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The War of Our Childhood

Memories of World War II

Wolfgang W. E. Samuel

Publication Year: 2002

One survivor tells of the fire bombing of Dresden. Another recounts the pervasive fear of marauding Russian and Czech bandits raping and killing. Children recall fathers who were only photographs and mothers who were saviors and heroes. These are typical in the stories collected in The War of Our Childhood: Memories of World War II. For this book Wolfgang W. E. Samuel, a childhood refugee himself after the fall of Nazi Germany, interviewed twenty-seven men and women who as children--by chance and sheer resilience--survived Allied bombs, invading armies, hunger, and chaos. "Our eyes carried no hate, only recognition of what was," Samuel writes of his childhood. "Peace was an abstraction. The world we Kinder knew nearly always had the word war appended to it." Samuel's heartfelt narratives from these innocent survivors are invariably riveting and often terrifying. Each engrossing story has perilous and tragic moments--school children in Leuna who are sent home during an air raid but are strafed as moving targets; fathers who exist only as distant figures, returning to their families long after the war--or not at all; mothers who are raped and tortured; families who are forced into a seemingly endless relocation that replicates the terrors of war itself. In capturing such experiences from nearly every region of Germany and involving people of every socio-economic class, this is a collection of unique memories, but each account contributes to a cumulative understanding of the war that is more personal than strategic surveys and histories. For Samuel and the survivors he interviewed, agony and fright were part of everyday life, just as were play, wondrous experience, and above all perseverance. "My focus," Samuel writes, "is on the astounding ability of a generation of German children to emerge from debilitating circumstances as sane and productive human beings." Wolfgang W. E. Samuel, a retired colonel in the U. S. Air Force, is the author of German Boy: A Refugee's Story and I Always Wanted to Fly: America's Cold War Airmen, both published by University Press of Mississippi. He lives in Fairfax, Va.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi


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pp. vii-ix

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-xv

...there was precious little innocence left in what remained of a once proud country called Germany. Its reputation and cities lay in ruins.Millions of German men had died on hundreds of fields of battle.Over a million women and children perished or were injured in the devastating rain of Allied bombs and bullets visited upon the land like...

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Part I: War from the Sky

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pp. 3-5

The reply to the President’s request of 24 August 1942 was designated AWPD-42 [Air War Plans Division plan developed in 1942]. In it the Air Offensive against Germany was described as a combined effort Force. The former would concentrate on daylight bombing of precision objectives; the latter on night bombing of area objectives. ....

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Ingrid Frohberg

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pp. 6-16

The attacks on Dresden by Bomber Command and the American 8th Air Force between 13 and 15 February 1945 destroyed the city and killed a small university town in the province of Saxony, about thirty kilometers southwest of Dresden. He was the youngest of twelve children, ten boys and two girls. My grandparents owned a large dance and concert...

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Helga Schaefer

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pp. 17-25

The most successful day for the Sturmgruppen was their 27th September slaughter of the wandering 445th Group; in three minutes they littered the countryside near Kassel with the burning wrecks of a score of Liberators. . . . [The 445th] lost 25 B-24s, the highest loss for a single ...

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Hubertus Thiel

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pp. 26-33

What I remember most about the war are the air raids. In the fall of 1944 I entered the Volksschule in W

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Wolf St

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pp. 34-52

Bad D

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Rita and Ingrid Nille

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pp. 53-66

The cost was very high, 55,573 aircrew. . . .Bomber Command’s casual-ties amounted to almost one-seventh of all British deaths in action by land, sea and air from 1939 to 1945. The pitiful prospects of surviving a tour of bomber operations were only matched in hazard on either side by ...

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Christa Glowalla

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pp. 67-79

...[T]he air raids on Berlin were an unforgettable sight, and I had constantly to remind myself of the cruel reality in order not to be completely entranced by the scene; the illumination of the parachute flares, which the Berliners called “Christmas trees,” followed by flashes of explosions which were caught by the clouds of smoke, the innumerable probing...

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Siegrid Mayer

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pp. 80-90

The critical point is that none of the Allied leaders resolutely opposed a renewal of area bombing in some form or other [in 1944], and this was more than enough of a mandate for Sir Arthur Harris. . . . As the German air defences crumbled and losses fell, Harris found himself with ...

