7:00 PM - Death In Paradise
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Tell me your name and spell it.
Brigitte: Brigitte Murdock or Brigitte Murdock.
Spell it for me.
Brigitte: B-r-i-g-i-t-t-e M-u-r-d-o-c-k.
Tell me where you grew up and when you were born.
Brigitte: I was born in 1935 and grew up in Berlin till the heavy bombing came on and then the whole school was evacuated to East Prussia where we stayed for one year till the Russians moved closer then they moved us to, for another three-quarters of a year, to Silesia. The Russians came closer again and we were loaded on army trucks and driven back to Berlin.
Do you remember the bombing?
Brigitte: Yes, and my mother and my brother and I, we sat on the, what you would call, the third floor darkened corridor, just the roof above us, not the cellar below. Because we couldn't see the bombs; therefore, they couldn't see us and we stayed till the houses around us got hurt and then we went down in the cellar, and I remember that too.
Were you frightened up there?
Brigitte: I cried when they wanted to get me up to get me down the cellar because I knew I'd be all right. And so my parents opened the door so that I would be embarrassed by my screaming and the neighbors would hear it. It didn't help. I still screamed, but I also had to get dressed and go down.
What was the cellar like?
Brigitte: A community center. As a matter of fact, when the Russians finally took over house by house by house, the first Russians we saw, stood in the doorway, looked into the darkened room because we had no electricity. It was full of people and he was leaning on a large, or a tall gun. And he looked in and obviously he wasn't afraid because he didn't get shot at. He handed a cigarette into the room, into the darkened room and quick like a bunny, an older gentleman came and took it. That was, a cigarette was money in those days. You could exchange it for food or whatever. Anyway, this Russian, I never forgot. So the guy got it and the Russian turned around and walked out of the, the darkened area. And that is my first impression of these horrible Russians, which weren't horrible to us, to us personally.
So you said there was a lot of ground fighting.
Brigitte: Fighting from house to house and you could hear it because the shots were fired etc., etc. People were killed. You opened the front door, you dared open the front door just to get fresh air for a moment, which was of course locked all the time. And you saw a guy who had been shot, his bike was lying next to him, so there was always death. And then when the Russians had taken over, which of course they did street by street by street till they got to the middle of town then they had three days, I'm told. I was ten at the time, so I don't know. They had three days of total havoc. They could rob, rape, whatever, and from what I understand, there were at least 100,000 women raped. Of course, as they say, they were laid down and then the Russians came and raped repeatedly and so, but that was after they had won Berlin. While they were fighting. Fighting men basically don't have time to be that cruel, okay. So, we were in the outskirts of town, so therefore we were free of these atrocities. As a matter of fact, Russians would break into the grocery stores and get all the food they could and sit in front of our houses and actually share with the kids some of the stuff they had taken, which of course, I couldn't blame them for. You know if you're hungry, you go where the food is. And then, I told you too that we had a field kitchen set up inside the block, a huge block area, and that was our, our garden, not garden to -- it was a cultured garden type where you could sit and enjoy. Anyway, they had a field kitchen set up and every German who came in, came to the field kitchen and was invited to the field kitchen with one container could get some food that they fixed for us. So, Russians to me don't have this terrible echo, on the contrary. Now, when I meet Russians here, women, they would hug me. It's incredible. And you would think they would slap me down, but they don't. So.
Where are you meeting these women?
Brigitte: At dance where they came from, you know, Russia someplace. Other women at Macy's, whom I met. They're incredible.
What was Berlin like when you were living there during Hitler?
Brigitte: Well, as you can imagine, if something political needs to be hidden, the populous does not know about it because they don't go out and tell you what bad things they have in mind, and I was too young. I was, like I said, the war was over, I was ten. In the meantime, of course, I was, you don't know. The parents couldn't tell you. I mentioned to you once before, I have heard in the meantime that people would, like teachers, would ask the kids in class, I've heard this, I don't know it, would ask in class, "Well, what did your parents discuss last night over dinner?" and the kids small, innocent as they were, probably said, "Well, they talked about this and that and the other," and the teacher might tell it to the Gestapo. As they told it later to the Stasi, as perhaps now they invited to tell it to modern Gestapo's. So, but my family was, I noticed my father one time and I never forgot it, and I must have been about six years old, having his ear right against the radio and I was thinking, "Well why doesn't he step aside and listen to it." And to this day I remember because it, it hit me, and later I realized he was listening to BBC, but he couldn't turn it up for me and he couldn't be sure that the neighbor wouldn't hear it through the wall.
Was Berlin a beautiful city?
Brigitte: It was always a beautiful city. It was beautified when the second Reich was established in 1871. And it was beautified. It brought in just like we now bring in Mexicans or South Americans or whatever to help us build beautiful America. Bismarck brought in outlying districts people, like from Silesia.
But in 1940?
