Wednesday, May 18

Helga Brückel: the German who was born in the middle of World War II and saw the end of the Franco dictatorship

Being born in Berlin in January 1939 is hardly lucky, but listening to Helga Brückel Pesch almost makes you think otherwise. She remembers quite clearly, perhaps because of the traumatic events for a girl, the bombings and the nights in a basement in her city. In fact, she is clear that her childhood nonconformity was what made her mother send her to a children’s shelter “where she could sleep all night.”

However, as soon as she was five years old, the situation began to worsen, and her mother decided to leave because not even shelter was a guarantee of safety in a Germany where violence was commonplace. And they fled to an old house belonging to their grandmother, near Frankfurt, although she admits that her mother did go “from time to time” to Berlin to see if the flat was still standing: “We were lucky,” says Helga before confirm that your home “withstood” the war.


His school years are kept with special affection, especially at the time when the “Americans” arrived and the war was over. Her memory and selection of memories is curious, and even Helga is surprised to hear how accurately she preserves that day she tasted her first orange.

And it was precisely an American soldier who gave him this fruit that was so common, but that the difficulties of eating in the middle of the war had not allowed him to try: “He distributed them among the four children that we were with, and I ran home to show it to my mother. She told me that she had to share it with my brother, ”he points out between smiles.

His father, who returned in 1947 from Seville, where he had stayed since the end of the war, found a completely devastated country where it was impossible to find work and where the counter had to be reset to zero. “At that time we lived very close to what was then the Berlin airport, and every three minutes a plane landed with food. For a year the population was fed from the air. With all the scarcity that there was and we survived, that still amazes me today.”

And it is not surprising, since the lack of food was present at the beginning of Helga’s life: “We were always hungry. We were kids and we were growing up,” she confesses. And just as she remembers her first orange, she also mentions powdered milk, “but back then, it was worse,” she adds sympathetically. Even so, and despite her lumps, she admits that she served them as a porridge to put on top of the bread: “We ate it and it was hauja”.

However, and despite her innate resilience, she knows that she had to live through a post-war period in which poverty invaded every corner: “My grandmother worked and saved, but everything was lost and there were no pension plans like today, so he was left with nothing… When things improved he had a war aid, and with that he could survive”.

Helga is still able to get excited when she thinks how in the middle of Berlin you could play in the middle of the street because there was no traffic, something that today seems unthinkable in its busy streets. But that’s how she grew up and made friends playing marbles like any other girl. And although she lived the part of the post-war period less aware of her age, she also has space in her present to relive how her neighbors fought in the street to collect horse waste and thus be able to pay her garden. They were times of poverty, there is no doubt.

Growing up in these circumstances also made this Berliner brave and independent, and losing fear can also be liberating. It was precisely the stimulation of the unknown that made her go to work near Frankfurt at the Max Planck research center where she worked as a superior technician in X-Rays and Laboratory, and where she met the Spaniard who would become her husband: “He was intern as a doctor, and we got married there. Later, in 1969 we went to Spain”. And she lived through the last years of a dictatorship that, like her war, she never understood.

People really wanted to get out of Francoism, there was a lot of repression. And everything went so well… It was almost a miracle

The reality of her arrival in Spain, which began in Zaragoza but later moved to Santander, was not as pleasant as she could have imagined, and she accepts that her in-laws did not welcome her, which made her very sad when she found herself in an unknown country. However, she justifies the bad reception they gave her by adding that “the Spain of before was like that”.

And it is that for her it was quite a shock to arrive in a Spain fully settled in the Franco regime where she missed her day to day in which she could speak “freely” or hold meetings normally. Paradoxically and with a certain humor, she declares that despite being a Protestant, she is one of the few who continued to go to mass in Spain after Franco’s death.

And she, who always worked, considered it “logical” to focus on the care of her four children, something in which she also found differences with the Spanish: “My children could play and get dirty, and at home we had a room to play when others did not they had it… I raised them my way,” he says. But with the end of Francoism this Berliner was able to vote, something she had not yet known in her native country: “Berlin then was not Germany, and when I lived in other places I was not registered, so I could not vote either, so my first It was here once,” he declares.

The perspective that the years give, perhaps exaggerated by the hustle and bustle of a life with four minors in his care, makes him see how he was not fully aware of what he was experiencing while the Transition was going on: “People really wanted to go out Hence, there was a lot of repression. And everything went so well… It was almost a miracle.”

Her fourth child was born in 1979, and now, at 83 years old, she wonders what her farewell to life will be like: “I’m worried that I won’t arrive well. My mother was fantastic until the last year, but not all people are that lucky, ”she argues, hoping that she is one of those lucky ones. However, if Helga is clear about something, it is how productive the remaining years will be, something that she already puts into practice as a student of Unate: “I always have the impression that I have to make better use of my time. I always have to do something.”

Helga Brückel Pesch is one of the protagonists of the Legacy Project, a repository of personal testimonies that are life recorded in audiovisual support and guarded by the Cantabria Film Library and the European Patronage of the Elderly Foundation (PEM). The latter, together with Unate-La Universidad Permanente, are the promoters of a project that has the financing and collaboration of the Ministry of Universities, Equality, Culture and Sports of the Government of the Government and various municipalities of the autonomous community.



www.eldiario.es