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TRUE WWII STORIES
True World War II Story by Gisela Cooper
Rebecca's name is fictional and I have not given the names of towns and villages where she lived and stayed. I think it is right, otherwise I would not feel comfortable writing this wonderful person's story. I met Rebecca in 1970, for the first time, going to work. We were practically neighbours, but I had never seen her before. In our conversation we realised that we were both born in the same eastern province in Germany. Immediately we started to meet often. We had so many things to tell to each other, and we both went through some harrowing times. I have written my autobiography and thought I must also tell Rebecca's story.
Rebecca and I were born in Silesia, which has after the war been amalgamated with Poland. Rebecca's parents were very poor and had a hard life. The depression was at that time in full swing and every opportunity was sized to earn a living. Her parents earned their living as street merchants, selling their goods from a barrow, trotting day after day summer and winter through the streets. In those eastern provinces, were we lived, it turns very cold in the winter months. 15 degrees below zero is the norm. Being exposed to this very cold weather her mum died when Rebecca was only four years old. From then on she lived with her grandmother. Her grandfather had died a few years previously and grandmother had to struggle to raise Rebecca.
###Rebecca told me that she was envious of her playmates, as they wore nice clothes and she had to wear hand-me-downs. But mostly she found it terrible that she had to wear black knitted stockings, which her gran had knitted for her. Even so Rebecca was not too happy with her clothes, she loved her grandmother dearly; she was such a kind and genteel person and took good care of Rebecca. Her father was a Jew and lived alone. Her mother's family were not Jews, and grandmother told Rebecca, that she should not go to see her father, because Jews were being arrested and Rebecca would have the same fate being half Jewish. In 1934 her father was arrested for the first time and taken to a Concentration Camp. After a while he was released and had to live in an attic room. His apartment had been confiscated by the authorities.
Early in 1938 Rebecca and her father met one day in the street and he asked her up to his room for a chat. After Rebecca had left, one of the neighbours denounced him and said that he had taken an Aryan girl up to his room. At this time, I remember well, there was a terrible propaganda paper in Germany in circulation called"Der Stuermer"(The Attacker.) It was full of rape stories the Jews were accused of to have committed against Aryan girls. The aim was to poison peoples minds against the Jews. The Gestapo came and arrested Rebecca's father for the second time and tortured him in order to give them the name of the girl who had visited him. No one knew that it was his daughter.
One of the prison wardens usually went to the pub in the vicinity of Rebecca's home. There he told people of the arrest and torture of her father. They had dislocated his shoulder, but he had not given his daughter's name. Then they send him again to a Concentration Camp. He did not return.
###When Rebecca left school, she was employed to work in an administration office. There she learnt secretarial skills. She did well, but after being employed for six months, she had to produce an Aryan pass. She put it off as long as she could, but when two threatening letters arrived, it scared her so much that she left her work and her grandmother. She never saw her again. She had been engaged to be married, but she was simply to frightened to stay and had even to leave her fiancé behind.
Rebecca travelled now through Germany from one town to another to work in different Hotels as a waitress. After working for a few weeks, Aryan passes were demanded in each employment. So she kept moving on, hurrying to the next town. By accident she heard someone saying that in the Wehrmacht the Aryan pass was not needed. With new hope Rebecca enlisted in the Wehrmacht and was trained to work with Radar equipment. She made friends with her comrades. They were a happy bunch of girls. But her happiness did not last long. After receiving all the compulsory injections she fell very ill with Dermatitis, (a skin disease) being allergic to the serums she had been given. She was taken to a Hospital in Kiel by the Baltic Sea. Kiel was daily bombed and patients had to be taken into the cellars to be safe during the alerts. Rebecca was too ill to be moved and had to stay in the ward alone. In one of the raids the Hospital took a full hit and Rebecca was buried under all the rubble. Doctors who had been in the adjacent room were all killed, but she was rescued with not even one scratch or bruise. It was a miracle. Eventually Rebecca recovered from her illness and she returned to her unit. There she stayed without worrying about her Aryan pass.
###The winter 1944 approached and many refugees from East Prussia and Silesia came running, some bare feet, along the shores of the Baltic Sea through ice and snow, escaping the Russian troops. When they arrived in safe areas, schools were made available to shelter the refugees for three days, and then they had to move on in order to give the following refugees some shelter to recover. Those refugees needed urgent help and it was decided that some of the Wehrmacht girls should be send. Rebecca went to one of those schools and found chaos. It was horrendous. Most people suffered from frost bites and shot wounds. Children had been shot in the legs and a pregnant woman had been shot through the mouth. She died the same day Rebecca had arrived. Old women just collapsed and had Dysentery. There were beds and mattresses, but no linen, no sheets, blankets, towels, soap, medicines or bandages. The school was unheated. In the evening a women went into labour. Rebecca ran into the village to find a Wehrmacht doctor, but all soldiers who fled with the refugees had already moved on. Eventually she found an Orderly. He came with her, but did not know what to do. In the middle of the night Rebecca and one of the refugees delivered the baby by torch light. They tore the woman's petticoat up to wrap the baby inside it, as there was nothing else available. Since Rebecca arrived in this terrible place, she could not stop crying. She could not take anymore of this misery and went back to her unit. She had to cross a bridge first. No sooner she had crossed over, it was bombed and blown up by American planes. No matter what terrible things went on around her, Rebecca came out unscaved.
