In The Third Reich
Whistling loudly our train entered the Dresden station. At most of the platforms trains were belching smoke. There were crowds on all platforms. The first impression was of noise, hurrying people, yelling, calling to each other, loud signals and penetrating voices from various loudspeakers. The light was dim everywhere. Globes were covered with something blue, giving only a little light which shone feebly on the masses of people.
Carried along by the crowd we reached the street. Small cream-coloured Dresden trams were ringing their bells non-stop trying to avoid hitting the people. We were looking for an address given us a long time ago. Near the station in one of the lesser known streets, we found the bookshop we were looking for. In its windows, as in all German bookshops, was displayed the book which was read by hardly anyone - 'Mein Kampf' by Adolf Hitler. The book was propped up by a wilting pot plant. It was quiet in the bookshop. The shop was full of books with shelves reaching to the ceiling. Behind these shelves in a narrow darkish room Alma was sitting, typing. We had been looking for her for many reasons. Firstly, she was the only person we knew in Dresden. She was Marushka's friend from Lithuania and for the last few years had worked in Germany and would be able to give us valuable information and tell us the score.
Alma was a rather unusual woman. I never could discover her nationality which was quite indifferent to me. She considered herself a civis orbium terrarum (citizen of the world) and went her own ways. I never knew if or where she had a family. Alma was a woman, I think, who did not love anyone deeply. Because of her love of books she had come to Germany to work in this bookshop. In addition, she was an employee of the cultural society of German-Turkestan Friendly Relations. I could never find out what the society was about, especially in-times when Goebbels liquidated all cultural life. Many schools were closed besides universities, theatres, libraries and other places of education and cultural entertainment but the cultural society for German-Turkestan relationship still existed, even employing quite a few people.
As Alma asked us to stay with her, we decided to spend a few days in Dresden. After a good rest, we went to see the capital city of 'Soksofony' which Lithuanian labourers called Saxoni. There were many Lithuanians there as the German employment office in Kaunas sent many transports of forced labour to Saxoni. There was also a large group of educated Lithuanians who, fleeing the Front, came to Dresden - people from the theatre in Kaunas, employees from different administration offices and even some divisions of the Lithuanian Army. In the streets one heard many different tongues and saw different features. People from the 'Ostland' were easily distinguishable. Ukrainers, White Russian and Lithuanian women wore bright, multi-coloured scarves and long skirts. Their menfolk wore clean but crumpled tunic shirts and high boots. Being Sunday, the streets were crowded with masses of gaping people. All these people from the captured East had sewn on their clothes a blue patch with a stamp 'OST'. These three letters covered a multitude of people. They included not only the Russians in their red and white berets but also people from Ukraine, White Russia, Baltic countries and also the dark Georgians, the slant-eyed Tartars, the Azerbaijans with flat Mongolic faces and sly-looking eyes. They were all imported into Germany for slave labour, the labourer marked 'made in the East. In this crowd were some dressed worse than others, even in torn clothing. They could not ever afford a Sunday best - those were the Poles. They were excluded from the general ' OST' - they did not belong to the East nor to the West but the newly formed German oddity 'General Gubcrasatian'. God alone might have known what their position would be in the 'New Europe' of Messrs. Goebbels and Rosenberg. Now they were required by the Third Reich for the hardest jobs. On their chests was a yellow sign well-known to all in Germany - a yellow rhomboid with a purple letter 'P’.
Walking along the streets of Dresden we heard many more languages, some completely foreign to us. The Germans, taking over foreign countries, at the same time decreased their own population as the foreign countries taken by force had to be peopled by the Germans. This was the Fuehrer’s law - he was the master of New Europe. At this time Dresden was one of the few German cities still untouched by mass bombing. There were hardly any traces of bombing. The most beautiful part of the city was spread along the River Elbe, still in all its beauty. It was dominated by the famous 'Zwinger', the beautiful arena of ancient jousting Knights which was surrounded by a ring of ornate galleries, balconies and terraces. The fine old baroque was fully displayed amidst the flowers and the greenery. Among the fantastically arched galleries were miniature palaces built on different levels. Large greenhouses with huge windows seemed to catch all the sunrays. Theirs was a superior world, beyond temptation, beyond understanding of the gaping crowd. From there, arched galleries led to the king's chambers. Only tops of the trees planted on lower levels could reach them. Golden leaves were falling on the marble balustrades where, long ago, crowned heads and princesses watched the knights.
All this was a long time ago. The shining armour was put on wooden models, the exquisite gowns of the princesses were displayed in glass cabinets in the museums and the mansions were taken over by Dresden rich commoners. The rattling sound of the armour was replaced by the rich, soft sound of music. The Dresden symphony concerts received here their true sanctuary.
Further down we looked at the banks of the River Elbe. Large, sloping terraces led to the 'Zwinger', the place of ancient entertainment and tournaments. The open grounds over the Elbe were joined by bridges like clamping buckles. The other side glittered with the mosaic of many coloured houses. To the left of the open space stood the Dresden Opera House, its entrance enclosed with winding colonnades. To the right was the king's church - a beautiful Gothic, its proud tower rising straight to the sky, its wall nearly touching the king's castle. Over the narrow street was suspended an arcade in the shape of a state coach joining the church with the castle, the king's salon with the altar. A large painted gate led to the king's yard.
Further on were the boulevards along the river. In their shade were the buildings of the art academy and the museums. Now they were quite empty like tombs in a cemetery covered by autumn leaves. They were declared closed by orders of the Fuehrer. Objects of art were buried in the ground and people loving and living for art were fighting for a worse future. Only empty halls, galleries and auditoriums remained. Buildings by famous architects, these sanctuaries of beauty, culture and truth were awaiting in the empty stillness the uncertain tomorrow. Would they survive? Would the war respect them?
The street loudspeakers were calling ''Attention! Attention! Large formations of enemy bombers have crossed the frontiers of the Reich. Stay tuned in - in a few moments a new announcement from the airways force will follow, they proceed ..." and soon followed names of towns in central Germany. We rushed to the shelters. Had Dresden's last hour come? No.
Soon the 'All Clear' sounded. The planes had turned to the north - this time Berlin was hit. "A large force of enemy flying-fortresses is attacking our capital city. Churches and hospitals are being hit. The civilian population received many losses... headquarters announced the next day.
It was time for us to leave. I went to the station for information about possible connections for our travel.
At the information office travellers were constantly asking and pleading with the officer about the safety of different lines. They wanted some kind of guarantee. The old gentleman in a railway uniform was shrugging his shoulders and occasionally addressed everyone, saying 'I can't promise you anything. Trains going to the north are being shot at. If you don't want to take risks, go during the night." People from the crowd replied "But that would mean sitting for long times at different railway stations waiting for connections and we all know that stations are being bombed frequently." A woman going to Duisburg was very worried. The officer again shrugged his shoulders and said, "I can only inform you which lines are temporarily closed due to damaged and bombed railway lines. I can't tell you which lines will, or will not, be bombed in the future." Smiling, he added, "Even I, the information centre, am unable to say. If you are frightened, the best idea would be not to travel at all. As it is our trains are overcrowded." "I have to go. My son is seriously wounded,” she said, showing him the wire received from her son. "He is in Duisburg hospital”. At last I reached the window with my travel order far Isny.
"You can have two connections,” the officer said in a tired voice. "One through Munich, the other through Augsburg." Not waiting for my question, he continued, "I would advise you to go through Augsburg as lately Munich has had more air raids." I agreed without any further question and he wrote out the tickets: Nuremberg, Augsburg, Memmingen - departure at 22.30.
The same evening we arrived with our rucksacks at the station. The long platforms were poorly lit by a blue light, giving everything a deathly pallor. The top platforms were shrouded in darkness. Sometimes sparks from the noisy engines flickered down onto the platform.
Unexpectedly all lights went out. Only red and green regulation lights and lighted signs showing the way to the shelter stayed alight. A thundering voice from the loudspeaker informed us "Enemy planes are over Germany. This is a warning. Keep calm and orderly. Further progress of the planes will be announced shortly."
Marushka got frightened and, grabbing my hand, she begged me to run away. But the crowd did not move - they looked indifferent. We knew that announcements would follow advising the path of progress. Germany is large and there are many towns to be bombed. A warning did not frighten anyone. Our train soon arrived and there was a rush to the doors. Marushka hesitated and entered the train distrustfully. We had to find our places in darkness. None of the travellers would part with their luggage. One had to be ready just in case any minute the real alarm might come and then ... The unpleasant minutes of waiting continued. Here and there people were lighting matches to look at their watches and count the minutes until departure. Seven minutes to go ... now only five ... now three... If only the time would hurry on, if we could leave this station more quickly, these heavy metal constructions, the ghosts of a permanent tomb. Again the voice from the loudspeaker ... "All Clear."
