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Chapter One: (From “Years without hope”)

THE RETREAT

It was Christmas Eve in 1944 with the eastern sky dancing with flickers of light and distant rumbling disturbing the sounding of the bells from our church at Rydultau in Upper Silesia. There was a weird forboding in this muted display which diminished the usual holiday joy.
The roar of the guns moved closer and the people whispered of imminent defeat. Since Stalingrad, Germany's military might dwindled alarmingly. It could no longer be concealed that the Red Army was approaching the German border and a counter-offensive was merely wishful thinking. Every day fleeing civilians came west with carts pulled by tired horses carrying women and children and presenting a pitiful scene. This retreat of frightened people and animals continued and swelled to an endless stream, for the fear of being overtaken by Red soldiers haunted everyone. Rumored reports about Red brutalities gave these homeless people strength to carry on and to continue to flee. The war had created a new army-refugees. Before long, I too would have to join this host of disowned humans, condemned to roam all over Europe for decades and longer. Freedom was their fervant plea, plus a little luck.
In the middle of January, another army was on the march, with its ghost-like humans on the move nightly. Three in a row, in every fifth line, a kerosene lamp was carried for illumination, making this convoy a grim affair. Slow motion was the speed, but insulting commands, re-enforced with bayonets and rifle butts, drove them on. They were inmates of prison camps being moved westwards away from the front. For them, every step west meant ruin and destruction. They prayed to be overtaken by the Russians, but when shots rang out around this ghastly procession their ranks were decimated.
One morning my father and I stumbled over a protruding mass slightly covered with snow which we recognized as dead bodies. Their open eyes still begged for the mercy they never received. Bullets brought their lives to an end ill our own field. At that moment I could not imagine that I would face similar atrocities in the coming months ahead. They were the first dead humans I had seen in my young life, spanning only twelve and one-half years. Like all youngsters my age, I belonged to the Hitler youth. We were convinced Germany would win the war with its secret wonder weapons.

Our village was a beehive of activity and, fascinated, I spent much of my time watching military re-enforcements moving up to the front. Nearby, weapons and munitions were stored openly. Being in uniform, I received attention from regular troops. Previously, I had served as a messenger with civilian air defense groups and was permitted to wear a steel helmet. The head gear I wore made my appearance semi-military. Because of the winter, the regulation army helmets were painted white to blend with the elements. I followed suit but left the emblem, the eagle with swastica, untouched. An official report mentioned that a Hitler youth, age eleven, had participated in street battles somewhere and destroyed three Soviet tanks with a bazooka. Hitler had personally decorated him for his deed, making us youngsters jealous and spurring us on to greater heights of patriotic fervor. A sham battle was staged near our school, simulating a defense of our village. A Russian tank attack was to be stopped right there and armed with bazookas, we marched towards a ravine close to an old wooden shack serving as a target. We fired our weapons effectively and within minutes the shack was reduced to a pile of smouldering rubble. With a feeling of revenge, we went home.
Late in January of 1945, Red troops came to within a few miles of our village, causing panic to set in, and people fled following the leader. My parents hurridly hitched up the horses and buggy, loaded a few possessions and our whole family left the homestead. The roads were jammed, and in one hour we only covered one meager mile. Finally, at night, we crossed the Oder River and discovered a remote farm house which was our shelter for a few days. We learned that the Russians had been repulsed. My sisters left our parents and continued west via railroad. I alone remained behind to help my parents.
It was dangerous to travel during the day because low-flying Soviet aircraft attacked any moving object, making the death toll horrible. The Russians had complete air superiority. To move faster we had to exchange our heavy cart for a smaller but liohter one which meant discarding some valued goods, but we would move faster when attacked.
Slowly we slipped into the mountainous territory of East Moravia, and it was here that my parents decided to quit the running. Because of their age, they could no longer tolerate this strenuous flight. At home, their life had been a turbulent one near the border, with German and Polish domination alternating constantly and the respective flags being alternately recognized. My grandfather remembered being an Austrian subject until Prussia took over. Every generation was affected somehow, and my parents became resigned to the reality of eventual Soviet occupation and were prepared to wait for them and to obey them.
I differed greatly from these views. I still believed that Germany would win in the end. To bolster this belief, I was bent on becoming a full-fledged soldier. The opportunity presented itself when German troops, on their way to the front, camped near our shelter. I approached a young officer and, being in the uniform of the Hitler youth, found him most receptive. His glowing appraisal of Germany's future was a convincing pitch. I was ready to join the fighting force of my country.
Parting with my parents was a painful procedure. My father was definitely against it; my mother was simply speechless, for I was the only child left. My brother and sisters had parted in different directions, with their whereabouts unknown. The disapproving attitude of my parents made it imperative to sneak away. A military outfit passing by accepted me readily, and my knowledge of the Polish language was helpful in being recruited.
