Mrs Lilian Culshaw, Nottingham
Lilian Culshaw was a 14 years old when she began corresponding with Dagmar Farber, a pupil from a high school in Tallinn, Estonia. Mrs Culshaw still has 70 letters written over those years. They had nicknames for each other – Lilian was Lily, and Dagmar was Teddy.
This letter from Dagmar, dated 1946, tells of her experiences – including working in a German office in Estonia, and her efforts to obtain documents to enter Germany.
My dearest Lily,
I am very, very happy that we have found each other. My poor dear Lily, I am sorry you were unhappy because you didn’t find me in Estonia any more. I have to tell you a lot, and I think I’ll start there too where we left off. But you must excuse me when there are terrible mistakes in my letter, but I haven’t had a chance to speak English for the five years I’ve been in Germany, and I have forgotten a lot.
First I want to tell you how glad my husband and I are to hear that you and your husband don’t hate the German people. It shouldn’t hurt me if you did, because I am an Estonian and will be forever. I don’t like German people, they are selfish, cold-hearted and foolish, and I have seen too much of their heartlessness so I can’t like them. My husband knows I hate his people and he is unhappy about it, but I can’t help it, I can’t lie.
We both hope too that we shall be friends and meet some day. My Gunther sends his regards to you both, and wants me to tell you that he never has hated English people but he likes them, and he is trying to forget the past awful days.
In April 1940 I got a job in a German office in Tallinn. In June 1940 the Bolsheviks (from Russia) came to Estonia, and then the last Germans who lived in Estonia drove to Germany. I was told that all these Estonians who had jobs in German offices would be put in prison or brought to Russia as soon as the last Germans had left Estonia. I was a little frightened, not as much for myself as for my mother.
Then I was told I could drive to Germany too if I had German papers or any document that said we belonged to the German nation, but we hadn’t. Then there were many couples who got married and that way could drive to Germany. I had a good girl-friend called Ina. She was from Sweden and she had a friend who was German and worked at the same office with me. He was called Erich Wasing. We went often together to dances. Then we married on the 28th January, 1941, and got divorced on the 21st March, 1941, two days after we left Tallinn because I had German papers now.
Mother and I could take with us only 50kg baggage. For my poor mother it was too hard to leave home and country. All our relations and friends stayed there. A year later my best friend Nina escaped with her husband and son to Finland.
March 1942 our house was burnt down. Until then we had a little hope that some day we would return to our country, but now this hope died. I was still corresponding with our friends until the Bolsheviks the second time came to Estonia. Now after some years I have written again but got no answer until now.
We were five days and five nights on the way to Germany with the railway. For mother it was very hard but I enjoyed the journey, all was different and new, and on the way I met the man whom I loved. He was a student of the Technical High School at Tallinn, studying architecture, a great patriot. He had organised 20 young men against the Bolsheviks. Then he was put in prison but his mother had got German papers and driven to Germany and this way he was saved death because on Sunday he left Tallinn and on Monday Boris should have been shot. It was love from the first moment.
In Germany we came into a camp, and on the 3rd of May he had to drive there. Then on the 7th May we were engaged to each other. We were happy, and so was mother because Boris was a man whom you could trust and love. Then on the 18th June I came to Berlin, because I got a job there and mother stayed in Nuremberg. At first I was very unhappy, I hated Berlin, was longing for mother and Boris. But then he came to the army near Berlin and my girl-fiend Olga, whose house in Tallinn stood right by ours, came to Berlin. Boris came every weekend to Berlin and with Olga we were at cafes, cinema, theatre and concerts. Every Wednesday we were in our Estonian Club.
Then Boris came to Russia, and an awful time came again. After a year we met each other again, and this was the last time. The last letter I had from him in October 1944, since then no message anymore.
In 1943 mother came to Strausberg near Berlin. Now we were every weekend together. If I hadn’t mother and Olga, I don’t know what would have happened. The days when I had Boris were no more. He was the first man I loved. The time before I was young and a silly little thing who fell in love and soon forgot again, but now it was quite different. I thought I couldn’t live a day without him but as you see, I am still alive and very happily married. My husband knows Boris’s story and that I will never forget him and those wonderful days.
It was a lovely time in Berlin. As much as I hated this town at first I loved it later. I had a lovely little room in a pension, very expensive but with all comforts. I had a very good job as a typist and first secretary, very good paid. Every weekend I met mother. Then I had an everyday mother, Auntie Elsa, an Estonian lady who was the second mother for me. I saw her almost every day or phoned her up. I’ve never had German friends, but I had very many friends in Berlin – Estonians, Bulgarians, Rumanians, Russians, Finns. Then there was Nina’s mother who is 48 but she is as young as a girl, she was a friend and mother to me. Then I had so much to write to my friends in Estonia, and I received every day five or six letters. There wasn’t a day I had no post.
I was happy, only the terrible bombing and the big great fright that something will happen to mother or Boris, made me unhappy.