When she arrived at her unit all soldiers had already left, only some girls remained. They heard that Russian troops were approaching. All tore there insignia off their white uniform blouses and hid in the dunes. After some hours of waiting they decided to go to the nearby Light House. They knew the couple who worked and lived there. Opening the door they were facing Mongolian troops who were quartered there. The German Light House keeper and his wife were still there. The Russians told the girls to come inside and asked them questions, where they came from and what they were doing there. Rebecca said that they had taken their holiday on the coast and just came back from a walk. The soldiers told them to wait until their officer arrived. When he came the girls had a surprise. He was from German descent. His surname was "Reich." In perfect German he told the girls that they could stay in the Light House for the time being and sleep upstairs. The soldiers had brought food with them: sides of bacon, eggs, tomatoes and onions. The woman had to cook for them all. The girls were invited for the meal. After finishing off the food, one soldier played his accordion and others started to dance in their acrobatic way. Rebecca thought that luck was on her side again. The Russians were friendly.
###After three days they received a message that more troops were on their way. The girls would have to go now. The officer told them to find quarters for a time in the village nearby. They had to walk through a wood. It would have not been safe for them, as the war had not ended yet. The officer sat on his horse (they had brought a number of horses with them, and the girls were invited to ride with the Russians, without saddle of course, on occasions) and took them to the first house in the village. He waited while the girls knocked on the door to ask if they could shelter in their house. The ex-Wehrmacht's officer, who had already returned home, refused them to stay and said that there was not enough room. Reich got off his horse, rapped on the door again and when it was opened, he marched the girls inside, opening doors to different rooms, telling two girls at the time to go inside and use it as a temporary quarter. He said good bye and left.
The German couple, even though the girls were forced on to them, were friendly and they shared their food with them. Luckily behind the house was their large vegetable garden, which produced good meals for them all. Rebecca and her comrades stayed for two weeks. Out of their blankets they had sewn large bags to carry their belongings with. They said their farewell and went on their way. The girls decided to split up. During their stay in the house, they had made their mind up where to go after they left. The war had now ended. Rebecca wanted to go back to her birth place and find her fiancé. One of the girls, Gertrud, did not have anywhere to go and tagged along with Rebecca. It was good for both of them to have company for the extremely hazardous journey, which lay in front of them. Rebecca decided to walk barefoot thinking of the coming winter. She did not want to wear her Wehrmacht's boots out on the long trek home.
###They both made an odd couple. Rebecca was short of stature and Gertrud "Trude" was very tall. They had in mind to walk to Stettin, and from there take a boat along the river Oder, which would bring them straight to their destination. When they arrived in the vicinity of the city they met Polish Melizia. Stettin had already been given to Poland as part of reparations. There was nothing else to do but go back. In one of the smaller towns they found a train waiting to go to Berlin. Rebecca and Trude sat inside waiting for the train to move. Other refugees, mainly farmers from the East, had already entered the train. While they filled their bellies with the food they had brought from their farms, Rebecca and Trude sat there starving. Not one crust of bread was offered to them. After three days of agonising waiting the engine was taken away and everyone had to get out. Rebecca and Trude could not have stayed any longer because of the increasing hunger pangs. On their way again, aiming for Berlin, carrying the heavy bags was getting too troublesome. They found an abandoned old pram, took the top off, and used it to push their belongings along. The going was now much easier. They met civilians, Polish ex slave labourers going east, and Germans going west. Both walked alone most of the time. They ate what they found growing in the fields. Occasionally someone had slaughtered a cow or horse in a field and the meat was shared out. In this way meat was cut out very roughly and the rest of the carcass was left to rot. All road signs had suddenly changed into the Russian alphabet and the girls had to learn it quickly, or they would have been lost.
From 6 pm until 6 am a curfew was enforced. The girls asked several times for shelter when passing through villages, but they were never admitted. No one trusted anyone, and the girls must have looked neglected by now. Not to be arrested, they went to the Russian Headquarters and asked for help. They took them to a house and the owners could not refuse to take the girls in for the night. This happened several times. Coming now nearer to the Polish border, they met more and more refugees who had been turfed out of their homes as they had lived now inside the new Polish border. When they saw Rebecca and Trude walking towards the East, they tried to persuade them to return with them. But Rebecca had made her mind up and carried on regardless of what people said. Now they were both avoiding the main roads and kept on going along side routes. Arriving almost by the border, they observed that even Russian lorries were stopped by the Polish Melizia.