Brigitte: 19.., well yeah, but what I'm saying is, he beautified the city, which was basically, you know, like Salt Lake, but he made it into a representative city. So, you ask me how it was. That's how it was in 1940s, because they had a chance to really build it up to a beautiful city.
Tell me how your family lived.
Brigitte: My father was an accountant who eventually became one of the, I guess, you'd call it controllers of Zeiss Ikon and so he was trained in accounting. He worked many years for (inaudible @ 9:49) and my brother followed him because my brother, my father could not get a job back with (inaudible) after the war, you know, so my brother, like within ten years after the war started there and was very satisfied with the work. But my parents were well educated. They weren't rich. As a matter of fact, my father when he visited me in California and saw what I had and my husband had accomplished, said, "If the war hadn't been, we would've been in better shape." Well, sure. You know, so were the Russians. So would've been everybody else. We lived comfortably but not high on the horse, but I was very well trained, shall we say, in the, and of course that fell apart when I was on my own because Berliners have a way of being, of having an answer for everything. Like I told you, if somebody insults us, we get even. We don't get mad. Not even that we hit on somebody, but we have a quick comeback like New York.
Describe Berlin in 1948 and the blockade.
Brigitte: As a matter of fact, the Germans before they retreated to the middle of town blew up every bridge, because they wanted to prevent the Russians to follow them too closely. So therefore, if you wanted to get to the middle of town, you couldn't. Eventually after the war, right after the war, one part of the bridge was lifted and the other part, well, this was, the other part was like this. And that's when I became free of any restrictions that my family had put on me when they said, "You have to walk this line and not that line." 'Cause we kids would hangle down on this end, manage to go over to this post, get up… I turned loose and it was fun. It was really fun. Suddenly, you were not the well trained daughter of somebody. You were your own self.
Didn't your parents worry about that?
Brigitte: Well, do you think I tell 'em?
Brigitte: Yeah, they were. My father was in war prison for, I don't know really how long, because they never discussed it with us, with me. And so I don't know, but at least he was gone for at least two or three years.
What years were those?
Brigitte: Well we came back to Berlin in February of '45 when the real fighting began, door to door, street to street. And my father wasn't there. So it was mainly women, all around, who were there. Then, when the Russians were like streets away, I stood next to our old men in the doorway because we heard it, but you don't get frightened if it doesn't hit you right in the face. So, I remember standing there with the men and listening to the approaching fire, and what do you do? It's part of your life, you know, you go downstairs back into the cellar and you say, "Well, I'm still alive, so it's part of my life, life story."
You don't know why your father was in prison?
Brigitte: Well, he was drafted in late '44. See, and so when, and I don't even know who first, if he got caught by Britain, by the British Army or by the American Army, I have no idea. I was never. See they were so trained not to talk and I find this today, in today's Army in America too. Men coming back from combat don't talk about that which moves them most. Therefore, it's probably a human characteristic, so I was never. My brother, perhaps, after I left, had more input from my father. I did not. I can only tell you what my mother did.
So you got into Berlin because you jumped that bridge?
Brigitte: Well, I never, you never go far, from your house because we had a burned out of a car, which was so stripped that you just saw whatever, but we kids sat in it and imagined that we drove. And we saw two Russians, probably about two streets down, and we were two or three kids, and when they got close enough, like two or three streets, well, two street's distance away, we ran to our house, which was usually locked. But this time, we got into the house and we were just barely in the house when the Russians already knocked on the house and wanted to come in. But, you see, women were always afraid of being raped, and this was after the city was taken. So they never opened. They could've broken it down, but they didn't because they couldn't. But when the Russians had taken over. Oh, and we had a bomb explode right outside our complex. You know, six houses, four houses, six houses, and it blew out all windows, all windows, of course. So the Russian tanks actually were parked this way against the house with the guns sticking through the broken windows into the rooms. I never forgot that. Quite a picture. Too bad we didn't have cameras, because, and then eventually within I'd say, weeks if not days, we were, we were told by the Russian commander to turn in all of our radios and all telephones, so we had to do that, whether they could check it out or not. So we took our telephone and our radios and you'd be surprised how many radios were built by people who probably had a little idea about how to do these things but learned it quickly because it was bread and butter on their table.
Is this in '48?
Brigitte: This is in '45.
Brigitte: But you were asking me how the…
Oh yah. This is great. I just wanted to make sure.