Almost from the moment I enlisted, we were in constant retreat. Czech partisans harrassed us with gunfire and felled trees, serving as roadblocks, hampered our movements. Our lead vehicle hit a mine and was consumed by flames, but we were unable to rescue anyone because of enemy resistance. Our munitions dwindled alarmingly, leaving us with only enough for self defense or perhaps suicide. We were in no position to take the offensive.
With Hitler's death, disaster befell us. Soldiers and civilians alike had but one aim-to flee Czechoslovakia and to reach the American lines. My military unit was decimated into a helpless gang of fighters, and the Russians were about to overtake us. Czech partisans were everywhere and handicapped us severely. They barricaded roads using damaged vehicles to block us. Hidden snipers singled us out and caused much sorrow. Exhausted and panic-stricken refugees, mostly women and children, fell by the wayside. We loaded as many as we could onto our vehicles and continued west.
At the Czech town of Tschaslau, southeast of Prague, we were greeted by bullets. After fiendish fighting we cornered ourselves in a cemetery, and although dead tired, no one dared to sleep. It was agreed to move again before daybreak, but we never did. During the night a Russian tank force occupied the part of the cemetery opposite us. Daylight revealed this hopeless situation, and when the enemy closed in we waved the white flag. Their commander prevented any shooting, and we were lined up outside the graveyard. Ugly scenes followed. The Russians, devilishly drunk, screamed like mad men. They stripped every captive soldier completely, searched their uniforms and bodies, and stole whatever they found-rings, watches, and medals.
Our women folk until then were not discovered, hiding in trucks near the road. But soon the rampant Russians discovered them and forced the women to come out. As they touched the ground, a pack of Soviet beasts assaulted them. The women screamed and fought but were encircled by brutal mad men. They tore the clothes off the women, attacked and raped them repeatedly until they lay unconscious on the ground. We could not respond to their infernal crying, being heavily guarded by our Russian captors.
Suddenly shots were heard. A Russian major dressed in a long leather jacket and brandishing a pistol, hastened toward his yelling soldiers. In blunt language, he leveled a tirade of condemnations at them. His imposing stature and roaring voice stopped the sex orgy. Only one fiend seemed unconcerned and was about to revive a prostrate woman for another attack. But the major kicked him in the rear, causing the soldier to nearly turn a summersault.
The major then confronted our commanding officer, saluted him and offered his apologies for the unspeakable behavior of his men. As to relieve tension, he reached for his shining cigaret case and invited his enemy to help himself. In fluent German he assured him that the culprits would face a military court. "The war is over." he stressed in an official tone. "You will assemble all your men, mount the vehicles and proceed to the nearest discharge camp. Weapons, including knives, must be surrendered at once. Any violation will draw the death penalty. Women and children will remain here to be processed for immediate release. These are strict orders." Heart-breaking cries rent the crisp morning air as the men were carted away under heavy guard.
We rode for hours, passing formations of Soviet troops unmolested. However, as soon as we entered a village, the native Czechs heaped curses and stones upon us. Some of us didn't escape without injury. One time we were about to pass under a viaduct when a huge crow congregated jubilantly on top, pointed to us, and as we entered, a barrel of liquid manure was emptied, spreading its contents on us. We were enveloped in horrible stench and practically everyone was hit.
Later we approached the town of Tabor. Our Russian guards were on the alert to ward off venceful inhabitants who always tried to jump us. But automatic weapons in Russian hands proved reliable. As we moved through the streets, flagged with the white, blue, and red Czech insignia, German civilians were rounded up and manhandled. Cries and moaning mounted as shots were fired. The whole town celebrated victory with blood and crimes. Truly, we owed our very lives to our Soviet protectors!
We were finally settled in barracks on the outskirts of the city. Countless soldiers were interned there; many in rags, barefooted or in socks, and we stayed outdoors for lack of room. Although ransacked many times before, roaming thieves, Russians and Czechs, save us the once over. We were practically forgotten and left to their mercy.
Days went by and hunger began to be felt, but nobody cared. Then one day we were suddenly lined up for inspection and divided into groups, each consisting of one hundred men. Within a short time the first group left for the railroad station and-Soviet Russia!
For once I thought fast. I counted on using my age as a key factor in planning my escape. I had managed to find civilian clothing that someone had hidden. Donning this over-size garment, I walked cautiously away from my comrades and towards the main guard. In Polish, I asked him to lead me to the officer on duty. Not being familiar with the language, he seemed to sense the urgency in my voice and brought me before the commandant. Luckily, he understood Polish and encouraged me to tell my story. I did the best I could, with much emotion, and my plea moved him, for he said very decidedly that the Soviet Union did not fight against children. He then called an officer and ordered a complete discharge for me.
