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Those who Served
It is not possible to fully understand the history of the Second World War without refering to the forces of the Axis.
The Wartime Memories Project is purely a historical resource and the information contacted in this section is for historical educational. We are a Non Political organisation and do not support the ideas of The Third Riech, we simply present the facts.
Gottfried Hermann Erich Neubert . from Frankfurt am Main)
My father, Gottfried Neubert (born 1926) was a prisoner of war until 1948. He stayed in Mardy Camp 118, Abergavenny, Wales. He told us he worked at a farm and was treated very well. He was released quite late in 1948, because after the war his parents lived somewhere in Sachsen, which was in the Soviet zone. During these years POWs were not released in this zone. As soon he could give a home address in Frankfurt am Main, he could go home.
He always wished to go back to Wales to visit again, but he could not do so. He died in 1983.
Walter Noll . German Wehrmacht Luftnachrichtentrupp from Berlin)
World War II recollections by Walter Noll written in 2000.
These recollections are probably unusual because I was not only on the wrong side in World War II, but I was aware at the time that I was on the wrong side. I immigrated to the US in 1955 and I have been a US citizen since 1961. I am now Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA.
I obtained my "Abitur" (diploma of an academic high school) on March 23, l943. Not until June 1943 was I drafted into the "Reichsarbeitsdienst". We were shipped to Southern France, where I was injured slightly on the shinbone while unloading corrugated sheet metal. The paramedics in my unit were totally incompetent, and the injury led to a severe infection which almost cost me my right leg. In the nick of time I was driven to the military hospital in Perpignan, where a surgeon operated on me only a few minutes after my arrival. Later I was shipped to a hospital in the Alsace, where I stayed for several months. After I recovered I was sent home just before Christmas 1943. I expected to be drafted into a regular military unit after no more than two weeks, but my papers must have been misfiled, for I was left at home for six months. Finally, on June 26, 1944, I was drafted into the "Luftnachrichtentruppe" (air force signal corps). On May 1, 1945, I was taken prisoner of war by a British soldier in Lübeck in Northern Germany, but I was released as early as July 7, and went to a sister of my mother in Varel in Northwest Germany. I started to write the wartime recollections soon afterwards, on August 6. I intended to describe my experiences during the entire time from June 26, 1944 until July 7, 1945, but for reasons that I cannot remember, I got only to Christmas, 1944. The recollections were written in pencil and in German script. I rediscovered them recently and my son Peter helped me to translate them into English. I tried to preserve as much as I could the flavor of the original, defective grammar and all, written when I was only 20 years old.
It is June 26, 1944. The time has come, the draft notice is here. The future before me is more uncertain than ever. A bad time, perhaps the worst time of my life, begins. I traveled by express train (which, by the way, is punctual for a change) through splendid summer scenery: Thüringen, Niederfranken and Bayern (Bavaria). I even have a seat. The hours drag on, I eat once more sandwiches that my mom made and a few boiled eggs, I smoke cigarettes nonchalantly and do not have any idea what my future is.
Finally, we are there. Augsburg! I have to get off. A nice city, unfortunately, also already partly in ruins. I take my little suitcase and enter a streetcar to Pfersee! A companion in misery already knows the way to the barracks, he is a man of few words and I cannot get into a conversation with him. Now we are there: a huge military compound. The veteran soldiers receive us with faces showing malicious pleasure and take advantage of us by enticing us to give them cigarettes. We have to surrender our papers and are being registered. Hundreds of recruits have arrived; treatment like cattle!
We stand around and wait for a long time. Coincidence places me into the first platoon of recruits. We will be housed in a wooden shed. We go there. Beside me walks a small fellow. He is two years younger than I am. I question him: "Did you also volunteer to be an air force radio man?" "Yes, but only because I then have a long training period and don't have to go to the front immediately." Ah! Somebody on the same wavelength as I. For the first time, I am pleasantly touched by something. We have a fair amount of space in the barracks. Two sergeants arouse fear and anxiety. From time to time, one of them already starts screaming at us.
The next days are filled with receiving uniforms, red tape, and similar things. The drill sergeants are tolerable. However, one of them, when he is in a bad mood, makes us run, lie down, and get up again out of pure chicanery. Otherwise, it's O.K.. We have comparatively much time and little duty (mostly singing). We play Skat and smoke. (One buddy gives me a cigarette once in a while. He seems to have a big supply.) However, one lives in constant fear of being called outside. The food, which now again fills our thoughts most of the time, is tolerable, considering there are still some supplies from home.
Slowly, I am getting to know my roommates. Some of them are reasonable guys, and astoundingly many are on the same wavelength as I, do not believe in victory anymore and also do not want to get hit at the end of the war. One of them in particular does not hold back with his opinion, but he is too careless in my opinion. But I find little contact with him, because he is otherwise rather childish and superficial. A second one, also on the same wavelength, impresses me more. As time goes on, he will become sort of a friend. His name is Norbert Vierdt. He also is a graduate of an academic high school and wants to study veterinary medicine. He is intelligent, not superficial, with some youthful idealism, but otherwise realistic and even egotistic. He can be expected to become a good, comfortable small-town veterinarian. He is an orphan and lives with his grandparents near Hamburg, a congenial man. Later I became rather friendly with him. My other fellow soldiers are more or less stupid and superficial average people, apart from the small aforementioned "radio man volunteer" who is simple but has a good heart. Unfortunately, we soon drifted apart.
Naturally, we were not permitted to go to town. We were imprisoned in the barracks. Of course, there were also no movies, or such things. But, again, I was in luck. I became a member of detail that had to go to by streetcar to another part of Augsburg in order to watch for fires at a warehouse for clothing. In the morning, we then went back to the barracks. We could sleep longer, we could take a walk in the evening or listen to the radio in a pub, to drink a beer or lemonade, and eat a standard meal or something similar offered by the pub. This way, I had some istractions, and did not become brain-dead by sitting inside all the time. Above all, in the evening hours we did not have the constant fear of a drill sergeant coming in.
Here, I also made the acquaintance of a certain Hubert Hagen from Vienna, who later also became my friend. He is a chemistry student, has already studied one semester in Vienna, and seems to have had a position in high school that was similar to mine, that is, he was far ahead of the others in his fields and a "self-made man." In addition, he is anti-Nazi, of course does not believe in victory any more, and is otherwise reasonable, intelligent, and not the least bit superficial. He is different from Norbert Vierdt in that he has serious scientific research interests and, above all, a very good heart. Later, he shared the last piece of bread with me. In addition, he is a non-smoker, which makes him even more likable to me (despite the fact that I, to my own regret, still smoke).