Brigitte: Yes, then eventually when, and this is something you would have to check out, my brother told me, when on the 8th of May, the Russians had taken over Berlin and we lost the war. When I say we, I'm American. The Germans lost the war, which was me too. By the 4th of July, I understand the Americans moved in because in Potsdam it had been decided that Berlin is divided into four portions within the Soviet zone, so the West, as we call it West Berlin, was actually three parts, British, French, and American, and we happened to be in the American zone, all luck, all luck, because nobody wanted to be Russian. Well, so, on the 4th of July, I understand, the Americans took over their portion of the city, as did the French and the British, which probably didn't mean anything to us, but it means something to us now. And so the Americans came and it was a better deal, but they took the whole block, the whole of many, many apartments. They took it over for their people, see and in our six apartment up stairway, I mean, whatever you call it, you know, we had six apartments, one door. They had officers and when they left, which was probably within two years, they left this area alone again, so that would've been, then let's say by '47, almost '48, they filled all the areas that they could with food, locked it, and left the key somewhere hidden so that my mother could find it, because my mother would immediately clean the house, you know. My mother went up because it was then available for the inhabitants to go up to their apartments. My mother found a German who was already stealing stuff. Well, my mother is a very peace loving woman, believe me, so totally different from me. And she just about hit him down. But you see when you screech long enough and you know that this person is out of line, you have a better chance to get him out of the house. And then she found the key and it was full of food, which was done by the American, not soldiers, officers and their wives, because they had, one had a wife, but she was in uniform, so I guess he was lucky. That was by '47 and a half probably and then by '48 we were in the apartment.
You were slowly rebuilding between '45 and '48?
Brigitte: There is no rebuilding, because first of all, I don't know if you read my material, (inaudible @ 20:11) was the mayor of West Berlin, which probably included the French, Americans, and so on. And he mentioned and I have this in my book and it's translated, he said that we wanted to be on our own. We did not want to be part of the east sector and the Russians didn't like it. This is what caused the blockage of Berlin's roads and waterways. We were blocked off because they wanted West Berlin to go to the communism and Clay, General Clay didn't like it. He was really a tough cookie, and I think you read part of my write up because I was very interested in it. And so suddenly there was a big hole. Nobody could bring any supplies and because Berlin was so bombed out. If you saw some of the portions, especially the middle Berlin mid, where did the people sleep? Even the cellars were… so you couldn't get the food from outside Berlin, which was Soviet. And we had to go, and probably had airplanes coming in before, but suddenly it was all blocked, so the Americans even couldn't get their supplies in because their American freight train I guess were also blocked and this is what really basically started the airlift. Now, what Gail Halvorsen did, I'll never forget it because I wasn't there, but the airport as I mentioned to you flies over the cemetery hemmed in by two high-rise apartments and then there was just a fence, a chain link fence. And on this side, chain link fence, a big two or three or four lane, shall we say, city street. And right there was again a high-rise, so when they were coming in, they had to be real quick like on the runway and stop real quick like. But DC-3 and DC-4 could do that in those years. It was bad enough, but it could be done. Well, Gail Halvorsen as I understand it, made it a trip one time when he was off into coming in, either that or when he came in, took time off to go to the end of the runway and talk to the kids. He took a chance too, because I think in those years it wasn't even allowed basically to talk to the concord. Well, what can kids do that are half naked because they have no clothes, hungry, they were curious. And so he said he's going to give them some more candy when he comes in. Well, he said, "Well how do we know when you come in?" because by that time, you know, the Soviets had an agreement with the Americans that they could have three corridors, I think, one from Munich, you have to, I know, Frankfurt and Hamburg and so and of course only this high, and MiGs would come right in front of their airplanes or to the side of it. In other words, they never knew if they made it and I met some people who didn't make it. Well, they made it obviously, but their plane didn't and they crashed in the Soviet zone and I got to know this airlifter who had two daughters here in Salt Lake, so he would come from Texas with his wife and visit the daughters and he opened up to me with some other stories that I just love. And I think you might have also had that in your because these people were dedicated. I also showed you the picture of one person who was stationed at Hickam in Hawaii who was not released from service to go home. He was ordered to come and be part of the (Feschbach @ 24:42) Germany mechanical unit that when the airlift cargo planes or crews needed to be called upon. You know, I mean, it was incredible. Anyway, this man from Hickam, not from Hickam, he wasn't firm there, but he was stationed there. He sent me all sorts of information when he went to the anniversary because Berlin never really forgot what was done.
It was more than food. Tell me about that.
Brigitte: They needed everything. They needed coal. They needed warm stuff. It was definitely cold. See we didn't have any electricity. We didn't have any water because the lines were usually broken. So they had to be fixed too. We had nothing, really. They brought everything.
Do you remember food being distributed in the streets?
