I was born in Germany, just before the beginning of the war, now that dates me a little, but as it is in my book anyway it really doesn’t matter. The fact is that there is also a lot about WW2 in my book. I lived through the whole mess. And a mess it really was. I lived with my family, with a sister and two brothers, in Ismaning a small village just outside Munich. Of course like everybody else my two brothers were conscripted into the army and had to go wherever they were sent. My older brother Georg (Shorsh) was sent to Russia in the infantry and my younger brother, Toni, to the north of Finland, in the arctic, with the Mountaineers Company.
Father was too old and besides he was deaf in his left ear. But he and a few of his friends were thinkers, they were outspoken and less than popular with the authorities at that time. And another thing, they didn’t join the N.S.D.A.P. – in short the Nazis.
But because the Nazis were very pedantic and bureaucratic, it was very helpful for me in researching my book, especially about the time when my brothers were soldiers. In the German army every soldier had a little booklet, a log, that was called a “Wehrpass”. All the battles they took part in were documented in the Wehrpass, which was a great help in writing this book.
I’ve also included the tragic personal accounts of some of the deportees from the Sudetenland (Czechoslovakia) who ended up in Ismaning and who later became my friends.
Or you can always ask me……..
In the meantime, why don’t you read the following excerpts from by book and take a look at the photo galleries (click on a photo to enter the gallery) they’re a bit skinny at the moment, but there is much more to come!
Excerpts from “The Road of the Mountaineers”
Before The War
…….Once my parents started courting in earnest, Father saw to it that Mother was employed at an inn-farm called Angermeier, in Ismaning…….. Mother was very happy there, perhaps Father had something to do with that. Father didn’t wait long before he proposed marriage to her. They decided to wait a year until they had saved enough money to start a home. They were very happy and full of hopes for the future, but Fortuna let them down! In 1914 World War 1 started and in 1916 Mother fell pregnant and Father was conscripted into the German army. They were devastated. She was pregnant, had to work and when the baby would arrive she had nobody to look after it…..
……Father was in the army until the German capitulation in 1918. He was in a hospital for German prisoners, in Belgium. He was not heavily wounded and on the day of capitulation the soldiers heard a great tumult from outside in the street. Suddenly the door opened, an orderly appeared and with a beaming expression announced that the war was over and they all could go. “Go where?” My father enquired. “Well, home, where you came from.” Came the answer. Father pointing to his uniform asked: “In this?” Quite casually the orderly said: “Oh, you’ll be fine, nobody will harm you, they are too happy, we are all friends now.” But father was not convinced and made the orderly an offer. “If you bring me some civilian clothes, I’ll give you my watch.” ……….. Now as he wore civilian clothes he could start walking and walk he did. It took him six weeks to get to Ismaning. He walked during the day whenever he could as he used to stop at farms and offered to work for food and somewhere to sleep. He received food and usually slept in the stable with the animals, or in a barn……….. When he finally arrived in Ismaning, looking like a vagabond with a six-week-old beard, he was hardly recognisable. Mother of course was overjoyed…..
……On 2nd April 1920, my brother Georg (Shorsh) was born and the flat became a little crowded, especially when on 15th December 1921 my brother Anton (Toni) was born, but my parents were happy. It was no hardship for them to save hard. Their dream was to buy a plot of land and build a house of their own………. But 1926 came running with giant steps. Father was made redundant! He was not alone, many men lost their jobs and some even their house………. He knew that there was very little chance of him getting another job. Mother’s job barely paid the mortgage. Father got odd jobs helping with the harvesting, but even the farmers had more help than they really needed. Mother’s friend, the farmer’s wife, helped as much as she could. In the end it became so difficult to put enough food on the table that father decided to go begging…….
