Two things prompt me to write to you again. As you may remember John Wolfgram
had wanted to know my opinion on war. So that he would know
that I know
about war, I had to write another essay.
I found a colored copy of the letter to my
wife's uncle about his wife's crime of having shopped in
Jewish hat store. I
have attached it for your
posting it in place of the black and white copy.
[Ed - we chose to stay with the black
and white copy because this site is quite heavy now with
pictures that are ponderous to load for some computers]
To see just how far our "TIPS" project can go, click on
In Mars' Shadow
“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven: a time to love and a time to hate; a time of war and a time of peace.” Ecclesiastes 3:1,8
In the early morning hours of September 1, 1939, Polish vedettes fired on German pickets and, so assured the Führer's voice, “ab vier Uhr fünf wird zurückgeschossen” (“as of 4 oh5 hours their fire is being returned”). Forty minutes later, German tanks crossed the German-Polish border, Apollyon crossed the River Styx, and the world crossed into madness from which it did not return.
For me war began sometime near the end of May 1942. Close to two o'clock in the morning, Mars burst furiously and suddenly into my life and changed it forever. More than a thousand RAF bombers had eluded Fliegerabwehrkanonen (Flak), found Cologne, my hometown, and rained drops of iron filled with mayhem and destruction upon my sleeping world.
There is no time to become angry, no time to plot revenge, not even time to wonder, only to comprehend quickly - because no time is required for it - the stark brutality of conflict. Anyone who has seen Mars devour men knows how intransigent he is and you quickly adjust. You cannot persuade him nor can you plead with him. Compassion is anathema to him, it would be his undoing, because compassion is to him what a wooden stake is to his cousin Dracula. War had become a way of life and I learned then that it is as natural to the human kind as are sunshine and rain. There is a time then for war and also a time for peace. Peace had had its time, but it did not prevail.
This was the first of many more to come. All in all, one hundred and forty-four air raids in 1942 interrupted one hundred and forty-four nights of my life. Not in succession, at least not at first. The second did not come until a few days later and as the British became more emboldened, these raids became ever more frequent until they came every night. My mother had petitioned for and received permission, permission the quintessence of a democracy, to evacuate to Lower Silesia, then one of Germany's eastern States, and there to a small town on the Oder River just a little south of what was then the German city of Breslau, but is now the Polish city of Wroclaw.
However, before I take you there and so that you will have a better picture of life, when war reformulates childhood years, I must begin at the beginning to tell you what it was like to grow up, live, and play in Mars' shadow.
We lived in a three-storied house that appeared a block long from the outside, but in reality was a series of six-plexes. I have now forgotten how many there were, but entrance was at either end plus one in the middle, with only one corridor at the first floor level granting access to all apartments. Ours was at one end and on the third floor, where, to adults, dormer windows afforded a view of the backyard on one side and of the street on the other.
There was a basement, a cellar, with a storage room for each family plus two common areas - one for the washing machines and the other to hang your wash, when rain barred the outdoors. This, the drying room, had been converted into a bunker with triple bunk beds for the children and women. Huge containers, some filled with sand and the others with water, stood at the ready everywhere. Large towels also were ready to be moistened and then to be placed over our faces should the house suffer a direct hit and debris dust then threaten to suffocate us.
Since this room was directly beneath the stairwell, it would afford only marginal protection, if a bomb were to find its way down this well. Therefore, the washroom was being strengthened. Two weeks after we had left and one day after those who had stayed behind had moved into the newly reinforced washroom, war proved that nothing is impossible - a bomb found its way straight through the stairwell and exploded in the now vacant drying room. No one was killed.
Every wall common to each of the six-plexes had been breached to make a hole, about three foot by three foot, and then resealed with a thin brick closure. During each raid, a man was stationed on either side, armed with a sledge hammer, ready to reopen the breach to afford an escape route for all to the other side and eventually from there to the outside, because escape upward would not be possible, after the apartments above had been destroyed.
While the adults, mostly women (all able bodied men were off to war), were frightened, we children played games: counting bombs as they were falling and making bets whose house was hit. Daylight would reveal the fresh craters and him who had won the bet. Raids usually did not last very long and when the all clear sounded, came the ordeal: climbing three flights of stairs to get back to sleep.
But the greatest fad was "Splittern sammeln", collecting bomb shrapnel. The bigger the better, the more heat distortion the better, the more grotesque the better and, of course, the rarer the better. We traded them, admired them, envied him who had the best, and hoped for new opportunities to enlarge our collection.
Everybody collected and so did beautiful, fourteen-year old Inge Nass. Inge lived in the apartment below us and I loved her madly. She loved me too; she just did not know it yet, but she would, for I would find the key to her heart - a big, rare, wonderfully distorted "Splitter".
Then, one day, there it was, the rarest of them all, a large pineapple slice from a phosphor bomb, albeit out of reach. The night before we had a raid and an errant incendiary device had hit the roof, broken apart without causing any damage, and left a remnant of its magnificence in the eaves trough, i.e. the roof's rain gutter, half way between the dormer windows of the kitchen and my bedroom.
My father, having been wounded in his right foot on the Russian front, was on hospital furlough at the time. His furlough conditions required his all day presence in the hospital, in easy walking distance from our home, but he was allowed to go home every evening. Here we have again the marvelous effects of a democracy: required and allowed.