In contrast to him, there is a young showoff from Stettin from a wealthy background, with impudent demeanor, whom I also got to know during the fire watch (luckily, the pleasure didn't last very long). I remember another fellow soldier, very young, unspoiled, handsome, a righteous soul and devout Catholic, but, unfortunately, a Hitler Youth leader and brainwashed by Nazi ideology; it's a pity for him.
Recently, there have been rumors that we would be sent away, some say to France, the others to Greece. The uniforms and equipment are already complete, and the civilian clothing has been sent home. Twice, we already had real duty on the field; running with gas masks put on, lying down, crawling and similar fun. We returned every time drenched in sweat. Disgusting! One day there arrived a signal man (the same rank as we have) with a pistol on his belt, screaming at us without introducing himself. First, we laughed at him. But later, it turned out he was a drill instructor who came from France and belonged to the detail that would lead us to France.
Before our departure, we had to take the oath. Even the day before, we had to clean everything. Not a single spot on the uniform was tolerated. Then we were drilled to learn goose stepping for the planned parade before the "lieutenant colonel." A young lieutenant, a sharp-guy type, gave us a lecture about "the great significance of the imminent oath for our entire lives". What is the value of an oath if one is forced to swear it in order to avoid being shot? I remember when, before being sworn into a different organization a year before, our then leader asked "who refuses to take the oath?". When nobody raised his hand, he said, grinning sarcastically, "this is a good thing, because I would have to make an immediate arrest". I never felt morally bound by this oath. On the surface, I had to satisfy these oaths anyway if I didn't want to risk my life. The next day, we were sworn in, during heavy rain, with much ceremony, a bombastic address by an officer, and unpleasant but very loud military music.
2. On to France
Shortly afterwards, the time came: We had to pack our belongings (everything had to fit into the backpack, and we were not permitted to carry bags), then we received travel provisions (the 40 cigarettes were the main thing), and finally we had to scrub and clean our room to perfection. The next day, we had to get up already during the night, get ready, and line up. Here again, the chicanery and nonsense of the military became apparent, because we had to stand around the entire morning and wait, and when we arrived at the railroad station later on, it still lasted until the next day until we departed.
We were divided into groups of 40 men and then marched, heavily loaded on the back and sweating, shortly before noon in an endless column through Augsburg to the railroad station. We were supposed to march in step and sing, but, to the annoyance of our superiors, this didn't quite work. After we had waited at the railroad station for quite a while, we finally could enter, always one group, that is 40 men, into a cattle car. It is hardly conceivable how crowded it was, especially since the voluminous backpacks had to be taken along, too. Happily, the car leader was an older sergeant. He had been drafted again only recently and hence was very good-natured and totally unmilitaristic. He permitted us as many freedoms as he could. My newly-acquired friends, Norbert Vierdt and Hubert Hagen were with me in the car. After the preparations were slowly completed -- this lasted an entire day -- the train started the next morning and we were on our way. Of course, the lieutenant and leader of the transport had a passenger car for himself and his staff, and an entire compartment in it.
Now, the journey proceeded again through the German scenery illuminated by bright sunshine: Bayern, Baden and then across the Rhine into the Saargebiet. I could not enjoy it very much, because the door seats were almost always occupied and I had no inclination to fight with the dear fellow soldiers who sat there all day. We killed time playing skat, chess (a fellow soldier had a miniature chess set with him) and a variety of pleasant conversations. Norbert Vierdt was a dependable skat player. Hubert Hagen was about as good as I in chess and I could also talk to him about university, chemistry, atomic energy and hollow world theory and combat boredom in this way. A small and crafty but likable guy among us could draw very well and attempted to do portraits despite the constant shaking of the car.
The living conditions, as far as one can even call them that, were the worst that I have ever experienced in my life: we had to lie on our sides while sleeping, and not a square inch of the floor could stay uncovered. Nevertheless, every evening there was a small scuffle because it was necessary to pile the feet one on top of the other. Everybody thought the others took up too much space, and more space was due to him. Despite the summery season, we were often cold at night because there was no straw in the car and we had only one blanket. In the morning, our bones ached because of the hard floor. But here one could see what fatigue can do: despite everything, we slept well. The food was sufficient but always the same: Bread and canned meat, no vitamins. In addition, the meals in the crowded car were very difficult to take and one had to accept a certain amount of dirt. In general, cleanliness was a big problem. You could wash at most once a day, mostly under a water dispenser for steam locomotives.
The train proceeded very slowly and stopped very often. It took three days until we arrived in Homburg in Saargebiet. There, we entered a movie theater in a single column and saw a silly movie. Then we proceeded across the border to Nancy, where we stayed for a few days. We again went to a movie, "The White Dream." This beautiful movie and the clean movie theater appeared really like a dream to us, considering our subhuman living conditions. Slowly, we got used to the hobo life on the train stations. There was a huge barrel with wine in the train station in Nancy,. A hole was drilled into this barrel and all 1,000 men sneaked one-by-one past the barrel to fill their canteens. In the evening, almost everybody was drunk. Our otherwise peaceful car leader was drunk, too,and made us get out at night ordered us around. Finally, we proceeded to Paris, where we stayed about five days. Here, English planes created big trouble. We had air raid alarms up to five times a day. Every time we had to put on our steel helmets, put on our belts, hang our gas masks around our necks, and march for 10 minutes to finally be stuffed into a cave-like basement like herrings. Once - it was at night - we stood in front of the air raid shelter during an air raid while there were already loud explosions. After the air raid was finally over, we went into the air raid shelter.
Since the provisions were depleted after a few days, and since the leader of the transport could not deal with this -- he had to go sightseeing in Paris -- we had to go without food for 24 hours. I sat on the side of a street and talked to some of the French people. They were all very friendly and felt sorry for us because we were still so young. One woman even brought us bread because we had nothing to eat. I also talked with the railroad workers. They were all very friendly and agreed with me that Germany would lose the war and that the whole thing will last no more than about three to four months. Yet, they didn't talk very kindly about the English either. They wanted to have an independent, unoccupied France. Some of them had been soldiers in the French army. They had just as much resentment against their officers as we had against ours. In order to get enough to eat, they used counterfeit ration coupons. They were French workers, low class, not particularly ambitious, but in constant conflict with their employers and those whom they called "capitalists."