The lights came on, a loud whistle blew and the train started moving. We passed a few suburban stations. It was very stuffy in the train and I opened the window. A beautiful night with a full moon. We were travelling through the Saxonian Alps. The train often entered tunnels cut through deep cliffs, oddly shaped and covered with shrubs. The cliffs seemed to stretch up to the sky, blotting out the view and bringing complete darkness. Then again the cliffs were falling away leaving only boulders covered with a pale glow of the moon. It could be a beautiful country viewed during the day but at night it gave an eerie feeling as if God Himself in an angry mood had tossed down the heavy boulders, breaking them into oddly shaped humps. Now covered with shrubs they made a phantom landscape.
The day was full of nervous tension - the compartments became empty. We were leaving one Front behind and approaching another, this time from the west. Everyone knew or had heard about the flying fortresses and preferred to travel by night.
In Nuremberg we saw many ruins and sooty remnants of previous buildings and many ruins around the station. This town was already deeply scarred but still alive and working fully because the Fuehrer had so decreed. We continued without interruption - hours passed. We were coming nearer to the 'Blue Danube'. The train was rumbling over a bridge. Through the window we saw an unsightly narrow river full of sandbanks. In the middle of the river stood a boy, his trouser legs turned high up, holding a fishing rod. This was the Danube, the 'wide, blue Danube', which had its beginning somewhere here in the Black Forest (Schwarz Wald).
In Augsburg we had a long wait so we went to sleep. When I woke up the sun was already setting. The train was standing at a small station smelling of freshly cut hay. We could hear the gentle sound of bells coming somewhere from the field as if flowers were tinkling softly in the breeze in this meadow between the hills. Enraptured, we looked at the scenery near the alps, smelled the forgotten clean air and listened to the tranquil, melodious sounds. The high fir trees were cutting a straight line dividing the well kept fields. The colourful houses of the 'Bauer' (farmer) nestled against the hills. The walls of the houses were brightly painted with the shutters painted in another colour and masses of bright flowers made an enchanting view like a fairy tale. From the nearby hill cows were coming home - all alike, dark brown, wide in the shoulders, with a leather collar and a hanging bell. Even the young calves were ringing their bells as they romped around. Now we understood the origin of the ringing which had reached us from the meadows. There were many herds in the wide valley of Bavaria. For the first time we felt the calming influence of a peaceful atmosphere. The melody of the bells which the breeze, rich in scents of mown grass, was bringing nearer, was like a balm for our nerves. Nerves which were stretched tightly during tracking through the highways of war. We had the feeling that we were entering a land that had been left behind the main events of a total war. A land steeped in peace. The land of south Bavaria. In Kempton we had to change trains and continued our travel on a small local puffing train (Bummelzug). This little train with only a few small carriages puffed heavily, climbing the hills and whistling madly at each twist of its track. It went happily down the hills but panted heavily and whistled loudly going uphill. On each station stood the funny looking 'Schwabs', locals dressed in shorts like children back home. The farmers on the platforms had very hairy legs, long pipes clenched between their teeth and were dressed in short leather pants supported by embroidered braces, a Tyrol hat with a fancy feather and a bright checked shirt. They were the Swabians. Their women looked just as unusual in short pleated skirts with an apron, also with braces, bright embroidered blouses, hats with a feather, and white socks. Their throaty talk and their slang seemed quite incomprehensible and one had to listen carefully to pick up German words.
After a sharp bend we saw hills covered with snow. High peaks reaching the sky. On the far horizon was the chain of the Swiss Alps.
We were coming to the Algaue Alps, the regions situated at the foot of the Alpen hills. Gone were the arable fields. Now there were forests and meadows in which cows were grazing. This part of Germany was called 'the land of butter, milk and cheese'.
We were coming to the end of our travels. The train entered a deep valley covered by evening mists. The sun disappeared behind the hills, dusk covered the township, the church tower was clearly visible and also some tall houses. Rattling and panting, the train stopped at the station. It was the end of the line. There was a high embankment and a lantern. On the station wall the sign 'ISNY'.
We thought that we had arrived at the end of the world. That night we slept comfortably under eiderdowns in the 'Old Post' hotel.
What would we do now? Through the window we saw a church, rooftops of an unknown town and, on the street, strange people.
Taking our letter of introduction given to us in Kosewo by the German soldier, we went to deliver it to his father. Mr. Herman Gock was very pleased to receive a letter from his son. To our astonishment, he spoke Polish very well. Mr. Gock loved talking, using high-flown words. Proudly he told us that he was working 'in politics' in many organisations. Later, on knowing him better, we discovered that he was poor at writing but made up for it by his orations. By profession he was a roofer but was at that time working in a factory producing airplane parts.
I had trouble stemming the flow to get some information of interest to us. Firstly, the most important person in Isny was the 'Burgermeister' (Mayor). He registered the newcomers, he allocated rooms and work, also food coupons, and he could also lock them in prison. He was a Party member and the leader of this town.
There were many Poles and other foreigners in Isny. Everyone had to work, strictly supervised by industrial police. The work was firstly in the factory of Mr. Heim, producing parts for planes, secondly a large hospital-sanatorium for wounded soldiers, a silk factory, many cheese factories and, lastly, the farmers.
From the complicated explanation of Mr. Gock I gathered that without work you could not have any accommodation, without accommodation one could not receive food coupons and that without coupons one could not live in Germany. As we wanted to keep on living, we went to the Mayor's office.
The talk was short. We were given work for the right to buy food. After checking our documents, we were allocated to the plane factory of Air. Heim. Marushka looked very skinny and ill. It did not require much of my persuasion for the boss to agree to give her a rest for two weeks. He was probably sure that she was not a good physical worker. I was enrolled immediately.
I never knew that a labourer so low in the hierarchy of the German Reich had to fill in so many forms and sign so many declarations. Some of the questions went back three generations. First I had to sign a declaration that I was not a Jew and that none of my genealogical branches had produced any undesirable offspring during the last three generations. I had to enrol in the 'Workfront' and immediately pay some fees, also sign documents for employment offices, insurances, sick benefits, permits for accommodation and many more which I was unable even to memorise. After the last signature, my Lithuanian passport and four pictures were taken. I stopped being an individual and became a cog in the huge working force of the Third Reich. I was allocated to the production line at Ru-Helfer No. 350. Le 1590. In this way I became one of the fifteen million labourers who were employed in the production of tools for murder, direct or indirect. Day factory was No. 161.
In return I received from the Third Reich: -
the right to live;
The room allocated to us was in the house of a widow, Mrs. Fleck, on the outskirts of the town. She was an old woman, with a wrinkled face and white hair. She lived with her invalid son and a daughter with two children whose husband was somewhere at the Front. Mrs. Trudel was constantly waiting for news from her husband. It was over a year since she had last seen him. Old Mrs. Fleck had eleven children and twenty-three grandchildren. There were seven grown-up sons and many sons-in-law. The Fuehrer took them all, dispersing them through Europe. Only God knew how many of them were still alive. Only the youngest one, as he was a war invalid, did the Fuehrer return. She used to complain bitterly that now when the Fuehrer could not use him any more he was returned to her. But the Fuehrer had not forgotten him and was paying 20 meagre marks monthly for his lost arm.
Our room was in the attic from which a door led to the garret. Two small windows overlooked the valley and small hills behind which the sun used to set. The attic contained two wooden beds with eiderdowns, a small robe and a table made of unpainted pinewood. Over the beds were a few pictures of chubby angels. This was to be our anchorage until the END of the war.
Isny was an ancient town in the Algauer Alps. Surrounded on all sides by hills, it was at the foot of the 'Black Grat', the highest hill in Wuerttenberg. This little town was surrounded by marshy meadows and it nestled along the old fortress walls. The roofs of the old houses nearly touched each other and the old bell tower of the church rose high above the houses and the old brick town gates. Narrow streets wound between monastery walls overgrown with moss. Cloistered galleries led to the dark arches of the town gates. Nearer, beside the lazy River Arg stood an old watermill, bent with age - nothing was ground here any more. The water rushed undisturbed through the skeletons of the old wheels. The mill remembered the oldest times. It was built in the ninth century by Count Vehringen who was then the possessor of this land. When later on the church became richer, it appropriated this land. The monastery was built in the village and church towers were the symbol of rule. Isny became a monastic town, paying service not so much to God as to the owners. One could still see the old dungeons where the blood flowed from those who did not obey 'the Will of God'. Three hundred years later Isny was proclaimed a free town, its coat of arms a black eagle in the middle of a horseshoe. The town had many happy and free years until it was incorporated into Wuerttenberg.