He had already left for the hospital, when I believed I had discovered the way to acquire the key to Inge's heart. I enlisted the help of my two older sisters to be ready with sponges from the kitchen, opened the bedroom window, got on my belly still in my pajamas, slid down the clay roof tiles, with outstretched arms as though in a dive, until my toes hooked unto the window sill and still found myself an arm's length short of reaching the gutter. I could not go back and so, reassured by a man who just a week before had come through the trough to clean it, I let go of the sill with my toes and slid hands first into the rain gutter, rotated until I was resting on my side facing the roof, got up, walked over to my treasure, and retrieved the key to Inge's heart.
It took two tries jumping up to reach the window sill again and then to pull myself back into the bedroom, where my sisters frantically helped to get the roof moss off my pajamas. Everything would have been alright, but I decided that this was the ultimate experience, retrieved a ball of wool from my mother's knitting basket which stood near the window, gave myself about a twenty foot leader, fixed it so it would not unravel, went back out again, stood in the gutter, and then played chimney sweeper as the sun was slowly rising above the roof tops that were still standing.
Inge's mother was a seamstress and was, so I discovered, an early riser. She saw the ball of wool dancing up and down in front of her window, looked out and saw my hand. With the window being some three feet above the gutter and also some three feet back, because the eave was three feet wide, she figured that unless my arm was about five feet long there should have been no reason for her to see it. Then came the first sign of ominousness, her stern voice ordering me to go back to bed. In any democracy, including a Nazi Democracy, children are public property and not only a village, but the whole nation will raise them. Any adult has, within reason, a given license to correct the behavior of any child, when the need for such correction is obvious and Inge's mother thought it was. She told.
I went back. This time a single try was all I needed to reach the windowsill and the inside of my bedroom. Years later my mother told me how she stood in front of the closed bedroom door listening to make sure that everything was alright. She stood there in abject fear that I might still be out there, get startled if she suddenly burst into the room, lose my balance, and fall three stories to my death.
She finally did come in and asked if everything was all right and I did my best to pretend that nothing was wrong. But then came the dreaded words: "I will have to tell your father."
This is one of those bestial side effects of national conflict: father is there but only seldom and then all it seems he must do is discipline his children. So I lived that day in absolute terror. I had found a piece of brown chalk and had positioned myself at the edge of the sidewalk, where my father would have to pass me within a few feet and thus could not help but see what I was doing.
I had covered both exposed faces of one of the sidewalk's three foot long curb stones with small swastikas, had painted the adjacent one completely brown, and was in the process of decorating the next adjacent one with swastikas again, when my father finally passed me. My hope had been that he would be overawed by my show of patriotism that it would help to offset his anger to come. I do not know whether it helped, but I shudder to think what would have happened had it not. Suffice it to say, I not only lost the key to Inge's heart, but also the ability to sit down for a while. Shortly after that my father had been declared fit for return to service again and I knew I was safe again, at least for a while, to continue to declare my incredible ability to act without reason.
I must describe one more aspect of living in a democracy before I finally take you to the Oder River so that I can bring into even deeper focus the horrible conditions that evolve in a tyranny. My father had been wounded again, this time in his right arm, in front of Moscow and was back on hospital furlough again. His furlough conditions were somehow different this time and so it was that we were able to visit my mother's oldest brother, uncle Emil. Visiting there also that day were her two other brothers, uncle Ernst and uncle Oskar. They were all more than twenty years older than she and, therefore, too old for military service, at least at this time. Uncle Emil owned a trucking outfit, uncle Ernst worked for a steel company, half of it owned by an American firm, all of it identifiable from the air, and uncle Oskar owned a small grocery store. All three were staunch international socialist, i.e. Bolshevik democrats, and deadly enemies of the Nazi democrats, but had been able to be not too obvious about it.
By this time the German juggernaut had ground to a halt. Blitzkrieg had too much open space in which to diffuse to be effective and it had become obvious, at least to my father, that Germany had lost the war. And so he permitted himself an expletive, “Schweinehund”, in describing the Führer's progenitor. My three uncles of course had no difficulty agreeing with him, having been convinced of the Führer's unnatural parentage long before.
I had overheard all this and to show my love and support for my father, I repeated that strange sobriquet. Before I knew it I was unhorsed again. "Don't you ever say such a vile thing about our beloved Führer again," he shouted, "or I will break you in two!"
He never explained why. But years later, as it would always have to be for me, I figured out what had prompted his action. I had begun limited kindergarten and had come into contact with adults whose most important responsibility was to find out whose parents had made disparaging remarks about the Führer the evening before, portraying it as a disease the beloved Führer could and would cure. Self-preservation had been his only motive in making sure that I would not reveal his sedition.
It was soon after this that we all went east. Mars had requested my father’s presence at the Russian front again and we, my mother, my three sisters and I, a short time later, in January of 1943, after all those air raids, had come to be evacuated to Neusalz, a small town on the Oder River, where they had prepared two small rooms in an abattoir storage house for us, as they had for many more refugees coming from the west, trying to escape British air raids.
Here we lived in some state of tranquility for almost two years, until the end of 1944, when it was clear, even to me, that Mars had changed sides, that all was lost and Germany, that predator nation, was going up in flames. The conflagration she had caused was now consuming her.
December 1944 was the coldest ever, forty below - on both, the Celsius and the Fahrenheit scales. All I was wearing was underwear, a shirt, a jacket, long woolen stockings, and sandals instead of shoes. And now the war dogs were barking at the door. A large oxcart, filled with straw, was waiting to take us west to where their growling was not so ominous, where they said the Americans were.