The only distraction in Paris was a small party for the troops in the transport. Some of us presented a variety of comedic and vaudeville-like acts and a fairly good band played. Otherwise, I saw of Paris only switch yards, and, from far away, the Notre Dame and La Madelaine churches. Finally, we left Paris and proceeded southeast. It became terribly hot. One day, we had nothing to drink and were so dehydrated that we didn't even sweat any more. When the train finally stopped, we made use of a pump, even though we weren't supposed to, and we all drank greedily, sometimes out of our helmets. The pieces of a bombed munitions train indicated to us that we had arrived in an area infested by partisans. Finally, after a 12-day horrible train journey, we arrived in Auxonne, 30 kilometers southeast of Dijon. We had survived great hardship. You could say our fatigues and underwear should be freshly tarred because the white was showing through. The shirts would stand up because they were so dirty and sticky.
Even though we could expect a time of severe military duty and chicanery, we were happy to escape the crowdedness of our cattle cars, which, in the meantime, had a thick layer of dirt on their floors.
Auxonne is a pleasant, small French town on the Saône river. It is not particularly beautiful, but may have given its inhabitants during peacetime a quiet, comfortable life. In the surroundings of Auxonne are many small villages, whose inhabitants make their living from raising vegetables, fruits, and grapes, and from fishing in the Saône. The countryside is flat, there are many fields and meadows, and also large forests. The forests in France differ considerably from those in Germany. Forests with high pines and maples with their shadow-giving tops and moss and leaf carpets are almost unknown in France. Instead, there are low and impenetrable forests with breast-high bushes and underbrush, veritable jungles. I remember from the year before that in southern France, the trees are so far apart that it is difficult to find protection from the penetrating sun.
After arrival at a small, rural train station with strange semaphores and signs, we lined up in formation again, and marched with our enormous backpacks singing and sweating into the strange town. There is not much difference between a German and a French town: Small townhouses with three to four floors, many shops and pubs with signs in big letters. Most of the men in the streets wear berets. The women are made up more than those in Germany, but they are not excessively dolled up and appear elegant in their tasteful dresses. The French bicycles have a more streamlined form that the German ones. Also, one can see blacks, if only rarely, in the streets.
After a half hour march, we were standing in a square which was surrounded by old barracks from the time of Napoleon the First. This would be our abode in the near future. Now, we were sorted. The occupations were called out, and, each time, two-thirds were sent to the third company and one third to the first company. Of course, I wanted to stay with my friends. But at first, I seemed to be unlucky. I was in the third row, and my friends in the first and second. I was supposed to go to the first company, and my friends to the third. I wanted to change with somebody from the second row.
While I was still negotiating, the third row was marching away already, and I wanted desperately to run after it. Now, a drill instructor followed me furiously and asked, "Where do you want to go? Stay where you were supposed to and don't try to sneak into a different place. We'll get such ideas out of your heads." Bang! Now I was where I wanted to go, with my friends in the third company. Later, it turned out that I was also very lucky in other ways, because the poor boys in the first company had their balls busted in searing heat, while the third company became known as the company on "Easy Street". While we also went through harsh training later on, things were tolerable. Our company was organized on the next day. I was helped again by my lucky star, which often had protected me even in small matters. My friends and I were detailed into a squad with the best sergeant of the entire battalion, Sgt. Schütz. We did our duties, but he never screamed at us or tormented us. Sometimes, he even almost openly showed his opinion that this terrible war is going to end with unspeakable chaos (which, of coarse, actually happened).
Our new dormitory was rather large, and even though the wooden floors were rather shaky (almost every evening my bed collapsed to the amusement of everybody) the fresh white bed linen and the large wash area were a delight. After a while, we had washed off the dirt of the long train trip, we had adjusted, and the duty could start.
The following weeks were very monotonous. Two hours of drill in the morning, then two hours of learning to "listen" to Morse code. In the afternoon, combat training, radio operation, "physics" or something like that. The instruction was given by sergeants in a way that was very naive and complete unpedagogical. It consisted mainly in memorizing of L.D.V.(Air force service manual) texts. I really learned almost nothing. We hardly had any tough drills because we had fairly good drill instructors, as I said before. Otherwise, boot camp was like it usually is: Extreme cleanliness at inspection in the evening, not a speck of dust, not even in the remotest corner. Cleanliness in the military is a peculiar matter, even apart from the fact that it is sometimes exaggerated in a mean way. The how during cleaning is immaterial, the main thing is that one cannot see anything more in the end. Thus, it can occur that the same broom that is used to clean the toilet is also used again to clean the table. It makes no difference if the dirt in a corner is swept under the furniture, or if the fingernails are cleaned with a fork. Few people are disturbed when you climb on the table with your feet, the main thing is that the dirt on it cannot be seen.
y the way, it is interesting how much cleanliness there must be in many a home. In our unit, it was tolerable because I met many reasonable and clean people in the Air Force signal corps. In this and other respects the conditions in the infantry are much worse.
We had very little contact with the officers. They had a separate building, with a beautiful garden, where they played chess and otherwise passed their time. The unapproachables stayed away from the lowly recruits. If a recruit -- as one says in jest-- known only one God, and that it the master sergeant so-and-so, then the lieutenant so-and-so is a legendary Supergod that he sees only one time in his life one kilometer away, for which occasion he has to put on his best uniform and must stand at attention. That is the Prussian military. Everyone has almost unlimited power over his underlings and is totally without power against his superiors. Therefore, there is only one thing for the German soldier to do: pedal downwards and duck upwards. This is called "bicycling". Those who are good at this like the military because they don't have to do any work there.
For some time I had to carry meals to a sick master sergeant in the infirmary. Since I could talk to him sometimes, I had the opportunity to gain insight into the mind of a person who signed up for the army for 12 years. He had been trained as an electrician, worked for a small outfit in Berlin, didn't earn very much, and was drafted into the military in 1935 to serve his two years. There, he became acquainted with the good life of a driver with little work, and, since he lacked appreciation of freedom and judged life only according to his own comfort, he signed up for 12 years, especially since he could expect an equally comfortable life as a civil servant afterwards. In the course of time, the methods of the Prussian military and its "bicycling" have become so second nature that it seems obvious to him that recruits had to be drilled mercilessly and similar things. The return into civilian life will be very difficult for such people.
The food, which is always the main issue in the life of a soldier, was sufficient in Auxonne. There was enough bread, even though it often looked moldy. The meat was often rotten and inedible despite cooking because of the severe heat. The same thing for sausage. Nevertheless, I had enough to eat because I converted my entire pay into food at the cafeteria. You could buy butter, (12.50 per pound) cheese, honey (7.00 a pound), and delicious honey cake. There was wine, too. Every Saturday, we received a ration of one liter. It was so disgustingly sour that I mostly gave it away. Some became senselessly drunk, and behaved like pigs.
