Growing up in 1930s Germany, Anneliese Heider took a bath once a week with water heated by burning wood, helped her mother in an extensive garden, snuggled under a feather-stuffed tick in a cold bedroom and was overjoyed when her father took the family to a circus.
All-in-all, her youth in Munich wasn’t much different than that of an Iowa girl growing up through The Great Depression.
Then along came Adolph Hitler. By the time Anneliese turned 10, in 1938, she was forced to wear a uniform for Hitler’s Young Girls League meetings. She had to proclaim “Heil Hitler” at the start of her school day. She worried that uttering her thoughts aloud could get her or her family killed.
So began nearly a decade of fear and uncertainty, war and destruction, life and death as told in “Christmas Trees Lit the Sky,” Anneliese Heider Tisdale’s memoir of growing up smack dab in the middle of World War II.
The Cedar Rapids woman, who came to Iowa in 1947 to marry an American GI, begins her story with the impending liberation of Germany, then flashes back to follow her life in chronological order. As a result, the early pace may seem slow for readers expecting the drama of war, but it rewards those who are patient with details of Depression-era Germany and then explodes with the first Allied bombing runs over Munich.
That’s where the title derives – red and green flares used to illuminate the sky for the bombers remind Anneliese of the candle-lit Christmas Trees of the time.
“Christmas Trees Lit the Sky” (Authorhouse, $27.99 in hardback, $16.95 in soft cover, $3.99 e-book), which is flavored with plenty of old German recipes, provides an enlightening, and sometimes enchanting, window into a world most Americans have never experienced.