Almost every family had eiderdown quilts and we did too. These had been placed in the middle of the straw, where they were to form a quilted cave to protect the children. It was late afternoon and in a few minutes we were to leave, when, thinking back now, my father whom we had not seen for almost a year, appeared, like an epiphany, out of nowhere. Somehow he had found us and that just in time. He talked with the man in charge for a few minutes, then told us, my mother, me, and my three sisters to come down with our quilts and took us back upstairs to the apartment, where we spent one more night.
The next day we packed a few more personal belongings in leather packs, in which every child had to carry his books to school, a few suit cases, put on all the clothing we possessed, and then walked all day north to Breslau/Wroclaw, where a large freight train had been assembled to take refugees north and somewhat west to Berlin. Here, in this part of Germany, as I later learned, the greatest and most potent remnants of her armies were to assemble in a last ditch effort to resist and then destroy the advancing Russians. It was not the way history would have it, but then it seemed to offer the best route to escape.
Late that afternoon the train had to leave so suddenly that members of some families were left stranded and separated from each other, probably forever. Forward Russian elements had come within reach and were now shelling the train. They had been close enough, as we later learned, to have demolished the last two freight cars. The engineer did not dare to stop until hours later. The two cars were then uncoupled, the survivors distributed over the rest of the train and the journey to Berlin resumed.
Here I must digress again a little bit in order to demonstrate and so that you would understand what sort of people the Russians had become after having been subjected for some twenty-five years to a Bolshevik democracy. But before anyone should misunderstand me, let me assure you that very few know better than I that a virtuous difference between the Nazi and the Bolshevik democracies, or any other democracies for that matter, does not exist. All are monstrosities, all are tyrannies and given sufficient time they all will have become almost indistinguishable from one another and that includes the American democracy. Any one who believes our American democracy to have merit, to be not a tyranny, requires help.
In the summer of 1941, Germany's 11th army, under the command of General Erich von Manstein, probably the greatest general ever to lead an army, had conquered the entire Crimean peninsula, except for the city of Sevastopol at the southwest tip of the Crimea. Winter of 41/42 had brought all military actions virtually to a halt.
Where the Crimea's east shore would meet its south shore is the isthmus to the Crimea's own peninsula - the peninsula Kerch, defining at its eastern most end the Kerch Strait which connects the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea.
Just slightly west of the isthmus, on the southern, the Black Sea shore, is the city of Feodosiya. Here the Germans had erected a field hospital. To keep Sevastopol invested, only minimal forces were deployed here to guard against surprise landings, while the 11th army was making preparations to resume the offensive as soon as the weather permitted.
At the end of December 1941 the 44th and the 51st Russian armies, later to be joined by a third, made, in spite of all precautions, a surprise landing at Feodosiya and began quickly to roll up the 11th army's eastern wing. Only internecine bickering prevented the Russians from exploiting their break through and from retaking the entire Crimea, which would undoubtedly have led to total annihilation of the 11th army.
As it was, von Manstein was able to bring sufficient reinforcement to bear against this breach in his eastern wing and thus to arrest the Russian advance, stabilize it, and then destroy it in the coming spring offensive.
But in making their initial advances, the Russians had retaken the city of Feodosiya. What they did to the wounded German soldiers there defies description. The only slightly wounded were systematically hacked to death and the severely wounded and those in full body bandages were taken to the ice cold waters of the Black Sea, submerged until nearly drowned, and then placed on the beach, where they were left to slowly freeze to death. I am poignantly reminded of the ancient Assyrian method of instilling terror. Never having been defeated, sacking a town was only a question of time. When taken, a few captives were set aside for a special contest among the Assyrian warriors: seeing who could keep his captive alive the longest, while flaying him.
War then had unleashed a terrible beast, and terror defines response. Now that Germany was in her death throes, most of her people in her eastern States were lured by terror’s roar to secure a better hope in the west, where Yankee knights were demonstrating their nobility.
Up north, at the Baltic Sea, where East and West Prussia used to be, are two slender, dune like peninsulas forming the Courland Lagoon and further west the Vistula Lagoon. Both lagoons are sufficiently sheltered to allow that part of the Baltic to freeze over most winters and they were frozen over this winter also. These, because they were flat, refugees were using as an easy escape route and these, because of an incredible lack of honor, Russian bomber pilots attacked to break the ice causing thousands of refugees to drown.
I took occasion to make mention of these things here only to make a point. In my "Anatomy of Freedom" essay I observe that socialism, the main constituent of all democracies, not only robs people of their free will but also, eventually, of their lives. With the Russian people it did much more. Nearly twenty-five years under total tyranny and unmitigated brutality - remember the Bolshevik democracy had socialism as its sole component and, therefore, had reached the level of total tyranny at its inception - and centuries of czarist rule before had also robbed these people of their soul. Without souls they had become beasts only here no siren had lured them into perfidy and having become beasts they acted like beasts. From the Black Sea to the Baltic Sea, no matter where and when, including today, it was the same and I thought you should know of the terror that inundates a young mind, when he contemplates the fate of loved ones should they fall into hands like these. But let me assert that I in no wise would deny that the Nazi democracy, given enough time and another outcome, would have gravitated to the same level of bestiality. It was just not there, not quite yet.
