Photo by Karim Shamsi-Basha.
Hoover resident Toni Shaw holds a sign with the phrase “World War II” written in German. Shaw was born in 1937 in Dresden, Germany.
Hoover residents Toni and Jim Shaw sit on their living room couch with large books strewn across their coffee table. The pictorials of Germany are much more than items for guests to casually flip through.
These images remind Toni of her hometown and a frightening time growing up in Germany when “flames covered the city.”
Toni was born in June 1937 in Dresden, Germany, just two years before the start of World War II. She had three brothers and two sisters. Much of her extended family also lived in Dresden.
“Times weren’t too bad at first,” Toni said. “Our fathers had to go to war. Many mothers had to go to work.”
As World War II progressed, she remembers the air raids increased, occurring at different times of day. As a young girl, she became more and more upset from news on the radio.
“Day or night, we had to rush to the shelters in the basement,” Toni said. “We listened on the radio to stations that were forbidden, and these stations gave warnings.”
Toni remembers first seeing soldiers come to town.
“I was in the second grade when we got many injured soldiers into our towns,” Toni said. “Schools were used for hospitals, and it changed many times.”
Toni remembers the worst happening to her family on Feb. 13, 1945. Their home was hit by explosive bombs, and Toni, her mother and her five siblings fled for their lives to the basement.
“First, we all thought we’d die right there in the basement — the way out was gone, the staircase was gone,” she said. “Finally, when most of the dust settled, we finally could light a candle and found some water to wet bandages for our eyes. We had to climb over the rubble out of the back.”
Toni said it was those bedsheets soaked in water that saved her. She and her family continued to try to escape the city, the air streaked with fire.
“We had to flee through all the backyards to get to the other side of the block, in hopes for shelter,” she said. “Looking back, the chimney came down and other pieces crumbled; we couldn’t get out of the way fast enough. Fires burning, sky explosions everywhere, climbing through craters, we finally made it. Wardens ushered us to a park where we had to stay on a 4-by-4-foot square because there were bombs that had not exploded.”
They stayed at her uncle’s house near Pirna, Germany. Toni and her family’s survival was a true miracle.
“The relatives were in awe that we had made it alive,” she said.
They eventually made it back to Dresden and lived with several other families because there were not enough homes left. After the war officially ended, Germany was split into four sectors: Americans, English, French and Russians each occupied a part.
Toni continued to live in Germany as she grew up and met her husband, Jim, in a pub he calls the German version of Cheers. Jim was in the military and was stationed in Germany for many years. Since marrying, the couple has lived all over world in places like Texas, Hawaii and England.
Married for 53 years, they reflect on a happy life together. They now enjoy living in Hoover and spending time with their children and grandchildren. They have returned to Germany, a much different place now, and plan to visit again soon.
When Jim is asked his favorite place they lived, his answer is a testament to the couple’s current outlook on life.
“Every place has been our favorite. You can enjoy anywhere if you want,” he said.