Growing Up in Hitler’s Germany
October 25th, 2015 by Denise Porter
Inge Nirri of Tillamook, Oregon, was a teenager living in Germany during World War II. She experienced the happy times before Hitler and the war, and the ugliness that followed.

Inge Nirri of Tillamook, Oregon, was a teenager living in Germany during World War II.
She experienced the happy times before Hitler and the war, and the ugliness that followed.

Inge Nirri, 88, recalls an idyllic childhood. Her teen years, however, were spent living in a war zone during one of the most terrible wars the world has ever known.

Born in Berlin, Germany, in 1926, Inge is an only child. Her parents, both employed in the banking industry, were moderately well off.

“We had book clubs and piano lessons,” Inge recalls. “And we would read a lot. My parents would go to the opera, and we would have concerts. We played outside and ice skated in the wintertime. We had snow and hills for skiing, roller skating in the streets. We had a good life, and we were happy.”

That began to change with Adolph Hitler’s rise to power.

“It seems that everybody has to live under rules and regulations,” Inge says, no matter the country, “and it seemed that (Hitler’s laws) were not out of place. They were acceptable. We weren’t really restricted.”

Inge looks at the life she had under a dictator’s rule, and she points to subtle indicators of subjugation she was not aware of as a child.

“We never really noticed anything bad happening,” Inge says. “You’re just there, and you just live with it and you really are not hurting. You still had your life and your privacy. (Hitler) provided jobs, and there was no crime. He had the youth organizations, and everyone had to be fit. You didn’t have time to do something stupid, really.”

Inge was 12 in 1938 when Germany moved to occupy Austria.

“The way it was presented was that Germany wanted to regain some of the land that had been lost (from German territory as a result of the outcome of World War I),” she remembers.

German citizens, Inge recalls, were sick of the “bickering back and forth because of land getting taken away (from Germany) during World War I,” she says. “It just seemed like at the time it was just a border conflict—and you didn’t really think it would escalate.”

In 1939, Germany invaded Poland. Britain and France responded to the agression by declaring war against Germany, and World War II began.

Inge remembers the mood in Berlin was light.

“Everybody was happy that something was going on,” she says. “We figured, ‘Let’s get this on and get it settled.’”
The war escalated. Many Germans embraced the struggle, but many of her countrymen were simply trying to survive, she says.

“They wanted to call us all Nazis,” she says. “Of course, it all depended on your upbringing and your parents.”

Inge became accustomed to seeing her doctor and dentist wearing a yellow star, which was required by the government of all Jews.

“They were already sorted out,” she says. “I remember at first when it started, we couldn’t understand why.”

When rumors that entire neighborhoods of Jewish families were disappearing, Inge says she began to understand that her country’s leader was insane.

“You just can’t imagine that somebody would be like that,” she says. “He was crazy. At first, what he wanted made sense. We needed to feel like a country again. But then, you know, you just lose your faith in humanity.”

Teenage Inge found small ways to show nonconformity.

“People were supposed to say, ‘Heil Hitler!’ and I would say, ‘Good morning,’” she recalls, chuckling. “It was a small way to rebel, but it kept me an individual. It made my father scared for me. Even as a child, I was a bit of a rebel. Hitler was not my type.

“We never at home listened to his speeches. You were supposed to listen to his speeches at school and write about it. I couldn’t stand it.”

As the war progressed into its fourth and fifth years, Inge’s school was moved several times. Its final location was in the north, near the Danish border. Eventually, Inge lost contact with her parents. She was told her father was made to serve in the people’s army, defending Berlin.

Near the end of the war, Inge’s apartment was bombed and a corner collapsed. Many inhabitants burned to death.
“If you’ve ever smelled people burning for days, the smell makes you sick,” she says.

When the war ended in 1945, Inge was 18. Her country had been divided among four countries. She lived in the East, which was controlled by the Russians. Food and jobs were scarce. She eventually escaped to West Germany and reconnected with her parents in Berlin. Her father weighed 90 pounds, she remembers. In 1950, she made her way to the United States.

After 70 years, Inge says the thing she wants people to understand is that there are no winners in a war.

“My parents were never into politics,” she says. “We never belonged to any kind of party. We just sort of stayed away from it. Wherever you live, you are caught in the system. We try our best to live.”

Finding some normalcy was the key to survival, Inge says. Her mother set their kitchen table with the family china, even when there was little food on the plates.

“She tried to celebrate each day because you just didn’t know if there was tomorrow or what it would bring,” Inge says. “The point was, we were still alive and you only had this day. You just make it a good one. Maybe the best ever. I still live like that.”