Legacy of Rubble Women

Rubble women, or Trümmerfrauen in German, were at the heart of the German reconstruction following World War II. When the war ended in 1945, Germany’s large cities lay in ruins. Bombings and ground fighting had left behind tons and tons of rubble. If all of this debris had been loaded onto railroad cars, the resulting train would have been 99,500 miles long and stretched four times around the earth.

Since so many men had died or were still held prisoners of war, it was up to the surviving women, children, and the elderly to clean up the mess. In Berlin, forty percent of all structures in the city had been destroyed, and 60,000 Trümmerfrauen went to work. Some volunteered, others were conscripted by Allied law. With few tools, these women carried off the debris, including steel girders, beams and wall sections, and formed human chains that handed small pails of rubble from one person to the next. With their bare hands, the rubble women loaded the debris onto carts and lories. Because of the lack of horses and motorized trucks immediately after the war, they often ended up pulling the wagons themselves.

Rubble was the main postwar reconstruction material. Before materially sound bricks could be reused, Trümmerfrauen had to knock or scrap off the mortar. Although the work was hard, it only paid 0.70 Deutsche Mark ($0.35) per hour. Even for that time, it was an extremely low wage. But most women volunteered for something other than pay: They worked for an upgrade of their food ration classification. Food was so scarce that in some cases it amounted to barely more than 700 calories per day. While non-working residents fell into category V-the lowest classification-heavy laborers, which included Trümmerfrauen, fell into category II. This higher classification translated into 400 grams of fat per month-twice the standard ration-100 grams of meat, and one pound of bread per day. Because it was a way to survive and to feed their families, rubble women came from all walks of life, from worker families to members of the previously well-to-do upper class.

But it was not until 1987 that the German Government remembered its still living rubble women for their contribution to the postwar reconstruction by giving them a small increase in their pension benefits.

Also visit http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/field-station-teufelsberg/ to read about what happened to all that debris.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com. Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

 

 

 

 

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