I was born in a farmhouse in 1923 in the area. From 1937/38 I worked in the â€œLand Youth based in Berlin. So I knew Berlin as a young man. The Land Youth was organised from central Berlin. Land Youth – it was the cultural side – folk dancing and working on the farms. This area of Brandenburg was called the Sand Box of the Holy Roman Reich. It’s bad quality. If you rate the land 1 to 100, it’s like 35, where number one is like sand dunes; very sandy soil; mainly potatoes. I went to the village school at 8 and then 2 winter terms of agricultural college at 14. In the Nazi time, you could actually do agricultural training at high school and were given a certificate. That was the first time it happened. It was a career plan with certificates. It was 1933 the Nazis and in 1936 they started to do the agricultural training and then in 39 when the war started it was all stopped again.
So you went to school at 8; left at 14 and then after that you did 2 winter terms of agriculture – either side of Christmas maybe?
It was like November to March to do the theoretical side and it was at technical school.
But after you left school?
So it was an agricultural technical school?
Yes, here in this area. Two separate winters yes, and then worked in the summer for his father who was a farmer with 23 hectares. Potatoes, cows.this area was specified for the preliminary cleaning of the drain water from Berlin. They take the drainage water and spread it on the fields and it sinks though – this has been going on for a long time – through the 19th century. This was used as fertiliser so we could grow vegetables as well. This is a map of 1912 and the border of Berlin is tiny. It has grown so much since. In 1928 Ludwigvelde (?) was created as an area from 2 villages. The train lines – people would buy country houses here – it was cheap land. Up til 1945, Brandenburg was just a province in Prussia. One day in every 14 we did Land Youth. Then we would go to Berlin for cultural reasons once a month. I did folk dancing which was very trendy at that time in the 30’s. The head quarters of the Land Youth was just near the train station. They took it down in the GDR time and then they put it back up again afterwards facing east and said the Frederic the Great was arriving into the east!!
Can you remember emerging out of the depression? Did it have much effect on them as farmers?
Things naturally got better. The simple people didn’t see what the world economic situation was like. There were 7 million unemployed but suddenly there was work and people rejoiced, obviously. The propaganda said that unemployment was being reduced by the building of the motorways but that’s not true. The Nazi’s had blocked that building during the Weimar republic, they then started to do.
Did you have brothers and sisters?
I had one sister, 2 years younger. We needed 2 workers on the farm as well as my father in order to keep it going and it was harder to find these workers once the economy improved because they then had other jobs. Who wants to work in a cowshed when you can get a better job somewhere else? The working environment was better elsewhere. Then technology started to come in a bit which made the situation a little better. There was a home for juvenile petty criminals here, up to the age of 21. They’d stolen something or skipped school a lot and were sent there and they were sent to the farms when they left.
Did you anticipate a life in agriculture?
That was my inheritance. By 1935 there was an inheritance law that the farm should always stay in the family name and so according to this law, I expected to inherit – moral pride to keep the family name on the farm. If you were mentally disabled, then you were forbidden from inheriting.
Can you remember much enthusiasm for the national socialists in the 30’s?
Naturally; there was a lot. We’d be having it better. In 1935 they built Daimler Benz here – Messerschmitt and Heinkel engines. Towards the end there were 15,000 workers including these foreign workers who were brought in. Imagine someone coming from the coalmining area, coming here to green Brandenburg. Getting a flat that they could pay off in instalments – obviously they are happy. In 1936, the Olympics was a high point. By chance, a friend of the family was a test driver with Ford. He had to drive these cars around sometimes for 100’s of km and he’d sometimes take the kids with him. This test driver got a job as a special journalist at the Olympics. They pulled down the old stadium and built a new one and that was the first time this architectural style of these huge open spaces for marching was seen.
Did you then get tickets to watch the Olympics?
The journalist/test driver took me once to the press box at the Olympic stadium and once to Grunel, to the rowing. So I saw some of the Olympics. In 1936 the Olympic flame.running with the Olympic flame was introduced for the first time by the Nazis. Running from Athens to Berlin and I experienced this. Each runner ran 1km. On the torch was engraved the route from Athens to Berlin through all the capital cities. The people stood in a dream along the route. My whole class from school 4km away were brought over to look at the runners. They went passed here. Then they totally replanted Unter den Linden; pulled out the old trees and put in the new ones. There was a rumour that if you pulled up the trees in the Unter den Linden, then the government would fall and people chatted about whether that was the beginning of the fall of the Nazis in 1935. There were pictures on the Unter den Linden of all the capitol cities taking part in the Olympics. They were building the long distance train from Pottsdamer Place to the Unter den Linden underground section and it fell in and a number of workers were killed. They didn’t have time to repair the road before the Olympics as it was only 14 days before so they put wooden struts across – the whole road was basically rebuilt out of timber for the Olympics. The Nazis didn’t want any bad publicity and the troubles with the Jews were also stopped during the Olympics and Germany got the most gold medals and Jesse Owens got 4 gold medals but people didn’t really see that. Hitler congratulated every gold medal winner except Jesse Owens but no one was allowed to notice this and then slowly total surveillance began.
