Oma Sue's Blog
Hi – I’m Sue Reyzlik. I recently realized my life-long dream of building a writing hut in the backyard. The writing hut serves as a creative space and home office for Oma Publishing. This blog will be intermingled with family history, varied experiences and insights on being a Grandma (Oma), creating my special backyard space, as well as, my “retirement” career as a self-publisher of children’s stories. And perhaps a little bit on the 32 years I served as Executive Director for Keep Fremont Beautiful and the wonderful people who are sharing this adventure.
I have this thing I did when I was working… when I started brainstorming… I would have to get up and start moving around the office while wildly throwing out ideas – well maybe not so much like throwing out ideas as throwing up a rambling heap of word vomit… (Uh - nice visual)
Cathi would watch me as I moved around the room, dutifully taking notes and smiling, sometimes laughing or maybe she was cringing… I flailed my arms and exaggerated my steps, punctuating a thought with a little jump, followed by long strides and sudden stops and silences… When I was reasoning through some part of the job – writing a grant – figuring out an education program – putting together a response to a community complaint… I would go on these theatrical romps.
I didn’t do this all the time… only if I had an audience. Suffice it to say, very few people had the opportunity to witness my thought process antics, as I worked alone for many years – so maybe it was just Randy and Cathi who had the privilege to view me in my full-on animated glory…
Anyway – on Tuesday, I was particularly stressed. My thought processes were backing up on me and I wasn’t sure how to handle all the arguments bouncing around in my head. Sara (my oldest daughter) was coming for the day to continue the spring-cleaning purge – it’s an annual thing that spans many weeks. Tuesday was like day 3 or 4 in this year’s liquidation cycle and the split-second Sara opened the door, all good intentions of spring cleaning escaped the building… and just like that, I launched into what I consider to be a sensible, rather impressive Supreme Court of The United States free-associating rant.
You see… I am upset about the Supreme Court. I am upset at the prospect of Roe Vs. Wade being overthrown. I’m frustrated and I’m angry. And yes, I have been meditating but I think I needed to rant to truly get all those negative thoughts out of my system…
I fully recognize that I am a work in process maybe even a little progress… not totally detached, but aware enough to know that detachment is one of my personal issues that stands between me and calm – maintaining a state of “calm”, maintaining a state of detachment is off somewhere in the distance. I keep heading towards “it” but “it” is aways away!
So back to the rant… Just steps into the kitchen, Sara realized that this was different. Mom (speaking of myself in the third person) was seething. She put down her purse, grabbed her water bottle and sat down at the dining room table… she chose the seat closest to the east windows. It was like she had a premonition that she had to sit there to get the best view of the upcoming spectacle.
The pacing area for the rant was limited by the layout of my house but due to the recent wall removal and remodeling of the kitchen, I was able to move freely from the kitchen, through the dining room, around the living room and back again. The route was replicated numerous times during the rant and my whirling choreography visible to Sara for the entire performance. Good seat Sara!
Honestly, I can’t remember the exact wording of the harangue, but I think we can all be fairly certain it was laced with profanity from beginning to end. In the safety of my own home… I let it all hang out as I stomped, twisted, turned, pounded my fist and shouted out my list of grievances against the politization of the court, the corruption of the court and the overall lack of ethics and oversight of the court.
I explained to Sara what the leaked document contained and how it impacted all women – I explained that I wasn’t concerned for me, at this time in my life, but I was most assuredly concerned for the safety and health of the younger girls and women in our family and our nation – I told her that I was scared and I was angry. I brought up the rage I feel towards McConnell, Trump, Evangelicals, Republicans, Religious Fanatics, and even friends and family who do not support a woman’s right to choose – I was basically totally rat shit pissed at the current state of reproductive rights destruction.
As I was winding down the masterfully delivered and genuinely inspired bombast, I succinctly pronounced to my audience of one… “it is time for me to go to Washington and demonstrate. It is time for me to go get arrested for defending the rights of women.” I paused – waiting for her reaction, nothing… deer in the headlights… When I asked if she was in… she burst into laughter… she wasn’t sure she had time to get arrested in Washington. Fair enough. I sat down, joining her at the dining room table…
Calmer… not calm-calm… but somewhat calmer, I gazed into Sara’s eyes and my mind drifted back to March of 1981 and the emergency room in Omaha. I began to relive those details of that fateful night… how I had almost died when I was seven months pregnant with Evan. I remembered how difficult it was for me – even faced with my own death, to make the decision to end the pregnancy. It was a decision that I made in consultation with my doctor and other health professionals gathered in the examining room. Realizing that this pregnancy was out of my control, I submitted to God and asked him to handle it for me.