Instead of the lucky omen of a horseshoe, they now had the black swastika. They were paying their tribute to the Third Reich with cheese and fresh air for the wounded and the consumptive soldiers. They might have been forgotten if it were not for the factory for plane parts. The Minister for Armaments, Mr. Spei, was looking everywhere for new factories. The small factory that was previously producing packaging for its cheese now grew into a big plant. Many large workshops were built, new ramps for the railway and, lastly, slaves were imported from the captured European countries. The town became multi-lingual and the factory started to work. All roads led to Mr. Heim. Wilhelm Heim, a well-to-do local Isny man, was a Party member with influential friends. He received from the Wehrmacht the licence to build and run the factory for war necessities. In a very short time the once small producer of boxes for cheese became a very important man.
In Isny everyone knew who Mr. Heim was. The Mayor treated him as his master, trying to make him more comfortable during the Council meetings. Heim was the undisputed leader, being a Party member and chairman, of many organisations. It was even whispered that he had great friends in the Gestapo and sometimes saw the Gauleiter. Mrs. Heim also seemed to be very important. People in Isny would greet each other with a 'Gruess Gott' (Praise Be God) but they did not greet Mrs. Heim this way as it would have been tactless. She was greeted with 'Heil Hitler' - any other greeting could have been interpreted as being against Hitler. If she was kind enough to accept the greetings, the womenfolk felt happier as this would show that their men would not be sent to the Front at present but that they were indispensable to the war industry in the factory of Wilhelm Heim.
As I was to start work on Monday, we had time to buy the two saucepans as permitted by the Mayor, and to buy the wood.
I received only a quarter metre of wood which I carried home on my back. Now our housekeeping was complete. The cultural requirements were also shortly completed. We bought two pictures of Isny and, in a very underhand way certainly not suitable for a Pole, I talked the salesgirl into selling me a large map of Europe as at German's highest power. Marushka was fixing the pictures over the beds as I spread out the map, marking Isny with a pin and considered its position to the rest of the world. Like the egocentric German philosopher, Nichte - "I and not I,” the rest was of no great importance. Geographically, Isny was 32 km from the Swiss border. Hearing the name Switzerland, all homeless war wanderers felt a pleasant and warm sensation. This neutral land, my God - if only one could be there. To the Austrian border it was 30 km and to the Italian one 80 km. As regards the distances to the Front, we measured the map carefully and arrived at the following distances; the western Front was 350 km away, the eastern about 1,000 and the southern further than 1,000. We were not on any war highway. Even from Burgundy, that was historically in the road of moving armies, we were protected by a sharp corner of Switzerland, the Boden See and from the south by the mighty Alps.
I was really happy, being quite certain that no fighting would reach this little corner. It was Sunday, the fifth of November, 1944.
Next morning I had to leave at 4:30 am, and go to work. It was still dark. In the streets were sleepy and tired people, all going to work for Heim. The factory was outside the town under the 'Black Grat'. By the end of the town there was one big procession of Heim's slaves taking lanes through the meadows and along the railway line. People were walking singly or in groups, all mostly quiet. Some were making loud noises stamping in their wooden shoes. It was getting lighter when we reached the factory. At the right side were the long, low workshops, to the left were the stores and barracks for the 'Russkis'. We passed the gate in a single file, calling out our numbers to the watchman sitting in his guard hut. I, being new, was told to wait. Soon the boss, dressed in grey overalls, came and told me to follow him. The noise in the workshop was deafening. Hammers hitting tin sheets, the screeching of files, whining of drills, some explosions, hissing, wheezing and roaring, all joined into one sound, drilling the eardrums, causing pain. We walked along various workbenches where people were standing or sitting on the stools. Above some were large signs: "Mark only in soft pencils on dur-aluminium". We entered the next hall. On all sides of the hall were lying wings of planes. They were kept in position on the workbenches by a kind of vice. Many men were working around them with some unknown instruments. On some benches sparks from welding flew, from others came a sound like a revolver shooting into a tin plate. I did not understand anything that they were doing here. I was still stunned by the previous noise. Automatically I followed the boss. The men were glancing at me curiously. At the end of the hall the boss stopped at a bench.
"You will work here,” he told me and added, pointing to a men standing at the bench - "he will show you what to do. It is not permitted to leave the workbench,” and then he left.
The man looked at me searchingly and I at him. He was a young man of about twenty dressed in dirty overalls. He was working alone at the workbench. He asked me something but I did not understand. He repeated it louder. I thought he was speaking in German but was not certain. Slowly, screaming into each other's ears, we understood each other. He was from Holland. No wonder I could not understand him. It is always very hard to understand a Dutchman when he is speaking German as the languages, although related, have quite different pronunciations. A year and a half ago he was taken from Utrecht and deported for work to Heim. His name was Jan Vaal.
Our talk was interrupted by the approaching boss. When the Dutchman saw him coming he pushed a pneumatic drill attached to a long hose into my hand and told me to drill holes in the marked places of the aluminium sheets. After pressing a button, drilling started with a loud wheezing sound, throwing out small aluminium chips of metal. This was my work in the beginning. Standing on a high bench, I was drilling small holes on the four metre long wings. Hours were passing, my head and ears were buzzing. At last the siren sounded for a meal break. All the noise stopped immediately but I could still hear the echo in my head. I had already forgotten that such quiet could exist. Before I realised what was happening, the hall emptied and I caught up with the last labourers going upstairs where the mess room was located. Everyone took their place at the table, taking from their pockets a spoon and a piece of bread. The girls were bringing plates with soup. A watery, thin soup and a few frozen potatoes was our dinner. The conversation was multi-lingual. One table was occupied by French war prisoners dressed in torn military coats. At the next table were Dutchmen. Germans were sitting separately at a table in the far corner. From one of the tables I heard Polish. Around the table sat a few young girls, a few youths and an older labourer. I came closer. They greeted me in a friendly manner, making a place at their table. Lunchtime was forty minutes. Again the siren. We washed our spoons and plates with hot water and started to go slowly back to work. The foremen were speeding us up. Compressors were connected, the air hissed noisily, all the sounds came back and the hall was once again full of noise. The boss was sitting behind a glass partition between the two rooms, watching constantly. On the walls were the familiar pictures of a civilian in a large-brimmed hat trying to overhear something, beside him a large yellow question mark.
An office girl came to me in the afternoon. She gave me a large, many-paged brochure and I had to sign a promise not to reveal any secrets, either army or industrial ones. The leaflets dealt with high treason, listing many secrets to be kept, each article finishing with the threat of a death sentence. The hall was patrolled by a fully-armed guard who seemed very bored.
When I finished my reading the Dutchman asked me: "Do you need that pamphlet?"
"Can you give it to me?"
"Of course. Are you interested in the contents?"
"No, God forbid, and anyway I know it by heart. But it is printed on fine paper. Very suitable to roll cigarettes. We all finished smoking our papers a long time ago. It is very hard to get cigarette paper in Isny."
I asked him - "Why are they going to all this fuss over these ordinary flapping wings - that is not a military secret."
"What, you don't know?"
"What don't I know?"
The Dutchman looked around carefully, leaned towards me and yelled: "The other hall is making V 1." (Secret weapon -guided missile used for bombing London).
"I thought that this factory was making parts for planes only."
"Not at all. They say so only to stop people looking. Don't ever repeat it aloud." He looked around again and, deciding it was safe, continued:
"We are making the flaps for the Junker JU 78 and the other room is making missile wings for the V1."
This way the pamphlet finished in the pockets of the Dutchman and I was told about State secrets.
Hours dragged. When it started to get dark the boss told us to put the blinds down, checking himself if they were tight and not letting light through. Extremely bright lights, so unpleasant to the eyes, were everywhere. Night watchmen with their lanterns hanging from their trouser belts came to check and tighten the blinds some more. It was nearly 6 p.m. I felt quite exhausted. My head was bursting from the non-stop noise and my eyes were smarting from the dust. It was nearly twelve hours since I had started work. We started to put rivets in the openings. The Dutchman gave me a tool which looked like a large revolver, like a 'parabellum' whose barrel was red hot. This 'Eksposienkolbe' as it was called (explosion barrel) was heated through an electric cable. Pressing the red-hot barrel to the rivet heads caused an explosion. The rivets bursting forth noisily were welding the seams of the aluminium sheet. This way the job to the spine of the wings was finished. Later we had to rivet thirty-six ribs to the wings and then pass the flap to another workbench. There the ribs were covered with plates, again some riveting, then grinding and polishing and so on over twenty-five workbenches until it came to the paint shop where numbers and identification marks were given. The work was repeated the whole time all over again. This day the number written was 50317.
