Ticker tape parades, confetti and people filled the streets as our American soldiers returned from fighting the Nazi’s when WWII ended. For my Mother’s family it was a joyous day when her brother stepped off the train after fighting in Germany. For my Father’s family, who I’m sure were happy for those whose children returned, it had to be difficult knowing their Son would never return. For my Grandpa Gus, who was a German immigrant, there would be a silent sadness and quiet tears shed behind closed doors for his homeland and his family who remained in Germany. I can only imagine the anguish he had to feel when his oldest son was sent to fight the very people he loved.
The worst bombing of Hamburg, Germany (birthplace of my Grandpa Gus) occurred the last week of July 1943. Known as Operation Gomorrah, 9,000 tons of bombs were unleashed on the city by the RAF and USAAF. For 8 days and 7 nights more than seven hundred airplanes pounded the city with hundreds of bombs. Thousands of people rushed into the streets and to shelters. The fires that erupted turned the city into an inferno, even the air was on fire. Temperatures reaching over a thousand degrees created a 1500 foot-high tornado of super heated air. Citizens were burnt alive many running into the canals and small ponds to escape. Even there they were not safe as oil seeped into the water and sparks from the fires set the water ablaze. Many suffocated as the firestorm consumed all the oxygen. When it was over 42,600 people were killed and 37,000 wounded. The city would be hit more than 69 times by air raids before the war ended. Even the atomic bomb didn’t do as much damage as this grand city endured.
Grandpa Gus’ sister, Grace, lived in Hamburg at this time. I have always had a yearning to know if she survived the war. Knowing what occurred there I felt it unlikely, and yet some inner feeling made me want to believe that she did. From all accounts the last communication with her was sometime in the 1930’s. These are the things I ask myself why I never asked Grandpa about or any other part of his life in Germany. What I know has been handed down to me by my Mother and Aunties. So many details unknown and never written down for the future generations.
I have lost count on the number of websites I have searched for any scrap of information that I could find to no avail. Would we ever know what happened to her? Is she somehow waiting to be found so that the information on Grandpa’s family could be complete?
Earlier this year I was blessed to have an unexpected distant cousin enter into my life. Spending countless hours and selflessly devoting his time to locating my ancestors, Kurt Bevensee, has given me something that cannot be measured – the gift of my families history and fate. Digging through old records, that I’m surprised survived the war, I now know more about my Great Aunt Grace than I ever thought possible. A few weeks ago he found her marriage record to her first husband, Hans Efftinge, whom she married on April 15, 1922. The date was extra special to me as that was the day my Mother was born. The information also provided a correction to her husbands name, who we thought all these years was Effinger. I learned that Hans Efftinge died in 1929 and that she remarried in 1931 to a man named Hartwig Wilhelm “Arthur” Mentzel. Kurt was able to obtain copies of both marriage records. The day I received an email from Kurt with a copy of Grace’s death certificate my heart was pounding as I read the date of her death. My eyes filled with the tears of my grandfather as I read that she had survived the war in spite of all odds – praise God – she survived! Grace died on October 15, 1950 at age 59. She did not have long life but I hope that it was a good life and filled with joy. Grace was laid to rest in the Friedhof Tonndorf Cemetery in Wandsbek, Germany. The same cemetery as her mother. Of course the lease has expired and her remains have been removed. It is believed that she had a son and daughter who I hope one day we will be reunited with. Arthur Mentzel lived a long life reaching the age of 81, he died on February 9, 1982 and is buried at the Alter Friedhof Cemetery in Wandsbek, Germany. If we had only known of him so many questions could have been answered.
My undying gratitude to Kurt Bevensee who helped complete the circle of life for the family of Paul Heinrich Gustav and Maria Charlotte Anna Bebensee nee Sievers.