WHEREVER THEY MAY BE
© 1972, The Beate Klarsfeld Foundation
 
 
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The Education of a German Girl

When I was sixteen, I entered the Schoneberg commercial high school, where I was an average student in the subjects that would prepare me to become a secretary in two years. My father was drinking and beginning to let himself go; my mother was grumbling constantly. I wanted to earn my own living and get away from my parents and that stifling atmosphere.
When I was eighteen, I got a job as a stenographer with Schering, a large drug firm. I would get up at 6:30 and cross Berlin on the S-Bahn to Wedding, where I would spend hour after hour pounding out on my typewriter chemical formulas I could not understand and making sausage sandwiches for my fat young boss. I was so young that my fellow workers had little use for me until I began to act like them and say bad things about the people in other departments. Then they let me share their gossip and tales of sexual adventures.

I seldom breathed the air of Germany, confined as I was in the sealed retort that was Berlin. Sometimes I would go to see an aunt in the "Zone" – East Germany – or visit some other relative in West Germany. I was shy and rarely went out with boys. They did not attract me much anyway. The ones I met reminded me of younger versions of my father. I didn't know any students at all, and I never had a chance to speak a language other than the one I had heard around me for twenty years.

In West Berlin, as in the Federal Republic, most people voted for Konrad Adenauer's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) or for the Social Democrats (SPD). My parents voted CDU. I myself liked the SPD because of Willy Brandt, whose young, open face contrasted with those of the other politicians.

I did not know myself at all and never tried to, but because I was completely unattached, with no change in sight, I felt a certain dissatisfaction. I showed it in a total lack of enthusiasm for the prospects my mother envisioned for me: a bank account, a trousseau, a suitable marriage such as my cousin Christa had made. Soon my family was calling me a bad daughter. But I held firm, and doubtless this is what saved me. I never again took that "straight" road that led, I had found, to anything but happiness.

From the time of my twenty first birthday on February 13, 1960, I had but one thing in mind: to leave that city for which I nevertheless felt a deep, though inexplicable, fondness. In my many crossings from West to East Berlin, especially on Sundays, I had made the monuments, the museums, and even the streets
    
   
 
WHEREVER THEY MAY BE
© 1972, The Beate Klarsfeld Foundation
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