At last the thirteenth and last hour was coming nearer. My head was bursting, my legs from a day of standing were hurting and my eyes were sore and watering. We all looked more often at the clock. The first bell was at five minutes to seven. Everyone grabbed brooms as the benches had to be cleaned every day. Some were brushing, the others putting the tools away while the boss was pointing out dirty places. At last the long-awaited siren. Everyone rushed to the doors. It was already quite dark outside. Calling our numbers to the watchman, we left through the gate of the factory. The town was in complete darkness and we had to grope about looking for the way.
Day did not exist for me. We left the house at dark and returned at dark - no sun was shining for us. I felt utterly exhausted and tomorrow would be a repetition of today.
A few weeks passed. The wind became freezing. The cowbells stopped ringing. The phantom of winter was creeping down the snowy Alpine hills. Our room in the attic was very cold. The bucket of water was covered with ice in the morning and I had to break the ice before we could pour the water into the large dish for our morning wash. The quarter cubic meter (about 100 lbs.) of wood for which I still had the coupons was not available. What should I do? Marushka was coughing more and more. She was getting more restless. At night in her sleep she would jump out of bed and start running, looking for our children and wind up, when colliding with the table, in our small room. I put her back to bed alongside the wall and slept next to her to prevent her jumping out. Neither of us had much sleep. The cold and hunger were depressing. I had to get us at least some warmth in the evenings. I began stealing coal briquettes from the factory, carrying them home in my pockets. Stealing was punishable by death. So what? Death was around the corner anyway. After a hot drink at night, Marushka coughed less and we both had a few hours sleep.
The Eastern Front had still not moved - every day the news was still the same: 'The Front between Bug and Narew is stable - all Soviet attacks are repelled.' I remembered Modlin with its evacuees, its peasants, bundles packed and waiting, the constant fires over Warsaw, the air raids, the heavy shelling. We expected the Front would break any day. More weeks passed. It was now one and a half months since we left Modlin. And again we heard: "From Fuehrer's Headquarters .... all Soviet attacks between Bug and Narew were repelled with heavy losses for the enemy."
In the factory the mood was apathetic. One stopped being interested in the Eastern Front. Only occasionally someone would ask:
"Do you think that the Germans, where you live, would let you listen to the radio?"
“Yes, they would."
"Did you listen yesterday?"
“Yes, I did."
“Nothing. Blast them. The bloody war seems to go on forever,"
"It'll finish, it will."
"When the S.A. and S.S. will send to the USA. an S.O.S.?"
At home we had only time left to sleep and the toilet in the factory became our recreation room. Here was the centre of the intellectual life of the foreigners employed by Heim. In addition, we were forbidden to meet people in our homes. Here were the political discussions, social talks and our trading post. We smoked here, although smoking was strictly forbidden. Here our ears got some rest from the terrible noise. Here came those who worked all day outside to get some warmth. Best of all, one could sit down for a while and rest. To sit on the toilet seat was one of the rare pleasures of the day. Even the boss left us alone. The few locked toilets were always occupied and so you had to wait your turn until you could sit down on the comfortable seat like in a club chair. In the back were the pipes of the steam heating. What a blissful state - the legs were resting and one could have a smoke. "Dolce far niente” (pleasant idleness). One did not even pull the trousers down. What for? One was standing for 13 hours daily how could one do without a rest?
Sometimes the boss rushed in. Our smokes were then hidden in our sleeves and we rushed back to the halls. He would be cursing and screaming but those sitting locked in the toilets were safe. They now had the privilege to stop even the foreman as the sign on the door read clearly 'Engaged'.
With difficulty, I was able to count all the nationalities in the factory - there were fourteen. The largest group were the Dutchmen who were mainly young people deported through their employment offices. They lived in barracks and usually stuck together. The next group were the Frenchmen who were civilians and prisoners of war. Their group was adorned by a beautiful young girl from Marseilles who was very much in love with a Dutchman. The Polish group needs some explanation as it had two kinds of people - the Poles with a letter 'P’ and the so-called 'Volksdeutsche’ who, according to Mr. Rosenbergls theory of race administration, could later on qualify to become true Germans, What an odd anthropological distinction between the foreigner, the non-German and the under-German. Some of them were also called the 'race-people' which annoyed the true Germans from the real 'master-race'. Let Mr. Fabian speak about the 'true race science' of Mr. Rosenberg and his followers
Mr. Fabian was a quiet, timid baker from Lodz. He came under the 'race' and was brought to Isny. Now he was working at the V1. Until then he did not know what honour was bestowed upon him, becoming all of a sudden 'pure of race'. Once in the toilet he told us his story: "I had a small business, a bakery in a village near Lodz. I am a master baker. My wife is the daughter of a farmer. She was a Miss Pietrzak. We lived not badly. Until the day the military police came and screamed - 'OUT'! Just you try to imagine - in twenty minutes we had all left. All the business, furniture, house, everything went to the devil. Only what we grabbed in a hurry was ours. I heard later that my place was given to a Volksdeutsche from Russia. We were taken by force and deported from Lodz. We were put into a camp that was terribly crowded. Nobody knew what would happen to us all. Life was bad. We finished all our food. After two weeks came a commission with top S.S. men, doctors and educated people - you know, professors. We were all put in a line and they started to divide us into ‘P’ and 'Race'.
"Crying and screaming started. Everyone wad afraid to be put for the 'race' especially the young girls. We heard that those who look pretty belong to the race but who knows, later on they might be sending these girls to the Front for the soldiers, brothels, pardon me. But nobody would listen. We were divided into separate groups and that was the end of it. Those with the letter 'P’ were sent immediately to another camp and we were to come under the 'Race’.
I interrupted: "How were you divided?' According to what?"
"On the looks of course. They looked to see if the bones were solid if the face was alright and, in general on the clothing too. Those who were dirty and in rags went under the letter 'P’. To tell you the truth they somehow did not take many into the race. You see none were well dressed because who would dress well for travelling? A few days passed and we were all very frightened. You see, we all knew what to expect with the letter 'P’ - Poles but here with this 'Race', that was different. None of us spoke German and we could not find out anything. Everyone was thinking, all right, a race is a race but what do they want from us? Some said that it was a good thing; that we would be given better ration cards for food and clothing. The others said that we were all to be taken into the army because all Germans belong to the race and once we are of pure breed we would have to fight for their country. I am telling you my head was bursting with all this thinking. Then we were all called to the true commission - they even had scientific tools. My God, what they did with us!!! They looked at our teeth like we do with horses. They pawed our anatomy they measured our faces and bones with tools and looked into our eyes. I was told immediately that I have the race but my God, they stopped my wife. You understand they did not want to let her through the race, saying she was not suitable, that her bones and her anatomy are not true. I explained to them that she is the daughter of a good farmer, not a girl born under a fence, but they only say 'No'. I lost my temper. I told them she is my wife, I will not part from my family take me out from the race and put me into 'P’. They talked between themselves and said 'Gut' and granted her the race. They gave us German papers and sent us to Isny. They call us here Volksdeutsche but in reality we are the racial people. We will not change our Polish religion. We are working the same as the 'P' but it is true that we have better coupons and don't have to live in camps,” concluded Mr. Fabian.
In Isny there were many like Mr. Fabian 'people of the race'. I loved talking with them about the 'race'. I became a lover of the race question, an anthropologist!
During power failures when we had to wait for repairs we could sit down. What a heavenly opportunity for tired feet. I used to sit near someone from the ‘race’, asking them for their stories. One girl from Lodz who went through the scientific race business in Litzmanstadt as the Germans had renamed Lodz. She was telling me about a song which was born in the First World War and the words were made up now in the race camps called the song the Ballad of the Race:
The Commission of the Third Reich for the Strengthening of Germanism was throwing its nets into far seas, trying to catch some fry among the Slavonic masses. It had to populate its ponds for the future Germanisation of the conquered countries. The all powerful Chancellor Hitler already had these dreams long ago. After taking Sudentenland, Memel-land and other 'lands', he was dreaming about Donau, Dnieper- and Wolga-land. The names of these countries were taken from the rivers and hills and not from the people which populated them. Everywhere were potential Volksdeutsche ready for production according to the science of the Third Reich. The theory of race came into being supported by biological laws justifying the proper selection based on the philosophy of ‘be or not to be’. When this myth was dressed up scientifically, according to the need of the twentieth century, the selection came into operation. On top of the hierarchy of the pyramid was HE - the highest, the Untouchable, the Total. He was resting on the shoulders of his Party members and below those were the 'Reichsdeutschel’ - citizens with full rights then followed the four classes of the Volksdeutsche. The last group consisted of those who could be candidates for the Volksdeutsche who, with time coming, might develop into true Germans, The rest was a mob of slaves and villains, good only for manual labour. Jews and Gypsies had no right to life. They were converted to fertilisers, soap and other useful materials such as stuffing for mattresses made from human hair, lampshades made from human skin.
