- Contributed by
- Mike Stickland
- People in story:
- Paula Alexander
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 07 October 2005
Paula’s Story - Chapter 4
When the end of the hostilities was imminent, tension was mounting high as the question arose, whether or not Hamburg should be defended. This uppermost important decision rested solely with the Buergermeister, (Lord Mayor). For days we waited with bated breath for this vital news, and the relief of the citizens was enormous when he proclaimed Hamburg "an open town" . This meant there would be no defensive fighting against the approaching conquerors. All the fears and agonies which we had born with fortitude for over five years were suddenly lifted from our hearts. With one stroke of a pen one could say, but with that, he also had signed his own death-certificate, as it turned out later. When the Lord Mayor made his announcement from the town-hall balcony, whoops of delight went up, we all thought he would be declared a hero and would go down in history for saving countless lives, both friends and foes, and the remains of the town. Instead he was later arrested and condemned, (I am not sure but I believe he was shot) because of his Nazi connections. So, down he went but in a different way.
When the enemy troops advanced nearer and nearer from all sides the race was on among the British, American and Russian forces, as to who would reach the capital city of Berlin first. As I mentioned earlier on, as far as the population of Hamburg was concerned, everybody wished and hoped that it would be either the British or American troops. We had heard so many diabolical stories how the Russians treated our women and we were petrified it might happen to us. We could only pray that we may be spared such fate. As it turned out, our prayers were answered and our luck was in the British army came marching into Hamburg.
Words are quite inadequate and I find it impossible to describe my emotions when I saw the first British tanks rolling into my battered town. It felt as if I would burst with all the happiness which flooded through. In my mind's eyes I see it still, so clearly as if it happened only yesterday.
It was a beautiful May morning, (the 5th in fact) and the Sun was shining in an azure-blue Sky. I was awakened about 6 a.m. by a strange rumbling noise which puzzled me. I jumped out of bed, thinking the bombers were coming back. I dashed out on to my balcony, and there it was, the most awe-inspiring sight, never to be forgotten. Rooted to the spot I just stood and stared, through the trees I saw the tanks, rolling slowly and peacefully by, about 150 feet from me, and the sun gleaming on them. I sighted the first English soldiers, looking out of the turrets, enemies no more and soon to become my friends.
Standing there, gazing at the never ending line of armoured vehicles, I hardly realized that tears were streaming down my face. Even now, after all these years, tears still spring to my eyes when I talk about it, in fact my eyes are wet while I am writing this down.
This is the gospel-truth, nothing is exaggerated. Thinking back, this was one of the most wonderful experiences I have had in my life. I really and truly wish I could have those moments all over again, they were so utterly beautiful. As I said, I only wish I could express myself much better, but it is very difficult to put ones innermost feelings into words. The realization that suddenly it was all over took some time to sink in, and one had to get used to the quiet, undisturbed days and nights. No more the recurrent moan of the air-raid sirens, the steady thump of the bombs, no more the recurrent relief of the all-clear.
For some the panic and fears of being consumed by the fires, destroyed by the nights, had ceased. For others the sorrowful pain for their lost loved ones continued. Tragically the war brought some kind of pain to everyone, it was unavoidable that anyone would be involved somehow or other. Now it was a matter of picking up the pieces and settling down again. The long years of strife and struggle must have left their marks on most people, and could not be wiped out in a hurry. It took a long time to forge" and forgive.
At this point I would like to stress that never, ever, at any time did I blame the enemies for all the havoc and destruction they had caused in my homeland. I held only Hitler responsible for all that, and for all the heartbreak which the population had to suffer. He was a man demented with power, which must have deranged his mind completely. Yet, there are some British people who have never been to Germany, have neither met or talked to any Germans, who are still full of hate and condemn the whole German race. I find that very sad indeed. If I had felt any hostility at all against the British, I could not have fallen in love with an Englishman whom I met in 1946, came to England with him in 1952 and married him. I was made very welcome by all his family.
This is now the year of 1977 and I am still here, alas my dear Husband died in July 1976, and left me alone with all my memories. With this I think it would be appropriate to conclude my war-time reminiscences. But if I may, I would like to add just a few more words about the aftermath, and I mean only a few.
When the occupation of Germany was completed, the territories sorted out and divided between the "Four-Powers", British, American, French and Russian. Although the war was over, an uneasy peace settled over the nation.
I personally had the notion, perhaps others felt it too, that our country did not belong to us anymore, that our "temporary visitors" were now the masters and we the slaves. Still, it was necessary to establish some sort of law and order after the prevailing chaos.
Our existence seemed to have changed entirely, it was like living in a new era. The hardships were not over by any means, provisions still scarce, money was valueless. On the black-market business was brisk and a new society appeared, the Spivs, who got rich very quick. Up to 1948, the shelves in the shops were devoid of any goods whatsoever, useful ones anyway, one could purchase some ashtrays and lighters made from cannon-shells, but of what use were they? Then the "Heichsmark" was devaluated, and "hey-presto", overnight, just like magic, luxuries we had not seen for years reappeared out of the blue. Everything was there, clothing, china, gold and silver etc. in abundance. Where it came from is anybody's guess, it was amazing.
The only trouble was we had no money to buy it. Everybody, rich and poor alike, received only 40 Marks of the lovely brand-new Deutschmark. For a short time there were neither rich nor poor people, the whole of Germany's population had just 40 Marks in their pockets, it was quite a sensational feeling being equal with the "upper-class". However, it did not take the clever "Business-Tycoons" very long to get on their feet again, but at least we all had some real money in our pockets now, could shop and save once more, and build up a new life.
