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Rita's Story


It was 1943 and Germany had been at war four years.  So far, Breslau had been untouched.  We had no air raids and no food shortages.  In fact, life was good.  Of course we had ration books, but we seemed to be short of nothing.  None of my brothers drank or smoked.  They'd send their pay home for mum, but she wouldn't take a penny.  She put it all in the bank for them.

I was old enough by now, to work in the factory after school.  It was the first time I became aware of all the different races.  People were speaking many different languages.  I was very interested and had lots of fun trying to make myself understood.

The two girls I was working with came from Russia.  Nadia was a bit flighty and only interested in boys, but Katia was lovely.  Her home was in Siberia.  She was a medical student and had been studying in western Russia when the Germans arrived and she and many others had been brought here to help in the war effort.
She said if only she could let her parents know that she was all right, it would make her very happy.  We often talked about her home.  She begged me to go with her to meet her parents after the war.  I didn't like the idea of living in Siberia.  I said it would be too cold, but she laughed and told me I would be dressed in fur, and in her home was a fireplace that reached to the ceiling.  It would burn all day and all night.  We could ride on a sleigh drawn by two horses.  They'd have bells round their necks and we would be wrapped up in bearskins.  It all sounded wonderful.  For her, life was not too bad apart from being so far away from home.  Lots of other foreign people, especially the Slavis, had a miserable existence.  They were poorly clothed, very hungry and frightened.  I saw a lot of them roaming the streets, hanging around outside shops in the hope of someone kind and brave enough to share a little food with them.  One day I went with my mum to the baker for bread.  One such person was sitting on the floor just by the entrance.  My mum broke the kilo loaf in half and handed one part to me saying to give it discreetly to the poor fellow in the hope someone in Russia will do the same to my brother.  I did so, and immediately this chap kissed my feet.  After getting home, my mum told me that my brother Günter (the sailor) was reported missing in action.  His ship had been sunk and because new ones could not be built, the survivors got sent to the Eastern Front.  The Russian invasion was on, and things were getting bad for us.
The Commanding Officer reported that the Russian attack came so sudden.  My brother was wounded but they had been forced to leave all the wounded behind.  After a while, the Germans retook the place and my brother was not found among the dead.  That was all he could tell us.  No Prisoners of War were allowed to write, so we could only live in hope of ever seeing him again.
Mum was still sewing for long hours.  We lived in a posh house in what used to be an exclusive Jewish quarter of the town.  Many had left for America in the pre-war days.  Mostly the old.  Women and children had stayed behind.  One such family lived above us.  The husband had left.  His elderly parents, two young children, pregnant wife, widowed sister, and spinster sister-in-law stayed behind.  My mother and his wife Mrs Blatt, were good friends.  She would call on us almost daily, and while my mum would carry on sewing, they would spend hours talking.  She never complained, only say "I hope we can keep a roof over our heads".  The spinster sister, Miss Spiller, worked in a munition factory.  The old people died. One day the SS called for the widow - she was about 35 years of age, and told her to pack her things and follow.  She said she didn't need anything but would they allow her to have a bath.  They agreed, and after a while when she hadn't come out of the bathroom, they went into the bathroom and found her dead.  She was a doctor and had ended her own life.  Once a large, happy family, had crumbled to Mrs Blatt, Helga about eight years old, Achim perhaps six and baby Eli plus her sister.  Unprotected, and with no rights in a hostile environment.  I don't know where her income came from, but this family started to sell off their possessions.

We had an ace flyer in Germany.  He had shot down many planes and was awarded many medals including the laurels.  One day we were told he had been shot down.  There was a state funeral.  The flags were flying at half mast.  The streets were crowded with people.  The coffin was draped with a flag and pulled by a gun carriage.  Sometime later we heard a different story.

The flyer (whose name I don't remember) refused to go on a suicide mission.  He said it was useless because Germany was losing the war, so he was sent to a concentration camp for being a traitor, and there, he was built into a wall.  True of false, I don't know, but it was told by someone who actually worked on the building site.  After we heard of the loss in Stalingrad, the talk of war became quite serious.  We now know that that was the turning point of the war.

The Germans were not fighting the Russian soldier any more, but the Mongolians, and most of all, the Siberian winter.  No-one but the Mongols could withstand that.  They were wild and had no mercy for anyone or anything.  They rode horses bareback and existed on raw.horse meat.  It was Russia's ace card against the invaders.  The Germans were halted 12km before Moscow.  With their supply lines cut off and no food, clothing or ammunition, the weather and the Mongols, things were really bad.  Men were dying by the thousands.  The lucky ones were already dead.  The suffering beyond endurance.  The men's only thought and hope was to get back to the West.  Millions never made it.

Even after the war, many were never allowed to return.  My eldest brother was one of a handful who did make it back.  He was in the army from the beginning, but never ranked higher than corporal.  He was not seeking glory, but fighting to stay alive.  His only reward are frost-bitten feet, ulcers and a brain disorder.  He won't talk about the war.  I have asked many times.Günter did not fare too badly.  He recovered his health, and because his apprenticeship kept him outside in all kinds of weather, it made him hardy and he did manage.  Many of his friends are buried in Russia.  People more used to a heated environment did not survive.  He worked in a factory in the Urals where he met a girl and fell in love.  Once a week he was allowed out for visits.  He was helped a lot by her parents with food and clothing.  After four years he received his papers to return to Germany.  It was 1947.  Günter's friend, older than himself, was very ill, so my brother made him take the papers and return while he remained behind until his friend's papers arrived.  Two more years went by before the release papers came.  My brother wanted to bring his girlfriend with him, but that was not allowed.  neither could he get permission to marry her and stay behind.

In 1949, after six years as a Prisoner of War, he was put on a train for Germany.


Part 3 Calm Before the Storm


Me and Mum 1943

When he came to visit us on leave, my eldest brother bought a wedding ring from them.  It was pure gold.  My mother bought furniture and china.  Just before Christmas 1943, my mother heard heavy footsteps going upstairs.  Although very frightened herself, she went to see what was going on.  When she realised is was the secret police, she knew what had to be done.  My youngest brother Georg's place of work was only five minute's walk away.  Mum sent me with a note to him saying to hurry and fetch Mrs Spiller from the factory.  She arrived just in time to meet her sister and children coming down the stairs.  They met on our floor level.  At least they saw each other once more and were able to travel together because the end of the war was not that far away.  I pray that they made it.  I often wondered.

It was in the following spring of 1944 that Georg was sent to France with the army.  After only six moths' service, his best friend was killed and he himself was taken Prisoner of War and sent to Scotland.  At least he was safe.  Our biggest worry was Günter.  Still only 21 years of age, wounded and in Russia.

The block that was our home until January 1945