Saturday, 28 February 2009

March 3rd 1945

March 1st/2nd 1945
We knew that the Americans were coming ever closer. We could hear Artillery fire as villages only a few kilometers away were shelled. For weeks we had spent every night in the cellar, mother hadn't bothered carrying bedding upstairs for a long time; it was easier that way. We had got used to the cold and darkness; I had lived a large part of my life underground and knew no better.

Even at this late stage German infantry was in defence positions, both in the village and in the same woods where we later, in the winter of 46, stole coal from the trains. American shelling of the village centre started at midnight on the 1st, on the morning of the 2nd a small band of the village Volkssturm made their way towards the advancing American troops in a futile attempt to hold them up on the outskirts. Fifteen German soldiers lost their lives in these skirmishes.

By early afternoon the remnants of the German resistance had retreated and the American battalion was firmly in control in and around the village. The fighting was over.

The noises changed; instead of the engines of the overhead artillery plane and bursts of shelling and machine gun fire the rumble of tanks in seemingly endless procession reached our cellar through the opening of the coal hole.

Somehow, in all the chaos, before the tanks rolled in, mother had managed to hang a white handkerchief from the shutters on the kitchen window. Still in the cellar, we heard human voices above the rumble of the tanks; then thunderous knocking on the front door.

Mother grabbed my hand and we stumbled up the cellar steps as fast as we could, realising that any delay could prove dangerous. Mother opened the door.

A search commando bristling with weapons roughly pushed past us. There were three or four GIs, one of them staying in the hall with us, the others searching the small house. The search was soon over; the Americans were looking for German soldiers. There were none hiding in our house.

Mother and I stayed utterly still and silent, we neither cried nor spoke at all; we couldn't understand what the GIs were shouting; we didn't even know if they were shouting at us. Mother was petrified, I was simply unable to understand what was going on, I just stared and stayed still.

The GIs left the same way they had come, roughly, suddenly, leaving the front door wide open. Mother tried to shut it after them but a gun pushed it out of her hand and it stayed open.

There was no reason to go back into the cellar; instead, we went into the kitchen, which was also our living room. Although the front door stood wide open the shutters on the window were still closed, the kitchen was dark. There was no electricity, but even had there been, we would not have thought of switching on a lamp. The darkness was comforting in a way, it made the noise outside seem less threatening. A child closes its eyes to make the world disappear.

There were many more searches during the same day and the following night and the following days. We owned very little of any value, nothing was stolen from us. We were never ill treated by any of the GIs. Mother and I stayed close together the whole of the time, day and night, taking naps in her bed, fully dressed, when we could. Mother's handkerchief stayed fixed to the shutters.

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