It is apparent even to this day, that the temporary visitors were not so temporary after all, they are still keeping an eagle eye on things, Fortunately conditions and relationships are amicable, and that is all that matters.
It's difficult to find a title for my little story, but I think I call it "Divided Loyalties" - A Voice from the other Side, because my loyalties are always divided. It is not easy to have two nationalities and being torn "to and fro" between the two all the time. As can be seen from my notes, even during the war I never bore any grudge against the British. When I see a war film nowadays I am always on the British side, but when there are sporting events and a German team is taking part, I want them to win, because I know nobody gets hurt at games. I hope with all my heart that there will never be another serious conflict.
I shall not dwell on my "amorous escapades", but some were quite amusing. My friends and I thought we ought to do our share to bolster up the moral of the "boys in the trenches" when they came home on leave. It was really all quite harmless fun, but I fell "in and out of love" like nobody's business. No acquaintance lasted very long, it was a case of "here today -gone tomorrow".
While I was still working at the Jewish shop I mentioned, four of us gir1s began to correspond with some pen-friends, in this case, unknown soldiers. One of the girls had a cousin in the army, who came to visit her one day. He mentioned that his comrades felt a little lonely and would like to exchange letters with someone. So, out of the goodness of our hearts and feeling sorry for the boys, also thinking it might be fun, we put our names on the list. Very soon letters started to arrive, and needed to be answered of course It was strange writing to a person one had never seen, but I did not find it too difficult. To my amazement words flowed easily from my pen to this mysterious soldier, and after a few letters had been posted to and fro I felt I had known this person for a long time. It helped a great deal though that he wrote very interesting letters, and as I had anticipated it was great fun. The opportunity arose that a meeting could be arranged, which meant that we had to travel to Bremen where our pen-pals were stationed. So, on a Saturday evening after closing time at the shop, armed with toothbrushes ½ lb. of butter and a bottle of wine, and a lot of bravado, we went on our week-end trip. The train journey took only just over 1 hour and on arrival, not being able to see very much in the black-out, we called along the platform “Where are our unknown soldiers"? Finally, we bumped into each other and we were not only greeted by the 4 boys, but also by the "melodious" air-raid sirens. Consequently, the first tentative ogling took place in the bunker, and to break the ice, so to speak, we opened the bottle of wine to toast our acquaintance. After the all-clear we proceeded to our lodgings,(a 4-bedded room had been secured for us). No sooner had we reached it and the sirens shrieked once more. The boys stayed with us for a short while to await the end of the raid, but it was getting on for 10 pm when their passes expired, so they had to make a dash for the barracks while the bombs were still falling.
We were quite worried, but all went well. They joined us next morning for a sumptuous breakfast with the extra butter ration. At last we could have a good look at our "partners" in day-light. Luckily we liked what we saw, and the liking was mutual, my blind-date turned out to be a tall, dark and handsome man, I was very pleased about it. The eight of us spent a very unusual, hilarious weekend. The writing continued for a while, but eventually we lost them somewhere in the trenches.
Although travelling by train was not entirely forbidden, it was curtailed to the most necessary journeys. Nevertheless, I went to Uelzen now and again for a weekend to visit my Sister. On one of those occasions we went to a pub for a drink on a Saturday night. A conversation ensued with some soldiers who were sitting at the same table with us. They were inmates at the military hospital, recovering from their wounds. We were invited to visit them at the hospital, which we did on the Sunday morning. For me it was "love at first sight" with one of them, and this time it had really hit me. Sunday afternoon we all went walking in the woods,(six of us), we were larking about like children, and while running around, to my chagrin I sprained my ankle. The pain was very uncomfortable and I could only hobble now, which made me feel rather foolish.
For the next few weekends I stayed again with my Sister, so that I could see my new found friend again. A very lovely and tender feeling developed between us and although 1 was 28 years old at the time, I felt like "sweet-seventeen" again. Then the day came when he was discharged from the hospital and was sent to a town near Dresden. This posting was prior to being transferred back to the front, and since Saxony is a very long way from Hamburg, we were naturally very unhappy about it. But resourceful as I was in those days, no amount of kilometres could stop me from seeing him again. Asking my "boss" and being granted a week's holiday, I undertook the very hazardous and dangerous journey, through air-raids as usual, travelling all night I reached my destination at 7 am. feeling pretty fatigued. However, nothing could mar our joy and we were very happy to see each other again. A room had been booked for me with some very nice people. While I had a rest and a nap he went back on duty at the barracks. After lunch we went sightseeing through the pretty town, it was all so wonderful.
But once again, it was too good to last, a terrible shock was in store for me. While we were having tea with my hosts, a telegram arrived for me from my Mother, which read as follows: "Fire-bomb in your bedroom, please come home at once". I was absolutely stupefied and just burst into tears! I could not believe that my lovely holiday should be over before it had even begun. I had no choice but to return, so I grabbed my suitcase which I had not as yet unpacked, started back on the same exhausting journey so soon after my arrival. It was a tearful parting for both of us, and on reaching home was completely shattered after this excursion and the shock I had sustained.
And yet, the few hours of happiness I had snatched were worth all the bother and harassment, and this again proves my points I made earlier on in my story, live, love and be happy while there is still a chance.
--- END ---
© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.