Coming back to our group at Heims. There was a group of Soviets, numerically next to the Poles. They had to live at the factory and were just the livestock, as the horses were. They were even harnessed to carts to bring wood to the factory. Some of them worked with us. They consisted of different nationalities; Russians, Ukrainers, White Russians and Armenians. The majority of them were young girls and boys deported for labour, the rest were war prisoners allocated to the factory. There was also a small group of Jugoslavs, Belgians, Italians, Estonians and Lithuanians. According to the administration, I belonged to the latter as my only personal document was a Lithuanian passport. I had nothing against it from an opportunistic point of view. As I did not qualify for the 'race' or Volksdeutsche, there was only the letter 'P' left which meant that we had to live in barracks which were dirty, full of lice and even colder than our room. The thought frightened us. Marushka was not well - we suspected tuberculosis and such living would be a death sentence for her. The passport issued in Lithuania saved us. Our small group was generally treated better than the OST. We even had a Swiss man with us. I was never able to discover what made him leave the quiet, neutral, beautiful Switzerland and come here to work for the German Army.
The last were the Germans. They had all the leading positions or worked in the offices. Only a few Germans worked as ordinary labourers. They were a few old men, a couple of dwarfs and a few invalids. The administration personnel was enormous, amounting to twenty per cent of the working force. All those who were bombed out were doing their utmost to be employed by the war Industry as this gave them better living conditions and here they were able to live in considerable peace away from big towns. One was employed for issuing coupons, another one for additional coupons, a third one for checking coupons, and so on. Every German, whatever his position, had at least a few German offsiders who usually had nothing to do. They hid behind shelves or in dark corners to read love stories from sheer boredom. Every few workbenches had a German controller.
In addition to those mentioned we also had the factory police, hated the most by all labourers. They were like a special Gestapo working for Mr. Heim. Being all Party Members, the range of their work was extremely wide. Their powers seemed to be unlimited, not only concerning work - they had the last say about the right to life and death for the civilian labourers. They spied and were allowed to beat and torture. They made sure that people stayed at the workbenches, they prevented talk and the forming of groups. They threw us out of the toilets, they were permitted to confiscate our ration cards, they checked the barracks, they searched private rooms. We especially hated one of our 'guardian angels', the 'black' one was a real sadist. He ferreted for his prey. In the darkest corners and nosed about everywhere. The proprietor of the factory could sleep peacefully in his villa on the hill near the forest for he had his henchmen who controlled his workers.
In the beginning of December I was transferred to another workbench. Here worked an old Swabian who had a pleasant face, Mr. Lange. I was to help him. Our job was to rivet the heavy flaps with the pneumatic press machine and to file them down to smoothness. Lange was a friendly mate. He taught me my job, how to do it more easily, and he never pushed the hardest job onto me as he was fully entitled to do, being a German. He had only two faults. He had received a stomach wound at the Russian Front which healed not badly but he constantly spoiled the air and I felt as though I were gassed. As the table was only four metres long, I could not very well avoid the smell. His second fault was his constant adoring talk about Hitler. To him Hitler was the Ultimate God and ‘Mein Kampf' was his bible. He believed implicitly, without reservations. It would have been alright if he had not tried to convert me to his beliefs. This non-stop talk amid the putrid smell became a nightmare. Because of the noise in the workshop, he would come near me and scream in my ear, explaining the providential genius of the Fuehrer. His honest face would touch me and from his mouth came the pungent smell of rotting bile. I would grab a tool and go to the other side of the bench but he would follow me, yelling about the genius and his achievements in war strategy. He stopped only with a new spasm of pain, becoming pale and sweating. In those moments I was truly sorry for him. I used to help him to the sick room and, returning, had to work for both of us.
On the 13th of December we heard that the Germans had started a great counter-offensive at the western Front. The German headquarters announced details of the victorious march, how the German Army was able to recapture in a few short days lands which had been previously captured. Goebbels in the paper 'Reich' was speaking about the new reborn power of the German Army. He even recalled the Hannibal losses at Rome's gates when the reborn power of Rome's legions were able to destroy Carthage. The plutocrats had to leave. London, just like a Carthage of the twentieth century, would lie in ruins.
The polite English gentlemen were thanking Goebbels by radio for his educatory lessons and the suggestive analogy between Hannibal and ... Hitler.
But facts remained facts. It was true that the German Army was advancing in the west, clearing the Siegfried fields.
We became very depressed - we were losing hope in the Allied victory. Goebbels was encouraging his Germans, promising them a Merry Christmas.
Lange was of course very happy and triumphant. Measuring the German advance and calculating something on the wings of the planes, he informed me that by the New Year the German Army would reach the Channel.
At last Christmas came and, with it, two days of rest. The evening was cold and clear, the sky covered with stars. Our room was very cold. The stove, heated only for very short times, could not even melt the ice which covered one wall. When on Christmas Eve the bells were pealing over Isny, sitting in our room a deep sorrow and longing filled us. On the table we had our saved-up food: some bread, a few teaspoonsful of marmalade and a few tablets of saccharine. With whom could we share this evening? Our family was thousands of miles away, our landlady was not friendly. We went to the Guesthouse where the people were also lonely, away from their families. We felt better with them.
Next morning I went with Marushka up into the hills. We were climbing up the Black Grat, now quite white, covered deep with snow. The higher we climbed, the harder it became. On one of the humps of the Grat stood a farmhouse.
The large wooden patio overhanging the cliff was the pride of the farmer. From here one could see the Bodensee from which the Rhine was feeding its stream. Looking down, above the firs one could see the blue of the sea, separated by a line of the Alps from the blue of the sky. In the north the open valley seemed to be without horizons and the earth and sky appeared to join each other. The uneven and hilly scenery changed to gentle slopes which farther down became quite even and smooth, receding from the sky.
The back of the house was hidden from the world by the Black Grat, overgrown with snow-covered firs., We stood at its foot but its towering top was tempting. I decided to try and reach it. Asking the farmer how long it might take, he replied laughingly: "In summer it shouldn't take more than half an hour but I doubt if you could make it in five hours without skis."
I wanted to go but Marushka did not. I went alone. Going along the track near the farm buildings it seemed child's play. The farm buildings finished, a sign for tourists pointed to the left. The going became harder. I was falling up to my knees into the snow. It was not pleasant but quite bearable. I reached a clearing. A bit further away I saw some firs sticking out of the snow. I thought they would be new seedlings and continued. Within seconds I was in snow above my waist. When I tried to free one leg the other fell even deeper. What I took to be seedlings were fir trees about my height. Looking up I could see only tops of trees and understood my mistake, When in Isny the wet snow was falling and melting immediately, here the same snow was cut by wind and frost and built up harder surfaces on which later new snow was packing. When in the meadows of Isny the snow barely reached thirty centimetres, here it was over 11 metres deep. Moving in a slow crawl, using hands and feet, I managed to creep free. An hour later, wet and tired, I returned to the farm without even covering one-fifth of the distance. The farmer was right and I had learned my lesson.
Coming back down the valley it was becoming dark. White smoke was playing about the snow-covered roofs that looked pink in the last sunrays. It was a landscape like paintings on sale at fairs. Nature loves the sweet, cheap showoffs.
After Christmas the factory police became quite persistent that Marushka should start work in the factory. They were yelling that now it was time for work and not for holidays, health reasons or not. No talk helped. We had to think of something as Marushka would certainly not survive any length of time in the factory and its thirteen hours hard work. Marushka heard that the guesthouse, 'The Stag', was looking for a waitress. She applied and was accepted. She got her working card, signed by the employment office. In this way, instead of being a factory worker she became a waitress.
Now we were leading a truly proletarian life. After work I hurried to The Stag for a bowl of soup. Marushka, in white apron, was already serving, carrying plates and large beer mugs. She greeted me with a knowing smile, placing a bowl of soup in front of me. Not for nothing was I the husband of a waitress. Soup could be served without ration cards. After tea, when all the guests had left and the rooms tidied up we returned home. There she would toss her bag on the table and count her tips. She had changed since she began work. In the beginning she would not accept any tips, then only reluctantly, but now she was counting the small change happily.
"Look, Zyg, these two marks I received from the Estonian. He never takes the change due to him. Ten, twelve, fourteen! That is twice as much as you are earning in the factory. Just look what I can do." She was proud and happy, hugging me. When the lights were out and we were nearly falling asleep, I heard her murmuring: "If only foreigners would come to The Stag I would receive probably twenty marks. The Germans are rather careful with tipping. Just a few lousy pfennigs.”
There was an extra bonus at her work. When cleaning all the rooms, she carefully gathered all the usable butts of cigarettes and cigars and we had some smokes at home, shredding the tobacco and rolling it in newspapers.