Can you remember the military build up and the Anschluss in 1938?
In 1937 I was sent to the Tyrol under the Kinderland ??. It started in 1934 the Kinderland ?? To start off with, it was children who came from a very poor family and here we had to receive children from east and West Prussia and take them in. It was a social thing. For 4 or 5 weeks at a time these children would be sent.
It was like a foreign exchange really?
There was no exchange. They’d stay for 4 or 5 weeks. When I was sent to the Tyrol, we were sent to this 1,500 square meter park. We were 67 children and 4 teachers. We were in groups and did a lot of sport. It was in January/February 1937. We did skiing. These children were drawn from the whole of Germany.
How did you get on to the programme?
There was an organisation that set this up and they came to my school and said 8 children from the school can go. The children were chosen and then had a medical and the ones who were unhealthy or needed this to improve their health were chosen. I was there for 6 weeks in January/February 1937 and it was fantastic because there was no school. I was small and a bit weaker that’s why I was chosen. It was a Nazi organisation – set up by them to improve the health of the nation. We were not supposed to have much contact with the local population in the Tyrol but it couldn’t always be avoided and when we met people, the locals would say â€œSend greetings to our Fuehrer! That’s an example of people’s feeling in the Tyrol at that time.
Can you remember a general enthusiasm for the re-occupation of the Rhineland and the Anchsluss and the expansion of the Reich?
I have been working on the memoirs of a teacher recently and the teacher in 1923 describes when the Ruhr was taken over by the French and the Belgians and how this created an extreme hatred in Germany of them – the taking away of their land. When Austria was brought into the German Reich in 1938 – when you see these developments in context, it doesn’t seem strange.
I am just wondering whether you can remember a growing sense of pride that Germany was coming back and reclaiming the â€œwrongs that had been brought about at the end of the 1WW? That Germany’s rise wasdid you share in the enthusiasm of the time?
In 1919 there was very strong government in France, Belgium and England and in Germany the government was weak, so there was the great entente and then this turned around and in 1938, Germany had the strong government and there were weaker governments in those other countries.
Was there a general celebration that these places were becoming part of the Reich?
We weren’t quite so convinced in Danzig because the money changed and we needed cards to get food and the standard of living went down in 1939. We went into Vienna on 13th March 1938 – the Anschluss and then there was the vote on 10th April – whether we wanted the Anschluss. There was massive propaganda but it was a free election. In the Rhineland, over 95% voted for it. In the past, in 1919, Tyrol wanted to join Bavaria. My father was more of a national German, for the Kaiser; he wasn’t a member of any party. More of a traditionalpeople wanted things to be slightly different from the way Hitler wanted them, but the aim was the same.
Strengthening the nation; building up national pride?
Yes; what nation doesn’t want that? In the autumn of 38 came the Sudetan crisis with the Munich agreement and Chamberlain returning to England and saying â€œPeace in out time.
But is that something you can remember happening at the time? Chamberlain coming? How much were you aware that war was coming?
I don’t remember exactly about Chamberlain; I read that later but the general feeling was positive through the Press; the Nazi Press at that time. We got all the good news. Every time my father heard Hitler making a speech, he said â€œHe’s rattling his sword. But nobody really believed there would be war because the end of the 1WW was still too close. Later on we found out that Hitler had been planning war right from the beginning. I have to admit that there was no alternative for the other countries because Hitler had too much power and there was no other way to stop him except through war.
Can you remember the outbreak of war?
Yes; I was turning the hay in the fields that day and on the way back I heard war had broken out. I rushed into the house and said â€œMother! Have you heard? War has broken out! My mother said â€œYoung man, you know what war means? She had very bad experiences in the 1WW. She didn’t celebrate. But amongst the young people there was great enthusiasm naturally. It is obvious now that at that point England and France had no choice but to declare war in September 1939.
Were you surprised by the scale of the victories in Poland, Norway, Belgium and France?
We were so influenced by the propaganda, we were happy! In spring 1940 the first bombs fell in my village. People came out and looked for the shrapnel for souvenirs.
Was that the RAF bombing?
I don’t know; there were just a few bombs because it was mostly reconnaissance aircraft accompanied by other planes who threw out a few bombs.
Were you still at home then?
Can you remember the fall of France?
Yes; it was the last high point of the Nazis! We were finally getting revenge on France. The damage done to Holland and Belgium was ignored.
