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Early last year, I published a post on a Reconstruction Card belonging to a “Johanna Goldberg”, a young woman who’d resided in East Berlin in the 1950s. This name’s possibly Jewish character had me speculating on who this individual was and what her story might be. At the time I promised to do some digging to see if I could find out the story of this person. While doing so, I came across a self-published autobiography entitled Vom Prügelkind zur Ärztin (From Whipping Boy to Doctor) by a Johanna Goldberg whose biographical information suggested that I might be on the right track. So, I bought the book and while reading, quickly realized that I had stumbled on to a remarkable individual.

Dr. Johanna Goldberg's autobiography Vom Prügelkind zur Ärztin (From Whipping Boy to Doctor).

Dr. Johanna Goldberg’s autobiography Vom Prügelkind zur Ärztin (From Whipping Boy to Doctor).

However, as this Johanna Goldberg’s life path took her from a childhood spent largely in foster care through to medical studies, marriage and eventually a position as doctor, I began to suspect that perhaps I had not found the person I was looking for.  There was no mention here of a period spent in post-war Berlin or any reference to Jewish roots. So when I  managed to locate the author and asked directly, I wasn’t too surprised to find the following response in my email inbox soon after:

“Dear Mr. Kleiner, many thanks for your letter and your project.

I am not the Johanna Goldberg from Treskowallee in Berlin whom you are looking for, but I suppose that I do indeed belong to the ‘Reconstruction’ generation [Aufbaugeneration] of Germans.”

And on the issue of a possible Jewish connection in her family:

“My husband’s family has no Jewish roots. They come from the Czech/German border region and there was, maybe still is, a village with that name there. But that was long ago.” (email, Feb. 22, 2013)

And with that, both my theories were, alas, shot down. My spirits soon lifted, however, when Dr. Goldberg declared herself ready to answer the many questions that had come to mind while reading her book and sure enough, several weeks later the first of several extensive emails arrived with detailed answers and reflections on themes that I had raised. Because of the way in which Dr. Goldberg’s life illustrates a number of recurring motifs of life in the GDR, I will dedicate my next three posts to presenting her biography.

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The Brigade Diary is one of the most interesting items that testifies to working life in the GDR. These books were kept by “Brigades”, the work units created in the late 1950s as part of the program of “Socialist Competition” which was intended to increase efficiency in East German workplaces by having groups of workers compete with one another. The Brigades were supposed to foster a lived socialist culture both at and outside of work and the Brigade Diaries were to serve as a repository for information on a Brigades’ working and social activities.

Bestand:Bild 183 - Allgemeiner Deutscher Nachrichtendienst - Zentralbild Signatur:Bild 183-73766-0083 Originaltitel:info Zentralbild Gahlbeck 13.6.1960 2. Arbeiterfestspiele des FDGB. Schriftsteller-Treffen im Wälzlagerwerk Fraureuth. Ein Schriftsteller-Treffen mit über 20 bekannten Schriftstellern der DDR fand am 10.6. und 11.6.1960 im VEB Wälzlagerwer Fraureuth statt. Die Schriftsteller besuchten einzelne Brigaden des Betriebes und unterhielten sich mit den Arbeitern. UBz: Die Schriftstellerin Helga Höffken-Kast im Gespräch mit dem Brigadier Werner Sachse über das Brigadebuch. Werner Sachse ist schreibender Arbeiter. Datierung:Juni 1960 Fotograf:Gahlbeck, Friedrich Quelle:Bundesarchiv

Author Helga Höffken-Kast speaks with Brigadier Werner Sachse about his Brigade’s Diary during a visit of writers to the People’s Own Anti-Friction Bearing Factory in Fraureuth in June 1960 (photo: Bundesarchiv, 183-73766-0083) 

As originally conceived, the Brigade Diaries were supposed to provide an outlet for workers’ creativity and typically included reports on a collective’s activity, but could also contain drawings, collages and more creative writings. The form a Diary varied from Brigade to Brigade, but many were perfunctory in content and simply kept to satisfy the representative of the Free German Trade Union Associaion (FDGB) charged with vetting these books on a regular basis.

The Brigade Diary for "World Peace" from People's Own Brown Coal Power Plant Bitterfeld (photo: author)

The Brigade Diary for “World Peace” from People’s Own Brown Coal Power Plant Bitterfeld (photo: author)

Recently I acquired a Brigade Diary for my collection which was produced by the Brigade “World Peace” at the People’s Own Brown Coal Power Plant in Bitterfeld during the years from 1984 through to early 1989. This Diary is by no means as elaborate as some I’ve seen, but does include 18 reports of varying lengths and quality and manages to produce a narrative illustrating aspects of both the place of its production and the lives of several of the workers who contributed to it. Read More

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