"Everyone was walking around with their hands in the air shouting 'Heil Hitler!' to one another like it was normal, like [it was saying] hello," demonstrated Erika Marklind from her hotel balcony in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Erika had been born in Vienna, Austria, just two months before the Nazi occupation. Her earliest memories are of bomb raids and fear.
"The bombings first started when I was three, maybe four years old," she explained further, "We lived near the Philadelphia Bridge, which was targeted as a strategic location.
"Every time there was a raid," she went on, "We'd all run down to the potato cellar." One of Erika's most specific memories was of her neighbor's dog, a Great Dane, who would show up at her door the moment that the sirens sounded.
"The dog was waiting for me, and carried a medical kit in his mouth. I remember the medical kit very well," she recalled, "He was there to protect me. He wanted to look after me because I was just a little girl. The dog would stay next to me, making sure I got down the stairs alright, and stay by my side throughout the raid."
I asked Erika if she thought that the dog knew what was happening.
"Not entirely," she replied, "I don't think dogs know the specifics of war. Bombs are awful. Bombs are scary. But animals are smart, and the dog could sense fear. He knew that I was afraid and he wanted to protect me."
Erika described how the bombings seemed to get harder and harder until her family fled to the countryside. It was a good thing they left, too – when they returned to their home after the war, there was nothing left. Erika's first childhood home had been completely destroyed.
I asked Erika how these early experiences affected her life perspective. She cited an extreme fear of sirens.
"Sirens make me nervous. Still," she revealed, "It doesn't matter if they're for weather of fire drills. Whenever I hear them, I feel instantly fearful. It is an overwhelming sensation, and I have to remind myself that we're not at war. I have to look to the sky and prove to myself that there aren't enemy planes."
Erika also cited that having gone through this experience made her much stronger. Now living in Sweden, Erika (who doesn't look a day over sixty) is traveling the world. After the loss of her husband, she set out to explore.
Erika came to Thailand out of curiosity, and after this trip, she will return to Europe for her father's birthday party. During the war, her father survived a gun shot wound to the head. This year, he will turn one hundred years old.
"[On coming to Thailand] I have to try new things and experiences, in order to understand." Erika also explained how she believes a lot of war is caused because people fail to communicate and ask questions in order to understand one another. "There is too much talking at each other instead of talking with one another. A lot of things are lost in that kind of conversation. Listen carefully. Listen more. Don't miss out on wisdom. You can learn.
"[When confronted with new ideas], you can say 'no, no, no,'" Erika added, "but you can also say 'yes' or 'maybe'."
- Kat Vallera, NomadiKat Travel Media
Author of "Around the World in 80 J's"