Brigitte: That I didn't see because we lived far enough. You see, you had to be closer to where this distribution center was and in my street, there wasn't such a thing. Probably because many people came and lived with their relatives along our streets in the suburbs, not suburbs, it's not the suburbs like you know it. But it was sort of outlying areas of the main city because the inside, the main portion of Berlin was totally bombed. I mean, you see it. You think you're, you know, thousand years back because that's how the buildings looked like. Anyway, I was fortunate enough to happen to be in the area where they had actually Christmas for the kids, and that was part of the airlift where the soldiers were asked to help get food ready and I happened to be there so of course, quick like a bunny, I smelled this right there and ate my fill, went home. And another time again it was per chance in Tempelhof, somewhere in Tempelhof, not close to the airport, near, and you always waked. I mean you walk, because you didn't have money for the streetcar, which eventually, well streetcars went from one destroyed bridge to the next destroyed bridge. You get a transfer and if you make it to the other side, you can take that streetcar to the next bridge. I mean, when you look at it, it's funny, now. But it wasn't funny then. But then again, people didn't have a job either. So, you see, that's another portion and you'd be surprised how much we kids got from the Americans who lived in our block. We didn't ask for it, at least I didn't ask for it. But they knew when they ate something that our eyes probably popped. So, they gave us some of it, you know. So, that I took back to my mother and brother who were living with other families in an apartment building, which was made available to people who were displaced from this block. And that apartment building had been hit by a bomb that took actually took out from the roof all the way down, one room. So if you opened the door from the corridor of the apartment where you lived, you opened the door, don't make another step because you'd be, you know, greeting the rats down on the bottom, and it's, but to me, this is part of growing up and I wouldn't want to miss it.
Where did your mother get food?
Brigitte: Again, I don't know. See, these are portions you never asked. There were rationing cards issued of course. And I have a feeling Germans being as bureaucratic as they are and knowing that it needs to be done and by the time they got some food in, Germans set up a rationing card and there were degrees. If you worked hard at a, shall we say, at a project that would clear the street, like women would take the stones and clean them and pile them up. These women because there weren't any men. See, during the last portion of the war, they had what they call a (inaudible @ 29:48), which means a (inaudible) is power and the power of the people. Well, they drafted these old men, and I mean old men, and the young boys down to 16. They gave them, I bet you, guns that were made of wood, nothing else. I don't know, but that's the joke, you know, because I don't know. And so they took them out of the cellars to help free the middle of Berlin while the bazookas were flying overhead. It's incredible what you think of. Well, anyway, so rationing cards, yes. And so every once in a while when you had 100 grams. Now I'm not kidding, 100 grams of butter on that rationing card for the week and it was called up. Rationing coupon number so and so is now, has now. They may not have butter. So they gave you margarine. Well, what now if the margarine went out, they had lard. We never had lard in our lives, but you know, you eat anything.
Do you remember getting bread?
Brigitte: Yes, and my mother made the mistake of letting me go and buy on the rationing card two loaves of bread, which was, I guess, the portion that they gave you. Unfortunately for my mother, my hands were too busy eating it, in the middle of the two breads and I had eaten it all. What you do when you're hungry. It's amazing. She didn't do it again, though.
I bet you were in trouble?
Brigitte: Well, another time she had a nice, I don't know where she got it, but probably rationing card, you know, very little. So, by let's say end of summer she got a little container of honey, which she wanted to keep in case she ever got a little flour for Christmas honey bake. Well, unfortunately, I saw where it was and I know how to get up to it and take it, and because I didn't want to go in the kitchen and get a knife or spoon because that would've been suspicious because other people were also living in the apartment, you know, I took the scissors and scraped it and ate it. Well, not all of it of course, I put it back, but by Christmas it was gone. My mother went up to get it, and she learned.
Describe this apartment and who is living with you.
Brigitte: Any people who were assigned to take over a space. So I don't know how the bureaucrats in place and it was disorganized bureaucracy, but whatever they did, they picked a family and actually not only that family with two kids, almost adult teenage boys, they also had their relatives live in that one apartment and then of course we shared the kitchen and the bathroom, which we were glad to do because what's the alternative. So how many people lived in rooms because they made something for themselves. So no, we were lucky.
Was it just you family in one space?
Brigitte: One little room, one little room, then the corridor went on to that room and then there was at an angle they had the doors this way and if you opened that door, you fell down, 'cause it wasn't there. You know, the bomb hit it. But in my other apartment, in the real apartment, we had what they call two and a half room apartment, which meant the bedroom, master bedroom, and of course, living room, and then a little room for the kids, which meant you lived with your brother in one room, which was fine because I never heard of any nasty stuff. There was no internet where you could learn anything nasty, etc. etc. And so my brother and I for years lived in that room, you see.
What is the time difference between the two apartments?
Brigitte: Well, remember I told you that this block was taken over by the Americans? Well, that was our real apartment. We were chased out, so to speak, chased out of that apartment into the available room of that particular apartment. So, people were put out of harm's way because it was a very cold time. I remember it was a cold winter and so the cold, the cold transport on these, see Tunner, when General Tunner came in, he ordered, and I think it was also Clay, who ordered that all DC-4s should be made available as C-54s military, C-54s because they could bring in more stuff. And from what I understand, every minute or minute and a half, a plane would come in, but the weather was so bad in Europe that many times they couldn't come in. So, they would have to go back. Now, Gail Halvorsen also threw down parachutes to kids that he saw, well, he didn't see that that was East Germany or East Berlin, because the wall wasn't up yet and it looked all the same, devastated, destroyed. So he threw parachutes down and the Americans were chastised by the Russians not to do that to their people. So, he had to quit that, you see. He didn't make any difference between kids and kids and kids.