The Allies intensified their air raids over Germany, more towns were bombed. The bombed-out people were fleeing to the hills. The population of Isny increased from day to day. All hotels were overcrowded. The people came not only from nearby Munchen, Nurenberg and Stuttgart, but also from Berlin, Cologne, Koblenz and Essen.
The German counter-offensive, so blown up by Goebbels, started to fade. Although the news from headquarters was still speaking about some hard-to-describe success and about hundreds of airplanes being destroyed on the ground, the number of evacuees kept increasing. Some people started to realise that all this loud talk of the counter-offensive was just hogwash.
The cold January of 1945 arrived. The narrow streets were covered with snow, sometimes reaching the windows. It was impossible to go outside the town without skis. This was quite normal for the Allgau. Near Isny stood a pole with various markings and dates. In 1907 the snow was three metres deep.
One morning, going to work, I looked at the thermometer of the chemist, near the cloister. It was 25 centigrade below freezing point and a cold wind was blowing from the hills, stinging the eyes. People walking to work had their collars up and were clapping their hands together. The group of French war prisoners walking through this snowstorm were a sorry lot, trying to push their heads into the narrow collars of their loose coats like Napoleon's grenadiers returning from Moscow. The first and the last of the prisoners carried a lantern, shining feebly on the ground. Behind them walked a German guard with a machine gun. I passed this sad procession. For the first time I thought with pleasure about the factory. It would at least be warm there.
The day started normally. The people were still warming their hands on the pipes of the heating units after first hanging their mittens and socks on them. The hammering and boring began and the everyday noises filled the workshops. The wings went from bench to bench, covered with pictures and short aphorisms, full of longing and love sighs. Those wings going, from bench to bench were like an album full of sad literature in many languages. Wala, a young Ukrainian girl from Czerniakow, wearing a red beret, had the most poetic soul. She worked at the bench next to mine. She covered the sheet with long poems - parts were from Russian poets, parts she wrote herself. When the next flap arrived at our bench old Lange, pointing the finger at the writing, asked me if it was in Polish. On the flap, in an uneducated handwriting, was written in Russian:
I was astonished by the topic that could equally apply to a farewell by a grandfather as well as by his grandson. I did not know who put it there nor the thought behind it but it sure was the grandson. This day the 'Black' beat up three boys at their benches. Two Poles and a Yugoslav. He also dragged by force a sick Ukrainian girl from her barracks to the workshop. Our mood was gloomy. Luckily, in the evening someone brought news that the Russians had started a great offensive in Poland. The talk was about a large concentration of the army on the Vistula River and a constant shelling by the artillery. Everyone was excited. The news was whispered (shouted) from ear to ear in all languages. Next day the news was even better. There was a breakthrough on the eastern front. Once again we all got interested in war news. This news was partly confirmed by the German Headquarters and the official German Press. Some of our people had the possibility to listen to the news from other countries although listening to the radio of the allies and spreading the news was punishable by death. In spite of this we received, through hidden channels, the news from London, Switzerland and Moscow. The news became distorted by the different translations from one language to another. The Dutchmen told it to the Russians in German, the Russians repeated it in Russian to the Poles and the Poles to the French in German. The communication between the groups was sometimes really funny. The 'international' language was German but the majority could hardly speak it, using a few known slang words learned from the Swabians. If those few known words supported by a sign language were not enough, an interpreter was called, but there was no-one who could speak so many languages fluently. It was done in what we called ‘by chain’. I'll give an example. If a Ukrainian wanted to say something to the Frenchman he would call me. It did not mean that I could speak French. I, in turn, would call an Estonian and translate it to him in German. This Estonia had a friend who could speak French fluently but did not know either Ukrainian or Russian. When the Estonian finished translating the meaning, the Frenchman would turn to the first source and say "Gut, gut, verstanded." Of course there were many combinations, depending who wanted to speak with whom. The ordinary, everyday conversation was quite often transacted without any interpreters. The spreading of news from the Front was not hard at all. Our international language was greatly simplified by calling out names of cities lost by the Germans.
At the end of February, Czeslaw arrived quite unexpectedly in Isny. By chance he met Alma in Dresden and she told him that we were heading for Isny. We were very happy to see him and very anxious to know what had happened to him since we parted in Warsaw. If chance had not intervened, our ways would be the same as his.
After we left Czeslaw, all the evacuees under guard were taken aboard a train. Nobody knew where the train was going. When his train was passing another train going in the opposite direction, for some unknown reason both trains stopped beside each other. Czeslaw and others from his transport started to jump over to the other train. Before the Germans realised what was happening, the train started to move in -the direction of Warsaw, taking some of the evacuees and Czeslaw with it. It was rumoured that the stopping was an organised job. On one of the small stations Czeslaw changed trains and finished in Prushkow were he stayed in hiding for a few months at his friend's place.
After the fall of Warsaw he met some more of his friends. As he had to live and also to earn money, he and his friends decided to organise a fictitious company supposedly supplying goods to the German Army. There were many such companies. They started this business by chance. Going along the streets they saw a death notice of a German, a Mr. Metz. On the bottom of this notice was the name of the printer and his address. They went there and ordered one hundred letterheads with a nice name: 'Johann Metz and Co. - Eisenwarengesellshaft (Metalwork Co.)', including the address of the firm, telephone numbers and bank accounts. The best part was that the head offices were shown in a street in central Warsaw and the agencies in small towns of Poland at the time occupied by the Soviets. The story continued: this firm had now been evacuated and the directors, Czeslaw and his friend, had full authority for transactions. The authority empowerment papers were on beautiful paper, signed by the dead Johann Metz. They then started to go to different offices asking for different travel orders, different official permits to facilitate their work as, according to their story, they had to complete the evacuation and save their costly goods which were so needed by the army. In order to supply the army, they must start their activities in a new place. One official document, one rubber stamp created the way for others - at last they were able to travel anywhere, even using military vehicles, bringing to Wien and Krakow and the Czech Prague cigarettes and taking from them ladies' wear selling it in different towns. The business was prospering until Prague was taken by the Soviets. After hearing that we were in Isny, Czeslaw wrote a special travel order for his firm dealing in such important goods as metal and came to Isny to see what the prospects were there. This time the document certified that he was dealing in hydraulic brakes.
He showed us all his documents, all duly stamped and certified by high military offices. All, except the first one, fully authentic. It seemed incredible that all this business was just the work of imagination.
He spent a few days with us. Before leaving, he went to the 'Burgermeister' asking him to prepare storage place for his brakes and of course received additional coupons for food and cigarettes as the Burgermeister was quite impressed with this important businessman.
He returned to his headquarters to continue his business of Johann Metz and Co.
The news from the Front was fabulous - the tempo of the Soviet offensive was incredible.
When the Soviet Army stopped on the line of Odra, encircling the German armies in East Prussia, we were certain that the long-awaited finish of the war was near. The mood in the factory was a happy on. Nobody hid his or her happiness. The labourers talked animatedly, pounding each other on the shoulders.
This war news had a shattering effect on the Germans. The average locals, the bombed-out, the Party members had been brainwashed for a long time. Through speeches, Press and radio they were made to believe in the mighty Thousand Year Reich, in their Fuehrer who could never err, confirmed by all the war propaganda. They were stunned when they learned that the enemy crossed the frontiers of their own country, their Heimat, that Oberslesia was taken, that Pomerania was attacked, that Saxoni was threatened, that their own citizens were fleeing in panic from East and West Prussia. That the Russians who should have been crushed long ago were rushing now with impetus towards Berlin.
Of course it was hard for an average German to comprehend what was happening but he had to understand as even his own government could not hide any more the seriousness of their situation. The papers were writing 'Our country is in danger.' Goebbels coined a new slogan: "There is now no boundary between the country and the Front. The Front is our country and the country is our Front. Every German is now a soldier. 'Volkssturm' go ahead."
A great campaign started in Allgau for the 'Volkssturm'. To the last the human war material was squeezed out, from the farmers, the factories. The old and very young, the deaf and cripples, the war invalids who could walk, were organised in battalions of the 'Volkssturm'. Our chief boss appealed to all the Volksdeutsche, the 'race people' and other Germans to join voluntarily but his appeal was a total failure. Only a few came forward to join the Battalions. Heim still tried. He asked the people, singly, to his office; he explained and persuaded and ... got three more volunteers. Where the pressure was not great enough, the human self-protection won.
"Why should I join a business which is going bankrupt?" they were saying amongst themselves. "Why should I risk my skin? Why should I fight? We are not even true Germans."
Many of those who refused were sent to dig trenches near the Rhine which was being bombed by the English.