I stared off into space as I explained to Sara that if this leaked SCOTUS document becomes the final judgement of the court, then that would mean that women, like me in 1981, facing imminent death, would have no choice… they would not be allowed to end their pregnancy. The decision would no longer be up to her and her doctor. Her and her God. Women would have no right to privacy. Every woman dying from health complications caused by the pregnancy, every woman with internal bleeding and organs shutting down, would be forced to stay pregnant and die.
Again, I looked deeply into Sara’s soul and told her how much I would have missed seeing her grow up. How much I would have missed knowing Evan and seeing him survive and thrive. How fortunate I felt to have endured, and survived that horrible health crisis. I survived, because it was my choice. Me having the right to end that pregnancy had given me and my baby life.
I recalled the moment, when I woke up in the recovery room and learned that the baby was a boy and he had survived. He had come out and pissed all over the doctors and nurses assembled to save his life – they had laughed in relief that his plumbing was working. Evan had been whisked away to Children’s Hospital (which was 40 some blocks away in those days) and I was relieved he was getting the excellent care that only they could provide. I recalled how I thanked God for taking care of everything!
I reminded Sara, as I so often do, of that life altering moment while in intensive care, when I left my body. I was free of the pain – it was a glorious feeling. I described how effortlessly I moved through the darkness and towards the light. I recalled how the light was communicating with me in a telepathic method… there were no words… just an understanding. I wanted desperately to go into the light but the light thwarted my efforts to enter. The light was in control – I had given control of my life to the light and this was a not so gentle reminder to get my shit together and go back.
I have told this story of my experience with the light many times. It doesn’t vary in the telling – at least I don’t think it does. The light made it clear that I was not entering and if I had to put the telepathic message in words, it would be this… “I never said it was going to be easy. You have everything you need, inside you, to get through anything… now you need to go back.”
That type A personality thing I have going on, on the earthly plane, is a problem…it seems that personality can travel without a body – funny thing. Anyway - I tried one more time to work my way into the light… the light pulsated and grew from a circle to a cone – the force of the energy grew - it was immense, I was being put in my place… and then the light imploded into itself and boom - nothing... sending me violently back into my body and all my worldly pain and problems.
I explained to Sara how my experience with the light has guided me through so many hardships and losses. Life sucks! But I am comforted by the fact that the light is in control. The light gave me the strength to finally rid myself of her father and ultimately finding my way to Randy. I explained how trusting God and ending that pregnancy had enhanced our lives for the better. How ending that pregnancy had eventually led Randy and I to adding a precious little girl to our family through adoption. It was a tender moment… but just for a moment…
The calm had passed… I took my place on stage for Act II… it was a forceful performance, reiterating my stand on safe and legal abortion… (I must admit I was pretty shouty – projecting to those in the balcony, no doubt) “CARRYING A BABY TO TERM, OR ENDING ANY PREGNANCY AT ANYTIME, MUST ALWAYS REMAIN THE CHOICE OF THE WOMAN. A CHOICE MADE BETWEEN A WOMAN AND HER GOD. THE CHOICE MUST NEVER BE MADE BY SOME DOUCHEBAG OFFICIALS IN WASHINGTON D.C. IF AN ELEVEN YEAR OLD GIRL IS RAPED AND AS A RESULT OF THAT CRIME, BECOMES PREGNANT, SHE MUST NEVER BE FORCED TO COMPLETE THAT PREGNANCY – A PREGNANCY THAT COULD KILL HER – THAT IS BULLSHIT!
With that, I made a one-eighty, heading for the living room to begin another series of laps and rants… when to my surprise and de-LIGHT… (see what I did there - de-LIGHT... funny huh?) I spied with my little eye, the banner at the bottom of the television screen… it read… “WOMEN MOBILIZE TO PROTEST DRAFT RULING – WASHINGTON D.C.” I quick grabbed the remote and unmuted the audio… Groups across the United States were mobilizing to protest – Groups were mobilizing to determine best strategies to fight this ruling – Groups were mobilizing to get the votes out – Groups were mobilizing to protect the Right to Privacy… A great weight had been lifted from my shoulders.
I wasn’t alone… there are younger, more capable women who can wage this battle – it’s time to pass the torch. I mean... I still have everything inside of me to get through anything, but so do they, and it is their turn to shine the light!
My relationship with pregnancy was not an easy one. Some women can get pregnant and pop out a baby and barely notice. All my pregnancies were celebrated! The loss of the first baby was devastating - I mourned that loss. I had a rare health condition and I needed time to heal. I was eventually able to conceive a second child and she was a biggie - I didn’t think I could ever do that again. But I did, and that third baby almost killed me. The doctors advised against trying that again... I heeded their advice and the fourth child was a gift from a selfless woman who made our family complete.