I must linger here for a moment longer to expand on something I said in my “Soul of Freedom” speech. There I had said, “Somehow my father had found us.” It was here, at the Oder River, where he somehow had found us. And when I continued to say that it took four weeks, most of that on foot, to reach the Elbe River, I had focused on travel time only.
I had believed it unnecessary to do otherwise, because I had never thought – and still do not think so and do so now only, because I have been asked several times and challenged once – that my personal flight from nightmare merited any special attention. Therefore, I did not include in that rush to the Elbe River a nearly three-month layover in the then small German town of Plaue on the Havel River, some forty-five miles southwest of Berlin. But I must stop there now and make amends for that omission to complete the picture of Mars’ feast and to show how dark his shadow can be.
I do not exactly remember anymore how long each segment of our flight to Tangermünde lasted. From Breslau it is roughly two hundred miles to Berlin, from Berlin to Plaue about forty-five, and from Plaue to the Elbe River is nearly twenty-five miles. All I remember is that together they took four weeks of my life. I also remember that each was an ordeal and ordeals are never remembered by their beginnings only by their enormity and intensity. Understandably then, I was not so much interested in when each ordeal ended as I was in that it ended.
It seems incomprehensible though, by today’s standards, that to cover a distance of less than three hundred miles should consume so much time - some four weeks. But remember, the streets, such as they were, were choked with snow, ice, and refugees without number. It was 40 degrees below. I was not quite nine years old, the oldest of my three sisters not quite eight, my second sister only six and a half, and my youngest sister had just turned five years old. In addition, we all had to carry something: our leather school packs and I also a small suitcase that seemed to be filled with lead. My parents each carried two suit cases, all containing our very last belongings and somewhere, somehow we still had those eiderdown quilts which kept us from freezing to death, when we bedded down for the night on frozen ground, after the snow and ice had been scraped aside. Daily stopovers at any farm, begging for or trading some of my mother’s jewelry for either food or an occasional softer sleep in the hayloft, all imposed terrible delays on our quest for deliverance.
The race to Berlin was interrupted several times. We had to change trains a few times, and walk many miles through snow to catch another freight train. Thus it took about a week to reach Berlin and that just in time to be greeted by an air raid. We had just disembarked, were standing on a station platform with an open freight car loaded with lumber in front of us, when the sky suddenly filled with planes all clearly displaying the white five-pointed star on wings and fuselages and flying so low that I could see the pilots and could have seen their faces had it not been for their goggles.
Within minutes, adults, mostly men including my father, which were now everywhere, had excavated a cavern into that lumber and thrown the children, including me and my sisters, and women into it. As suddenly as it had begun just as suddenly it was over. Their ammunition and ordinances expended they had left. No one was killed that day - a glowing tribute to those magnificent men of the air who sought only to destroy materiel and did not wage war against women and children.
As soon as it became clear that it was safe, we journeyed southwest to Plaue, where we arrived sometime past the middle of January 1945. Here someone, I do not know who, assigned to us the attic chambers of Herr Gerhardt’s mansion. Mr. Gerhardt owned a textile firm in Plaue, manufacturing uniforms for the army.
His was one of seven mansions, the forth one from either end, along this otherwise unused and apparently private road. Each stood on an enormous lot, at least a football field’s length long, ending at the shore of the Havel River. The distance between each measured perhaps five hundred yards. At the beginning of “mansion row” as well as at its end was a gun emplacement, an 88 mm anti aircraft installation, abandoned now some time ago and rendered inoperable. It made a fascinating playground for me. Another mile or so to the east was a military airport, still in use. Here we would stay almost three months, until the end of April.
After a short respite, I became fixated by aerial combats playing themselves out before my anxious eyes in the distance to the west and somewhat to the north. It was too far away for me to tell which of the bursting planes displayed the beam cross or the white star on its fuselage. I presumed it to be those with the white star, since these combats suddenly stopped and the sky remained clear for a while making me believe that our glorious fighters had finally beaten the enemy. I was wrong!
Now, near the end of our stay, on an extremely windy day, early in the morning, I was playing outside. Because the lot on which Herr Gerhardt’s mansion stood sloped gently down toward the river, the entrance to his house was about four or five feet above ground. Stairs, without a railing, were needed to give entrance to the spacious entrance hall inside. I was standing on top of these stairs with a bucket in my hand, when a sudden gust of wind caught it and pulled me up and over these stairs. I did not exactly land like a feather, but I did not exactly crash-land either. But it gave me an idea – to practice parachute landings. After each attempt, I would climb back up those stairs, look to my left toward the river, where the trees had now regained their leaves, and watch for the tell tail sign of rustling leaves to let me know another gust of wind was about to offer me yet another opportunity to improve my landing technique.
I was standing there again, looking over my left shoulder, waiting for another gust of wind, when some ten to fifteen feet to my left little tufts of ground began to jump up. Within a nanosecond I heard the unmistakable sound of a machine gun and another nanosecond later the droning of a plane. Only fifty or sixty feet in the air and flying, it seemed, at a snail’s pace. The pilot saw me and I saw him and all I could think of doing, the warrior that I was, was to give him the equivalent of the finger – index finger to the temple, signifying idiot, to this day in Germany still an egregious insult and when used in traffic, can result in a $500 fine.
