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Großkundgebung - Mass Meeting in Munich 1942.
Source: Illustrierter Beobachter Folge 44 29. Oktober 1942-01
Cheers. Raúl M .
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Chapter 3-World War 2 1939-1945
1939 was a big year for me, I started school! Even more important: Juliana , my future wife was born on Easter Sunday, 09/04/1939 in Buitenzorg, Java, Dutch East Indies, a world away from Germany.
I don’t know the exact date but the first day of school was after the Easter School Holidays in April 1939. I got a big cardboard cone (Zuckertüte=sugar cone , sugar bag) full of toys, sweets, coloured boiled eggs (the chocolate variety was unknown then) and other knickknacks to sweeten the monumental day as was the custom in that region.
Our school consisted of a single classroom where one teacher taught grades one to eight. There were about 60 pupils in the one classroom. Notebooks were not common and we wrote on slate tablets with slate pens.
It still amazes me that we learnt anything at all. Discipline was harsh and corporal punishment a common occurrence.
I loved attending school. I enjoyed learning, it came easy and in those days I had a good memory, unlike now when I forget a question as soon as it has been asked. LOL.
Once in grade 4 I answered a question about the Island of Corregidor in the Philippines that had everyone else stumped, even the grade 8 kids and probably the teacher as well. The teacher was so impressed he presented me with a World-Atlas. Thereafter I was called the ”History Professor” even though the question was about Geography.
1939 was also the start of World War II. It had a profound effect on our families and changed our lives forever.
My father was drafted into the army in 1940 after the French campaign had been concluded. He was first stationed in the “2nd Company Infantry replacement Battalion 59” in the city of Eisenach with the dog tag number -1533-2./Inf.Ers.Btl.59. Before the war against Russia began he was transferred to the 6th (gepanzerte) (armoured) Kompanie (Company), II Battalion, 6th Schützen (Rifle) Regiment, 7th Panzer (Tank) Division. The 7th P.D. was nicknamed the “Gespenster Division” (Phantom or Ghost Division) because of its fighting record.
He took part in the invasion of the Soviet Union and fought in all the battles of the 7th P.D. from the border crossing (22/06/1941) to the doors of Moscow (November1941) and the retreat during the horrible winter to the Rshew area.
On the 10/05/1942 the Division was transferred to France for rest and recreation. While there they were involved in the occupation of Vichy France , highlighted by the coup to take the harbour of Toulon. During his stay in France he was transferred to the 5th Company of the 6th Regiment. Dad was decorated with the Iron Cross 2nd class, the Panzerkampfabzeichen (Tank Assault Badge), Winterschlacht im Osten 1941/1942 (Eastern Front Medal, colloquially known as the “Gefrierfleisch Orden” [frozen meat medal]) and he was promoted to the rank of Gefreiter (Corporal). He received the Iron Cross for rescuing wounded German soldiers under enemy fire from the no mans land between the German and Soviet trenches.
In late December 1942 to early January 1943 the Division was transferred back to Russia in the Don-Donets rivers area.
Early in February 1943 my dad suffered frostbite to the toes of his right foot and had to have some toes amputated. He spent about a month in a hospital in Zittau / Silesia. On the 14/05/1943 he was transferred to the 6th Replacement Battalion of the 7th P.D. in Saalfeld/ Thüringen. That was when I saw my Dad for the last time. On the 07/07/1943 he left for his old Company at the Russian front where he arrived on the 18/07/1943. Thereafter Dad fought in the retreat across the Ukraine. At home he never said much about the war, did not go into any details and he was happy to wear civvies, “so I won’t have to salute the officers in the street” as he put it.
Dad was offered to become an instructor to train recruits but he declined and chose to go back to his mates of the 7th P.D.
When he was send back to the front again it was a bitter-sweet experience for him, torn between his family and the comrades of his unit who were like a 2nd family to him after sharing constant danger, hardship and death. They had to relay on each other for sheer survival which made them very close, like a band of brothers, as the American author Stephen E. Ambrose described it in his book by the same name.
On the 14/09/1943 he lost his live in the bitter street fighting in Oposhnja against the Russian 20th Guards Rifle Corps from 4th Guards Army.
His body was never recovered and there was no grave or any other information, just a letter from his company stating he had died after having been shot in the head. Some month later one of his comrades (who was himself killed later in the war) send us a letter dated 08/01/1944 stating he was shot and lying in the street. The Germans had to retreat and couldn’t recover his body.
The first inkling that he had died came when my mother’s letters were returned with the remark: Returned, recipient died for Greater Germany.
Next we received two letters, one from my fathers Company Commander with a generalized description of the event and a copy of the same letter with a note of the correctness of said letter from the Mayor of our village. The letter from the Company was dated 17/09/1943 and the one from the Mayor 19/10/1943.
I was 11 years old and absolutely devastated, as was my mum. Gunda was only 6 and did not fully understand the implications of dad’s death.
A few months later a remembrance service was held in the local church. The pastor, the local administrators and party bigwigs made speeches about the fallen soldiers and their supreme sacrifices for “Führer, Volk und Vaterland” (Leader [Hitler] Nation and Fatherland). I sat in a pew and wept and thought “you bastards sit in your nice offices and lead the good life and make heroic speeches and my dad has perished. After the service the relatives came to our apartment for a wake. Most of them got inebriated, laughed and told jokes while I sat in the background and hated these hypocrites.
At home in Germany the first two years of the war were relatively uneventful. Blackout measures were introduced, food rationing came into force and eligible men were induced into the armed forces. We collected iron, copper, brass and other items useful for the war effort and followed the events at the front with great interest.
