Seven-year-old Sigrit’s happy and structured life in Germany ends suddenly one afternoon in 1944. With her parents dead, she is forced to travel with a woman who hates children while being taken to live with strangers. Even her fourteen-year-old brother is yanked away from her side. When the war ends, Sigrit is once again separated from those she loves. With so much tragedy in her young life already, how will she find the courage to face what her future brings?
Sigrit is the poignant tale of war, tyranny, cruelty, love, hope, and kindness. Follow Sigrit and her family as they struggle to survive in war-torn Germany.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: Sigrit by Ellynore Seybold-Smith is a touching story about a seven-year-old girl who lives in Germany in 1944. Her parents are spies for the Allies, but they know the Germans are closing in on them. And they commit suicide rather than face capture by the Nazis. Poor little Sigrit finds their bodies and her life is forever haunted. Seybold-Smith takes us on a journey as we follow Sigrit’s life from the discovery of her parents to her graduation from high school. We see the cruelty of the Nazis, the destruction of war-torn Germany, and what people must do to survive. We are shown how really vulnerable the children were, who had no choice but to do what the adults told them to do, even if it wasn’t in their best interests.
I, for one, learned a lot I didn’t know about the end of World War II. For instance, I had no idea that at the end of the war, the Germans were drafting 14-year-old boys into the military. And when the Russians came after the Germans lost, they were sending the young boys to Siberia. Not the time or place to be a young boy. The story has a ring of truth that makes me wonder if the author was there in Germany at the end of the war. Either that, or she really did her homework.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Sigrit by Ellynore Seybold-Smith is an interesting look at life in Germany during World War II. It is certainly not a place where I would want to be. If you were a woman, even an ugly one, you stood a good chance of getting raped by Russian soldiers when they came through after Germany’s defeat, pillaging and looting, bent on revenge. If you were a man or teenage boy, you were either drafted by the Germans or sent to prison camps by the Russians, whether you had been a combatant or not.
The author’s characters seem very real and her story authentic. I found evidence of authenticity in the small, everyday details of the people’s lives. I had never considered how much destruction the Allied bombs had really rained down on German cities and towns. And it was the civilians who suffered the most. The children that were farmed out to little more than slave labor when their parents, for whatever reason, were no longer around to take care of them. The women whose husbands never came home. The families that had to live in bombed out building, in whatever rooms or cellars, or parts thereof, that survived. And if nothing survived, they were just out of luck. Sigrit is moving and poignant. It gives you a glimpse of the darker side of war when the attacks are to your homeland.
Goerlitz, Germany 1944:
A repulsive, pungent odor assaulted Sigrit’s nose and gripped her throat as she rushed home from school. The hard knapsack on her back contained her books and slate. The slate’s sponge and drying rag hung out of her knapsack on a string, swinging in the breeze, dancing with her long, brown braids. There was a painful lump in her stomach–not alone attributed to the almost incessant hunger. She rushed by the smoldering rubble that only yesterday was an elegant apartment house. Her neighbors’ prized possessions and daily necessities had been turned into black ugliness.
Why she felt anxious she did not know. Sigrit tried to ease her fears by imagining herself entering the cozy kitchen and seeing her mother standing over a pot of potato soup. She could almost hear her mother’s greeting, asking the usual question of how school was, and had she learned anything new today. Then, a realization hit her like icy rain–her mother’s face, the face she had seen and loved for seven years, remained blank. Sigrit’s forehead broke out in sweat in spite of the crisp November air.
Arriving at her apartment house, she saw her father’s bicycle parked near the doorway. A sight that usually brought joy, it only increased her fear. What was Papa doing home from the factory in the middle of the day on Monday? Had the factory been bombed? No, that could not be. All the workers would be busy trying to salvage the remains.
Sigrit ran up the stairs, sometimes skipping a step, a recent accomplishment she was proud of. On the third floor, she unlocked the glass paned apartment door and entered. Her ears strained for the voices of her parents. None were heard.
“Mama, Papa, where are you?”
She ran through the apartment calling, then screaming, “Mama, Papa!”
Finally she went to her own room. There she found a note stuck to her mirror. Somehow that piece of paper represented the cortex of her fear. She did not want to know what it said. If only Ludwig was here, she would be less afraid.
“I won’t read it. It’s only a note telling me that Mama and Papa had to be away for a few minutes. If I don’t read it, they’ll be back and tell me what they wrote. I’ll just go to the kitchen and see if there is anything to eat.”
Try as she might, she could not pull herself away. She kept staring at the paper, straining her eyes to make out a word or two. Without being aware of it, her legs moved her toward the hypnotic object. She felt the note contained bad news and if she did not read it, the bad news would go away.
Closer and closer she moved. The note was written in a clear print, not the old Germanic script she would have to get someone else to read to her. Mama loved writing in the old script, not only for its uniqueness, but also for its beauty–letters with many sharp edges looking like rick rack.
Finally, she read:
Our darling daughter Sigrit,
We are sorry that we have to leave you, but we are going to a better place. We have been working against the evil regime that is ruling our beloved country. We do not wish to fall into their talons, which we are about to do. We will always love you and your dear brother, Ludwig. Always stick together and remain good friends.
