When I was two years old my mother’s mother was living with us. She was a loving generous lady and we called her Grossmutter (grandmother). Before our home town of Wuppertal was bombed, she moved to Hohensolms Castle near Frankfurt, in 1942.
My mother Martha, sister Iris and I remained in the family home in Wuppertal-Beyenburg. When the air raid siren sounded, we retreated to the cellar, which had been prepared for extended stays, with food and bedding. Another siren rang several hours later indicating that it was safe to leave the cellar. One day we heard the second siren and came out to inspect the damage. We found an incendiary bomb against the wall of the house, which fortunately had not been ignited. However the window of Iris’s bedroom had been smashed and glass was found under the covers of her neatly-made bed. Official documents from the town hall ten kilometres away were found in our garden.
Beyenburg is a village on the outskirts of Wuppertal and the village suffered only minor damage. In contrast, other districts of this industrial city were extensively bombed with incendiaries. In February 1943 the British bombed the Goldschmidt adhesives factory, which made wood adhesive used in wooden air frame components. The pharmacology firm Bayer was targeted, as were other factories. Over 6,500 people died as a result of the bombing of Wuppertal, and 38% of the built up area was destroyed.
My mother (we called her Mutti) decided it was time to move somewhere safer. After the first bombing in 1943, Mutti packed up the house and we moved to Hohensolms Castle.
Carolina Lett was born in St Petersburg in 1821, when this port city on the Baltic Sea was the capital of Imperial Russia. She had three children, the oldest being my grandfather on my father’s side, August. He had a sister who was a year older, and a brother, age unknown. Carolina did not marry and nothing is recorded of the children’s father, or fathers*. August took his mother’s surname Lett, and that is how I inherited the name.
August was born in Strasbourg, Alsace, France on 6 September 1861 . Carolina died when August was nine years old and he was sent to an orphanage. The children were separated and August thought that his sister had died, but ten years later he found that she was living with another family.
August served an apprenticeship and became a baker. He then joined the army, where he learned to play the bugle. August was so righteous and sincere in his religious beliefs that he was teased by his fellow soldiers. He was uncompromising in his views and was not universally liked.
*This data comes from my Ahnen-Pass, or Ancestor Passport, which listed ancestors of citizens of Nazi Germany. It was also known colloquially as the Nazi Passport. While not compulsory, it was a convenient way for those without Jewish heritage to show this to authorities. For those with a Jewish ancestor, the Ahnen Pass showed a “J” next to the ancestor’s name. The primary objective of the Ahnen Pass was to create extensive profiling based on racial data.
A fertiliser silo exploded a few kilometers from my grandfather’s flower nursery. The family were picking flowers for the market when the blast knocked them all to the ground. Several lost consciousness. When they came to they found a huge boulder amongst the flowers. The glasshouses were destroyed. My mother, Martha Genaehr, was 18 years old.
The family belonged to the United Evangelical Mission (VEM) and several family members had worked as missionaries in China and Indonesia (former Dutch East Indies). They asked the church if they knew someone who could redesign the glasshouses. Ernst Lett arrived at the front door. Remarkably, he lived in the family home while the glasshouses were being designed and built. Ernst became part of the family, and later became friendly with Martha. While they were keen on each other, it was over ten years before they were married, mainly because they could not afford a wedding and setting up a house.
Ernst was required to study architecture and learn a trade as part of his training as a Baumeister (master builder). He chose the trade of bricklayer, and here can be seen on the tools. Note the wooden clogs. He later worked as a building inspector for the City of Wuppertal, with an office in the town hall. Ernst was born in 1900 and this photo was taken in the 1920’s.
Martha was born in 1903 and had six sisters and five brothers. She worked as an au pair in Utrecht, Netherlands while she was single. All of Martha’s brothers played brass instruments and on Ernst’s birthday they stood outside his bedroom and play for him. Not wanting to miss out, Ernst jumped out of bed, climbed through the bedroom window and ran around the back of the house. He stood behind the brass quintet and played with them on his cornet, for his own birthday.