Together in kindness: A CARE Package® recipient’s story
May 15, 2020
CARE Canada donor Erika Bennedik reflects on the CARE Package® she and her family received after the Second World War and lasting impact it had in her life.
I was born in Germany in 1941, in the middle of World War II. My family and I lived in Kassel, where my father worked as an engineer at the Henschel factory.
My father was both paraplegic and half-Jewish, so he faced quite a few challenges during the war. My parents met at a sanatorium. My mother was a nurse there and my father was receiving treatment after recovering from the food poisoning that caused his paralysis. Three weeks later, they were engaged.
When war broke out in 1939, my parents had three children and my father had no job until a director at his factory recognized how intelligent he was (he got his doctorate in Engineering from his hospital bed), and how much they needed him at the factory. My parents found a ground floor apartment in an old house that was accessible for my father and in a residential area which meant that bombs wouldn’t fall there unless they missed their intended targets. My father would use a small motorized vehicle he had built to make the long commute into work. We lived across the street from a hospital that got advance warnings about expected attacks so they could evacuate their patients to the basement. My father would call the hospital before leaving for the city and use a special code to find out if it was safe.
In 1943, American and British forces bombed our city—nearly 90% of it was destroyed in one night. My family and I were very lucky. We survived because we lived on the outskirts of the city. After the bombing, we were evacuated to a small town about 40-60 km away from where the bombs had hit. The Henschel factory wasn’t destroyed, so my father was still able to commute into the city during the week for work.
When the war ended, we had to gather the ruins of our cities and rebuild our lives. In 1946 we moved back to Kassel. It was in 1946/1947 that we started to receive CARE Packages® from a family in California—I still remember them so clearly. The parcels were quite large. We would open them up and there would be all these goodies inside. We would get Sunlight soap in its original bars (these were especially useful as a big family and we needed to be able to wash our clothes), ground coffee, cans of cheddar cheese (we had never had orange cheese before!), and sometimes we would get dried beans, legumes and lentils. We would also get clothes from California in these packages, which we would sew together to make new dresses.
After the war, we didn’t eat well. We would make elderberry soup, wine and liqueur because elderberries were robust and growing out of the ruins of the destroyed buildings. We also ate dandelion lettuce and just about anything we were able to find.
We stayed in touch with the family in California that had sent us these CARE Packages® for years and years afterward. In university, my older sister went on an exchange year to California and ended up in the same town where that family lived. She was able to meet and became very close with them. They would send us postcards and we would keep each other updated on our lives as time went on.
After high school, I wanted to study music and started by getting a diploma in private music teaching at a small school in Germany. I then came to Canada to study at the University of Toronto, and eventually played with the Winnipeg Symphony orchestra for 12 years, and the Vancouver Opera Orchestra for nearly 30 years. I now live in Vancouver with my husband, and we’ve been together for over 40 years. I still teach music to this day and I am learning new technologies to teach my students virtually.
As we deal with the impact of COVID-19, I find myself thinking often of those days following the war. When I saw people hoarding supplies like toilet paper, I thought about the years after the war when we used cut up newspaper for toilet paper because that was all there was. We had to adapt and use what we had, as people have been doing these last few weeks when the stores have been sold out of bread and meat.
I have found that because of the experiences I had early in my life, I am able to enjoy the small things much more, particularly now. To anyone else looking for ways to find hope and inspiration to bring you through these difficult times, I would encourage you to look for these small moments, to get out and enjoy nature—spend time outside on a nice day or take a walk in the forest.
I am seeing so many people who want to help one another right now and I have been so touched by members of my community who have been helping me and my husband. I need a walker to get around right now as I’m waiting to have surgery that was postponed, and my friends and neighbours have been coming together to prepare meals for us. The other day, my neighbour brought us steaks right off the barbeque! These acts of kindness are what we need right now. We will get through this, just as we did 75 years ago, if we think and act with love and compassion together.