"No One Lives For Himself"
Memories 1925 Ė 1945
A Biography in Essay Form
I read an article by an unknown writer in the Stuttgarter diary of Fred Wiesen dated May 3, 1997. His writing so depicted my generation that I, like Fred Wiesen, came to the conclusion that it was worthwhile to bring the following to a larger readership.
"We were born before the invention of TV, penicillin, vaccinations and frozen foods and plastics. We didnít know of contact lenses and definitely not the birth control pill. We bought flour and sugar in paper bags not in packages that have to be recycled now. We were here before there was radar, credit cards; fax machines, nuclear fission, laser and ball-point pens.
When we were born, there were no dishwashers, dryers, air conditioners and data banks, and no man had yet landed on the moon. In our time bunnies were little rabbits and the "Bug" was not a Volkswagen. We were here before there was "stay at home fathers", emancipation or Pampers. In our time there was no such thing as group therapy, Weight Watchers, second cars or maternity leave for fathers. We did not think of the "Wiener Wald" (Restaurant) in association with fried chicken. During that time "Made in Japan," meant cheap merchandise, and no one had heard of pizza, McDonalds or instant coffee. Words like "Software", for everything that canít be touched on a computer as well as "Non Food" for everything that you cannot eat or drink were not invented, nor were marriage brokerages on the computer.
To "date" someone meant almost being engaged. We married first and then lived together. Also, we are the last generation to be as naive as to think that a woman would have to marry a man in order to have a baby. All these new developments had to be accepted and absorbed. Who would be surprised if we are a little confused at times because of the huge generation gap? But we spat in our hands, removed the remnants of war, rebuilt the nation and survived it all!"
Fred Wiesen adds:
"Facts remain. We have had to think about the reasons of war and cruelty since the beginning of man. Why is it we see a splinter in someone elseís eye but not the plank in our own? Why are we not allowed to tell the whole truth in our Federal Republic? Why are we not allowed to tell the whole truth when we speak out for the many who bled to death on the battlefields and were forced to fight in a war under the threat of being put to death?
Every war is a crime, and every war results in crime! Historically it is true that every army commits crimes and always will. Amazingly, in Germany only our own people are exposed while in England, with the approval of our government, a monument has been dedicated in honor of Admiral Harris and the murders of Sudeten-Germans during their expulsion were sanctioned. Need I mention more? These terrible acts must come to an end. We must promote peace among men; document our love, not hatred. Only the whole truth will bring love and reconciliation." (End Quote of Fred Wiesenís remarks)
A person like me who was brought up in materially poor conditions, who achieved modest prosperity, who with open eyes and critical mind traveled to 30-40 countries in 4 continents and listened to the people, should be allowed Ė in my mind Ė in the 8th decade of his life, to try and take stock of some sort to be able to give qualified answers. For me, the first 20 years of my life were the critical ones. It is of that time which I am most asked about, even more so now. Timeís witnesses become less and less! When we pass and are silent, all will begin again.
I will not write a novel but rather write in essay form of the things I can remember most - From the time I was born, to my homecoming after being a prisoner of war. I will try my best to write as exact and realistic as possible without the loss of some good humor here and there. I am not looking for perfection, rather, finding the heart of the matter.
Inevitably, the reader will learn that no one lives for himself. I claim that
not even the hermit does. We live in families and partnerships, in-groups at the workplace and communities. The
sexes donít live by themselves; neither do the different nations and races. Not the strong and weak, healthy and
sick, old and young, good and bad, smart and dumb and not the superior and inferior. All of us are Godís children
and responsible for each other. We are also responsible for Godís creations in the world of animals and plants,
which God loyally loaned to us. Therefore "No one lives for himself," means that all of us are called
upon to unselfishly contribute his or her talents into our community. I am not writing this for my own sake. I
would be pleased if I should inspire others to think.
Stuttgart, January 1998
1. Aftermath of World War 1 (1914 Ė 1918)
The 1st World War lead to the Peace Treaty of Versailles which assumed the sole war guilt lay in the Central Powers and imposed great loss of territories on the German Reich as well as unforeseeable demands of repair. It was a peace treaty, which bore the seed of dissension from the beginning.
My father, born in 1900, was drafted into a heavy machine gun company during the last days of war at age 18. After the war he joined Volunteer- and Self-Preservation groups who stopped the assumption of power by the communists and were successful in protecting the border in the east from Lithuanians, Polish, Czechs and others. He wore a Reichs-Forces steel helmet with a large black swastika in the front. I would wear the helmet later when I worked as an air-raid assistant. Five French divisions reinforced by Belgium units occupied the Ruhr area in 1923 to enforce and assure terms of the treaty.
The Weimar Republic honestly tried to fulfill the terms of the Peace Treaty in order to regain the trust of the former enemy and to slowly loosen the chains of this dictatorships peace. Instigators (agitators; people, groups who pursue or instigate political upheaval) who are still at work against the Federal Republic of Germany today stirred mistrust in foreign countries. After the 1st World War general dissatisfaction was the breeding ground for nationalism. Today, when young unemployed youth join radical groups, we can trace it back to the same roots. Responsible are our politics. No one lives for himself.
2. Childhood, Beginning of School, Elementary School
I was born in Stuttgart, on April 17, 1925. There was no money for a cradle so the first and only child of my parents was temporarily laid to sleep inside a laundry basket. Father worked for Daimler Benz in Untertuerkheim, then for the Stuttgart Trolley Company and later as a skilled worker for the Machine Factory Seeger in Cannstatt. Mother was employed by a textile factory in Stuttgart. I was raised mainly by my Grandmother and Grandfather from my motherís side who lived in Cannstatt. Grandfather was a day laborer. At age 55 he was often without a job. Grandmother was a diabetic and could not be overburdened. She was a schwaebisch Pietist and ruled the house with a strict devotion to God. I was taught that all people who had some sort of an advantage over me were people that I was to respect. Grandmother insisted that in 1931, a few days after my sixth birthday, I was to go to school at the Evangelic Elementary School, the Schiller School. During this time Heinrich Bruening was the Chancellor and the "Brueningtaler", a 4-Pfennig coin, was named in his honor. It was enough to buy a pretzel. In first and second grade of elementary school my teacher was Mr. Hegel. He was an older gentlemen made of the same "wood" as Grandmother. He had been the teacher of my mother and her brother. Like most teachers Mr. Hegel was taken by surprise when in 1933 the aging Reichs President von Hindenburg, formerly a General Field Marshall, appointed former Private 1st Class Adolph Hitler to be the Chancellor of the Reich.
Germany was accepted into the League of Nations in 1926. (The League of Nations can be compared with todayís United Nations). The Reich operated as the peaceful balance of interest for the countries. During a radio broadcast with many national leaders Hitler called the League of Nations a "chatter shop" in which the "Third Reich", founded by him, had no place. This was the first attack on the Versailles Treaty- dictate system. On October 14, 1933 Hitler announced Germanyís withdrawal from the League of Nations.
Hitlerís initial political successes literally fell into his hands. After 15 years of managing the League of Nations and economical exploitation by France, the population of the Saarland region was required to vote for their affiliation to either Germany or France. The Nazis had published a wonderful songbook for use in all German schools. The children sang enthusiastically in the melody of an old mining song.
"Deutsch ist die Saar, - "German is the river Saar,
deutsch immerdar, - German forever,
deutsch ist unseres Flusses Strand - German is our rivers shore,
und ewig deutsch mein Heimatland!" - And Germany is my homeland forever!"
At the populationís poll on January 13, 1935, 91% of the people from the Saarland region decided in favor of affiliation with Germany. The reclamation of economic regions at the river Saar improved the foundation for the German war industry. According to the terms of the Versailles Treaty, Germany was allowed to have an army of a maximum of 100,000 men only. Hitler on the other hand ignored this completely and on March 16, 1935 announced universal compulsory military service. We boys were very exited when the mounted military band marched out of the Dragoner Barracks the next day for a huge parade at the Cannstatter Wasen. The beautiful horses seemed to dance to the music as they walked. The riders wore the traditional uniform of the Black Hussars.
The school began to be politicized during third and fourth grade. Mr. Ellinger who was the teacher had a hard time getting used to it. He too was a strict man. He really had it out for us "guys from the Island Korfu" (slang for Cannstatt by the people). We lived at the area around the railroad viaduct at the Neckar River where gypsies camped out occasionally. We were not any dumber than the next guy and we even knew how to swim, but we were treated like outcasts. Often times the bigger boys would catch us and throw us into the Neckar River.
We had two guest students in our class. One of them was a freethinker whose parents had left the church community, which was unusual in the years of 1934 and 1935. The other was a Jew named Schwab, son of a cattle-dealer from the suburbs and considered a student 4th class. The freethinker was considered 3rd class. Children who did not join the German Youth Groups voluntarily were 2nd class. Myself, I was 1st class because I was voluntarily active in Youth Groups. My father had organized that.
3. Taking of Power by the National Socialistic German Workersí Party (NSDAP)
On January 30, 1933, Hitler was in power. Grandmother was a simple women but quite intelligent. Spontaneously she said: "Now there will be a war. Planes will come and drop bombs and all of us will have to die!" Economic depression, poverty, unemployeement and over one hundred parties who fought each other physically and psychologically to their annihilation made up the inner political scenario.
Father belonged to the "Old Fighters" of the National Socialistic German Workersí Party. The only thing he wanted was for Hitler to be the politician to revise the Peace Dictate of Versailles (dictate because the Treaty was dictated to the Germans, all they had to do was to sign). He was a troop leader of the assault division (SA, Sturm Abteilung) and did not take part in inner political confrontations. Direct confrontations by his political rivals he answered with the swiftness, target and aim accuracy of his hand. Therefore, father was attacked from behind. This was the reason why the communists among his colleagues painted a big swastika with cart-grease on his sweater, which was hanging in his locker.
Mother had knitted the sweater. She had to save money for wool from her household money. When she saw the ruined garment she was devastated. Another time the communists released a pile of pipes in such a way that father, who was inside a pit, could have been crushed. Agile as a cat, father was able to escape the danger zone.
My distant relatives belonged to the Social Democratic Fighting Organization, the "Three Arrows". Uncle Karl marched behind the "Red Banner" singing combat songs of the communists. No wonder: Capitalists considered laborers to be the lowest scum.
At 12:00 noon, sirens sounded in the factories. Women and children served as "food carriers". They carried buckets containing simple small meals. Laborers with oil and soot covered faces ate their meals in the factory courtyards. Tables and a place to sit were not made available. After the taking of power by the National Socialistic German Workersí Party the German Labor Union arranged for mess halls for the laborers.
Starving, unemployed youth stood on street corners. Out of boredom they were up to a lot of mischief. Then came the promotion of sports. After the power takeover in 1933 the German sports fest was initiated. The "Adolf-Hitler-Arena" at the Cannstatter Wasen was opened. After the war the arena was called the "Neckarstadium", today it is the "Gottlieb-Daimler-Stadium". From all over Germany, Athletes came to Stuttgart. They were taken care of by National Socialistic organizations, which also put the teams together by regions and housed them in public buildings and among the population. Athletes from the Saxon region were guests in Cannstatt. Therefore Cannstatt was decorated with flags in their regional colors, white/green. Although the local people didnít have much they shared what little they had with their guests, which led to friendship, understanding and mutual respect of fellow nationals.
The unemployed, among them my grandfather, were to pick up their meager "Stempelgeld" (unemployment money) at the unemployment office on a daily basis. Grandfather got up at 3:00 A.M. to be first in line while grandmother waited for a few Marks to go food shopping. The "Nazis" put an end to the long wait by coming to the unemployment office at 7:00 A.M. with a box from which the waiting people had to take a number. If Grandfather picked a high number he went straight back home. During the winter months that meant that he went back to bed until it was time to collect his money at the unemployment office, which was nothing more than alms. If he picked a low number he waited his turn.
Soon the unemployed were obligated to perform community work. Mostly it was the building of housing developments of single families homes and single-family homes with a small garden for families with children. Then the Reichs- Work Duty was established for women and men. General draft for military service was re-introduced which led to the great decline of unemployment.
Nobody needed to be hungry or cold any more. The National Socialistic Public Welfare group (NSV) supplied the needy with "Pound Offerings", which were groceries donated by affluent fellow citizens. During the winter there were additional coupons for heating supplies.
Through the teamwork of the group "Strength Through Joy" (KdF "Kraft durch Freude") organized by the German Labor Union, even the "little guy" was able to visit a theater, go on vacation, receive a radio or be eligible to receive a claim form to own a VW. Some regions still lived in poverty.
Musicians from the Palatinate region roamed cities and towns playing music and begging for donations. Since this was forbidden they were constantly on the lookout for police officers on foot. They even hauled a regular size piano from town to town.
The Erzgebirge (mountain region) in Saxon was in a similar situation as the Palatinate. Both Saxon and the Palatinate received help in the expansion of their shoe production and/or their woodcarving shops as well as in the development of sales for their products. This led the population to be enthusiastic and to have more and more trust in Hitler. The burdens of the Peace Dictate of Versailles slowly diminished.
My friend and schoolmate Alfred Ohngemach lived on Freiligrath Street in Cannstatt. His father was a train driver for the German Railway. Regularly he drove the route from Stuttgart to Strassburg. In compliance with the Versailles Peace Dictate German train drivers were to arrive in Strassburg with a fully loaded coal tender, filled water tank and cleaned wagons. As a small part of the enormous reparations contribution the train was taken over by French personnel in Strassburg and driven further into France. Back in Strassburg the German drivers took the train back, which was uncleaned and with only enough coal and water to reach the station in Kehl. Sometimes German train personnel were beaten, kicked, spit on and embarrassed by French train personal during the exchange.
Because of this treatment, the psychological impact of the Peace Dictate of Versailles was felt in the smallest families of the population. The homeland was bleeding from thousands of wounds. Adolph Hitler was looked upon as the savior.
There was always a lot of "Heil" hollering at the Nuernberg Reichsparty days when Hitler showed up. Butcher Gustav Haegele was fed up with this. Spontaneously he took his radio, which he had just purchased for 30 Reichsmark at Radio-Knoerzer, and threw it out of his first story window. This could have led to a disadvantage for his business but, thank God, nothing happened. As recommended by the Party, Gustavís wife Ottilie was busy hanging a sign on the door of the store identifying the business as a German business.
When the handicapped neighbor and mother of arch-communist Karl Eisenmann from Schmidener Street hung the red flag with the hammer and sickle instead of the black-white-red flag, or better yet, the flag with the swastika, Gustav Haegele laughed like crazy. Karl Eisenmann was picked up by the police and taken to the Heuberg, known to be a "labor camp". Later on, during the war, Karl was one of a Correctional Battalion and had himself captured by the Russians. By chance we met at the end of the war at the "Schwarzwaelder Hof" (restaurant, pub) on Markt Street in Cannstatt. He was completely cured of communism.
My grandparents lived in a farmhouse. The house across the road belonged to the Wertheimerís, a Jewish family who lived on the first floor. Due to the way they looked, walked and dressed, the whole family could be recognized as being Jews from quite a distance. At the time of the Passah Celebration (Jewish Holiday) Mrs. Wertheimer passed out Matzen bread to the children on the street.
Mr. Wertheimer was a cattle-dealer. One time he said to grandfather: "Sing, can you take a cow from Sielmeng to Degerloch for me?" My unemployed grandfather agreed to the opportunity to make some money. Grandfather took me along. We climbed the green bus of Line A at the Kursaal. The driver wore a brown corduroy uniform and cap. The seats on the bus were made of nice smelling leather. Proudly we sat in this vehicle. We would never be able to afford the price for the fare if Mr. Wertheimer would not reimburse us. We arrived in Sielmingen and somehow located the farmer who was to give us the cow. Grandfather carried a heavy stick, the one I used as a hockey stick sometimes even though I was not allowed. Grandfather pulled the cow ahead and sometimes I would make the cow move faster by slapping itís behind. Back then there was not much traffic on the country road from Sielmingen to Degerloch and it took us about 3 hours for the 10 km walk. Mr. Wertheimer waited for us at the "Hirsch" (restaurant, pub) in Degerloch which is still in business today. Grandfather was given a glass of beer and the cow was given water but there was nothing for me. Because I was just as thirsty as everyone else I grabbed grandfatherís glass and quickly took a big sip of the barley juice. The 8-year-old "Heinze Boy", my grandmother of fatherís side called me that, was drunk for the first time. Grandfather Sing had to carry me home and his Kathrin was very, very mad when we arrived in Cannstatt.
Mr. Grupp rented the attic flat at the Wertheimer house. After the power takeover he quickly exchanged his black uniform shirt from the communists with the brown Nazi uniform. He confronted my grandfather and said: "If I see you cutting wood for the Jews again, I will take you to the Heuberg!" More and more often the Wertheimerís could be seen on the street "Mauscheln" (talking with a lot of hand gestures) with other Jewís. One day they secretly and quietly left the country.
4. Youth Groups And Grade School
In Cannstatt, if you were 8 years old, you were allowed to join the "Saeuglingssturm" of the "German Youth Groups". This group was lead by Lebrecht, a music teacher who smelled heavily of perfume. Normally only the 10 Ė 14 year olds were allowed to join. The youngest ones of the youth group were called the "Pimpfe". In this group we were able to prove the kind of guys we really were. Coming from the struggles for existence we became clever, bright boys who looked out for one another. The crime rate among the teens was zero in comparison to today Ďs high crime rate.
In my 5th year of school, in 1935, I entered grade school and had to attend the Neckar School. The schools and classrooms were now divided by National Socialism ideology rather than religious faith. The 5th and 6th grade teacherís were Mr. Hanssum, Mr. Hub, and Mr. Schaefer who taught history and geography. He suffered from a war injury and, because of our requests, would sometimes skip the subjects and tell us of his adventures while fleeing from Siberian war imprisonment. I was now 10 years old and therefore a full member of the youth group. Ten-year-old girls were allowed to join as well and were active in the German Young Girls group.
Boys and girls wore uniforms, which the parents had to provide. Sometimes that was not easy at a time when money was scarce. There were children with incomplete uniforms and some with uniforms that were not in the best of shape. In the summer, the boys wore black shorts, brown button down shirts, a black neckerchief with leather knot, black buckle and shoulder straps, gray socks and black shoes. The girls wore knee long black skirts and white blouses, neckerchiefs with knots like the boys, white socks and black shoes. During the winter the boys wore black trousers and black vests over the brown shirts and some type of ski cap. The girls wore brown vests in the winter month in addition to their regular outfit. The uniforms changed in time and during the war the uniforms were practically designed so the different pieces could be worn when not on "duty".
There were many ways to perform oneís "duty" which took place in so-called "Heimnachmittage" or "Heimabende" (meetings in the afternoon and evening) and were held in public conference rooms. In some cases the rooms belonged to youth groups from different parties and churches but by now they were either forbidden or taken over. "Dienst" (meetings) were held at least once a week and we learned about politics and the worldís situation. We also sang, played music, played sports and theater. Everything we learned in the Youth Groups was performed to the public during special events, so-called "Parent Evenings". Often times the performances were of high standard and all were entertaining and funny. The public appreciated them.
Fund raising was also one of the activities. Because of the shortage of raw materials, we collected paper, tin foil and iron. In the name of "Winterhilfswerk" (Winter Relief Organization) the boys and girls collected and distributed donations for needy fellow citizens. The recipients had to be Aryan. The boys and girls were always very busy collecting for the "Winter Relief Organization", "National Socialistic Public Welfare" and the "Recovery Organization for Mothers". Diligently they stood at doors of businesses and on the streets with their tin cans.
Every year all German youth gathered for sports competitions during the "Reichís Youth Games". Standards for the different events were established. Children who reached a certain number of points received a pin. There was also a special emphasis on summer camp. All children attended during summer vacation for weeks at a time and in many cases the parents were glad to have one less mouth to feed.
The boys especially liked the Youth Groupís orientation of traditional customs of the foot soldiers from the 16th century. They were divided into "Bands", "Troops", "Squads" and "Tribes". I belonged to the Kienbach Squad and the Wolfersberg Tribe. When we assembled for marching, which could be at any time, food soldiers- drums and trumpets were played in front of the different flags. One of the flags was black with white stylized "S" resembling a lightning bolt.
Many of the songs we sang originated from the songs of the 16th century foot soldiers. Later we sang national socialistic battle songs like "We will keep on marching, even when everything falls into ruin, because today Germany belongs to us, tomorrow the whole world!" or "The brittle bones of the world are shaking before the enormous war!" and "Death will put his hand in greeting to the helmets edge and the soldiers will attack death and build their home of stars!" Adults and elderly people must have shuddered when hearing this song but they could not interfere! Parents were not aloud to speak up. Even teachers didnít dare say anything anymore. The National Socialistic-Teacher Union held them in a tight grip.
"Hitler Youth" was founded in 1926 as a pure political party- organization. In 1936 they became the "State Youth" under the leadership of Reichís Youth Leader Baldur von Schirach. After the takeover of power in the year of 1933, he took control of all other youth organizations one by one, integrating them with the Hitler Youth Groups, which in turn lead to the mass movement of the Hitler Youth Groups.
Determined by the Dictate of Versailles the Rheinland region was de-militarized. On March 7, 1936 Hitler ordered armed forces back into the Rheinland. We saw pictures in the newspapers of troops crossing the bridges of the Rhein River. The troops, marching in a nice formation, looked snappy with their steel helmets, guns and packs. People crowded closely along the streets with their right arms held up for the German greeting. We boys were moved by this sight, and hot and cold sweat ran down our backs. We wanted to be among them.
Part of the national socialistic upbringing of youth was to teach them to save their money. City banks gave out cards with 20 fields. Children who saved 10 Pfennig received a stamp on a field showing a 10 Pfennig coin. Each week the school held a savings day. Students brought their savings to school. I was treasurer of our class, which was noted in my report card. I had fun trying to entice my classmates to give me their money, sometimes with a funny phrase. I borrowed one of the phrases from Monk Etzel who operated in the late middle ages: "And when the coins clink in the collection box, the soul is leaping into heaven!" Quite a few savings cards were filled and taken to the savings bank at the Wilhelmsplatz. The amount saved was then recorded in the studentís savings books.
In sixth grade honor students were allowed to take a test for the admittance into "Special Courses for Foreign Language". Heinz Kant and I passed the test and took English lessons at the Jakob School in Stuttgart. Mr. Baumann was our teacher. This class was made up of 12-year-old boys coming from schools all around the greater Stuttgart area. We had a lot of fun together and studied hard.
Mr. Pfrommer was our teacher in 7th grade. We called him "Pfropfer", he called us "Zulukaffer" and "Loetfeilen" (nicknames). During the First World War he donated his golden pocket watch including the chain for the financing of the war. In return he received an iron chain without a watch and a dedication. With pride he wore the chain day in and out. Mr. Pfrommer was strict. Singing lessons usually ended in a fistfight. All of us boys were at the age of the change of voice. Therefore our singing together was hard on his ears. "Who is the one singing in this coalminers bass"? He would interrupt. It didnít sound so bad to us, at least not as bad as when the teacher abused his violin. We received many "Tatzen" (lashes with a cane on the fingertips). The next level was "Hosenspanner" which means the child who was to be punished was to lie on a desk and would received lashes on the rear end with the cane. Out of fear and pain there were quite a few who wet their pants.
Singing was a graded subject. Students had to sing in front of the entire class for entry in the report cards. My classmate Jakober didnít sing very well, yet he got a better grade than I did. Jakober came from a Nazi family and sang a Nazi song. I on the other hand sang a folk-song. Then it dawned on me, it doesnít matter how good you sing but rather what you sing! Unfortunately, it was too late for this report card.
The Peace Dictate of Versailles stood in the way of Germanyís union with Austria, which had its supporters even after the 1st World War. On March 12, 1938 the army marched into Austria. The "Union" resulted in great enthusiasm among Germanyís and most of Austriaís population. Movie theaters showed Hitler returning to his homeland. At the Heldenplatz in Vienna the population was highly enthusiastic and could hardly be held back when Hitler passed the memorial of Archduke Karl. He was standing in an open car. "Heil, heil, heil!" sounded from thousands of mouths. Seven years later no one wanted to be reminded of this spectacle.
Afterwards Hitler went on a tour of Germany during which he also visited Stuttgart, the "City of Foreign-Germans". It was the same in each city: Cheering masses, bells ringing and no school. Youth formations gathered in front of the Stuttgart City Hall and shouted "Dear Fuehrer be so kind and show yourself at the window!" If the window was opened as much as a crack, the shouting of "Heil" began and everyone pushed to the front to get as close to the "Fuehrer" as possible.
5. "Manager" Of A Business At The Age Of Nine
My Grandmother arranged for me to work at Gustav Haegeleís butcher shop where I had to report to the store on a daily basis. At first I had small jobs like shopping with a grocery list that I had been given, the cleaning of bicycles and the cleaning of the butcher chopping block. With a cart I had to pick up blocks of ice for the refrigerators from the ice-manufacturer and baby-sit the grandchildren. Later I was allowed to use the bicycle that belonged to the store to help out with customer deliveries. My boss was very impressed by my enthusiasm and he announced to the customers: "This is my Manager!" I was very proud. My pay was up to the bossís wife. I always received sausages and cold cuts that would have been thrown out, never any money except for tips on deliveries. My dear friend Karl Braun worked for a bakery. His situation was similar. Instead of sausages and cold cuts he received old pieces of pastry. He never made it to "Manager"; he didnít have a business mind.
Youth groups organized a "Field Game" one Saturday afternoon in which the groups had to find "enemy spies" and "foreign agents". I walked along with a basket full of meat packages to deliver, when the boys stopped me. They rummaged through the packages saying that they were looking for "smuggled goods from the enemy!" I was near tears. I couldnít deliver the ordered goods to the customers like this. Angrily, the bossís wife repacked the meat. A butcher apprentice was sent to do my deliveries to make sure this wouldnít happen again. I had to accept quite a cut in pay because the apprentice pocketed all of the tips from the customers, which I so much depended on.
Two days later I had to crank the whetstone by hand while the apprentice sharpened the knives. Slowly I lost my strength. "Crank it boy, or else Iíll beat you up!" he hollered at me. There was no bargaining with him, not at the whetstone, and not with the sharing of tips from last Saturday. He even slapped me, manager or not.
Our boss Gustav supplied a few hotels in Cannstatt. Among them were the very nice hotel Concordia across from the train station, the fancy Golden Hahn at the Karlsplatz and the Kursaal. There was a chronic shortage of innards in the kitchens of these hotels. Innards were less desired in the country. Therefore my boss would send me to butcher shops outside the city on the bicycle with a phrase I was to repeat, "Mr. Haegele from Cannstatt, Schmidener Street sends his regards and would like to know if you have any Liver, Heart, Stomach, Kidney or Sweetbread!" The bloody stuff was wrapped up for me, and Gustav or his wife Ottilie somehow compensated the country butchers. In my 5th year of employment Ottilie was quite surprised when I wished for a wristwatch as a present for my confirmation and good-bye present. She did get me a watch, begrudgingly I assume, one with a gray leather band.
6. Storm-Lightning Over Europe
In the first chapter of this biography I mentioned that the so-called "Peace Treaty" of Versailles bore the seeds of dissention. Like ripe fruit, Hitler picked at the paragraphs of the "Dictate" one after the other. He accused those who wrote the treaty of making mistakes due to their boundless hatred of Germany and Austia-Hungary. After the 1st World War, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia were founded from part of the Habsburg inheritance. Without a population poll the Sudeten-German area with its 3.5 million Germans was given to Czechoslovakia. Hitler evoked the so-called "Sudeten-Crisis". During the Munich convention on September 29, 1938 British Prime Minister Chamberlain, French regime chief Daladier, Italians "Duce" Mussolini and Hitler agreed that the border territories of Bohemia and Moravia, populated by Germans, would be assigned to the German Reich. Czechoslovakia also had to accept the loss of territories to Hungary and Poland. Czechoslovakia who was not represented during the convention had to accept the agreement under heavy external-political pressure. After World War II allies annulled the Munich Agreement. As Dr. Konrad Adenauer once said, "What do I care about yesterdayís dumb gossip"!
In March 1914, my mother had her confirmation. The sky over the political horizon was full of black clouds. Twenty-five years later, my confirmation was also up for debate under similar premises. "The confirmee needs a dark blue suit!" New? I donít think so! Mother picked up a suit for a couple of Marks from a colleague name Zink who lived in Botnang. I didnít have a fitting. "It fits!" they said and that was that. Starting on the day of my confirmation I was to wear the suit daily until it was tattered.
My confirmation was celebrated at the Martin-Luther Church in Cannstatt on March 19, 1939. Back then there were a lot of children. Therefore each priest in the community was to hold his confirmation on a different Sunday. Priest Frank Ė even though he was Evangelic Ė looked very much like Pope Pius XII who was in office, he had 40 boys and about the same number of girls.
