Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/496/2647
Living in the GDR
Balancing between two different worlds
Sonja Grossner joined the Socialist Party last year. She is the daughter of two German socialist and anti-Nazi fighters. She was born in England in 1942 after her parents had fled Nazi-controlled Germany. In 1960 she moved to Dresden, in the former GDR (East Germany), with her mother and younger sister. There, they witnessed first-hand the corruption and oppression within the state. In 1984 Sonja returned to England with her daughter, then aged 11. She explains her story to the socialist.
My parents were Communists from early youth. My father was a member of the 'Rot Front Kmpfer Bund' (Red Front Fighters league).
He was active printing newspapers and leaflets for the party. Illegal material and a small press had to be moved regularly. Once, my father was boarding a tram carrying this stuff. A young Nazi came up to him... imagine how my father felt! But all the Nazi wanted was to help my father lift the case onto the tram!
When Hitler came to power, my parents had to flee because of their anti-Nazi political activities. There was a warrant out for their arrest.
They fled over the border into the Czech Republic and lived in Prague until they had to flee again.
My mother was able to leave on the last transport for women and children out of Czechoslovakia to Britain.
She was a member of the Oska Kokoschka league, a group of anti-fascist artists in Prague, and accepted a position as kitchen help with the renowned artist Ronald Penrose, a personal friend of Picasso. He wanted to help refugees escape and also helped pay for my mother's art studies.
My father became a fugitive - hunted with dogs, and made his way over to Poland before being able to board a boat-load of refugees fleeing to Britain.
My mother arrived in England on 9 March 1939 - one day before Hitler arrived in Prague. My father joined her in London on 15 May- a few months before Britain was plunged into the Second World War.
Severe shortage of food and other daily necessities prevented a return to Germany after the war. Dresden was in ruins.
My father's application for return to Germany some years later was turned down by the occupying Russian authorities who refused to give any reasons why.
In 1960 my mother took us over to Dresden 'for a holiday of no return'. I was seventeen and my sister was thirteen. Father was left behind. My mother was longing to return home, to her place of birth and wander again through the beautiful countryside surrounding Dresden. She was longing to be part of a socialist society. My father joined us five years later.
Our British passports were taken away in spite of mother's request for us to keep them. I was given the opportunity to study music, to become a professional violinist; my dream. We joined the SED - the Communist Party.
Our life in the GDR became a balancing act between two worlds, tight-rope walking. Some people told us how silly we were to leave Britain and others, SED party members, regarded us with suspicion and mistrust, as spies.
My parents never gave up their ideals and hope. But they became very disappointed and disillusioned with the GDR Stalinist state.
There was no unemployment; there was work for all. Education was free. I became a professional orchestra violinist. But it was a 'big brother' situation. This worsened as years went by. East Germans couldn't get out into the western world. They became very narrow-minded, imprisoned within this society.
The party secretary where we lived was extremely unpleasant, arguing and disagreeing with my mother, making our lives difficult. We soon found out why: He had not only been a Nazi, but also an active member of the SS - and here he was, a secretary of the SED, the East German Communist Party in a position of authority. He had just changed colour, the same Nazi as before.
In 1972 some of my mother's art works were stolen or destroyed. This was the start of a series of traumatic events and victimisation against us from the Stasi secret police.
The majority of my mother's life drawings were attacked, changed and distorted to give the impression that they were made by someone with a perverted nature. A sketch of a man was changed to resemble a portrait of Hitler and her wonderful woodcarvings were attacked.
The Stasi had been in our flat planting bugs, and someone had thought it funny to distort my mother's art works. We moved, closed our doors to everyone, lived isolated and cancelled our SED membership. We couldn't trust anyone.
Whoever had done this was trying to discredit my mother because she stood up for her beliefs and positive socialist views.
About this time my father was sent into an old people's home against our will. He complained that there were Nazis in that place. He died soon after this.
Three weeks before my mother died we went to Berlin to regain my British passport. I then applied for permission for a holiday trip back home to England.
This was viewed as a criminal offence and I was ordered to attend an interview at the police station. I was told how wonderful things were in the GDR, that my parents had done a wonderful thing bringing me back.
I found out that our British passports from 1960 had never been returned to the British authorities. The British embassy suspected that they might have been used for spies.
My mother died in 1982 and I returned to Britain with my daughter in 1984 with confused political views, searching for answers.
Many German people were pleased when The Wall came down. Looking to the West, they thought "Oh, now you can get anything you like, and you can buy anything you want, you are free to go anywhere in the world, wherever you want." They forgot completely you need money to do these things.
Today, things are worse. East Germans now have to live in a capitalist society. Many look back to the 'good things' about the GDR, job for all, no unemployment; although there was a lack of many things. But they forget the dictatorship we had there.
I consider myself a socialist. I look up to my parents and their optimistic ideals, but I have many unanswered questions and through my search I have found and joined the Socialist Party.
My parents stood up against fascism and for their ideals of a better world. They should have been given more credit and honour for their heroism at a time in history when mankind was threatened with war. Instead they were maltreated, victims of the Stalinist regime. Yet I still believe that socialism will eventually succeed, that we will all live peacefully together on this planet. I have my parents to thank for this, and hope that I live up to their ideals.
In The Socialist 19 July 2007:
Socialist Party NHS campaign
War and terrorism
Socialist Party news and analysis
Postal workers' strike
Council cuts threaten schools
Socialist Party youth and students
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party events