So, he didn't care if they were Russians or..
Brigitte: He didn't care and I'm sure his compatriots didn't care who got it. Now, he once gave me within the last, I'd say last 10-15 years, he gave me a parachute and my friend, of whom I spoke, who is now dead, caught one but didn't keep it because, you know, by that time, we were, what, in our mid-sixties and so I gave it to her. Well, she died two years ago and probably her stepchildren got it and probably don't know what they got, you know, because when you see you have to almost know that this is a parachute of those years. And I might add and I have it also in my records, I found out that not only did American soldiers donate their handkerchiefs to be made but also the work was done by some of the Pan American stewardesses, one of which is mentioned there so Pan American is the American company donated time of their people to help Gail Halvorsen and his troops.
Describe the Tempelhof airport layout and why you didn't get candy.
Brigitte: Well, because I lived, as you know, with flying, by the time you come down to the airport, you're still flying at I'd say at least 2500 feet. And by the time you come down, which is pretty steep to get to that point of Tempelhof, that parachute would've ended any place, any place. It could have been on the roof. It could've been in trees, whatever. It was too high up. It couldn't be concentrated to a group of youngins. And where the picture you see with the airplane coming over, that was in (Noikern? @ 38:14). (Noikern?) is on the other side of Tempelhof from where I lived. You see, and so, if I wanted to walk to that place, it would probably take me a day and another day back, so I wasn't allowed to go that far, see. And also, in September of '45, I went to high school, and so you had to sit in school, which was the windows were blown, you know, so you were cold like the dickens. Oh, it was something.
'45 or '48?
Brigitte: '45. '45. So, you were in school, and I was in school for probably seven to eight years. So you see, you didn't have the time to go to these places where you could actually catch a parachute. And if they had dropped it where I lived, and I saw many of them I probably waved to them 'cause I still wave to helicopters and little airplanes when they fly over my Salt Lake backyard. Thank you.
Did you know about the candy being dropped?
Tell me what you knew.
Brigitte: Only from the paper, from the newspapers, because I never knew anybody in my area. You were very confined basically, not by force, but by time, by transportation, lack of transportation and so on and so on. By papers, yes and of course radio. We had a radio, which was called RIAS, which meant Radio In the American Sector. And then of course AFN was American Forces Network and I listened to that, but by the same token, and you learned a lot from them in English, except you learned English you were just in the beginning of English, so you didn't catch everything, see. And by the same token, you learned a lot. You learned. One time in my high school, and this was around '48, my teacher said, "Give me the poem of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star." And I did. And half way through he said, "Sit down." And why? Because I had an American accent at that age. And why? Because I listened to AFN. And he wanted British. I didn't like British accent.
What sort of things did you hear on the radio about him?
Brigitte: Only that it happened, but I wasn't there to catch it. And this is, candy is something that was so precious in those years, because sugar was also brought into Berlin because, where do you get it? In West Germany, so it was brought in. It was precious to all the things that the bakers made, the various manufacturers of food would produce. So you got it in a ration card, hundred gram on this ticket today if you were lucky and you were there early. You should've seen the food lines that were. My mother had my brother and myself standing in line and she would be in the third line someplace you know because each store, like it wasn't a supermarket like we have here. It was as grocery store, a bread store, and so on and they were yes in walking distance on our street, but you still had to be there. So, we stood there and my mother would come and see how close we were to getting it, but that's what you did. They gave you a hundred grams of this. Well, my mother had a pantry, which she locked. Well, being me, I found me a way to get a key, you know, that my fingers don't turn the proper way, but it's what we call, (inaudible @ 42:24) And you put it into these very simple locks and you open it. Well, she wondered where the sugar went, the little she had; the milk, powdered milk and I think poppy seeds, I loved. And I mix it together and it was sometimes my food, you know. When my mother was perhaps was shopping and I came out of school, so I knew how to open that thing and she wondered, and then of course I hid it, the key. And so she figured, well okay, I lock the kitchen door. Well, she did but what she didn't realize is or thought of, and it was a little window because when I came back in 1960 and looked at that little window and knew I had crawled through it in '48 to get to my locked. I had a chair here, went through head first, hip, this way 'cause this way I couldn't do it, so this way, walk down head first, went to. Fun. She still wondered how come that somebody could do that. And she never found out 'til she visited me in California. Then I told her.
Were you jealous of those children?
Brigitte: No. That's something I have never. I share. I don't like to be jealous.
But when you're ten?