The day of my confirmation was the "Day of the Army" as well. Tanks rolled passed the church on Waiblinger Street toward the Cannstatter Wasen for a parade as we were in church kneeling in groups of threes at the alter for our consecration. Many people, among them confirmees, ate lunch with the soldiers courtesy of the field-kitchen. They served some sort of stew with noodles. My friend Karl Braun, whoís confirmation was on the same day at the Apostolic Church, stood in line in front of me. He was served the last ladle of stew, which was hardy and thick. A new kettle was brought up. The chef gave it a quick stir with a long piece of wood and gave me the first serving. It was thin like water. I was pretty upset but learned something for later life in the army: Never stand first in line at the Gulaschkanone! (field kitchen)
On March 15, 1939, a few days before my confirmation, Hitler ordered the Czech Rest-Republic who was practically unable to survive, under the "protection of the German Reich" within the Reichís-Protection of Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia, a state of Hitlerís pity. But that was not all Hitler wanted: Lithuania bent under Hitlerís pressure and gave up the Memel territory on March 22, 1939.
Great Britain had enough and would no longer allow the un-bloody triumphs of Hitler. In spite of it all Hitler demanded the return of the free state Danzig to the German Reich. An ex-territorial street and railway connection through the so-called Polish Corridor was to be established (meaning: street- and rail- connection between the Reich and through the Polish Corridor, jurisdiction belonging to the Reich); however, Poland declined. Hitler also had set his eye on the guaranteed declaration from Great Britain and France to Poland given on March 31, 1939.
In this difficult situation the British government tried to restore their pre-war ties with Russia. Negotiations came to a halt because the Soviet Union demanded a free hand over the Baltic States of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia and the right for passage through Polish territory in case of war with Germany. Great Britain and France did not act fast enough. Soviet Foreign Minister Wjatscheslaw Molotov suggested an extremely confidential discussion between Germany and the Soviet Union to debate the demarcation of both partyís interests in Eastern Europe. What no one believed: The two swindlers Stalin and Hitler came to an understanding and also made a non-assault pact in August 1939.
7. Mobilization, Beginning Of World War II
It must have been during the night of August 14th or 15th, 1939 when a special Reichís-rail train puffed through the Bavarian and Bohemian Forrest with me and several hundred boys ages 14 through 18 from Hitler Youth Groups on board. Its destination was Bohemian Krumau in Sudeten country. Everyone tried to find a comfortable position on the hard wooden seats to get a bit of sleep. We got off of the train around midnight. All of us had to carry as much gear for camp as we were able to. Unfortunately, we did not march through Krumau quietly. Some people, presumably belonging to the Czech population, felt disturbed in their sleep and threw flowerpots down at us in the street followed by the contents of night-bed-pans and watering cans.
After more marching through the darkness we were ordered to "Halt" in relative flat countryside near a lake. We dropped our "Monkeys" (backpacks) to the ground, unbuckled our blankets and in the early morning hours lay down to get some sleep. Activities started as the first rays of sunlight provided some warmth. A flagpole was raised. The banner of the Hitler Youth flapped in the wind. It showed a black swastika on a white horizontal stripe in the middle with a red background. Oval shaped tents were put up for two "Kameradschaften" (groups) in each tent. Each "Kameradschaft" (group) was made up of about 10 "Men" who slept on opposite sides of the oval tent. With wooden poles and boards a table and benches were set up in the middle of the tent and straw was spread out over the sleeping areas.
Women from the "NS-Women League" (National Socialistic Women League) cooked simple food. Of course we were assigned to help out in the kitchen. Usually we didnít mind because there were extra scraps of food. We were very hungry because of sports and extensive "Field Games", (letís call them prior military and survival training). "Every one eat, as much as you can!" As mentioned earlier, there were people around our campsite who were not very fond of us "Hitler Boys". We had to be very careful. With spades and axes as our "weapons" we guarded the campsite around the clock.
An 8-day "Drive" followed camp. Each "Kameradschaft" set out by them selves. All we knew was when we had to arrive in the city of Passau and where. Everything else was left up to us and our wealth of ideas. We cooked our supplies on self-made fire pits, preferably near creeks. In the morning we had rancid margarine, marmalade, army bread and "Niggersweat" (malt-coffee without milk). For lunch, "Niggermudd" (semolina pudding with cocoa and raisins) was a favorite. For dinner we mostly had bread, and sausage, which we ate right out of our hands.
Cleverly, we took paths through forests and fields along the River Moldau where we could find berries and such. Resting in the shade of farm buildings was also smart because we would often receive food and drink and a place to sleep. In return, we told the people of the achievements of National Socialism, as we were instructed to do before we left camp. Model behavior was also a must.
Heads of the political party did not trust the Sudeten-Germans. We noticed that the people were impressed by Hitlerís strong hand in politics. The Poland question reached a boiling point. The older generation who grew up during the glamorous Donau Monarchy of Austria-Hungary whispered of a war if Hitler did not yield concerning the Polish Corridor.
Exhausted from our daylong march we crawled into the hay in a barn in Wegscheid about 35 km from our destination of Passau in the evening of August 25, 1939. During the night it became loud in town. We tried to listen but soon fell back to sleep. On the morning of August 26, 1939 we heard the news about mobilization. Because we were brought up with national-socialistic views in school and youth groups it was not surprising that the news gave us great joy.
We arrived promptly at our given destination in Passau and were directed to a gym. The train, which was supposed to take us home, was being used for another purpose. Remember; this was the mobilization. Our mothers waited in vain. After one to two days delay however, their boys finally made it home.
My mother was a simple woman, honest and straightforward. She was the same way towards the Nazis, which could have caused her a lot of trouble. Attendance for the above mentioned "Drive" was a must for all the Youth Group boys from Stuttgart. The fee was five Reichs Mark. My father had to work a whole day for five Reichsmark, my mother even longer. Mother decided not to give me the money and she would not give in. Our group leader Thea Meyer who lived at 20 Wera Street in Stuttgart arranged for me to attend for free, "because I was such a good boy".
Hitler called the Reichstag on September 1, 1939. He declared his patience with Poland exhausted and that in the previous night Polish soldiers had attacked German territory. "Since 5:45 we are returning fire!" Hitler said. Even as he made his announcement German soldiers had already torn down Polish border- crossing gates. The Second World War had begun which would give rise to the biggest catastrophe in war in the history of mankind.
Western allies kept their promise to protect Poland. On September 3rd, 1939 they declared war against the German Reich. Only two weeks later German troops stood before Warsaw. On September 17, 1939 the Red Army crossed the eastern Polish border to take part of the bounty. Men from the SS and the Gestapo ruled in the western part of Poland, men of the Soviet NKWD (Narodny Commissariat Wnutrennich Del., secret police of former Soviet Union) ruled in the east.
8. Higher Trade School Under the Pressure of Political Events
Our elementary school teachers Mr. Hanssum and Mr. Pfrommer supported classmate Heinz Kant and myself. Mr. Pfrommer arranged for us to take a test for acceptance into higher trade school. We passed the test and were exempt from 8th grade of elementary school, to attend the higher trade school in the spring of 1938. From now on we had to pay money to attend school. Books and other supplies also had to be bought by us, which was tough on the wallets of our parents. Sometimes we were able to purchase old, used books from students who had graduated. It was not until classes that we noticed how old some of them really were and the teachers were not always lenient with us. Heinz Kant lived at the Steinhaldensiedlung. He transferred into Streetcar 21 at the upper Ziegelei (Brickworks Factory). I waited for the Tram (streetcar) one stop before the Kursaal. We did not attend the same class and our schedules were different. There was a strange mood on the streets on the fogy morning of November 10th, 1938. I meet Heinz Kant in the streetcar. He said there must be "an awful lot going on in the city". Just before the Cannstatter Wilhelmsplatz the streetcar, which in todayís standards was going considerably slow, slowed even more. Biting smoke came out of the Synagogue at Koenig Karl- and Waiblinger Street. Firefighters secured nearby apartment buildings.
My teacher Dr. Ignaz Lott said that a few days ago in Paris the Legation Secretary of the German Embassy Ernst vom Rath was shot to death by the Polish Jew Herschel Gruenspan. He said that the Jews are a race that is no good and that during any time the Jews were scattered and pursued all over the world. They even killed our Savior. Synagogues all over Germany went up in flames during the previous night and Jewish businesses were destroyed.
After school we could see for ourselves. Doors and window fronts of stores had been shattered. SA-Men in uniforms with signs that read, "The Jews are our misfortune!", "Die Jews!" and similar phrases stood in front of the businesses. Before all of this we boys didnít even know how many Jewish businesses of all kinds there were. We cherished some of these stores because we were able to buy good merchandise inexpensively.
Dr. Ignaz Lott who apparently came from a rural, strict, catholic family was very rough. He would slap the students around from one corner of the classroom to the other, sometimes blood would flow. Biehler Fritz, later a successful boxer, was expelled from school because he would defend himself with fistfights. Ernst Haar, who later became to be a secretary of the state for the federal ministry of transportation and boss of the railroad union, had the same fate because of his politically red aspiration. "I donít mind spending the 50 Pfennig for postage to send a certified letter to your father!", was one of Dr. Lottís favorite threats. Therefore we gave him the nickname of "Father". He lived at Melanchthon Street in Cannstatt and was a "Golden Pheasant", thatís what political leaders were called because of all the gold on their elaborate uniforms. At the end of the war the gossip was that he had terrible things happen to him. Presumably he was beaten until he died by Polish migrant workers while on his way home to his apartment the "Brown House" (domicile of Ortsgruppenleiter, a political leader, a party big shot). Itís even possible that he was hung. No one ever heard from him again.
Beginning grades where transferred to the Schwab School. Whoever completed with the necessary grades was entered into the intermediate grades. This meant moving into the time-honored Knosp School, which is still standing today at Knosp Street in Stuttgart West. From now on Heinz Kant and myself did not have to change streetcars. Number 21 would take us to school through the center of the city. At the station a police officer directed traffic. He wore the Tschako on his head, a military headgear. Coming from all directions, many streetcars meet at the Schlossplatz. Located at the Rotebuehlplatz was a military-district command. If an Officer approached, the guard had to present his rifle. We boys were very impressed. In a nutshell: we saw many people and our new way to school was very interesting.
My new teacher was Dr. Frey, a bachelor who was SA-Group leader and lived right around the corner at Rotebuehl Street. He was also a "Beater". Many rulers broke on our backs! Our 1st "Rex" (principal) was Dr. Hoffman. He was the author of a history book with a national socialistic train of thought, and a true Nazi. After he was called for military duty Mr. Waetzig, a small guy from Saxony took over. He introduced us to the mysteries of bookkeeping and oversaw the "Uebungskontor", a dummy firm, which was run by us students with enthusiasm. As far as I remember all of the teachers were more or less forced to be in the party. Pastor Petri from the Paulus Perish presented the lessons in religion very lively. We were fascinated. He too wore the partyís badge. My chemistry teacher was Dr. Buhlmann. He killed himself at the end of the war; overwhelmed by Germanyís defeat.
In Higher Trade School the priority was the study of commercial business knowledge and know how. The students learned a lot for future professional life, even though the Hitler Youth demanded much of their time. Just think of the pre-military training and air defense. I took the intermediate high school exam and left school to begin apprenticeship in the spring of 1941. I joined the "Alte Gilde", a commercial club of former students from Higher Trade Schools and Commercial High School. To this day I am thankful that I was able to be a student in Higher Trade School and I am still faithful member of the "Alten Gilde".
9. The First Years of War
In anticipation of Englandís and Franceís intention, German troops occupied Denmark and Norway on April 9, 1940. The attack on the Netherlands, Belgium and France began on May 10, 1940. Despite expectations from military experts the West-Campaign was a triumph for the armed forces. On June 22, 1940 the "Cease-Fire of Compiegne" agreement had been signed in the same train carriage in which Germany had surrendered on November 11, 1918.
The knowledge of wood-workshop was in great demand at the air-raid defense. Out of wood, nails, ropes and black paper objects were constructed which were useful for keeping windows dark during the night. After that a civil air-raid defense system was organized. In cooperation with political leaders of the NSDAP the Reichs-Air-Defense Alliance had to organize the air-defense. During air-raid alarms I had to report at the guard station and be available as a communications specialist.
A guard said, "Communications specialists canít be shy to talk, they have to have good observation skills and a good memory, they have to report the messages exact and be brave!" Would it be my destiny that later in live my superiors in the Armed Forces would recognize my talents as a communication specialist, that I would serve as such till the bitter end and that I would be decorated with awards?
Since 1939 it was the duty of all youth to belong to "Hitler Youth" groups. Girls ages 14 to 21 had to serve for the "German Girls League" and were separated into different groups. They practiced their future roles as German housewives and sacrificing mothers. Many families, especially those engaged within religious communities would not allow their children to join the Hitler Youth groups. Only after their children came home crying because of the teasing from classmates and teachers would they give in and let them be part of the youth groups.
With the SA as an example, special Hitler Youth units were formed and trained in the duties of motorized troops from the Air Force and Navy. Some were trained in the communication- and medical field. Since I was a committed young man, I signed up for the medical/first aid training. I was 14 years old and learned once and for all that there are two different kinds of people in this world, men and women. Before that, some thought there are three kinds: Cannstatter, Stuttgarter and Niggers.
The children from Navy- Hitler Youth Groups wore blue and white uniforms like the sailors, with caps and blowing ribbons. I was impressed with their uniform and soon after signed up for duty. With enthusiasm I learned of seaman trades like the signaling with flags, about knots and rowing. Lastly I was appointed to be Schiesswart (Rifle Guard) and Group Leader. I hardly ever took off my uniform. Thatís why my confirmation suit lasted much longer.
In 1940, at the end of the "West Campaign", I was attending my second year of higher trade school in Stuttgart when my father, who was 40, was drafted to the Landesschuetzen, originally a Home-Country Defense Group. He was a guard for prisoners from France, Belgium and Holland who were working on farms. Mother still worked in a knitwear factory at Rosenberg Street in Stuttgart. Because we lived in Cannstatt, Teinachstreet near the Kursaal, she had a long way to work.
My father was with the soldiers and my mother was at work. No one was home who could get something to eat other than the food available on the grocery cards. Our 70-year-old grandfather lived with us but he was too frail. "Mother, I am so hungry, donít you have another piece of bread for me?" I begged. "Go to Goeringís!" she recommended. This would be a reason for the Nazis to hurt my mother if they could hear her.
On June 22, 1941 "Operation Barbarossa", the surprise war against the Soviet Union began. With 153 divisions, 600,000 motorized vehicles, 3,580 tanks, 7,180 pieces of heavy artillery and 2,740 planes, the Germans were the strongest military force ever united in action. Initial enormous success strengthened the believes of the leaders that this campaign could be over victoriously in just a short time. But the beginning of winter halted the attack.
As special announcement trumpets sounded over the radio that Sunday morning, people turned up the volume of their radios and opened windows and doors so everyone could hear the news. I was 16 years old and goose bumps ran down my back when I heard that the Soviet Union had been attacked. Somehow I knew that I would be drafted for war. The "biggest Field General of all time" declared war with the U.S.A. on December 11, 1941 in order to legitimately sink U.S ships with its submarines, which supplied the allies in Europe with all necessities. In mid 1942 German troops arrived at the North-Cap, along the Atlantic Coast all the way to the Spanish border. The Swastika flew in Finland, Egypt and on top of the Elbrus, the highest mountain of the Caucasus. Around the time of the turning of the year in 1942/43 offensive forces of the German army were exhausted. Nevertheless, Hitler was determined not to give up even if it would cause the total destruction of Germany. In some way he declared war on his own nation!
In the beginning, the strength of the attacker determined the outcome. Later, bigger reserves were the determining factor. At the end of 1941, the U.S.A. alone supplied the Soviet Union with millions of dollars and millions of tons of defense materials such as 15,000 planes, 13,000 tanks, 430,000 trucks, locomotives, steel and light-metal. And there were also the supplies coming from England.
The 6th Army under the command of Field Marshall Paulus and his 300,000 men were surrounded in Stalingrad on November 22, 1942. An escape would have been possible but Hitler ordered to hold out at any price. The coming end of the 6th Army seemed to take painfully long. On February 2, 1943 they surrendered. Only 100,000 German soldiers escaped the hell of battle only to begin their way into the inferno of imprisonment in Siberia. From that time on it was defeat after defeat. The British started area bombings of cities and industrial installations. Anglo-Americans dominated the air space over Germany. Enemy air-war strategists intended to break the morale of the German population with their terror attacks. Allies of the Third-Reich either dropped out of the war or joined the enemy. Hitler was forced to expand his reign to other territories, for example Italy in September of 1943.
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10. Vocational Training, Apprenticeship And Business-Vocational School
In October 1940 the "NS-Kurier" was the only newspaper of Stuttgart and displayed in a showcase at Eberhard Street. Under the "Help Wanted" section I read that the General Pension-Administration, Life and Retirement Insurance-AG was looking for a bright young man for the Insurance-Apprentice position. Because their office was nearby at 24 Tuebinger Street I went there right away. The human resources boss, Director Rieger, his assistant Miss Josefa Matthes and the secretary of Managing Director, Dr. Hafner offered me hopes for employment after reviewing my documents, which I still had to supply. A few weeks later my father and I signed the apprenticeship contract. Father signed "Private 1st Class Robert Beck". After graduation I began my career at the General Pension Administration Office, established in 1833. The first year my monthly pay was 30.00 Reichsmark and 40.00 Reichsmark in the second year. My contributions for pension, health insurance and unemployment were deducted automatically.
My apprenticeship would last for 3 years. Beginning on April 1, 1941 and ending on March 31, 1944. I had to attend Business-Vocational School at the same time. Because I graduated from higher trade school I was able to start in the second grade of vocational school right away. Still, I was ahead of my classmates. I thought school was fun and didnít take our teacher Paul Nanz who was from Gablenberg very seriously. Nevertheless, he appointed me class president. I was responsible for everything but had no say in anything.
Class began with the same regulation as it did in other schools. When the teacher entered the classroom the class president had to shout "Attention" in a loud and military voice. The students had to stand up straight. After the teacher greeted the class with "Heil Hitler" the students had to greet the teacher in the same way. The class president would then read the slogan of the week posted in the classroom. Most of the time it was about "Old Fritz" or another person from Prussia.
"Nanza Paul" was like an institution in the Stuttgart Insurance-Circle. He knew all apprenticeship leaders and human resources managers. He was the "buddy" type with a robust schwaebisch appearance and language of the same. He explained the curriculum with funny examples and made it easy to understand for anyone. The figures of his stories were always classmates, whom he usually made look bad. Classmates Wohlleb, Ernst Weiler and Gerd Winter were his regular targets. Wohlleb was from Hofen and employed by the Wuertembergisch Insurance Society. He always had a strange expression on his face and his whole body. He even looked as if he were not the brightest person.
Ernst Weiler, an apprentice at the Wuertembergisch Fire-Insurance Company sat next to me. He was from Niederlaendisch India, Island of Borneo, and son of a missionary. Both Ernst Weiler and Nanza Paul had fun with their regular verbal arguments and one time Paul Nanz ended the dispute with the comment "Halt dei Gosch, hock na. Wissa isch, wenn mer woiss wos stoht!" (Shut your mouth and sit down. Knowledge is to know were it is written). To this day I remember this phrase.
Gerd Winter was a "pretty" boy and very attracted to the females. One morning on the way to school "Nanza Paul" observed him and "his Marie" as they switched trains at the Schlossplatz and he overheard the garbage Winter would tell the girl. Afterwards, "Nanza Paul" shared his knowledge with everyone in the classroom. Gerd Winter protested passionately but it didnít help.
Walter Fried from Rohracker Street in Hedelfingen was also in my class. His father worked for the trolley company and made money on the side as a winegrower. He was on the board of the Hedelfinger "Woodland-Home Club" and politically red aspired. "Walterle" was an apprentice for the "Magdeburger" (Insurance Company) at Neckar Street and he was a nerd. Many times we did our homework together.
Later, my classmate Haller and I were together at the Reichs-Work Duty (Reichsarbeitsdienst RAD) in Tannheim. Majuntke, who was also one of my classmates, did not surrender to the Americans in time during the last days of war. He was captured by the Russians and taken to Odessa. He returned 3 years later. I can still remember classmate Kocher very well. He worked for Allianz Insurance Company.
Rolf Frasch and Alfred Roemer who started their apprenticeship at the General Pension Administration Office the same time as I were called by their first names and often sent to get lunch for coworkers. Interestingly enough no one ever tried that with me. I was very satisfied with my instructors and I think they were equally satisfied with me. For teenagers between the ages of 14 and 18 the regular weekday workday was 8 hours. Traditionally the General Pension Administration Company was closed on Wednesday and Saturday afternoon. The lessons at Business-Trade School continued of course, and counted as work-time. Since I was 16 years old my annual vacation was 12 weekdays. Because I regularly participated in 10-day camping trips with the Hitler Youth Group my annual vacation was raised to 18 weekdays.
The end of my 2nd year of apprenticeship and business-vocational school neared in February 1943. Superintendent Nanz registered me for final exams. I passed with flying colors. For my "achievements, performance, diligence and good behavior" I received a certificate of commendation and a book from the city of Stuttgart. Even though this was only my 2nd year of apprenticeship my employer registered me for exam by the Industrial-Board of Trades, which I passed brilliantly. My Business-Assistant-Certificate was dated March 4, 1943. Soon after that I received notice that I was drafted for the Reichs-Work Duty.
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Reichís-Workman in Tannheim / Tyrol
11. Reichs-Work Duty (Reichsarbeitsdienst RAD) In Tyrol, Bombing In Cannstatt
From March 10, through June 2, 1943 I belonged to the Tannheim/Tyrol Reichs-Work Group, Josef Ennemoserís unit, number 3/330. We were assigned to the different troops according to size. I was assigned to the 2nd Platoon, 6th Troop. The command post of Troop XXXIII Alpenland was stationed in Innsbruck. With pride we wore the traditional insignia of the Edelweiss (flower which only grows high in the mountains) on our caps.
The training was very hard and we lived in cabins right below the Aggenstein Mountain. Wake-up time was at 6:00 A.M. Within 15 minutes we had to make our bed by shaking-up the straw-sack and shaping it in a rectangle like a big box, wash, shave and report in our physical-training clothes for morning exercise. At first it was almost impossible but due to imminent punishment we soon got the hang of it. We took our meals inside the mess hall. Food was in short supply. Silently we wrangled for the portions every day; otherwise we would have to eat our food outside the mess hall, standing up and while singing.
We built firing-ranges in Graen and carried wood to the Landsberger Cabin located at the foot of Mount Lachenspitze (2,130 m), which we picked up at the Vilsalp Lake. "Oberstfeldmeister" Feige (comparable to a Camp-Commander) from Hassia, the boss from our "Abteilung" (Company), reminded us on a daily basis that we didnít deserve our meal because of bad productivity. "Feldmeister" (rank of a Lieutenant) Sattleder from Salzburg, Austria was the leader of our "Zug" (Platoon). He was married to a Schwaebisch woman from Stuttgart, which is where he stayed in hiding for a while after the war. Later he worked in the office for Construction Company Stephan in Cannstatt. He was of small stature, soft hearted and sensitive, but pretended to be tough.
My troop leader was a foreman and like all men of the same rank he thought he is God. One of the things the troop leaders had to do was to make sure the spades from the men were spotless on all parts. So clean, that the spades reflected the sun like a mirror on the pine trees across the valley during drills. What a spectacle it was when 200 men were on drill! "Attention! "Take spades!" "Shoulder Spades!" "Right face!" "March!" "Left, left, left, two three four!" Commands echoed throughout the courtyard as the units marched in formation. Bad performance meant the "Flachbahn-Race" was in order along with bad threads. "To the creek, march, march!" "Lie down, stand up!" "Full cover!" We Schwaeble did as we were told, no one complained. Only the guys from Vienna, about half of the troop, dared to expressed their displeasure at times. One of the leaders who sat behind a wall on the troopís Donnerbalken (crude toilet made of boards with round cutouts, sometimes for up to 10 man) overheard the complaints from one of the guys. He barley pulled up his pants and quickly approached the mutineer, a tall guy from the 1st Platoon. It was a sight for the gods when on the next day the short guys from the 4th Platoon led the tall guy to the "Bau" (penitentiary cell). He was not allowed to wear suspenders, a belt or any badge or decoration and was sentenced to 3 days arrest.
Oh yes, we also had our fun at the "NS-Spade-Club". We slept on bunk beds. The cabin oldest was Koder from Feuerbach whose bunk was above mine. He had reddish- blond hair, a "Copper-Roof" and freckles and he boasted like 10 naked black man. He had a deep sleep and snored. "Tonight we paint Koderís ass black with shoe polish!" was the talk. Günter Schlag and his friend, both from the well-known Leonhards area in Stuttgart talked among themselves in amateur gang slang. At night they climbed up my bunk and painted Koders ass. Koder took care of the rest himself as he sleepily put his hands in shoe polish then rubbed his face. There was a lot of laughing and mockery during morning line-up.
Koder promised revenge, which in turn challenged the "Old City" boys to do some more painting the next night. Unfortunately this had its consequences. The shoe polish did not wash out of Koderís sheets. Because it was considered damage of national-public property, Koder had to report the incident. And as always the punishment was collective. Our troop was to "Line up in Dress Uniform in 2 minutes!" "Dismissed!". "Line up in Work Uniform in 2 minutes!" "Dismissed!". "Line up in Exercise Uniform in 2 minutes!" Dismissed!" The Forman threw all of our spades wildly throughout the room. "Locker inspection in 2 minutes!" There was lots of yelling and cussing. The room looked like a war zone.
Air-attacks on German cities kept getting stronger. During the night of April 15, 1943, preceding about ninety air-raid attacks on Stuttgart, approximately 400 enemy bombers destroyed the area of the train-viaduct between Cannstatt and Muenster into rubble and ashes. This was the area were my family lived. 192 people were killed. Among them was the mother, brother, and sister in-law of my friend Karl Braun. The news reached me at Reutte/Tyrol where I lay in a hospital bed in Kreckelmoos because of my appendix. Right away my request for emergency leave was granted. When I arrived in Cannstatt I found only the base of the house we lived in at Teinacher Street 11. The house had collapsed in itself and only a smoking mound of rubble was left.
Father served as a soldier for the Armed Forces-Abnahmestelle (a place where products for the armed forces are checked for quality). He worked at the leather-goods factory Roser in Feuerbach. Fortunately he was at home the night of the bombings. He helped people out of their cellars and burning houses before the buildings collapsed. Some people ran across the asphalt like burning torches. Despite heavy defense by anti-aircraft cannons a few enemy bombers dared a low-level attack and fired their on-board weapons. Father suffered from smoke inhalation but still directed people to the meeting place at the Kursaal grounds. He received the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions.
Help for the people came fast and un-bureaucratic. They received used furniture, clothing and some money. Mother and Grandfather were assigned to live on the top floor in the house of the Bareiss Family, 69 Zeppelin Street in Stuttgart-West. Beginning of June 1943, after I had been discharged from Reichs-Work Duty after 3 months, I also lived there.
With the loss of our old apartment came the loss of old friendships within the building. Along with us, the Munder family had lost their home. The family was scattered throughout. Mr. Munder was a classmate of my father. Alfred, his older son lost both of his legs while serving in the east. When his father went to visit him at a hospital in Warsaw he was too late, Alfred had died. Walter, the younger brother died either in the beginning of 1945 at Weichselbogen or perished while in Russian imprisonment. I was friends with both of the boys.
Despite the painful experience, the last week of Reichs- Work Duty was entertaining. Troops held "Masquerades" of different kinds. Before bedtime they paraded throughout the rooms wearing all sorts of different costumes. The rooms housed ghosts, prisoners, pirates, monkeys and others. Our troop was called the "Under-Privileged". We didnít wear anything except for the Reichs- Work Duty caps also called "butt with handle" because of its shape. We had belts around the waist, a rope around the neck with a washcloth at the end, and hidden in the washcloth was the "Working manís prized possession", sneakers.
On June 1, 1943 we received our suitcases with our civilian clothing, which had been stored away. My suitcase was made of compressed carton and I had a brown suit; "German Woods" was the brand name. It rained on June 2. The room-oldest reported to the Forman who stayed behind: "Room 6 is heading out with 12 men! The dust is equally distributed throughout! The brooms are on vacation!" No one came to pick us up at camp. We carried our belongings about 12 Ė 14 km to Pfronten-Steinach, through the Engetal valley. Soaked from rain and sweat and wrinkled in appearance we climbed aboard the train towards home. We got away!
12. Time As Recruit In France
During the last days at the Tannheimer Camp the mailman brought more and more draft orders. Within a short period of time most of us had to report to their troops. After my initial inspection one year ago I received a service pass that read "Accepted by the 2nd Admiral of the North-Sea Station, Wilhelmshaven, Career IX, Heavy Units". The foundation for this was my pre-military training in the Navy- Hitler Youth Group and professional knowledge as "Pen-Pusher". In the Navy, Career IX stood for administrative service. I was probably assigned to the "Heavy Units" because I wore glasses and therefore not able to serve on a Submarine.