I thought nothing of it then. But reflecting on it years later, I know he tipped his wing, when he saw my gesture of defiance. Flying aerial reconnaissance, he had seen the two gun emplacements and, not knowing they were abandoned, attacked them. Believing the houses to be unoccupied, he continued depressing his firing button and so missed me by just a few feet. Continuing his flight to the east, he must have seen the aerodrome further east and informed others, then turned around, came back, and took the eastern gun emplacement under fire. But this time he stopped his shooting before he would have hit the houses, flew toward me, looked at me, I at him, and as he flew past me on my left, tipped his wing toward me, which I then simply took to be part of his flying maneuver, and disappeared into the empty sky from which he had just moments before, suddenly interrupted my practicing parachute landings. And then it was quiet.
Not for long. Only moments later the sky was filled with planes again, all heading for the aerodrome to the east. I stood there for the longest time watching it, wondering why no one offered battle. But I also wondered about treasure.
I had in the move to the Oder River, over two years before, lost my entire “Splitter” collection. Here, it seemed, was an opportunity to recover my lost treasure and that with an even much greater chance of splendorous success. No sooner had it become clear that the raid was over, I made the trip to the “Splitter” mine and as you might have suspected, my wildest dreams were exceeded. “Splittern” everywhere, in all sizes, sizes so large that I could scarcely believe my eyes, still hot and beautifully discolored from the heat.
All I could do was fill my pockets and then my shirt. I was about to leave and looking at the eviscerated body of a horse, when I saw the strangest piece of shrapnel ever. Four pieces of sheet metal, standing upright, at right angle to each other and connect at the center by a truncated brass cone with a chrome button in its center. A fifteen-inch circle could have enclosed it. On flat ground without any crater, it appeared to be just lying there. I tried to pick it up, but it would not budge. I then realized that it was not just lying on the ground, but was embedded in it somewhat.
Using one of the smaller pieces of shrapnel as a scraper, I sought to free it from its entrapment, when a sudden violent force grabbed me from behind by the shirt and as I was stumbling over the dead horse, someone with the loudest voice I had ever heard, in the heaviest Bavarian accent, made it clear that he believed I did not have parents who were human.
Did I not know that that was a time bomb he had wanted to know? Of course, never having seen one, I did not. But it was sufficient for me to leave hastily and again I sensed I had been less then cautious. Guarding my new treasure, I ran a little looking back now and then, but never saw the bomb go off. When I arrived home, terror struck me. My second sister greeted me with the most terrible words I could have heard. “Where have you been? Dad is looking for you!”
Well, my father came at last and not only dispossessed me of my new collection, but also of all feelings, except for the most sensitive one, in that part of my anatomy most urgently needed for sitting.
Mars’ shadow had gotten darker. Within a few days the ever advancing Russian hordes made it necessary once again to pack what little belongings were still left to us and walk west and slightly north toward the town of Tangermünde on the Elbe River, where we had heard the Americans were and where my quest for deliverance should find its fulfillment. This time it was heat, not ice and snow, which did its best to refresh my memory of ordeals.
A week or so later, May 6, 1945, the Elbe with the Americans on the other side, promised deliverance. My father appropriated an abandoned Rolls Royce and claimed it for a homestead. Having shed my burdens and catching my breath, I caught a sight that to this day is still so vivid that I could describe every detail of it. But I will summarize. Whatever the world had to offer in those days was here almost in any quantity imaginable: mountains of sugar, bomb craters full of vegetable oil, trenches full of Swiss cheeses, tents full of wines and liquors, others full of fur coats, and others still, full of chocolate. Sewing machines, automobiles, Tiger Tanks, Heinkels, STUrzKAmpf planes (Stukas, i.e. dive bombers), and Messerschmitts, cows, horses, chickens, bicycles, enough bicycles where some thought they could build a bridge across the raging Elbe with them, all abandoned and soon to become Russian property.
And there were of course refugees – refugees by the tens perhaps even hundreds of thousand, maybe even millions – all desperately trying to get across the river, where the Americans were. To the east what was now left of the once mighty German army and beyond, farther east, the Russian juggernaut – the very image of horror – still lusting for German blood. Their military might was still belching death and destruction. Anything, appearing only remotely German, provoked the anger of their guns. These raged only sporadically, but when they raged they raged without announcement. No moment was safe, no spot secure and this for three days.
About a couple of football field lengths downstream was a bridge. Its right abutment had been destroyed and the bridge’s pavement, otherwise intact, was now dangling across the adjacent pier into the rapidly flowing river. Here they had closed the gap between the shore and the dangling pavement with wooden planks, a crossing reserved for German soldiers to grant them access to the bridge, then up and over it to surrender to the American authorities on the other side. The small wooden crossing, where soldiers were concentrating, had come under attack by a Russian machine gunner. I never saw him, but I heard him. It was a strange sight to see helpless soldiers collapse, throw their arms up or just slide off into the river to be carried away by the gurgling river. We heard later the Americans had demanded instant cessation of the bestiality and the Russians obeyed.
But Russian cannonading continued. Although only sporadically, it always sought and found its sacrifice and it was no different on this our third day, May 9th. The part of the beach in front of our Rolls Royce homestead was some seventy feet wide, gently sloping toward the river’s shore. A small bluff, running parallel to the river, perhaps three feet high, judging by the fact that I, when standing toe to toe with it, could just see across it, marked the end of the beach. Some twenty or thirty feet downstream from where I stood, within only a foot or so of the bluff’s edge, grew a lonely bush. Here I had seen a woman, after Russia’s guns had fallen silent once again, hide a baby buggy. Curious, I climbed over the bluff and went to see what treasure lay hidden in that carriage. I could not believe my eyes – a baby.