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Karl Kremer

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pp. 91-100

But on the night of 30 May 1942, crews in the later waves crossed northern Germany, skirting the heavy flak around M

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Ina Hesse

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pp. 101-111

The bombing of German cities cost the Germans much in production and more in the diversion of military resources to defense; but we must nevertheless state that no critical shortages in war commodities of any kind are traceable to it. To cause inconvenience and unhappiness to the ...

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Hans Herzmann

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pp. 112-126

I was born in 1933 in the little Rhein River town of Remagen to Christine and Paul Herzmann. My family lived on Pintgasse, the narrow cobblestone street that runs from the old market square down to the river. The house belonged to my mother’s parents, the Strangs, who had lived in Remagen for generations. Under the Nazis we had to fill out an Ahnentafel, a genealogical ...

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Part II: War on the Ground

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pp. 127-129

The war on the ground began nearly simultaneously for those living in east and west Germany. In late 1944 British and American forces were arrayed along the western border of the Reich, first threatening, then slowly penetrating into the mountainous western regions of the Eifel. In October, Aachen, a city founded by Roman legionnaires, was the first to fall. The western Allies ...

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Annelies Sorofka

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pp. 130-147

Wehrmacht early in the war. He participated in the Battle of France in 1940 and brought home seashells from the Bay of Biscay. In March 1943 Walter was killed near Kharkov; he was twenty-one years old. I still miss Walter, and his picture hangs in my study over my desk. In 1944 Werner went to live with an aunt and uncle ...

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Bernd Heinrich

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pp. 148-160

I was born in 1940 on a large country estate by the name of Gut Borowki, pronounced Borofkee, about 120 miles due south of Danzig. The estate had been in my family for generations. Prior to the war that area of West Prussia had been Polish; and earlier yet, it was part of the German Reich under the kaiser. Today, it is Polish ...

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Karl Brach

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pp. 161-176

I recall the end of the war quite vividly—first fleeing from East Prussia to Bromberg, then from Bromberg to Frankfurt-an-der-Oder, and finally to Jüterbog, south of Berlin. My father, Fritz, was in the Luftwaffe and since 1942 was commander of an aerial munitions depot in Domnau, East Prussia, a small town just south of Königsberg. In the First World War ....

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Irmgard Broweleit

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pp. 177-193

I was born in Königsberg on April 23, 1938, to Gertrud and August Broweleit. I have a brother, Heinz; he was born in 1935. I tried to talk him into coming on this interview, but he claimed he didn’t remember much. Maybe he doesn’t want to remember. My father was by trade an upholsterer. He served in the Luftwaffe. I recall ...

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Arnold Bieber

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pp. 194-205

I was born on August 28, 1935, in a little village in southern East Prussia named Farienen, not far from Ortelsburg. I was the oldest of three boys. My two brothers died in their infancies. My father, Otto, was a cartwright with his own business repairing broken farm wagons for local farmers. He was drafted into the Wehrmacht in 1939 and served in the Polish and French campaigns. After that he was released ...

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Goetz Oertel

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pp. 206-222

We were all torn between wanting to weep and run away, and to scream and run out to meet the danger. “No Bolshevik will ever tread on German soil.” But they were there by thousands, crushing it with frenzy and jubilation—and there were eighteen of us to stop them: eighteen young men ready to cling to any miraculous superstition to go on hoping...

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Fred Rother

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pp. 223-237

On my trip to Upper Silesia [February 1945] we decided that the railroad installations which would be needed in the future for distributing coal to southeast Germany were not to be destroyed. We visited a mine near Ribnyk. Although the mine was in the immediate vicinity of the front, the Soviet troops were allowing work to continue there. The enemy, too,...

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Dieter Hahn

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pp. 238-249

The shooting might have stopped in May 1945, but I had never really felt that the war ended for us Germans. During the three years after the war, our suffering continued unabated. In many respects it was worse after the shooting and bombing stopped. The dying continued; now,though, the victims were mostly women, children, and the old, and the...

