‘Basically, we were satisfied if we had anything at all.’

a witness of the twentieth century

Erich Karl was born as one of five siblings into humble circumstances in Weimar: his father was a soldier in the First World War, and later a casual labourer. His mother worked as a laundress and cook. Like so many in Germany, the Karl family suffered from the dire food shortages, a consequence of the economic blockade imposed by the Allies during the war, which continued into 1919. Hundreds of thousands of children faced the threat of starvation.

It was at this time that Eglantyne Jebb, an Englishwoman, founded the Save the Children Fund. Within a year, she had collected donations equivalent to £52 million today and was able to provide immediate aid to the suffering children of the former enemies Germany and Austria. Little Erich also benefitted from this help. Save the Children and The Quakers gave school meals to the poorest children. They also gave hot chocolate. At 105, Erich still remembered that hot chocolate: ‘In first grade, we got a chocolate drink at school… It was gven to us by women in aprons. Each of us got a ladle full of chocolate.’

This wasn’t the last World War Erich would live through. In 1939, Erich was drafted by the military and sent to work in the intelligence division in East Prussia. Erich only saw some of the withdrawal from Stalingrad before he was sent back home to work.

Erich Karl has lived a very fast-paced and incredibly destructive century. At the age of 105, this charming senior citizen from the Köpenick district of Berlin appeared to have made peace with those disruptions, the experiences of the two world wars. He still loved the outdoors and long daily walks in the nearby woods.


This text is an excerpt from the book “I’M ALIVE”
by Martina Dase and Dominic Nahr.

All information about the book and where to order can be found here.

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