Ingrid Azevedo spoke to the Lodi Chapter of the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia in June. The topic was her life in pre and post war Berlin with a special emphasis on the Berlin Airlift. Azevedo had just returned form Berlin where she attended the Berlin Airlift Veterans Association convention. She is a member of the association.
Azevedo was born Ingrid Radke in Berlin in 1934. Her grandparents had emigrated from Russia. Her happy childhood was interrupted in 1939 when everyone was called into the street and it was announced that England had declared war on Germany. France soon followed.
In 1940, the bombing of Berlin began. In that same year, Azevedo was sent to a youth camp for three weeks where she and other children did a lot of marching and sang songs about the Third Reich. She also remembered that the bathroom facilities were poor.
In 1941, the bombing became more severe and at age 6 1/2 Azevedo and other children were evacuated. After getting on the train, she looked back but couldn’t see her mother. There were too many people. She waved goodbye hoping that her mother saw her. The train ride seemed to take hours. When she got off, she was in East Prussia. The families in East Prussia had neither room nor money to put up all of the children but welcomed them and did their best to care for them.
Later, Azevedo was sent to Saxony to live with a host family where her life was a little better, but from there she could see the red skies above Berlin and knew it was from the fires caused by the bombing. She asked to return to her mother but was discouraged by everyone around her. She persisted and was finally given permission to return to Berlin on a troop train in 1943. The train wasn’t going to stop, but an officer who befriended her on the train, got it to slow down so she could jump off. She was now home but nothing was the same. There was just rubble. She eventually saw a house that she remembered and found her way home. Needless to say, her mother was very upset with her.
Times were difficult and Azevedo began collecting things from the bombed out buildings to trade on the black market and sometimes used her doll carriage to transport coal. The bombing became more severe and almost nothing was left by 1944. Azevedo continued to buy and trade on the black market.
In April 1945, the Russians took Berlin. The Mongols were the worst. They only knew how to rape, steal and kill. She told the story of a neighboring family whose girls were raped by the Mongols. She could hear their screams. During that time, Azevedo and her mother hid in the basement of a bombed out house. She noticed that the rats seemed to be well fed and followed their trail and found canned fruit and vegetables and they were able to live off that. Slowly more food became available but food coupons were needed. People would take the train to the countryside where food could be traded for, but the Russians confiscated it if they found it.
Berlin was inside the Russian area of occupied Germany and was divided into four occupation zones: American, British, French and Russian. The Russians wanted their former allies out of Berlin and closed off the roads and railway to the city from the west. They also turned off the electricity because the power company was located in the Russian zone, but the allies could still fly there and the Berlin Airlift began. Along with the food and other necessities, the airlift also brought materials and coal to build and run a power plant in West Berlin.
Planes were landing and taking off within three to five minutes of each other. There were 700 German nationals who were quickly moving each plane’s cargo out of the way so the plane could leave and another could take its place. Children began to gather at the end of the runway to watch them land and take off. Gail Halvorsen, known to the children as the “candy bomber,” began dropping candy by small handkerchief parachutes. He’d let them know it was him by wiggling his wings back and forth before dropping the parachutes. He also was known as “Uncle Wiggly Wings.” Other pilots also began to drop candy.
Later, people in America began making the parachutes and the Hershey Chocolate Company donated candy. In 1948, Irvin Berlin wrote a song “Operation Vittles” to commemorate the Berlin Airlift. There is a high school in Berlin named after Colonel Halvorsen and a second high school is named for President Kennedy.
Colonel Halvorsen re-enacted one of his famous candy drops during the dedication of a new LDS temple in sacramento five or six years ago and Azevedo was able to meet him. She said that she was never able to catch a parachute as a child. He laughed and said that she should have tried to catch one of those that he’d dropped that day. “I did, but the grass was wet and I couldn’t run fast enough.” He laughed and said, “That was you.” Azevedo showed him her muddy shoes and he walked out to his car and got parachutes for her and her sons. Her parachute was among the things that she showed during her talk.
Later, Azevedo went to England where she worked in a hospital. She was aprehensive because she didn’t know what to expect in England because of the war, but was greeted with open arms. Later, she came to America. Her brother was MIA at Stalingrad, but returned after the war. Her stepfather was interred in a concentration camp, but later released because he was a mechanic and his skills were needed at Penemunde where Werner von Braun was making rockets. After the war, he was recruited to work in the American rocket program, but stayed in Germany.
Azevedo is writing a book of her experiences and I think we’re all looking forward to reading it. It’s beign edited and doesn’t have a book title yet, but soon.
— Source: Marlene Strand
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