I will be forever grateful that I had a right to privacy and was able to choose to end my pregnancy with Evan so we both had a chance to live. Women in that health crisis today would be denied the right to end the pregnancy… and that is religious tyranny.
On the other side of the Abortion Issue, I will be forever grateful that Deb chose to carry her baby to term and that she chose to give Randy and I the most precious gift we ever received! Those were the private choices made during our reproductive years, and I am so happy we had the opportunity to make those choices for ourselves.
We can't go back. Women have the right to control their bodies and their health. If anyone asks for my opinion on what they should do when faced with an unplanned pregnancy, I will explain their options - all of their options, to the best of my ability. And then I will make sure that she knows that the choice is hers.
NOTE: Talked to my Doctor and he thinks going to Washington D.C. to get arrested is a bad idea. Evidently talking about Roe Vs. Wade raises my blood pressure... So anyway, he cautioned that if I thought I could fit in a trip and an arrest around blood tests, Dermatology visits, the new diet, new medication, new exercise regime… then maybe… but he’d rather I didn’t. OK – fine! I am happy that there are groups mobilizing to fight this Draft document… soooooo I “choose” to stay home and work on my health and staying calm. But just so you know – it is my choice. And FYI - I sure as hell won't vote for anyone who doesn't support a woman's right to choose - a woman's right to life.
I have a ton more pictures but here is a sampling of what I would have missed if the Supreme Court has their way...
My Mom Alyce and my Aunt Joey, were the first matching couple... just saying...
My mother’s sister passed away recently – she was 91 years old. Aunt Joey was my mother’s younger sister. Peggy was my mother’s older sister and she passed away a few years ago. Aunt Joey was the last remaining family member from the older generation of the Fremont Green family.
Aunt Joey married Mel Schwanke right out of high school. They celebrated 70 years of marriage and raised three wonderful kids. The two older girls were like sisters to me. Jo and Cindy were my earliest playmates, and we grew up together in the family business. We took our turns at being delivery bunnies during Easter and we helped out at the store downtown on Thursday nights and on weekends.
We spent holidays together and at Christmas, we three would open up our presents together – the same exact doll for all three. I remember one year Grandpa Joe made a wooden kitchen hutch for me to stack my play dishes… it was really cool. He made one for Cindy and Lynny – they had to share. I thought it was kind of nice that I didn’t have to share my little kitchen hutch with anyone – sharing wasn’t my thing.
One of the favorite things I remember about Aunt Joey and Uncle Mel is they would include me and brother Billy for special events. One summer there was a florist picnic in Columbus and Aunt Joey had made a special top for each of us girls - Cindy, Lynny and Me. She had spent hours smocking the upper third of the breezy light-weight tops. Mine was blue gingham, I think Cindy’s was pink and Lynny’s was light green. The edging along the sleeves and hem was a thin crochet lace. I absolutely loved mine and was so happy to be included in the “Family Dressing” ritual.
Dressing the girls alike – was a Green thing and even probably an Olson thing. There are old, old, pictures of Grandma Lil and her sisters all dressed in matching garb… it was a tradition that had been carried on for generations…
Grandma Lil (Olson) Green would dress my mom and Aunt Joey in matching outfits. Peg was tooooo mature and opted out of the sameness thing fairly soon. Mom and Joey continued on with the twin routine for years. Lynny turned out to be tooooo mature too, and soon gave up on matching outfits – she was a lot like Aunt Peggy – an individualist.
Another aspect of the “event” memory were trips to the family shows at Aksarben and getting loose meat hamburgers at B&Gs in Omaha - that was special. There were day trips to the State Fair in Lincoln and there were numerous times that Billy and I tagged along with the Schwanke's to see newly released movies.
When Mom got sick back in the 1950’s – Billy and I were shuffled from one friend’s house to another. Aunt Joey finally had enough of that chaos and declared it over… Billy and I would stay at their house until Mom was well.
A lot of memories about my aunt, center around food. She was a fantastic cook and I looked forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas each year – knowing that I would get the most wonderful home cooked meal. I loved her turkey gravy. She always made it look easy cooking for a crowd and her tables were set to perfection. It was a treat to eat at my aunt’s home. Oh and baked beans – there was nothing like Aunt Joey’s baked beans!