One day a party of German airmen arrived at the factory. They were pilots and mechanics. To our astonishment they were put to work on the production line just like ordinary labourers. They were all young men from the Soviet front. To our questions as to what they were doing here, they explained laughingly: "All our planes are 'kaput' so we came to help build new ones but before we finish all Germany will be 'kaput!" They did not hide their opinions. They did not care about anything. They were laughing at the 'Volkssturm', they could not care less about the 'race' and they quarrelled with the foremen who did not know how to treat the airmen. They hated the Party members and were rude to the work police. This mood started to infect the labourers. The production, never high, fell markedly and people were forming groups around the benches, talking. Although they returned to their workbenches on arrival of the foremen, they did it very slowly. The bosses tried to avoid real quarrels with the labourers - they looked the other way when something which was forbidden was being done. Some even tried to become friendly with the foreigners. Only one Party Member, Mr. Altenbach, did not change; he remained as he was before, a mad dog ready to bite.
The boss valued him and soon he became the boss' right hand because he could hold a labourer with his left hand and hit him strongly in the face with his right. We were afraid of him, which increased his authority. I must admit he was the only one left who tried to hold the factory together by his cruel power. Luckily he was not in our department. He was the tyrant in the wood shop where the majority of Frenchmen were working. One day the 'Black' once again dragged a sick Ukrainian girl to the workbench, pushing her hard. It was the same girl he had dragged out the previous time. She had tuberculosis. Pale and weak, she started to cry, and our first riot started. We told him that if he kept her at the bench we would all stop work, we were successful. After a short talk with his boss, he let her go back.
In the evening the foreman came to me telling me to follow him to the big boss. I was worried - what could Heim want from me? He did not even know me. From behind the desk rose the fat Heim. I had never met anyone so resembling the Soviet caricature of the typical capitalist. He was exactly like an old picture from an old forgotten Bolshevik newspaper: pink face, reddish blond hair, a big belly, small fat fingers, a treble chin, a red thick neck and a cigar in his mouth.
He rose heavily from behind the desk, pointing to us to sit down in low, comfortable chairs. Whew we were seated, he took from the cabinet a bottle of brandy and three glasses. He filled them, took a packet of cigarettes and, offering them to us, sat down heavily, all in complete silence. Raising his glass, he indicated that we were to join him. The foreman followed his example. I felt confused with all this. What would he ask of me? However I emptied my glass. Heim immediately refilled the glasses and, lighting his cigar, said:
"You are friendly with the family Naumow?"
"To a certain extent, only,” I answered carefully, "as I have only met them here in the factory, helping once to interpret. We sometimes speak at the mess table."
"Have you visited them at the barracks?"
"A few times as engineer Naumow loves playing chess and so do I."
"Do you speak Russian?"
"Is Mrs. Naumow a Russian or a Ukrainian?"
"I think she is a Russian from Smolenks."
"Is Mrs. Naumow often in the barracks of the Ukrainians?"
"I don't know as I don't live there."
"Do you know that Mrs. Naumow is agitating the Ukrainians and Russians to sabotage my factory?" He looked searchingly at me.
"No,” I replied immediately and thought to myself, is that where it hurts you?
Inhaling deeply and playing with his fat fingers along the table, he asked me:
"Did you volunteer to come to Germany?"
"After the end of the war do you intend to go back to your country?"
Heim again looked at me searchingly. Our eyes met. This was the moment when he gave up trying to enlist me as his factory informer. He got up and said, raising his voice:
"I am warning you, if there is an act of sabotage or a riot like today in which you were also active, I will have to inform the proper authorities. Who they take from here will depend entirely on me. I know my people and today I got to know you. You do understand?"
"Don't forget it and also inform the Naumow family." He finished speaking, crushed his cigar in the ashtray, full of passion. With his finger he gave the sign to the foreman to take me away. This was my first and last talk with Heim.
Something wrong was happening to the electrical power in our district. 'Gaulieter' (county boss) issued many orders restricting the use of electric power. Thanks to him our working day was shortened from 13 to 11 hours. We had to stop work when it got too dark. But this did not last long either. One day all the power stopped. Everything stopped - the compressors, the pneumatic drills - without electricity the factory was dead. The blessed silence: Soon news came that the factory would be closed as the power was cut for "an indefinite period." All the labourers were happy.
We were allowed to go home earlier. All women except Russians, Ukrainians and Poles with the letter 'P' received leave until further notice. All men, including 'OST' labourers, were told to report for work next morning. Next morning we were divided into many labour gangs for various jobs. The management was determined to keep us working so that we would not eat the German bread while idle. The women had to clean the yard and roofs of snow whilst older women sorted rivets. The Dutchmen were sent into the forest to cut wood, the Frenchmen were cleaning all metal parts of rust, a few Soviets and I were sent to the cabinetmakers to make new shelves for the stores. Now for a change I became a cabinetmaker. The worst part of this assignment was that our boss was the hated Altman whom I mentioned before. Already on the first day he had screamed at me when I was lying on a shelf although I was hammering in nails. He did not like my comfortable position. Red in the face, his hand waving madly, he started screaming at me. I thought he would hit me on the head with a tool but luckily my head was hard to reach, being pressed deep between two shelves. It ended with me only listening to his most vulgar swearing, half of which I could not understand anyway as it was delivered in Swabian slang. From that day on he picked on me constantly. Everything I did was wrong. He might have been right because, as a solicitor by profession, I was not much good as a cabinetmaker. But he was also sadistic. Once, after the bells had sounded and we were all ready to go home, he kept me back, making me clean the hall. I began to hate him in earnest. I don't know how it would have finished but new orders were issued. The power was restored under the condition that we would work at night only. I returned to my old bench.
The working hours were now from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. At 1 a.m. we had twenty minutes break. For the first few days it was hard to fight sleep. About two in the morning after eating the soup, I simply slept standing at the workbench. Fighting to stay awake in spite of the hellish noise in the hall and the patrolling foreman, the mind became befuddled and a mental blackout occurred. The heavy press tool fell out of my hands landing on my toes. This woke me up, gasping with pain. It was worse when this state of sleepy paralysis came to my knees because then, as if cut down, I fell to the floor amongst the laughter of my mates. To my inner discomfort, I did not notice these states happening to my mates. Something was probably wrong with me. With time our situation improved, thanks mainly to the recurring air raids.
The Americans became more interested in Wuertenberg and Bavaria, the region of south-west Germany. When the planes were proceeding in our direction, the factory was advised by phone. All lights had to be switched off and we could stop work. In seconds all tools were thrown down and, using our coats as pillows, we lay down. Sometimes we were lucky and the alert lasted two hours but mostly it was less than half an hour. It happened sometimes that the squadrons were flying over Isny in which case we were told to leave the factory. We had to walk through corridors built in a zigzag fashion over half a kilometre to a large shelter built under the forest. This shelter had been built in case the factory had to be moved underground. We walked around the forest and it usually took a long time before we were back at the workbench. I did not like these 'Full Alerts' as we had to carry the more valuable equipment to the shelter. My duty was to carry a large typewriter in a wooden box through the narrow, muddy passage. I definitely preferred to sleep in the factory.
One day the German newspapers announced that a Canadian tank division was moving towards the Rhine. The headquarters added: "No Canadian or English would ever cross the Rhine. The efficient German Command had foreseen the enemy intentions and through the December offensive, by attacking from the east and the west, thwarted their plans. The Soviet attack on the River Oder was stopped and pushed back thanks to the attitude of the German people.
"We will win. The disaster of the year 1918 will never be repeated,” wrote Mr. Goebbels. "Germany of 1945 is a monolith under the leadership of the Fuehrer, a man of genius. "What the Soviets received near the Oder River, the Anglo-Saxons would receive at the River Rhine. Neither tanks nor airplanes, but the spirit of the soldier will have the final victory."
In the meantime the 'soulless' tanks were crushing the bunkers along the Siegfried Line. The activities of the Allies were growing in intensity. Army after army was pushing forward, wedging in, causing breaches in the defence lines. The German Army was disintegrating along the Rhine as was the 'monolithic national spirit' behind the lines. Many V.I.P.'s and builders of the great Reich began to look to their own survival. Only Goebbels was still undaunted.
The little doctor (Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda) was still promising great things. He promised a secret weapon which was so powerful that it would decided the outcome of the war, he spoke about glories, he tried to make bad blood between the allies, he wrote articles to different papers, he made speeches in public and on the radio. He had a lot to do as he was the mouthpiece for all the others. The Fuehrer was no longer heard. Goering had stopped talking a long time ago. Hess had disappeared in disgrace, Dietman was ill and the others tried to forget what they had said previously.
It was not good in Germany, there seemed to be no safe hiding places left. Those who were not threatened by the approaching Front were threatened in the towns by falling bombs. The huge Allied air raids destroyed cities, killing thousands. Many cities were already in ruins - Hamburg, Berlin, Hanover, Cologne, Munich, Stuttgart, Ulm and many, many others.