Due to the tremendous loss of territory, people and material, setbacks in the east as well as failure in the war at sea and in North Africa, it was necessary to strengthen the army by all means. Crewmembers from destroyed planes and warships replenished the heavy losses of the army. What would the Navy want with me? On August 26, 1943, after a quick medical check by a navy doctor which was only a formality, I was assigned to the company of Grenadier-Reserve Battalion 460, stationed at the old fortress of the Williamsburg Castle in Ulm. With a coffee cake in my baggage I walked through the big archway where the guards were housed.
My civilian suit, which I wore when I arrived for Reichs- Work Duty, I sent back home. After I received the field-gray uniform I was handed an oval metal tag to put around my neck for identification. The tag was engraved with troop identification, the number 1587 and my blood type 0. I wore this tag until the time I got back home after my imprisonment and still have it today. Maybe there will be someone who will put it with me when I am called to our "Big Maker".
I still remember my roommates Heinz Holm, Oskar Roehrig and Rudi Blumhardt. Because we experienced so much disappointment already, none of us followed the call of the flag with enthusiasm. Still, I think there was not one of us who didnít want to serve the best he could.
Heinz Holm lived in Stuttgart near Heilandsplatz/Metz Street. He got ill while in Sens and we went our separate ways. He was sent to a Regiment in Holland. By coincidence we met in Stuttgart while on convalescent leave in 1944. Both of us had been hospitalized after being wounded. I donít know of his whereabouts since that time. I think Oskar Roehring was originally from Kaltental but I have lost track of him as well.
Rudi Blumhardt came from Esslingen. In January of 1944 he was assigned to a different troop while in Le Valdahon, maybe because he lived in America before the war and was fluent in English. I saw him at the Charlottenplatz in Stuttgart in 1945 or 1946. I think he may have gone back to the United States afterward.
Troop-Leaders from the Reichís Work Duty Groups were now Army Group-Leaders. One Group consisted of about 12 to 20 men. My Leader in Ulm was a producer in Munich in his civilian life. He was a great guy and had the rank of a Non- Commissioned Officer of the Reserves. In my first days as a Recruit he gave me a few words of wisdom which were not found in any military service manual:
1. A soldier never attracts attention to himself, positive or negative.
2. An Infantry soldier sees everything but is not seen himself.
3. Infantry soldiers let the enemy approach until they see the white in their eyes. Then the action is swift.
To my benefit, I followed his advice whenever I could. I was also told to remember:
Infantrie, du bist die Krone aller WaffenInfantry; you are the crown of all weapons,
Infantrie, du traegst mit Stolz den schweren AffenInfantry, with pride you carry the heavy "monkeys",
Infantrie, ja dich vergess ich nie,Infantry, I will never forget you;
mit dir marschiert der Ruhm aus Deutschlands grosser ZeitWith you marches the glory of Germanyís
Hinein in alle Ewigkeit."biggest" time of all, into eternity.
According to the military service manual, training lasted 14 days. After that we were somewhat able to salute and understand the commands. "Left row, March", "Right row, March" etc.. On September 11, 1943, we climbed aboard a passenger train in the city of Ulm, heading to France. At first the train drove through our hometown of Stuttgart, nearby Pforzheim and Karlsruhe, then along the upper Rhein River through Rastatt, Baden-Baden, Kehl to Strassburg in the Elsass. Through Saarburg we reached such well-known battlefields of the 1st World War at the Marne-Rhein-Canal and at the River Marne as: Luneville, Nancy, Toul, Bar le Duc, Vitry, Chalons, Epernay. After a short delay at the East Station in Paris we drove through Meaux. Along the route of Paris Ė Lyon we headed towards Sens. Sens is located at the Yonne River, 110 km southwest of Paris and was conquered by Wuerttemberg in 1814 during the wars of liberation against Napoleon. As a reminder of that time, a bronze plaque showing the Cathedral of Sens and the still unfinished tower can be seen on a column at the Schlossplatz in Stuttgart.
In the sunny fall of 1943 I began my combat training. There were more Units in Sens who like us also belonged to the Infantry Regiment 260 of the 165th Wuertembergisch-Badisch Infantry Division. The barracks, which used to house the French Colonial Soldiers, was now home to Companies 1., 2., 3., 13. and 14. The first three Companies were the Rifle Companies. Company 13 was the Heavy Machine Gun Unit and Company 14. the Infantry Artillery Unit. In the field we called them the "Genickschussbatterie" (shot through the neck battery), because sometimes they fired grenades too short of a distance and the impact was felt on our lines instead of the enemyís.
The Rifle Company was housed in the main building, which was structured ideally. Each Company had their own entrance, staircase and their own room. The staircases were joined. In the mornings, Non-Commissioned Officers on duty would blow their whistles at almost the same second on each floor. "Companyyyy Rise!" We would already have to be out of bed when the officers pushed open the doors right after the sound of the whistle. Casually the officer would yell, "Move it, Move it" before he disappeared. Now everyone had to make their bed, organize their locker and dress within a very short time. In between we heard the command "Person to get coffee, step forward!" In the meantime the guys on room-duty busied themselves getting the ashes out of the woodburnig stove and cleaning the room. The coffee was black without milk or sugar and therefore got itís name "Niggersweat". The bread was dark and clumpy, the marmalade un-identifiable, most of the time bright red. Every now and again we also had rancid margarine and artificial honey.
Training was done quickly. Physical training in the morning was neglected in comparison to physical training during Reichs- Work Duty. Companies had to report at the barracks-square in field-gear almost every day. The Company Sergeant was in charge. We called him "Spiess" for short. At first it was a guy who called us "Boyís". He said he would not ruin his voice on account of us. Thumb down means "Lay Down", thumb up means "Stand". This was the practice for a few days until someone else took over. He looked as grim as the "Kohlenklau" (Coal Thief) on the posters, who was supposed to remind us to conserve energy. He would stick his notebook between the buttons of his uniform. Soldiers had a song about the Spiess: "The Spiess, he has a very thick book, with names of soldiers who didnít clean their boots or didnít report for duty. The lark is still awake but the Spies is making a lot of racket. This is our morning blessing".
After the Company Sergeant inspected the Company, First Lieutenant Anliker came, sometimes on foot, sometimes on horseback. The Company Sergeant reported the Company, how many man were fit for duty and how many man were sick. With bulging eyes the boss barked "Good Morning Soldiers". We answered "Good Morning Sir First Lieutenant". "Company right face! Forward march!" and we walked through the barracks gate. The Battalion Commanderís quarters were above the guard station and he watched the singing companies move out. Whether we were coming or going each company always sang their same song. As an identification song so to speak. This way the Battalion Commander would know who was about during dawn or by night.
Because we were infantry soldiers we trained in long distance marching. Training site Ferme Saint Pere, which means "Court Holy Father", was closest. Some of us did think about the Holy Father when the call "Grenades!" came and we had to dig ourselves in the ground as deep and as fast as possible. Our leader and trainer Private 1st Class Brunner from Boeblingen was a soldier with frontline experience. So was his helper Lance Corporal Bentele from Oberschwaben who was not even afraid of the devil. While on a mission in the east he "took care" of enemy tanks on his own. Both of them stood right behind us if we didnít dig in the ground like moles. Months later we found out the reason for this. Gunner Finkbeiner had fired shots without having a target or an order. Enough reason for First Lieutenant Anliker to have Gunner Finkbeiner from the Freudenstadt area locked up for three days.
Our shooting range was even further away than Ferme. The way there was difficult. Gunners assigned as Gunners-I had to carry a MG (machine gun) of about 30 pounds, a pistol and a toolkit. Gunners-II carried a gun a reserve barrel and reserve- lock for the MG. Gunners-III carried their gun along with 300 rounds of ammunition for the MGís. Combat packs with blankets, ammunition pouches, side-arms (bayonet), spades, bread pouches, cantinas, mess-tins, steal helmets and gasmasks were among every oneís supplies.
Out of a soldierís prayer book:
Ich bin ja nur ein armer Infanteriste,I am only a poor Infantry soldier,
Schuetze eins, das ist mein hoechstes Glueck,To be Gunner-I would be the best of luck.
Des abends 9 Uhr steig ich in die Kiste,At night at 9 oíclock I crawl into my crate.
Mit Sehnsucht denk ich an die Jugendzeit zurueckLongingly I think about my youth.
Griffe klopfen, Beine strecken zur Parade,Knocking on a pistol-grip, stretching legs for the parade,
stillgestanden, Augen rechts den Blick,standing still, eyes right face,
Des abends Negerschweiss mit Marmelade,in the evening "Niggersweat" and marmalade.
Mit Sehnsucht denk ich an die Jugendzeit zurueckLongingly I think about my youth.
One day during the march the Company Chief came up with the idea to sound the alarm for a gas-attack. Everyone put on their gas masks in a hurry except for our trainers. Because of the weight of the mask the trainers had only packed the "box" (outer case) and left the gasmask itself in the lockers. First Lieutenant Anliker stopped the company, chased the trainers into the woods and made them hop like rabbits with their arms held in front until they fell over.
15 km from the barracks was an area used for combat and sharp-shooting practice. The march there and back took 8 hours and we were engaged with activities in the field. So, we learned to fall into some sort of sleep even while marching. Every now and again one would call out "It is so nice to be a soldier"!", so we wouldnít really fall asleep. Sometimes we heard "Hurray, we are going crazy"!. When we finally walked singing through the barracks gate we still had to complete one round in parade-step. On one occasion that didnít go very smoothly so the boss had all of us take position and storm the kitchen including the mess hall. The MGís fired blanks. Under fire-cover, gunners advanced in groups. For close combat the orders were "Side-arms ready" The barracks courtyard was clouded in dust. The knees from the guy on kitchen-duty were shaking. Grinning, the Battalion Commander looked out of his window. The French took cover. Later we heard that our boss got in big trouble with the Major because of this incident. We hardly ever saw the Major, which is why I donít remember his name or what he looked like.
And how did we look in training? Like shooting gallery figures! Fatigues were usually a certain shade of green, a dark leaf green perhaps. During times of peace they were a white-gray shade. There were plenty of both kinds of uniforms leftover in the clothing room and had to be used. This is why some of us wore the light colored uniforms, some the green and some a combination of both. Only in the rarest of cases did the uniforms fit well. Either the sleeves were too short, the pants too long or too wide, or the jacket too tight. Did anyone complain? Keep your mouth shut. Better yet: One group had MG 38, the other group MG 42 and the third group a cheep imitation made of wood.
This is how we marched through the streets and alleys of our garrison. Often times the French would laugh at us and they couldnít stand our singing any longer. They held their ears and stuck out their tongues. We were acknowledged but their expressions told us that they despised us. When once again the Resistance (thatís what the French Resistance Movement called themselves) slit the throat from one of our comrades we searched the whole area around the Cathedral. Our rage was immense and quite a few things broke due to the passive behavior of our opponents.
Our security personnel found out that a certain Monsieur Vernon belonged to the Resistance. He owned a villa on a tree- lined avenue behind high walls. I was one of a 10-men Commando Unit. On October 13, 1943, it was the 73rd birthday of my grandfather, we marched singing, seemingly by chance along the avenue. A guy from the Military Police who spoke French fluently and accent free rang the bell at the gate of Villa Vernon at around the same time. He was dressed in civilian clothing, wearing a beret and sunglasses. A cigarette was hanging from the corner of his mouth. We saw the gate open and our friend, who looked like a partisan, involved the maid in a conversation until we got closer. At the command "Stop" we stopped our singing and stormed through the open gate of the estate. Immediately we occupied the house and garden. Monsieur Vernon was tied and questioned. His answers were audacious. During the course of the evening more guys, members of the Resistance, arrived for a meeting at Vernonís. The maid invited them in and we welcomed them properly. When it was completely dark the maid closed the shutters. Engineers arrived on schedule as planned to install detonation devices on doors, windows and skylights, set up to detonate if someone opened them. Quietly and secretly Monsieur Vernon and his buddies were taken to our barracks during the night. The guy from the Military Police, a few others, Madame Vernon, the maid and myself stayed in the Villa throughout the night. For the common soldiers the mission was over in the morning.
Our meal-rations were very slim. I already mentioned what breakfast was like. Lunch consisted of low-fat barley or carrot stews. For dinner we had army bread and hard, smoked sausage. At the sight of the sausage we started to scratch our feet and neigh like horses. The tea was indefinable. I thought about the French prisoners who were working on German farms. They had good food comfortable beds. Some guys found out that there was a restaurant near the barracks serving tasty food. Unfortunately the heavyset restaurant keeper charged a lot of money and we were only able to go every now and again. As ordered we did not go by ourselves but in small groups. As we were entering and leaving the restaurant we did our "Maenchen" which means: we stood at attention and greeted those present in snappy military style.
At times, one guyís bad behavior would get all of us in trouble. We had drills or were not allowed to leave the barracks. On some nights the "Barracks Ghost" would visit the offender. Officially there was no such thing but it was silently tolerated. During the midnight hour the spook began. Water was thrown onto him. He was covered with blankets and like the thrashing with a flail; belt buckles flew down on him till he screamed. Afterwards it was as if nothing ever happened. The Irony: This comrade was the first to receive the Infantry-Assault Badge. We shot a wild pig on our training site on Christmas 1943. The chef used all eatable parts to make a loaf for our Christmas dinner. Our portions were plenty and the French red wine flowed in streams. Most of us were drunk and the latrines looked accordingly. There was a certain gallows humor on that day and all seemed forgotten. Personal leave form, when will you be mine? I would like so much to go home to see my sweetheart!
My longing was fulfilled:
From New Year, December 31, 1943 until mid January 1944 our Company was granted leave. Equipped with field gear and 5 bullets, which we had to keep in our left breast pocket, we traveled on a special train to Stuttgart then back to my unit in Sens. As soon as we got back we went on a hunt for Partisans. Planes had left a supply of material as well as more men for the Resistance on the Plateau of Langres. We had to move fast. Military vehicles were not available so all sorts of different vehicles including drivers were gathered from the French. According to the lettering, one of the vehicles must have belonged to a wine dealer. Another was for the transport of building materials. The third was from the motor pool of a street- cleaning company. This colorful arrangement arrived at the Plateau but what we found was not much. As we approached to capture the Partisans, some of them acted as suicide bombers. We didnít shoot anyone. Interrogation of the prisoners led to the location of one off there hideouts. It was a restaurant in Sens near a bridge that crossed the river Yonne. I apprehended one of the Partisans during the raid and handed him over to the Military Police. The imprisoned Partisans sat in our barracks with bread and water. For other necessary "business" they were taken, cuffed together, across the barracks-square to the Donnerbalken. Guards pulled down their pants and even cleaned their butts!
340th Infantry Division
"Ö.. We learned what our tactical sign was: a knightís shield with a sword pointing down in the center. Around the handle of the sword a triangle, a square, a circle and the letter E, to symbolize the 340th Division under Division Commander Erik Ö"
13. Preparation For Front-Line Engagement
After 3 full days of raids on the Resistance on the Plateau of Langres we were ordered to the French-Swiss Jura (mountain formation) on January 17, and 18, 1944 without any announcement beforehand. The troop- training site in Le Valdahon was close to the Swiss Border. I heard that some soldiers took off into Switzerland. All the more reason to guard the border especially well. Within 14 days our unit was supplied with almost everything needed for front line engagement.
We saw film material on the training of Russian Infantry Troops that was captured from the Russians. We were very impressed by the diligence of the Red Army in which they dug trenches as well as how good their Tank Troops worked together with their Infantry. We had fun during our lesson on weapons. Slender Sergeant Poppel explained the different parts "The MG 42 falls apart into the following main pieces: First, the barrel Ö" etcÖ. What kind of MG is this if it falls apart? And what is so special about it anyway?
Inside the teargas-chamber we practiced the changing of the gasmask-air filter to see if the masks were airtight. Thank God we never had to use the gas masks! We also trained the changing of Gunners at the MG. Gunners-I and Gunners-II had to change places while in a lying position but this was also not the way things happened at the front line. Among other things we also learned something that was already familiar to us from the time in Hitler- Youth Groups. For example: a map is a small layout of the earthís surface.
There were a few pubs and a whorehouse in the town of Le Valdahon. Just before deployment to the front lines we were able to have a look around. I was not able to go because on this day, it was a Sunday, the Company Sergeant saw me standing at the bulletin board with my hands in my pockets. The punishment; I had to chop wood for the field-kitchen. Gulaschkanonen (field kitchen) were transported on uncovered platform vehicles. Other vehicles were loaded with provisions and, ridiculously enough, lots of personal luggage. Units scattered straw onto cattle trucks on which canon-heaters and heating material were loaded.
We left France traveling through Besancon-Montbeliard, the former Wuertembergisch Moempelgard, Belfort and Muehlhausen through the Burgundy gateway. The train rolled day and night. At one point we crossed the Neckar River in Cannstatt on the King-Wilhelm Viaduct. Melancholically I peered through a crack in the door, down to "Korfu Island" where I spent part of my youth. There was no escaping. Non-Commissioned Officer Michel who lived at or near Pleckethaldenstaffel in Stuttgart, today Novalisstaffel, was allowed to get off the train. He had a very bad looking infection on, and inside of his nose. He was able to go home for a short time. I was jealous.
Mother lived with her father about 200 m away from Michelís family at Zeppelin Street. Would he be able to give my family my kind regards? I saw comrade Michel a few times after the war but I never asked him about that. During the day we passed Heilbronn, Crailsheim, Nuernberg, Schwandorf, Fuerth, Taus and Pilsen. When the train rattled across the maze of railways in Prague it was pitch black and we were not able to see anything of the city. Now came the towns of Krakau, Tarnow, Rzeszow, Jaroslau, Przemysl and Lemberg, which we were familiar with from the Poland-Campaign.
All of a sudden the train engaged its brakes. The wheels made a screeching sound and the buffers crashed together. A sign told us that we were at the small Polish station of Klaj. Soldiers were able to get off the train and stretch their limbs, numb from traveling aboard this tight cattle wagon. There was snow on the ground and we were still without winter clothing. While in France our Squad had purchased a camera. Whoever was still alive at the end would keep it. We took the first picture of the whole Squad; 11 men and standing on the left was Squad Leader Private 1st Class Brunner from Boeblingen. I still recognize all the faces but I cant remember all of their names. There is comrade Frueh from Undingen, a farmerís son from Schwaben who was not afraid of anything. Then I see comrade Tritschler from the Glottertal Valley in the Black Forrest, comrade Albert Renz from Beuren, Buck, a short guy from Huelben and comrade Herman Wolf from Urach.
We were in an area infested with Partisans. Therefore a few freight cars loaded with sand and gravel were coupled in front of the locomotive for the protection from mines. A freight car loaded with a Four-Barrel Anti- Aircraft Cannon was coupled in the back of the train. After the Unit was supplied with rations and the water tanks of the locomotive were filled the boiler man threw fresh coal into the fire. The locomotive pushed clouds of black smoke into the snowy sky. Heavily the train started moving towards Dubno Ė Rowno in the Ukraine.
The town of Brody was the next and final stop of our train voyage. We were still asleep when we arrived. The run down, barely lit station looked eerie. Troops of soldiers stood everywhere who where on their way to different locations within the German Reich. We looked at the unshaven faces and talked to the worn-out, emaciated men. Feeling sorry for us they asked what we little guys wanted here and mentioned that there was nothing else to win and that the Ivans (Russians) would beat us into pulps. We didnít believe them. How dare they talk to us like that? The train was unloaded the same night. On the tracks leading towards town stood an excellent camouflaged Panzerzug (several camouflaged freight cars with mounted artillery. The pulling/pushing locomotive is also equipped with weapons and is camouflaged). So there: what do you guys want? We are still somebody!
The town of Brody made a very easterly impression. The houses and streets looked just as we saw them in the news. We didnít see anything or anybody except for a few Panjewagen (a small wagon which can be pulled by a small workhorse) with Polish-Russian workhorses in the front. Snow, straw and rubbish was lying in the streets. What has happened here we wondered? We took a look around inside the mostly two-story buildings. Empty! We rummaged through the scattered things but didnít find anything useful. Eventually came to a house in which we found tools in the attic that were un-known to us. I picked up a book. The writing was Hebrew. White curtains hung from the beams. We were about to leave this place when we saw a bride lying on the floor, covered in a white veil. Dead. She looked pale and her cheeks were sunken in. This was our sign to go. We left hastily and never talked to anyone about our experience.
In the meantime our Troop was supplied with horses, ammunition and camouflaged uniforms. The uniforms were reversible: white on one side camouflage on the other. Our morale was lifted tremendously. We were told that we were now part of the 340th Infantry Division, Grenadier Regiment 694, 1st Battalion, 3rd Company, Platoon 3. Our tactical sign and the symbol for the 340th Division under Division Commander Erik was a knightís shield with a sword pointing down in the center. Around the handle of the sword was a triangle, a square, a circle and the letter E. Non-Commissioned Officer Hans Hahn, a guy from Weilersbach near Forchheim in Oberfranken and former member of the Grenadier Regiment Greater-Germany introduced himself as our Platoon Leader. The snow was getting deeper and our unit began to move out. The land was hill country with a lot of woods. We saw dead horses laying on their backs with bloated bodies, their legs pointing up in a strange way. We passed the settlements of Radziwilow, Rohozne, Dublany, Demidowka, Szwishow.
For whatever reason the field kitchen was not able to supply us with food. Most
of all we missed the tea to quench our thirst. We were not allowed to eat snow. Somehow comrade Frueh and I got
our hands on a bottle of French brandy. We sipped it. During the long march on snow covered narrow paths through
the woods, our feet got heavier and heavier. There was no denying it: We were slightly drunk. Privates 1st Class were the backbone of the army and most
of them were honored with the "Gefrierfleischorden" (nickname for a medal), which they received after
the winter-deployment of "Operation Barbarossa". One of them, a guy from East Prussia, heaved both of
us onto the horse pulled wagon. We slept the sleep of the righteous. At night we arrived in the village of Ochmadkowa.
Comrade Frueh and I crawled off the vehicle. Right away we reported to Non Commissioned Officer Hahn with the request
to take on the night watch. He agreed and retreated inside one of the abandoned Panjehauser (low house with clay
walls and straw roof. Often times it housed people and animals) with the rest of the unit. The clay walls of the
houses were reinforced with bales of straw to keep out the cold. The overhanging straw roofs of these houses made
them even look a bit homey. Comrade Frueh and I had no idea in which tactical area we where. We assumed to be about
50 km north east of Brody. The night was still except for a container on a fence that sometimes rattled in the
14. Baptism Under Fire in the Ukraine
At daybreak we saw two Tank-Scout Vehicles rolling towards us from the east. As a precaution we woke our Platoon Leader. As the vehicles came closer we thought we recognized the "Balkenkreuz" (mark for identification) but we couldnít shake our skepticisms. Men wearing black uniforms, caps and headphones sat on the vehicles. One of them shouted: "Where can we find your chief? We are the last ones here; no one else will come. The Ivan is sitting over there on top of the hill. Take care!" They were gone. So this is it! We are standing right on what would become the (HKL) main firing line.
What should be done in this case? Our own Scout Troop would have to move out. When the first men returned they brought back one who had died. Comrade Buerkle had been shot right in the middle of his forehead. We could see blood trickling out of a penny- sized wound. He was the first of our men to die. Our Company Chief was a giant of a man. Even though there were strict orders for Officers to be accompanied by a Communications Specialist the chief walked throughout the area alone. When he was missing a search party went to look for him. He was found dead at the left flank. The Chief had the knowledge of an order we had been unaware off. We were supposed to take the hill in front of us, the enemyís left position where the Chief was killed, than advance to the River Styr the next morning, on February 22, 1944.
At first our assault made good progress. Our fighter planes appeared in the sky. We layíd out so called ground- panels to enable the pilots to see our position. But, what happened? Obviously disoriented they dropped their bombs behind our lines. Luckily without harming any of us. Then the planes launched a low-level attack and flew into the woods in front of us. The Ivans had withdrawn into these woods. We had to advance across the open terrain with hardly any cover. The Russians who were bringing up the rear welcomed us with angry gunfire. Bullets flew all around us. Millimeter by millimeter we tried to dig deeper into the snow and ground by scratching with our hands and feet. I even used my teeth to pull out the frozen blades of grass. "Oh, dear God" It went through my head, "have mercy, I will never make it out of here!" My grandfather came into my mind. I admired him because I learned so much from him. We did have our disputes and he used to say "Boy, one day you will think of me!" Back then I would laugh at him in my mind! Now I though of him faster than I would have imagined. "Dear God, donít let me die here but if it has to be please let me get buried at home!"
Squad Leader Private 1st Class Brunner had made his way toward a house that stood all by itself. From there he was able to observe the Russians as they positioned a heavy MG. It was the kind that was pulled on two iron wheels with a protective shield. From his cover Brunner urged us to take cover behind the small house to be out of reach of the enemyís SMGís effective radius. In short leaps we made it, one after another.
Plop, plop, plop, plop! The Ivans stuffed their grenade-launchers. They had so many we thought every Russian soldier carried one on the chain of their watch. Wumm, wumm, wumm, wumm, the first strikes crashed all around our hideouts. We pressed our bodies very close against the clay wall under the protruding straw roof. Panting, a Communications Specialist approached. He rammed a heavy box, which he had carried on his back, into the snow. He began turning the knobs and to speak rows of letters from the alphabet into a microphone. "Can you read me, Can you read me"! he repeated over and over in despair.
Finally our Gunners from the Infantry, which we have not heard or seen for quite some time, got involved in the action. As did our fighter planes. At first they started shooting at us. No wonder Brunner called the Infantry Gunners scornfully "Genickschussbatterie" (Shot in the neck battery) during training in France. With tremendous hissing, heavy "suitcases" (projectiles) flew above our heads crashing into the same woods that were raked by fighter planes earlier. Advancing closer, we saw the first traces of blood in the snow from wounded Ivans. We were pressed for time. We had to be sure about what was in the woods in front of us before it got dark. In a very neat manner the Ivans had carried everything out of the woods. All that was left were tracks from sleds and traces of blood.
Being rookies in the trade of war we did not reach the goal of advancing to the River Styr and the nearby settlement of Welnisze. We had lost too much time trying to make it across the open land before the forest. Our support from fighter planes was mostly psychological. The guns from our Infantry were no mach against the many mobile, faster firing grenade launchers of the enemy. Surprisingly we had no casualties to report.
The night was bitter cold. The field kitchen arrived around midnight. We had hot tea with a bit of cognac. Our food was some sort of thin stuff. I unbuckled my mess kit from my combat pack and handed it to the guy giving out the food. He gave me one ladle full. All of a sudden it got hot around my upper thigh. Without my knowledge one of the dirty Ivans had shot my mess kit during the enemyís hail of bullets. My dear Kokoschinski! (dear lord) This was my lucky break!
A few other men squatted down with me to eat their rations when an enemy artillery shell crashed down only a few meters away from us. There was a scream as Grenade fragments flew around our ears. Comrade Reinhard from Pfullingen sat like a Buddha, petrified and lifeless. He was in shock. There was a hole in his left cheek the size of a ping-pong ball. Blood gushed out of the wound and he seemed to suffocate. His mouth was full of blood and broken teeth. Right away a medic was at his side and we loaded our comrade onto a vehicle. The driver took the wounded man to the vehicle- meeting place behind the front lines (a section behind the lines where different supply vehicles meet, as well as a place where wounded got their first treatment, or where prisoners or the dead were taken to different locations.) This was the first station for the wounded behind the HKL (main firing line). I never heard from him again. While in training in Sens, Comrade Reinhard was known for spending all of his pay on prostitutes, for being a regular at the medic station and for bringing back lice on one occasion. Maybe he was meant to die in his young years? Maybe he had some kind of premonition and therefore a good reason to live life to the fullest while in France? I thought of him often. During that night everyone who was able took cover in field barns. We could stick our feet in the straw so they wouldnít freeze. The bundles of straw also provided good protection in case of enemy fire.
15. Positioning in "Pistol-Woods"
The day after our attack, both friend and enemy were obviously satisfied. The Russians took position at the River Styr and us about 800 meters in the distance. Slowly but surely our bunch took on shape. The hierarchy within the Company became clear. Our new boss introduced himself and we got the field-post number: 02777 D. The 3rd Platoon began entrenchments towards the enemy at the edge of the woods. Non Commissioned Officer Hahn claimed a Communications Specialist and a guy for cleaning for himself. I became his Communications Specialist. The guy for cleaning was responsible for domestic chores. While Non Commissioned Officer Hahn and I inspected the surroundings, pinpointed the path to the Company Command Post and made contact with the other Platoon, the cleaning guy and a couple of others began building a three- men shelter for the Platoon Leader, the Communication Specialist and himself.
