Wednesday 26 October 2016

Chance Facebook encounter helps reunite siblings who were forced apart as children at end of World War II - brother sent to Ireland to be adopted while sister remained in Germany

Edward Werder left Germany as a child in 1945 and never saw his family again. He tells Deborah Coleman about a chance discovery on Facebook that led to an emotional reunion with his long-lost sister Jiesla last month

Deborah Coleman

Published 08/08/2015 | 00:00

Edward Werder
Edward Werder
Edward Werder, Arklow

Edward Werder is a man with many memories, some happy and some painful.

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A native of Dusseldorf, Edward hasn't known Germany as his home in over 60 years when he was evacuated to Ireland as part of Operation Shamrock.

"It was in 1945 after the end of the second World War and Brennan's Bakery and the Red Cross came to take some of the children over to Ireland for adoption and to relieve the pressure on their struggling families and give them hope of survival. Dusseldorf had been flattened. On Christmas Eve we heard the sirens and my mother and us five children went down into the bunkers. When we came up our home was destroyed and, in my innocence, I cried for the Christmas tree and my German sausage," Edward explains.

Edward's mother had to make the heart-breaking decision to send her two youngest children to Ireland in the hope that her family would survive the difficult times they were in.

"After we lost our home we had no choice but to live in the bunkers. There were many other families like us. It was starvation. There was water running down the walls. There was a loaf bread for the six of us for a month and if it was green we had to eat it or else we would starve. Looking back, it was a miracle that we all didn't die down there."

Edward - who was aged nine and his younger brother William, five years old at the time - were taken to the home in Glencree where they would wait to be adopted.

Edward Werder, Arklow
Edward Werder, Arklow
Edward Werder

"It must have been terribly difficult for my mother who had insisted that we stayed together. Because of this, we were in Glencree for over a year until we were taken one day to be adopted by two families in Arklow.

"William went to live with the Hunt-Tyrrells and I went to live with Mrs White. When we left we had no idea where the other was going and all we wanted was to be together. Eventually they took me down the road to see William and it was like we had been apart for ages. We hugged and we knew that once we lived close to each other it would be okay," Edward explains.

The Werder boys settled in Arklow and in 1949 they had to return to Germany for a short time only to be sent back to Ireland for good the following year.

"I kept in touch with my mother through letters which the school teacher Micky Mullett used to help me translate as he spoke German. Once my German started to go, the contact faded and we lost touch."

"I had no complaints about Arklow or the families that adopted William and myself. They were very good to us and we were well looked after."

In 1958, Edward married Imelda Byrne and the couple went on to have five children, three boys and two girls.

"I got married and life continued but, as I had to surrender my German passport the second time I returned to Ireland, it was like I didn't exist on paper so in 1959 my father-in-law gave me 21 guineas to cover the cost of becoming and Irish citizen. I was sworn in at the courthouse and then a couple of years later I went to apply for a passport to be told there was no trace and that the records had been destroyed."

Edward was never particularly interested in travelling so the lack of a passport never caused him much trouble until June of this year when his grand-daughter Laura spotted a reference to the Werder family in Dusseldorf on Facebook and followed her hunch.

Edward Werder
Edward Werder
Edward Werder, Arklow

"Laura spotted something and found out that my sister Jiesla and my two brothers were still alive and living in Germany. Jiesla's son is also living in England and was able to communicate between us in German and English.

"I was in shock when I found this out as I really thought that everyone would have passed away by now because they were all older than me."

Once the lines of communication were open, the problem of Edward's lack of passport remained and stood in the way of a long-awaited reunion with Jiesla.

"I have Sean Condren in The Old Ship and local solicitor Barney O'Beirne to thank for this because they sorted it all out. Sean got the forms and Barney wrote to the Department of Justice on my behalf and, lo and behold, I got my passport."

With passport in place and eight of his Arklow relatives joining him, Edward made the emotional journey back to Dusseldorf.

On June 28, 2015, after 65 years, he was reunited with his elder sister Jiesla.

"We hugged and it was as if no time had passed," Edward says.

"It was very emotional and I couldn't believe we were together after all these years. It was also my wish to visit my mother's grave and I got to do that."

Brother and sister are in regular contact again and Edward is hoping to make a return journey to Germany as soon as possible.

Rather than dwelling on the past, Edward is philosophical about his life that led him from war torn Germany to the East Coast of Ireland where he made his home and raised his family.

"I always said I wanted to write the story of my life and this is my way of doing that. I now have grandchildren and even two great-grandchildren living in Australia.

"Only two Werders came to Arklow but there are a lot more of us here now."

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