- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Marushka (Maria) and Zygmunt Skarbek-Kruszewski
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 31 July 2005
The following story appears courtesy of and with thanks to Marushka (Maria) and Zygmunt Skarbek-Kruszewski and George (Jurek) Zygmunt Skarbek.
Something wrong was happening to the electrical power in our district. 'Gaulieter' (county boss) issued many orders restricting the use of electric power. Thanks to him our working day was shortened from 13 to 11 hours. We had to stop work when it got too dark. But this did not last long either. One day all the power stopped. Everything stopped - the compressors, the pneumatic drills - without electricity the factory was dead. The blessed silence: Soon news came that the factory would be closed as the power was cut for "an indefinite period." All the labourers were happy.
We were allowed to go home earlier. All women except Russians, Ukrainians and Poles with the letter 'P' received leave until further notice. All men, including 'OST' labourers, were told to report for work next morning.
Next morning we were divided into many labour gangs for various jobs. The management was determined to keep us working so that we would not eat the German bread while idle. The women had to clean the yard and roofs of snow whilst older women sorted rivets. The Dutchmen were sent into the forest to cut wood, the Frenchmen were cleaning all metal parts of rust, a few Soviets and I were sent to the cabinetmakers to make new shelves for the stores. Now for a change I became a cabinetmaker. The worst part of this assignment was that our boss was the hated Altman whom I mentioned before. Already on the first day he had screamed at me when I was lying on a shelf although I was hammering in nails. He did not like my comfortable position. Red in the face, his hand waving madly, he started screaming at me. I thought he would hit me on the head with a tool but luckily my head was hard to reach, being pressed deep between two shelves. It ended with me only listening to his most vulgar swearing, half of which I could not understand anyway as it was delivered in Swabian slang. From that day on he picked on me constantly. Everything I did was wrong. He might have been right because, as a solicitor by profession, I was not much good as a cabinetmaker. But he was also sadistic. Once, after the bells had sounded and we were all ready to go home, he kept me back, making me clean the hall. I began to hate him in earnest. I don't know how it would have finished but new orders were issued. The power was restored under the condition that we would work at night only. I returned to my old bench.
The working hours were now from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. At 1 a.m. we had twenty minutes break. For the first few days it was hard to fight sleep. About two in the morning after eating the soup, I simply slept standing at the workbench. Fighting to stay awake in spite of the hellish noise in the hall and the patrolling foreman, the mind became befuddled and a mental blackout occurred. The heavy press tool fell out of my hands landing on my toes. This woke me up, gasping with pain. It was worse when this state of sleepy paralysis came to my knees because then, as if cut down, I fell to the floor amongst the laughter of my mates. To my inner discomfort, I did not notice these states happening to my mates. Something was probably wrong with me.
With time our situation improved, thanks mainly to the recurring air raids.
The Americans became more interested in Wuertenberg and Bavaria, the region of south-west Germany. When the planes were proceeding in our direction, the factory was advised by phone. All lights had to be switched off and we could stop work. In seconds all tools were thrown down and, using our coats as pillows, we lay down. Sometimes we were lucky and the alert lasted two hours but mostly it was less than half an hour. It happened sometimes that the squadrons were flying over Isny in which case we were told to leave the factory. We had to walk through corridors built in a zigzag fashion over half a kilometre to a large shelter built under the forest. This shelter had been built in case the factory had to be moved underground.
We walked around the forest and it usually took a long time before we were back at the workbench. I did not like these 'Full Alerts' as we had to carry the more valuable equipment to the shelter. My duty was to carry a large typewriter in a wooden box through the narrow, muddy passage. I definitely preferred to sleep in the factory.
One day the German newspapers announced that a Canadian tank division was moving towards the Rhine. The headquarters added: "No Canadian or English would ever cross the Rhine. The efficient German Command had foreseen the enemy intentions and through the December offensive, by attacking from the east and the west, thwarted their plans. The Soviet attack on the River Oder was stopped and pushed back thanks to the attitude of the German people.
"We will win. The disaster of the year 1918 will never be repeated,” wrote Mr. Goebbels. "Germany of 1945 is a monolith under the leadership of the Fuehrer, a man of genius. "What the Soviets received near the Oder River, the Anglo-Saxons would receive at the River Rhine. Neither tanks nor airplanes, but the spirit of the soldier will have the final victory."