On a map Hahn and I saw that our section was between two joining small woods. One of the woods had the shape of a pistol. So we called it "Pistol-Woods". The other had the shape of a towel and was named "Towel-Woods". Our Platoon Command Post, which was under construction, was about 80 meters behind the main firing line (HKL) in "Pistol-Woods". The Command Post for the 2nd Platoon was positioned in front of the Company Command Post. The Company Command Post itself was about 150 meters behind the main firing line (HKL) on the right of "Towel-Woods" inside a cabin, which may have been used by forest rangers before. To get to the Company Command Post we had to cross a forest path that ran directly towards the enemyís main firing line and was visible by the enemy. On both sides of this path we posted signs that read "Attention, visible by enemy". This meant that this path was to be used as rarely as possible during the day and only by diving across. A Russian SMG (heavy machine gun) was positioned towards this path in the forest and they could start shooting at any time. There was no support from the left. Obviously no one was responsible for this section. Shortage of personnel! We had a Gunner for every 25 meters in our trenches. I am sure there were a lot more on the Russian side.
It was my duty, together with the cleaning guy, to stand guard in front of the Platoon Command Post in two-hour shifts. Breakfast consisted mostly of simple Karo, sandwiched between thumb and pointer finger, some marmalade and "Niggersweat". After that I was to hurry and walk the whole Platoon area along the front trenches. Even though it was the same each day every one asked if there was anything new. "Iím afraid not!" "Whatís new over here?"
I had made sketches of our area. One sketch was of the view, the other showed the distances, not in the exact scale. Group Leaders used the sketches to write down the distances to the most important manmade or natural positions. Gunners had to keep these distances in mind. In an emergency the scopes of their guns were to be set at these targets. But, if I knew my former Group Leader Private 1st Class Brunner as well as I thought I did, he did not hold much value in the knowledge of knowing the distances. Clearly, his motto was: See a lot but donít be seen. Let the enemy approach up to 80 meters. You shoot only after receiving orders and only with simple scopes. Aim has to be exact and every shot has to reach its target. Itís better to shoot a shorter distance and never shoot to far. Moral effect!
The Group Leaders checked the sketches to make sure they were current, perhaps to correct them or to add written information and summarized the material. Right away I was sent to take the material to the Company Command Post where everything was analyzed and the boss would praise me for my sketches. If there was any mail I brought it back to the Platoon Command Post. Sometimes I got a letter from Anneliese. She was working as a news correspondent for the flight command near Mannheim. Non Commissioned Officer Hahn claimed that all of the girls who worked there have affairs. During our daily meetings with Group Leaders we were advised that the Ivans were putting straw barns in front of their sections and during the night motors could be heard. It doesnít take a genius to know that camouflaged tanks were positioned. The Infantry soldiers, Artillerymen as well as the Tank Troops knew that. Everyone knew but the Leaders didnít take any action.
In the area of the First Platoon stood a farmhouse in no mans land. The residents, two women and a young man came to our lines. They said that Russian scouts had been at their farm a few times. The Russians had taken everything eatable. Only a pig was left. Non Commissioned Officer Mochow, a butcher from the Berlin area, wanted to slaughter the animal. Whoever helps to get the pig will get a part of it!" Non Commissioned Officer Hahn said: "How about it Schwaeble, are you going?" We met at the 1st Platoon where I saw the face of my former classmate Arnold inside a foxhole under a steel helmet. His parents owned the "Gamberinus" (a pub) in Zuffenhausen. I never imagined seeing him here. Arnold was not very happy about the discussions in front of his foxhole in broad daylight. He was already angry because guys from security had arguments with the residents from the farmhouse right behind him. They held the young man by the scuff of his neck to take him with them. The women cried and hollered dreadfully. At the end all three of them were lead away.
We slept through the night then early the next morning crept to the farmhouse and searched for the pig. I shot at the pig but that one shot was not enough. The pig came running, angrily grunting towards Non Commissioned Officer Mochow who shot the pig dead. Quickly we tied its hind legs with a rope and pulled the bleeding pig through the snow towards our own lines. Now the Ivans were awake and fired a few grenades after us. As we left the strategic area, named "Feuerleitraum Kolchose", which possibly overlapped that of the enemy, the mission disguised as a scout mission was over.
A few hundred meters behind our left flank between tall old trees stood an abandoned farmhouse. Some chickens with brown plumage sat under barn roofs half dead, half alive. Nevertheless, we had trouble catching them. To make things easier we just shot them off the trees. Not very professionally we plucked, cleaned than cooked them in a pail over a fire. I guess one could say that we were bad boys. How did the Russian say? Dschiskojedno, woina! Who cares, it was wartime!
16. Soviet Springtime Offensive In 1944
On the morning of March 15, 1944 the front was awakened by a loud noise. I pushed the tarp to the entrance of our shelter aside. It was 6 oíclock and already daylight. Artillery grenades came flying. The firing of the rocket launchers with their Rutsch-Rutsch blended in with the noise. With a troubled look on his face Hahn said "The Stalinorgel!" (Multiple Rocket Launcher). The Ivans are shooting with launchers, tanks and machineguns. In short: they were shooting out of every barrel.
Platoon Leader Non Commissioned Officer Hahn awaited orders from the Company Command Post. Nothing! The tension was unbearable. Hahn couldnít take it any longer. He sent me on my way. "Try to make it to the Company Command Post! Take care Schwaeble!" Incapable of taking action, all the gunners could do was crouch in their foxholes. There was nothing more to do in this hail of fire. If you laid, sat, crawled, sang or screamed, it was always the same: You had to take everything that was coming in the way itís presented.
Phone lines lay shredded in the countryside. Many transmitters didnít work. But there was no stopping the Communications Specialists who would deliver their messages even in the heaviest fire unless they were fatally shot. The leafless crowns of the trees in "Pistol-Wood" formed a dome above me. The devil himself is holding a sermon today. His organist is playing the dance of death with all his bass and pipes. Whirring ricochet bullets, falling trees, breaking branches and the acid like smoke of gunpowder are all accessories! You have to get through it.
Field-telephones at the Company Command Post didnít work any longer. Grenades had damaged the lines. The enemyís attack was expected and we prepared for the care of the wounded as well as the recovery of the dead. Funker (wireless operators) from the Company banged on the keys. Didadid, didid, dada, and dididid they signaled on radios, their heads beet red. I reported to the boss: "Pistol-Woods under heavy fire. Enemy not in sight. 3rd Platoon waiting for orders!" He didnít even acknowledge me. "Hold position to the end!" he hollered at me. Ė And "What are you waiting for?" "This is an order from the Leader!" "Now get lost!" If this is the case I thought to myself, Adolph must be nearby. I hurried to give the message to my platoon leader. He only made a gesture with the corners of his mouth.
The Ivans still stuffed- and fired every barrel. In the trenches, foxholes and shelters the situation was the same as it has been before. Wait and keep your head down! "Hold your position till the end. Order from the Leader!" I hollered at every one, if they wanted to hear me or not. No answers, only unbelieving faces.
9 oíclock. The Ivans moved their artillery fire further to the rear towards our artillery position in a back slope before the village of Ochmadkowa. With flares our infantry announced: Tanks are attacking. Again, Hahn sends me to the Company with a message: "Tank Brigade with Infantry in front of our position. Two T-34s are pressing through our left flank. Position will be held!í
With the message delivered, I was back to the Platoon Command Post. Smoke is coming out of its openings. No one is in sight. Gunners from our Platoon are still in their positions. Hahn is nowhere to be found. For a moment I stand before the damaged Platoon Command Post and take care of some necessary business. Whenever I didnít know what else to do, thatís when I always got the best ideas.
"What now?", said Zeus. I decided to check the situation at the Company Command Post. Maybe Hahn is there. I got a scare as I neared the ominous path through the woods with the signs "Attention, visible by enemy". A whole bunch of enemy Infantry soldiers approached along this path and trickled into our main firing lines. I did an about-face and moved, securing to all sides, back towards the direction of the abandoned Platoon Command Post to take another look around and to connect with the comrades in the foxholes. There was still the unchanged emptiness at the Platoon Command Post. As I moved on I noticed figures at the rear lines wearing speckled camouflage and steel helmets. Carefully I approached. When the soldiers detected me they signaled with hand signs that something was wrong and for me to join them.
Non Commissioned Officer Hahn was surrounded by a group of men. I reported what I had observed. He pressed his arm to his chest and pointed towards a specific direction. Through the trees I could see a mass of earth brown uniforms, at least 100 men. Peacefully they sat in a small clearing in the woods rummaging through their backpacks eating. In Schwaebisch we say "Sie vesperten" (having a snack). Our group was barely 20 men strong. Hahn, another Non Commissioned Officer and I crawled inside a shallow ditch by a wide forestry road. From there we could see a steel monster on our left, in front of the building that housed the Company Command Post. Officers stood in between the tank and the building with their arms crossed above their heads. A soldier sat on top of the tank with wide-open arms looking right at us. I think it was Private 1st Class Brunner. On the right of us, diagonally of the forestry road stood two T-34s.
In this seemingly hopeless situation a Non Commissioned Officer whose name I canít remember said to Hahn "Hans, we will give ourselves the last bullet!" "You are crazy!" was his answer. "Weíll charge up the hill between the Russians and the tank". "Our Ari (short for Artillery) is there!" "Up, march-march!" Hans hollered as loud as he could and began to fire his machine gun, the one that I had to clean all the time, at the Russians who were sitting on the ground. Without a second of hesitation we ran after Hahn and followed his example. We came within a few meters of the completely surprised Ivans and screamed "Hurrahhh!". The two Non Commissioned Officers fired magazine after magazine from their MP (machine pistol) into the earth brown bodies. Without much aim we Gunners shot our guns from the waist until our ammunition pouches were empty. The Russians still sat completely still. We almost made it to the highest point when one of the two Tanks fired a grenade after us. It hit a tree trunk just a few centimeters above the ground. The tree crashed down towards the valley and buried one of our Gunners in such a way that we couldnít free him. If we didnít want to be shredded by a grenade ourselves, we had no choice but to leave him to his fate. I felt very bad for the comrade. He was a guy from the Rhineland, the area of Koeln. We could see his love of live, common to that region, in his face. "Ich moecht so jern nach Koella jonn!" ("I would like so much to go to Koeln") he sang happily every chance he got. Of course a part of him was also homesick. Who didnít want to see his homeland again?
After we made it across the hill and came out of the woods, a treeless area about 3 km deep and just as wide lay before us. In the background the countryside sloped gently towards the village of Ochmadkowa. Three weeks ago our attack had started there. Nature had painted a harmonic picture in this area but what had happened here in the last hours and was still going on was horrible. Before us lay the ruins of enemy tanks, burned and mutilated bodies, heads, arms, and a steering wheel with hands still clutching it tightly. About 800 meters in the distance we recognized firing positions of our Artillery. From the distance we could not make out if they were still intact.
With their guns ready to fire cannoniers lay behind mounds of dirt they had piled up to protect their cannons. Within the last hours they shot down every tank, with direct hits by 15 cm tank grenades, which came into their sight. Except for one. That tank passed the artillery position and came to a halt about 1 km before the village of Ochmadkowa in an open field and was stranded due to damage of itís chain. There stood the monster, all by itself with the crew still on board. Just before we reached the Artillery position two soldiers from the Battery had moved closer to the T-34. The tank crew began to fire their MGís out of the hatches. Both soldiers died. I, a soldier in the Infantry could not explain why the Battery did not shoot back. Maybe they were out of ammunition, maybe the distance was to far, or they may have been unable to turn their heavy cannons?
While we borrowed ammunition from the Artillery, Hahn had a conversation with the Battery Chief. When Hahn told him that no more soldiers from the Infantry would report to him except for our small bunch, the chief turned pale. At any moment he would have to expect the Russian Infantry to move across the hill towards his position. Now he also knew why there had been no communication with his VBís (normally an officer, who is send ahead to observe the battlefield and to direct artillery fire) for hours.
Hahn just barely finished his conversation when gunfire wiped towards the hill. With blowing coats and still within reasonable distance two Ivans marched towards the position of the artillery. We could have captured them if we would have acted appropriately, but one of our men shot at the two guys without an order. Result: The two dropped down and disappeared as fast as they could. Gunner Finkbeiner, who shot without orders during the time at the training site in Sens, sends his regards! Hahn was furious. He would have captured the two Ivans. Instead, now the Russians knew about the situation near Ochmadkowa.
A twin-fuselage plane, flying relatively low, appeared above the village of Ochmadkowa. It flew in a wide circle above the battlefield. Ratt-ratt-ratt-ratt-ratt sounded the four-barreled anti-aircraft cannon guarding our right flank. The anti-aircraft cannon was mounted on a vehicle which we didnít notice until the firing started. Perhaps the bird was already wounded. Our Armyís anti-aircraft weapons finished the job. Trailing a black cloud of smoke, the plane lost height and disappeared over the treetops towards the enemy. A twin-fuselage plane? We didnít notice a national emblem. Did the Ivans fly these machines? Could it have been German? Why did our anti-aircraft artillery shoot at it? I had certain doubts. An emergency landing would have been possible in the open field by Ochmadkowa instead of the Styr-Valley. Deaths harvest was plentiful but it wasnít enough yet. Artillery soldiers handed us a mason jar filled with fatty pork meat and two loaves of G.I. bread. We shared the welcome snack among our bunch.
While we stuffed our mouths the artillery positioned a horse drawn cannon "Frueher mot, heute hot!" (Meaning: we had been motorized, today we are with horse) the Sergeant mumbled to himself. The cannoneers set up a cannon, loosened the brake block and a rider got on the lead horse. He snapped the whip and spurred the horse. The team came out from cover. Somehow the crew from the stranded T-34 observed everything and had us in their sight. Ratsch-wumm, the team collapsed. Blood- red guts hung out of the horsesí bellies. The rider was dead, the cannon destroyed. What had possessed the Battery Chief to start such a maneuver during broad daylight? We would never know.
Wireless Operators Specialists from the Artillery were in contact with the Regiment Command Post. We, the Infantry were at the Artilleryís disposal until further orders. An officer stepped out of the Command Post and pointed west. We were to by-pass Ochmadkowa on the right, then meet with guys in the rear position. Hahn limped ahead. I walked next to him. The rest of us followed in a loose formation. We made it across the open field without incident. We came upon a Captain and his driver in a jeep. The Captain got out. He was an older man and obviously an Officer from the Reserve. Hahn reported: "Non Commissioned Officer Hahn with one Non Commissioned Officer and 15 men. Some injuries. All are able to walk. Possibly the rest of the 3rd Company, Grenadier Regiment 694". The Captain was satisfied, looked at his map and said: "Keep going in this direction. There are a few cottages back there. Set up for the night. Let me take one of your men". Inspectingly he looked at me, Hahn did as well. "As ordered Captain!" I kicked my heals together and watched as the others moved out. Sitting in the jeep, I felt like a Soldier First Class. I never sat in one of these before. We drove westward into the night. Today is March 15, 1944. Iíll never forget this day! It is also the 20th birthday of my dear friend Karl Braun. Heís a Private 1st Class at the Marine Artillery in Kiel-Holtenau, at the east end of the North-East Sea Canal. During the day he is stretched out on his bunk. At night when enemy bombers fly overhead he is up, shooting into the night sky with his 8,8 anti-aircraft cannon. His shipmate hates Adolph more than anything. "All this because of that "Chickens Ass!" - What should we say being in godforsaken Russia?
It took at least three days before the Captain was able to oversee a halfway organized, patched up position made up of different soldiers from Units that had been scattered and a Reserve Unit which came from the center of the country. This was proof that we had to face the Ivans by ourselves. The Captain had kept his word. He dropped me of with my old comrades. Tears were running down Hahnís face when he saw me again. That is how close we had become.
Once again we acquired a rooster and cooked him inside a Panjehaus. (described in chapter 13) We were looking forward to this meal. All of a sudden comrades Frueh and Stoll stood in the door. Both had become Russian prisoners on March 15. Today the Ivans had sent them back to our section. "You guys wont believe it but itís true", they started their story. The Ivans have an enormous supply of material and war machinery and lots of soldiers. The soldiers from the Red Army receive warm meals five times a day. The two had been sent here to give us the news and to return with a lot of their comrades, if we ever wanted to see our homes again. Then, before our eyes they ate the rooster until nothing was left. I took both of them to the Company Command Post and asked how the Russians knew of our position. We should be careful was the answer. The Ivans know a lot more than that. They even know all our names and rank. From then on, the east- front was off limits for the two of them. Where they had been sent to, I donít know.
Hahn told me that unknowingly he somehow got a metal splinter in his leg at "Pistol Woods". His leg was getting bigger. The medic made sure that Hahn was taken to the Wagenhalteplatz before being taken to a hospital with the next available vehicle (section behind the main lines where wounded received their first medical evaluation before being taken to hospitals or dead soldiers to cemeteries. Also the meeting place for supply- and ammunition vehicles, which drive to the main lines). That was the last time we saw each other during the war.
17. "The Heroes Of Monte Cassino And SzirokaÖ"
North of Tarnopol in the Ukraine, a mountain range about 150 to 200 km long spanned from west to east. The name: Awratynsche Range. The mountains are not very high, about 350 to 400 m, but very rich in water and a lot of rivers originate there. For example flowing north are the river Bug and river Styr on which south shore the battle of Welnisze took place on March 15, 1944. Coming from the west and flowing into the Styr near Welnisze is the small river Lipa. Its shore is surrounded by hills on both sides. Our new bunch withdrew along the course of this river, a few kilometers each day. It must have been after about 40 km when we set up a convenient defense position near Horochow where we were also able to lick our wounds.
Normally promotions and awards were given on April 20th, on the birthday of the Leader. When our Division
Commander, General Erik, decided to move the date for promotions and awards to the beginning of April it was to
give his remaining soldiers a moral boost. I was promoted from Grenadier to Private 1st Class on April 1, 1944, at the age of 19. This was
a very stormy day. The wind blew strong from the east. Storm squalls blew needle fine ice crystals in our faces.
Squinting, we were only able to see a few meters ahead. The howling winds drowned every sound. Our trenches were
almost covered by ice, snow and fine soil. We had to get out. We stood around like frozen fence posts but still
alert and wide-awake. Today is Motherís 44th birthday and tomorrow is Fatherís 44th, I thought to myself. And, what will I do if the Ivans come and get me now? Whatever!
Theyíre weather conditions are the same as ours and they probably donít feel like it right now. And that was the
case. Ė What did Father always say? "God will never leave a true German!" In his case and mine, he was
right. Due to the bad conditions in our section of the front line I was not able to send a Happy Birthday Greeting
to my parents. A while later, by the light of a Hinderburgkerze, (similar to a tea light but on a bigger scale)
I wrote to my mother:
"Um mich nur Erde, russisch Land,I huddle inside my foxhole. Around me only earth, Russian land.
Drinn hab ich mich verkauert,Cold, damp walls send shivers running through myself.
Die feuchte kalte Grabenwand Hat froestelnd mich durchschauert
Unheimlich schweiget rings die Nacht,Sinister, the night is silent; spellbound I am looking all around.
Ich spaehe wie gebannt,Just as every night during my silent guard, peering into foreign land.
Wie jede Nacht auf stiller Wacht Ins ferne fremde Land.
Hoch ueber mir die Sterne stehn,High above the stars are out, my heart is peaceful now.
Und ruhig wird mein Herz,This is how I saw them as a child, without a care or any pain.
So hab ich sie als Kind gesehn, War ohne Not und Schmerz.
Die Mutter haelt mich fest im Arm,Mother holds me tight in her arms, all the sorrows disappear.
Es fliehen alle Sorgen,I can feel the warmth as I used to, I am safe with her.
Ich spuehrís wie einstens wird mir warm, Bei ihr bin ich geborgen.
Sie sieht ihr Kind im Schuetzenloch,She can see her child inside the hole, alone and close to enemy.
Allein und dicht am Feind,She knows the reason why but still, she never cries.
Sie weiss, worum es geht und doch Hat sie nie drum geweint.
Es fuehlt mit mir bei jedem Schlag,It feels with me, with every beat. This is it; you have to give it all.
Jetzt giltís, jetzt kommtís drauf an,Her heart is fighting right along mine on this wild day of the war.
An jedem wilden Angriffstag Geht auch ihr Herz mit ran!
In jeder kuehlen langen Nacht,During cold, very long nights, when enemy approaches,
Wenn Feinde angeschlichen, Her heart is with me, standing guard, never leaving my side.
Da hat ihr Herz bei mir gewacht, Ist nicht von mir gewichen.
So sind wir beide nie allein,Our strong ties will keep us together, neither of us is ever alone.
In allen schweren Stunden And sheíll always be with me, in all these testing hours.
Wird sie doch immer bei mir sein, Ganz fest mit mir verbunden!"
I wrote to my Father a little time later to the front line in Italy:
"Mach dir, Vater, keine Sorgen, "Donít worry, dear Father,
Deutschland wird den Kampf bestehen,Germany will endure the fight
Nach jeder Nacht bracht noch ein Morgen After every night there comes a morning,
den Glauben an ein Wiedersehn.and with it the belief that we will reunite.
Ich bin Dein Kamerad, Du bist mein Kamerad,I am your comrade; you will always be mine.
Und tief im Herzen tragen wir ein Bild,We carry a picture deep in our hearts,
so liebevoll, muetterlich, so guetig und so mild affectionate, gracious and mild.
Ein Bildniss istís dem ich vertrau,It is a portrait in which I can trust;
Ďs ist meiner Mutter Laecheln, das Laecheln Deiner Frau.the smile from mother, the smile of your wife.
Es senkt sich auf das fremde Land hernieder Night is falling on this foreign land,
nun die Nacht. Es ist Befehl gegeben,orders have been given, a battle will be fought.
nun geht es in die Schlacht. Wenn wir jungen Kaempfer dannThere is one thing I can feel very strongly
zum Sturme angetreten, fuehl ich das eineas we get ready for assault.
stark in mir: Ihr werdet fuer mich beten.I know that both of you will pray for me.
Wenn es dann das Schicksal will,If it should be my destiny,
dass ich mich frueh vollende,that I will early die,
dann faltet tapfer, stolz und stillthen put together brave and proud
Die lieben Elternhaende.Your parent hands in prayer.
Verzagt nicht in Klag und Schmerz Donít despair in grief and pain,
Und lasst mich sterben ohne Reue,let me die without regret.
ich schrieb es selber mir ins Herz:I myself will keep in my heart:
Meine Ehre ist die Treue.my honor is my faithfulness.
Lebt wohl, Befehl ruft mich zur Tat,Good-bye, orders are calling me to action;
Bin Euer Sohn Ė und Kamerad."Iíll always be your son Ė your comrade."
Father brought this letter home when he was on convalescent leave. Mother kept both letters carefully. I am lucky to still have both original letters.
I have been on the lookout for comfortable headgear for days. I had forgotten my cap at the Platoon Command Post on March 15. Troops had to salute all ranks starting with the Non Commissioned Officers and up. If a soldier did not wear a cap he was supposed to salute with the German Greeting, meaning throwing the right arm high, extended out at eye level. I forgot about that and also thought it to be unimportant when I saluted a chief with the military salute. A few hundred meters in front of the enemy the chief made a scene. "Soldier, donít you know how to salute!? Back, march, march! Halt! About face! Now, salute the proper way! Go, get lost!"
Inside a closet of a farmhouse I found a carefully wrapped brand new earth colored cap. Unscrupulously I put it on. April 7, 1944 was Good Friday. The ice and snow had been forgotten. Word was that the Spiess (Sergeant) was at the Company Command Post and that I was to report to him. Will he give me a cap for Easter I thought to myself? I peeked my head through a crack off the rickety door of the Company Command Post and saw the Spiess sitting on an old sofa. The same Spiess who at Le Valdahon made me chop wood on a bright Sunday afternoon while the others were out having fun. As if bitten by a tarantula the asshole jumped up and shook like a leaf. He thought the Ivans stood at the door. Everyone laughed while the Spiessís teeth still rattled. This is called revenge of the small guys. Did the Spiess bring a cap for me? He did! As well as an EK II. (Medal for bravery before the enemy)
I never saw the Spiess again. Rumor had it that he and his clerk where taken by Partisans one night. Nothing against people from Karlsruhe, but the clerk was a very unpleasant Brigant (robber, nickname of the Karlsruhe people).
At first our position was along the right and left side of a runway leading down towards the Lipa Valley and up behind the small river. We were able to observe the runway as well as the enemy position, which lay half way up the hill and next to the Lipa River. At night, flares hissed into the sky on regular intervals. Hanging on small parachutes they dangled down slowly and lit up the main firing line. If anyone was up and about in the light of the flares orders had been given to duck down quickly so we would not be detected or become targets. Sometimes the MG-Gunners would shoot. Just in case, the enemy answered by sending a few hand grenades our way. The VB of the artillery saw the flash of the muzzle and checked his Battery for readiness. Then, a single shot came our way. This game was repeated throughout the entire front line. The flash of a shot being fired then the rumbling of the impact; it truly sounded like lightning and thunder, and was a well-known sound at the front lines. Every now and then a fire flickered in the night. When it was dark the Ivans would make it a sport to shoot igniting ammunition onto a straw roof until the house burned. The smell from the burning building seemed to stay in our noses forever.
At the runway some sort of truce prevailed. If you wonít do anything to me, I wonít do anything to you. One morning we could observe how the Russians relieved their troops in the trenches. The newcomers wore red stockings and knickers. Right away we reported to the Company Chief, a young First Lieutenant who was probably a leader for the Hitler Youth Groups before. He just smiled and said: "Those are Komsomolzen!" Ė Komsomolzen? My mother had never cooked that! Ė "Komsomolzen", the boss said, "are members of the Soviet Youth Organization". Aha! Iíve just learned something new.
The devil was always on the loose on the right side of our front line positions. The Russians hollered "Urrahh!". Our guys "Hurraa!" and there was constant gunfire. We couldnít see anything, we could only hear. After a few days a Special Forces Unit arrived. Every one of them carried a rapid-fire gun with crooked magazine. A new model I guess. The main station of this unit was Hamburg. After an assault by these comrades it was quiet on the other side. The guys from Hamburg didnít stay in our section. They left as quietly as they came.
A regrouping got under way. We moved away from the runway and occupied a back hill position at the "Russian Wood" before the village of Szirocka. It was the same section in which the guys from Hamburg established silence with their enormous firepower. We moved in trenches that had been occupied by the Russians earlier. The Russians must have had many heavy smokers. Hundreds of Papirossi-Budds with long mouthpieces and Machorka cigarettes that were twirled with newspaper stuck in the walls of the trenches. There were also a lot of dead Ivans. Again, a thoroughfare ran through our positions. This time it was not a runway but a simple unsurfaced street. At night we brought the dead to a ditch on the right side of the street and covered them with dirt the best we could.
We could hear the Ivans talk. Sometimes they played on a Balalaika and sang. One time a drunk Ivan stood on top of a trench to take care of some business. Unpurposely not aiming, one of our guys took a shot at him. Cursing loudly, the Ivan quickly pulled up his pants and dropped back into the trench.
During the day we could not leave our foxholes. The Russian lines were only about 80 meters in front of us. Many times we did our "business" inside the foxhole and with a shovel toss the result towards the enemy in a high curve. The Russians engaged sharpshooters using the internationally known Dum-Dum bullets on which the lead core comes out and causes horrible wounds. Non Commissioned Officer Mochow was shot in his upper arm. It looked very bad. A comrade from Reutlingen suffered a deadly shot to his head. I took over his MG. A sharpshooter shot right in the joint of the MGís tripod. Metal splinters flew in my face. My glasses saved me from injury to my eyes.
At night I went to the Company Command Post to ask for a replacement for the tripod and my glasses. The same night a medic sent me to the Tross (group several kilometers behind main firing line who is responsible for the supply of food, materials, etc. and support for fighting troops) aboard a supply vehicle. Once there I received orders for Lemberg to have my eyes checked. I boarded a train in Stojanow and traveled 100km further to the city of Lemberg. Looking at the architectural style I knew the city used to belong to the K.u.K. Donau-Monarchy (state ruled, governed by the Crowned Monarchy). Lemberg was the capital of the Galician provinz. In 1919 Galicia became part of re-conquered Poland. At the university hospital I was told that my eyes are all right. Equipped with two new pairs of glasses, one with small round lenses and one that I was to wear underneath the gasmask, I made my way back to the front lines.
Slowly the sun went down behind the hills in the west. For security purposes the supply vehicle arrives behind the main firing line at different times. Today it will leave at dusk. I inquired about the tripod. "Itís already at the front!" said the driver. "Hue", he urges the brown horse. "Lets go!" Night comes quickly from the east. It is getting darker and darker all around us on this mild, starry night in May. Again, my thoughts are traveling home with the wind. We boys used to have a lot of fun during nights like this. Together we would sit at the Neckar River and tell true stories, stories we dreamed up and romantic ones and we talked of our hopes and dreams. Girls also played an important role. Ė Where are the friends and the girls of our dreams at this hour? Some of them are already buried in a foreign land. One of them sank with the "Scharnhorst" (ship) at the North Cape. He was a 17 years young Sea Cadet.
