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The Potsdam Schoolboy's story

The end of the War - no more war ever?

But what will the winners do with the losers??

Photograph of Heinz as a boy "Quickly quickly" shouts a man in an American uniform (how come he speaks German?) "The hall is needed for wounded people! Pack your things and get going!" And so began the first morning of peacetime for us, for my mother, my 18 year old sister, and for me - an 8 year old schoolboy from Potsdam, near Berlin.

The ballroom floor of a small village guest-house near the river Elbe on the west side had been completely covered with straw. On it people were laid out in tightly packed rows, old and young, many children. They were refugees from the eastern part of Germany, some of whom had been on the move for the four months since January 1945. They were fleeing from the ever approaching War Front - fleeing from the Russians, the Red Army. The fear that drove them on was written all over their faces which bore the evidence of indescribable strains and stresses.

Their fear was a terrible mixture: from the horror stories of the nazis "now these sub-human creatures are coming to take dreadful revenge!" Everyone knew those ugly bolshevik faces - they had been portrayed almost daily in the 'Volkische Beobachter' and these were now buried deep in our souls, especially for us children. And there were the horrors of the nights of perpetual bombing from which we had escaped. And worst, there were the reports from eye-witnesses among the refugees, some of whom had escaped from the Russians several times and in the process had lost members of their families. There were those who had had to watch as others, mostly women and children, paid with their lives for the horror that the nazis had started among eastern Europe's peoples. And there were the German soldiers fleeing, often for good reasons, from imprisonment by the Russians: whole SS Panzer Divisions were pushing towards the west in the hope that the Americans would unite with them to drive the Russians out of Germany again.

And now today, no reason for fear any more. We had finally and happily arrived in the land of peace on the West side of the Elbe with the Americans.

It was the 2nd or 3rd of May 1945 - still very early in the morning and still no end to the war, but we were, or so it seemed to us after the peaceful night, safe.

When the people who had been lying on the floor realised that the man who spoke German - in spite of being an American - had been serious with his order to empty the hall, they quickly piled together their remaining possessions, a woollen blanket for sleeping on at night and some food, mostly from the German army's 'iron rations'; choca-cola (fliers chocolate), and the fruit bars that the very young German soldiers had slipped to us the previous day, still on the Russian side of the river, sitting in their trenches obviously waiting to go into action. And tins of preserved pork, daily rations of crisp-bread whose cardboard packs the soldiers could use as postcards.

And even before the last refugees had left the room the medical orderlies pushed in carrying stretchers and tipped their sad loads onto the straw, which was still spread out. And we knew at once that we had already seen these blood-stained groaning bodies ... that had been the previous day - these were those same very young German soldiers from the trenches on the other side of the river, no doubt members of the Hitler Youth, who had quickly been pushed into military uniforms and sent off to fight the Russians, just to gain one or two days in which the fleeing German soldiers at the front might succeed in being captured by the Americans. THAT'S why they risked their lives and now the 'leftovers' were being brought into our nightly shelter.

Heinz Barthel
17th August, 1997

Heinz has written another story about this period :

You can ask Heinz some questions if you click here to write to him.

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