Courageously they went to the last Russian lorry in the queue and asked the soldiers if they would take them over the border, telling them that they tried to find relatives. The soldiers hid them underneath the benches, which were placed on either side inside the lorry for the soldiers to sit on. Rebecca's and Trude's bags and pram were hidden beneath the soldiers belongings. When it was their turn to cross the border, the Melizia only glimpsed inside and could not see the girls. When sitting on the benches the Russian's large boots covered the girls completely. ( Boots, Russian soldiers wear, are specially large, as they don't wear socks but sizeable rags to wrap around their feet. It is practical in the harsh winters not to get frost bites by only wearing socks.)
###After travelling with them for a while, the girls had to make their way on foot again, as the soldiers were putting themselves in danger carrying them too far. It was too risky for them to travel with civilians. A few km's walk brought the girls to a village. They knocked on the door to ask for water. At once they were taken indoors and fed. The woman of the house was German and her husband was a Pole. Rebecca told both that they would have to leave soon, and told them about all the refugees they had met going westward. She told them to start packing. But they would not listen.
The couple were very friendly indeed. They had even given the girls their bed to sleep in. Both were still in bed next morning, when the woman came very agitated to wake the girls and tell them that there had been a knock on the door and they had been told that they had two hours to pack and leave the house. The woman was totally helpless and unable to cope. Rebecca took over. She packed all the necessary things for the couple into a handcart and tied their goat at the end of it. Rebecca was glad she could repay their kindness with helping them on their way. They said good bye, and the two girls went also on their way but in the opposite direction.
###Eventually they arrived at their destination, but Rebecca did not recognise her home town. So many streets laid in ruins that it took her ages to find the right street. Her grandmother's house had gone. Only a few parts of the walls remained. On one of them was a written message telling Rebecca an address where her fiancé lived. Both set off to find him. After trotting through many streets they found it and knocked on the door and were let in by Rebecca's fiancé. With all the years of her absence he had found a new love. His new girlfriend was living with him. Of course they made both, Rebecca and Trude welcome and with a bath and a hair wash both felt human again. Next morning they tried to find one of Rebecca's aunts who had at one time lived in this neighbourhood. After a few hours they found her and were received with open arms. The block of flats where her aunt Hilde lived was practically still intact except for a few holes in the outer walls. They were given an empty room. It had a hole in the wall, but being summer it did not matter much, the girls were only too happy to have a roof over their heads. (It seemed that some Germans were still allowed to stay at that time.)
When it was dark, Rebecca and Trude went looking for furniture from empty houses. Polish people from further east were to be resettled in these empty houses. The Germans had to leave sometime ago. The girls had to sneak past the Polish Melizia who were patrolling everywhere. Eventually their room was wonderfully furnished. There remained the gnawing hunger to be dealt with. Both girls set out again at night foraging for food. Having to get away quickly, people might have left some conserves in their cellars, but all had gone. Then they spotted a former butcher shop and noticed some flies coming from the cellar. Down the stairs they went and found it full of water. Still they waded through the water, Trude up to her knees and Rebecca up to her hips, feeling with their feet for any cans. They found a large tin and in a very large box they found meat. It already smelled terrible, but Rebecca had known that one can put it into a solution for a while, which would make it safe to be eaten. So, they carried their finds between them until a Melizia man stopped them and wanted to know what they were carrying. They said that they were taking a dead relative for burial. He could not stand the smell and left the girls in disgust. At home they found that the tin contained oxtangues. Rebecca was right, her aunt, who has been a cook could treat the meat and was able to cook it after the treatment. Several families lived in her block of flats. Everyone had plenty of barley in possession and this barley and the meat was cooked together as a thick soup and shared out to all lasting many days.
###Trude decided to leave and Rebecca went to the nearby factory to look for work. She was engaged as an electrician's mate, and also she was issued with a permit so she could stay in Poland while she worked in this factory. As payment she received no money but a watery soup after work. It seems awfully harsh, but Polish people were in the same situation. There was simply nothing there.
In winter Rebecca had to share her aunt's room. The snow blew into her room through the hole in the wall. After another year, all remaining Germans had to leave Poland. Everyone was put into cattle trucks, but straw for sleeping, food and water was provided. It was comfortable. The train took people to the Dutch border where a refugee camp was ready to take them. Rebecca found work again as a waitress. Through the Red Cross she contacted an aunt living near the Harz Mountains and she moved to be with her, again working as a waitress. She met a British Service man. They were married in Bristol, but the marriage did not last long. Her husband was not faithful. Again she took a job as a waitress until her retirement. For faithful companions she kept two dogs and doted on them, as children had been denied to her.
My good friend Rebecca has now passed away and I hope that her story will never be forgotten. She was a very kind, plucky and practical lady who otherwise would not have survived all the hardships she had to endure.
©2000 Gisela Cooper
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