Was there a sense after the fall of France that the war was almost over?
England was still there and Goebels said â€œIt is no longer possible to be an island.
Did you think England would collapse?
There was the proof of Crete that islands could be taken.
But in the summer of 1940, you are aware of the sweeping victories that had taken place, can you remember expecting Britain to fall in a similar way?
The idea was that Hitler would manage it all. Nobody doubted Hitler’s authority. I can remember the troops marching back from France into Berlin and thousands and thousands of people greeted the troops and celebrated.
Did you go to Berlin as well?
I didn’t go but I saw the pictures in the papers and heard it on the radio. My father went to see a doctor in Berlin in November ’38. He saw glass in the streets. It was the day after the Kristalnacht. He was shouting; angry that such a thing could have taken place.
Did your father fight in the 1WW?
Yes, from the start to the finish.
Can you remember the air battle going on over the UK in the summer of 1940?
Yes, a lot; there was a lot of talk about what we could do; what we were managing. I think it was at the end of 1940 that English planes dropped sheets of paper showing Germany divided into sections. Which section was going to be taken – step by step. I saw these myself.
Was the general opinion that the Luftwaffe was going to smash the RAF?
Goering said â€œNo foreign plane will get to Berlin and then they were there! People didn’t worry about just one or 2 bombers.
Can you remember the first bombs falling on Berlin on 31st August 1940?
I think it was probably the same time as the bomb landed in the village. I am not so sure about the date.
I’d be surprised if it was in the spring.
We were in the flak belt of Berlin in our village. Every 4 to 5km there was a flak battery. There was a big factory here. They attacked the factory in August 1944. By that time, all the villages had been badly damaged. I think there was a moral tendency there, to try to affect the population. Bomber Harris
Accurate bombing was incredibly difficult, especially with the flak. They would have been stray bombs out here.
When they bombed the factory here, there were only 3 or 4 bombs that didn’t hit the factory. They hit it very precisely.
That’s not surprising if it was in 1944 as there was less resistance. I wonder if you felt in the summer of 1940 with the air battle in Britain going on, that Germany had achieved her goals? Or did you not think about it?
We didn’t really think about it. There was a feeling left over from the 1WW that the longer a war goes on the worse it is and we wanted it to finish as soon as possible. Then there was a flight by Hess to England
In the summer of 1940, what else were you expecting Germany to do?
The allies said â€œWe’ll only stop when Hitler disappears completely. Then we could stop.
But were you conscious that Britain was the only one left in 1940? Before the USA came in?
The U boat war..the feeling was with the U boats we could control the waters around Britain and bring her to her knees.
You don’t remember feeling that Germany was threatened by the Royal Navy?
When the sirens went off, we were scared.
But you don’t remember any sense of alarm that British bombers could reach this far inland?
Not at the beginning, but later, yes.
What in Britain we call the Battle of Britain, were you aware of that being an air battle that had a start and a finish or suddenly in the autumn of 1940 was it more the case that news reports petered out a bit?
A friend of mine fell in the Battle of Britain and that was a little needle that got through some how but these concerns didn’t stay long to be honest. There was a regiment of fliers in my village. At the end of ’41, beginning of ’42 where this regiment was stationed, there were 10 or 12 American prisoners and the villagers wanted to stone them because of their anger at the bombing and the German soldiers had to protect them from the villagers.
How long did you remain working on the farm?
Til July ’42 then I became a soldier.
Where did you serve?
Only Russia unfortunately. I didn’t directly aim a single shot at anybody; never shot to kill. I went as a reinforcement near Kiev. Yalta – the Russian city that has no winter – I had 5 or 6 months there. There were unexploded bombs and grenades everywhere. I was a Pioneer – setting explosives and I was allocated to clearing German minefields. We were able to observe the German troops behind their own lines and the feeling was that they would just scarper back but they would have been shot by their own troops.
You were lucky to survive.
There was only one indirect engagement but because I was a communications guy and had to run backwards and forwards with messages, I was never in the line of fire myself. In September ’43 I was sent to South Ukraine and of my group left in the Crimea, not a single man came back. As far as I could tell the people from this area who remained in the Crimea didn’t come back. There was this feeling that you couldn’t give up; had to hold on, got worse and worse. By that time everyone hated the war; it had gone on too long. We could feel the strength of the Red Army and the future looked bleak.
How did you get home?