In the summer when I was a kid, I enjoyed going over to eat at Aunt Joey’s - especially when she was serving shish kababs – the beef and vegetables grilled outdoors were the best I have ever eaten… it was a true delicacy. The bed of wild rice… well that was something unheard of at our house… we didn’t eat fancy stuff like rice! My Aunt was always coming up with something unique and delicious to eat. One time she served a key lime pie and that was it… I was hooked. Key lime pie became my absolute favorite dessert of all time. She made it for me when I craved it while pregnant with Sara.
I went shopping for a wedding dress, in between taking classes that summer in 1972. I found a simple dress but it didn’t have a veil. I took the dress to the greenhouse to show my mom. Both Joey and my mom thought it was perfect, and Joey said not to worry – she would make a veil. Cool – that was easy. The veil was perfect!
Also, when I was pregnant with Sara, Aunt Joey hosted a baby shower. She always did that for new mothers. And when Evan was two months premature and was baptized at the hospital… she still knitted a christening gown for him… for later… for when we could do it right.
When I divorced Dan – she was fine with that – she never really liked him anyway. And when I married Randy – she thought that was a great choice. She and Mel weren’t going to be in town for the wedding, but they loaned us the use of their house (my Great Grandparents house) for our wedding. My Grandparents had gotten married in that house, my parents had gotten married in that house and I seriously wanted to get married in that house – I figured I wouldn’t have too many opportunities to do that. It was meaningful to me and I so appreciated their generosity. Joey and Mel supplied all the flowers for the wedding and reception – that was a surprise… and a very happy, sweet and treasured memory!
We kept it secret when Randy and I decided to try to adopt a baby. We weren’t sure it would work out and we didn’t want to explain it to a bunch of people. Aunt Joey was thrilled when we announced the adoption of Ramie! She hosted another baby shower – the first big event in her new house. Right next door to their old house!
Aunt Joey and my mom were great friends throughout their lives. They got into trouble together and they helped each other out. They shared a love of the greenhouse and their heritage. Aunt Joey was three years younger but she was always the boss… she took care of my mom. When they were kids, my aunt Joey would make sure that mom would eat – mom was too skinny and frail as a child.
As adults, Mom and Aunt Joey were pregnant at the same time. Billy was born in July and a few days later Jo was born in August. I’m sure they would have been dressed as twins had they both been girls! Mom got pregnant with me way too soon… something about when you are nursing, you aren’t supposed to be able to get pregnant. I was born 18 months after Billy. Cindy was born 9 months after me. Several years later, Aunt Joey got pregnant with J and mom lost twins. Eventually Stacy was added to our family and the Green Girls stopped at three children each.
There was some competition between the two – a sibling rivalry. Aunt Joey could make a fantastic turkey for Thanksgiving and Mom could turn out a wonderful prime rib for Easter. I loved Aunt Joey’s key lime pie but Mom’s Strawberry shortcake was a close second. I seriously loved that little smocked top that Aunt Joey made for me that one summer but I also loved that mom had a problem finding the house needle for repairing that loose button. Joey could make a corsage in her sleep but Mom could whip out a “Father” “Mother” or whatever in fuzzy wire for a casket - spray behind her back… Mom admired Joey and Mel for their devotion to the family greenhouse and appreciated their efforts in growing the business. Mom enjoyed working at the shop part-time but also enjoyed going home at the end of the day and not thinking about the business. I know that she was grateful that Jessie was willing to continue the “Bell Street” flower corner into the future.
I will always hold in my heart, the memory of stopping at the greenhouse and both mom and Joey would stop what they were doing and pay attention to my story or help me solve a problem. I find comfort in the memories of growing up at the greenhouse and being surrounded by people I loved and who loved me. I feel blessed to have had the most caring, loving and wonderful mother on the planet and I feel blessed to have had a spare. Rest in peace Aunt Joey…
I'm sharing a few pictures of my Mom and her sisters... also sharing a few pics of the rest of the family. Feeling a little nostalgic and missing those who have gone before!
As I sit and watch the unfolding events on my television screen, war in Europe is no longer a distant memory – it is a current event. A delusional dictator is wreaking havoc on a peaceful nation. The populations of Ukraine are putting up a fight and it appears they will fight to the death.
Just a few days ago, Kyiv was a normal European Capital City – a large urban society with its citizenry pursuing individual dreams and living a nonviolent existence. Today, residents who were unable to flee the city, are huddled in underground structures, seeking safety from the Russian bombing and advancing troops.
The Ukrainian President has enlisted the help of civilians to arm themselves and resist the Russian forces. I watched an interview of a young man who had just been issued an assault rifle. He was preparing to go home and google how to operate the gun.