After a while we got passes to go to town. We could then buy peaches, tomatoes, apricots, and other things that were cheaply available in the land rich with fruits and vegetables. Once we were "taken out" by our sergeants (like little children on a leash). Later, we were deemed to be trained enough so that we could go into the town by ourselves. Mostly, we then went into a soldiers' club, where we got some additional good food and even sometimes "cake" (bread with a little bit of sugar on top). There was a band, which consisted of drill instructors from our battalion (drunk most of the time), who played "the latest hits."
Upstairs were wonderful play rooms and reading rooms, with carpets, easy chairs, curtains, and tablecloths, in which you almost could feel at home. Unfortunately, I was there only once, because we only rarely got passes. Once, we were also in a bar where they had cordials and wonderful white burgundy. I also saw the bordello of Auxonne. There were expensive, strong hard drinks and girls that were excessively made up, scantily dressed and talked dirty. Sensual feelings were totally foreign to them. Their only goal was money. They kissed with the same indifference as another would blow his nose. By the way, many soldiers disappeared for 10 minutes one after another in the upper rooms, despite their previous assurances that they would never do such a thing. I was disgusted and ran out, never again!
Once in a while, we also went to a movie or a variety show (German touring companies), the entire company in formation. Anyone who didn't want to go was "shit on" by the master sergeant and was forced to scrub the toilet. You were even forced to participate in recreation: Golden freedom! Incidentally, I saw the wonderful movie "Ich Klage An ( I accuse)" there, which once again separated me from the rough reality and introduced me into a world that was, though tragic, at least humane.
The population was not directly hostile to us, but also not particularly friendly. They didn't like to see us, but when I spoke French and tried to be friendly, their faces lit up a little bit. They were afraid of us. We always had to go around with loaded rifles, and never alone. We did not have much contact with the people.
4. It's becoming dangerous
The Allies had considerable success at the front of the invasion. The air activity became more and more lively.. One day -- the warning system had not worked -- we saw several bomber formations in the air. Everybody ran as fast as possible into the protective ditches (they did not give you much protection). But we were lucky. There were a couple of bombs coming down nearby, but the expected carpet bombing of our barracks did not take place. Before that, we almost never had any air raid alarms, but now things changed. The partisans became more and more active also. Guard duty increased. Once, at night, I had to do "Schleichposten" (prowling duty). We prowled in tennis shoes along the walls of houses, armed with a submachine gun. Our order was to shoot without warning anybody who was attaching posters and to arrest anybody who was on the street. But nothing happened. We were quite nervous. At one point, the bridge guard shot and killed a Frenchman who was roaming around near the bridge (but it only was a poor, innocent mental case). Then, at night, a woman was shot and killed. She wanted to go to the outhouse and didn't hear the calling of the guard. At this time, I had to patrol the area of the barracks. This is uncomfortable because you can be shot in the back from a bush. The hate of the French increased.
One day, our regular duty was suspended. We received live munitions, and were brought by truck to a forest, which we were supposed to search for partisans. It was a veritable jungle, hard to get through. But we only found an empty log cabin with munitions. The birds had flown the coop. In the meantime, the Tommies were no more than 100 kilometers away from us. The regular training had ceased. Every day we had to dig anti-tank holes near the Saône river. This was heavy labor in the searing heat and on the caked soil (a pickax was necessary). But we didn't do much and most of the time we rested in the shade.
One fine day, we were just working again, a submachine gun started rattling nearby and then a wild gunfire began. Our superior, a mean sergeant from the first company, known as a mean ballbuster, proceeded with us enthusiastically in the direction of the gunfire. I became agitated now and ran around with my rifle with its safety off. But we couldn't see anything. Other groups did the same as we did, and so it appeared that we were shooting at each other, and a tremendous confusion ensued. There even were some wounded. On a little railroad station all were reassembled including some Cossacks that were part of the German military police. For the first time in my life I saw here true sadism and pleasure in torturing. the German police officer who commanded the Cossacks forced innocent Frenchmen, who just happened to be nearby or lived there, into a small building and forced them to hold up their hands for hours. Then he scolded them, screamed at them, and splashed water into their faces. One, who did not obey fast enough, was knocked down by the Cossacks. His wife, who was in tears and implored the policeman, was dragged into the woods, and, I was told later, returned covered with blood. My sergeant was also in his element. He stole a bicycle, threatened the people with his pistol, searched apartments, cabinets, and drawers. When I tried to console a women who started to cry, he screamed at me, "next time I want you to be a little bit more dashing!" I became afraid of these devils in the shape of humans and escaped back to the barracks on a truck of a French paramilitary unit, which was also present. I could not understand these French paramilitaries, who were traitors to their country, despite the fact that our defeat was already clear at this time.
In the evening, I talked to my friend, Hubert Hagen. He also was involved somewhere else, and had experiences similar to mine. Then he said, "If we get into a lot of trouble in the future, we earned it," and I had to admit he was right. Only at that moment, when the laws of human society are broken and there is anarchy, can one know the value of a human being, and one recognizes three kinds: The evil, the sadists, who want to show their power; the good, who want to help the weak and resist evil; and finally, the majority, who tolerate evil out of indifference and even participate when it is to their personal advantage (here, as elsewhere, there are shades in between). In my opinion these are the only criteria for the value of a person, not his other properties, such as intelligence, congeniality, let alone exterior appearance.
One fine day, we were ordered to pack our stuff and given 60 rounds of live ammunition. Then, a platoon of about 40 of us were driven to a little village about 30 kilometers from Auxonne. Here, we were supposed to secure, against partisans, a few people from the organization Todt and about 200 Russians who were supposed to dig trenches. Incidentally, the Todt people arrived only three days later, and the Russians even five days, a good indication of the lack of efficiency of German armed forces. Hence, the first few days we had nothing to do and just lazed around; I played Skat almost all day. There was plenty of fruit; we stole it from the trees. Sometimes we could buy eggs and milk from the peasants. They were rather friendly to us, particularly when I spoke French and was friendly, too. One woman was taken aback when I told her that most of us were only 17 or 18 years old. In another house, where I had been several times, I was once even offered a pancake, and they even apologized because burnt a little in one spot. They were eager to give correct change when we purchased the eggs (10 to 15 pfennigs, equaling 2 to 3 francs per egg). Once I left my loaded rifle, and the woman followed me and told me ("votre fusil! votre fusil!"). If this had become known, I would have been severely punished. My knowledge of French was very helpful. One woman even asked whether I was from the Alsace. Unfortunately, a few fellow soldiers who went around to steal marred the initial good relations with the population.
