In 1943 tens of thousands died during the bombing of Hamburg
In 1943 tens of thousands died during the bombing of Hamburg. Many of the survivors lost everything except what they could fit into a single suitcase. Image by Karl Piehl.

In the summer of 1943, German soldiers guarding the approaches along the English Channel on the Dutch coast observed massive formations of Allied bombers flying northeast toward Hamburg. Frantically, some of the soldiers attempted to contact family members and friends. In Hamburg, a thirteen year old girl heard the first air raid sirens and ran to a shelter with her mother. Sixty-five years later, Ingrid Streich recounted her experiences and the long-term effects of surviving one of the worst bombings of World War II.

Air Raids in Hamburg

Once air raids became more common, many children went to the countryside or to live with relatives out of harm’s way. Ingrid had just returned from a year in Poland. Her father, wounded at Stalingrad, was recuperating in a military hospital in southern Germany, but Ingrid missed her mother and wanted to come home.

“As soon as the sirens would start,” she wrote, “we had to stop everything or jump out of bed and get dressed in a hurry and grab the air raid bag which had our most important papers, jewelry, and perhaps some of the silver flatware in it.” Every family kept such a bag beside the door, often agonizing over what should be taken. Bomb shelters only permitted one bag per family and no pets.

During earlier raids, Ingrid contracted scarlet fever and wasn’t allowed in a shelter: “…my sweet mother would take care of me, read my favorite fairy tales, and sit in the darkness, holding my hand, shaking until the end of the air raid.”

By mid-1943 rumors spread through the city that the Allies were preparing a strike to obliterate the city within a ten day bombing period. Neighbors with wagons loaded precious possessions and left the city. “My mother at that time started to rearrange our suitcase again and I remember her sweet face which was so sad.”

Click to Read Page Two: Operation Gomorrah