Normal people, with no military training, are preparing to stand up to a far superior fighting force… and my heart breaks for all the blameless people who will perish to salve the ego of one heartless narcissist longing for the good old days of the Soviet empire.
As thousands of Ukrainians flee their country, European nations, as well as the United States and Canada, are preparing to open their borders to the refugees. As many as 5,000,000 Ukrainians may become displaced with an unknown amount of people killed and injured.
Meanwhile NATO has enacted the response force for the first time in its history. Our troops and the troops of all NATO nations will protect the sovereignty of their allies – an attack on one is an attack on all. This is a display of unity against the advances of a tyrant.
All sane people in the world are hurting for the people of Ukraine. You should care about this nation and what is happening on the ground right now!
Many are surprised how President Zelenskyy (a former comedian) has risen to the occasion. Initially he didn’t want to panic his people and held out hope that a diplomatic solution could be found to fend off an attack. It is now apparent that Putin had no intention of pursuing a peaceful option. Zelenskyy has remained in the capital city with members of his administration. Zelenskyy knows that he is the number one target – he knows that Russia wants him dead, he has vowed to stay and fight.
President Biden is to be commended for his efforts in repairing the damage done to NATO by the previous administration. Trump was quite willing to destroy NATO to further his ambitions, those of Putin and other dictatorships around the globe. Trump was also quite willing to withhold aid to Ukraine until they dug up dirt on his opponent… Trump and his cronies viewed a relationship with Putin as an advantage – a path to riches and domination – the lure of the glamour of power…
Thank God, we have a leader today who is filled with soulful qualities – a man who feels compassion and empathy for his fellow man. A leader who understands governing and foreign affairs – a leader who possesses a strong and true desire to help – a leader who understands the limits – a leader who knows the difference between right and wrong and actively builds coalitions to do what is right.
I don’t know how all this will end. Putin reminding the world that he has nuclear weapons is frightening – I certainly don’t see how you take that as anything but a threat.
The sanctions that the U.S. and other countries have placed on Russia is meant to hurt the Russian Government and the Russian economy. The Russian citizenry will suffer as well.
It is heartening to see the protests in Russia. Everyday Russian citizens protesting against their government – knowing full well that they face arrest and severe punishments. I sincerely hope that Putin is feeling the pressure or at least the demonstrations of love for the Ukrainian people.
I remember reading somewhere that when Putin was a KGB spy, a supervisor had evaluated his job performance and noted that he took more risks than was necessary. This invasion thing, sure appears to be an unnecessary risk.
It is well documented that Putin holds a deep, personal, stinging regret at the fall of the Soviet Union. The speech he delivered just before the invasion, revealed to the world just how delusional he has become. His views and interpretation of events certainly don’t match the views and interpretations of others on the world stage.
We don’t know where this is headed. I only know that my heart aches for those involved in this war. All war is devastating. Devastating to people and to the environment. This war didn’t need to happen. This is a war of choice. A war of choice by one man.
I am saddened that so many of my fellow Americans admire this man. What Trump, Tucker Carlson and Pompeo said in support of Putin, is beyond contemptable, its giving aid and comfort to the enemy.
Putin is harming Russia, Ukraine and the world! I pray that the evil of his dictatorship and other dictatorships will be immobilized. I pray that peace will be restored, the earth will heal and Democracies around the world will be protected and flourish. I pray that the Holy Spirit will work through each of us – directing us in the right activity in the plan. In Jesus name - Amen
For many years now, over two decades, I have participated in the meditation practices of a reincarnated master of wisdom - Buddha Maitreya. I found my way to this individual through a friend - joining in group meditations, attending Darshans (days of teachings), and participating in individual soul therapy sessions.
Before I was introduced to this teacher, I floundered in my focus and ability to meditate. I found the music and pujas Buddha offered, along with the meditation tools utilized during meditations, helped me to enter a truly meditative state and clear the energy.
People often notice my necklaces and tell me how beautiful it is. I tell them it is a weaver or meditation form – a tool that helps to clear the energy. Wearing a weaver (or other form) everyday helps to remind me that I have a connection to a higher being. The weaver is comforting, protective and betters my abilities in creating a grounded state of being in times of confusion and unrest.
I am grateful that my friend introduced me to this meditative practice and the use of the tools. The tools are based on sacred geomancy. Use of the tools creates an energetic space of calm and peace. In my experience, the daily meditations calm your emotions, strengthen your soul and help you heal.
A wise man once said – “Life is fucking hard”… I don’t know of anyone who has escaped hardships, despair and loss – we’ve all had our share – some more than others. For me, meditating is a spiritual practice – a personal healing practice. Meditation compliments my Christian faith and calms my soul.