God bless you both and keep you safe.
All our love, your mother and father,
Elisabeth and Erwin Lachman
DO NOT GO UP INTO THE ATTIC!
Alone, she went to the attic.
The light in the room was dim and the heavy drapes were tightly drawn when Sigrit woke up. Frau Weiss from the second floor sat at her bedside stroking her hand.
“Ah, my dear, you are awake. Herr doctor came and gave you a sedative. I’ll stay with you tonight. Everything will be all right, you’ll see.”
No, Sigrit did not see. She’d forgotten what was wrong. Then she remembered and started screaming again. Frau Weiss hugged her, spoke softly, and cried until Sigrit’s screams subsided into dry heaves. She knew the sight in the attic would never leave her as long as she lived. Her body ached from being brought to the brink of exhaustion just a few hours earlier. Every cell in her small form seemed to relive the trauma of finding her beautiful mama and tall, fun-loving papa hanging from the rafters on two ropes–the two people most dear to her in all the world reduced to a most gruesome sight.
Sigrit had stared at the open bulging eyes for a full minute before she started screaming. She collapsed onto the wooden floor and lay still for a while, staring at the bodies. Papa dressed in his good Sunday suit and Mama in one of her favorite green dresses and green suede shoes, dressed as if going to a dance.
Sigrit whipped her arms and legs, screaming and crying until some neighbors heard her and carried her off. The women tried to comfort her with no success. Finally, someone fetched a doctor who gave her a sedative.
The next day SS men in black uniforms and Gestapo in plain clothes filled the apartment. They were searching every drawer and closet, even cutting upholstery that looked like something could be hidden in it.
Usually the neighbors were gathered in the large inside stairway, while the children would amuse themselves sliding down bannisters, but this day no one was to be seen. Everyone stayed locked in their apartments, making the house as silent as a tomb.
Sigrit sat in the Weiss’s apartment on a child’s chair, clutching her old teddy bear. Her pale face had no expression and her glassy eyes stared into space.
“Don’t you have an aunt in the city here?” asked Frau Weiss.
“Yes, I was expecting her to come and get me,” Sigrit answered softly.
“Maybe she does not know what is going on here. As soon as Fritz comes home from school, I’ll send him to get your aunt. Do you know her address?”
“Yes, Reichert Street 2.”
“What is her name?”
“Erika Zeller.” Once said, Sigrit hugged her bear and sucked her thumb, something she had not done for years.
As soon as Fritz, arrived his mother told him to take his bicycle and get Frau Zeller. Less than an hour later, Erika appeared on her bicycle dressed in a blue, tailored suit with a chic little hat on her brunette, curly hair. When she entered the apartment, Sigrit clung to her as if afraid that if she let Erika go, she too would be gone.
“What is going on here?” Erika asked.
Frau Weiss whispered the events of the day before, hoping Sigrit would not hear her.
“Oh that poor child,” said Erika, stooping down to hug the little girl. “Where is Ludwig?”
“He is camping with the Hitler Youth,” answered Sigrit, starting to cry. “He’s coming home this evening.” Just looking at her aunt made Sigrit sad. Erika looked so much like her dear mama.
“You are coming home with me. Now I’ll go and get some of your things,”
Erika went up one flight of stairs and the first thing she encountered was an SS man guarding the door.
“No one is allowed into the apartment,” he said.
“I need to get some of my niece’s things. Let me speak to your superior.”
“Commandant Schnellhauser,” he called into the dwelling, “there is someone to see you.”
Soon a tall man in his forties dressed in a well-fitting, brown suit appeared. His narrow face and prominent nose reminded her of Frederick the Great. He looked every inch like a Prussian policeman. Looking into the apartment, she saw a number of plain-clothed men and some in their black SS uniforms searching through every closet and drawer. All the things that had been gone through were laying on the floor in neat piles.
“Who are you and what do you want?”
“I am Erika Zeller. My husband is an army doctor on the Eastern Front. My sister lived here and I am taking the child home with me. I need to get a few of her things.”
“I can’t allow you to come in here and take anything away.”
“At least would you give me her coat and some clothes?”
“I’ll tell you what I’ll do, I’ll have my men pack up the children’s things and you can come to my office to get them.” He reached for a child’s coat hanging on a hook near the hallway door and handed it to her. Then he took a pad of paper out of his pocket and said, “Tell me your address. The Jugendamt will get in touch with you concerning the children.”
The word Jugendamt sent fear into Erika. “Why does the youth bureau have to get involved? I am the closest relative the children have, and I’m perfectly willing to care for them.”
“Bureaucracy, we have to follow procedure.”
“What about the bodies of my sister and her husband, where are they?”
“They are at the mortuary. I have made arrangements for internment tomorrow at ten in the morning at the Friedhof.”
“Could you tell me what they are accused of having done?” asked Erika.
“We can discuss that when you come to my office to get the children’s things. Would tomorrow afternoon be good for you?”
“Then I expect to see you about three o’clock. Goodbye,”
Erika extended her right hand to him and when he shook it, she looked into his gray eyes, seeing some friendliness, something she did not expect to see in a Gestapo officer.