In the meantime the 'soulless' tanks were crushing the bunkers along the Siegfried Line. The activities of the Allies were growing in intensity. Army after army was pushing forward, wedging in, causing breaches in the defence lines. The German Army was disintegrating along the Rhine as was the 'monolithic national spirit' behind the lines. Many V.I.P.'s and builders of the great Reich began to look to their own survival. Only Goebbels was still undaunted.
The little doctor (Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda) was still promising great things. He promised a secret weapon which was so powerful that it would decided the outcome of the war, he spoke about glories, he tried to make bad blood between the allies, he wrote articles to different papers, he made speeches in public and on the radio. He had a lot to do as he was the mouthpiece for all the others. The Fuehrer was no longer heard. Goering had stopped talking a long time ago. Hess had disappeared in disgrace, Dietman was ill and the others tried to forget what they had said previously.
It was not good in Germany, there seemed to be no safe hiding places left. Those who were not threatened by the approaching Front were threatened in the towns by falling bombs. The huge Allied air raids destroyed cities, killing thousands. Many cities were already in ruins - Hamburg, Berlin, Hanover, Cologne, Munich, Stuttgart, Ulm and many, many others.
One day we received a letter from Alma.
"I am still alive although the town I live in is already dead. What can I write about it? It was too commonplace to be tragic. Out of the blue came thousands of tons of metal cases filled with dynamite and something unknown and into the sky rose clouds of dusty debris, bricks and flames. There remained only ruins under which were people, either crushed or burned. The survivors left the ruins of the town. I am at present in Halle. I don't know why nor for what reason I exist. Maybe just to become a victim during future air raids.
"People invent nice games, don't they? And this is humanity: I feel ashamed to be a human.
Your bombed-out - Alma.
P. S. I am sorry only for the books."
Dresden was finished too. I remembered the beautiful, charming Dresden, its Zwinger, opera, castle and avenues along the Elbe River. Now 'there were left only ruins and stumps. 'Sic transit gloria mundi' (so passes away earthly glory).
March came. The sunshine became stronger, warming the earth. The meadows started to show some green, the small rivers flowed rapidly. The cows in the barns were mooing longingly. It was a promise of Spring.
Although I was tired after a whole night's work, I did not want to miss the sun and the awakening Spring. I got up during the day and, crossing the town, went to a barn behind which were some cement pipes. I used to lie on them, bathe in the sun and look at the snow-covered Alps. During my night work, with eyes smarting from the very bright light, I would long for those moments.
One day when I was dozing peacefully on my cement pipes I was woken up by some loud, peculiar noise. Lifting my head, I saw from the direction of the forest a group of boys running. They were rushing straight towards the barn. Occasionally they would drop to the ground throwing wooden grenades, crawling on the meadow, running crouched over. Behind them, German officers came from the forest watching the boys through field glasses. The boys were in the uniform of Hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth). Puffing and sweating, the first reached the barn with a triumphant yell. The barn including me, was probably the aim of the exercise of attack. When the majority were near the barn, a bugle called off the war. The youngest were the last to arrive at the barn, covered with dirt, puffing and red in the face. The youngest looked no more than nine years old. Two were carrying a wooden gun of actual size, the third carried the ammunition box and one of his shoes which he had probably lost during the attack., Shortly the three officers arrived. Two were on crutches as each had a leg missing above the knee, the third one had the Iron Cross on his chest and an empty sleeve - the whole arm was missing. They were the instructors whom Hitler had chosen as tutors for young boys to teach them how best to kill people. The boys were listening attentively, mindful of their teachers missing limbs. Assembly and withdrawal were sounded by four buglers. The boys went proudly, in a military file. They could be proud as they were considered worthy to fight soon at the Front. They were like soldiers.
The Fuehrer himself took the parade of their Hitler Youth delegation which was now already fighting at the Front.
They heard through the radio how, in the Fuehrer's Headquarters, the Fuehrer accepted them as true soldiers. Some had even received the Iron Cross and one of their comrades, a boy of ten, received from the Fuehrer himself a golden cigarette case. The Fuehrer loved them all. They were honoured to be able to give their blood to the last drop for the Fuehrer himself and the NDSAP. (Nationale Deutsche Socialitische Arbeits Partei) (National German Socialistic Labour Party)
Everyone could read it in the newspapers. Every day there were obituary columns marked with black crosses, headed by beautiful words: ... 'They died for the Fuehrer, Volk and Vaterland'.