If you are interested in learning more or experiencing the meditation tools, you can visit the “Buddha Maitreya Omaha Soul Therapy Center. The Center is located at 13013 W. Center Road in the Montclair Shopping Center. (877-444-7685)
I started writing this blog on my birthday on January 29, 2022. It's taken awhile to get all my thoughts and memories clarified and arranged... it's a long one - get a snack and enjoy!
It’s my birthday today – 71 years old. I wasn’t really planning on doing much! Taking it easy and maybe binge watching a show I started on Netflix. Then I realized that I was 71 years old and then I realized – Hey, I turned 21 years old, 50 years ago… I know that is simple math, but it was kind of a big deal in my mind. This sudden “awareness” – 50 years ago today, I celebrated my 21st birthday in Berlin, Germany.
You know how there are major events in your life, and you think you will remember all the little details forever and ever and then you concentrate on a certain date 50 years in the past and all the specifics are rather vague. I thought that I would never forget the particulars of that day… but it’s pretty much gone. And honestly – remembering what we did on my birthday that day, isn’t the most important thing that stayed with me from that Berlin experience.
It was interterm at Midland Lutheran College. My absolute most favoritest Writing and English teacher, Alcyone Scott, was offering a political science course for the month of January. (Pretty sure she would take points off for using “most favoritest”. It’s my blog – I can be stupid if I want!)
So anyway, if I remember correctly, it was 4 credit hours concentrated into just a few weeks. I talked with Dr. Amland and asked if I could do an Independent Study on the German Expressionist Art Movement in Berlin and he agreed! Cool – 8 credit hours – I could do this!
The students would travel to Berlin on the 30th of December of 1971 and return at the end of January, 1972. I was so excited to travel to Europe. Our family had traveled to California by rail in the mid 1950’s and after that – Mom and Dad weren’t too whoopie about taking us anywhere.
The Smith family stayed pretty close to home – maybe traveling to neighboring states for a few days at a time but never ever any big-time travel experiences. My parents had a cabin on Big Island, and we spent summers on the river. We were homebodies, and I was ready to change that and explore. Here I was, a junior in college, a college in my hometown, and it was way past time to go somewhere. When the Berlin opportunity arose, I was prepared to board that jet and fly across the ocean!
The point I’m making is that I was more excited about traveling, going to Europe, seeing the sights, having a grand adventure and earning 8 credit hours than actually learning anything. I was not prepared for the life-altering, mind blowing, thought provoking educational experience – that was a bit of a surprise.
Alcyone had spent some time in Berlin prior to coming to Midland. She shared her knowledge of German history with us – which was extensive and helped us understand the events leading up to WWI and the rise of the Nazis and WWII. She shared her awareness of the history of the Lutheran religion (we were a Lutheran College) as well as other major religions practiced in West Berlin. We learned about the occupation of Berlin after the war and the dividing of the city into the various sectors. We all gained a better comprehension of the proceedings, actions, reactions, killings and dealings that led up to the world wars and the divisions that expanded in the eventual peace.
Each historic site, every ballet, every concert, every opera, every play, every lecture, every church service, every war memorial we visited, everything we experienced in those short few weeks gave us a greater insight into the German culture and the terrors people were made to suffer under the Nazi regime. A past only 30 years ago in 1972 - that wasn’t all that distant of a past… A past in 2022 that compares to reexamining the politics and world events of the early to mid-1990’s – a not so distant past.
We learned about the German insecurities, failings, victories, fears and the monsters the people allowed to lead them, and the horrors they chose to ignore. We learned that Germany must never be allowed to rise to such evil again. Never again.
We weren’t able to visit any of the Nazi death camps but there were a number of memorials that we visited that facilitated our comprehension of the enormity of the atrocities committed against innocent men, women and children. In looking back, I’m grateful that we didn’t visit Auschwitz or any other German death camp – I don’t think I could have taken it.
Alcyone did plan a visit to a small Berlin prison that had been turned into a memorial. The memorial center at Plotzensee is a place of silent remembrance, as it is described in some online material I was scanning for information and pictures. Nearly 3,000 political prisoners from Germany and other countries were executed at that location by the Nazis.
The memory that I have of Plotzensee is quite clear in some ways, and off kilter in others. I remember walking through the gates of the memorial… the walls were built from red brick… the top of the wall was covered with cement. Broken pieces of glass were sticking up at sharp angles from the cement topping. I can still feel the chill that went up my spine as I imagined trying to escape that enclosure and the cuts one would suffer in the attempt. The ground of the memorial courtyard was covered in cobblestone – not unlike many of the sidewalks we had seen throughout the city. The memorial was a flat gray brick wall which made it stand out from the surrounding red brick formations. There were wreaths and large bouquets of flowers standing in a row, left to right, on the raised stone platform of the memorial.
