Local author molds German family manuscript and research to tell ‘overlooked’ WWII story
By Claire Harlin
What began nearly 70 years ago as an overseas pen pal relationship ended up being a lifelong friendship for local resident Arlene Lighthall, as well as the true story inspiration behind her new book, “Tomorrow, My Son.”
While many accounts of World War II detail the suffering and killing of Jewish people as victims of the Nazis, a lesser known truth is that millions of Germans suffered too. Lighthall has, for much of her life, been determined to tell that story — a story she knows from following one German family for decades, and even learning to speak German in order translate a manuscript given to her by the family’s father.
“I researched whether that story had been told before and I found only two books that dealt with it at all, but no day-by-day accounts,” said the author, who has lived in Del Mar for about 45 years and taught literature at MiraCosta College for 22 years before she retired. She began writing “Tomorrow, My Son,” her first published work, about four years ago, which she said was a lifelong and very personal feat.
The story began for Lighthall when she was a teenager in the 1940s in Northern Indiana. Her junior high school teacher encouraged the class to send care packages with warm clothing to European refugees at the end of the war. Lighthall sent a pair of her father’s galoshes, and she later received a thank-you note from a German professor who had received the footwear and found an address inside.
“He was so grateful,” Lighthall remembered. “He said he had large feet and often things didn’t fit him.”
The professor mentioned he had a son, and Lighthall’s family also sent clothing for the little boy, Manfred, who was a few years younger than Lighthall.
“His wife also wrote to thank us, and my mother thought, ‘Well, she needs some clothing,’ so we sent women’s clothing too,” said Lighthall.
Correspondence between the families continued, mainly between Lighthall and Manfred, and the German father also kept a journal to send Lighthall, which detailed everything the family and other German residents experienced while being pushed out of their homes in East Germany by the Russians.
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