Language Barrier: My Life in the Third Reich
- Nightmares and Consequences
World War Two True Story by Gisela Cooper
Download PDF - Language Barrier by Gisela Cooper
I have pondered for a long time to write about the impression I have had so
many years ago.
I had to think carefully, and put myself into the minds of German people, who
had believed Hitler, but realised too late that they had been lied to.
The believers looked up on Hitler like a God.
To be honest, in my work at the Telegraph Office in Leipzig, and in free time,
meeting up with friends, I never took much notice of politics. When Hitler gave
speeches, I felt embarrassed, because of his horrible shouting voice. I can’t
understand why he was judged to be a good speaker. His roaring guttural voice
was to my mind terrible.
Of course living in Germany, I came across men and women belonging to the
Nazi Party, some reluctant, because they might lose their jobs, or other really
When I came home from the Labour Camp in April 1945, and had recovered a
little from my ordeal, my mum took me to meet one of those Nazi women. I told
her where I had been and what had happened, but she did not believe a word.
Her mind and that of many others were totally over clouded with the belief that
the Nazis glowed with goodness. The nasty activities in Germany and in other
occupied countries where hidden for most people living in the countryside. In
towns, it was more visible, starting with the burning of the Synagogues and
arrests of Communists and Jews. Most people hung with devotion on to the
promises and trusted the system.
People must have seen the way the Russian prisoners were treated. They had to
work clearing rubble, in very tatty clothes and were beaten with rifle butts for no
reason at all.
After the war we found that they had not been fed and could not wash. They
had no water supply. We were not aware of this.
Posters appeared with photos of Concentration Camp inmates. It was
dismissed by many as anti Nazi propaganda. Most of the German population did
not believe at first what terrible things had been done to, one can say, all the
Nations bordering Germany. They were named “Protectorates.” Maps of this
territory had been printed on green background, years before the war. I have
seen a print of this in 1938, during a stay in a boarding school, when a Nazi
lecturer came to talk and tried to explain the map.
After he went, we girls did not even speak about it, because it made no sense to
us then, thinking it could only bring war.
I was first aware of the brutality of the Nazi regime, after seeing the Russian
I had a terrible shock, when I heard on the radio, the very day in 1941 that the
German Wehrmacht had invaded Russia. The notrocities which took place there
were indescribable. Many Soldiers were forced to kill prisoners and civilians, and
if not doing so, would be shot themselves. Nazi spies were placed into Units to
report rebellious behaviour.
I had a letter sent to me by a German soldier stationed at the time in Romania.
(I knew his family well. They owned a nursery in our neighbourhood. I bought
flowers for my mum every weekend there.) He told me in this letter that the
soldiers on the Eastern Front felt rebellious. Some deserted, because they were
appalled by what they had to do, mainly the killing of the civilians. There is
absolutely nothing these men could do, except being shot themselves if they
refused an order.
I know through working in the Telegraph Office that many soldiers had
deserted. Telegrams were sent out looking for soldiers absconding, or being
caught on the Swiss border.
The soldiers, who were caught, were taken into prisons. My colleague from the
Telegraph Office and I have found one of those at Torgau, where the Americans
and Russians met.
When working at the Post Office, we had to work one night shift every nine
days. After 3 months, we had three days off work.
Once in the summer, it must have been 1943 my colleague and I decided to
rumble through the countryside straight after work. She decided to go to Torgau
and thought the surrounding countryside would be a lovely place to see. We set
off by train, and walked the stretch leaving at the train station before the Torgau
station. I remember it well. It had been a lovely sunny day.
Just before entering Torgau, we saw a prison, and a little ahead was a large
Hotel. We tried to book in for one night, but were told that there were no
vacancies, because all SS man’s wives and family came to visit their husbands to
stay over the week end. It made me feel uneasy. I wondered who they kept in
Luckily we found a small Hotel in Torgau and booked in for the night. Coming
down for our breakfast in the morning, we asked the landlord about the prison.
He told us how terrible it was. Deserters were brought there. In the night, all
residence in Torgau, could hear the screaming coming from the prison, where the
deserters were being tortured. All people in this little town were very upset. If
you protest, you would be shot! The SS were ruthless.
Now I come to the point, where I would like to know what happened to those
prisoners. Had the SS killed them all before escaping, or were they confronted by
Russian or American troops, and not understanding the German language, were
they allowed to go home after their ordeal? There must have been many injured
and dead in this prison to realise what happened.
I have been watching commentaries about people being picked up in the street
by Americans, put into Lorries and taken to various Concentration Camps. I’m
referring here at the Camp in Buchenwald. (Wansleben, where I was held as a
prisoner, has been a branch of Buchenwald)
The American commentator pointed out the hardened faces, showing no
remorse, and one woman was laughing hysterically and talking to herself. The
soldiers were of course upset by this, but had not put themselves into the mind of
the population, but thought that they were all criminals.
The truth is that those people had still believed that C. Camps were
propaganda, now they had their eyes opened at last and had a terrific shock.
They were ashamed and frightened, because they had been told that they would
be killed by the “enemy,” but were better off to kill themselves first.
Coming back to the woman who laughed, I am sure she did not know how to
react. I think it affected her mentally. How could the commentator tell what was
going through their minds, not knowing the German language?
How I came to this conclusion is because three months after the war, my
colleague from the Telegraph Office came to see me.
She had also been picked up by the Americans and was taken to Buchenwald.
She had, while being shown through the Camp, a nervous breakdown and could
not stop screaming. She had been taken to a mental hospital and had to stay for
six weeks. She had a really hard time to be released from there.
But I am glad that the Americans did take the population to those Camps, or
they might still deny that people were killed, tortured and starved there.
At that time it had been thought that all Germans were villains. Out of this
reason they must have misinterpreted the expression of their faces while
marching them through the Camps.
I hope that I might put a little light on this situation.
©2009 Gisela Cooper - All Rights Reserved