I remember a night in the summer of 1940, at the "Rebstoeckle" (pub) in Strassburg. At the time I went to visit my father who guarded captured Hollandisch prisoners at Fort Oberhausbergen. Together we were at an event for soldiers. Spontaneously a Non Commissioned Officer sang a solo in a clear tenor voice.
Berge und Buchten vom Nordlicht umglaenzt"Mountains and Bays in the brilliant
sparkle of the Northern Lights,
Golfe des Suedens von Reben umkraenzt.By grapevines surrounded are the Gulfs in the south,
Ost und West hab ich durchmessen,I travel through the East and West, but my homeland I did never
Doch die Heimat nicht vergessen.forget. Homeland, do you hear my song from the distance?"
Hoerst du mein Lied in der Ferne, Heimat?"
The soldiers who were sitting around sang a chorus in many different voices:
"Heimat deine Sterne"Homeland your stars are shining for me even in a far away place,
sie strahlen mir auch an fernem Ort.What they tell me I like to think, are loves tender password.
Was sie sagen, deute ich ja so gerne,Beautiful evening hour, the sky is like a diamond,
Als der Liebe zaertliches Losungswortthousands of stars are shining in a wide circle, sent by my love.
Schoene Abendstunde,I dream of my homeland in this far away place."
Der Himmel ist wie ein Diamant, Tausend Sterne stehen in weiter Runde,
Von der Liebsten freundlich mir zugesandt. In der Ferne traeum ich vom Heimatland."
The non commissioned officer joined us for the 2nd and 3rd verse:
"Laender und Meere so schoen und so weit"Countries and oceans, so beautiful and wide,
gerne zu Maerchen und Wundern bereit,Ready for fairytales and wonders, all images will have to give way,
alle Bilder muessen weichen,Homeland, with you nothing can compare,
nichts kann sich mit dir vergleichen,I send you my greetings from this far away place!"
dir gilt mein Gruss aus der Ferne, Heimat!"
"Stand ich allein in der daemmernden Nacht,"With longing thoughts I
stand alone in the twilight hour,
hab ich an dich voller Sehnsuch gedacht,My good wishes hurry and only want to be with you.
Meine guten Wuensche eilen,Wait for me at the place far away, Homeland!"
Wollen nur bei dir verweilen, Warte auf mich in der Ferne, Heimat!"
I could see yearning and tears in the eyes of the soldiers.
Ghostly, the "Russian Woods" stood out from the rest of the area. The main firing line is now directly before us. Ivans are sending us their nightly greetings: Explosives and flares with a bluish flickering light. With a trailing red tail on the right, our MGís intercepted a burning projectile. It will get quiet again after they made themselves known.
The next day the Ivans are in an uproar for no apparent reason. All of a sudden, out of every barrel, they shot at the top edge of our foxholes. Too much ammunition or what? We canít stick our heads out. Dirt keeps drizzling into the foxholes. Throughout all this shooting our trenches became about 10cm shallower. Now we can hear the sound of the grenade launchers. A bucket full of cooked lentils stood in one corner. We can forget about those now! They are covered in dirt! The Ivans must think we would be scared and leave our foxholes. But this calculation will not ad up my dear. We will not budge. In the twilight I noticed an enemy SMG, the kind with wheels and a protective shield. Just you wait and see! I learned how to handle grenade gun machinery in France. You have to empty the magazine, attach the grenade launcher to the gun, load the grenade launcher, set the scope, release safety, Wumm! A ball of fire and itís over with the SMG. The Ivans must think we are very close to their positions. They throw a few hand grenades across their cover. The usual front line "play" begins: our artillery, Russian artillery. Shooting to the left of us, shooting to the right. Thunder and lightning along the main firing line as far as you can see and hear.
It was the same game the next morning. This time, the Ivans came out of their trenches with a Russian Lieutenant in front. Due to our angry gunfire, the attack by the enemy failed and the first Ivans were shot. We pulled the wounded Lieutenant into our trench. He was still able to walk. Our Platoon Leader Sergeant Keller and I took the Officer between us. We wanted to pull him towards the back but all of a sudden he collapsed. His own sharp shooters had killed him. Keller and I jumped head first into the trench. At night we pulled the dead Ivan further back. We found a picture in his pocket showing him on a horse, shooting a pistol. Inside a wrinkled brown pouch made of artificial leather he carried his sewing kit, which held very strong thread. I kept it for a while but then I thought this was too risky.
Sergeant Keller was from the Kohlenpott (coal mining area in Germany). He was a true dare devil and slave driver. We hated him because he would give crazy orders that didnít make any sense. Did he only want to secure his own survival? One day he was shot in the back. Dying, he collapsed. He knew he was maliciously murdered. "Comrades, why did you shoot me?" were his last words.
Our Company boss fought with psychological weapons. His favorite phrase was: "The heroes of Monte Cassino and SzirockaÖ". He meant us. He also turned out to be one who only wanted to save his own skin. Thatís what more and more wanted to do. The lower ranks had to pay the price. At the top of this list was the Leader and Commander In Chief of the Army. He knew that by now the German people only fought the fight for survival.
The Benedictine Abbey Monte Cassino lay at the south part of mid-Italyís Abruzzen. German Paratroopers and the Regiment Hoch- and Deutschmeister fought a bitter defensive battle against the superior forces from many different nations. Superior in material and manpower. Father was there with the Hoch- and Deutschmeister Regiment. He had sent me oranges by field-post but they never arrived. I had sent him cigarettes but he never saw them either.
During clear mornings a twin-fuselage flew on a regular basis high above along the main firing lines. It was the kind we saw going down by Ochmadkowa. Presumably an observation aircraft. German or Soviet? Some said it was a plane of British type, a "Lightning" (US P.38). We never found out. Something was in the air, we could smell it.
The Commander of the Army in the mid section, General Field-Marshal Model, came to our Company Command Post. He didnít seem to like our Officers. Much to our amusement he ordered them to demonstrate an Schuetzenwechsel (changing of gunners) at the MG. General Field-Marshal Model committed suicide on April 18, 1945 when the German alliances who were surrounded at the Ruhr, surrendered.
We soldiers in the trenches had other problems besides the General Field-Marshal.
Our hair is growing into a mane; Soap is unknown to us,
We didnít brush our teeth and never changed our shirts.
It squeckís in shoes and sockís, dirt splashes up to our ears.
The only thing that is still dry is our throats and humor.
We lost sense of time.
At one time, I think it was in June 1944; a troop arrived behind our main firing lines. The men told us they were the Reserveís of our Division and came to relieve us. The Company Chief had a good idea on how the relieve should be done. As soon as it got dark we were to brief troop after troop of the newcomers into our sections of the trenches, then withdraw silently. Stiff and with heavy steps we moved out. The Company gathered in a valley. The chief explained that the withdrawing units were not to lose contact with each other under any circumstances. He also said to cross a certain hill before daybreak because it could bee seen by the enemy. We had to hurry.
We took turns carrying the MG. After hours of marching across field, forest and meadow paths the new day caught up with us faster then we would have imagined. After many months inside foxholes we were not used to marching anymore. The chief realized that time was getting short. He urged us to give it our best efforts to make it across the hill while it was still dark. Whoever doesnít co-operate will have to stand before the military court, he threatened. We did our best. Anger towards the chief grew steadily. Order within the units diminished. A race began. The chief ran ahead. Whoever would arrive too late in Brany was ordered to report to the chief. Our Unit stayed together, no one was left behind. Camouflage nets were stretched out on top of the hill. We didnít report to the chief once we arrived in Brany. Instead we crawled exhausted into a field barn. Just a few days ago he called us the Heroes of Monte Cassino now he wants us to stand before a military court. What kind of an Army is this?
Our stomachs growled and our throats were dry but no one cared. We just wanted to sleep, and sleep some more. No one came to wake us. It was in the evening when someone pushed me in my side. "Wake up comrade weíve got something to eat!" Afterwards orders were issued and we meet our new Spiess (Company Sergeant). The Company Chief didnít bother to meet his soldiers or to say a few nice words; maybe he had to report to the Battalion or Regiment. Because Ukrainians were still in town, field-barns became our quarters. Guards were organized. After another good night sleep only interrupted by a short time of guard duty we had no problem getting up when we heard "Company rise!".
We noticed that our camp was alongside a creek and that the meadows were swampy. Across the creek and up a steep hill was the edge of the town off Brany. The church tower rose up between high trees. A whole flock of storks circled above the trees. Never before had I seen so many of them.
The first day was set aside for the grooming of our bodies, our weapons and gear. Everyone received a piece of issued army-soap of olive green color. Naked, we stood in the creek and washed our sweat and dirt covered bodies and cut our finger- and toenails. A medic reminded us to really wash everywhere. Everyone who stepped out of the water had to show him his manliness. The medic also checked if there were any hidden wounds or irregularities on skin and bones.
Now the barber could do his job. With much difficulty he shaved our matted hair. As we stood there with our bald heads we noticed that our scalps was still dirty. A second washing of our heads was in order. We were allowed to get clean clothing. Our old clothes could easily be labeled as rags. The shoemaker got to work on the repair of our boots. They wouldnít pass inspections any longer. In the evening a lot of people gathered in town. We could hear them singing and playing. A very dear friend from Oberschlesien said: "Comrades, why donít we sing the nice song of the Tirolerschitzen!?" (Rifleman from Tyrol) Melancholy was in his voice. We did him the favor and sang many more songs after that. He was very happy.
"The soldier never rests. He is always busy". Anyone who ever served in the Military knows this motto. Formal training was scheduled for the 2nd day of un- rest. Can you imagine! Front line soldiers standing 15 km behind the main firing line had to practice to stand at attention and to march in formation. Should we laugh about this now, or be angry or sad? The Sergeant who practiced with us had been transferred from Reichs- Defense to Customs and had never been at the front. The guys who transferred from Air Force or Marines to Army had it much easier. The Sergeant was a big bellied, small, about 40-year old Franke from Bamberg. He didnít quite master the rules and regulations of the Army and asked us to have patience. He was closer to tears than smiles. Finally we practiced in the field as well. We came to an un-surfaced road lined with cherry trees. They were cut just above the ground. A group of women with tanned faces stood nearby in old clothing and wearing bandanas. With bare feet they were busy digging out an artillery position with spades. Cherry trees had to be removed from the field of fire.
We rested at the edge of a field in bright sunshine and summery warmth. We had practiced correct aiming and the estimating of distances. A jeep stopped. The Regiment Commander signaled us not stand up. Our chief reported to him. The Commander and his Orderly sat with us and said: "The Red Army stands before us with exceptional strength. They are equipped with many tanks and heavy artillery. They have superiority in the sky as never before seen in the east. Very soon we have to expect an enemy offensive. If we get hit, weíre dealt with lemons." Then he left. On account of existing orders, he didnít mention the fact that the offensive was already underway elsewhere. There was an awkward silence among us. It seemed as if every one of us made his last will and testament. Empty handed we looked towards our fate.
18. Silence Before The Storm
The days of, should we say relative peace and quiet passed much too quickly. The essence of the Army was to keep the soldiers from thinking. Soldiers were challenged day and night so they wouldnít have time for themselves or to come to their senses. During our period of rest in Brany we improvised wonderfully. We lived from hand to mouth. But we never did become a powerful Troop. Once again we marched towards the enemy. The Division was re-grouped. The Troop was always on the move. I noted the towns of Boroszice, Halycani and Horochow in my notebook. We made contact with the 291st ID, an East Prussian Troop with the tactical sign of a moose head.
Intense fighting did not develop. Nevertheless, in preparation for the major offensive the Ivans kept us busy with local assaults, which we were able to handle more or less. Albert Renz from Beuren was killed by a shot to his head. He was an only child. I saw it happen and covered him with soil. Father Renz could not believe that his son would not be coming home. Every time he was in Stuttgart he would ask mother about him. Hermann Wolf from Urach was captured and missing. I saw the Ivans take him away but was unable to do anything for him. Our counter-attack was successful but we never did find Hermann Wolf again. We captured one man. He had the facial features off a Mongolian from Irkutsk in East Siberia. I knew the way to our Division Command Post and brought the prisoner there. I had been there a few weeks prior for Communication Specialist training, which was very interesting and helpful. The most important things I learned were to get familiar with the different sounds in the field, orientation at night, how to read Russian map-material and the verbal transmission of information.
All of a sudden the Ivan dropped his pants near the area of the Division Command Post and it looked as if he wanted to do his business. I grabbed him by the neck and took him to the latrine. He didnít know what to do at the Donnerbalken. (Described in chapter 12) He stood on the board with the round openings to do his thing without using his hands, aíla French and Chinese. Hygienic but not practical, I thought to myself and pulled him down.
On my way back to the Unit the partisans could have killed me one hundred times but I had a guardian angel. When I got back to the Unit the Ivans attacked from across a hill with the strength of a battalion. Our Do-Werfer (artillery with rocket like projectile and extremely high effect) got involved in the action. In no time the hill was covered in black smoke and the attackers could not be seen. A house still stood on top of that hill all by itself. On itís walls were political slogans painted in red in Cyrillic writing
Our Unit was badly supplied. We 19 year old men were constantly hungry. "Requiring" or collect, seize were the words of the year. We rummaged through everything for something edible. Most farms had wells. Many farms had hatches with access doors and a small straw-roof in the middle of the courtyard. Supplies were stored down below. We found lentils, eggs, cucumbers etc. If the people still lived on the premises we didnít even have the chance to ask for any food. Right away they would let us know that they didnít have anything or that the partisans had taken everything already. Aha, ponjemai, nimmer jaika, nimmer speck, Partisan alles weg! (The partisans took everything) We werenít even able to buy maslo (lard) or cleb (bread) with our frontline currency "Karbowanez" (soldiers of the German Army who fought in the Ukraine received their pay in a currency, which was not accepted outside the Ukraine or internationally).
For a few days we lay at the edge of a swamp across a hill. How dumb, the Ivans -Ė kept shooting their grenade launchers into the swamp "blubb". Considering this situation was ideal for us, it seemed near at hand that our soldiers lacked the necessary alertness during the night. A Non-Commissioned Officer was on duty during the night. Once I was assigned for guard duty with him. We crawled along the hill in front of our MG-nests to test the alertness of our gunners. Thank goodness no one was too alert, otherwise we could have been dead.
Call-codes were not exactly the yellow of the egg. At first it was: "Halt, whoís there!?, Password!" Then the other party would answer with a password that changed day-by-day. Later the passwords were pairs of words. After "Haus" "Hof" would have to follow, "Mark" and "Pfenning", "black" and "white", etc..
While a comrade and I had some orders to carry out behind our lines we came upon a single house. We pushed the door open. A young couple sat at the table and told us theyíre Ukrainian and husband and wife. Right away we were invited to share a poppy cake and homemade liqueur, which we sometimes made our selves, with vodka, honey and eggs. After we left we did have our doubts. We reported the incident. The next day we surrounded the house but the birds had flown the coop. Along with other knick-knacks we found a book with pictures of the Red Army, a box of matches with a portrait of Clara Zetkin on a red flag and some kind of control book for produced milk in a drawer underneath the table.
19. Soviet Summer Offensive In 1944
Our 340th Infantry Division became more and more a motley bunch consisting of soldiers from all kinds of different regions. Among them were Germans from foreign countries in the East, Kazaks who were willing to help and men from India. Who knows where they came from. We had soldiers who were very knowledgeable in front line engagement but also newcomers and guys who were transferred from the Air Force and from Customs. With this troop we awaited a major attack by the enemy who was superior in manpower and materials. The only thing we had going for us was our stability and our will to survive.
On July 13, 1944 the Red Armyís summer offensive began in our section. For the most part it was without the usual constant bombardment. Their strategy was to advance with strong Tank Troops, surround and destroy us. A Non-Commissioned Officer from the former Ostmark and I were lying in a foxhole. There must have been about 100 T-34ís driving diagonally to our lines in single file showing their broadside. "O mai-o mai! Now we all have to die!" the Non Commissioned Officer whined in his Vienna dialect.
The Ivans pushed through our right flank. We had to hurry to gain ground in the west so we wouldnít loose contact with the rest of our retreating Unit. No matter where we went, the Red Army was already there. On July 17th, 1944 we were completely surrounded. General Erik gathered all forces in an attempt to break through. Our main thrust direction was towards the southwest where after about 50 km we would reach the River Bug by Kamionka Ė Strumilowa. We hoped to find a bridgehead from our Troops, east of the River Bug Crossing, that was still intact. In order not to attract attention to ourselves the motto was: travel in small groups and in an emergency strike jointly.
We reached Stojanow first. The town resembled an anthill. Our decision was to push trough and to avoid gunfire. We accomplished that mission. The Russians had set up their quarters in courtyards at the west end of town. When we showed up, coming from the center of town, they were so surprised they didnít even attempt to question us. Maybe they thought we were already in Soviet custody. There were a lot of civilians who would soon find themselves between two fronts. The Russians field of fire was no good and we reached a farm without casualties. From a distance we could see a well promising refreshing water. We were tremendously thirsty. Unfortunately there was no bucket attached to the rope. Being in a hurry we couldnít find a bucket or other useful container. We couldnít think of anything better than to throw our dust and sweat covered caps into a sack and lower the pack into the well. We brought the dripping bundle back up and sucked the water out of our caps. Afterward it also felt good to have something cool on our heads in this summer heat.
In the evening we reached the town of Radzichow, which was already occupied by Russians. We thought it would be safest inside the nearby cemetery in the woods. The enemy would not suspect us there. The mounds of dirt and gravestones would also provide protection from bullets and grenade fragments. We discovered raspberries in abundance and devoured the delicious fruit in no time at all. The next morning we were awakened by the humming of plane engines. Planes had already dropped their deadly cargo in the west during the early hours of dawn. The underside of the planes was camouflaged sky blue. The underside of the wings displayed blood red Soviet Stars. Just above the treetops, the fighter planes flew towards the east. For a split second we could even see the faces of gunners lying on the floor of the planes. Did they see us too?
Again we continued on our very difficult way. We came upon a Unit of German Medics in a clearing near Polonica. They were equipped with brand new ambulances. The vehicles and surrounding tents were crowded with wounded. We stayed in the woods while our Leader made contact with the Medics. Already the unit was under Russian command. All of a sudden we where attacked by a few Ivans. They even jumped down on us from trees. One guy attacked one of my comrades. One guy literally chopped the head from an attacker into two pieces with a short spade. A Non Commissioned Officer wrestled with one of the Ivans. I shot the Russian in his left thigh at close range. He sank to the ground without a sound. The massacre was horrible. When the Ivans caught their breath we disappeared into the woods. Blindly they shot their MSís after us. Riccocheing bullets flew around our ears with a buzzing sound. The shots echoed eerily in the woods. It seemed as if those guys were right by us again.
When we stepped out of the forest a huge golden colored cornfield lay before us. Panting we walked along the forest edge up a hill. "Listen, the Ivans are stuffing their grenade launchers!" After the familiar Plupp-plupp-plupp followed the sound of the impact near us. We started to walk considerably faster, and then we ran, to get out of the field of fire. Thatís when it happened. I felt a punch at my left shin. In fact, grenade fragments hit my left thigh and fragments also hit my shin. Warm blood ran down my boot. I could not afford to stay behind now; I kept running until we got out of the danger zone. It was July 19, 1944.
With my wounds temporarily taken care of my comrades would sometimes support me while I walked. Most of the time I was dragged behind but even I reached our planned designation at the place where the River Bug flows to the north. The German bridgehead was no longer there. At night we swam through the River Bug in full gear. Somehow the Ivans noticed us and began to holler terribly. "Stoi! Ruki werch! Idisuda!", it sounded from the meadow where we had entered the river. Some of us couldnít get away fast enough. Shivering, I climbed on land at the west shore without shoes, drenched clothing but still carrying my gun, I ran another few meters until I found cover in the brush. Even in the dark it didnít take us long to find each other. Silently we held out until dusk. Some of our comrades were missing in the count. Some had to leave their weapons behind in the river in order to escape the Ivans. Letís get away from here as fast as possible!
As we continued on our march, comrade Buck from Huelben caught a brown, saddled horse. A bag from a German soldier hung on a strap on its back. Unlike myself Buck was very good with horses. He put me on the back of the horse, talked to it calmingly and let it trot behind him. Riding was better than limping but I still didnít feel very confident. You really are a good target right about now I thought to myself, being a true Infantry soldier who was used to being close to the ground and nature. Therefore I was not very disappointed when the brown horse refused to go down a steep ditch. The horse pricked up his ears and turned away. Buck took the bag and left the poor animal standing helpless in the woods.
We always had encounters with small Russian Units. As we arrived in the area of Zolkiew we became better acquainted with the boss of our operation, General Erik, the Commander of our doomed 340th I.D. This tall, slender, seemingly fit man had about 500 worn out guys at his disposal as well as 1 MG and 300 guns. Among the soldiers were wounded, some without weapons and with bare feet. We were very close behind the enemyís main firing line and wanted to press towards the west in one last effort.
We cut enemy telephone lines and from this point on we didnít react to anything going on around us. With a "Hurrahh!" and the defiance of death, we hit, stabbed and shot at everything standing in our way. We didnít take cover until enemy tanks got involved. I sat in a ditch beside a road. Two T-34ís rolled towards each other. I saw a chance to make it across the road in between the tanks the moment they would pass one another. All of a sudden guys hollered "Heil Comrades, heil Hitler!" and again, "Heil Comrades, heil Hitler!" then all joined in. By friend as well as enemy we wanted to be recognized as being Germans. A signaling rocket hissed into the sky. I ran across the road and took a path through a meadow. "Ratsch-wumm", a Tank Grenade slammed into an apple tree right next to me. Suddenly all I knew was that I still had a head and feet. I couldnít feel anything else. How come? If all I lost was my hearing!
Slowly I crawled to a dirty puddle and drank like an animal until the puddle was empty. When I looked up I saw a German helmet behind a mount of dirt. Was there a man behind it? I ran towards the helmet and landed in the front trench of the 20th Tank Division from Hamburg. The comrade who wore the helmet looked at me as if I was the first human he ever saw. First I had wrecked his cover, then I sat there like a lump of misery in my dirt- and blood covered uniform. I sat without shoes but still holding on to my carabine. Now, all my strength left me. I couldnít do anything anymore. A Tank-Scout Vehicle drove up and took me away from the area, which was within the effective radius of enemy weapons.
20. On The Move through Galicia, Silesia and Saxony aboard Hospital Trains
There was a lot of activity at the Wagenhalteplatz (described in chapter 16). The medics took the wounded in ambulances and brought them to a field hospital made up of tents. The Russian fighter pilots ignored the sign of the Red Cross and attacked anything that moved and even the hospital tents. A doctor noticed that I was running a fever. He suspected it to be Wolhynisch Fever. A blood test would be necessary to be sure but that was impossible without a lab. A medic hung a cardboard strip around my neck with the diagnosis from the doctor written on it. For information for doctors and further treatment the strip was color coded on the edge. I fell into a fevery sleep with all kinds of awful images. All of a sudden a medic took me on his back and carried my to a creek where he laid me down. I have to do this the medic said; the Russian fighter pilots are not leaving.
By Grodek, west of Lemberg stood a tremendously long hospital train with the number 615. I donít know how I got there, at one point my film ripped! The beds were three-storied bunk beds and crisp white. I was put on the top bunk. It has been half a year since a last saw a bed. I felt like being in heaven. Rumors had it that there had been an assassination attempt on Adolfís life and that a heavy oak desk saved his life. But thatís all I heard.
Itís about 500 to 600 km between Lemberg and Breslau. We broke through the basin on July 22, 1944. I was taken off the hospital train in Strehlen, about 30 km south of Breslau, on July 24, 1944. Stretchers were lined up neatly along the platform. While we waited for the ambulances, women from the NS-Women League gave out candy and flowers. In nice conversations the women told us keep up our courage. I donít think a single one of us asked about Adolf.
The hospital in Strehlen in Silesia ranked like a reserve hospital. It was totally overcrowded. I was taken to a big hall with about 30 beds. All of the guys here were confined to their beds. The medics ran a race with urine bottles and bedpans. The next morning a huge movement got started. We were put onto stretchers on wheels and one after another were rolled into the operating room for treatment of our wounds. It smelled suspiciously like rotten flesh.
A guy with a "big mouth" lay next to me. In Schwaebisch we would say "Gosche". He was a degraded officer who was wounded while in a Pioneer-Correctional Battalion. He had nothing to lose and therefore didnít hold back with anything he said. He said it should be clear to every normal thinking person that we would not be able to win the war. The assassination of the Leader wouldnít change that either. Allied forces want our total defeat just like we wanted total war. They want the unconditional capitulation and annihilation of our nation and political system.
"Now, is this the decay of the military which is sentenced to death or the urging for all, to keep up the fight till the bitter end?" I asked. "Of course we have to keep fighting!" the degraded officer said. "The American Foreign Minister Morgenthau will have our private parts cut off either way. Thatís the end, do you understand!" He was in a rage. "Ilja Ehrenburg, a Russian author, is stirring up the boundless hate. Should the Russians arrive here what do you think they will do to our women? Morgenthau and Ehrenburg are "Crooked Noses", (Jews) do you get it?"
Somehow I managed to contact Mother in Stuttgart, I think it was via field post. I am laying here for 14 days now. In the evening of August 7, 1944 a soldier stuck his nose into the hall and hollered: "Is there a Private 1st Class Heinz Beck here?" "Here!", I called out. He handed me a tiny piece of paper. "Weíre here!", it said. This is fatherís handwriting! Then the comrade said, "They will come see you tomorrow morning", and left. How lucky! Are they leaving grandfather all by himself during the nights of bombings?
When mother and father arrived the next morning, they were not allowed in. The night before an empty hospital train rolled into the station of Strehlen. This train was to take all of us out of Strehlen. The situation at the front lines became so critical that Strehlen was going to be the site for the field hospital. We were supposed to be taken to a hospital further inland. My parents asked about me at all the ambulances going back and forth to the station. Then they saw me as I was lying on the stretcher and lifted onto the train.
Father wore his uniform and was courageous enough to squeeze himself in the train to say "Gruess Gott" (hello) to his son. In telegraph style he told me that his ear-disease had come back, that he was at a hospital in Schlettstadt in the Elsass and because of my note was able to get emergency leave. Mother stood at the platform half crying, half smiling. She tried to get as close to the window as possible where I once again lay on the top bunk. I didnít have a good view of the platform. One last wave good bye. Father saluted. Slowly, the hospital train began its ride.
Our train steamed through a charming mountain region. We stopped in Hirschberg and continued up the hill all the way to Oberschreiberhau. Our train rattled across the Elbe Bridge by Pirna. We continued along the left shore of the Elbe River on a fast ride to Dresden.
Dresden must have been the only big city in Germany, which was spared from air raids, at least for now. We stayed inside the hospital train for 2 days. Now we were taken off the train in Dresden. It was the same routine as in Strehlen three weeks before. Medics lined the stretchers in front of the building of the train station. The promenade street of the city was laying a bit lower so we were able to watch the almost peace-like traffic on Prager Street.
"Itís your turn!" two medics said, as they spit in their hands and carried me down the steps of the train station to Prager Street than pushed me to three "Kumpels" (nickname for comrades) inside an ambulance. Shortly thereafter I lay once again in a crisp white bed inside the Reserve Hospital VI, named Steamboat Hotel, in Blasewitz. I could see the suspension railway glide up to Loschwitz-Hoehe and down to the Elbe River. The most unusual of the Elbe Bridges in Dresden, the Blue Wonder, was nearby. 3500 tons of steel painted in blue spanned the river the length of about 141 meters. For three whole days I was able to admire this grand panorama before I was transported to Radebeul, west of Dresden.
There, the gate to Europeís most northern wine-growing region opened. Karl May lived here for 18 years before he died in 1912. The country north of Radebeul was a favorite Hamstergebiet (smuggling area) for the people of Dresden. Everyone knew the Hamsterbahn (smuggler train). The small castle "Wackerbarths Ruhe" was in a park like area and was now used as a branch for Reserve Hospital Radebeul. This small gem was my domicile for three weeks.
Aunt Martha, who lived on Sick Street in Stuttgart, was born in Dresden. Her parents lived in Dresden-Neustadt, Mohn Street 5. One day she and her youngest daughter Ilse came to see me in "Wackerbarths Ruhe". She was 7 at the time. Back then whoever came to visit a wounded soldier received a privilege of some kind. Maybe it was a free ride, I donít know. Aunt Martha also visited her parents and other relatives, not knowing that two months later she would knock on their door without any of her belongings. During one night of air-raid attacks in Stuttgart, in October 1944, she became homeless. Shortly before that day she got the news that her son Walter was killed in action. He was killed on September 22, in Eloyes near Toulouse, in the south of France during the defense of an airfield. He wasnít even 18 years old.