A long detour via Siberia! August ’44 I was taken prisoner. We were back from East Russia and I was taken prisoner in Rumania. I was in a military hospital with dysentery; couldn’t get through the Russian lines. We wanted to walk through on foot. Everyone was spread out and there were just 2 of us trying to get through. We had papers proving we were sick to prove to the military police and then we saw the Russian Panzers. We lay down and had a sleep in a field of maize. It was warm – August and I suddenly felt someone kick my butt and a Russian soldier said â€œThe war is over! Because we were at the hospital, we didn’t have any weapons. The Russians were amazed we had no weapons. In bad German, the Russian said â€œSo, you not win war! Then we went 300km south east of Moscow. I was there from September to November 1944. We had to cut down trees and we had to register the trees we cut down by cutting off a piece and they measured the diameter. We’d register one tree as 3 trees and that way we got our quota. I was in a transport colony bringing the wood that had been felled on rails. There were no engines; we had to push. There were big oak trees and whenever there were 2 Russians together, you’d find a camp fire – typical! We roasted acorns to eat because we were so hungry but there is an acid in acorns which is quite dangerous but nobody got ill. Towards the winter the camp was dissolved because it wasn’t suitable for the winter.
How long did you stay there?
Everyone had thousands of lice from the wood camp and when we got to the main camp we were de-liced. All our clothes were burnt; we were shaved from head to foot and if you found a louse the next day you would have got 500gr of bread but not one person found a single louse because we were so totally de-loused. On 20th November 1944 we were transported with a lot of Rumanians. The Rumanians thought they were going home but then they realised they were going east. Then we saw fields of snow. There were 300 men in one wagon and it took 14 days to get to Karaganga (?) near where they have the Russian space station now. South mid Siberia. In good weather you could see the mountain ranges. It is a steppe 800m high; very dry and you could see amazing distances. You couldn’t see the horizon because you could see such a great distance your eyes just couldn’t see any more. Into the military hospital there – I had frost bite and both my feet were amputated. This was done by German doctors who had been taken at Stalingrad.
And after that?
I think it was done on about 14th December and I then stayed in the field hospital til the beginning of May. My whole world was 3 square metres of bed and that was it, in a room with 20 or 25 other men. The idea of replacement limbs was not known at that time. The German doctors should have been better informed..it was the end of the war and we got newspapers so we knew what was happening. ??? There were prisoners there who made their own replacement feet. Someone made me primitive feet out of wood. Suddenly there was this feeling of freedom after being confined to bed and having to even beg someone to take me to the toilet. And I was 21 years old. The Russian commander running the other camp had been badly wounded during the war and in this camp there was a commander was so old, he’d never even experienced the war. The Russian soldiers there were trapped in nature – in the Steppes. The German who was responsible for the German prisoners was a professor of Slavic studies from Heidelberg. We had a good cook and because of the good cook, the German commander could make demands from the Russians. We had a prison orchestra..
How long did you stay there?
At the end of June ’45, the first people were selected to be returned home. I was an invalid..a lot of people were released but I wasn’t even though I was not a working prisoner. I complainedthe commander said â€œNext time and at the end of September I was let out. It occurred to us that actually it probably wasn’t best to be first back anyway – let the chaos subside. It took 6 ½ weeks to get back. It took 9 days to get to the Polish/Russian border by which time there were many dead people in the transport. They didn’t survive the change in conditions from the dry Steppes to the wet. Then we spent 4 weeks just standing around in Poland and then arrived in Frankfurt. It was 6th November and the Russians didn’t let us out because it was a bank holiday. Then they got their release papers and so the responsibility of the Russians was over and we had to get home on our own. We weren’t allowed to actually go into Frankfurt because there were a lot of infectious, ill people. I had to walk on my false feet 4km to the train station and got a train to Berlin.
It must have been pretty shocking, what you saw in Berlin?
We got out of the train to the east of Berlin and then went by foot. A lot of Germans shouted at us â€œHere are the war criminals coming back! Although that was just in Berlin. I didn’t get that in my home village. The soldiers were accused of being war criminals. I felt emotionless. I arrived at the station in the evening on the 9th November. I didn’t want to sleep outside because it was too cold. I was allowed to sleep in the station and there were a couple of policemen there who were supposed to look after us but they turned out to be police who had relations missing in Russia and so were interested in what I’d been doing in Russia. When I got to my home station, I was greeted by a couple of girls I didn’t recognise. I said â€œHow do you know me? They said â€œSomeone from the last transport told your parents that you are coming. Then it was clear why I hadn’t been allowed to come home on the first transport. I am a Christian and I believe in the hand of God. My parents had had to leave the farmhouse because Russian doctors had taken it over and they had been living in a very small place and they’d only just got back into the family farmhouse 8 days before he got home. It was fate. I said then I am going to work hard all my life to make sure that what happened under Hitler would never happen again. I became a politician until 1951 when I gave up because I was so disillusioned with it. Because I was an invalid I couldn’t farm so I worked for the railway until I retired. I always remembered my mother saying those words â€œYou don’t know what war means.