Then 1943 as the bombings grew terribly our office moved to Templin, some 80km from Berlin. We had a nice room with Olga together. Every weekend we drove to Berlin to meet our mothers. There we were safer from bombings than in Berlin. There was a sea near and it was lovely there. Mother was there twice too, and Auntie Elsa.
Then came 1945. In March all our typists and secretaries drove home and I was several times told to drive away too because parties from our office moved, but I wanted to stay near Berlin. There was mother and Auntie Elsa and Sascha (Nina’s mother).
Then one day there drove no train to Berlin no more, and on the 28th April the Russian army was 2km away from Templin. The commander of the town wanted to take me into his car. I had ten minutes to pack. Then I had to run through a wood that was burning and the Russians were bombing like devils.
As I came to the place where the cars were standing, I put my luggage into a car. There were the two Russian girls in who cleaned our rooms every week. I was thirsty from running and went into a house to beg some water, and then I returned after five minutes, the car with all my luggage had driven away.
It was a great big wonder that I came safely out of town. On my way I saw the car where my things were in but it was the last I saw of them. To think of it, I had nothing now, the little of my clothes I had packed these girls had stolen, my papers and money, and all I had now – I possessed nothing any more.
In Berlin were the Russians so I came on my way to Lubeck, Hamburg and at last to Kiel. It was a hard time, I had no money, nothing. Then I took a job in a laundry. I was there for 21 days. From these days 10 I was ill, because it was too heavy for me. Then the doctor forbade me to work there any longer, it wasn’t good for my heart.
After a fortnight I got a job in an office. It was still a hard time. I was starved and gave my rations away to get some clothes. I have only one pair of stockings. They are so worn that I’m ashamed to go out with them, soon I have to throw them away. I have no pair of shoes, only one old pair of my husbands, no clothes, no trousers, no washing at all, and we can’t buy anything. We haven’t even cotton, so we can’t sew either. I have no hat, no shawl, no gloves. Isn’t it awful, I never thought I would be so poor.
We were with Gunther by his mother, and on the way back we lost in the train the bag where the shaving apparatus of my husband, our tooth brushes and tooth paste and soap were in. Now I don’t know what to do. We can’t buy anything, we get only one little piece of soap per month, it isn’t good but clay soap.
There my story goes on. On the 26th September 1945 I met Gunther (my husband). In November 1945 I got the first letter from mother again. She had to suffer terribly, she was starving. I couldn’t help her. We aren’t allowed to drive to Berlin, we aren’t allowed now. She was terribly longing for me.
On the 6th January 1946 Gunther asked me if I wanted to marry him. On the 15th of the same month we wrote to mother. On the 1st of February we received her answer. On the 6th February, on Gunther’s birthday, we were engaged to each other and on the 6th September this year we married, and we are very happy indeed.
My mother starved to death. That I will never forget, it haunts me night and day.
This is my story. Now we live here in Kiel. My husband has nothing too, he is as poor as I am. They have been very rich at home. He is from Eastern Prussia, but he was in Norway, and his family had to leave their home with only that they could hold in their hands.
We are a funny couple of married people, I am some centimetres taller than my Gunther, and he is 3 ½ years younger than I am, but we love each other and couldn’t think of life being possible without each other. We have a little room, it is bedroom, dining room and kitchen, and nothing in it belongs to us. So you see, my dearest Lily, you are much luckier than we are.
Gunther was so happy when I told him you would send your sweet ration to us. He loves sweets, and we haven’t seen any for ages and ages. Then I can give him a little present for his birthday. Our rations of food are very little.
I have given up my job, and we have little money but I have lots to do all day long.
My dear Lily, as I have lost all I had I have no photos of yours. Please send me one, I would be very happy. And if you have photos of me still, please send them all to me. I want to have other photos taken of them, and then return them to you.
Please tell me, is your husband the same Gordon with whom you once spent your holidays on the Isle of Wight and sent me a photo of you both? I’m very much interested how he looks like, how old he is etc.
My husband is by the minesweepers still, and I am glad about it. Next year it will have an end, and then a bad time begins again, because it is difficult to get a job now. I would like to go into another country, I hate to think of it if I should live my life long in Germany.
Now I must make an end to my letter, for it is late and we haven’t dined already. Gunther is sleeping, soon I have to wake him up.
Excuse me please this awful envelope, but we haven’t any more, and we can’t buy any.
Now we both wish you both a very happy Christmas, much luck, health and all good things of life. Please remember us to your husband.
With the very best wishes, your dear friend,
Post script from Lilian Culshaw – or Lily :
I have about 70 letters during these years of correspondence. We were friends in spirit and grew to love each other as friends.
We never met until, by a strange act of fate, I became friendly with a person who lived in Hamburg and had a country holiday home one mile from where my correspondent and her husband lived. This was the year 2000. She was very ill and I do not think she knew me. She was dying of cancer, and three months later she was dead. My friend attended her funeral.
My letters are filed in date order in a box file, and I shall never part with them.