Brigitte: No. I didn't. I had enough. And also during that time, and I was about 12 or 13 years old in that big garden type situation, I would have the kids play stories, you know, give a performance. And I was also teaching them how to do calisthenics. And I mean, we were too busy to be jealous. We were busy. But we knew. We knew what's going on in a way, but I couldn't put a stamp of truth on it because it is something that you hear occasionally, but you don't, now can't prove it, you know.
How did the children of Berlin react to the thought of the candy bomber?
Brigitte: I think to this day, they love it. They never forget.
Was it in the '90s when you met Gail Halvorsen?
Brigitte: When we moved to Salt Lake in 1980, by I think '82, the Tribune wrote about a candy bomber and I thought, "Geez, I know that. I know him." By looks you know, and but I wasn't quick enough or thinking enough. I wasn't familiar enough with Salt Lake and the possibilities that I had to find out where he lives, what he does, and so on. But by '93, I was a little bit more savvy. And I got his telephone number from the telephone book at the library, called him up, said "I'm one of your Berlin kids," and he was gracious enough to accept my invitation to come to my husband's and my garden party, you know, just to meet him. He and his wife, his first wife. And I had quite a get-together and it was fun, and he was always as gracious from the first moment till he is to this day. I have been around a bit in my job and positions of some importance, some not so importance, in touch with people, I have an idea of what a nice person is like, and he is it. It never went to his head that he is world known.
So you have been associating with him for about 20 years now?
Brigitte: Yeah. Right, just about. And he was always open to anything, either that I suggested or if I could help him translate this and that because this other person, Chester Jim Vaughn, who's son is Mark Vaughn, they're all in the Army or in the military service who Mark Vaughn is the web master of BAVA, Berlin Airlift Veteran's Association. And through Jim Vaughn, the father, I got a lot of information because when he went to Berlin during any of these anniversary celebrations of Airlift, he brought me back and sent me, well he lived by that time in Nevada.
Brigitte: And so he would always give me information so I was always up to date on what is going on in Berlin, plus I of course had access to at least two Berlin newspapers through the internet and would take their German version and translate it and either give it, well both, and give it to Jim Vaughn and to Gail Halvorsen, especially when they talked about them.
You've been able to meet some of the children of Berlin that actually caught the candy?
Brigitte: Okay. The lady I just gave you the name of, would you like me to name it?
Brigitte: I met Mercedes and I met her about, I would say almost 20 years ago too and her picture is also in the some of the pictures. Very nice lady and the way she sent the letter to Gail Halvorsen sounds just like a good Berliner. "Why do you fly over when you scare my chickens?" I mean, how Berlinish can you get. Well, that was good and also she is the most gracious lady to, if not always, but often offer her apartment to Gail Halvorsen and his family. So, she has, over the years, umpteen years, decades, extended herself to Gail Halvorsen and his family, which I really think is wonderful. Because in Berlin, we are nice people, but we are not necessarily as open in inviting people to our homes to stay as they are here in America. And she was, obviously, so I liked that. Then, I met during the 1998 brought, or let's say taking or taping by Bill Redeker of ABC TV (inaudible @ 50:36) those two caught a parachute and I myself were invited to participate in the Good Morning America five-minute show, which was great, but I'm sure I was invited because Gail Halvorsen and his family, my husband and I had a good relationship with him because it started immediately. I mean, when I called Gail Halvorsen, that was almost like an old friend. And so the development was that it never changed. It always was friendly, informative, and very satisfying, as far as information or concern. Oh, and another one I want to tell you. In the meantime, last year, one of my school friends, a lady, we were girl's school, you know, girl high school. Anyway, she told me that one of her friends had caught, no, didn't catch was they had a tree and the airplane came in from the other end, not from the crowded end, but from the street level. And one of the parachutes landed in a tree. Well, this little boy was ten years old and probably was better to climb the tree to get down what was so, and the boys, the bigger boys were standing down and they told him and their parents or some adults anyway. They said, "Don't you touch it, 'cause I saw it first." This type of thing. And so when he caught it, of course a ten-year-old boy with candy, you know that he's not going to, and so he took one. Well, he stayed in that tree till people dispersed and from what I understand in his first story, there still stayed some boys around because what he did is I think he just did this to the whole thing and the boys took whatever fell. But I think they still bothered him and so he ran home, you know, probably crying, but I have this story also and his name is (Munfred Edmond?). His wife is (inaudible @ 53:05) and I asked him via email to send me a picture so that at least his story, and he still lives in Berlin, would also show his picture. And I think he got very enthusiastic in the meantime because last year when Gail Halvorsen was there and they celebrated another get together. As a matter of fact, Gail Halvorsen's name is now above a school, as you know. They took one name down and put Gail's over it and so it was an official dedication and recognition of his services to Berlin. So, he was there and he met Gail Halvorsen and I think his old time ten-year-old soul woke up that, that is a good story. You are in the tree for somebody else and then you have to stay there till almost dark to get out because otherwise somebody might hurt you because you took one.