I also recall feeling a sense of somberness and extreme dread – it was silent… it was a place of remembrance. An immediate weight of sadness descended on my being as we stood at the memorial. Soon we moved on… around the right side of the memorial was a red brick building. The building was divided into two parts - the first part of the building contained displays on the dark brick walls. Information you could read and pictures you could view were displayed to give you a better idea how the Nazi’s utilized the prison and this space in particular.
As I read the documents, I became even more disheartened and physically weak – this place was a heavy burden – it was becoming even more difficult to breathe – my throat felt constricted. I was relieved when we finished that part of the tour and stepped out into the side yard – I was still deeply saddened but at least I could breathe – that room had been difficult to process. I was feeling so many emotions… none of them good.
We then were led into another room of the building through a wide wooden door. This room was clear of information. This had been the killing room. I have described, hundreds of times, what this room looked like… I never varied much in my description. I want to share that with you – because it’s weird…
Upon entering the room, I notice a row of large windows at the rear of the room – this room runs the full length of the building, and the sunlight is pouring in through the windows. The walls are painted white with tan tile covering the lower sections of the walls. At the far end of the room, in front of the windows is a raised platform. A door to the left allows for prisoners to enter the room and stand on the platform. There are several guillotines lined up on the platform.
There is a trough in front of the platform to collect the heads and the resulting drainage of blood. Along the right wall of the room, running the full length of the room is a series of meat hooks. I can imagine, the headless bodies are hung on the meat hooks. The meat hooks are on a track system. The bodies are moved along the wall – the blood trough collects the blood and moves it to a drain in the center of the room. The headless bodies move to the front of the room and the awaiting cart – parked conveniently just outside the a side door leading to the courtyard. I assume the bodies are taken to a gas furnace where the bodies will be cremated – but I only imagine that as there is a tall chimney attached to a smaller building and I think there must be a furnace in there that was used for that purpose.
Standing in that room, looking at the remnants of the killing apparatus, I fear I may faint – I’m sure I will faint. My vision is limited as I stumble to the door and work my way back to the memorial wall. I sit on a step leading up to the platform and I stare at the flowers and wreaths as I try to get that missing air back into my lungs and slow my racing heart. It’s cold in the January weather but still I can’t stop sweating. Alcyone comes out to see if I’m all right. I remain in that spot to regain my composure and hope that my legs will support my body when the others are ready to leave. I do not return to the killing room.
I can only describe what happened to me in that room, as a truly overwhelming sense of fear, torture and injustice. I felt not the pain, but the mental anguish of lost souls and the evil that ended their lives. I can’t get the visual of that room out of my mind – it haunts me still. Fifty years later that feeling of dread is still with me – it was a dramatic moment, and I will never forget the overwhelming emotions I experienced on that fateful day.
It wasn’t a fun, pleasant, European vacation experience, rather, it was an educational and profound emotional experience that I needed - probably destined to experience in order to facilitate the development of my soul as well as, the ethics, values, morals and empathy that would sustain and guide me as an adult and a citizen of the world. It was a big deal!
NOW comes the weird part. Everything I felt is completely true and I have described those feelings and emotions to the best of my ability… the weird part is picturing that killing room in my mind is all wrong! I mean, it looks exactly like I remember it, but in a totally wrong kinda way! I’ll explain.
I looked up the prison online to refresh my memory and whoa that was a trip. The memorial itself and the placement of the wreaths and the flowers is just as I remembered it. The first room was pretty much as I described, the second room – the photos of the killing room was way off. Well – it was similar in most respects, but it did not contain some of the more vivid aspects of my recollection. So weird!
In current photos of the room, the windows are still at the end of the long room and the sunlight is still seen streaming through the windows. There are only two windows... I remember more windows. The walls are painted white but the tile that I remember circling the room is only present in a very small section… you can see a drain in the middle of the concrete floor… but there isn’t a platform at the far end of the room, no door to enter the nonexistent platform and there isn’t a single guillotine present – what? I remember guillotines…
Surprisingly, there are meat hooks hanging from what looks like a heavy wooden beam at the far end of the room – right in front of the windows – NOT along the wall to the right – meat hooks where the guillotines are supposed to be – that’s not right. AND the meat hooks are stationary – they don’t move the bodies to the awaiting cart – they don’t have a cart sitting there. I am so confused.