…… Already in the late 1920s a movement for young boys had started called Jung Volk, which later became Hitler’s Youth. The German National Party was a very up-and-coming party. Hitler’s Youth was only for boys, for girls it started later and was called Bund Deutscher Mädchen known as the B.D.M. (Bond of German Girls). Father didn’t think too much of the National Party. But so far they had left him alone and he left them alone……… Shorsh, my older brother, desperately wanted a new pair of boots. He had never had a new pair of boots in his life. One day he came to father with the application form to join Hitler’s Youth and asked for his signature. With a heavy heart father tried to explain to Shorsh why he could not possibly give him permission to join. “Look,” he said, “I am not a clever man, but what I can see of this party is not really to my liking. They push us around too much and I do hope people will come to their senses. This party is too radical.” ……. But Shorsh could only think of those lovely shiny, black boots which he so dearly wanted. Father tried very hard to make him understand when he said: “There is something fundamentally wrong with this party if they have to bribe young boys to join.” …….. Whatever father said, Shorsh just could not understand why he should not have a new pair of boots as so many other boys. That’s why he forged father’s signature, and he was proud of it because he thought he did a really good job. To his surprise, the leader handed the form back to him and said: “We don’t want you; your father is a communist. Go home!” ……. At home he asked father if he was a communist. At that father had to laugh and still laughing he said: “No, of course not, I am not a communist and not a Nazi. Whatever makes you ask that?” Then Shorsh had to tell him what he had done and thought father would be really angry with him, yet father was not angry, he knew why Shorsh wanted to join and that made his heart ache because he just did not have the money for a new pair of boots for his son…….
My brother Shorsh on the Russian front
…….. Shorsh was sworn into the army on 13th December 1940 and was trained in the armoury, in using the Karabiner 98 (standard German infantry rifle), in the Adolf Hitler Kaserne, so called because Hitler was stationed there before WW1. My parents were devastated; Father so well remembered the days when he was a soldier in the German Wehrmacht (army) in the First World War. He hated being a soldier and hated the war. Then there was Toni, his youngest son, what would happen to him? Would they take him too? That thought was unbearable for him. And then there was a nagging thought at the back of his mind: Would his sons have to go to war if he had joined the Nazis? Mother soon tried to put that idea out of his mind, as she tried to convince him otherwise when she said: “Look here, even if you had joined the Party you would not be important enough to keep your sons out of the army.” Yet, this question remained in father’s mind. Would it have made a difference? It might just have made a difference, mightn’t it? Well, that father would never know and now it was too late. On 20th June 1940, Toni was declared fit for duty by the medical officer at the Ersatz Battalion R.19, in Munich. He had to report for duty on 4th February 1941 and was sworn into the army on 22nd February 1941…… My parents, already deeply saddened by the fact that their eldest son had had to leave for the army, were completely heartbroken when it was time for their youngest son to say good-bye. Toni saw how devastated his parents felt and as he shook Father’s hand he said: “Don’t worry about us, you’ll see before long, we’ll both come through that door again.” …….. Father stood at the door looking at Toni as long as he could see him. He gripped the doorframe so hard that his knuckles went white. He kept saying: “Not my boys – let me keep my boys.” Mother sat on a chair by the table crying quietly and saying: “Mother of God, look after my boys, please, look after my boys.” I crept onto her lap, put my arms around her neck and cried too, I didn’t know why I cried, I just cried because she did. Never had I seen my parents so despairing…….
…….On 26th October 1941, when the German troops captured Vereya, Shorsh and his company arrived at a small village where a few Russian civilians were still living in wooden houses. They surprisingly showed the German soldiers great kindness. The soldiers had an opportunity to wash themselves – this was very rare. Shorsh really appreciated this, as he was terribly plagued by lice. He was standing in a house by the window and heard a peculiar noise – it wasn’t the noise of a shot being fired. At first he thought it might have been the noise of lightening, but no thunder. Then he thought perhaps it was a Fieseler Storch (Fieseler Stork) a small German liaison aircraft built by Fieseler before, during, and after WW2. Then it was suddenly quiet. He threw himself on the floor, against the outside wall, thinking he might have a chance to survive in case the house collapsed. But while he was still throwing himself on the floor they were hit. It was total devastation. Then they knew that they were hit by Stalin’s Organ. They had heard of it, but now they had experienced it. Stalin’s Organ was not one weapon, but many. It was about 12 or 14 rockets, which could be launched simultaneously from a truck. Their firing range was not very great, but where it hit, the ground shook. Fifty percent of the company were dead. It was gruesome: soldiers without arms or legs. Then volunteers were asked to bury their comrades, which was an impossibility. The Russian winter had already started it was snowing and the ground was frozen solid. With the small spades the soldiers had they couldn’t even make an indentation in the ground, let alone dig a grave. All they could do was put them together and cover them with snow. One soldier asked: “Where did it come from?” “Right out of hell.” Was one suggestion, and he was not far wrong…..
