German Author's Memories of WWII Reawakened After Sept. 11
Posted January 22, 2002
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Erika Karres has a story to tell. Hers is "A German Tale," the name of her recently published book. It is filled with the horrors of her childhood, growing up in Germany during and after World War II.
The author, who lives in Chapel Hill, said that she has always been haunted by her past. Since Sept. 11, she said that she has been reliving the horror all over again.
"When I saw the towers of the World Trade Center crumble, it took me way back, back 62 years to where I was born in East Germany," Karres said.
The year was 1939, the beginning of World War II. Karres has put her memories to print in "A German Tale."
"My earliest memories are violence, bombs, loud noises, the sounds of explosions," she wrote. "It is another one of those many miserable days in the numbing days, weeks and months of hunger."
As one of 11 children, Karres and her siblings would chew on branches and eat grass.
"But one day I came home from school and for the first time there was a fire in the kitchen stove and we were so excited. Everyone crowded around the kitchen and it was so delicious. The next day I went to the attic and found the fur of the neighbor's cat. So we had eaten the neighbor's cat," she said.
Desperation became her motivation and Karres went to school, where sometimes she got something to eat. At age 12, she went to work in a factory.
"They hired me at 15 cents an hour in a sweat labor type of situation. That same spark in me somehow wanted out," she said.
Karres eventually got out. She married a soldier from Rocky Mount and came to America.
"I let out my breath. I've done it. I've wiped out the past, wiped out the shame, the shame of being German and the heartache," she wrote in her book.
Heartache in her past, heartache in the present. Now, the events a world away are hitting close to home.
"Children eating grass in a destroyed village in Afghanistan. I say that's me," Karres said of a recent newspaper article.
"The events in the book happened 55 years ago and there's been a veil of silence. We can't let a veil of silence cover Afghanistan," she said.
"It encourages my desire to use what I've learned through my life the hard way to make things better for them. It is reawakening the nightmare and feeling the pain again, but my hope is that something good will come out of it this time," Karres said.
Karres came to the United States in 1961. She taught middle and high school students in Orange County for 30 years and has written two books on education. She was also awarded with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, North Carolina's highest civilian honor.