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Arnim Kr

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pp. 250-262

Nineteen forty-five was the worst year in human history. More people were killed violently, more houses burned, more buildings destroyed and more high explosives set off in 1945 than in any other year. Indeed, more people were killed in that year than in all the previous five years.—Stephen E. Ambrose, “What We Owe Them,” The Wall Street Journal...

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Helgard Seifert

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pp. 263-277

In December 1944 the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra gave its last con-cert of the year. Wilhelm Furtwangler had invited me to come to the conductor’s room. With disarming unworldliness he asked me straight out whether we had any prospect of winning the war. When I replied that the end was imminent, Furtwangler nodded; he had come to the same ...

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Erich Abshoff

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pp. 278-284

Then gradually the Russian army began to cross the bridge [across the Elbe River]. The army came in like a sort of tide; it had no special shape;there were no orders given. It came and flowed over the stone quay and up onto the roads behind us like water rising, like ants, like locusts. It was not so much an army as a whole world on the move ...

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Johann Koppe

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pp. 285-298

I was born in 1936 in Frankfurt-an-der-Oder, which lies about thirty miles south of Wollup. I was the oldest of five children. In January 1945 I was eight, my youngest brother, Dieter, was not yet two years old, my brother Eberhard was seven, and my sisters, Ingrid and Heide-Marie, were five and three years old respectively. All five of us came into this world in the Frankfurt military hospital. This curiosity of our birthplace—most children then were delivered at home by a midwife—can be explained by the fact that my grandfather, my mother’s father, was a medical ...

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Part III: Other Dimensions of War

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pp. 299-301

It seems possible that a million Germans died in the flight from the east in the early months of 1945, either from exposure or mistreatment. In the winter of 1945 most of the remaining Germans of eastern Europe—who lived in Silesia, the Czech Sudetenland, Pomerania and elsewhere, numbering some 14 million altogether—were system-...

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Heinz Loquai

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pp. 302-314

Komotau lies about eighty kilometers northwest of Prague, fifty kilometers northeast of Karlsbad, at the foot of the Erzgebirge. My family was German as was everyone else living in Komotau and in the surrounding villages. Komotau had about twenty thousand inhabitants, most of them employed in the local factories producing military goods. Very early in the war my father, Josef, was drafted ...

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Hans-Peter Haupt

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pp. 314-328

My father, Johannes, was born on April 20, 1912, in Ostrau, a small town southeast of Leipzig. My mother, Frieda—everyone called her Friedel—was born three years later, on February 21, 1915, in Alt- Rohlau, a small community near Karlsbad in the Sudetenland. At age five my mother lost her own mother to blood poisoning ...

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Etta Krecker

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pp. 329-334

I was an only child, born in 1940 in Eilenburg on the Mulde River. My father, Erwin, was drafted into the Wehrmacht in 1941, and then the war swallowed him up. For much of my early life he was the man in a picture my mother kept by her bedside. In 1945, at war’s end, I still lived in Eilenburg, thirty kilometers southwest of Torgau, where American and Russian troops first met on April 25, 1945. My mother, Edith, and I, and my mother’s parents ...

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Regina Demetrio

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pp. 335-348

I was born in 1942 when my mother was twenty-one years old. For twelve years, until January 1954, I lived in a suburb of Zwickau, Keimsdorf, in the Deutsche Demokratische Republik, the DDR. In Keimsdorf my grandparents at one time owned several houses and businesses. Most of their properties were confiscated by the state after the war. I didn’t know my father. He was a prisoner of war ...

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pp. 343-348

The twenty-seven women and men who tell their stories of life in Germany at the end of World War II were childhood witnesses to chaos, deprivation, and sorrow. Each was also a youthful observer of extraordinary human resilience, inventiveness, and mental toughness. So, what of those five-, eight-, and ten-year-olds who came from Dresden, Remagen, and K

Explanation of Terms

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pp. 349-352

Index and About the Author

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pp. 353-356

E-ISBN-13: 9781604731378
E-ISBN-10: 1604731370
Print-ISBN-13: 9781578064823
Print-ISBN-10: 1578064821

Publication Year: 2002