Years later, remembering, I realized why she had hidden her baby here. Anyone who has ever been to a county fair or any other place, where large crowds of people gather, knows how easy it is to become separated, only under conditions traumatic as these, stark raving fear seeks to strangle you. She must have lost another child somewhere in this humongous crowd and went looking for it. This bush was an ensign for her, easy enough to find again after she, as she must have hoped, had found her other child.
It did not matter. Russia’s guns awoke again. One of them found the bush and heaven gained another citizen. I had by then already gotten back onto the beach and was just getting ready to join my mother and sisters, about twenty feet closer to the river, when the shelling began. Now, between the bluff and me, was an incredibly large man desperately digging a hole into the sand. Even after all these years, I still have no explanation how it was possible for anyone to be so fat at this time of the war. Seeing no other alternative, I thought that five feet or so behind his immense derrière would offer enough protection for me.
I do not know whether I was right or whether it was just fate, but for him it was not enough. Another Russian shell either found his head or was close enough to take it from him, buried most of him in the crater it had dug, where it also had found the water table, and splashed me only with sand, both wet and dry, mostly wet. Stunned and shocked I was beginning to remove the sand from nostrils, mouth, and my left ear, when I heard my father yelling for my sisters, my mother, and me. He was standing by the river holding a chain. As we ran toward him, I saw he was holding a small boat he had found somewhere, somehow, about fifteen feet long. Accompanied by the swooshing sound of passing shells, we all piled in, just barely ahead of eight others, giving the boat fourteen passengers to ferry across the river and toward deliverance.
But then almost the near impossible. A German colonel in full uniform and also fully armed grabbed the chain and would not let it go. “Why not?” my father demanded to know. He, the colonel had, he said, received instructions from the Americans not to let anyone cross the river anymore, because they were constantly crossing and recrossing the river in their amphibious vehicles and did not want to have their operations jeopardized. “In another five minutes it will be all over, you swine, and all your commandeering will be at an end. If I had a gun, I would shoot you down where you stand,” my father had yelled at him. Never, before or after this, did I see my father’s face so livid with rage.
For a moment he looked at my father and I can only guess what might have gone through his mind, but he finally dropped the chain. My mother, sitting in the stern, quickly pulled it into the boat and we pushed off toward heaven in a leaking boat, where most of us were bailing water, but that was a labor of love.
We had barely crossed a third or so, when a raft made of two oil drums, somewhat smaller than our 55-gallon drums, lashed together and topped with planking passed us. Four stark naked men were rowing with those small trench shovels. Again years later, I believe I learned why they were naked. They must have tried to divest themselves of any trace that could have tied them to the SS-party. It was for naught! Only ten feet or so after they were passed us another Russian shell found them also. Some body parts, some blood, and some raft parts is all the hungry river carried for a moment before erasing the memory of four lives seeking to escape destruction.
A few moments later we landed and crouching we ran toward the foot of that levee, where the Americans had dug a trench on top for as far as I could see to either side. Then the last shot. We, my whole family and the other eight, were the very last ever here to have escaped total tyranny and unmitigated brutality and for a little while had found paradise. The light from forty-eight stars had finally defeated Mars’ shadow.
These magnificent people with those strange steel helmets had sheltered me when I was cast out, gave me to drink when I was thirsty, gave me to eat when I was hungry, and gave me presents when I expected scorn. I would reflect on these fierce warriors with a heart of gold some day, but not now. A deep breath was needed. Tomorrow we would have to continue our journey again, because, as we learned, we were still inside the designated Russian zone, which would consume nearly another forty miles of Germany.
In a few more weeks, all of it on foot, we were back in Cologne, my hometown. I had literally walked across the whole of Germany. Only one more point needs to be made to show the total helplessness of an unarmed people. Even though Mars’ banquet had ended and his shadow dispelled completely – for now – upheaval was still part of daily life.
Cologne had had a sizable contingent of Polish prisoner of war to perform forced labor. Most had left for their home, but quite a few had decided to remain to collect back wages. At evening time, small bands would descend on subdivisions to rob, rape, and kill. The only means of defense left were heavy barricades on all doors and windows accessible from street level, axes, broom handles, pitchforks, and whistles.
The whistles would summon help and a hundred pitchforks would often be enough, if help could come in time. In a few more weeks the occupation authorities reestablished law and order and life slowly began to return to some level of normalcy and now, finally, Mars’ shadow truly was no more.
As I reflect on what I have just written, I realize I wrote for myself more than for anyone else. Having for the first time seen all these events displayed before me in the sequence in which they punctuated my life, I realize I owe an angel an enormous amount of respect. Beginning with my climb unto the roof to retrieve the key to Inge’s heart, long since replaced by Heidi’s heart, the timely appearance of my father at the Oder River, the attack on the train as it left the city of Breslau, the Mustang who missed me, the time bomb at the aerodrome, the fat man at the Elbe River, the four-man raft, and one more in this country all constitute incredible assertions that should have claimed my life, but did not. But yet they are not extraordinary. For one who never left the confines of tranquility my life may seem strange to say the least, but for the times, when Mars’ shadow eclipsed the world, it was not. Thousands maybe hundred of thousands shared a fate similar to mine. Some even worse. These perished under ice floats in the icy waters of the Baltic Sea, others in the boiling waters of Dresden’s water fountains, and still others under bombs and broken houses.