At home in Ismaning
……..Listening to the English broadcasts in the evenings was strictly prohibited. Anybody listening could be detected and imprisoned or worse. But people still broke this law. Once the troops advancing on Moscow started to retreat, newsflashes stopped. The German people were not permitted to know that the advance to Moscow was unsuccessful and what’s more, how many soldiers lost their lives. To listen to any foreign radio station was against the law and punished with imprisonment or worse, and yet people still kept breaking it, especially parents whose sons were on the front. My parents also broke this law. I was usually in bed when the English broadcast in German was announced on the radio, because that was the only way they could learn where the front was. My cot was in the master bedroom in the corner on the right from the door with the head pushed against the wall, where on the other side of the wall the Volksempfänger (literally “people’s receiver” – the only make of radio available) stood on a table in the living room. So however low they turned the dial on the radio I still could hear the signature tune, which was the start of Beethoven’s 5th symphony. That boom-boom-boom boom was still audible for me, and to this day I cannot understand why it had to be so loud. I knew my parents were not supposed to listen to this broadcast and that really worried me terribly. Then I told my mother that I could hear the signature tune when I was in bed. She was very surprised at this unexpected announcement and quite shocked and told me not ever to tell anybody and I promised that I wouldn’t, but I wanted to listen too. So they let me stay up and I too was allowed to listen, needless to say I didn’t understand any of it. Father tried to explain it to me, I found it all very boring and after a while I didn’t want to stay up any more, but I understood why they broke the law. Toni was still out there somewhere and it was called the front where he was fighting – whom?…..
…… In September 1941, I started school. In my years in the kindergarten it was our natural thinking that when we went to school it was the Sisters who would teach us, but in 1941 it was a Fraulein (young lady) who taught us. She was a pretty young lady and wore a flowery dress made of muslin the first day I went to school. She was a good teacher, but I don’t think she liked me a lot. I talked too much and the conversation didn’t always go in the right direction. We heard a great deal about the life of our glorious Führer when he was a very young man, before he became our great leader. How he had to struggle, that he only had a room in the Mansarde (attic) and had only bread and milk to eat. For the life of me I could not understand that that should be such a hardship. In our house we had two rooms we called Mansarde, they were perfectly good rooms, they just had a slanting ceiling, and I loved bread and milk. So, what was all that about? Then I said: “Well, that is not so bad, Jesus often didn’t have that, he often didn’t even have a bed to sleep in and nobody says anything about that anymore.” The silence that followed was deafening, immediately I knew I had committed a major offense. I wasn’t exactly sure what it was that I shouldn’t have said and the exact offense I was never told, but I had to write 20 times: I must not have a big mouth. She then asked me: “Can you count up to 20?” “Of course I can, Sister Festa taught us.” I was really digging myself a hole there, first I talked about Jesus and then I said that a nun taught me…….
……..In spite of all the atrocities committed by the Nazis, there were still some who dared make sarcastic jokes about them. Father once came home with a joke he had heard at work. Göring was generally known as The Pig. The joke went like this: One day during the war Mrs. Göring bought a piglet on the black market. To take it home she dressed it up as a baby and put it into a pram. On the way home a neighbour met her and congratulated her on her baby. She looked into the pram and exclaimed: Oh, what a lovely baby, he looks exactly like his father! ……
…….The air-raids kept increasing with the advance of the Allies to the German border. One of their objectives was Munich, the city where National Socialism had started. Especially severe were the air-raids in the city in July 1944 and a few days before Christmas and then again in January 1945. Those air-raids reduced Munich to a city of ruins. In those nights it looked from Ismaning like the whole city was in flames……..
