Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Occupied Luxembourg–A True Story

Around homeschool circles you’re always hearing about “living books” and we love those.  However, we also like “living history” or at least the history that goes with those living around us.

Our lovely neighbor, Mrs. Kay Nimax is a living history lesson.   Born in Luxembourg in 1935, she lived through World War II.   Luxembourg, a nation smaller than the state of Rhode Island is nestled in between Germany, France and Belgium.    The capital city (also named Luxembourg) was built on top of a castle, so there are tunnels and travel ways beneath the city.

Bulge Map

Mrs. Nimax was 5 with Luxembourg was invaded by Germany, and 10 when the Allies arrived bringing liberation.   She said her most vivid memory was the day when the Germans arrived.  They arrived by the thousands, marching up a steep hill, with cannons and artillery being pulled behind the troops by horses.   They then blew up the bridge they’d marched across to enter the city.  She said it was the most terrifying things she’s every seen.

Everything in young Kay’s life changed that day.  Two Jewish playmates from down the street just disappeared over night with their family.  Food and supplies became scarce as the Nazi’s took over.   Natives of the country were given identification cards with their names, address, dated of birth, and the swastika on it.   Everyone was required to wear these at all times.  

Ration cards were issued.  Kay’s mother didn’t use butter and sugar, so she sold the families rations cards for those items to others.  The family spread shortening on their black bread and sprinkled salt on top.   Potatoes were easily available, so much so that the Nazi’s called the Luxembourgers “potato heads”.

At school, her teachers were replaced with harsh Nazi’s wearing high boots and carrying heavy rulers to reprimand the children.   All textbooks written in French and Luxembourger were heaped into piles and burned and replaced with books printed in German.  Students were no longer allowed to speak in their native tongue, or French while at school.   Each school day began with the mandatory “Heil Hitler!” salute, and those not complying were punished.

Young men in their teens and twenties were expected (demanded) to join the Nazi forces.   Those who refused were sent to concentration camps.  Kay’s two uncles were among those who refused to join the ranks of the Nazi’s.  In the middle of the night troops burst into their home and charged up the stairs looking for the young men.  The family was made to stand outside in the night air in their nightgowns while the Nazi’s searched the home.  The boys were later found at another aunt’s house.  Both were sent to concentration camps, one died there, the other died shortly after liberation from disease he picked up at the camp.

Near the end of the war, the American’s arrived in the city of Luxembourg.  Hidden Luxembourg flags were brought out and waved and people cheered “The American’s are here!”   Soldiers, tossed out chocolates, gum and oranges to the children in the streets.  It was the first time Kay had tasted chocolate.

Pattons Statue

 photo credit: Betty Dorschner

It was here in this quiet little country that one of the bloodiest and most important battles of the war took place, the Battle of the Bulge. The fighting was so close that Kay remembers seeing airplanes dropping bombs from above. Laying in bed at night she’d cover her head with her blankets trying to drown out the sounds of the bloody battle just over the hill. The upper 1/3 of the country was bombed the worst.

Below are newspapers that Mrs. Nimax has, showing the end of the war.  The headline below reads “Luxembourg is Free!”

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The photo below shows the Nazi’s leaving the city.  Kay said the Germans stole bicycles, horses and anything else they could find to speed them up as they left.  Even her step-father’s bicycle was stolen by a Nazi.

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Mrs. Nimax’s  husband, Pierre (now deceased) and his family often entertained American soldiers in their home. Whether it was the good cooking of his mother, or the fact that Pierre had attractive older sisters, nobody knows.  However, it was through that kindness that a doorway for Pierre and Kay would open years later.   One of the soldiers who frequented the Nimax home in Luxembourg had offered to sponsor Pierre if he wanted to come to the United States after the war.

Pierre took that soldier up on his offer.  He became a United States citizen, served in the military and later became a prominent writer and photographer.  Kay Nimax arrived in the United States in 1958, great with child and unable to speak English.   She too became a United States citizen, and an amazing seamstress.   Together they started a family and built a life that has impacted untold numbers of people.

Our family did not have the pleasure of meeting Mr. Nimax.  However “Ms. Kay”, as she is called by us and our children, has become like family.  

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Books from Mrs. Nimax:

Milly’s Story: A Young Girl’s Memories of the Second World War; by Milly Thill
Freed A Leed zu Veinen 1939-1945; by Veiner Geschichtsfrenn

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