I suffered a lot from asthma, especially in the winter. Between 1944 and 1947 I went four times to a sanatorium or spa to heal my asthma by immersion in saltwater, singing and marching in rooms saturated with salty air and doing lots of exercises in the clean, fresh mountain air of Bad Frankenhausen (Spa Frankenhausen) with its saltwater springs. Each visit lasted a month and there was a marked improvement for a while but unfortunately in the next winter the asthma returned just as bad as it had been before.
Other treatments I received over the years were injections, inoculations, countless pills and medications but nothing helped. I was treated by the world- renowned paediatrician Professor Dr. Jussuf Ibrahim but he did not have the answer either. When I left home to live in West Germany the asthma disappeared. And I only felt it again when I went to visit Jena and its surrounds. In Australia I have been free from this horrible and disabling affliction.
At ten years of age the boys were inducted into the Deutsches Jungvolk (German Youth), a subsidiary of the Hitlerjugend (HJ) (Hitler Youth) organisation. The Jungvolk served as a four year preparation for the HJ.
I went to the induction meeting and declined to join up and surprisingly my decision was accepted and no pressure was applied to join even though it was compulsory.
From late 1942 onwards we were increasingly subjected to aerial attacks by day (US Air Force) and at night (RAF). While living in the countryside, the chance of a bombing attack was minimal and it was good fun to observe the planes fly past, there was always a certain danger involved. On the 09th of February 1945 the US bombers dropped 32 bombs on the far side of the railway lines near our station. Nine fell about 500 metres away on to ploughed fields. If they had fallen on the near side of the rails our village would have been obliterated. I watched it all from the street near our house and when the geysers of earth erupted and the sound of the explosions rolled over me I dived behind a nearby brick wall for cover.
Late in the war the American Fighter-bombers shot up the trains in more or less the same spot. Flying extremely low they started shooting well ahead of the train lines and “walked” the fire across our village to their target, doing quite a bit of damage to the houses in the process and scaring the living daylights out of us. Amazingly nobody got hurt. After a few days of this carnage the train service was suspended.
They also roamed about shooting up trucks and cars on the roads which also posed an ever-present danger for pedestrians nearby. The trucks usually had a “spotter” sitting on a mudguard and if they saw an enemy plane they would attempt to get under cover or run for it. I also saw the early German jet fighters (ME-262) in action. An American B-17 “Flying Fortress” bomber was shot down by a direct hit from an 88 flak projectile and crashed not far from our village. All crew members perished and were interred in our cemetery. After the war they were exhumed by the US army and taken to their home country. I missed the action because I was on my way to the spa by train. When the air raid sirens sounded we happened to be in the railway station of Erfurt and were herded into an air raid shelter for the duration of the raid, anxiously listening to the thunder of the anti-aircraft guns blazing away and hoping no bombs would hit our shelter. It was a very frightening experience being shut up underground with a large number of scared people.
Later in the war a German ME-109 fighter plane was shot up by US Thunderbolt fighters and made a “wheels-up” crash landing very close to the outskirts of Großschwabhausen. The pilot was unhurt, a very lucky guy indeed.
I lived with my grandparents for about a year during the war and went to school in Magdala. It was after my Dad’s death and my Mum had great difficulties to make ends meet and cope with her loss. I think it was late 1943 to 1944.
In Magdala there was no food shortage, I played a lot of Football (Soccer) and acquired a new nickname “Gonde”. This was of course derived from Egon.
While living in Magdala I was summoned to the local police station for an interrogation. Earlier that year (1944) I had gone home to visit my cousin Willy who was on furlough from the army. While at his home a neighbour came in to say hallo. After he left he denounced Willy for having listened to the BBC on the radio. This was of course a very serious accusation in the 3rd Reich and could have resulted in imprisonment, incarceration in a concentration camp or even summary execution. After extensive questioning where I denied the accusations and after my grandfather Edmund came to vociferously support me (I had been hauled in by myself at the age of 12) they eventually released me and that was the end as far as I was concerned. Apparently Willy had a court-martial hearing and he was found not guilty. The Neighbour was imprisoned for a few months.
Of the persecution of the Jewish people I saw very little. There were no Jews living in Großschwabhausen or Magdala nor in any of the nearby villages. The only time I saw a Jew was on a visit to Jena when an old man with a yellow Star of David on his suit-jacket walked slowly along the street, his eyes focused on the footpath in front of him. There were rumours about the concentration camps but nobody I knew had actually been inside one to verify the stories.
On the 11th of April the SS guards from the Buchenwald concentration camp forced some of the inmates into a cattle train and tried to take them away from the approaching Americans. When the train stopped at our station, the fighter-bombers disabled the locomotive and the prisoners were herded through our village. The guards shot and killed about a dozen of these poor people who were to weak to go on or were trying to escape and left them lying in the street. One was killed right in front of our house. The Yankees liberated them later some distance further along the road.
Later on that day a Hungarian army unit with horse-drawn wagons (most likely members of the Hungarian 83rd Replacement and Training Regiment) arrived in Großschwabhausen and sheltered in some of the local farm buildings. The next day elements of the US army’s 2nd Battalion, 319th Infantry regiment, 80th Infantry Division, 3rd Army entered our village. I watched it all from our upper story window. The Sherman tanks rolled along the main Street, German prisoners sat on top of the tanks, presumably to deter any defenders to attack them. There were no German troops in the vicinity and the Hungarians surrendered without a fight and were taken prisoner.
The Americans took possession of our bedrooms and kitchen and we slept on the floor in a downstairs room. During the night the US M7 Priest self propelled guns stationed close by bombarded Jena intermittently and kept us awake. The next day Jena surrendered and Germany surrendered less than a month later.