A Story About the Most Resilient Woman I Know — My Nana, Sonja

I normally do shout outs to all my founder friends on International Woman’s Day, but not today.

Today, I’m celebrating my Nana, Sonja. She’s 88 and one of the most resilient women in my life. It’s crazy to think that if it wasn’t for her and her mother (my Oma), I wouldn’t be here today.

Whenever I visit, she tells me parts of her story and every time, I’m left speechless. This is by no means her whole story, but it is a little bit of it that makes me feel unbelievably grateful to be here, to be her granddaughter and to be able to spend today with her, listening and learning more about her courageous life.

Sonja was born in Germany and lived in the district of Falkenberg, which used to be a part of Germany. Today it is a town in Poland called Niemodlin.

During World War 2, when Sonja was 11, she was evacuated with her mother. Her father went into hiding because all the men were being killed on the spot. It was brutal.

Sonja and her mother travelled all over Germany inside a cattle truck on the railway. They had no idea where they were going. No one wanted them. It was frightening.

Weeks passed and Sonja’s mother realised it wasn’t right. The thought of being torn apart from family forever was heart-breaking for her as much as it was for Sonja. She knew it wasn’t safe back home, but she was willing to take the risk. So at night, when everyone was asleep, she woke Sonja up and began their 14 day trek on foot back home.

They walked for miles and miles from Nysa to home. Day and night, they were scared stiff because the Russian soldiers might find them, rape them and kill them. They had no food or water and slept in corn fields, hay lofts and woods. When the coast was clear, they would knock on doors and beg for something to eat and somewhere to sleep. At night, the Russian soldiers had a habit of breaking into homes to rape young girls and women. Nowhere was safe.

When they finally made it home, they were welcomed with joy. Sonja’s father was there and he was alive. They couldn’t believe their eyes. It was a moment of pure happiness. But it wasn’t happily ever after. This was the heart of the nightmare.

The screaming in the village was unbearable. There was no food to eat. Sonja and her family were starving daily. They practically lived off nettle soup. Nettles galore! Sonja was sick of nettles, but they kept her alive.

Whenever the Russian soldiers turned up at their home, they would barge through the garden gate with guns and sticks. For safety, Sonja’s family would wedge the front door closed with tree trunks. But eventually they’d get in. Sonja’s mother would fight back. She would square up to them and hit them around the face to protect Sonja. When things got unimaginably worse, Sonja and her mother had no choice but to leave their home to find safety. It was a hard decision to make. They left everything behind including Sonja’s father. At the time, he was working at the railway for the Polish army because they didn’t know how to run it. He would’ve been killed if he left with his family.

Life was frighting for my Nana as a child. When we talk about her past, she still can’t believe she survived it all. But it’s made her strong. She doesn’t take shit from no one (and I mean no one). I admire that so much.

If I ever feel like my life is hard, I’ll always think back to my Nana and my Oma walking for 14 days and nights through fields and woods, fighting for their life.

International Women’s Day is about celebrating women who have achieved incredible things in their life. It’s about appreciating their courage and strength, and sharing their stories to inspire women all over the world.

That’s why today is a perfect day to share a little bit of my Nana’s story.

Happy International Women’s Day, Nana. You are my inspiration and I love you so much.



Founder & creator of 5 Stories, a methodology I use to help businesses tell stories that connect with people. I write about storytelling and entrepreneurship 💫

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