- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Horst Buerig
- Location of story:
- Braunschweig, GErmany, born Wolfsburg, Germany
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 30 September 2005
"This story was submitted to the People's War site by CSV/BBC Radio Nottingham on behalf of Horst Buerig with his permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions"
Horst Bürig (now 80) was born in 1925. He was in the German army but not as a conscript — it was National Service. He did not have a contract. He didn’t want to fight, nor did the 6 ‘boys’ Horst’s age from his village. Only Horst came back.
After being in the ‘Jungvolk’ from the age of 10 — 14 and the Hitler Youth from age 14 — 18 (which was compulsory), he was sent to Étables, in France, for training. (Étables is by the English Channel). This was 1943.
Here he had to shoot English planes down. He was here for 3 months training but saw no conflict.
The conditions were not particularly pleasant — they lived in bunkers where there was no space and plenty of rats.
After this he was sent to Bergen — Belsen (for ½ year) for more training. This was still National Service. Even now, German’s have to complete 9 months of national Service.
The rifle range was next to the concentration camp. He remembered the women and children from the camp were made to sing so the soldiers wouldn’t know about the dreadful conditions there. Many soldiers knew but were not allowed to talk about it otherwise they would have been sent to concentration camp themselves.
Horst remembers seeing 2 trucks with German soldiers going into the camp. The men were from the submarines. The subs had been successful in the first part of the war but when the British developed sonar, the German subs were easily destroyed. Consequently, some Germans said they were not going to fight as they had no chance of survival. Because of this refusal they were sent to the concentration camp.
After the training, in July 1944, he was sent to Italy, near Florence and became a corporal. Horst remembers a soldier not wanting to fight and he, Horst, was asked to take 2 soldiers for a firing squad to execute this soldier. Horst was only 18 years old and said he didn’t want to do it, using his age and inexperience as an excuse. Luckily his superior was liberal and said ok so someone else did it. He could have been shot himself for showing this reluctance.
In Italy, Horst was mainly fighting against the Canadians and British.
He remembers at the end of ’44, on Xmas eve, there was no fighting (this was not official) — they fired shots into he air. This was repeated on New Year’s Eve a week later.
Horst contracted some sort of fever and was sent to hospital (a former hotel) at Lake Garda. He was there for 2 weeks and again a few months later. They were the best times of his war!!
After the July ’44 attempt to get rid of Hitler, many Germans believed they would not win the war. But they could not say this.
When Horst was at the front there was not much food. He was up in the mountains (the Alps), but no supplies came through. He remembers them drinking the dew. They slept on the ground - it was very cold.
Once when they were marching back he was asked to check at the end to make sure no-one was left behind. They went past a farm and a lady gave them a big jug of milk to drink but because he was at the back there was only a drop left for him.
Once, when they were retreating, their own artillery was shooting and he remembers the soldier in front getting hit and his arm dangling off. Horst took him to a tank.
Another time when they were retreating back they went past a farm and machine gunned some ducks because they were so hungry. He remembers the farmer being very angry. If they had been seen by officers they could have been sent to a tribunal.
In March 1945 he was sent back to Germany for officer training in Ingsburg. He had mixed feelings about this. His parents thought that he would be safe for 6 months away from the front and would have a better life. But Horst didn’t really want to become a ‘proper’ soldier.
However, before he could start his training the war ended and all trainees had to go and fight the Americans. They all knew they had no chance — they were not really fighting, just trying to survive. They saw the American tanks coming and were sent to stop them with machine guns. It was stupid. (Horst’s words.) So instead, he and 2 other soldiers went into the woods and threw away their guns. They tried to get back to a farm where they knew the farmer would hide them but the Americans captured them (and took away their watches!)
In April 1945 Horst was taken to a holding camp, a big American camp in Heilbronn, South Germany. He was there for 6 weeks. There were not many soldiers on guard and it would have been easy to escape. However, as many prisoners were being let out anyway with official papers Horst thought it would only be a matter of time before he was let out too.