Leaving her bicycle in the care of Frau Weiss, Erika took Sigrit by the hand and they started walking. The little girl’s eyes were glassy and blinked little. Occasionally the sun peaked through the clouds, adding a little cheer to the otherwise gray day. Even the three- and four-story apartment buildings with fancy facades and wrought iron balconies looked bleak. What was left of the bright flowers of summer was now black and brown. Some of the pots were still sitting outside like faithful sentinels, adding to the dreary atmosphere.
Passing Saints Peter and Paul Church, Sigrit asked to stop. They entered the large Gothic church that had always impressed her. Now the building seemed cold and unfriendly. The structure built to glorify man’s faith in God now only appeared as a monument to architects and masons. Sigrit knelt down, folded her hands, and closed her eyes to pray. No thought of prayer came to her, only the horrible sight of her mother and father hanging from the rafters.
“Oh God, how can you let that happen? If you are good, how can you? Is your goodness an illusion? Are you only an illusion? Holy Jesus, give me a sign that you exist.”
She stared at the large wooden cross hanging above the altar. “Jesus, prove you exist, make the cross swing.”
The cross hung still.
“Can’t think now, can’t pray. Goodbye God, Jesus.”
It was dusk when Ludwig who was fourteen arrived. He gave his aunt a polite handshake and bow. Erika put some precious bread and cheese on the kitchen table and the three ate supper in silence. While they lingered over some hot tea, Erika laid a hand on Ludwig’s shoulder and urged him to express his feelings. He rebuffed her.
“I don’t want to talk.” He got up, put on his jacket, and headed for the door. “I’m going for a walk.”
The door closed with a bang.
Erika and Sigrit passed the evening in the kitchen. A heavy, dark-velvet drape kept the cold out and prevented the light from the electric lamp from being seen on the street, and possibly by airplanes. The wood fire in the dual, fuel kitchen range gave off a cozy, dry heat. The stove had four gas burners and a gas oven with a coal or wood stove attached. The top was flat, enabling one to cook on it. The radio softly played classical music.
Erika sat on the cushioned corner bench with a book on the table reading fairy tales. The girl lay on the bench with her head in her aunt’s lap, being soothed by her pleasant voice, the crackling of the fire, and the heavenly notes of Mozart. Sigrit gently went into dreamland where her parents were still alive and loving her and all was well in her world.
By midnight Ludwig was still out and Erika became very anxious. Finally there was soft tapping on the apartment door. Erika rushed to the door and opened it cautiously. Her eyes opened wide and her nostrils expanded with breath. Ludwig stood at the door, one eye swollen shut and tinged with red and purple. The blood under his nose was dried and smeared on his face. With his clothes dirty and torn, he stood there, obviously trying to focus his good eye and keep his balance. He staggered forward, aimed for the nearest chair, and flopped down.
Ludwig looked up, hiccupped, and spoke in an intoxicated slur. “I was with my friend, Rolf, in his father’s wine cellar. You should see how much wine he has. Of course, the father was at one of his Nazi meetings. We boys got rid of some of the old stuff he has. I must say, some of that fifty year old wine was pretty good.”
“Who beat you up?”
“Oh, that! On the way home we ran into some brown-shirt hooligans. They were hogging the sidewalk, so we got into a fistfight. No big deal. We just stepped over them, but we did not have to step into the street.”
“What happened to the gang of hooligans as you call them?”
“Oh, we beat the devil out of them, but they all got up and cussed us out.”
“Do they know you and Rolf?”
“Naw, don’t worry about me, I’m fine. What can happen that is worse than already has happened?”
“Don’t ever think that things can’t get worse–they can. There is some hot water on the stove. Wash up and I’ll give you some pajamas. You can sleep in the guest room. Tomorrow is going to be a difficult day.”
“Thank you, Tante.” For a moment the boy looked small, sad, and vulnerable. Then he took a deep breath, straightened his shoulders, and assumed a defiant look in his one good eye.
© 2013 by Ellynore Seybold-Smith
Richard N. Jahna:
Monday, September 16, 2013: Professor Richard N. Jahna of Arizona Western College reviews Sigrit.
He says: “Out of the rubble of WWII Germany, Ellynore Smith constructs a tale of destruction, loss, love, and hope. Sigrit delves both into the unspeakable depths of human cruelty as well as our capacity for kindness even amid the bleakest of circumstances.” – Richard N. Jahna, Professor, Arizona Western College
Engraved: All Things Writing:
Wednesday, December 31, 2014: Eleanore Trupkiewicz reviews Sigrit for Engraved: All Things Writing
She says: A beautifully written work of historical fiction, Sigrit by Ellynore Seybold-Smith is the heartwarming story of relationships in the midst of war, and how life really does move forward despite all the challenges we face.
The work is realistic and genuine, with sympathetic characters, especially Sigrit herself and particularly early in the novel, when it’s easiest to feel for the devastation she’s experienced. Seybold-Smith writes in a simple, minimalist style (think Hemingway at his best) and her extensive research into the historical period and European cultures about which she writes is very clearly evident in the work, seamlessly woven throughout the story. READ FULL REVIEW