Stories of My Grandfather, Part Two

In a previous post, I shared some stories about my grandfather, Hans Wilhelm Joachim Boldt. First, I mentioned before that he was tall. Here’s a photo showing how tall he was.

During the 1930’s my Opa played guitar. Now and then, he and a bunch of his friends would meet in a wooded area south of Hamburg to play music. I like to imagine them playing protest songs in the style of Woody Guthrie. But it was probably mainly traditional folk songs. Later, he loaned his guitar to a friend in the navy who was serving on a U-boat. When he got his guitar back, it was in pieces. Opa never played guitar again.

The war broke out in 1939. Shortly thereafter, Opa was arrested and imprisoned a second time. He never discussed the reasons why, but he clearly was a critic of the Nazi regime, and openly speculated that the Nazis would eventually invade Russia. We believe his sisters Bertha and Frieda ratted him out. (By this time, Minna was already living in Canada.) His brother-in-law was a member of the Nazi party, but he insisted he had nothing to do with his arrest.

While Opa was in prison camp, my Oma, Anna Ludwigs, had to work to support the family. At first, the authorities wouldn’t let her since the Nazi’s believed that a woman’s place was in the home. But since Opa was not available to support the family, they relented. She had a job as a railway crossing guard, a job she enjoyed a great deal. Whenever someone came by who she didn’t like, she would lower the gates and make him wait, even though there wasn’t a train coming. She would smile and say she was just following procedures. One time, she earned a commendation for her bravery in stopping a train when there was a cow on the tracks.

When Opa was released from prison, he wasn’t allowed to return to work in the shipyards since it was considered too vital for the war effort. But he got a job working for a company developing prestressed concrete technology. Go figure! Did the Nazis not see a military application for prestressed concrete? But at the time, the technology was new. At one point, the company built a concrete roof. When they brought in the building inspector, he took one look and said the roof had to come down. They then took him outside, and showed him a bunch of heavy trucks parked on the roof!

In July of 1943, allied bombers attacked the city of Hamburg. The resulting fire storm destroyed a significant part of the city, and killed more than 40,000 people. The Boldt family survived in a bomb shelter, but their home and all their belongings were destroyed. A distant cousin of my Oma was not so lucky. Here’s her death certificate. At the bottom, the cause of death is listed as “enemy action”.

By the end of the war, my Oma and Opa were in the town of Groß Görnow in the Russian zone. When the Russian troops were advancing, a lot of elected officials fled to the west. Opa agreed to take the position of Bürgermeister (mayor) of the town since he felt he could deal with the Russians. He held that position for six months from June to November of 1945. If they were to have any hope of reuniting with their son, they had to return home to Hamburg. (At the time, my Dad was in an American POW camp in France.) They did get permission to leave, but Opa had to bribe a Russian official with his leather jacket.

I’ll end this installment with one more anecdote: Because of his skills in the field of prestressed concrete, my Opa was offered a job in Canada. But before that could happen, some amount of paperwork was necessary. First, he had to get his criminal record cleaned up. Because his “crimes” were political in nature, that was no problem. Second, Canada wasn’t yet fully open to immigration from Germany, and so his immigration required federal cabinet approval. In 1949, he started working at the Fred Elgie Company in Belleville. His wife and son arrived in Canada shortly thereafter.


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