Soldiers knew that if you got taken to an American POW camp that there would usually be food as they had good supplies. However, in this camp there was hardly any. The guards were mainly black Americans and because of his treatment, Horst still has problems mixing with coloured people.
There were no huts, just a field. They were given no blankets or clothes (some POWs had come from Africa and only had light clothing). They dug holes in the ground (using empty food tins) for shelter but were ordered to fill them in. It was April and was cold at night. Horst had a small kind of waterproof tarpaulin and that should have been handed in (or be shot) but he kept it on next under his clothing and faired a little better. Other soldiers asked if they could sleep next to him for warmth.
Each day they were given 1 piece of bread, 1 spoonful of corned beef and 1 litre of soup. The POWs had to work, sometimes without food. (Horst’s son said that this still makes his dad very angry — he wouldn’t have minded working with adequate food.)
Because they were so hungry they used to steal bits of food from the ration depot. Once 2 soldiers were caught and all the POWs had to stand in a circle while the Americans mixed all sorts of food together in a pot, like mustard, salt and other bits to make it taste horrible. The POWs were then made to eat it until they were sick. They were then beaten with rifle butts.
After the 6 weeks Horst was ordered to leave and he was taken on a train to France. The soldiers were put on open wagons and the French used to stand on bridges and throw rocks and stones on them. Some soldiers died. He was handed over to the French and was in a camp near Le Mans. He was here for 3 weeks. The soldiers were kept on gravel ground in the open. Many soldiers died and at 12 noon each day the dead were carried out. Horst remembers having to lie down all night - if you stood up you were shot. In morning you were ordered to stand up — Horst says one morning he nudged the chap next to him to hurry to stand up but he was dead.
He remembers being given 3 onions from the Red Cross. The Red Cross checked if the POWs were being looked after well but they didn’t really check — just left food. It was all covered up.
Horst said that the best captors with regards to correctness were the British. Although there wasn’t a lot of food (because the British didn’t have much themselves) they got enough and were treated well.
The French captors were very angry.
Russian captors — only about 1% survived.
The 2nd camp Horst was sent to was near Marseilles.
The 3rd camp was at Briançon where he was offered to work. He wanted to work in the mine but as he only weighed 45 kilos he wasn’t allowed — he was very upset because he knew he would have received better food.
The camp had a roof with a floor although it was very small — again it was in a big field. If you got up in the night to go to the loo you wouldn’t get your space back under the roof.
After 4 weeks he was sent to Gap in the Alps. It was a small farm with 1 horse and 1 cow. He remembers there being no toilet. Although the people who owned the farm were very poor, they were nice and he was given decent food, mainly potatoes (really for pigs). Horst was only here for 3 weeks for the potato harvest.
In the Autumn, he returned back to the camp and was then asked to work on the roads until the Winter (1945). He could even earn a bit of money, so he was able to buy a litre of milk every other day.
As it was the Alps (and Winter), there was a lot of snow and so Horst couldn’t work on the roads. So instead, he was sent to another farm. This farm was not so good and he was not treated well. He remembers stealing eggs and eating them raw. In the Summer he managed to escape from here with 2 other men. They had to go through the valleys as there was no other way and although they had French clothing and spoke French, they were captured after a few days.
He was in prison for 4 weeks and had all his hair shaved off.
He was then sent to another farm in the Alps, in Charbottes and here they treated him well. He was given no money and had no free will but he was well treated. He was allowed to sit in front of the fire in the main room and had a bedroom to sleep in (with farmer’s son). He also helped the children with their homework as Horst was an educated man. (He later became an agricultural teacher.) The lady who owned the farm even said that Horst should marry a French girl because if lots of people did the same, there wouldn’t be any more wars!
He was here from the Autumn of ’46 to the Spring of ’48. Altogether Horst was a POW for 3 years.
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