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Continued from: The War Years

At last the war ended, but maybe not entirely for the Paul family. After their release from the camp, the British revoked the brothers’ visas so they had to leave England. They sailed first to Holland. From there, Herman arranged passage for his wife and child. Uncle Willy picked up Norah and Yry in Amsterdam and escorted them into northern Germany, where he situated them temporarily with relatives, while Herman searched for a place to live in Karlsruhe. Failing that, they ended up farther south in Langen with a new batch of relatives. I suspect that the proximity of relatives in Langen helped Herman secure employment, which was no small feat. He began working at a shellac factory and was quickly promoted to director of that factory. It was late summer of 1919.

Her parents took three weeks to rekindle their romance as they searched the cratered countryside for a place for the three of them to live. Yry, not quite six, remained in Langen with the relatives. Till that time life had consisted of two extremes: war time chaos or quiet solitude with her mother. She had spent little time with other children. Like any five-year old, she was proud of her growing communication skills and was a good English conversationalist with adults. But in the blink of an eye, she was demoted to the frustrating turf of intelligibility. The mumbo jumbo these crazy strangers babbled made no sense. When she spoke, her cousins gawped and giggled. She wondered if they were savages, like the hungry dogs roaming the streets. Even their table manners were atrocious.

Initially she shrank into the shadows and refused to acknowledge their silly gobbledygook. The Dutch and German cousins responded with taunts about her lack of manners and her snootiness. She responded by scurrying under the dining room table, sheltered by the folds of the tablecloth, and in true British fashion, she crossed her arms and proclaimed, “I am the Queen of England!” It was a proclamation that I heard echoed with great delight 50 years later.

I can’t help but acknowledge my mother’s pluck. Given similar circumstances, I’m quite sure I’d have hidden under the table in abject silence, praying that no one would discover me. Over time, the patience and kindness of the adult aunts and uncles slowly softened Yry’s husk of defiance. Curiosity drove her to guess the content of the family dinner conversations and she began to pick up bits and pieces of the German language. Whereas her life in London had been one of seclusion and fear, this new life in Germany was full of aunts and uncles and cousins who jabbered, laughed, and pulled pranks on each other. Eventually, Yry learned how to play with her cousins and came to cherish them individually for their unique contributions to the family entertainment.