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The Family Album

November 9, 2010

2 years ago, I gave my great Auntie Gisa (then aged 83) my laptop and scanner. She wanted to learn “how to scan photos into the computer”. She had just received  boxes and boxes of old photos from her sister’s estate and decided that they needed to be “scanned and labeled and made into a nice slide show presentation for the family”. Since I just couldn’t possibly do it just then, she took it upon herself to get it done.

It took her a year to scan 853 pages of photos, stories and descriptions. It was so very fortunate as she’s the only person left in the family who knows the people and their stories!

The project then turned to me to make the album. She originally had only wanted the photos straightened out and then put onto a cd to mail around. But the more I thought about it, the more these stories needed a proper presentation.  But when was I going to do this thing? I really didn’t know how to find the time, so the files sat on my computer for nearly 8 months.

Well, now time is of the essence, and at least some of this album needs to come to life as soon as possible.

So that’s what I’ve been doing for the past 2 weeks.

The photos are incredible and her stories even more so.

Here’s a small excerpt:

Our house at Gausstrasse 18 had a beautiful garden.

In those days hardly any private families had telephone or radio, TV hadn’t been invented yet, nor were there any refrigerators or deep freezers. There were no washing machines or dryers, and no dishwashers.

Every morning the bakery delivered fresh buns, still warm, into a bag that one hung outside on the doorknob. Milk was delivered in bottles, but on Sundays one had to pick it up from the store.

In our house the kitchen, pantry and dining room were in the basement. Also a coal cellar and a storage room (once our housemaid locked me in there because I had been impolite). Then there was the laundry with a big kettle – every 3 weeks a huge pile of laundry – and beside that the small bathroom with the tall oven for the central heating.”


“Sometimes Oma made her own noodles. That was always a big event because the big sheets of rolled out noodle dough had to hang in the kitchen over a clothes line and the backs of the chairs until they were dry, and only then were they cut. These wonderful noodles tasted a lot better than anything one could buy.  Every day we children were given a spoonful of biomalt with calcium, and we also had to take fish liver oil.  In those days there were no vitamin pills and also none of the drugs that are so common today.”

My aunt and my grandmother as young girls feeding some birds


I drove out to her house this morning to work some more on the album, and the story she told me today will stick with me forever.

It was about my Great Great Uncle Willy.

He’s the tall dark and handsome on the right. He was the funny guy in the family. Always pulling pranks and telling jokes and keeping everyone in stitches. Once, his sister’s tenants seemed to have gone missing, and she was starting to get worried. So he snuck off, found and old glove, stuffed it with some dirt and ran up exclaiming to have suddenly found the poor tenant’s severed hand! Ha! I would have loved to have known him..

Anyway, that wasn’t the story…

During WWII, his town was suddenly being bombed. Not your regular bombs, but ones that set fires. His apartment building was hit twice and they all ran downstairs to the basement shelter. The fires and smoke quickly engulfed the building. Suddenly they could hear some people and children who were trapped by the smoke and couldn’t find their way out! Willy quickly grabbed a burlap sack and soaked it in the washtub. He cut a small hole so he could see, threw it over his head and ran upstairs…..

He saved every .  single .  person before the building collapsed!

He survived the war, but his kid brother Hans (standing beside him) unfortunately went missing in action.

My Aunt has wartime stories that would chill you to the bone… But that’s for another time.

So back to my album I go. It’s all I do these days. All day.


Even though this still begs for my attention..



14 Comments leave one →
  1. kskovbroten permalink
    November 9, 2010 5:10 pm

    What an incredible project. I’m completely in awe.

  2. Eileen permalink
    November 9, 2010 5:15 pm

    You’re very lucky to have an aunt who can relate to you some of these wonderful stories and remembrances about your family. My husband’s aunt supplied us with her totally awesome home-made noodles for our soup. We miss those & her since she died.

  3. November 9, 2010 5:19 pm

    that is so awesome to be able to have that family history available to you. I love the stories you shared. Please share some more as you learn them!

  4. Steph.L permalink
    November 9, 2010 5:22 pm

    wow Sonja this is fantastic I can’t wait to see this! I just love seeing old photo’s like that, how cool. Hugs to Auntie Gisa from all of us!

  5. November 9, 2010 5:54 pm

    Thanks so much for sharing some of your family history with us. You’re so fortunate to have someone in your family who can still remember all the old stories and pass this heritage on to you. The book will be wonderful when you’re finished it.

  6. Katy permalink
    November 9, 2010 6:56 pm

    What a wonderful post to read… thank you for taking the time to share your family stories with us, it is lovely 🙂


  7. Katy permalink
    November 9, 2010 6:57 pm

    I was also going to say that were I to have undertaken the book part, it might never get done because I would be too busy reading and imagining everything that happened 🙂

  8. November 9, 2010 7:37 pm

    Those stories are such an incredible gift, what I would give to go back in time and ask my grandparents to tell me their stories.

  9. November 10, 2010 6:12 am

    What a beautiful job you’re doing! And it’s so important; you’re doing a hard task that will serve future generations and that’s commendable. Your family photos will not be bought at some distant flea market because someone thinks they’re “quaint.”

  10. November 10, 2010 8:43 am

    My family did this project a few years back, so I understand hat’s involved, and also the wonderful rewards! My sister & BIL did most of the work, as he is in the graphics design business, & does beautiful work. I helped sort the pics, & as the eldest, could ID the most people & tell some of the stories. The book is SO precious!

    Your family will thank you forever for doing this, & certainly your Aunt Giza also. Blessings & HUGS to both of you & all who will receive!!

  11. Paula permalink
    November 17, 2010 11:18 am

    This so so amazing! You are so lucky to have all these photos and that your aunt is still alive to do this project with … you will never regret the time you spend with her working on this!

  12. JillyL permalink
    November 20, 2010 6:57 pm

    That is such a great treasure. Is there a chance you will link to the final album when its done? Even though they are your personal family stories I’d love to read them


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