Further reflecting on my life spent in Mar’s shadow in this way, I must take this occasion to once again insist that I claim no special significance for those moments of counting bombs and dodging Russian shells. But I must note that writing these lines gave me yet another opportunity to accentuate the enormous difference between the greatness of the men from a republic and the baseness of the men from a democracy. And for that reason, and that reason alone, I do not regret having committed these short three years of my life in Mars’ shadow to paper.
Mars’ shadow did not darken everyone’s live as it did mine. Some, like my wife, had it somewhat easier. Her family had been ordered to evacuate, but her father, a high-ranking officer in the Wehrmacht, used his influence to keep his family in Stuttgart, their hometown. Their house, a villa, requisitioned by American occupation forces until 1956, stood high on a hilltop. With the help of neighbors he dug a bunker into the hill at street level, which the Americans later had refilled. Racing down the hill into the bunker, waiting for the all clear, and then later surviving a few weeks of occupation by Moroccans - who do not share western view of respect for women - until the American authorities established law and order, was as far as Mars’ shadow was able to darken their lives.
But Dracula was less benign. Her family’s brush with violence before the Nazi democracy could be destroyed, was more than enough to give her a right to claim justification for condemning any form of a democracy and the inevitable monstrosities it imposes on its captured people. Running then to make it to the bunker in time and escaping Moroccan violence were not the only exposure to the war’s terror my wife’s family endured. Far from it.
There was aunt Mariele, my father-in-law’s sister. Before the war, she had once been seen entering a Jewish hat store in one of Berlin’s suburbs, where she had purchased a hat. Her “crime” had been observed and duly reported and her husband, not she the “criminal”, warned of the enormous consequences should her activities continue. He then was instructed to control the traitorous activities of his wife. Chauvinism in its finest assertion.
There were other members of her family as well who were also not spared Dracula’s venom. Her mother and her mother’s brother, uncle Ossi, a dentist, owned together a delicatessen store in the choicest location imaginable - inside the main railroad station, downtown Stuttgart. I saw the store; it still exists and is doing a thriving business.
Uncle Ossi allowed himself to express his doubts about the Führer’s leadership abilities in public. Someone overheard and reported it which earned him a stay in a concentration camp, strangely enough only for a short while. But he and his sister were both dispossessed of their delicatessen store, which was then transferred to a party loyalist whose descendents, for all I know, still own it today. No one has ever been able to tell me why neither he nor my mother-in-law ever sought to have the store returned to them during the denazification process.
On yet another occasion, later, during the last year of the war, while riding in an elevator to reach a bunker after an air raid had begun, uncle Ossi again showed his disagreement. Other occupants of the elevator were cursing the Jews and blaming them for Germany’s troubles. Uncle Ossi saw otherwise and said so, blaming them and the Führer’s depravity. It earned him another stay in a concentration camp from which he probably would never have returned. He was able to escape though and was rescued from his pursuers by the advancing Americans who graciously spared him from becoming the ultimate victim of a democracy’s monstrosities.
I was compelled to describe these monstrosities so that I could once again accentuate the natural terrors due a people, when their government has the power to forbid. Only two forms of government, a monarchy and a democracy, and a monarchy does not always have to be evil, have that power and the careful reader will have noticed that a democracy represents a government embracing any form of socialism and always is evil. The incredible similarities between the Nazi democracy and the American democracy - public ownership of children, imposition of war with impunity, ex post facto laws, forbidding the questioning of leadership ability and integrity, flagrant nullification of existing laws, and many more, including anti-Semitism – should furnish more than irrefutable proof that socialism is the virulent manifestation of a democracy.
And now I must answer the questions of what is war and is it just. Let us then begin by recognizing first that war is a natural condition of human affairs. It is a way of life and as such it is survivable and when all is said and done it is the Divine tool with which the Author of Liberty purges from all combatants a majority of their degenerates and then reawakens in a people the awareness that there is force greater than man. War is also that occasion where a man can discover what sort of man he is, for it presents to him a true opportunity to gain glory. His own greatness is revealed, if and how he seizes the moment.
But is war just? To answer that question we must first synopsize the difference between the American Republic, the only true republic to ever have existed, and a democracy. A true republic is home for a free people and a free people is a gracious people and a gracious people have control over their government. Thus they enter into war only, when it is foisted on them and war fought in defense of country and freedom is just and so it is when fought to secure freedoms for those who seek it, but cannot secure it by themselves. In a democracy people are servants and then government tells people what to do and thus can foist war upon them with impunity, for any reason deemed appropriate.
Even though the 17th Amendment in 1913 destroyed the American Republic, the only true republic to ever have lured people to her shores, it took a long time before she succumbed to the voracity of rejection. So America’s wars were just wars up to and including the Second World War. It was most certainly so for me, for without it I would never have had the indescribable pleasure of basking in the light from forty-eight stars. But as the republican ideals began to wane and the American people began to lose their sovereignty over their government, the American government began to commit her sons to battlefields with no distinct instruction to secure victory and thus lost its rightful claim not only to legitimacy but also to justness.
I have heard many times people philosophize picturing two combatants, one speaking American and the other speaking, say, Vietnamese, eyeing each other, instructed to kill one another, when in a normal world they might only have wanted to embrace each other. Trust it not. The man from a democracy senses the bitter danger the man from a republic poses for him, for the republican man represents freedom, and, therefore, given the opportunity, the democrat man will seek to destroy him. It is like Christianity and religion. These two cannot live in harmony, cannot even live next to each other, for they are inimical perceptions.