Now, the Todt people and the Russians had arrived, and we had a lot of guard duty. The Russians were from Turkistan , had German uniforms, and had better food and more cigarettes than we. There was a lively barter. Once, there was a singing contest between them and us. Their rough, monotonous melodies expressed the monotony of their home in the steppe. In the middle of the night, they got up and did their religious ceremonies. It is the third of September, a splendid Sunday morning. The Todt people decided that they don't work on Sundays, 50 kilometers behind the front line. But almost all the Todt people hate the Nazis and have no interest in the war. I think, "It's a pity that not everybody is like that. Then the war would have ended long ago." I am glad, because now we have nothing to do either, and don't have to accompany the Russians to their working area. I play Skat with Norbert Vierdt and another fellow soldier by the name of Wolfgang Klein. I have to do guard duty at 10 o'clock. When I came back, I was immediately told "Go, go! Pack your things immediately. One hour from now, everybody has to be ready to march off."
Well, the intended building of a defensive position has not even been started; hence, our being here was totally useless. But the Allies seem to be dangerously close. We pack in haste. I hardly get finished, since I am so slow. The backpacks are put on wooden wagons taken from the peasants. The Russians are already lined up on the square in front of the school where we were quartered. The Todt-group is already gone. Then somebody calls "signal man Noll!" I run towards the staff sergeant, and say "sir." "You go around now with signal man Klein and appropriate bicycles." "Yes sir." We went ahead. I don't like doing this and try to console the now-resentful locals with empty promises. We have little success and want to go back across the square into another part of the village. Wolfgang points and says, "Look there! The people gather in groups before their doors and talk excitedly." In fact, one of them even runs across the area. Funny! On the village square a small group of us runs with our machine guns toward a street corner. One screams at us, "put on your helmets, terrorists!" We are very startled and run to take cover behind the wall of the school building. And then, it starts: A wild rattle from machine guns, submachine guns, and rifles. Two German soldiers, who had run over to the partisans, had arrived and asked our lieutenant and leader of our unit to surrender because we were allegedly surrounded by 1,000 partisans. I shake with fear. Sgt. Schütz doubts that we can escape alive. Rationally, I have to think he is correct. But deep down, I have the feeling that everything will be O.K. There is even a little bit of sense of adventure. All the Russians on the square lie down. One was shot in the stomach. I hardly dare to stick my head over the edge of the window. I have no desire to end my life so early and see to it that I'll be sent to the northern side of our small defensive perimeter, where there is the least amount of shooting. Now, I sit here with my fellow soldier Wolfgang Klein, and stick my rifle out of the window of the pantry of a French farmhouse. For the first time in my life, I experience true camaraderie, the camaraderie of life and death. I closely bond with Wolfgang Klein - by the way, a person who was otherwise quite indifferent to me. We promise never to leave each other, and, if necessary, to escape alone at night. It is calming, such camaraderie. We share the last cigarette. Suddenly by word of mouth the news comes that Hink, a fellow soldier who was next to me in a bed in Auxonne, and our lieutenant (as recently as this morning, he had busted my chops, but otherwise a good guy), were killed. Hope is fading. Our radio station works feverishly and finally establishes a connection. We can hope again. Now, they shoot where I am, too, out of the window of a house nearby, but they cannot hit us, we are not in their line of sight. At some distance, two hand grenades explode with a thump. Finally, after a fierce fire fight of two hours, a relief force arrives with motor vehicles. They shoot senseless into the windows, the partisans withdraw. I haven't fired a single shot. We line up. Across the street is the corpse of a partisan. I shudder and don't look at it. He is the first corpse that I have seen in my life. Everybody boasts that he had killed somebody, cruel people. Don't the partisans fight for their freedom? I believe I could not live with myself if I had a human being, whoever he may be, on my conscience. The next day, when once more a group of us visited this village, they simply shot the poor, newlywed teacher when he crossed the street. He certainly had nothing to do with the partisans. The only argument was "One should burn down the entire village, all terrorists." I am ashamed to be German.
With defenses in all directions, we march to the nearest small town, from where we return to Auxonne by train with the muzzles our rifles sticking threateningly out the doors. We arrive in the morning. It was the third of September, 1944. I'll never forget it. We sleep a few hours in the barracks, eat lunch, and then pack again. We are supposed to leave this night The backpacks are put on motor vehicles. We have to carry a rifle, a gas mask, one blanket, one canvas, one helmet, and one carrying bag.
The French Red Cross warehouse in Auxonne has already been emptied out by fellow soldiers. We still get a few crackers and similar things. Some have new shoes, thousands of cigarettes, chocolate and so forth in their backpacks (the stuff was really destined for French prisoners of war). In the evening I still have to do guard duty. At 10 o'clock, everybody is lined up. The sick and most of the noncoms go by motor vehicle. The leader of our company boasts: "I am going to march with the column" (later, when things became dangerous, he got into a car and abandoned us). I am very tired, nevertheless, we had to go?
