When and where, were you born?
Gisela Anneliese Schindler, born 29 June 1931, Berlin, Germany
Tell me about your parents? What did your father do?
My father, Adolf Schindler, worked for the City of Berlin as a steinsetzer (stone setter) for the cobblestone streets. My mother Anna Schindler, nee Wulff worked as a housing custodian.
Did your father serve in the First World War?
No, he was born in 1907. He was drafted into the Wehrmacht on 1 Jun 1940.
Did you have brothers and sisters? And if so, where in the pecking order did you come?
Yes, two sisters, Ingrid (1937) and Edeltraut (1939), of which I was the oldest.
Did you have a happy childhood?
Yes, a normal childhood until the war started.
What was it like growing up where you did?
We lived in a large apartment building which had only been built in 1931. There were lots of children with whom to play.
What were your interests as a child?
Normal interests of a small girl.
Can you remember the build-up to war?
No, not really other than my father going away when I was 9
Can you remember the outbreak of war?
Yes, I can remember when, on 1 Sep 1939, I was told by my mother that we had went to war.
Can you recall the Battle of Britain?
Yes, but only in name.
Did any of your family join the Armed Forces?
Join? No, my father, his brother and their brothers-in-law all were conscripted. They were all in their thirties.
Where did they serve?
My father served in southern France as an occupational troop. In preparation to the Battle of the Bulge he was transferred to Belgium where on the way he was captured, placed in a POW camp and died soon after from exposure. All three of my uncles served in Russia where they all were killed.
Was it a shock to the system?
Of course, it was tragic, especially to my grandmother who lost all her sons and sons-in-law.
Did you ever worry about what might happen to you?
Yes, very much.
Tell me about the camaraderie in your community etc?
We all helped each other as much as possible. We became one large family. What were your day-to-day living conditions like?
What were your day-to-day living conditions like?
Very tense. Starting in 1940 were bombed mostly at night, forcing us into the basements. Later daylight bombing began and we never felt safe.
Can you describe to me a typical day-in-the-life on the home front?
We tried to carry on with normal life but it was very hard with the bombing.
What was the food like?
What little we had was rationed. We learned to improvise and to like food we never had before.
Did you ever go hungry?
Even with our ration cards we were hungry an awful lot.
Did you get enough to drink?
Yes, as children we received extra milk rations.
Can you remember any particularly funny incidents?
No, there wasn’t any humor.
Can you remember any particularly tragic incidents?
Yes, there was a little girl with whom I played in our backyard. When she stopped coming to play, my mother told me that her father had shot her and her mother before shooting himself. They were Jews, a fact of which I was unaware.
What was the worst thing that happened to you?
My father dying of pneumonia in the French POW camp.
How did you cope with fear?
I remember that we all cried a lot.
How did you cope with the loss of friends and colleagues?
Other than my one little friend there were no others.
Where were you when the war ended?
I had been sent to help a family on a farm outside of Berlin. My main duty was as a nanny to the family’s young son. Many of the youngsters in Berlin were sent to rural locals both as protection from the bombing an as farm laborers. We were returned to our families as soon as the fighting ended in May 1945.
What can you remember about it?
People were so relieved when the war ended. The city had been devastated.
What was the general reaction?
Oddly enough, they were relieved and happy about the future Allied occupation.
Do you often think about the war?
Yes, still every day. I certainly hope that I never have to experience anything like that again.
After the war during the Berlin Airlift, I met and fell in love with an American soldier. We were married and I emigrated to the United States. I became an American citizen in 1964 and have lived there ever since.
Gisele Anneliese McCurdy, nee Schindler