Befriending the Germans after the War

After World War II, Anthony Brook, along with his parents and siblings, spent five years of his childhood living in a house in Hamburg with his family and the German family who owned the house.  It was because of his father’s generosity that this arrangement came to be.  Sixty years later, Walter and his son visit the house and the German children Anthony befriended.

When Anthony and his son, Rhidian, asked the owner of the house that Anthony had lived in when he was boy if they could visit, the owner agreed.  September 2011 was the first time that Anthony had seen the house or been inside it since 1951.  Minutes after entering, Anthony’s memories began to come back to him, and he felt like he was 8 years old again.

Anthony’s father, Colonel Walter Brook had been the governor of a county just outside of Hamburg in 1946, and it was his job to help people find homes after the war.  At the time, Germany was divided into four sections, and the area around Hamburg needed the most help due to the devastating number of bombs that had been dropped there.

Colonel Brook began looking for a home for himself and his family.  Because of a housing shortage, the British had requisitioned many of the buildings that hadn’t been destroyed, forcing the German occupants to vacate.  The house that the Colonel was going to requisition had a German family of two parents and three children living in it.

The house was large, and the Colonel made the unheard of decision to allow the German family to stay in the house where the two families would live together.  There were mixed feelings about the arrangements from the Colonel’s colleagues and from his wife, who was worried about possible conflicts with the German family.

The areas of the house to be used by each family were clear, with the owners, the Ladiges, staying upstairs, and the Brook family living on the main floor.  The adults maintained this separation, but the children began playing together.  Anthony and one of the children, Heike, became friends and, eventually, Heike began to go with the Brook family on outings.

At Christmastime in 1947, the two families shared the holidays together, singing carols in both English and German, and playing the piano.  From that time on, the two families felt like equals.

When Anthony’s son, Rhidian, was growing up, he knew that his father lived with a German family for five years after the war when he was a boy, but since Anthony moved out when Rhidian was very young, he didn’t know any details.  As well, Rhidian had never met his grandfather, the Colonel, because he died years before Rhidian was born, The Guardian reports.

So, in 2001, when Rhidian and Anthony talked about this event in his family’s history, he had a lot to consider and think about.

Rhidian began to interview his father and his uncle and asked them to write down their memories.  Writing them down helped Anthony to remember the events that took place during this time and got him thinking about the Colonel, who had died in 1956.  The decision was then made to go and visit the house.

At the house, Anthony was overcome with memories, and described things that happened there to his son.  As he walked through the house and saw familiar rooms and features, he told his son more and more about those years.

Anthony and Rhidian had arranged to meet two of the children who had lived in the house, including Anthony’s friend, Heike, and her brother, Theo.  Anthony was worried about meeting up with them because he was afraid that their memories may not be as positive as his about their mutual childhood in the house.

They met Theo and his wife first.  Although the conversation was formal at first, it became friendlier, especially when they started speaking in German about their memories.  It was quite apparent that Theo had admired the Colonel.

The following day, Anthony and Rhidian met up with Heike, and the affection the two felt for each other was obvious.  Heike spoke with fondness of the trips she used to go on with the Brook family, and had enjoyed being treated as an equal.

Ironically, Theo and Heike had not met up with Anthony and Rhidian together due to a falling out over the house, but she mentioned that this reunion may help to rekindle her relationship between herself and her brother.  She believes that is what the Colonel would want to have happen.

If it hadn’t been for the Colonel’s kindness 60 years earlier, Anthony and Rhidian would never have made this trip to Hamburg.  They never would have heard Theo and Heike speak so fondly of the Colonel.  Anthony believes that it was because of his father that he has always welcomed others into his home.

All those years ago, it must have been impossible to believe that all of the buildings and lives that were destroyed by the war would one day be rebuilt.  When the Colonel and his family left Hamburg, local officials gave the Colonel a book which showed the bridges that had been rebuilt after the war, and included the inscription ‘Fur die Brucke’ (For the Bridge).

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE