Bernhard B. in Australia relates, Wednesday, July 11, 2007, what his mother told him of her brief stay in the Auschwitz camp, Dedcember 1944.
Auschwitz: an unusual view
MY MOTHER spent a few days in the Auschwitz camp in December 1944.
Aged 24, and a Ukrainian school teacher of Slav languages, she had married my father, a German Leutnant who had been stationed in the Ukraine in a small army detachment concerned with agriculture who employed her as an interpreter. Six months or so earlier that year, Father's CO, a Captain Nagel, committed suicide, leaving him in charge. The men had been agitating the CO about getting out of Ukraine before the Red Army arrived, but Nagel stubbornly refused. Now that Nagel was gone it was quickly decided to get out as fast as possible. They took no mechanised transport, just horses and a number of nimble, small buggies called (I think) 'Britschkas' in Russian. They drove these across the huge Dnieper river and the vastness of Ukraine and Poland until in late 1944 they arrived in Germany's most eastern state, Upper Silesia, by this time all the Horses had long gone.
Now on German soil, they faced a hard decision. My father had absolutely no intention of re-connecting with what remained of the Wehrmacht. He knew it was futile and Germany had been comprehensively defeated. He also knew what the Russians did to German officers. They decided to part and all being well, to meet at his Brother's home (if it still remained) in Halle an der Salle, near Berlin after the war. Father was lucky enough to 'find' a perfectly functional 'Moped' (made by either Zundapp or Puch) a bicycle with a small 'helper motor' over the front wheel.
His plan was to ride all the way down south west to Adenau in the Rhineland near the old Nurburgring motor racing circuit, where another older brother had a house and if possible, surrender to US forces. But first he had to visit his Brother Josef in Halle to inform him his wife and a new baby might soon be arriving. This he did, riding mainly at night, sometimes even on the autobahn. After numerous and even some funny attempts to surrender to the brave AMI's, he and a small group of like minded deserters and stragglers finally succeeded. He was taken to a US POW camp in France, which he always maintained was by far the most dangerous time for him during the war. Long after Germany's surrender in October 1945, he arrived at Josef's house in Halle an der Salle having WALKED all the way from the POW Camp in France and having lost nearly half his body weight. He looked like those Aussies and Pom's in Changi prison, I kid you not I still have a photo of him seeing his new baby for the first time ever, me.
While all this was going on, my mother was left to her own devices in a strange country, losing a terrible war and six months pregnant. She joined a group of about 25 women all fleeing west, in that group were about six or seven Nuns. In late December 1944 one freezing afternoon, the women came into a small township in which were what she describes to this day as , 'many Factory Buildings' which was the Auschwitz camp. The Nuns asked the SS Guards if it were possible to spend a night or so there. They were warmly welcomed by the guards.
In 1997 I visited my Mother down in her Moss Vale (New South Wales) home. With her memory still clear and sharp, I did my best at documenting her wartime stories which even included several months in late 1942, nursing wounded German soldiers in Hospital Trains leaving Stalingrad, until the trains stopped coming. But I was particularly interested in her experiences at Auschwitz, our conversation went something like this:
Her words, from memory:
"It was very cold, snowing and getting dark at 4 O'clock in the later afternoon.The Nuns approached the SS Guards and were very pleased to say we could all be sure of a warm and dry place to sleep. But we were told we could not stay long, we had to move on after a short time (2 or 3 days I suspect). I remember it was close to Christmas and there were some decorations, we slept on a wooden floor and it must have been near a bakery, because I remember the sweet smell of Bread. I swapped a Vienna Loaf for a pair of fine leather shoes with someone."
I asked her about the SS Guards:
"They were 'alte Herren' old gentlemen, some quite old and extremely pleased to see the nuns. We were invited to dine with them at a large table, we were very well treated but one thing on which they were firm was we would not be permitted to stay there, we had to move on'.
I asked her if she remembers what was spoken of most of all:
"What everyone, without exception wanted was simply to go HOME. The SS men even spoke of AN ARMISTICE (my emphasis) They all felt a negotiated peace like WW1 would be arranged and that all would be as it was before the war"
I asked her if there was anything she saw which might suggest millions of people had died there in Gas Chambers. At this, she says something incomprehensible in Russian or Ukrainian and spits on the floor, her facial expression now serious, she looks me in the eye and says:
"Look, I was there, 25 of us were there, women talk. In our group there was a Doctor, there was a Chemist, the Nuns were Teachers, I was a Teacher and let me tell you if there had been anything suspicious there we would have known. If there had been millions killed the entire communities around this region would have known and would have talked about it to us. Remember rumours were everywhere, there was no TV and by then no Newspaper where ever we went locals would ask us about the where the Russians were or if the fighting was coming closer"
"The fact is none of us saw anything, heard anything or even suspected anything unusual about Auschwitz. The suggestion that the tired but extremely well mannered OLD gentlemen of the SS who treated us so decently, murdered millions of people in Gas Chambers is an outrageous, monstrous lie"
And that, so help me, was what she said ten years ago to me. Her mind was as sharp as a tack back then. She's 87 today and I'm afraid early signs of dementia are showing.
In March 1945 in a Town then called Konigshutte, only a few Kilometres from Auschwitz she had a son, me. She carted me at just weeks old through the terrible goings on in Breslau where the streets were on fire and a very young German soldier pleaded with her to pretend they were man and wife, so he might avoid certain death. She declined and moved on. She walked through Dresden after it was firebombed, eventually finding Halle and der Salle and Josef's house. In October my Father arrived from France, all of us at least survived the war. Much later in 1956 and living in Australia, she learned that of her four sisters ALL FOUR lost their husbands during the war serving in the Red Army, one Sister lost BOTH her husbands. She marries a German soldier who lived on for many good years.
Score: Germans 5, Russians 0. Let us hope the evil bastards always behind these wars are never again able to propagandize European citizenry into doing these terrible things to each other. You sir, have educated millions of people in this regard, may you long continue.