The boys were entering the town now singing - 'Unter der Lanterne' (Lili Marlene). Behind them followed the officers on crutches.
One day many dusty buses and trucks arrived in Isny, full of people and luggage. They must have been running away from the approaching Front. On some signs were visible between cracked dirt: 'Town administration -Vienna', a red one parked near the Mayor's office had the name 'Melba' and below it 'Chocolate Berlin'. Many private dusty cars around hotels and guesthouses contained men in dusty and crumpled civilian clothes, most with Party member medals pinned to their collars.
As usual I had my dinner, a bowl of soup, at The Stag. Marushka was rushing about an overcrowded room with scissors, cutting the various ration cards when taking orders. Mostly she had to serve eighty people or more. The heavy beer glasses were bringing her to near exhaustion, especially after the morning cleaning of hotel rooms. Rucksacks lay on benches and, under the tables, leather suitcases. Men were spreading maps on the tables, maps of the hilly Allgau, their fingers tracing the hills. Between these hills were faint lines crossing the nearby Swiss border. No music was heard from the radio - only 'Luftanmeldungen' (air reports). The latest was:
"Large formations of enemy planes are proceeding in a south-easterly direction ... stay tuned in ... attention, attention, the aforementioned formations are 20 km from Augsburg. Augsburg ... Augsburg...! You now have a full air alert, all to go to the shelters." There was no sound in the dining room except the loudspeaker. Everyone was listening. The speaker continued: "Some bombers are bombing the southern district of Augsburg; the rest have passed, over the town flying to the east."
About eight in the evening before going to work I used to listen to the radio in the guest house. Most of the guests, concerned for their home towns, would sit near the speaker with maps in front of them to follow the latest communiqués from German headquarters. Nobody doubted now that Germany had lost the war.
The Allied armies were pushing deep into the Reich behind the Rhine, damaging the main railway junction. Cologne, Frankfurt-on-Main, Wuerzenburg and Kassel were already taken. The speaker announced that two German officers had been shot after the army found them guilty of neglect - they had not destroyed a bridge near Ramagen. This allowed the allies to force their way over the Rhine. The Fuehrer's headquarters were looking for the scapegoats. Eisenhower's correspondents announced that the best way to cross a river was over an undamaged bridge.
The announcement tried to avoid mentioning towns. They usually spoke in general geographical terms, mentioning long rivers along the Front or some threatened province. Therefore the news bulletins dwelt for days on heroic battles in the Ruhr which stopped the enemy. But in the factory we knew better. We were able to organise, quite nicely, access to other than German news. A young Yugoslav, a lawyer from Lumblan, had a hidden receiver for listening to the Swiss radio. We all appreciated this neutral news. This Yugoslav was a work controller which made his job in distributing the news much easier. Walking along the workbenches he would draw on the wings the latest positions of heavy fighting. Through him we learned that the heroic fighters in the Ruhr were doomed as the Allied forces had already completely encircled the German divisions and the first Allied armoured divisions were approaching Hanover.
The factory ran out of material for work. Some workbenches stood empty. The finished flaps were not taken by anyone. They were stored everywhere, even in the yard under the open sky. One day a full transport of wings was returned to the factory. All the wings were full of holes - some were twisted. The transport had been caught in an air raid before reaching its destination. We were told to patch the holes with pieces of tin. We all knew that this job was senseless but we were held at the workshops and had to work.
Even my Lange became quiet and depressed but never for long. The night before he had read an article about the 'Wehrwolf' (German partisans) and the 'Panzerfaust' (anti-tank gun). Now he was again of good hope, speaking about the 'Endsieg' (final victory).
Previously one had to be quiet and listen to Lange but now people started to joke, especially the Swiss labourer who loved joking. Now he came over to Lange, listened attentively, using a glass from a watch as a monocle. Suddenly he interrupted:
"Do you know what the English are calling the Panzerfaust?"
"What else can they call it?" asked Lange.
"They call it the Eight Mark and Twenty Pfennig Suicide Apparatus." The others started to laugh. Lange was confused. A pity he was a good man, but so stupid.
During meal break the rumour had it that the Gauleiter (Governor) had left Stuttgart and was living in Jaegerdorf, a small village near Isny. This was also repeated in the whole town. It was impossible to check. The rumours started to become more and more fantastic and unbelievable that Hitler and all his staff were now in Allgau, the American paratroops had landed in Ulm, and many more. One thing was typical of these rumours; they usually appeared shortly before some catastrophe.
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