In conclusion then let me summarize and note yet another merit in writing my story. It gave me the opportunity to demonstrate that any government, which includes in its operative precepts socialism, is a democracy. Thus the Nazi regime was a democracy. So was the communist, the fascist, and, of course, ours, the American, is. If this definition is insufficient, may I suggest taking a look, it does not even have to be a close one, at the incredible similarities all democracies had and have in common. There may be slight differences in application, but certainly not in implication and it is implication, which is destroying our Nation. But in a true republic, the implication has people tell government to obey, while in a democracy, the application has government tell people to obey.
Hopefully these lines will also help dispel the bizarre notion that has this word “democracy” invested with the euphoric belief that people rule. In a democracy people do not rule, cannot rule, never have ruled, and never will rule. I do not care how far back anyone wants to go to disprove it. Try the Athenian democracy. People voted, but never got what they had wanted, especially not their destruction when it finally consumed them. Thus democracies destroy themselves, but a true republic, if it is to suffer destruction, is destroyed – destroyed by those lusting for power while hiding their treachery in a mantle of good will. And Americans have, joyfully it seems, succumbed to the glitter of that mantle. Some have not, but still seem unable to sense the omen.
These seek to ring warning bells, but feel content singing to the choir only. Singing to the choir is admittedly uplifting, teaching others, who appear interested, the lyrics is exhilarating, but it will not prevent the destruction of our beloved country. Those who have sensed the destruction facing our country are numbered in legions. Yet a handful of others and I are the only ones who have proposed a solution, have added a refrain to the old lyrics, which not only will arrest the dissolution of our way of life, but will also help restore it.
Since the American dream was born in a republic, not a democracy, a return to a republic must mark our beginning. But the American Republic was predicated on the notion that her people were a sovereign people and were sovereign by virtue of a God-given right to keep and bear arms. Therefore, the way back to greatness must begin with reacquainting our fellow Americans with the notion of sovereignty, forty years of not having done so and having suffered the overthrow of all of our liberties as a result, should be more than ample proof that recapturing our sovereignty is our only hope.
Furthermore, since our sovereignty is inextricably linked to the Second Amendment, it also applies to every anti gun-control advocate group. Insisting we have a Second Amendment obviously has also failed. Why? Because they all know! Senator Feinstein knows, President Clinton knows, and so does every member of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Not only do they know we have a Second Amendment, they also know it is a personal right and thus has bestowed sovereignty upon us. That is why they will have none of it. They are afraid. That is why they have redefined the Constitution to prevent having to go back to being a servant again.
War is the natural consort and indisputable consummation of tyranny and I believe I have presented here in most lucid terms evidence, none of it circumstantial, that democracy equals tyranny – not all tyrannies are equal to each other, but they are tyrannies just the same. Even though an illusion of euphoria may sometimes have marked a democracy’s inception, it does not alter the fact that a democracy is the breeding ground for terror of the most egregious kind. Everything has a beginning and an end and often you must wait to learn what was lurking at the door until you see the end. It is the end of an entity which counts and it cannot be separated from its beginning.
So I will probably remain forever mystified by my inability to understand the bizarre infatuation people have with the notion of democracy, especially when I realize that some of them are unmistakably numbered among those who know the Nation is facing an awesome moment.
Are we not now living in a democracy? Is it not poignantly clear that our democracy has achieved almost total tyranny? Is this not the reason why we are gathered here? Where is the disagreement then? As already asserted, I accept, but only for the sake of argument, that some democracies may have begun with sunshine, the American democracy did having devolved from a republic, but they all end with hurricanes.
You cannot pick and chose. A rattlesnake has a head, a body, and a tail. It is an entity. No portion of it can be chosen at the expense of the others. You either take all of it or none of it. And so it is with a democracy; you either take none of it or all of it – and all of it is unadulterated evil. I ask again; “If democracy does not equal tyranny, why then are we in this struggle, if not to arrest our country’s plunge into oblivion?”
Some make an excellent argument about the usurpation of law by the judges of our legal system. It is most certainly not the only dilemma we are facing, but poses a significant concern. The argument for a solution proposes to democratize judicial procedure. How, if it were even possible, would this solve our problem? It was the democratization of our Republic, which brought us here and gave rogue judges the power to determine justice and to flagrantly delete the very laws designed to protect our liberties. So I ask again, how can democratizing a democracy be the remedy to forbid destruction? Is it not clear that rogue judges do not progenerate democracies, but it is democracies that spawn and nurture rogue judges, rogue politicians, rogue police officers, and any other creature that is rogue?
As I have insisted many times before: sovereignty is our only hope. Restore our sovereignty and we will restore the Republic. The National Debt will be extinguished, because the gold and silver standard will be restored, judges will honor the constitution again, and all governments will be obedient again, because the Second Amendment will have regained its potency and the American people will be supreme again.
Some have argued sovereignty is an abstract concept and cannot sustain a dialogue. Again I must ask, where is the darkness? How can the cornerstone of American greatness be abstract? And does sovereignty not promote its own dialogue? Absolutely! All that is required to expel Dracula’s venom is a kiss in order to reawaken our sovereignty from its enforced slumber!
Dieter H. Dahmen
Body and Soul American
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