WE WERE LUCKYAn autobiography by Hilde Gerrard neé Weissenberg, born 1907
Early childhood is to my mind a large garden in my parents home, in which I was mostly alone and watched spiders weaving their net or playing with our alsatian dog or just dreaming in a hexagon bower, which was overgrown with wild vine and was dark. It was wonderful. Years later when I visited my home, I was so surprised how much that garden had shrunk - it was big in my mind. My parents could not go together on holidays, as one of them had to be in charge of the shop. So I travelled with my mother on a yearly visit to a Spa, like Karlsbad, Reiners and many others. I learned to enjoy travelling and ventured to try it out on my own. I was about 5 years old and on a sunny day I took my little shoulder bag, put a large hunk of bread in it and a knife and went to the railway station. The station was a long way from our home and I started to walk it. I did not tell anyone of my intention and if we went shopping or visiting to the next town, the coachman-cum-gardener brought us with the Landauer to the station. People from the village, who saw me marching alone, reported it to my parents, who by that time also discovered my absence. Soon I was overtaken by the coach and my first trip on my own was cut short.
I was born in Kreuzenort, a small village in Upper Silesia, near Ratibor and so were my father and grandfather. My parents had a shop and we sold textiles, ready-made men's suits and other goods. Across the yard was another part of the shop, probably former stables, where we showed and sold furniture and from the store in the attic I remember sacks of grain coming down the slide. It was a busy place and our staff was living in, including Karl, a cook and a housemaid. In the morning the petrol lamps were brought down from the rooms for cleaning and refilling and I remember the day, when they got replaced by electricity. Life was much easier. Karl came to us when he was about 14, and after a few years with us, we considered him as part of the family. I played happily with the local children, attended the school and reached, when I was 9 years old, the top class (in Kreuzenort). My parents decided that I should go to the school in the next town. The year was 1916, the food situation began to be tight in the towns, whilst in the country we grew our own food and managed. A family in Ratibor offered to take me as a boarder against payment in goods of food to stretch their meagre ration, which suited us. I now visited the school in Ratibor but missed my freedom. After a few months there and several attempts to run away, I could go home on Saturday and be back on Monday morning. I just missed Sunday school, which is the reason for the lack of knowledge in religious education, but we lived in a traditional jewish home.
The family had a daughter Steffi, of the same age, and they visualised that we would become friends. They had a girl living in, who thought it more work to look after two girls instead of one and told Steffi to fight me and make me go away. We both became very efficient at the game; I was blue, she lost her hair in my fingers. That went on until both parents interfered and Steffi spilled the truth that Bertha wanted to make life miserable and me to leave. Now the girl left and we became good friends. Two years later, when my parents thought that they could retire, they moved to Breslau, where the school was orderly but not interesting.