarby Sound for your benefit?

Yesterday was the last day of a prolonged hiking trip that had, 7 days earlier, started in Neudau, which lies in the Lafnitz Valley on the old border to Hungary. After days of steady trudging, drenched in drizzles and scorched by intermittent sunbursts, laboring uphills and downhills and treading treacherous mountain paths on steep declines, I was met, on the morning of this final day, by two nice ladies - Stephie, my godmother's daughter, and her friend Ingrid - who carried me in congenial triumph across the ultimate rises and on to the expedition's destination, Knittelfeld.

I trust you agree with me that a man, when reaching his 65 years or more, has to gain a perspective of his existence or, if you prefer, start writing the Chapter "Summing UP and Conclusions" in his great book of life. This preoccupies my mind a lot lately, following some forceful signals from way down in my subconscious.You may recall that last year was spent reminiscing the most dynamic and challenging years of my youth (Déjà vu - down memory lane in California). This year, already, I made a nostalgic journey to the Canaries, to relive a period of distress and its resolution later in life (A felicitous isle for a troubled soul). With the seven days of labour just accomplished, I went FAR BACK in time for once, re-experiencing a corresponding expedition in the very early days of my existence, more than 65 years hence.

My mother Maria Ems on her wedding day in early 1944, together with my godmother Steffi Lierzer

I was born in December 1944, in the last trembling days of the greatest European war of our times. Our village, Neudau, was still spared and my mother lived alone in our bakery, with my father on the front, somewhere in Bulgaria, she believed. But the clouds were darkening over the idyllic Lafnitz Valley. The German Army had built a last line of defense along the hills just across the river, the "Südostwall", hoping to stem, at long last, the hitherto irresistible onslaught of the Red Army masses. But in early spring of 1945, the night horizon towards the East took on a vermillion shade, the Earth started shaking and noise like of thundering cannons was keeping the trembling inhabitants of our humble hamlet in a permanent stage of fright and despair. Soon desolate remains of the German defense came stumbling down the hills and across the river and it became evident that the end was near.

My parents Maria and Emil Leopold Ems, as betrothed

In the stage of extreme fright and chaos that followed, my mother had no choice but to grab a few belongings in a bag, put me on her back and follow the lead of other fugitives westward over the foothills of Lower Styria. The first stage of her flight took her to Gleisdorf, the hometown of her parents (Johann and Leopoldine Resch) which was not yet invaded by the Russian forces. There was hope that the town would be spared the terrors of direct warfare, since German capitulation appeared imminent. And, indeed, armistice was declared on 7 May and we all started to feel relieved. On 8 May, the Red Army entered the city, seemingly orderly. But the calm proved false. After some shootings by fanatical German soldiers, who had remained hidden in the church tower, the Red commander declared the town free for plunder and bloodletting during two days.

How we all (barely) survived this terrible ordeal will have to be told another time. Suffice it to say that my mother felt obliged to flee again from the occupiers' threats and this time aimed at reaching Knittelfeld, in the mountains of Upper Styria, hoping to escape the red danger once and for all. Before the war, my grandfather had been stationed at the post office there and my mother's dearest childhood friend Steffi (also my godmother) was still living there on her parents' farm. After a hardy and dangerous hike across the mountains, Maria finally reached her destination, just to find that the Russians had arrived ahead of her, having taken a more comfortable route along the river Mur.

My mother and godmother as teenagers in Knittelfeld

Fortunately, the Soviets' bloodlust had abated some at that stage, so we managed to recuperate on Steffi's parents' farm. Soon after, in July that year, the Allieds reached an occupation agreement that left it to the Britains to occupy Styria, and the Russian troups had to withdraw back behind the river Lafnitz. About a month later, my father suddenly appeared at the farm, to the great relief of everyone, including myself I have to assume, and brought us back home to Neudau, where both parents lived out their days in an again peaceful Lafnitz Valley, taking care to forget the troubles of the past.

Now back to the present: Upon arriving in Knittelfeld, I had hoped to meet yet again, and have a long talk, with my godmother, who is the only one, but me, still alive to tell the tale. Surely, I presumed, she would be able to render the events of those days alive again and to complement my scarce bits of knowledge with her own memories. But this was not to be. At her advanced age, illness is getting the better of her and she has to spend, bravely, her remaining energy just to stay alive. But at least, we were able to see each other once again and to experience some precious moments of togetherness.

I am dedicating this post to two courageous women, always humble and nonpretentious, but always ready to live up to what it takes, even in times of extreme danger; in short, a shining example for us all.


HC said...

Dear Emil,

Many thanks for sharing with us this very personal account of your own history and that of your parents. It helps us elderly people, who had the privilege to be born and grow up in a country which was not in war, to understand and remind ourselves of the horrors inflicted on others in our part of the world at that time. As you know, Isolde had at the age of three some similar experiences from her family's escape from what was to become West-Poland.

Hans Christian

drabherb said...

Hello Emil,

thank you for being always a very close friend to our family and in particular to my grandmother. She was and still is filled with pride and happiness every time she talks about you, your dad and especially about your mother Maria(Mitzerl).
I was blessed to be able to listen to the story as a very young kid and I will be proud to tell that part of your and also our family history to my future kids.

Thank you for sharing this story. Take care till we see us again.

Sincerely, Herbert

Klaus Bröning said...

Lieber Emil
Danke Dir für Deinen neuen Blog. Ich hatte mich schon immer gefragt, wie DeineEltern wohl früher ausgesehen haben mögen.