On nice August days the medics would lay us down in the park. We looked up into the bright blue sky when an enemy bomber formation flew unhindered above us towards the east at about 10,000 meters. All we heard was the soft humming of the engines. It was easy to count the planes because they flew in formation. 300, 600, 900. It must have been 1000 silver shimmering dots. Above Dresden they turned westward and attacked Tharandter Woods, Silber Street, the area between Freital by Dresden and Bergmannsstadt Freiberg as well as the main railways connecting both towns.
21. Convalescent Leave in Stuttgart
The doors of the hospital opened up for me on August 30th, 1944. My orders: Praschnitz by Milau. Where is Milau, where is Praschnitz? Aha, near what used to be the south border of East Prussia, which used to be Polish ground, but now belonged to the German Reich. The Polish people say Mlawa and Przasnysz. When I, traveling alone, arrived there only the personnel administration was there. Right away I was sent to Heiligenbeil in East Prussia. The Grenadier Back-Up Battalion 356 was stationed at the Gneisenau Post. It was at this post where I received the most precious of forms, the personnel leave form.
On September 2nd, 1944, at the beginning of the sixth year of war, I walked down the steps of the Stuttgart train station. Right away I noticed that the city was in ruins and that it might not be so easy to get to Mother and Grandfather who lived on Zeppelin Street. As was customary, I assessed the situation at the Hindenburg Building. All around me the talk was Schwaebisch (German dialect). My ears were not used to it any more. Are these people all clowns? I thought to myself. Once again I was among my Schwaebisch people.
An Infantry soldier with a Czech gun over his shoulder stood on the corner of Hindenburgbau and Lautenschlager Street. He was supposed to take a group of Russian prisoners to the Moltke Barracks. One of the Ivans was very drunk. He fell to the ground and was not able to get on his feet again. Passer bys offered different advice on what to do. The talk was of shooting him and feeling sorry for him. The guard was completely overwhelmed. In my thoughts I was able to put myself in both of their situations.
Field Gendarmerie was always present around the area of train stations. Two "Watchdogs" actually came around the corner wearing steel helmets and silvery tags on a chain around the neck. Pondering, I continued on my way.
When I saw the ruins and mountains of rubble on my way I realized that in wartime the borders between frontline and homeland didnít exist. Even civilians were fighting for their survival. The hills of the Talkessel as well as the length of Zeppelinstrasse were predestinated for the digging of air raid tunnels. Below house 69 where Mother and Grandfather lived, people busily took the initiative of building the air-raid shelter further into the mountain.
Grandfather was at home alone when I arrived. He was almost 74 years old and his body and mind a little frail. In his old days he could not get used to being moved from his simple life in Cannstatt to the high society of Upper Zeppelin Street. He was so very happy to see his "Boy" again after nine months. Mother was worn out when she got home from work. Her face and chin looked thin, her eyes sunken in. Crying she stood before me and took me in her arms. She soon calmed down when she heard that I could stay for several weeks. I checked my bachelorís pad, which was as the rest of the house damaged from the force of aerial mines. Mother said that currently there are lots of air raids to endure and that no one could get enough sleep. Nothing seemed to indicate a peaceful convalescent leave, though mother could use a holiday even more than me.
During the night of September 12th and 13, 1944 the second part of Stuttgartís destruction began. During a period of only 30 minutes 200 airplanes of the Royal Air force (RAF) dropped about a thousand tons of bombs on center city. 60% were firebombs. The Mayor, Dr. Stroelin described the inferno like this: The carpet of bombs started a firestorm. Metal roofs flew through the streets as if they were pages of a newspaper. The air was filled with sparks, smoke and incredible heat. Fleeing people collapsed and burned. About 1,000 people have lost their lives. The population was dependent on community food distributions of the NSV (National Socialistic Public Welfare Group). 40,000 to 50,000 homeless arrived at emergency shelters and 150,000 had left the city.
As the sirens sounded for yet another "air-raid alert" Mother and I had a difficult time bringing Grandfather into the air-raid shelter. We carried and pulled him for about 200 meters along Zeppelin Street and down to the entrance of the shelter. Once there, an older man in air defense uniform stood guard. We were lucky he let us in, the shelter was filled to the last seat. I felt terrified and wanted to get out but the guard would not open the door again. There, a muffled rumble! The shelter seemed to shake. The ground vibrated but no one screamed or said a word. I felt so useless because I was not needed.
After the enemy planes were gone we were allowed to go back to our apartments. The city was surrounded by a fiery glow. We wouldnít have had a problem seeing if it wasnít for the poisonous smoke. The staircase was littered with debris. Ms. Bareiss the landlady and her handicapped son had already disappeared into their rooms when Mother and I arrived with Grandfather. We lived on the second floor, above the landlady. The entrance to our apartment was blocked by debris, which we removed the following day with the help of some man from the Technischen Hilfswerk (THW).
We were convinced that Ms. Bareiss could have given Grandfather something to lie down on for the rest of the night but she didnít. Shivering, Grandfather crouched moaning in a corner of the staircase. Ms. Bareiss had no pity, even though she claimed to be a good Christian and closely connected to the Evangelist church. At daybreak I went to look for the office responsible for my convalescent leave. By evening I carried a leave- extension form in my pocket. Mother would be glad to have me by her side for another 3 weeks. Father was already in Italy with his troop. On some days and nights the air-raid sirens sounded several times.
Zeppelin Street is located in the area of the Gaeubahn (train) (Gaeu is a name for a countryside). Beneath the Bismarcktower and West-Station the rails run through tunnels. At least one Air-Defense Battery was positioned along the way. Their weapons were mounted on top of trains. If the pilots attacked the air-defense artillery with their on board weapons the trains would disappear in a tunnel, only to appear at a different location once again and fire if necessary.
I had contacted Annelieses family who was scattered throughout. Mr. Sailer, an Orthopedic Shoemaker, was exempt of military duties. Mrs. Sailer took care of the household. Anneliese served as a news correspondence helper for the Flight Command in the Mannheim area. Because she suffered from rheumatism she was supposed to be sent back home. Her sister, who was 12 years younger and a student, was evacuated and lived with her uncle in Tailfingen. Brother Heinz, 14 years old at the time, was evacuated with the school. His class stayed in a room in a Guesthouse in Neuffen. I went to visit him twice during my convalescent leave. Once I went there by myself, the second time with Anneliese and her family.
Trains were the only public transportation available. The trip to Neuffen was not without danger. In broad daylight trains were attacked by fighter-bombers (Jabos). At first the pilotís priority was to destroy locomotives but in the weeks to come it became a new sporting event to use people who were working in the fields as targets.
Whichever air raid it may have been, allies cannot deny that it had been an inhumane terror attack on civilians. According to the international agreement at the Haager Landkriegsordnung and Geneva Convention, which are accepted by all powers engaging in war, except the former Soviet Union, actions against the civilian population are an absolute crime, war or not.
On September 30, 1944 the time had come to say goodbye. Because of the still heavy bombing assaults trains could not drive into Stuttgartís station. Therefore, my train had to leave out of Bad Canstatt. In my compartment were lots of guys with EKís (medal for bravery), Assault Badges, Close-Combat Badges and other decorations. I had the feeling that there was something special to do with these guys after all. After listening to their conversation for a while I thought our leaders might have a miracle weapon after all, with which we would chase the Ivans like rabbits. Thatís when one of the guys in the group replied "You are pretty stupid!"
The morning of October 1, 1944 was a rainy Sunday; I arrived in Berlin where I had to change trains, but missed the one going towards Koeningsberg. After I received written confirmation from the control station that I had missed the train and had my new orders in my pocket, I took the trolley past the ruined buildings to the Soldatenheim (recreation center for soldiers, where soldiers in transit can also spend the night) in Berlin-Charlottenburg.
Nothing at all was going on here and I was pretty depressed. As I got on the train
to Koenigsberg the next morning I was relieved; soldiers of all military branches crowded the train. One soldier
said, " Why are you guys in such a hurry? Youíll be getting there to late, soon enough!" Not one guy
had an expression on his face. When I reported to the orderly room of my Reserve Troop they were grateful to see
me. Among the usual supplies a newcomer receives I was handed close to thirty letters, which followed me since
the summer in the Ukraine all the way here. A great achievement of the different postal stations!
22. At The Memel Front
My stay at the Gneisenau Post was very short, from October 2nd through October 11th, 1944 and I didnít see much of the city of Heiligenbeil. During the time I was there, the Marschkompanie (Company which is moving out) hardly ever got to leave the barracks. Maybe it was meant to be that way.
As our small Troop moved out on October 12th we didnít know what was going to happen with us. We drove to Zinten aboard a regular passenger train. It appeared as though we were going on a company outing. Once more we were inspected and equipped with field gear at the Troop- Training site Stablack. The train ride went past Koeningsberg and Labiau to Tilsit where we got off the train.
West Germany and Berlin were constantly under air-raid attack. East Prussia on the other hand was a peaceful oasis until the summer of 1944. By the end of July, beginning of August, Tilsit had been bombed a few times. Now, in mid October, the streets of Tilsit also had the look of the misery of war. It even smelled as if the Red Army was advancing toward East Prussia. The people who in the years before tried to avoid more frequent air-raid attacks by moving to East Prussia were the first to instinctively think it would be wiser to go back to the bomb threatened western region instead of falling into Russian hands. A secret escape movement got started.
Full of troubled presentiment, the East Prussia population looked toward the east.
District Leader Erich Koch indicated, without having better knowledge, that the rumors about the Russians stepping
onto East Prussia soil were just that, rumors. "Brave and loyal!" was written in big white letters on
just about every house by Goldfasanen. (Political Leaders who were negatively called Goldfasanen because of their
uniforms with golden trim).
It must have been October 14, 1944 when our Troop crossed the Memel River in Tilsit over the Queen-Luisen Bridge. Army Engineers decided on the course of the East Prussia defense positions. Individual construction was in the hands of the party. The hired help did not have the proper education for construction, therefore questionable structures emerged. They were protective trenches for two men and MG-Positions. We were assigned to one of them and presented ourselves to the enemy half way up a hill near Willkischken at the Jura, 15 km east of Tilsit.
On the morning of October 16, 1944, at 7:00 oíclock, the Red Army made them selves noticeable through a tremendous drum barrage. Russian tanks rolled ahead. The Russians and their PAK (Anti Tank Guns) slowly destroyed our trenches, which we defended fiercely. Enemy fire was so strong that communication from trench to trench was nearly impossible. So, everyone had to fight for himself. The missing connecting trenches made a transition to the sides impossible.
If we could only move the sun over the mountain so the night would make us invisible! Hour after hour, regardless of their many casualties, the Ivans pushed closer. When night finally came they lay in front of us within shouting distance but they had no time for an all out attack. The next morning the Ivans must have attacked our trenches with a loud "Urrahh", but the bird had already flown out of the extremely bad coop. Even though we had to bolt from this place, we accomplished our mission during the next days. In heavy battles we withdrew from position to position, back towards the Memel River.
We crossed the Memel River on a pontoon bridge by Ragnit during the night of October 21, 1944. For the rest of the night we found refuge in the town of Neuhof. Rumors had it that we could get a few days of rest in Ehrenfelde, but once we arrived we received orders to move to the northern bridgehead of the Queen-Luisen-Bridge in Tilsit right away. After a hurried march through the badly damaged city of Tilsit we arrived at the bridgehead in the evening. Cadets from the Officer School of Thorn were there with their Colonel. Sergeant Fischhoeder who replaced the sick Lieutenant Quwien led our Company. He reported to the Bridge Commander with 40 men. The Commander asked for the rest of the Company. Sergeant Fischhoeder said, "This is all of us!" The Bridge Commander replied, "Go see how you will relieve 180 men!" The Cadets left the bridgehead as fast as they could! And us to our destiny. Sergeant Fischhoeder said: "Now we have the suicide mission!".
Troops of all arms constantly moved over the bridge. A bridge is always a favorite target for enemy artillery. The Ivans shot with phosphor grenades, which was very effective and saved the bridge. After all, they wanted to take the crossing intact into their own hands. Many of the returning vehicles, tanks and assault weapons went up in smoke. We were sad and helpless. Around midnight an Engineer Unit reported that they finished their blasting operation and that there was no one left who wanted to cross the bridge besides themselves or the Ivans. The Regiment Commander, Colonel Lieutenant Von Kalm drove up with a Communication Troop. This was the first time I saw him and the impression he left on me was convincing. He promised to take us across the river on assault boats if we would have to stay at the bridgehead even after the detonation of the bridge. Then, a farming vehicle with three soldiers drove up. One of them lay badly wounded in the straw. They were very thankful to be able to still cross the bridge.
"If the enemy artillery fire stops now we have to get ready for close combat", I thought to myself. But instead of the Ivans two officers came and gave us orders to withdraw across the bridge to the safety of the shore as quickly as possible. With a horrible bang and a following burst, the historic landmark of the city sank into the waters of the Memel River. We had been the last to cross. Sadly we looked to the other side; nothing moved. Hopefully our Engineer Battalion didnít detonate the bridge too soon! How many more times could we be saved?
Of course the Russians have heard the explosion of the bridge. By now their artillery switched back to grenades with which they covered the south shore of the Memel. We moved to an embankment position at the river before the break of day. Our Engineer Battalion even blew the railroad bridge that crossed the Memel near the Queen-Luisen Bridge into the air. Now, the northern defense took its course along the Memel up to the Kurisch Haff. During the remaining days of October, the Russians made no attempt to cross the river. It got suspiciously quiet in our section. Sometimes tanned people would ride their bicycles on the northern Memel dyke. We used this time to expand our position. There was no shortage of material. We had wonderfully big, massive, freshly cut boards at our disposal. I have been with this Troop for nearly one week. Which, three weeks earlier - can you imagine Ė was loaded for the drive to the Reich in Riga, the northern capital of Latvia about 400 km further away from here. At the old Reichís-Border the Troop had been intercepted and transported to the region of Tauroggen to block the Russian invasion. It was the 1. Company of Regiment 24 of the 21st East- and West-Prussian Infantry Division with the field-post number 27756 B.
I was 19 ½ years young, Private 1st Class. I was honored with the EK II and the Verwundeten-Medal in black (similar to Purple Heart). What I still didnít have was the Close Combat Medal, which I think should be the silver one. During my time with the 340th ID, I saw the white of the enemyís eyes several times. After I had been wounded the 340th Infantry Division as well as their documentation had been completely destroyed while in the area of Lemberg. When I got to the 21st Division no one asked where I came from. Due to the very wet crossing of the river Bug the entries in my pay-logbook were almost unreadable.
I was assigned a troop of soldiers by the Command who were younger than myself and had no front-line experience. Perhaps these guys needed a father figure like the one I had at the 340th Division, old "Oberschnaepser". Due to my age I couldnít have been a father figure but I tried to make up for that by instructing them of camaraderie with my front-line adventures. All of them had to understand that they needed each other and that one would be nothing, absolutely nothing without the support of the team. During these days the men had lots of time to think and too much time to think can be like poison to a soldier!
Thatís when something terrible happened: During one of my rounds I found a very young soldier in his trench who had killed himself with a gunshot into his mouth. Why did he do this? How could he do this? He had unscrewed the stock of his rifle and pushed it into the wall of the trench in such a way that it pointed up in a slant. He hooked the trigger of his rifle in the stock, put the muzzle in his mouth and kicked the stock, which then fired the shot. I wouldnít recommend trying this! No one had even noticed what had happened. While I went to report the incident I ordered all of the guys in the trench not to move anything. The incident was recorded.
I had been their Leader for only a few days and now something like this had to
happen! It was like a nightmare! Later on I found out that the soldier had been from the Elsass. I guess he had
lost his nerve. Everything that happened in this war must have seemed so senseless and terribly sad to him. Why
didnít he talk to someone about his emotional anguish? Even though it was not acceptable for a soldier to have
a troubled mind he could have talked to me. - Where were we? Oh, the Ivans advanced over the Rominter Heide to
East Prussia. Now itís only a matter of time before we will be involved again.
23. At The Edge Of Rominter Heide
Soldiers who had recovered from their injuries and others came to our bunch at the Memel during the last days of October. A Non Commissioned Officer took over my Command. I was assigned to be the Communications Specialist for the Company by the Company Chief. This was really good for me! On Allerheiligen (all saints day, a German holiday) 1944 our Troop began to move out. What the population didnít know yet was: On October 20, 1944 the Russians employed new, strong tank troops. 50 km south of us, behind us if you will, our defense line could no longer withhold the concentrated tank attacks. The tanks broke through by the town Gross Waltersdorf and reached the Rominte River. Without any resistance they crossed the Angerapp River and continued to Nemmersdorf. The city of Gumbinnen was in danger from the south.
It was said that between November 5th and 8th, 1944 the Division was transported in the area of Angerapp Ė Goldapp by rail. The bunch I belonged to must have been under a different command once again. We didnít travel by train but instead marched only by night and fog on Reichs- Street 132, south towards Gumbinnen. Apparently there was no reason to rush. Supposedly the higher leaders thought of us as the reserve forces in case the Russians would start an attack toward Breitenstein. During the day we found shelter on big farms with our horses and wagons. The Russian Air Force couldnít make us out. Though their little canvas-covered brother, the "Sewing Machine", also known as the "Burbel", "Coffee Grinder" or "Runway-UVV" followed us throughout the night. We were not allowed to light a match or cigarette. The pilots turned off their engines and sailed above us. This way they were able to hear all of the sounds. Once hand grenades exploded. Did we have to deal with guerillas? No, a "Burbel" once again started the engine and sailed along. Another time we transported a wounded soldier on a Panjeschlitten (sled which becomes a Panjeschlitten if pulled by small Polish or Russian horse). I sat on the back as an escort, when I heard a strange blubbering sound above the trees, which gave the "bird" itís nickname "Sewing Machine". The biplane flew very low and close behind us. The pilot looked at us for sure but didnít know whom he was dealing with because of the snowstorm. Even though our pulses were racing we took advantage of the situation and stayed on our course.
We left the Reichs- Street in Breitenstein. On our left we passed the Eichwalder Woods and made our way towards Insterburg along the Inster River. There were still civilians in Insterburg. Women stood in clothing stores and dressed themselves in new, free clothes. Now we traveled on Reichs- Street 137, towards Angerapp. The train station of Ammerau is halfway between Insterburg and Angerapp. A shaky signpost announced it was 9 km more to Nemmersdorf.
What did the German population have to endure after Russian tanks advanced to this town on October 21, 1944? Two days after the reclamation of Nemmersdorf by our troops we found a gruesome scene! For the first time the Germans had been shown the fate that awaited them once the Russian soldiers had them in their power. The degraded officer whom I meet at the reserve hospital Strehlen sends his regards! Didnít he tell me months ago that the Russian Author Ilja Ehrenburg composed a flyer in which he instigated Russian soldiers to rape and kill our women, to cut the throats of children? Thatís exactly what the Ivans did in Nemmersdorf. Women had been raped and murdered in a most gruesome way
We had marched south all the way to Angerrapp. Now, leaving this town, we headed east towards the Rominter Heide where Reichs Marshall Hermann Goering had his hunting castle. The Russians dwelled in it now unless our engineers blew up the castle earlier. We reached Zellmuehle and Reichs- Street 132 in the beginning of November. It was 12 km to the heavily fought over Goldap in the south, and 24 km past the hard pressed Gumbinnen in the north. During the first night we slept on potatoes and coal with a few grenade duds in between which didnít disturb us too much.
The following morning we moved into readily dug trenches outside of town in the direction of Goldap. Judging by the course of the front trench this had not been wisdomís latest creation but we were satisfied with the structures for the Command Post and the shelter for the Company Troop. Both were bunkers lying directly next to Reichs- Street 132. There was even a Donnerbalken (described in chapter 12) under the clear blue sky.
In the following days soldiers kept going back and forth to town to gather supplies. All it took was to walk the 200-meter, slightly downhill street to get to the first buildings. On the left hand side was a small bridge. The enemy was not able to see the bridge but every now and again they threw grenades onto it. When once again our Company Chief was named the Battalion Commander he had to cross the bridge a few times together with a Communications Specialist. Quwien would lie in the ditch of the street and listen. If he didnít hear the sound of muzzles he ran, without announcement, across the bridge as if stung by a tarantula. I followed him in my regular pace. After being wounded, First Lieutenant Scherer took his place. "Flowerpot 1" was the code word for the boss of the 1st Company. He got very angry with me when I addressed him by his name and rank over the field-phone at one time. If the field kitchen had arrived the Platoon Leaders were asked to a game of poker. Mangold, our second Communications Specialist was also a guy from Swabia. He was from the Welzheimer Forrest. If "Flowerpot" had too much Vodka, both of us had to report to him late at night to sing the German song "Auf de Schwaebísche Eisebahne". It was during that time when, without a sound, the Russians snatched one or two of our comrades.
The next day the Ivans yelled to us "Attention, Attention! This is the National Committee of Free Germany speaking. Now you will hear a prisonerís band. They will play the tune "Der Gott, der Eisen wachsen liess". Then they announced in perfect German language that last night our comrade - Whatís his name - was taken, that he sends his greetings and we should join him soon, and that the Soviet Army serves five warm meals a day. "Hello Fritz, how much further is it to Berlin?" Click, and the spook was over. We knew very well that we had only one man for every 30 meters; very little during dark nights. To the left and right of us were hundreds of meters of nothing, enough free space to attack us from all sides.
A Non Commissioned Officer, the Officer who was on Guard Duty to secure a section of the trench and a few men guarded these open sections.
On November 15th we went to get a few Russians for ourselves. Leading the assault was Staff Sergeant Fischhoeder. He briefed us very well on the course of our action. Our pay- logbooks and other things we didnít need were left behind with our comrades. We were armed with machineguns, pistols and hand grenades. One after another we crawled towards the trenches of the Ivans. The Staff Sergeant was first, followed by Non Commissioned Officer Pitrok who was the old, tough soldier of the Company, honored with the German Cross in gold. Another 5 to 6 men followed and a Communications Specialist named Heinz Beck was last in line. All of a sudden hand grenades started flying and we dove into the Ivans-trench. The Ivans fled alongside the trenches. Suddenly a flare lit the sky. In itís light I realized that my Assault-Comrades already headed back while I was still searching the enemy trench. "What a dummy I am", I thought to myself, as I got very warm. As fast as I could I crawled out of this very deep Ivan trench and ran after the others. When I met the others I realized what had happened. Non Commissioned Officer Pitrok had been so badly wounded that he had to be carried. We caught one Ivan of whom I was left in charge. A dying Non Commissioned Officer and only one prisoner! What if he escapes? I thought to myself. I grabbed him by his neck, showed him the general direction and pushed him in front of me until we reached the Command Post.
The Battalion Commander and a translator from the Division awaited us. In the glow of the Hindenburgkerzen we realized that we brought back a Mongolian man who claimed not to speak any Russian. Maybe he didnít lie? Maybe this was his first contact with German soldiers. He couldnít hide his fear that this may be the end of his life and with gestures he questioned if now his head, arms, legs and other body parts that stick out would be cut off.
The Officers didnít waste any time. They took our dying Comrade and "Slit-Eyes" away. Unfortunately Non Commissioned Officer Pitrok died at arrival at the main field hospital. One freezing cold day as I sat on the Donnerbalken a "Ratsch-Bumm" (cannon) was fired. With this Russian equipment the impact of the shell follows the firing almost immediately. But the shots came from our side! What is going on? Never before did I get off the Donnerbalken so fast. I pulled up my pants and ran to our shelter along the Splittergraben (trench in zigzag line in which one can walk and is protected from grenade- and bomb fragments.) It must have been a picture for the gods!
The Medic knew all about it. A captured Russian cannon was fired. I remembered seeing one of these cannons close up in the Ukraine when a Panje- horse came trotting by itself down the street. It had a feed sack around its neck and pulled a "Ratsch-Bumm" behind. Unnoticed it must have run away from the Ivans. It was a lightweight cannon with a barrel diameter of 7.62 cm. These things did a lot of damage to our tanks. They could penetrate a tanks 90 mm amour from 500 m away.
I always had a good relationship with my Company Chiefs. Even though I tried very hard to speak good "High" German, my schwaebisch (German dialect) was easy to make out but in some ways the men seemed to like it. Maybe they also appreciated my bravery and capability as Communications Specialist. They liked me more than I imagined, which I found that out when I was by Welnisze. My Platoon Leader had tears in his eyes when an unknown Captain borrowed me for a few days. I think my Company Chief was angry when the Battalion Commander had send for me after Christmas, on January 3, 1945, to be his Communications Specialist.
24. The Battle For East Prussia
In the beginning of January 1945, experienced men from the Armyís Upper Command carefully calculated the ratio of power between Germany and Russia. The conclusion: Infantry 1:15, Tanks 1: 7 and the Artillery 1:20. Without the protection from our aircrafts our troop was at the mercy of the Russian Air Force. Last fall the situation was the same. Reason enough to move largely at night.
At the River Weichsel the Russians had already made it through the front line. In order to close the gap and to possibly prevent the enemyís breakthrough in the Armyís center section, Divisions were taken from East Prussia. With the misjudgment of the situation in the very threatened East Prussia province a disaster was inevitable.
On January 13, 1945, a foggy winter morning with some snow and frost, the beginning of the Russian offensive was under way at 7 oíclock, announced by a deafening noise. Our front line section towards the west had already been breached; so the Russians attacked the front line area in the east, thrust direction Koenigsberg. Further to the south the Russians planed to advance in the direction of Elbing in order to surround everything in between. The two Russian forces were 130 km apart. Our Army was 170 km further in the east. On January 21, 1945, several days too late, Hitler allowed our Army to withdraw.
We Communications Specialists had our hands full informing the Companies of the timing of our ordered withdrawal. Radios and phones had to be silent so the enemy had no hint of our secret departure. The boss didnít forget to point out that we had to leave our positions spotless. For example, I remember that the 1st Company had swept their command post and shelters and clean ashtrays were put on the field-tables. If all of this impressed the Red Army, it defies my knowledge.
Ice, snow, snowdrifts, and countless refugees hindered our movements and made for terrible road conditions. In places refugees were fleeing in a panic. Several convoys headed west. Army vehicles were loaded with civilians. Crying women with strollers and small children who could not go on any further begged us to take them. With assuring words political party members had stalled the movement of the population. Now they had to figure out how to leave this place. Kradmelder (Communications Specialists on motorcycles) could not get through the wall of people. We Specialists were raced throughout the area like German Shepherds to scout possible routs, to check on the moving troops and to keep them together.
Through sometimes-heavy snowfall we reached Angerburg through Locken Ė Herzogsrode Ė Zoden and Jordanen. During the day we fought the Red Army in sharpshooter style, sometimes just because we didnít have enough ammunition. On rare occasions we got support from requested assault tanks. Even though the situation was rotten for the Infantry, the "Knalldroschken" (Tanks) retreated after a few shoots. "Not enough fuel!" I heard. As the Ivans surrounded our Battalions Command Post they were not able to help. We understood, we had to help ourselves. In the cover of the night we were able to get out.
For five days we had to deal with the enemy who attacked us from the northeast. January 25th and 26th brought hours of concern and crisis. The Russians broke through many sections of the defense line at the Masuren (East Prussian region with many small and large lakes) and divided the remaining parts of our Division into single fighting groups. By now the enemy pressed toward us from the south and east. We stayed on our westward course and defended ourselves on both sides.
Thiergarten and Engelstein were the hometowns of some of our comrades. Some of their family members were still there but the Comrades were able to urge them to leave as quickly as possible. During the night the Ivans went wild. With heavy artillery they blanketed the towns. The village square of Engelstein was crowded with refugee vehicles. Heavy "suitcases" from the Russian artillery crashed down in between. We were able to make out that their position was very close by. Thanks to the help from Americans the enemy was motorized. I found shelter at an entrance of a house. A girl looked at me with big pleading eyes. She must have been 15 or 16 years old. She snuggled so close to me that I could feel the forms of her young, maturing body and she enjoyed the warmth from mine. The girl begged me to take her. I had to tell her that I couldnít because I am a very busy Communications Specialist for the Battalion. With tears in the corner of my eyes I kissed her gently, carefully loosened the embrace then marched on with my Unit. Ė "Take care of yourself little girl"
Through high snow our unit stamped cross-country towards Fuerstenau. There was no getting through on the roads. Even in Fuerstenau there were still civilians present. Our Communications Troop found shelter inside a house. The Residents were about to leave. A warm deep-dish cake was left on a table. We ate it hungrily. Within minutes the cake was devoured. In the bedroom we found an old women completely dressed lying in bed. She wanted to leave with the others but her physical and mental state wouldnít allow it. All she wanted now was to await her death. What tragedy must have unfolded before our arrival?
There was no time to think about this any longer. Sergeant Rehling, Commander in charge of the Communications Specialist Squad pushed the door open. "The Ivans are in town!" Flares of all colors lit the night sky. Tanks made tracks in the snow. "Weíll meet in Drengfurt, youíll have to make it through on your own".