Well he crawled up there. Of course he needs to take one.
Brigitte: Well not only this. Can you imagine how hurtful it must be to sit there for time. Anyway, I have that story too and if you'd like to get in touch with him.
I want you to tell it one more time to me, just so we have two things to cut with.
Brigitte: Because he was young, ten years old, he had a better chance of being heaved up to the first branch probably and then climb on to where that parachute was hanging in the crown of the tree. And he was also advised not to touch it for himself. In other words, don't take anything out of it. Well, he took one. And they must have seen it, so he was afraid to come down because they probably warned him.
Tell me what the Berlin airlift means to Germans.
Brigitte: Well it meant that we didn't starve, which would've been the case and we would've turned to communism because they would've promised us food and whatever, but General Joseph Stalin was not satisfied with having this much of Germany with a little spot of Berlin in the middle of it. He wanted it all and then maybe he would've even taken over Europe with his communism theory, and this is what they were afraid of.
Tell me about the concept of freedom and gratitude.
Brigitte: When you are hungry you couldn't care less for freedom. When you're cold and you shiver all night and all day, you don't care for freedom. You only look at the next thing, which means food and warmth. The concept, the ethereal concept of freedom is something that you learn about when you look back. And then you realize what freedom is. And you didn't fall into the trap.
Why is the Candy Bomber important?
Brigitte: Think, a country that started a war and lost and the people who won are suddenly helping you survive. What do you think?
It could be something that's overlooked in history.
Brigitte: Well, it usually is. Look at what's going on now.
It's really a small gesture.
Brigitte: Well, it depends. If you're thoughtful, it's not. The concept behind it is so big, that you actually have to be there and go through it to understand it. And I find Americans don't even know about their father's military service and the portions of his or her, you know, depends, woes that they encountered. Like this, I told you this man who had a crash in the Soviet zone whom I met, him and his wife, his daughters didn't know. His grandson didn't know, and when the grandson at I think he was at that time, 12 or 13 years old and with the material I had given him, that I got from the grandfather, made the teacher so stirred up because the teacher didn't know what the servicemen of '45 and beyond went through, he put out a term paper that the teacher was so stirred up about that I asked Gail Halvorsen to please sign a book so that I can give it to, not me give it, but give it to the mother of this boy so that the boy could give it to his teacher. And you see, it's, it's almost like a strand. You give it to one person and it feeds on itself.
How should Gail Halvorsen be remembered?
Brigitte: I can only speak for myself. I can say that we should have more like him. A whole herd of him. And I know, I knew some of them, like this man who crashed and gave me stories about his military service and by that time he was 85 and he was one of the older airlifters. And I met him here met him here personally in Salt Lake, but I had correspondents with him like a thank you note and I told you how I met him, didn't I? I again went to the library, got the address of this man who was written up in the Parade as being involved with the airlift, got the address, sent him a thank you note and I said, "I'm a little late, 50 years late, but thank you." And so I get a phone call from him and he had two daughters here in town whom he instructed to get my address. So he called and he said thank you and we met, he and his wife and my husband, you know, we got together, and he told me stories that his family didn't know, which of course I passed on.
What do you think of these airlifters?
Brigitte: They are exceptional people. Every one of them. I had given to this Jim Vaughn an article that I wrote for myself, "How did it all begin?" Berlin, (inaudible @ 01:01:05) Berlin Stays Always Berlin, okay. That was the German headline. And I say, how did it all begin? And I wrote a little something. So this Jim Vaughn who was a member or is a member of Berlin Airlift Veteran's Association Newsletter, he sent my report in and somebody put my address in it and my telephone number. Handwritten. So, I got calls I'd say, probably ten calls from all over the United States of airlifters who said thank you.
Did the Berlin Airlift bring hope?
Brigitte: It saved our lives. It saved our lives and literally saved our lives, 2.5 million citizens and you can imagine what that took. Like when I said, they came in one and one and a half minutes apart. Now you ask me about Tempelhof Airport. I think it's one of the most intriguing airports, because those little airplanes, even the DC-4 could actually park underneath a roof, half-roof, you know, they move in and it's a whole row of airplanes. If you ever saw it, I mean, it's amazing what the Germans can think of. I mean, they really have, you know, savvy. Of course, by the time the bigger airplanes came in the air transport (inaudible @ 01:02:44) airplane traffic, that was no longer good, but by the same token, it was good during the airlift, and I wanted to tell you they needed another airport. Eventually, they needed another airport, so Berlin Tegel is in the French sector and in those years, and this was also '47-'48, going into '49, they built Tegel Airport because they didn't have enough men. They had 40 percent women. God, we're good. Anyway, the Soviets had a tower at the end of the runway and it was not their place to be there, but during the end of the war, that was the place where they had a tower of some sort. And the French asked them to please leave because it wasn't their place anymore. Well, the Soviets said, "Buzz off." So what did the French do? They put a bomb underneath it and blew it up and look here it was fine. But the 40 percent women who helped build that airport, which is, which was good till Berlin, Germany reunited in 1989-90, 40 percent of the women made it possible to build this thing in three months from September to December, and I'm still damn proud of it, and I use French, damn.
