Lucky to be Alive: The Annemarie Timmons Story
By Sue Loudon
Annemarie’s story begins in 1937 when she was the third child born to an alcoholic mother in Hamburg, Germany. She and her brothers were left alone by their mother so much that the neighbors alerted authorities. The children were separated and became wards of the state, moving from foster home to foster home. Meanwhile, so many bombs were falling on her hometown that children were being moved to the countryside. And after Hitler mandated that families must take in a soldier or foster child, Annemarie, nearly ready for first grade, found herself placed with an unwelcoming elderly couple in Lobau, about 50 miles east of Dresden and 260 miles southeast of Hamburg.
The couple, named Winkler, reminded Annemarie that her mother was no good and that made her no good, also. Mrs. Winkler was abusive and locked her in the cellar with no food or water; none of the neighbors in the apartment building noticed. Mr. Winkler sometimes rescued her when he came home. Unfortunately, both he and their only son did not survive the war. He told his wife before he left that she should keep Annemarie to help out as she got older.
In 1945 the mayor of Lobau ordered all citizens to evacuate because the Russian army was coming. Mrs. Winkler and Annemarie packed some belongings in a backpack and small cart and joined the throng of frightened people moving over dusty roads while German soldiers passed in the opposite direction. When American planes swooped low and fired at the soldiers, everyone jumped into the roadside ditch. Some were so tired of walking that they hid in a cellar with a white rag tied to a pitchfork sticking out the window. The Russian army arrived and Annemarie learned the meaning of the word “rape” by hearing screams of terror and seeing people shot. Mrs. Winkler decided they should walk back to their apartment in Lobau, hiding from Russian tanks along the way.
At age 16 Annemarie was sent, without any discussion, to nurses training. She had to carry bedpans and wash linen, but she was 300 miles away from Mrs. Winkler! Plus, she met other young people who were talking about ways to escape East Germany. Getting to Berlin by train, then trying to swim across the Spree River or run across rooftops to a building in West Berlin did not work. Finally in 1955 she bought a huge bouquet of flowers and convinced a guard at Checkpoint Charlie that her brother was getting married in a church just down the street. She was late, she pleaded, and needed to get there quickly. He let her go without checking her papers, which of course she didn’t have.
While waitressing in Heidelberg, Annemarie meet a young U.S. Army man, John Timmons, who became her husband and bought her a Scandalli accordion when they arrived in this country. She did not know how to play it, but she learned, and the patrons at Berliner Bear German Restaurant at 79th and Wornall and Emile’s Deli on the Plaza enjoyed her music for years. Five children and a divorce later, she has written her story, “Freedom–A Journey of the Heart: The life story of resilience, forgiveness and hope from the Minstrel of Kansas City.”
Annemarie is now in a wheelchair and lives at Kingswood Senior Living Community, where she will entertain residents and the public with music and a book review on Saturday, March 30 at 2 p.m. in Westminster Hall at Kingswood Senior Center. She will also sell and sign copies–the book is for sale on Amazon and at firstname.lastname@example.org.