Leider sind die Taten der sowjetischen Soldaten in Deiner Heimat keinEinzelfall. So oder ähnlich sah es auch in vielen Städten im deutschen Osten und in Berlin aus, die von der Roten Armee besetzt wurden. Frau Kohl - die Ehefrau unseres Altbundeskanzlers wurde von den marodierenden russischen Soldaten vergewaltigt, einer meiner Onkel wurde erschossen, als er seine Frau vor diesem Unglück beschützen wollte. Frau Kohl ist offenbar nie daüber hinweggekommen und hat sich irgendwann das Leben genommen. Der Verlust der Heimat und das laufende Umziehen bis etwa 1953 hat mich auch nicht unberührt gelassen.

Ich fühle mich heute irgendwie entwurzelt und nirgends zugehörig. Genau ähnliche Pläne wie Du hatte ich auch schon im vorigen Jahr -
an alte Orte zu fahren, die ich seit meiner frühen Kindheit nicht mehr gesehen habe. Das wäre die Gegend nördlich von Berlin, da wir etwa 1948 dorthin umzogen - in einer Zeit, in der meine kindliche Erinnerung begann. Nur leider habe ich das noch nicht in die Tat umgesetzt und hebe es mir für später auf.

Nobuko Fujimoto said...

Thank you for this post from your Kitchen Window.
You look wonderful at the mountain I hope you had a
good time during the trip.

Lillian Howan said...


Stephie Lierzer said...

Habe mit großem Interesse deinen Bericht gelesen. Bin total begeistert. Es ehrt mich sehr, dass ich dich auf deiner Erinnerungsreise begleiten durfte. Ich hoffe du bist wieder gut zu Hause eingetroffen und wünsche dir alles Gute. Freue mich auf ein Wiedersehen.

Liebe Grüsse Steffi

Per Magnus Wijkman said...

Dear Emil,
You have established yourself as a master story-teller! But this is a story of a different kind - difficult to write and difficult to read. Thank you for writing it. The unexamined life is not worth living!

Ingrid Damm said...

Hallo Emil,
Vielen Dank für diese wirklich berührende Geschichte. Ich kam ja 4 Jahre später auf die Welt und mußte das alles nicht mitmachen. Aber meine Eltern haben viel Schreckliches erlebt. Die Großeltern väterlichseits haben in der Mitte der Bahnstrasse gelebt,die ja total zerbombt wurde und als mein Vater verletzt wurde (ist mit dem Flieger abgestürzt) war alles weg, das Zuhause, die Eltern, eine wahrlich schreckliche Zeit.

Auch die Wanderung mit dir und Steffi war sehr interessant, besonders Dein ausführlicher "Geschichtsunterricht" unterwegs. Wir hatten ja viel Zeit zu plaudern. Es freut mich daß ich Dich durch Familie Liezer kennenlernen durfte.

Eva said...

Hi Emil,
Thanks a lot for letting me share your personal history. It was most interesting to read about your and your parents' background. It must have been almost unreal to go down this historic memory lane and experience so much from your own childhood and youth. At this stage of our lives it seems important to many of us to "sum up" and think about the past! Not everybody has a life as interesting as yours!

Renate Ems-Winter said...

Hallo Emil,
Danke für die schönen Bilder und die mitreißende Geschichte Deiner Familie. Meinen höchsten Respekt für diese Wanderung, und vorallem auch für die Beweggründe dieser Erfahrung!

Ganz liebe Grüße aus Scheifling
Renate und Familie

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this Emil


Emil Ems said...

Dear All,
Thank you kindly for your supportive and encouraging words. It proved indeed difficult to prepare this post; but I had felt the urge to bestow life eternal on those two courageous ladies, if only in the Universe of Internet.
Yours affectionately

Anonymous said...

Lieber Emil,

Danke, dass Du auch mich - bis auf weiteres als "Anonymous" - in Deinen interessanten Blog aufgenommen hast, nachdem wir uns unlängst(?) zufällig im Brüssel-Flieger getroffen hatten. Deine Kindheits-Schilderungen erinnern mich frappant an das Schreckliche und Unglaubliche was mir meine Eltern erzählt und selbst auch erlebt haben, und was ich - dank der "Gnade der späten Geburt" - zum Glück nicht mehr selbst miterleben musste. Habe mir aufgrund Deines bewundernswerten Beispiels vorgenommen, in meiner (schon absehbaren!) Pension nach dem "Kommissionsleben" auch einen solchen Blog - halt auf einem ganz anderen, sprich total bescheidenen, Niveau - zu machen. Werde Deinen Berichten weiterhin mit großem Interesse folgen!

Liebe Grüsse und alles Gute von Brüssel nach Schweden,
Gerhard Frauerwieser

Anonymous said...

Hallo Emil,
beste Grüße nach Stockholm und vielen Dank für Deine interessanten Schilderungen in diesem, aber auch in allen anderen, Blogs von Dir. Ich hatte dieses Blog schon einmal gelesen und da wir beide ja die gleichen Wurzeln haben bin ich emotional davon wiedermal sehr berührt, umso mehr da ich Ähnliches mitmachen musste und mir Deine Eltern in meinem Volksschulalter sehr vertraut waren. Die Flucht meiner Mutter mit mir als Baby ist mir im Detail nicht so genau bekannt, aber sie endete im oberen Murtal auf einem Bauernhof.
Herzliche Grüße aus Leonding bei Linz nach Hammarby Sjöstad,