What makes Gail Halvorsen unique?
Brigitte: Because he's humble. He's humble, but he has, he is a colonel so he has knows how to carry himself. But he isn't over lording anybody else. I have met people like that and I totally, totally respect them. And I have a knowledge of human beings where I have, can I tell you a story?
It depends on how long?
Brigitte: It's a short one. One of the heads of the three major networks, NBC so on in the mid '60s came into the VIP room accompanied by the special rep. And the guy, hat on his hand, in back, his coat was, grabs into the pocket and throws the ticket on my desk. Well, it is my job to see that everything is taken care of, so I picked it up with two fingers and I said, "Sir, I'd be glad to handle it." Two fingers, right? So then I handled it and then went back to him and I said, "Sir, this…" And I turned to the next guy and I said, "Well, Mr. so-and-so, how are you today?" And this guy picked it up. By the time he left, nothing more spoken, he put his arm on my shoulder and said, "I'm sorry." He knew damn well what I recognized in him, namely a pride that is unbecoming. Gail Halvorsen does not have that. He has, like my husband, a way of accommodating people, no matter who they are, and I like that.
Tell me about the anniversaries.
Brigitte: Well, Berlin in 1998 for instance, they needed at least $2 million in order to accommodate the airlifters from U.S., Great Britain, France, and New Zealand. Because what they did is they let them be accommodated free, the food was free, the accommodation was free, the transportation was free. And they really honored the people, no matter who they were. The mechanics, pilots, it didn't make any difference. Whoever, and that was done by the (inaudible @ 01:07:10) organization, which is I think run out of the mayor's office, because I got emails and letters from these people, and it seems they are right in the midst of things, okay. So they are not just, you know, next to it. They are attached to it. And they in '98, now '98, that's still time off, they had $1.6 million available to accommodate 1000 airlifters, and I wrote to them. I wrote to the men and I'm still in touch with them, didn't know them and said, "I have met a person who has crashed and is there something he could do?" He said, "No problem." He sent him a $1000 to Texas, sent me a letter of confirmation that he had done it, so that they could come to the anniversary in '98 and enjoy it. Not only this, he went to the village where the plane had crashed, which by that time of course was the West because it was united and they had a wonderful reunification with the German farmers of that area. These farmers were, they hated the Soviets. I mean, they didn't like them, you know. So it, Berlin loves them. And of course, they had a big show at the stadium and really honored them and it was full. That stadium was full of Berliners just to be part of it.
Make a statement staring with "The Berlin Airlift…"
Brigitte: The Berlin Airlift came at a time when the healing started in all earnestness and there were no, there was no blockade to love the people who actually had thrown bombs on you.
Gail Halvorsen is…
Brigitte: Gail Halvorsen is one of the most remarkable worldwide known people, humble, pleasant, in charge, and still flying persons I have ever known, and I was with an airline for many years.
Tell me about the elementary school candy drop.
Brigitte: He called me and I have the dates there and I think it might have been in '95. He called me and said, "Would you come when I give a speech at the
Westpoint Utah Elementary School?" And I had to look it up, because I though Westpoint is only to the east, but we also have Westpoint here. So I found it. I got more candy, bought it from Costco in big bags and gave it to the principal to do whatever he wanted or she wanted with it, because you never have enough for elementary kids. They were sitting outside on the lawn in the back of the school and then over that away was a big blanket, which of course you didn't see first because you just didn't pay any attention. And I was asked to give a little talk on how I felt during those years, and of course, short and sweet. So, Gail was talking to the kids and when you are six, seven, eight years old, oh, I mean, you hang on the lips of the person who talks, and all had big eyes and sitting on the ground. So when I was through, a little airplane comes flying over and drops parachutes right onto the blanket. I mean, it was a show you wouldn't want to miss, because basically it was in small what he had done in bigger.
He loves children, doesn't he?
Brigitte: I think he loves everybody, but children because they're helpless, he loves more.
He beams when he is around children.
Brigitte: Well, it was his life's work. Really, when you consider, he was born in '20 if I am not mistaken, so that makes him, what? 93. Just about. Now whom do you know who is 93 and still doing what he does including flying an airplane? Occasionally, you know, as a copilot, but still.
Is there anything else you want to add?
Brigitte: I don't know that I can. I ran out of words.
I understand. Is that possible?
Brigitte: No. Not as a Berliner.