One day we received a letter from Alma.
"I am still alive although the town I live in is already dead. What can I write about it? It was too commonplace to be tragic. Out of the blue came thousands of tons of metal cases filled with dynamite and something unknown and into the sky rose clouds of dusty debris, bricks and flames. There remained only ruins under which were people, either crushed or burned. The survivors left the ruins of the town. I am at present in Halle. I don't know why nor for what reason I exist. Maybe just to become a victim during future air raids.
"People invent nice games, don't they? And this is humanity: I feel ashamed to be a human.
Your bombed-out - Alma.
P. S. I am sorry only for the books."
Dresden was finished too. I remembered the beautiful, charming Dresden, its Zwinger, opera, castle and avenues along the Elbe River. Now 'there were left only ruins and stumps. 'Sic transit gloria mundi' (so passes away earthly glory).
March came. The sunshine became stronger, warming the earth. The meadows started to show some green, the small rivers flowed rapidly. The cows in the barns were mooing longingly. It was a promise of Spring.
Although I was tired after a whole night's work, I did not want to miss the sun and the awakening Spring. I got up during the day and, crossing the town, went to a barn behind which were some cement pipes. I used to lie on them, bathe in the sun and look at the snow-covered Alps. During my night work, with eyes smarting from the very bright light, I would long for those moments.
One day when I was dozing peacefully on my cement pipes I was woken up by some loud, peculiar noise. Lifting my head, I saw from the direction of the forest a group of boys running. They were rushing straight towards the barn. Occasionally they would drop to the ground throwing wooden grenades, crawling on the meadow, running crouched over. Behind them, German officers came from the forest watching the boys through field glasses. The boys were in the uniform of Hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth). Puffing and sweating, the first reached the barn with a triumphant yell. The barn including me, was probably the aim of the exercise of attack. When the majority were near the barn, a bugle called off the war. The youngest were the last to arrive at the barn, covered with dirt, puffing and red in the face. The youngest looked no more than nine years old. Two were carrying a wooden gun of actual size, the third carried the ammunition box and one of his shoes which he had probably lost during the attack., Shortly the three officers arrived. Two were on crutches as each had a leg missing above the knee, the third one had the Iron Cross on his chest and an empty sleeve - the whole arm was missing. They were the instructors whom Hitler had chosen as tutors for young boys to teach them how best to kill people. The boys were listening attentively, mindful of their teachers missing limbs. Assembly and withdrawal were sounded by four buglers. The boys went proudly, in a military file. They could be proud as they were considered worthy to fight soon at the Front. They were like soldiers. The Fuehrer himself took the parade of their Hitler Youth delegation which was now already fighting at the Front.
They heard through the radio how, in the Fuehrer's Headquarters, the Fuehrer accepted them as true soldiers. Some had even received the Iron Cross and one of their comrades, a boy of ten, received from the Fuehrer himself a golden cigarette case. The Fuehrer loved them all. They were honoured to be able to give their blood to the last drop for the Fuehrer himself and the NDSAP. (Nationale Deutsche Socialitische Arbeits Partei) (National German Socialistic Labour Party)
Everyone could read it in the newspapers. Every day there were obituary columns marked with black crosses, headed by beautiful words: ... 'They died for the Fuehrer, Volk and Vaterland'.
The boys were entering the town now singing - 'Unter der Lanterne' (Lili Marlene). Behind them followed the officers on crutches.
One day many dusty buses and trucks arrived in Isny, full of people and luggage. They must have been running away from the approaching Front. On some signs were visible between cracked dirt: 'Town administration -Vienna', a red one parked near the Mayor's office had the name 'Melba' and below it 'Chocolate Berlin'. Many private dusty cars around hotels and guesthouses contained men in dusty and crumpled civilian clothes, most with Party member medals pinned to their collars.
As usual I had my dinner, a bowl of soup, at The Stag. Marushka was rushing about an overcrowded room with scissors, cutting the various ration cards when taking orders. Mostly she had to serve eighty people or more. The heavy beer glasses were bringing her to near exhaustion, especially after the morning cleaning of hotel rooms. Rucksacks lay on benches and, under the tables, leather suitcases. Men were spreading maps on the tables, maps of the hilly Allgau, their fingers tracing the hills. Between these hills were faint lines crossing the nearby Swiss border. No music was heard from the radio - only 'Luftanmeldungen' (air reports). The latest was:
"Large formations of enemy planes are proceeding in a south-easterly direction ... stay tuned in ... attention, attention, the aforementioned formations are 20 km from Augsburg. Augsburg ... Augsburg...! You now have a full air alert, all to go to the shelters." There was no sound in the dining room except the loudspeaker. Everyone was listening. The speaker continued: "Some bombers are bombing the southern district of Augsburg; the rest have passed, over the town flying to the east."
About eight in the evening before going to work I used to listen to the radio in the guest house. Most of the guests, concerned for their home towns, would sit near the speaker with maps in front of them to follow the latest communiqués from German headquarters. Nobody doubted now that Germany had lost the war.
The Allied armies were pushing deep into the Reich behind the Rhine, damaging the main railway junction. Cologne, Frankfurt-on-Main, Wuerzenburg and Kassel were already taken. The speaker announced that two German officers had been shot after the army found them guilty of neglect - they had not destroyed a bridge near Ramagen. This allowed the allies to force their way over the Rhine. The Fuehrer's headquarters were looking for the scapegoats. Eisenhower's correspondents announced that the best way to cross a river was over an undamaged bridge.
The announcement tried to avoid mentioning towns. They usually spoke in general geographical terms, mentioning long rivers along the Front or some threatened province. Therefore the news bulletins dwelt for days on heroic battles in the Ruhr which stopped the enemy. But in the factory we knew better. We were able to organise, quite nicely, access to other than German news. A young Yugoslav, a lawyer from Lumblan, had a hidden receiver for listening to the Swiss radio. We all appreciated this neutral news. This Yugoslav was a work controller which made his job in distributing the news much easier. Walking along the workbenches he would draw on the wings the latest positions of heavy fighting. Through him we learned that the heroic fighters in the Ruhr were doomed as the Allied forces had already completely encircled the German divisions and the first Allied armoured divisions were approaching Hanover.
The factory ran out of material for work. Some workbenches stood empty. The finished flaps were not taken by anyone. They were stored everywhere, even in the yard under the open sky. One day a full transport of wings was returned to the factory. All the wings were full of holes - some were twisted. The transport had been caught in an air raid before reaching its destination. We were told to patch the holes with pieces of tin. We all knew that this job was senseless but we were held at the workshops and had to work.
Even my Lange became quiet and depressed but never for long. The night before he had read an article about the 'Wehrwolf' (German partisans) and the 'Panzerfaust' (anti-tank gun). Now he was again of good hope, speaking about the 'Endsieg' (final victory).
Previously one had to be quiet and listen to Lange but now people started to joke, especially the Swiss labourer who loved joking. Now he came over to Lange, listened attentively, using a glass from a watch as a monocle. Suddenly he interrupted:
"Do you know what the English are calling the Panzerfaust?"
"What else can they call it?" asked Lange.
"They call it the Eight Mark and Twenty Pfennig Suicide Apparatus." The others started to laugh. Lange was confused. A pity he was a good man, but so stupid.
During meal break the rumour had it that the Gauleiter (Governor) had left Stuttgart and was living in Jaegerdorf, a small village near Isny. This was also repeated in the whole town. It was impossible to check. The rumours started to become more and more fantastic and unbelievable that Hitler and all his staff were now in Allgau, the American paratroops had landed in Ulm, and many more. One thing was typical of these rumours; they usually appeared shortly before some catastrophe.
Easter came. The Resurrection Day, a day of peace and happy chiming bells, was a bad day for the people of Isny. The bells were ringing, but for a different reason - "The town is burning:" - the scream called the people to the streets.
Under cover of night, planes had come over Isny. People were sleeping, nobody had kept watch at the sirens. People were woken up suddenly by the noise of explosions. Rushing to the windows, they could see the so-called 'Lamps' (parachute fires) hanging above the town, the planes circling or diving low over the roofs. The planes, after dropping mainly incendiary bombs, disappeared back into the darkness. The bells began to ring the alarm, the sirens to wail and people rushed out to help fight the fires. The phosphorous was spreading from roofs and houses to the streets very quickly; there was no time to save all buildings. Three houses were already burning very brightly. Everyone was trying to help save goods and animals, rushing with hoses and buckets to keep the fires down. The best were the young Dutchmen. Not thinking about themselves, they were helping those most in need. They started the motor pump just in time as the fires started to spread to the neighbouring properties. The houses were usually adjoining each other in this old town. Nobody slept that night; everyone was watching lest all the town was consumed by spreading fires. The towers, also scorched, were still ringing their bells.