UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

Spirit Story

Conversations with Edith

By Angela Bailey

My late mother’s one surviving friend, Edith, lives in a nursing home in the United Kingdom, not far from the town to which she immigrated in 1946 from Berlin.

I grew up in the same town and return to England annually to visit Edith. Now in her 90s, Edith always permits me to ask a few questions about her life.

Edith, why did you agree to leave Berlin to come to this small town?

I was always fascinated by London. I wanted to live near London so I could go to the opera and concerts and theatre.

London? But this town is nowhere near London!

I know. But when Leslie [a British church organist] asked me to marry him, I asked where we would be living. He showed me a map. I could see that London was only half an inch away. (We laugh.) I was happy to come. I didn’t like my parents anyway.

I see. Nazis?

They supported Hitler almost to the end. When my granddaughter was born, I called my father. He asked me her name. I told him, Sarah. He was furious — how dare you call a great-grandchild of mine by a Jewish name?

What was it like to be a teenager in Berlin during wartime?

Terrible things were happening. One day, I ran to my church and asked my priest, “Wasn’t Jesus a Jew?” “Of course,” he said. “Then why are our Jewish neighbours disappearing and others taking their homes? Why are they attacked and no one helps them?” He put his finger to his lips and hushed me. “My child,” he said, “we live in difficult times; we mustn’t ask questions.”

What was it like for you here in the United Kingdom after the war?

Sometimes hard, especially to begin with. I joined a wonderful choir in the town. Two women said they would not sing with a German. I told the director I understood. It was too soon for me to join. I would withdraw and come back in a few years. He said, “No. If you leave, I will leave. Music is a great healer. We all work together.” So I stayed and no one left.

You never sang in our church choir on Remembrance Day.

You remember that? You were so young to notice. I stayed away so that people could grieve and not feel embarrassed by my presence.

Edith, do you think it’s time we let go of Remembrance Day? Some feel it glorifies war. They say we should focus on peace.

Of course we should focus on peace, yes, but first we have to understand why it is so important. Remembrance Day is about remembering how easy it is for any nation to follow the wrong leadership and fall over the precipice into chaos. We remember the horror, the devastation, the depravity and the colossal losses and waste of human life. But most important is to remember what human nature is capable of when we lose our way. We all have much to seek forgiveness for.

You and my mother both suffered in wartime, yet despite your differences you were friends.

We, too, were victims, living on different sides of the conflict. She knew all about suffering and grief. It made her compassionate. When I came to your home, your mother and I did not speak about the war. She made me tea — (Edith tears up)

And?

She brought out her best china for me.  

Rev. Angela Bailey is a retired United Church minister in Ottawa.


Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!
Promotional Image
Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: My Year of Living Spiritually

by Observer Staff

Anne Bokma left the Dutch Reformed Church as a young adult and eventually became a member of the United Church and then the Unitarian Universalists. Having long explored the "spiritual but not religious" demographic as a writer, she decided to immerse herself in practices — like hiring a soul coach, secular choir-singing and forest bathing — for 12 months to find both enlightenment and entertainment.

Promotional Image

Faith

January 2018

In the beginning

by Alanna Mitchell

The award-winning science writer travels to northern Australia to explore the world's oldest creation story

Society

January 2018

The good death

by Pieta Woolley

Anglican professor Donald Grayston made dying in peace a lifetime project. His example is inspiring others to plan a meaningful exit.

Faith

January 2018

Me, Dad and the Almighty

by Anne Bayin

A preacher’s kid pretended to be a devout daughter, but secretly she felt lost in a wilderness of doubt.

Society

January 2018

The good death

by Pieta Woolley

Anglican professor Donald Grayston made dying in peace a lifetime project. His example is inspiring others to plan a meaningful exit.

Faith

January 2018

In the beginning

by Alanna Mitchell

The award-winning science writer travels to northern Australia to explore the world's oldest creation story

Faith

January 2018

Me, Dad and the Almighty

by Anne Bayin

A preacher’s kid pretended to be a devout daughter, but secretly she felt lost in a wilderness of doubt.

Promotional Image