I tried to stay with Battalion Commander Major Schulz but couldnít keep his pace. Lets not lose his sight, I thought to myself. A few figures in white camouflage with hoods stood in the slightly sloping countryside. They were dressed the same as me! I stamped past them very close but I had my doubts. Were they Ivans or not? These dubious figures didnít make a sound. Neither did I, which must have been the best thing to do! Once in Drengfurt I reported to Sergeant Rehling and he asked me "How is the situation?" "Serious, but not hopeless, Sergeant!" I answered. Once again I was glad that I had made it.
Our sense of time was gone these days. Minutes seemed like hours, days like minutes. We didnít know what day of the month it was; only the difference between night and day. During the day we fought for our survival, at night we marched, carried the wounded, waited and hoped. Some would lay in the snow discouraged and weak. Encouraging words couldnít make them get up, maybe they just couldnít go on any further. The hint that the Ivans would pull them out of the snow and shoot them in the back of their neck didnít revive their will to life.
On the streets and in all directions the Army, Refugees, and the Red Army were in a complete and immense chaos. Without consideration Russian Tanks crushed civilians under their chains. Have mercy, have mercy! They crush everything flat into the ground like rolled out dough. Sometimes a face could still be made out. In the night we reached an intersection. Army Divisions approached from three sides, all of them with the intention to cross first. There was terrible shouting. Our Commander drove ahead and with a few words clarified who would have the right of way. Colonel Lieutenant von Kalm died in March of 1945 near Heiligenbeil during an enemy air-attack.
We passed the town of Barten. Days before, the Russians ravaged inside the forestry building of Prassen. The Russians had tied the arms and legs of civilians to four horses, ripping them into quarters. Others had their eyes cut out and were hung. We were so de-sensitized, that all that had happened didnít faze us any longer. Death could practically be salvation. It snowed continuously. The pine trees seemed to break down under the heavy weight of the snow. Soaking wet and freezing cold we stood under the pine trees for 1 ½ days. No one dared to lay down for fear of freezing to death. We had to keep our limbs moving. Besides the noise of snow falling of the trees there was no sound at all. Finally we received orders to move out.
Our remaining Infantry Regiment united with the Artillery Regiment of our Division near Schippenbeil. From now on we were one Regiment. We had to move out of Schippenbeil on January 31, 1945. We build a sparingly covered defense strip on the hills north of the Alle River. We could observe a herd of Ivans who occupied the railroad tracks south of the Alle River by Landskron. Going further west we stayed along the Alle-Line for 4 days. On February 4, 1945 we had to surrender Bartenstein. Landsberg, which was about 15 km to the west, fell into Russian hands two days before. The Ivans also wanted to take over the city of Prussian-Eylau, north of Landsberg, but that could be prevented.
In my notebook I wrote: The town of Albrechtsdorf and Eichenhorn lay between Bartenstein and Landsberg. We were practically cut off from the main Troop. The 1st Battalion of the IR 24 now only consists of three small Companies. As the Communications Specialist for the Battalion I had to familiarize myself with the route to the Command Posts as soon as the Unit was at a stand still. To the question "Comrade, where is your Command Post?" I seldom got a straight answer. Instead I was asked: "Why, whatís new, when will we withdraw?" My Comrades could not expect an answer from me! In their disappointment and anger I had been called a "Stupid Dog" many times. Deployment during the night was difficult. Under no circumstances could the Ivans notice our deployment. Communications Specialists announced the timing of deployment to the Companies. We had to be quick and silent.
I remember a situation when two Companies were on the move when the last Company, even after several orders, still refused to leave their position. Slowly the situation got dangerous for the Battalion. In my anger I struck First Lieutenant Weseling on his helmet-covered head with my signal-pistol when he still refused to follow the orders. He growled that he would report me and have me court-martialed. Only with great effort were we able to join the Companies in front of us. The First Lieutenant stood no chance with me. The Battalion Commander straightened him out. First Lieutenant Weselings argument that he had to stay to defend his familyís estate did not make a difference either.
During these days, in the snow-covered woods, Battalion Commander Major Schulz was killed. I was in front of the Battalion Command Post with a group of captured men from the Red Army taking their Troop-Passports when Sergeant Rehling brought me the news with tears in his eyes. In his bitterness he said to me: "Kill them all, these pigs!" But I couldnít do it. These were old men without weapons, old men in despair, with bushy mustaches, probably from the Caucasus. I couldnít bring them with me so I just left them standing there. On the other hand, a Russian Commander would have killed German soldiers without hesitation with a shoot in the back of the neck.
Only the devil knows why we were ordered to the Troop- Training Site in Stablack near Landsberg. The barracks were full of lice and bugs. Vehicles, mostly from the Artillery, stood in wild disorder. There was nothing here for us guys from the Infantry. Shortly thereafter we headed west towards Buchholz. Russians were at the coastal bay by Tolkemit and Frauenburg. Our path crossed with the refugees in the area of Mehlsack. We were able to keep the Russians away from them, but only with enormous effort.
The Battalion Staff found shelter in an old farmhouse. During one night, by the light of a Hindenburgkerze, when the battle had come to a pause I went on a hunt for lice in the crevices and seams of my clothing. Already they had left their marks on my torso and limbs. Sergeant Rehling walked up to me with the comment that I should have an immunization, and to come with him. He took me to an Officer whom I didnít know. "In the name of the Leader", he said "I present to Private 1st Class Heinz Beck of the 24th Infantry Regiment the Iron Cross 1st Class; Division Command Post, February 7, 1945. (Medal awarded for acts of heroism, bravery or leadership skills.) The Officer handed me a piece of paper with all the information in writing. Calmly I let him pin the cross on my left breast pocket. Deep down I felt no connection to my Leader. Maybe I would have been very proud if I could have received the award in the name of my Comrades and the refugees we protected!
Fierce combat started in the area of Eichholz Ė City- Wood Mehlsack Ė Lichtenfeld Ė and Gottesgnade. The Russians had the upper hand. Gunners, Engineers and Cannoneers fought together for every trench. Several times a day the Artillery switched positions. T-34 where always around. We Communications Specialists were exhausted from running around. One night, being overly tired, I fell asleep in a bathtub on the Gottesgnade Farm. There I also had to deal with another group of captured Ivans. Once again I didnít shoot them, I just left them standing there.
On a side street in East-Prussia, February 19, 1945
25. Injury and Rescue
A new Battalion Commander was assigned to us. He was a short, elderly man with the beginnings of a bulging stomach and slightly crocket legs, a major of the reserve. No matter where he went I had to come along. On February 24, 1945, the melting snow and defrosting earth clung to our boots like lead. The Major and I left the country road in Lichtenfeld. We climbed a hill to our right. Panting we ran ahead. Before I could think of the reason for our action, an MG-Salve wiped towards us. A short distance away I could see a T-34 with a red soviet star and a large number painted on it. I felt a blow to my head. Immediately blood flowed in streams over my head and eyeglasses. I couldnít see the Major anymore. I ran back to the street where I was meet by a Medic. While he took care of my head injury another took away my bloody MP, which I had hung around my neck while running, barrel facing down. They also took away my blood-smeared binoculars. I gave them my ammunition magazine on my own.
At first I didnít think that being wounded could be my salvation. I only wanted to cry that the comrades had taken everything away from me and given up on me. What would I do without them? The following night I was taken inside a little church among other wounded. Outside I heard the loud thunder of the heavy artillery. As taught by my grandmother, I said a prayer:
"So nimm denn meine Haende und fuehre mich "Please take my hands and
Bis an mein seelig Ende und ewiglich!To my holy end and to eternity!
Ich mag allein nicht gehen, nicht einen SchrittI donít want to go alone, not one single step.
Wo du wirst gehen und stehn, da nimm mich mit.Wherever you go, please take me with you.
In dein Erbarmen huelle mein schwaches HerzWrap my weak heart into your mercy
Und mach es endlich stille in Freud und Schmerz.And make it silent in peace and sorrow.
Lass ruhn zu deinen Fuessen dein armes Kind;Let your poor child rest by your feet.
Es will die Augen schliessen und glauben blind.It wants to close its eyes and blindly believe.
Wenn ich auch garnichts fuehle von deiner Macht,Even if I feel nothing of your power,
Du bringst mich doch zum Ziele, auch durch die Nacht.Through the night you will bring me to my destination.
So nimm denn meine Haende und fuehre michPlease take my hands and lead me
Bis an mein seelig Ende und ewiglich!"To a holy place and eternity."
Feverish, I was lying in the straw. In the morning a doctor came with a few medics to check the injured. Some of them lay motionless. The doctor opened their eyelids and with a flashlight looked into their eyes. If he shook his head, they were left without care. Sometimes he said "Exitus!" At first I didnít know what that meant, but it didnít take me long to figure it out. "Exit" means to leave. In other words, he had died. Those who are still able to walk are the lucky ones: I am one of them; I thought to myself.
The second night after being injured I was taken to the field hospital 330 Wolittnick at Frischen Haff. The light in the operation room was very bright. I must have lost a lot of blood and my stomach was empty, so when my bandages were changed I fainted and fell off the chair. I still looked like a slaughtered pig and as I remembered from my first injury, a piece of color-coded paper was put around my neck indicating injury and further treatment.
The following night at the field hospital was horrible. Wounded comrades were brought in constantly. Beds were not available, there was nothing to eat, only the constant thought of "how can this go on?" It seemed the medics didnít see the purpose in the effort to try and make the wounded better. They considered this place a station, which the wounded only passed through. Especially since there were always more coming! The Russian Troops were now in Zinten, only 30 kilometers away.
I was taken inside an ambulance in the morning of February 26, 1945. The drive went to the Rosenberger Port about 15 km from Wolittnick near Heiligenbeil. Only ships from the coastguard and ferryís could dock there. A ferry from the Marines awaited us. The street was full of refugees. Slowly the ambulance found its way through the crowd. Marines with pistols ready to fire stood at the ramp in order to keep the refugees from storming the already overloaded ferry. There was just enough room for the ambulance.
Without incident the ferry arrived in Pillau. Immediately, the wounded were transferred onto the overloaded hospital ship the "Glückauf" (Good Luck). My assigned place was in the belly of the ship. I made myself comfortable on a pile of ropes that smelled of tar. Now my only prayer was that this ship would make it to a port in the west. With a name like this, what could go wrong.
I knew the Russians were already in Braunsberg but not yet on the Nehrung. I also knew that on January 30, 1945 the "Wilhelm Gustloff", a German cruise ship, was hit by Russian torpedoes and sank near Stolp in the East Sea. Over 5,000 people were on board on this cold night. Only a fifth of the passengers could be saved. On February 10, 1945, the Russians sank the hospital ship "General von Steuben" with 3,000 heavily wounded on board. Only a tenth survived. The "General von Steuben" was recognizable as a hospital ship because of its Red Cross on the white background.
On February 27, 1945 the "Glückauf" disembarked. We arrived in Danzig the following day. Ships of all types and sizes were in the Danzig harbor transporting refugees and wounded soldiers out of the East. This was the first time that I had seen ships this large and so many of them. I was overcome by a dreadful feeling!
A hospital train stood in Neufahrwasser. I was allowed to get on board as "Well enough to sit". We left the Danzig area through Zoppot and Gotenhafen. At Stolp in Pomerania, about 150 km west of Danzig, Russian Tank Troops had set grenades in front of our train. The train stopped in a wooded area to await the safety of the night, but the Russian Tanks never came closer. Instead I was tormented by a lot of lice, which had settled in my sweater. I couldnít take it any longer and simply took off my sweater and threw it out of the trainís window.
At some point our train reached Berlin. A doctor came on board and made his rounds. The men "Well enough to sit" were instructed to stay seated. We would be taken to the Reserve hospital in Berlin-Spandau. My buddy who sat next to me and I didnít like that. We had a bad feeling about this. We were certain that a huge battle would take place in defense of the Reichís Capital. Our hope for a longer recovery period inside white beds diminished.
I walked to the hospital train that stood on the opposite platform and found out that this train would be leaving for Central-Germany momentarily. As ordered, my friend still sat aboard our train. Without further ado I told him that I was not in the mood to travel to Spandau and asked him if he would switch trains with me. "Are you crazy", he answered. I realized that he was scared. "Take it easy Comrade," I said, and off I went. The hospital train, destination Central Germany started to move. At that moment I boldly stepped on the footboard like the conductors do and without hesitation took the first available seat.
It didnít take long before the "Oberschnäpser" (nickname, a Quartermaster Sergeant) came by with a list of names. He called out names and ranks. Of course I was not on the list, which he noticed because I didnít report to him. "Where do you belong to?" he yelled at me. I tried to make him believe that I was supposed to be on this train. That I had said goodbye to a friend on the platform in Berlin as the train started to move and didnít remember to which part of the train I was assigned to. "Than look for it" he said! "You wonít get anything to eat from me." I was not about to make a fool of myself looking for the place I didnít have. More important to me was the fact there was enough food for everyone and that he wouldnít let me go hungry. But the "Oberschnäpser" was a stubborn guy who didnít give me anything to eat, only a cup of warm coffee.
Throughout the night the train rattled in a southwesterly direction. There were no larger train stations along the way, they had been shot to pieces by enemy plains and were not passable. Sometimes the train sat for hours on end in the middle of nowhere. At dawn I noticed chemical plants and coalmines. I assumed that we were near the town of Halle. In spite of my rumbling stomach I was able to fall asleep again. The train came to a screeching halt at the train station in Erfurt. The station was bustling with activity and wounded were taken off the train.
March 3rd was a gray overcast day. The train was cleared for the continuing ride in easterly direction. How long more would I have to travel as one who didnít belong. My thoughts were consumed with hunger and my head bandage that was bothering me! Were there lice in my bandage now? A medic called the names of those who were to get off the train in Weimar. It was about ten guys and all capable to walk. Of course I was not one of them but I got of the train anyway.
A medic stood at the platform to meet the new arrivals. According to his list he expected a certain number of people. He looked at his list, pointed and counted, obviously there was one too many. The Non Commissioned Officer yelled, "Line up!" "Roll call!" Still, there was one too many. In the mean time the train resumed in the direction of Jena. The Non Commissioned Officer didnít argue with me for very long. "Right face, March!" And we left for the front of the train station where trucks were waiting for us.
Finally there was something for us to eat at the Officers Quarters, now a makeshift hospital. After that all of us were taken to beds inside the furnace room in the cellar. Finally bandages were renewed. As I expected I did have lice in my head bandage. The doctor was surprised that I was able to leave East Prussia and to travel for eight days on ambulance, ship and train without any food with this injury. He told me I could rest for a couple of days but then he would need the space again. I was so thankful. I even received new clothing.
26. In Hassia, Bavaria and Thuringia An Army Breaks-Up
I was handed new orders at the hospital in the morning of March 7, 1945. With bandages on my head I arrived that same day at the Infantry-Reserve-Battalion 116 in Marburg at the river Lahn. The Division was stationed at the old Jaeger-Barracks. For a guy who only weeks before had been in the worst predicament of his life this duty was like a vacation.
I even found time to visit the Gothic Elizabeth-Church in Marburg. With itís two towers the church looks similar to our Maria Church in Stuttgart. The shrine of holy Elizabeth was in the vestry of the church. At the end of 1944 the sarcophagus of General-Field-Marshal Hindenburg was brought to the church. Before, it stood at the Tannenberg-Memorial in East Prussia but was taken to a secure place when the Red Army moved closer. It was Hindenburg who defeated the Russians near Tannenberg in 1914. He was Reichs-President of the Weimarer Republic and in 1933 appointed Hitler to be the Chancellor of the Reich, paving the way for the NS-Regimes power.
On March 12, 1945 I was transferred for special duty to the 2nd Training Battalion, Tannenberg-Barracks. The Barracks are high up on a mountain with forests all around. Sometimes an American Fighter-Bomber flew overhead to check the situation. On one day the Fighter-Bomber left itís business card by dropping a bomb on the roof of one of the quarters. Other than that they left us alone. Maybe they thought that this post could be of use for the U.S. Army.
In the morning of March 24, 1945 I walked through the gate of the post with a few of my comrades. We had been sent to a Non-Commissioned-Officers course in Wildflecken, about 130-air kmís away. We didnít realize at the time that the U.S. Army advanced closer day by day. The Jabos (fighter-bombers) attention was focused on material transported on rails, therefore our trip to Wildflecken had to be on foot.
Our goal was to make it to the city of Alsfeld on the first day but someone advised us against it. Instead we should swing out more to the north. We marched towards Kirchhain, always keeping an eye on the railroad tracks that would lead us to Treysa. Maybe we could still get on a train after all! But we didnít even hear a "Steam-Horse". Traveling on foot in the fresh spring air we covered about 40 km on the first day, all the way to Ziegenhain.
No matter where we asked, we couldnít get any information regarding the frontline, which kept moving up. On March 26, 1945 we decided to make Bad Hersfeld our next dayís objective. Again we covered another 40 km on foot. Military Police told us that the street Bebra-Fulda was blocked. We found shelter in a building adjoining a Monastery. During the night a horse drawn convoy of vehicles came through town. Rumors were that V-Weapons (retaliatory weapons, rockets who were able to fly all the way to England mainly aimed at London, in retaliation of British terror-air raids) are on the move on the blocked road going south.
On the third day, March 26, 1945 we marched another 40 km to Huenfeld. Another 2 days and we would be in Wildflecken, so we thought! But the Local Commander ordered us to take up quarters in nearby Grossenbach on the next day, March 27, 1945, and then to report to him by phone. In order to do so we needed written confirmation from the Commander stating that we were not to march further south but to be available on stand-by. This was very important because Military Police and the SS kept a sharp eye on soldiers to make sure no one traveled without orders. We heard that soldiers had been publicly hung because they had left the Troop without permission.
On day five, March 28, 1945 we were allowed to proceed with our original orders and to march to Wildflecken. Nuesstal and Roessberg are right by the border of Thuringia. In this area, being in a good mood, we wanted to approach a farm and ask for refreshment, maybe in the form of milk when a farmer approached us. His face was as red as a beet. Maybe he was the head-nazi, maybe a political leader or a village leader for the farmers! This pitiful figure declared us to be a marauding bunch and that he would call the Military Police right away. Because we didnít want any trouble we silently moved on but with grinding teeth. Whatever became of this farmer I wondered? Maybe he was killed by Americans or maybe, if he tried to get away in the East, he was killed by the Russians. After 40 km more we reached Roedergrund.
Mountaintops with tree covered hills, scattered villages and single farms with fields and pastures painted a picture in the changing landscape of Kuppenrhoen. The 950 m high Wasserkuppe is the highest mountain of the Rhoen mountain range. Back in school I learned that the gently sloping hills of this mountain are the Eldorado for gliders. Now this mountain was before me but no gliders soared above. The Jabos would shoot them down right away.
Milseburg stood out massively from the sloping meadow. At the foot of this mountain-volcano lay the village of Rupsroth where on March 29, 1945,day six of our march ended. We met small units who came from the west and had experience with the Americans. They told us that the Americans are not in a big hurry, and that they are completely motorized, with many tanks. They told us that they are the most vulnerable at night and that they defeated an American Troop in a surprise attack during the night. The Americans did show "Bravery" as they hunted down farmerís wives in their Jabos while they worked in the fields. They had destroyed a whole village in Palatinate. The soldiers told us that they saw human skeletons being gathered, mostly women and children. We saw the same or similar scenes during our 6-day "travels". Seeing all of this only strengthens the resistance not only towards the hopeless Nazis but also towards our "Saviors". One of the soldiers said: "Either way the war will come to an end. Unfortunately the Americans want the total destruction of the German Reich. They will not make peace with us!"
At this moment a truck drove by. On itís bed were wounded and it seemed dead people as well. Had the Jabos also shot them mercilessly? When the Comrades heard that our orders were to go to Wildflecken they had their doubts that we could reach the Troop Training-Site before the Americans did. In our calculations we could be there in one more day. More troops came during the night, mostly Trosse (described in Chapter 17.) who moved east.
We didnít give up on our plan to reach Wildflecken and marched south on day 7, March 30, 1945, it was Good Friday. After about an hour we came upon the main street coming from Fulda. A man in despair stood at the intersection wearing a gray uniform, with brown trimming on collar and sleeves and brown boots. He was a Police Officer. He said heís been standing here for quite a while and none of the motorized passerby would stop to take him. We gave him the advice to point up to the sky when the next vehicle approached to hint that the Jabos are up there. This way they would stop their vehicles in order to find shelter. We also told him that an intersection was not the best place to be for this plan and that he should walk a few hundred meters further. We, the Infantry definitely had an advantage because we could move on side streets and paths through fields and therefore be less visible.
At this intersection it became clear to us that we would not be able to reach Wildflecken. We would perish between the front lines. We thought the next Field Command Post should be in Fladungen, where we would have to report to receive new orders. Without incident we made around the Querenberg (mountain) and reached Fladungen. No one could tell us where to find the Command Post so we stayed the night and decided to make Mellrichstadt our next destination. We never made it. On March 31, 1945 the small town of Oberwaldbehrungen swarmed with soldiers of all branches. Someone told us "Report to the mayorís office!" We saw British prisoners. They wore dark round caps with red tassels. They smirked at us. Did this mean: Just wait; soon the roles will be reversed!
In front of the town hall stood a jeep with a Non Commissioned Officer at the wheel. Soldiers were talking all around him. Inside one room a Captain argued with a few men who told him that their train had been attacked near Oberstreu and that the Jabos had left it in bits and pieces and that it is a wonder that they are here now. The Captain had a hard time believing their story because Oberstreu is at least 10 km east of Oberwaldbehrungen. A very nervous old man sat at a desk, presumably the mayor. He typed in hunt and peck style on an obsolete typewriter.
"Whatís with you guys?" the Captain grumbled at us. Our Squad leader showed him our papers. "So, you want to go to Wildflecken? And you come here! Do you even know where you are?" Ė We didnít dare say another word because the guy was very angry. Just do whatever you want with us, we thought to ourselves. Thatís when he noticed my EK 1 (Iron Cross 1st Class, described in chapter 24) and said "The soldier with the EK 1 will take you to the Headquarters in Bad Neustadt!" He grabbed a few more soldiers standing around and pushed them over to me. One of them was a Non Commissioned Officer with Vienna Austria dialect. The mayor typed our orders and then we left.
Just before Bad Neustadt we came upon an estate, which had the look of a Monastery. Nuns lived there. Perhaps it is Brendlorenzen. The nuns gave us food and drink and even a place to sleep. It was Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945, my mothers 45th birthday. It was a blessed day. Mother once told me that she would slip bread to the "Russian Boys" as she called them, when they were herded past her house in Stuttgart Zeppelin Street, even though she was strictly forbidden to do so. Her reason: She hoped that I would find some ones kind mother when I was in need of help. Easter Monday is Fathers 45th birthday. Mother didnít know the whereabouts of father or myself.
From April 2, 1945 to April 5, 1945 we stayed at the Headquarters in Bad Neustadt. No one even seemed to take notice of us. We just hung out and went to visit the Nuns on a daily basis. As always the Nuns they gave us nourishing soup. During one of our excursions we found a cellar. When we opened the door a disgusting stench poured out. Faces marked by near death stared at us imploringly. They were sick Russian POWís. No one cared for them and we felt sorry but there was nothing we could do so we closed the door and left.
The next day, on April 6, 1945, the Commander sent a Unit to Coburg. Our group was part of them. We didnít understand. What did the Leaders have in mind? The Americans advanced further to the east. We waited for orders to defend ourselves, instead we were ordered to get out of this place. Since a soldier is not supposed to think, others always did the thinking for us Ė or not, we did what seemed to be good for us at the time, keep our mouths shut. For three days we marched towards Coburg, about 40 km away, under the command of a Lieutenant. At least we didnít have to fend for ourselves as we did in the days since we left Marburg. We had someone who was responsible for us, responsible to give us shelter and food.
The staff from the 7th Army was also in Coburg from April 4th to April 8, 1945. We would probably get the orders to secure the staff, which was involved in a major withdrawal movement. We reached Coburg on April 8, 1945. The Americans moved into Bad Neustadt on the same day, which we had just left two days ago. Staff from the 7th Army was ordered to Hummelshain on April 9, 1945, southeast of Kahla; the Command Post of the XII Army Corps was transferred to Piesau. Our Unit received orders to proceed to Kahla on the same day. "Oh my lord, Kahla. Where is it?" The Lieutenant pulled out a map and found Kahla south of Jena, approximately 150 km away. I had enough of this I thought to myself. We keep going further and further east, toward the Ivans. For a whole year I had to deal with the Russian "Bearís" and was glad to be saved from his fangs, now it seemed as if I had been chosen to engage in this useless battle with "him" once again.
We reached Sonnenberg in Thuringia. An Army Shoe-Depot was in this town. The population of Sonnenberg was better informed about the war situation than us soldiers. The people knew it wouldnít be much longer before all of Germany would be occupied. The warehouses should be opened they said, so that the supplies could be distributed among there own people before the enemy could get their hands on it. The head nazis had a different opinion; they still believed that the Leader had a secret weapon which would turn the situation around. Therefore the depots stayed closed and fell into the hands of Occupying Forces, which on the other hand distributed to the so-called displaced persons. To the loss of the German population, an enormous black market got started.
On April 11, 1945 we arrived in Piesau, north of the Sonnenberg, near the famous Rennsteig trail, in the Thueringer Woods. The Command Post of the XII Army Corps didnít impress us. Obviously the men thought about the same thing that troubled my mind: Moving further east to get away from the Americans only to fall into the hands of the Russians! Perhaps imprisonment in Siberia? No and again No! The Americans cannot be trusted neither! I remember very well when Mr. Morgenthau announced "Kill all Germans no matter if it is a man, women, elderly person or infant" Ė After the war the victors would do justice. The Americans will deny everything and we will be the criminals.
In the eyes of the Command and ourselves our orders for Kahla were now useless. We deployed to defend Lichte, west of Piesau on April 12, 1945. The Command deployed to Blankenstein at the river Saale at the east end of the Rennsteig trail. About 40 km east of Piesau.
We took our position in a wooded area by the street of Neuhaus Ė Lichte. Besides carbines we had no weapons. Above us an American Artillery Scout hovered in the air aboard a captured Fieseler Storch (German airplane developed for slow speed flying, take off and landing almost vertically in restricted spaces, like a helicopter.) We did good not to show ourselves. Soon thereafter a convoy of American Tanks approached from the direction of Neuhaus. The Americans did not trust this situation. Obviously they had a bad experience with our anti-tank grenade launchers in the past. No one was sitting on the tanks; all hatches were locked. Giant antennas were attached to the tanks with little flags that swayed in the wind. When the tanks rolled on the street into the woods, Tank Gunners started to shoot wildly so no one would be able to near the tanks. Bullets ricochet all around. No one could lift his head.
We had enough, where was our defense? Where was our Air Force? They couldnít even shoot down this laughable Fieseler Storch! Where are they? What about the Leaders secret weapon? Nothing but lies and deception. Two Troops from our bunch moved back towards Lichte following the American Tanks, but in the cover of the woods alongside the street. My Troop tried to bypass the town in the south towards Piesau.
27. The Sad Fate Of American Imprisonment
It is April 12, 1945. Spring is in the air and the forest is showing first signs of new growth. Our troop is lying in a circle in a meadow, sniffing the air looking up into the blue sky. All of us probably thought how would things go on. Thatís when I started to quote a poem:
"Der Hamster schnarcht die letzte Runde."The Hamster is snoring one
more time, the sun Die Sonne scheint ihm schon aufs Dach.is shining on his head
In einer guten halben Stundeand in about a half hour the warmth should wird er bestimmt vor Waerme wach.wake him up.
Er wird sich seine Aeuglein reibenHe will rub his eyes and be surprised Und staunen, dass es nicht mehr schneitthat itís not snowing anymore.
Und erst einmal Gymnastik treibenAnd for his flexibility he will do his exercise. Von wegen der Gelenkigkeit.
Dann wird er sich das Fell verschoenenHe will groom his fur till he shines like gold,
Bis er wie eitel Gold erglaenztGet re-acquainted with the world, tenderly Und wieder an die Welt gewoehnen,tempting him.
Die lockend lacht und lieblich lenzt."
"Hey, Buddies" I said, "are you guys in the mood to die?" I looked around and saw startled faces. Then I told them in just a few words that I had to deal with the Ivans for a whole year in the Ukraine, that I witnessed the heart-wrenching misery of the refugees in the war in East Prussia, that my injury had saved me, and that I didnít feel like falling into the hands of the Russians to die in a Siberian labor camp.
One of our past Federal Presidents, honorable Richard Von Weizsaecker "demobilizes" himself these days, whatever that meant. His Regiment Comrades became Soviet prisoners in East Prussia where their death-march began in Archipel Gulag. On May 8, 1945 he hid on the estate of his sister at Lake Constance to escape imprisonment by the French "Saviors". I said to my Comrades, the sooner we surrender to the Americans and realize that we are powerless, the better our chance of living and to still be able do something good with our young lives.