I’m thinking that I’m losing my mind – ya I know – been there done that… but this seemed really weird. It’s one thing to not remember what you actually did to celebrate your 21st birthday in Berlin back in 1972 and quite another thing to alter your entire recollection of a Nazi killing room – especially when so many other parts of the memory had been online image verified to my satisfaction! Thus began my all-day research project, on my 71st birthday, into all those weird ass strange memories of the Nazi Plozensee killing room.
Wellll… I eventually happened upon a treasure trove of historic pictures - accurate representations of what the killing room looked like during its operational time period – from the early 1930’s to the mid 1940’s. There had been a door at the far end of the room – just to the left of the windows – well that makes me feel better. That door has since been closed off, and for balance, they evidently closed off the far-right third window, so now only 2 windows remain.
And you know what else? There had been a platform under the windows – it has been removed. That missing platform was bugging me, so it was reassuring, in a strange sense, that there had indeed been a platform at the end of the room.
Examining more photos, I found a close up of the original meat hooks and it appears that the hooks could be pushed along the metal beam. I found pictures of additional hooks that had nooses hanging at the ready for the next series of executions. All of these pictures told a more in-depth story of what had transpired at that location. Those pictures must have been included in the informational displays in that first room of the memorial and seared into my brain.
As I completed more research, I found additional photos that exposed the Nazis using guillotines at numerous locations in Germany and occupied lands. Pictures of the guillotine used at Plozensee were among the photos I viewed. The guillotine was a massive contraption that sat in the middle of the room – close to the floor drain.
I viewed several photos of Nazi killing rooms at other locations. Several of those rooms had tile extending halfway up the wall and additional illustrations of blood drainage troughs. I assume some of those pictures were included in the display. I also stumbled across a photo of a man who had been beheaded. His body lying on the table of the guillotine and his head placed carefully near his shoulder at the corner of the table. That picture is troubling on so many levels and one that speaks to the evil of the day.
Memory is a funny thing… I know now that I took elements of what I saw and read that day and combined it with the foggy, almost fainting, heavy sweating episode in the killing room and created one nice, neat, compact scene in my mind… not exactly right but not exactly wrong…
Visiting Plozensee was hard for me but something I needed for personal growth. I know that Auschwitz would have been a much greater ordeal, therefore, I am relieved to have been spared that painful experience.
Just a few years later, when my first husband and I were living in Columbus, we attended a Chamber event. We were talking to a local businessman. I had a bad feeling about this guy - I was hoping he would move on and once he did, I told Dan that there was something wrong with that guy. To which Dan replied, "He's a Holocaust Denier". What? "He thinks the holocaust never happened." I was stunned. Later on, I realized that that moment foreshadowed our current political, ethical and moral dilemma. Never again - could happen again... anywhere!
When an administration separates children from their parents at the border and keeps them in cages... Never again is growing again. When an evil con-artist, celebrity TV host, rapist and fake billionaire rises to the office of the presidency of the United States... Never again is growing again. When that evil man continuously lies, stokes fear, and creates division among its citizens... Never again is growing again. When that defeated President convinces his followers that the election was stolen and orders them to march on the capitol... Never again is growing again. Banning books and denying citizens their human rights and voting rights... Never again is growing again.
Investigating and holding accountable those who have broken the laws of our nation is making sure Never again is Never again. Passing legislation to protect voting rights is making sure Never again is never again. Accurate and complete information on historical events is essential in making sure Never again is Never again. Electing qualified, soulful candidates to leadership positions is also essential in making sure Never again is Never again. Caring for your fellow citizens and resisting any attempts to make you hate the "other" is making sure Never again is Never again. Protecting the rule of law, our democracy and the constitution is making sure Never again is Never again...
I will be forever grateful that I had that college experience and was able to travel to Berlin with such a wonderful teacher and fun group of friends. In one way it seems like it was yesterday and then in another way, when I stop to ponder a specific detail, I become painfully aware that 50 years has passed and some memories are incomplete, mushed up or even veiled.
I asked my friend Pat Osborn if she remembered celebrating my 21st birthday in Berlin? She said no – but it was probably a night that she had too much to “sip”. Oh ya – too much “sipping” in Berlin, I remember a few of those nights. That probably doesn’t help the old memory!
I’m pretty sure I have more to write about my Germany experience, but this essay has gotten way longer than I expected. Soooo…. To be continued!
I went out in the garage and found some pictures from Germany 1972. The pictures had been damaged from time and temperature extremes - so I started messing with them with the "Brushstroke" app. It seems like the paintings are more in keeping with my foggy memories. Hopefully I will find my slides for the next blog entry!