5. The Retreat
It is a moonlit night, no life far and wide. The column passes fields and woods in solitude. I am with the forward defense. We have to keep our rifles in our hands, because we always can count on attacks by partisans. We pass the debris of an anti-aircraft gun destroyed by planes. This morning, we heard gunfire from Allied airplanes. The road has no end. The gas mask straps and the canvas and blanket rolled across the shoulder begin to weigh on us. The legs move automatically. There is no more conversation. One hour, two hours, four hours. Finally, a small interruption. We sit down at the edge of the road and smoke a cigarette. I am dead tired but after 10 minutes we proceed. I have to pull myself together. Then, machine guns fire at a distance. We are on a hill. We see the glow of a burning house far away. The road becomes busier. Trucks and tractors with heavy guns pass us. We arrive in a small town. The morning approaches. Just a few more kilometers and then we want to set up camp. The shoulders have become accustomed to the load that they have to carry, but the feet start to hurt. Finally, we camp in a barn in a village. Daylight has come. I wash up in a little brook, then I look for a place in the straw and fall asleep immediately. We are supposed to proceed again at 5 p.m. I am woken up at half past 3 already. We have a little bit of warm food. Then we have to line up. Our company lieutenant says: "tomorrow at 8 p.m., we are going to meet in Belfort, in the Bismarck barracks ( 80 kilometers). I don't care how you get there, whether you steal a bicycle, get on a truck, or walk until your feet are bloody. Our motorized column is going to meet you." With that, the two officers mounted a motorcycle and disappeared. Recall that the captain had said: "I march with a column." We were furious. But so were the noncoms who had to walk with us. We couldn't help it; we had to go on. After a short while, the entire crowd dispersed into small groups on the road. A few were lucky to soon get hold of a truck. The motor vehicles were totally overloaded. Some were in tow. Others simply were abandoned. Afterwards, everybody tried to find a way to get on, by train, by bicycle, by car, or on foot. Some tried all four methods. I march, march, and march, 20., 30, 40 kilometers. It is midnight again. From time to time, I eat some crackers and smoke a cigarette. Soon, my feet were like burning coals. My face is covered with cold sweat. Now., I can't go on, I am at the end, I had marched 60 kilometers. With my last energy, I climb, without asking, on a woodgas-powered truck carrying a field kitchen. There is a roof on part of it, and I find, on a mountain of backpacks, beside sleeping fellow soldiers, some space for one of my butt cheeks. Despite this impossible position, I soon fell asleep as if a dead man. In the morning, we pass through Besançon. The noisy clatter from light anti-aircraft and plane-mounted weapons wakes us up. We succeed in passing through the city, despite rumors that it was already occupied by the Tommies or the partisans. Our truck, which is the kitchen truck from Auxonne, is totally overloaded. Often we have to push, and sometimes a tractor which accompanies our column has to help. After nothing helps anymore, the terrain being rather hilly, the staff sergeant decides to throw several boxes with ammunition into the ditch. Often we have to stop and lie down in the ditch by the roadside, because the air is full of low-flying planes, and we often hear the clatter of the plane-mounted weapons. Once we were shot at by partisans. At this occasion, I fired the only shot that - apart from a firing range - I ever fired during this war, and only because the barrel of my rifle was rusted.
With God's help, despite all this, we finally arrived in the evening in Belfort. In the course of the next three days, the rest of the company slowly arrived, one by one. Everyone had an adventurous tale. I believe only one did not get through. He was shot by partisans (by the way, a small fellow, half a child). Part of our motorized column was affected by artillery. Several trucks were shot to pieces, including, among others, the truck with the provisions. This was a pity, because now our food was insufficient and bad. About two thirds of the company had lost their backpacks, with everything in them. Luckily, I still had mine. We were quartered in a school, and again had to sleep like herrings on the hard floor without straw. But since we were all very tired, this didn't affect us much. The military chicanery had ceased, but unfortunately, so had the discipline. Nobody saluted anymore. A luxurious villa next to the school was looted and completely trashed. They turned silken curtains into scarves. It was a pity to see this. Time was killed by playing skat and discussing politics and the war situation. Nobody believed in victory anymore. A few, who still had hope, were ridiculed. Our attitude was described succinctly by the words of our staff sergeant during a sermon: "You all have no more interest in the war or the military."
Norbert Vierdt, Hubert Hagen and I formed a "triumvirate." We intended to share everything that we could scrounge. One fine day we were told to line up: "Who can still walk?" A few raised their hands. I had a foreboding of evil and made myself scarce, even though I had no blisters despite the long march, because my shoes fit very well. About a quarter of the company was selected. They had to pack immediately and were sent away. Later we learned that they were assembled in action-companies and were thrown at the front, despite lack of training and equipment. They were totally decimated. Only a few returned. One of them was a fellow soldier in my squad -- I forgot his name -- whom I had gotten to know only a day before while on guard duty at night (at which time, by the way, we froze half to death). Before that, he was always very shy and withdrawn. We talked about political and philosophical problems. He also had recognized the injustice and sadism of the whole Nazi system and hated it deeply. In addition, he was unhappy to be forced to be a soldier. He described the terrible experience of an artillery attack, which he experienced a few days before. He showed at this occasion his noble convictions and good and pure soul. Also, he was a devout Catholic with a deep but not dogmatic belief in God. I regretted very much that I could not be with him for a longer time. My lucky star had once again saved me from the fate that fell upon this poor boy.
We were in Belfort for about eight days. During the last days we again did some "Field training". But these really were picnics, because our staff sergeant was of the opinion that this was useless anyway. We sat down on the wall of an old fortification on a mountain near Belfort and enjoyed the splendid view, which we had over the beautiful scenery lit by the mild fall sun. North of us appeared the peaks of the densely forested Vosges Mountains, and south of us one could see the hazy foothills of the Alps. Below us were the colorful fields and meadows of the Gate of Burgundy. Finally, we received permission from the Air Force high command to return across the border to Germany. Now a difficult trip started again: march, march, march. Then again a few short rests in a cold barn, and then march again. Rarely were we picked up by our trucks and transported a few kilometers. We traversed Lorraine, via Mühlhausen, then crossed the Rhine (which, by the way, looks like a canal there) via Mühlheim to Freiburg. We set up camp in a small resort near this city.
6. In the Black Forest
The Black Forest has just about the most beautiful scenery that I had seen up to this point in my whole life. When we marched across the plains of the upper Rhine to Freiburg we already could see the blue-green dark peaks far away. We were transported at night into the small village that was going to be our quarters for a few days. We found space in a barn on soft straw and soon fell into a dreamless and refreshing sleep. The sun was already high in the sky when we woke up again. It was a rather warm, clear, delightful fall day, which displayed the wonderful scenery in all its splendor. The little resort, with its clean, cozy Black Forest houses, was located in a lovely valley between steep mountains that were densely covered with dark green pines and firs. A crystal clear stream flowed along the valley through the village and jumped merrily over big rocks that wanted stop its course. At the exit of the village, the stream calmed and put its bed across a light green, luminous, juicy meadow that was sprinkled with colorful flowers despite the advanced season.