…….The fighting went on and the Nazis behaved more and more absurdly. Hitler’s orders became evermore monstrous. From 5th February the Sippenhaft (liability of all the members of a family for the crimes of one member) was radically enforced. This meant that should anybody express an opinion not exactly to the agreement of the Nazis, and could not be seized, the family had to pay with all their possessions, freedom and very often with their lives………
……On 15th February 1945 followed the introduction of the Drumhead court-martial. This was another escalation of the Nazi terror. It was a summary court for all criminal offenses which could damage the German fighting strength. Up until now these offenses had gone before a court martial. But now it was enough to express doubts on the final victory to be convicted. On 19th March, Hitler issued a decree that made his intentions quite clear: he wanted to deprive the Germans of every possibility of survival. All military transport and industrial infrastructure was to be destroyed. This did by no means mean that the fanaticism of the Nazis had come to an end. All men up to the age of 60 years of age had to join the Volkssturm (People’s Defense) and were used as a kind of reserve for the last stand! The Nazis were still holding on to the hope and belief of a coming wonder weapon which would bring them the final victory……
My brother Toni in the Arctic
…..Germany had a friendship pact with Finland. Together they fought against Russia. How unbelievable it must have seemed for these young soldiers to fight a winter war at 30 or 40 degrees below zero Centigrade in the Arctic Circle, between the Eismeerstrasse and das Weisse Meer (The White Sea). Although in the Western hemisphere, for the mountaineers it seemed like a different planet. There, in the far North, the young soldiers had to get used to a different kind of war to the war they had been trained to fight in the barracks. The letters from home kept repeating the questions: How do you live under those conditions? How do you cope with the winter in the arctic, the forests and the marshes, and the days without nights in the summer?….
…..In spring 1942, the German soldiers started to build a road right through the Karelian jungle to make it possible for transport to follow the troops and to reach Murmansk on the Russian border, which was the aim of the German forces. Most of the soldiers were very young and many of them had barely finished their training when the conscription papers came through the door. They had no chance to use their professional skill; they had to learn a different skill, one they did not choose. Now between battles they even learned to build a road. Along this road when they had a few days of rest, rest was not what they did. Instead of destroying, they wanted to create. They competed building log cabins. The group Toni was in received first prize, how proud those soldiers were, although they could only sleep two nights in them before they had to move on. They also carved a road sign and to show how proud they felt of their achievements they called this road Die Strasse der Gebirgsjäger (The road of the Mountaineers)………
…….On 14th July 1945 it was Toni’s turn for his discharge, which was administered by the English. He had nothing but admiration for the English military. When he received his discharge papers he could keep everything he possessed, which wasn’t excessive, apart from his uniform there was not much he did possess. Some of the English soldiers asked whether they could have certain things as keep sakes. One soldier asked if he would give him his belt buckle, which had the words engraved on it: Gott Mit Uns. (God with us). Toni gladly handed it over, as he hated anything to do with the war and the Nazis………
…….He wanted nothing to remember the German army by. He felt cheated and disgusted. He had just finished his training, had never worked in his profession, instead he was forced to do something he hated, in countries he only knew on maps and that not very well. As far as he was concerned, the German army had cheated him out of years of his life. Therefore it was no surprise that sometimes he was reckless, lied and cheated the army whenever an opportunity presented itself. He was very good-looking and very charming and knew how to use it. Here was a good Bavarian boy, had never lied or cheated anyone and was taken by the German army and tossed into a life of violence. And all he could think about was to survive long enough to get home. This time had now come, so he thought. He and a group of soldiers embarked a ship for Halle an der Saale (Halle, on the river Saale) in Germany. In Halle the Americans took over and made the solemn promise that they would be transported by train to Baden Baden and there discharged, again. The German soldiers believed it! They saw no reason why they shouldn’t believe it. After all, they had discharge papers in their pockets from the English military. But the next stop was not Baden Baden, but Kreuznach, on the French-German border. Here French military guards took over. That was when they realised that they had been tricked all along. This was how the Allies made sure that none of the German soldiers tried to escape and above all that they followed instructions. When the soldiers realised what was going on it was too late, far too late……