The by now gloomy expressions signaled fear and insecurity. I told them of the situation in the beginning of March, when I took my fate into my own hands for the first time as I switched trains in Berlin and boarded the train to Central Germany. Finally I told my comrades that I would be willing to surrender myself. I only speak simple School-English but I will be able to communicate with the U.S.-Boys. Ė The Squad Leader, a Non Commissioned Officer, seemed to be the most doubtful of them all.
We didnít hear any combat-noise. The Fieseler Storch (described in Chapter 26) must have called it a day, it was dead silent. I hid my weapons underneath a bush so I still would be able to retrieve them fast if necessary. Observing all sides I set out towards Lichte. And what do you know, everyone followed, even the Non Commissioned Officer.
Through woods we came upon the first house. Nothing stirred at the outskirts of town. Then some women and an old man came out of the house. I asked if the Americans were in town. The people said that the Americans had dug out an Artillery Position but didnít fire and then moved towards the center of town. We could see the mounds of soil and the tracks of the vehicles. I asked if black guys were among the soldiers. "Yes, Yes", said the women, "you donít have to be afraid of them, they behave nicer than the white guys". "They handed out chocolate to the children and even gave Grandfather a cigarette".
Our hunger and thirst were great. When the women handed us refreshments we took them greedily. The Grandfather said that a car with loudspeakers announced that it was forbidden to feed soldiers, hide them or supply them civilian clothing, and that the population was ordered to stay inside their homes. Whoever did not follow these orders will have to pay with the death penalty. We calmed the people down by promising them not to cause any trouble.
I walked along the street in town ahead of everyone else. White sheets hung out of every window to signal their surrender. An American truck stood in the middle of the street only a short distance away, they called it a "Sedan". A German soldier who had his legs amputated threw his crutches on the bed of the truck and with a few pushes by the Americans, the disabled soldier followed. They took everyone between the ages of 16 through 60, non-disabled and the disabled.
Calmly we walked up to the Americans. "Come on boys!" one of them shouted, which I translated to my comrades. "Hands up", "Pocket knife!" ordered one of them. I translated "throw your pocket knives to the ground". But no one carried a pocketknife. We had left them in the bushes in the meadow. "Sorry", I answered, "We havenít any knives!" The guy got angry. He pulled off my EK I and threw it in the ditch.
We climbed on another truck and were taken to a hayloft nearby. There were so many of us that the Americans feared the hayloft would collapse. An American soldier climbed up and announced in German, with schwaebisch (!) accent "You will come to me in a single file. I will start a list. If any of you have any bread, go ahead and share it!"
When it was my turn to be registered the American noticed my schwaebisch dialect right away. He asked, "Where are you from?" as if he were my friend. The game of questions and answers continued in schwaebisch. He asked me about my Unit and then "Grenadier-Reserve Battalion 116?" "We already have them in our "kettle"!" "Maybe so!" I answered "but Iím still here!" I asked him his age and how he ended up in the U.S. Army. He said "I was born in 1925". "My parents had a business at the Koenigstrasse, we immigrated in 1938!"He was the same age as I, almost 20; He must have been a Jew for sure. I didnít see him again after that.
The Americans didnít give us any food or drink but our thirst was harder on us than our hunger. A truck pulled up the next day and with big sticks we were herded onto it like cattle. "Letís go! Mak snell!" The drive headed towards Neuhaus. We had to stop in a wooded area. Huge pine trees blocked the road. The Americans suspected an ambush and called on Tank-Scouts right away. There was not enough room to turn for the heavy truck with 120 men. So, all POWís, thatís what they called us, had to get off the truck. Somehow, without our help, the truck was turned in the other direction and all POWís got back on.
We came to a house by the street. It was probably a forestry house. In front stood a group of SS-men with their arms crossed above their heads and American Military Police. We were ordered to go up in the attic. There were so many of us that we couldnít sit down. We used a small window in the roof to dispose of our "business" which we collected in tin cans. The Americans fried and cooked up meals in the lower levels. The most wonderful aromas rose to our noses. On the second day of imprisonment we still did not get anything to eat.
Once again the Americans attempted to take us to a camp the following day. They didnít succeed. We were dropped off near Schalkau by Eisfeld in a pasture surrounded by barbwire. Again we were beat with sticks and yelled at "Letís go!" and "Mak Snell!"
When the camp was filled we were insulted over loud speakers. They called us everything except human. Psychologically, some of the guys were at their end. Which is worse than physically. Some suffered from both psychological and physical abuse. Graciously each of us was given a can of cold noodles with tomato sauce, about 200 grams. The ground we were standing on was so swampy that without effort we were able to stick the tin cans into it.
It was my birthday on April 17, 1945 but I didnít tell a soul. Everything was so insignificant now. Officers from the Armed Forces were in the neighboring camp. Some of them had wooden suitcases on which they sat comfortably.
That camp was cleared before our eyes. The Officers climbed onto the big trucks and stood up there like sardines in a can. With mixed emotions we watched as the Americans threw their wooden suitcases and other belongings onto the truck. It didnít seem right that the Officers were allowed to bring their belongings while we, the common soldiers, had to give up more of our things from pockets and hiding places during each search.
On April 18, 1945 we stayed once again in a meadow near Laucha and the Highway between Gotha and Eisenach. When I climbed off the truck at Camp Schalkau a black guy noticed that I was still wearing a watch. Without a word he took the watch, which was a remembrance of my father, and fastened it on his own arm among others he had collected. He also wore golden wedding rings on each finger, which he had taken from prisoners.
Laucha is more than 100 km away from Schalkau. Again, 120 men had been loaded onto the truck. We stood there pressed together like sandbags. The drive went through the Thueringer Woods over hills and through valleys. Lots of times the big trucks wouldnít be able to maneuver the tight curves. One of the trucks drove off the road and down a hill. When we passed the site of the accident men climbed up the hill with battered faces. Others were trapped under the truck, calling for help. Surely some were close to dying or had died already. I only saw black guys driving these trucks and they drove like hell. White sheets hung in each town we passed and whenever possible women handed us pitchers of water.
The odyssey continued on April 29, 1945 as we drove west. We did make it to the Rhineland Barracks in Erlangen. "Why didnít we drive here in the first place", we asked our selves? We could have made this trip in about a third of the time if we would have gone south right away instead of driving far to the north at Schalkau.
An American stood guard at the entrance of the Rhineland Barracks. He sat on a chair chewing gum with his gun across his lap. This would have been impossible for someone from our Army. Inside stables we were laying in the straw. One eager Private 1st Class who spoke English fluently acted like our Commander. Because he was submissive and did what the Americans asked of him they let him be.
Together with other soldiers I was put on dishwasher duty at the Officers Quarters. One of the Americans would come to get us in the morning and we worked all day. We always had super-hot water and dish washing liquid which made work much easier. Keeping the kitchen clean was also our duty.
The kitchen was in a terrible state on the first day. "The Germans are dirty bastards" was written on the wall in big letters. From the looks of the kitchen this was no wonder. While the Americans had plenty of cleaning supplies our Army had very little. In the field and even in the barracks we had to clean our pots and pans with rags, paper and if necessary sometimes with grass. The water was always cold, which didnít matter much because our rations were always low in fat. The U.S. Army on the other hand had the luxury to be able to clean their utensils with dish liquid and hot water even in the battlefields.
After we scrubbed the kitchen with American soap, which was the color of golden-yellow and as big as a brick, everything looked much better. The U.S. Officers were able to choose from a few meals. A notice was posted at the entrance of the mess hall, it read: Only put on your plate what you will be able to eat. Sometimes the note was ignored, and plates with leftover food on them came back, which we devoured.
Among our U.S. Guards was one who could have been my father. Slowly we started to talk. He told me that his son was also a GI who was sent to fight the war in the Pacific. I learned that my "fatherly" guard was a fisherman in his civilian life and just for small talk he invited me to his home on the Atlantic Coast when the war was over. At night when he brought us back to the stables he ignored our pockets bulging with food.
One day we were told to throw big baking sheets full with sweet tartlets down a rubbish pit. We signaled to the work-commandos that didnít have access to food, and at night some of them climbed down the pit to retrieve the still edible goodies. An ugly little U.S. Sergeant with crooked legs walked up. His revolver was fastened in a leather holster with a twirled leather band hanging down. With sparkling eyes he hollered down the pit and ordered them to come up right away or he would have to shoot. He actually pulled out his revolver and waved it around in a threatening manner. I was about to say something but decided to keep my trap shut. The guy, whom we named "Futschi" afterwards, probably would have shot me.
Russian POWís dwelled in one corner of the barracks. They also had been forgotten just like the ones we found in the cellar in Bad Neustadt. The Russians had it worse than us but the American took no notice. Our observations told us they had a big pile of sugar in their quarters. Did they live from that alone?
"Futschi" made sure the dishwashers were rotated. My next job was to clean the area of the barracks inside and out. "Pick up the small papers!" our constable ordered, and we began to pick up even the smallest pieces of paper, the size of confetti. The sun was shining and we got thirsty. I asked the GI if I could get a drink from the faucet but he wouldnít allow it. At the same time a small plane appeared. The word "Hitler" was written on the bottom of one wing, "Death" on the other. This was an important event for the Americans but it didnít matter to me. It was as if someone told me that a bicycle fell over at the train station in Peking. All the others felt the same way. We had our own worries. The biggest one was: How will I get home in one piece?
Later, we found out that Hitler committed suicide on April 30, 1945. The same guys who ordered us, even in the most hopeless of situations: "Defend your positions to the end!" What he meant was till death. Why didnít Adolph keep the Red Army at bay himself with a MG and hold out until one of them split his skull?
Our food was C-Rations. In a watertight carton we had Cereal, which is a breakfast food from grain, a meal in a can, chocolate, drops, gum, cigarettes, matches and even toilet paper. Sometimes there was soup in a can. The soup could be heated by pulling a nipple inside a small tube, which ran through the center of the can. We were amazed at everything the U.S. Army had.
Four days after Hitlerís death our intermezzo in Erlangen and our halfway decent POW-existence came to an end. We had no roofs over our heads, no more C-Rations! As before we were transported to Langenzenn between Nuernberg and Neustadt/Aisch to a camp in a meadow. We continued to Wuerzburg the next day or the day after. The Episcopal City, which had more churches than pubs at the time, was heavily destroyed. We were thrown onto a street in front of the train station where we camped out for one night. Fires still burned in the ruins surrounding the station. The wind carried the burning smoke into our eyes and noses.
Now we were herded onto an open freight car and we noticed our journey went westward. Maybe to France to work in the coalmines? The train slowed down considerably near Mainz. Slowly we rolled across the Rhein River on a bridge build by American Engineers. "Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial Bridge" was written on a sign. Now we knew that the American President had died as well.
28. Bretzenheim, The "Field of Misery"
We got off the train in Bretzenheim, a small winery-town, at the River Nahe on May 7, 1945. We were mentally and physically exhausted. We were locked up inside the Prisoner Camp A 24. The flat fields between the street leading to Bad Kreuznach and the vineyards were designated for huge camps but right now there was neither a house nor a cabin. In-groups of 10 men we were assigned a few square meters of ground. In the hope of finding water we started to dig the ground with our spoons. Others shaved off all of the nettles, cut them with pieces of metal and dried them. Maybe the nettles could be used to make soup if we were to find water. Except for the trunk and thick branches, a nearby apple tree was picked clean within minutes. We could use the wood for a fire and the buds to chew on.
One workgroup dug a hole near the fence and put a Donnerbalken over the top. There was one POW who handed out toilet paper. Each of us got 2 sheets; He stood there and checked if the paper was used to wipe or if the guys only pretended in order to collect the toilet paper. Sometimes the contents of the hole were covered with some white stuff. Tents had been put up in one corner of the camp designated for Commanders and Guards. We had to report to them in-groups - I guess so we could be registered. Oh No. The Americans didnít bother with that! All of us were nameless and we could have just died. One work-commando was equipped with large hoses. They sprayed our hair, armpits and between our legs because of bugs. The side effect: At the same time an American checked for blood types tattooed on left upper-arms. Whoever had the tattoo was exposed to be an SS-Men.
One of us still had a pair of household scissors in his possession. The pointed end was broken but we used the scissors and two stones to work on tin cans. We created wonderful containers with lids. With pieces of wire we carved words like "In Memory of my Imprisonment, Bretzenheim 1945." I took quite a few of these cans home with me. Father would be able to use them when he went for lard out in the country.
A book with the title "Akbar, the Tiger" made its rounds. Everyone in our Troop read the book until one day we were in urgent need of paper to start a fire. At night we would lay on the ground huddled closely together to keep warm. The month of May had still some bitterly cold nights. If one turned around during the night, all of us did. To prevent a fight, we had sleeping arrangements. Each night one of us had to move out one spot. This way each of us got a turn to lie on the outside once a week. In the beginning, when the fence was not as tight and spotlights had not yet been installed, the Americans posted jeeps with their engines running all around the camp to provide electricity for the high beam lights. The guards sat inside the jeeps with loaded machine guns ready to shoot. A few soldiers tried to flee through the vineyards at night. Thatís when the firing of flare guns started. Sometimes the Americans would capture a fugitive from the vineyards dead or alive, sometimes a soldier was able to escape.
Slowly we ran out of rations. At first we received 2 teaspoons of coffee, 2 teaspoons of sugar, and 2 teaspoons of powdered milk. I mixed the dry ingrediance inside a tin cigarette box and dipped my finger in the mixture. Others were fanís of warm food so when it rained they collected the rainwater in their empty tins, started a fire underneath with matches they somehow smuggled and made a warm brew. Sometime later we received Corned Beef and Crackers.
After a German Camp Command was formed they carefully talked to the Americans regarding the food situation. Nothing changed! More and more died of weakness. Some went crazy and lost their minds because their souls didnít have the strength to deal with this misery and hardship any longer. Our camp became bigger and bigger. More and more prisoners arrived. By now we must have been about 100,000, with about 200 women who were housed in tents. About 3,000 prisoners died, most of them in May and June of 1945. They were thrown into pits far outside the camp, covered with soil then the mass grave was leveled. It was as if they never existed, no one asked about them, not even the International Red Cross.
Like a barbed wire chain, the makeshift prisonerís camps stretched over meadows, fields and pastures from Mainz past Bad Kreuznach, from "The Field of Misery" in Bretzenheim to Koblenz-Luetzel, Sinzig, Andernach, Remagen, Heidesheim and Buederich all the way up to Wickrath and Rheinberg. The camps became well known for their sadness, as places of intentional or unintentional human cruelty, as the places of horror, hunger and starvation, of mercilessness and hate, as the last- or transit camps on route to French Labor Camps, Belgium-Mines or death. Bretzenheim became known in Germany, Austria as well as Hungary.
Constant rain transferred "The Field of Misery" into a mud field. On a daily basis the dead were taken out of the camp and the anxiety among prisoners was high which could lead to an attempt to escape on any given day. Some of the guards went crazy and fired shots into the crowded camps. All we heard were cries of despair. There were dead among the women and children who stayed near the camps as well.
Over loudspeakers the American Camp Command announced that anyone nearing the fence would be shot. It was also said Ė how feeble-minded Ė that there was a camp built on the other side of the River Nahe, guarded by the Russians, and that whoever would not cooperate would be transferred there. The Americans would have made an alliance with the "devil". The main objective for them was to bring Germany down at any cost or however necessary.
In mid May we received ½ liter of water-soup with a few beans or peas for lunch instead of dry- and cold rations. Sometimes we received a watery, sweet soup for dinner. The civilian population of Bretzenheim showed gestures of humanity. On Corpus Christi day in 1945 the community walked along the camp throwing food across the double fence. Many of them ignored the strain, threats or punishments in order to help the "creatures" inside the camp continuously.
Since October 1944 I havenít heard from home. Neither did my comrades. The men who had families had to endure much emotional anguish. Thatís when we got the idea to write our names, birth dates, marital status and home addresses on a piece of paper, wrap them around rocks and pieces of wood and throw them across the double fence so the people from Bretzenheim would find them. One day I was called to the gate of the camp. A blond 17 or 18-year-old girl stood there and handed me a small basket with something to eat and even a bottle of wine. There was even a note with the address of the girl. Needless to say, I was more than just surprised that this could be possible.
The Americans prepared to release those among us who were at home in the American-Zone. In some conference the Allies divided the old German Reich and the old Austrian Republic into four main zones of occupation. Suddenly some of us remembered relatives living in American-Zones to which they could be released. Unfortunately the American Camp Command didnít always know the zones included in the American-Zones. In the case of the extended Stuttgart area, the Americans had another problem. The area was still occupied by French Troops even though it was an American-Zone. So, comrades from Stuttgart Ė Neuwirtshaus had been called for release because the Americans thought Neuwirtshaus was part of the French-free district of Ludwigsburg. For the guys who came directly from Stuttgart, release was unthinkable at this time because of the French.
I am registered in Stuttgart West, where I also spent the time of my convalescent leave in September 1944. Back then I did my shopping at the butcher Shop Theurer at the Rosenbergplatz. The shop was run by Mrs. Theurer. Her son Alfred helped out for a few days while on convalescent leave. I got to know Alfred, who was quite a bit older, but soon thereafter both of us had to return to our divisions and lost contact.
This meeting should prove to be a major advantage for myself because Alfred was a Sergeant and member of the German Camp Command in Bretzenheim. Alfred noticed me during one of his patrols. He said "You! I know you!" "Of course" I said, "I did my shopping at your store!" He took me aside and told me to be near the Camp Command at a certain time. When we met, Alfred handed me a pot of soup with beans, peas and some pieces of meat. I gobbled down the soup and gave him back the pot. My intestines where not used to all this food and soon afterward diarrhea started to set in. Watery, everything came back out.
On July 9, 1945 American and French guards stood at the double fence. The day after, on July 10, 1945, the Americans moved out and the camp was now in the hands of the French. Officially, the French found about 18,000 men. Some French came to the camp looking for American coffee and cigarettes. Compared to the Americans who were roughnecks, we got the feeling right away that these guys were European.
The French could hardly believe the number of soldiers among us who had their arms or legs amputated. The French Camp Commander shared the surprise of all this inhumanity. Right away he ordered to house these soldiers in tents and to discharge them as soon as possible.
Alfred Theurer knew where to find me. One day he waved me over to him and said: "throw your pay-logbook into the manure-pit!" I had to tell him that I didnít have one any more. We had found brand new black jackets when we were at the Rheinland-Barracks. Some of my comrades and myself had the idea to trade them with our worn, gray jackets. We made the switch and emptying the contents of the old jackets into the new. We remembered that it was a bad idea after. If the Americans would see us wearing these jackets with the skull and crossbones on the collar they could mistake us for SS-Men. So we put our old jackets back on but I forgot to take my pay-logbook from the breast pocket. When I noticed my mistake it was too late.
Alfred said, "The French will discharge everyone under the age of 18, you are not 18 yet are you!" Ė "Alfred, my birth date is April 17, 1925, I just turned 20!" I replied. "Thatís your problem! Identify yourself when they call the guys under 18 years old!" He was gone and I decided my new birth date would be October 17, 1927, that my confirmation was in 1942 and that I enlisted on November 26, 1944.
During the last days of July the announcement came. With bellyaches I had been waiting for this day. On the board was also a French Officer who was fluent in German; he was probably from the Elsass. One Assessor, one Clerk and a German Military Doctor. Right away I had the feeling that they knew each other very well. Without blushing I told the men the truth about my pay-logbook told them my new birth date. The Officer who wore a flawless uniform asked the Doctor if it was possible for me to be under 18 years old. Because of my beard the doctor touched my chin and cheeks and looked me over. He stretched and bit his lips. His decision: "Iím not sure, he is a very young man, he may not be 18 yet".
The Officer signaled to the Clerk who wrote the certificate of discharge. The Officer himself wrote "Sans Papiers" across the top left of the document. When he handed me the paper he said: "Donít think you can lie to a French Officer, we will check your birth date. If it is different, hope for godís mercy!" Ė I wasnít worried. I said goodbye to my Comrades. Among them Horst Johne from the Infantry who was an Insurance-Businessman from Heidenau near Dresden, Walter Waidelich who was a Pilot and an Editor from Meersburg at Lake Constance and Gregor Feil, a Sailor and Administrative Officer from Weingarten near Ravensburg. I thanked Alfred Theurer for the hint regarding my age and all four of them gave me messages for their families. On July 30, 1945 I walked through the gate of the camp.
Today, a Memorial in the form of a big Bronze Cross stands not far from this as a remembrance of all the German soldiers who died while imprisoned. The Memorial was dedicated on October 2, 1966. Apart from that, nature reclaimed all memories. Almost as a reminder the land will free a rusted old can but the "Field of Misery" is now fertile ground.
Here I was, in Godís free country without money, food or a ticket. A discharge paper of course was not a protection. Wearing the gray Armed Forces Uniform was to be an outlaw. It was wise to be careful of our "Saviors". In Bretzenheim I looked up the family whoís daughter had brought me the basket of food some weeks ago. It was a family of winemakers who would have liked me to stay with them for a while. Maybe they thought I could be of help working in their vineyards. Their own male family members, if still alive, had not yet returned from the war. The daughter was a pretty girl and very nice to me. Maybe I could have stayed? But the people knew that I wanted to go home. After a short stay I went on my way towards Bingen. On the road I got the advice to jump onto a train in Bingen going south.
Trucks with yelling scoundrels drove towards me. They had weapons and trigger-happy fingers. They use to be foreign workers from Czechoslovakia, Poland and the Ukraine. Were did they get their weapons from? I was lucky to have jumped into the ditch right away. In their anger they spat from the truck.
Bingen seemed deserted. The French Tricolor hung on one of the official buildings. A colonial soldier stood next to the flag. He gestured me to get off the sidewalk and to salute the flag. He walked towards me. I quickly turned around and disappeared around the next corner without leaving the sidewalk and without saluting the flag.
Majestically the Niederwald-Memorial stood above the vineyards on the right side of the Rhein River. I saw a few soldiers standing at the Bingen train station looking for trains. Coincidentally I met a soldier my age. His home was in Zweibruecken at the border of the Saar area. Therefore in an area which was of high interest to the French. Just in case, even though he was homesick, he decided that he wanted to be discharged to relatives in Untertuerkheim after leaving an American prisoners camp at the Rhein River. We stayed together and it didnít take long before we spied a train loaded with briquettes. The locomotive faced the direction toward home. We climbed onto one of the freight cars. Sitting high we could see inside the train station. The station was crowded with African-French guys. A few girls kept them company lying in the arms of their "Saviors". Shamelessly the girls let them run their hands under their skirts.
The train really moved towards Mainz. From now on we had to pay careful attention to the directions the train would take. After all we traveled on the left side of the Rhein River with precious cargo that could be destined for France. People who made gestures we didnít understand at first stood scattered along the tracks. Then we noticed the sacks and baskets and someone who waved a piece of briquette. Now we knew what they wanted. So, whenever we saw people standing by the tracks we would throw briquettes down to them. Quickly theyíd be gathered and they fought for every piece. The load got to be less and less but at least we didnít have to worry about being up too high when driving through a tunnel.
As the train crossed the repaired Rhein Bridge in Mainz our confidence grew. Now we traveled on the right side of the Rhein River. The train entered the Gross-Gerau station then traveled through Gernsheim. Now we could see the mountain range of the Odenwald and were able to make out the towns and mountain roads. My buddy and I assured ourselves that we did sit on the right train. Ladenburg was the last stop. Our eyes burned from the wind and soot from the locomotive.
The bridges crossing the Neckar River had been detonated. Only an emergency bridge for pedestrians and lightweight vehicles remained to get to the south side of the river. "Buddy" I said, "Now we can make it home on a paddle boat if we have to!" His eyes sparkled.
Once we reached the other side, we oriented our selves by the beautiful city of Heidelberg. We were told that the tobacco factory Landfried donated a package of tobacco to all homecoming soldiers. We went to get our tobacco and met more guys from Wuertemberg. Somehow we found out that a milk truck was on route to the Heilbronn area. We found the place of departure and a place to sit among empty milk cans on board the shaky wood-gas powered vehicle. Every now and again one of the soldiers would get off the truck to take a different direction. At the end only two of us were left. The driver assured us that he could take us to Winnenden. Willingly we gave him our tobacco.
As we reached Winnenden it was already the time for the allied-ordered curfew. Was it 7 or 8 oíclock? No one was allowed on the streets even though it was the end of July and as light as day. A woman named Strauss took us off the street and invited us to spend the night with her family. While at the prisonerís camp we dreamt of a schwaebisch dinner with a pitcher of cider. Now we had it in front of us. We ate with great delight and during night our bellies rumbled. Our bodies were not used to all this food and drink.
It was August 1, 1945 as we set out to travel our last part to return home. My buddy and I got a ride from a beer-truck driver from a brewery in Stuttgart. In Fellbach I saw the first streetcars of Line 1. The streetcar looked dreary. It was painted in a dirty-colored camouflage. Only the driver had a little window the others had been replaced by wooden boards. My buddy got off the truck by the Cannstatt railroad tracks. My stop was at the Cannstatt Wilhelmsplatz. The Cannstatt Neckar Bridges had been destroyed but the Berger crossing was still intact.
"Careful is the mother of a porcelain box" I thought to myself. I heard that the French had been pushed out of Stuttgart by the Americans not long ago. Knowing that, I dared the Neckar River crossing. The Star-Banner hung at the tower of the station. All I could see was a field of ruins. I took the same way to get to Zeppelin Street as I did on September 1944 when I was on convalescent leave but everything looked much worse. Rubble was piled as high as the first stories from the buildings. I saw women and children with hollow cheeks and their eyes sunken in, pulling some of their belongings.
I wanted to surprise mother, grandfather and the neighbors, so I turned onto Klopstock Street to take the path through the garden to our house. Hopefully itís still standing! The writings on buildings at the Rosenbergplatz and everywhere else didnít look promising. Messages like "Is everyone alive!" "Mueller now in Allmersbach, in the Valley by Backnang", "Come to Wagner, Heslach, Boeckler Street # 3" were left for the people looking for survivors.
A woman with a bun (hair-bun) dressed in dark clothing and thin as a skeleton stood at the side of the road. She was talking to another woman on the first floor of a house in Klopstock Street. "My Boy!" said the skinny woman. She dropped her basket and sobbing she took me in her arms. Surprisingly enough the first thing she said was "Boy, we lost the war!" We got to the house and I got undressed in front of the laundry room. "Mother, throw everything into the washtub, I have lice!" Mother was surprised to see that I didnít wear any socks. Carefully I took of the bloody, crusty rags around my feet. My big toes were worn to the bone.
Father hadnít returned home from the war yet. So it was grandfather who welcomed me next. Mentally and bodily he was marked by near death. His grandson Walter, my cousin who was not yet 18 years old had died in September 1944 in the south of France. My Uncle Karl, who was his only son, died in January 1945 at the age of 42 in Untersteiermark. Everything that happened was too much for my grandfather to bear.
30. Final Thoughts
At all times and in every nation the soldier is a tragic figure. He is ordered to shoot and kill other soldiers whom he doesnít know nor hate. Ordered by people who do know each other, hate each other, but donít shoot each other. It is the Government who decides over war and peace not the soldiers. About 4 million German soldiers have lost their lives during World War II. They had no choice but to obey orders or to stand trial before a Military Court. Two million of these soldiers did not get a decent burial. They lay lost, forgotten. There is no gravestone telling of their tragic destiny. There is no memorial honoring their involuntary sacrifice.
Over 55 million casualties all over the world remind us of the unprecedented brutality of World War II. Among them about 25 million who were indirectly involved in the war. These are the civilian populations who were destroyed by bombs, millions who have lost their lives while fleeing and of course those who lost their lives due to racist and ethnic reasons.
When we reflect on this army of millions of casualties who died in action, who were murdered or violated, who froze to death, who drowned or were humiliated, one must think this gruesomeness is enough to end all wars, persecution or destruction. Unfortunately we experience the opposite. Humanity did not learn from the horrors of the wars. I hope we Germans will never be involved in any active or passive war activities. We have lived in peace for the past 50 years and treasure this time because we know about the suffering during war. But we cannot be silent. It may be difficult to keep the peace, but for the sake of humanity it is worth every effort.
It is worth every effort to stop those from within and abroad who, such as after the 1st World War, would like to administer Germanyís guilt and would like to preserve Germanyís guilty conscience to gain control over the Germans. (See Chapter 1., Aftermath of World War 1 (1914-1918) Because the dead are silent, it seems that everything starts all over again! My response: No One Lives For Himself! Meaning: Universal responsibility for justice and peace. These are requirements for evolution of humanity. Without the sense of responsibility of each and every one of us there will never be true progress on earth. The more people are aware that we donít live on this planet independently, that we are all brothers and sisters, the more likely the progress for all of humanity, not only for some.