Unfortunately, I had no opportunity to enjoy the beauty of the scenery, because no consideration was given to our fatigue and exhaustion after the last sleepless marching days. The next morning already, while it was still dark at 4:30 a.m., we were torn out of our sleep, had to get dressed in haste, and line up. As usual with the military, one and a half hours passed with lining up, counting heads, and waiting. Then we marched in the direction of Freiburg. At dawn, we walked, singing lamely, through the streets of Freiburg to the railroad station. Freiburg, a beautiful city with wide streets, good-looking houses, old churches, walls and a tower - at that time not yet destroyed - reminded me of peace time and made a melancholy impression on me. Unfortunately, I could see it only from the marching column early in the morning at dawn and at dusk. Finally, we reached the train station. Masses of people, women, girls and old men, filled the entrance hall and platform. They all were in work clothes, the women wore pants, and they were equipped with sandwiches and thermoses. The entire population had been engaged to dig anti-tank ditches on the "west wall ", and we were supposed to help. After another long wait, our train finally arrived. At 10 o'clock, we reached our destination. We were given shovels and pickaxes, and were then distributed, to our delight, in small groups to a local branch of civilians. Thus we were not under control of a sergeant and had a lot of fun with the young girls. I was always together with two other fellow soldiers, and we three soon became friendly with three girls who - and that was the main thing - worked at the kitchen of a military hospital in Freiburg and could supply us with white bread, buttered sandwiches, apples, and so forth. Our military provisions were still very bad. Already at 3 p.m. we departed again and waited at the train station for two hours for the train. But the time passed very quickly because we had fun with our girls while sitting in a shed on piles of wood, because the restaurant was, of course, totally overcrowded. Then we crowded into the train, still together with "our" girls, and had fun despite the lack of space. After the train had to stop a few times because of the danger of attacks by low-flying planes, we finally arrived at dusk in Freiburg. It was already night when we finally reached our quarters. We quickly received some cold food and little bit of warm soup and then went to bed. The next four days were about the same: Little sleep, much waiting, fun, and sandwiches from the civilian population, which was always very generous. Occasionally, in a train compartment or elsewhere, somebody distributed an entire bag full of sandwiches. One of my two buddies started a silly flirtation with one of the three girls. The other (Norbert Vierdt) had a more or less profound but harmless conversation with the second, and the third and prettiest was left for me. But she was a rather ordinary, shallow and superficial person, and we remained totally distant.
Another incident deserves reporting: Norbert Vierdt and I had obtained some bread, put it somewhere, didn't pay attention for a moment, and it quickly disappeared, stolen. We suspected somebody. I asked him but he answered that he would never do such a thing. Finally, it appeared on the basis of an investigation that it could have only been him. I went to him and said: "If we don't get the bread back before such-and-such a time, you're dead." And voila! He didn't even try to deny it and the bread was returned to me. This is the only way to deal with such people. No beating around the bush, pretending that one knows everything and then laying down an ultimatum decisively. To this day, I am mad at myself that I didn't tell on him at the time and that he got away easily.
In the meantime, our drill instructors, sergeants and staff sergeants tried to restore their lost authority after they recently had been so buddy-buddy with us. On the fifth day, we were supposed to leave Freiburg again. The morning of this day was promptly used for sharp drills. We were obdurate, but the noncoms who shortly before that had shown themselves to be cowardly and wretched now demonstrated to us that they still were in power. In the afternoon, as usual, we had to pack our backpacks under pressure, wait, line up, count heads, and again wait. Rather late, we marched away and arrived in total darkness at the freight switchyard of Freiburg, rather exhausted by the long march and the backpacks. Again, we were distributed 40 men at a time into freight cars. Luckily, this time we had some wood wool on the floor, and we could construct a "second story" out of planks and thus had more space. We loaded our luggage, and then had to work until midnight by artificial light to load the motor vehicles on the freight cars. Deathly tired, we looked for our hard and tight "beds" and fell asleep immediately. If our life had not been so inconvenient, if there had not been the constant agitation about air raids, and if we had not been so exhausted from the strain of the last weeks, we could have said the three-day trip that followed was downright beautiful. Even though it was already a little cooler than it was in France, the autumnal sun had not yet lost its splendor even here and displayed the German scenery at its best. The train climbed over the Black Forest with its dark pines and firs and passed along the castles and peaks of the Thüringer Wald . We often climbed on an open freight car, let the cool wind blow into our hair, waived to the people in the meadows, paths and in front of crossing gates, and could not get enough of the pictures that passed in front of us.
In the meantime, the lack of sleep, the insufficient and monotonous food and the stress were not without consequences for me. I had a terrible cold, runny nose, coughing, and hoarse throat. I hardly could speak and it was impossible to breathe deeply without a long coughing spell. Nevertheless, I kept smoking French cigarettes made from black, strong tobacco. Also, I had boils in my neck and face that became worse and worse and finally burned into my skin like glowing coals.
So we arrived at our destination, Weimar. From there, we proceeded by car about eight kilometers to the Air Force base Nohra, where I would spend the most of the next few months in barracks. The first days we were occupied with the unloading of motor vehicles and other equipment, with arranging the untidy and empty rooms of the barracks, and for me, with waiting for bandages in the infirmary. The food was passable but we were always hungry. Already on the first day, we ran like starving wolves to get some warm barley soup. I ate three big bowls (by the way, earlier I didn't even like barley soup). Our triumvirate (N. Vierdt, H. Hagen and I) worked very well. Hubert Hagen, provided an additional ration coupon. I stole bread out of the storeroom, and Norbert Vierdt also scrounged whatever he could. Once we were lucky and all three were sent to do kitchen duty. During that time, we polished off three to four-fold rations. One afternoon I polished off seven big bowls of sweet cream-of-wheat soup. From now on, eating had become the center of all our thoughts. In the meantime, we had brought beds and cabinets into the barracks - up to now, we slept on the floor on some wood wool - and the first squad moved again into a very small room with bunk beds, always three on top of one another. We were told that the training should be continued and we even should have instruction in Morse code after the appropriate equipment was ready. At first, the drill began slowly and the drill instructors regained their authority step by step, We had to salute snappily, had to say "signal man Noll asks permission to pass", and had to do snappy drills. Before we became aware of it, we had had become recruits again. Thank God this didn't last very long for us, because one of us contracted diphtheria. The entire room was quarantined, that is, nobody could come in, they had to bring us food, we could not go outside, and hence could not do any duty. But one of the drill instructors was confined with us and was supposed to give us lessons. But he was a corporal who had been a paratrooper, had been in the stockade a few times, and wasn't a drill instructor in the usual sense. We played skat, chess, black jack, and made mischief, but had no lessons. Once we were permitted to march outside (because everybody else was gone). Then we hiked into villages some distance away and stole apples. In the morning, we got up whenever we wanted to. In short, despite the crowdedness and the lack of fresh air, the ten days were comparatively pleasant. Once, we played black jack even at night. First, I won 60 marks, and later lost them again. After that, I never gambled large sums. From the university, I received a booklet entitled "Cosmic Rays" by Geiger , which I studied carefully, I also discussed with Hubert Hagen problems in chemistry, and he taught us Austrian Tarok (a complicated card game that has a faint similarity to skat). Since my boils had healed somewhat, and since I could exchange regular mail with my parents and my friends, I felt quite well.