……Toni was inconsolable; he was convinced that somehow he could escape. But the soldiers in his company reasoned with him, hoping that in France it would not be too bad, and perhaps soon they could go home anyway; France was not too far away from Germany. Then the order was given to disembark and under close guard followed the march to a prisoner of war camp. To call it a camp would have been an embellishment. The march went up hill where they, for the first time, encountered barbed wire and the ground consisted of hard clay. That was all, no shelter just a large space encircled by barbed wire. The soldiers called this place Clay Hill. This hill became notorious……Eight days, they spent on that clay hill, without food and very little water. One pipe provided some water intermittently, only when the guards felt it necessary to turn it on. Many soldiers died on that clay hill. The guard, mainly Alsatians and Moroccans, had fun shooting through the camp. The prisoners sitting on the ground found it reasonably safe, but the ones sitting on the latrines were not so lucky. The guards had fun taking pot shots at them……
After the War
The Deportees from the Sudetenland: the “Forgotten People”
……The fighting might have stopped, but war is a monster that doesn’t give up its grip easily. To all the turmoil of post war, with hunger and lack of material goods and psychological problems came a new next-to-unsolvable problem. More than 1000 displaced people, predominantly from the Sudetenland, who had to endure the hardship of being forced from their home and country, and after a cruel journey, were forced to live in a village they had never even heard of…..
….In summer 1987, I spent a holiday with my family and relations in Ismaning. When I told them that I intended to write about Ismaning before, during and after the war, advice came thick and fast. Whom I should ask about this period, what not to forget, and every person I spoke to advised me to speak to Ursel Hanke. I knew a lot of those stories, as I remembered a lot of them. It was the dates I wanted to know – that’s what I thought. I was not prepared for Ursel’s story, I simply had no idea….
……… “On 20th January 1945, we were three families living in the cellar, as Danzig was still being heavily bombed by the Russians. I with my three-month-old baby boy, Jürgen, my parents and cousins and another family who lived in the house. It was a house for several families. We all had rented a flat. People used cellars as air-raid shelters, and as the bombing was almost continuous we lived in the cellars. Running upstairs when there was a lull in the bombing to take small furniture, bedding, and clothes and anything else we needed to live down there. I found it still possible to get some milk for my baby.
Then German soldiers and SS men came with the order to evacuate the town, and set it alight to prevent the city from falling into the hands of the enemy. This was the usual strategy of the Nazis. I pushed my pram and we and all the other families who lived in the houses in our street walked aimlessly around. We were dazed and suddenly ended up in the park, found a place on a bench, sat down and just waited. I thought: We are now waiting for death.” ……….
………. “On the following day, at 6 o’clock in the morning, a lorry took us to the assembly point near Olmütz train station and it was there that we received half a sack of sugar and nothing else. After we questioned the commandant why we didn’t receive anything else, his short answer was: “You have no ration cards; consequently you don’t receive anything else. Be glad that I gave you the sugar. You can eat again when you arrive, wherever that is.” And immediately pointed to his gun. That kept us all quiet, even the courageous ones became timid. After three days, all of us internees were loaded onto goods trains. All the people of the camp occupied forty wagons, one wagon housed twenty persons with luggage. Some of the women had babies and small children. Which direction the goods trains were taking was completely unknown to us. When the wagons clicked shut we asked each other: “Will it go to Siberia?” We tried to look through small gaps of the wagons, but were none the wiser. Each wagon had buckets we could use for toilets. Czech soldiers accompanied the wagons. The journey took three weeks to Furth im Wald, in Germany, after our goods train had been numerous times shunted onto empty tracks to give priority to passenger trains. Shortly before the wagons entered Furth im Wald, the Czech soldiers opened the wagons to take the small children and babies who had died on this horrendous journey, from their mothers”………..