The old metal chest sits in the pantry, guarding its secrets under layers of rust and grime. It has sat there since before the current owner moved in, a relic from an eccentric great-aunt now passed away. But what treasures could be lurking within?
When reddit user seltsame decided to open the mysterious safe she could only guess what might be inside. What she found, however, was much stranger – and much more disturbing – than anything her imagination could muster.
The great-aunt who lived in the property had led a long and colorful life. Named Gerda, she was born in East Prussia in 1921 and lived there until the advancing Russians forced her to relocate to Hamburg, Germany in the 1940s.
While there she would live through one of the most tumultuous and traumatic periods in European history. Perhaps this is a reason why, according to seltsame, her great-aunt “got a bit weird in the last years.”
When Gerda died her property passed into the hands of her great-niece. Fascinated by the old locked chest that sat in the corner of the pantry, she decided to investigate further.
On moving in she discovered a mass of keys that didn’t seem to fit any of the house’s locks. There was one particularly old metal key that looked as though it might fit the chest, though – and amazingly it did.
Underneath the heavy lid was another one, complete with a metal handle in the shape of a lion’s head. It was under this that she found a fascinating pile of historical treasures stretching back through the eras.
Retiring to a warmer room to properly explore the contents of the chest, she carefully pried open a small blue box decorated with a floral pattern. Immediately the smell of dust and decay overwhelmed her.
In the box was a collection of photographs – some in black and white and some in grainy color – that depicted men in military uniforms, weddings and family portraits from long ago.
There were also piles of postcards and letters marked Feldpost; the mail service provided by Germany’s military. They were sent from the battlefield, with some dating as far back as 1914.
Many of the photographs were of extended family. One featured Gerda’s mother, then just a little girl, posing with her parents back in the 1900s.
Another pictured a group of girls, including Gerda’s sister, dressed up for a costume party in the 1950s. Other mementoes, however, didn’t have such a personal connection.
Seltsame puzzled over 1940s’ correspondence between two people called Julie and John Jacobsen, whose names she didn’t recognize. It was later discovered that her grandmother used to cut John’s hair, and that she had inherited his collection of letters.
There were also letters and postcards, written in an old-fashioned script, from World War I. Helpful Reddit users stepped in to decipher them, whereupon it was discovered that members of the Jacobsen family had been soldiers.
A postcard of Kaiser Wilhelm II, Germany’s emperor between 1888 and 1918, was also found among Gerta’s belongings. It bore the legend, “Ich kenne keine Parteien mehr, ich kenne nur noch Deutsch,” which translates as “I know no parties, I only know German.”
As well as the letters and photographs, the chest contained three old dusty books. There was an 1846 copy of Rob Roy, a 1953 edition of Lady and the Tramp and – most disturbingly – a copy of Mein Kampf, published in 1943.
Although Adolf Hitler’s autobiography was commonplace in 1940s Germany, its presence today sends a chill down the spine. Scattered throughout Gerda’s family mementoes were other reminders of just how dark a period these people had lived through.
One photo showed two smiling young men – each wearing the unmistakable uniform of the Hitler Youth. Several of the postcards also bore stamps featuring the Parteiadler – the Nazi emblem of an eagle perched atop a swastika.
Another postcard from 1944 featured a house in ruins. The caption read, “Vom Feinde zorschossenes Haus” – “a house destroyed by the enemy.”
That dark era of German history is, seltsame says, something she has learned to live with. She also accepts that Gerda’s generation was born too late to have played any role in World War II’s atrocities. She concedes, however, that her great-grandparents may have more to answer for.