One the ninth day of quarantine, in the evening, I suddenly didn't feel very good and had a fever. The next morning, I was taken to the infirmary and they took a swab of my throat. The clean, well-lit rooms and the real beds with snow-white linen felt very pleasant to me. In the evening, I had an attack of fever and the physician gave me 4,000 units of diphtheria serum. These had an immediate effect. I slept very well in the remainder of the night. In the next morning, I felt quite well again. I stayed in the infirmary for two more days. I could walk around again and felt quite healthy. It is here that I got to know somebody who earlier had contact with concentration camp inmates and could tell me about the inhuman and bestial behavior of some of the SS guards. Then the result from the swab returned positive. That means I had in fact, diphtheria. I was immediately put into an ambulance and transported into the military hospital "Pestalozzi Schule" in Weimar, into the "isolation ward," which means we were not permitted to go on the street or have any contact with patients outside.
My lucky angel had given me the diphtheria bacilli at just the right time, because a few weeks later, all my other fellow soldiers were attached to the "paratroopers," which meant Air Force infantry, and were sent to the Wartheland , and were sent to the front after a short training. I have sent letters to Hubert Hagen a few times, and he to me, too. Later, I lost the connection. Six weeks of rest and relaxation, unfortunately also six weeks of hunger, were in front of me. The food was good but not enough. (We lived fairly well in comparison to the later periods of hunger that I had to suffer through. A human being needs very little to exist.) For this reason, I was particularly delighted to receive several parcels with cake and cookies from mom and Friedel , and one with salami and smoked ham from Tante Anna . The diphtheria had no more effect on me. But they had given me another six thousand units of serum and I had an allergic reaction. I had hives. I felt as if I had been naked in a dense bush of stinging nettle. It was terrible; I could have scratched open all of my skin with my fingernails. It was impossible to sleep at night. After two days, after I had gotten three injections of 10 cc calcium, the torture abated and finally disappeared. The boils, which had almost healed, also became worse and I had some additional boils in my face, for a total of five. They caused excruciating pain (once, four men had to hold me down when a nurse wanted to squeeze them out). They slowly healed after treatment with yeast, brontosil and daily heat lamps. I had to thank not so much the diphtheria but more these side effects that I could enjoy the quiet of the military hospital for such a long time.
The time was killed, as usual in a military hospital, with skat, black jack, chess, reading, dirty jokes and other nonsense. I started to read some of my mathematical booklets and observed, listened to, and became acquainted with people. I could see again how childish adult men can be when they fight with one another and insult each other, and how the reckless ones torture the weak ones with satanic pleasure. On the other hand, one has to consider that the people in our rooms were almost all young fellows, 17, 18 and 19 years old. I slowly became friends with the only older one, in the bed next to me. We shared cigarettes and gave each other some of the contents of the parcels that we had received, and from time to time played chess or skat. He was in his 30s. His civilian occupation was as a comic actor in operettas at the regional theater in Gera. He was a good guy, if you disregard the fact that he could tell very dirty jokes and farted very bad. Through him, I could obtain some insight into the world of acting, and realized that there, as everywhere else, there are people that are mediocre, bad, decent, or spoiled. Also, he could tell me various things about the world of bordellos and cheap nightclubs which he had experienced when he was younger. Towards the end of our time in the military hospital, when we already felt completely healthy, we volunteered to work in the garden. Thus, we got some exercise, fresh air and-- which was the main thing -- an additional portion at lunch. In the meantime, I became very agitated because my application for recuperative leave, which of course I had submitted, seemed to have been denied. In truth, I had been approved. But the nurse could not make heads or tails out of the answer. Volkmar Seifert , with whom I had again started exchanging letters, was also in a military hospital, and one could hope that he also would get recuperative leave, and that I even could meet him at home.
The day of discharge from the hospital arrived. We could take a bath, put away our "prison garb,'' and again put on our uniforms. Then, we could go out, first to have lunch in Weimar, and finally go to a movie. I had left my military belt in the theater, but I retrieved it in the last minute and just barely caught the bus to Nohra. There, I appeared before the military physician, who immediately approved the leave. The company didn't cause any difficulties either, and I caught the last bus and the night train to Berlin.
This leave was the most pleasant time that I ever experienced. My mom had saved several edibles, and I got roasted rabbit, and often pudding and stewed fruit.. Thus, the worry about eating and other material things receded into the background, and I could have a life again. I read, played the violin, saw movies, and occupied myself with other pleasant matters. One day -- lucky coincidence -- Volkmar appeared. He also had recuperative leave. We then met almost every day and renewed, in long conversations, our friendship. In the evening before his departure, two days before my departure, he gave a small party with dancing and a variety of fun. I also met Hohensee again. He invited me to his house for an evening. After a dinner of roast duck, we talked while smoking a good peacetime cigar until midnight and our friendly relation was renewed and confirmed’ so that he offered after a short time by mail that we should address each other by the familiar "Du". Unfortunately, the good time passed very quickly and I had to leave again before in the twinkling of an eye.
Epilogue, written in 2000: I believe that a continuation of these recollections, covering the time from Christmas 1944 to July 1945, would have been very interesting. Here is summary of what I remember now: After my return to Weimar-Nohra, the training continued until February 1945. On about February 15, a group of about 10 of us were sent to Stettin, where the Oder river enters the Baltic. We were to be employed as radio men for an anti-aircraft battery that at that time was used in ground action against the Soviet army, which was approaching the Eastern bank of the Oder. Most of the time I stayed with the Battery Staff, but for two periods I was on the front line with a forward observer, which was very scary. By April 25, the Soviet Army had crossed the Oder river South of Stettin and we were given the order to evacuate the city (only a few years ago a learned that the order was given by General Heinrici, disregarding Hitler's insistence that Stettin should be held at all cost.) Fortunately, I was given a bicycle, which helped me to flee across Mecklenburg towards the Western allied troops. When I saw the first British armored car in Wismar, I realized with great relief that I had survived World War II . (About one third of my high-school class was killed). The roads were jammed with fleeing civilians and soldiers and I was able to bicycle to Lübeck, where a kind lady permitted me to take bath (I did not have one for months) and let me sleep on a couch. The British authorities announced on the radio that any civilians that harbor German soldiers would be shot. Thus, I went on the street to find a British soldier to take me prisoner. I spend most of the next two months in a rural area of Schleswig-Holstein, where several hundred thousand German prisoners of war had been assembled. We were housed in barns on straw, about 100 per barn. I succeeded to be released relatively soon, in July.
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