Shortly afterwards, I walked through the gate within which I had lingered miserably for days. A few more steps and I was free. I headed for the unknown. After two days of dangerous hiking, avoiding crowds and drunken soldiers, I arrived in Prague. I looked like a professional beggar-and really was! My health was waning and my face spelled hunger. A cup of water to revive my tonsils, and a bit to cat from Russian soldiers kept me alive. My boyish appearance persuaded them to help me. I met a Soviet cavalry unit going east which adopted me, and for a while, food was no problem. The unit carried plenty of supplies and loot, and was still collecting whatever they could. Their fondness for women was pronounced. Straying female refugees were mercilessly molested. It happened that we headed straight for my home town, and it was there that I left my hosts.
Deep disappointment overcame me when I entered the old homestead. Other people occupied it now. There was no trace of either my parents or relatives. Some neighbors recognized me and offered a little food, and I was warned that the Polish militia were on the lookout for my whole family. I left in a hurry and found shelter in a nearby village with relatives. I slept in the barn and sneaked into the house for meals.
It was late in the summer when two of my sisters showed up. They looked miserable and felt even worse, just as I did. Being homesick, they had left the secure American zone to return home. It was a fatal move, a grave mistake. After a hasty discussion, we decided to leave together and re-enter the American zone. We started out at once. Roaming over Soviet occupied territory, we had to surmount many hardships, but fortunately, friendly Poles were always kind to us and fed us. After many weeks, we finally reached the Thuringian-Hessian border. Although the American zone was within sight, it was impossible to cross over. The "Iron Curtain" had, in the meantime, been erected.
Our several attempts to sneak across failed miserably. The demarcation line was guarded too heavily. We had to retreat to the nearest town of Muehlhausen, about fifteen miles distant. With another winter approaching, in fact the coldest one on record, we were lucky to find shelter in the attic of one of the townspeople's homes. With spring in the offing, I was bent on breaking through the border alone. Reports leaked through that two of my other sisters were safe in the American zone, living at Eschwege. This news furnished me with the courage and inspiration I needed to make my crossing a success. Arriving at Eschwege, more joy awaited me, for my brother, just released from a British P.O.W. camp, greeted me unexpectedly. Two sisters and two brothers were united under strange circumstances, and for a short while our happiness seemed unending. I talked about returning east, back through the iron curtain, but only my sister Elfriede agreed to go with me. Surprisingly we crossed into the Soviet Zone unmolested.


After a short reunion with the sisters I left behind, Elfriede longed for her sister and brother in the American zone. Carefully we studied how to go about it and set out to find a loosely guarded area where we could make our crossing. We were on our way, with less than a mile to go when disaster befell us. "Stoi!-Stop!" A Russian soldier with an automatic pistol confronted us, Bushes had concealed him. "Dokument!-Your papers!" We obliged and saw our documents disappear in his pocket. "Dawai! Poschli ! -Let's go!" He pointed the way with the barrel of his rifle. A half hour later we reached the border control office set up in a farm house. We were locked in the cellar where several families were already being held. Like us, they too were captured trying to cross the border. We were told we would have to wait until the next day when the conunandant was expected. This meant we had to spend the night in that dismal dump. The women and children were frightened and the men folk talked about escape. But the windows were boarded up.
In the evening a soldier brought a bucket of hot soup and handed out spoons. We gathered around the steaming pot and devoured the questionable substance. Above us, mealtime also seemed to he in progress. Spirited talking was getting louder and singing began. We heard typical Russian folk tunes-with ,alternating parts for a soloist and chorus.
Our Russian hosts started dancing and the whole floor vibrated. Our women tried to calm their children and prevent them from crying. An animated soldier came down to the cellar. Apparently he had gotten his share of vodka. He pointed to several women-"You, you, and you-Dawai! " One of them was my sister. I was terrified because I knew what this meant. The women sobbed. Suddenly, in a friendlier tone, the soldier said, "You peel potatoes! " But when he saw that the women made no effort to respond, he shouted, "Dawai-Let's go! " I pushed myself between him and the women and spoke in Russian, "Comrade, I'll help to peel the potatoes." He seemed surprised but had no objections.
Upstairs, Russian rowdies greeted us. We were forced to sit at the table which was loaded with food. The drinking and singing continued. After a while one of the women, fairly drunk, left with a soldier. When they returned another comrade asked for her company. She wavered but finally gave in. Soon it was my sister's turn, and two soldiers argued over her. My sister clung to me, but she was pulled away by one of the Russians. Another one pushed me into a chair and in a friendly manner invited me to eat. I heard my name being cried aloud from the next room. I raced to my sister's aid and saw her pulled down to the floor. Her clothing was ripped off. I threw myself on top of her attacker and screamed. That brought his comrades to his rescue. I was beaten, spit upon and thrown out the door into the yard. There the guard applied his own treatment, kicking me before I could rise and flee. Finally, I found myself alone on the road. As I fled from the farm house, still shaken by what I had seen, I swore vengeance.
After a few more days of brutal assaults, Elfriede was free to go. Her deteriorated physical condition prevented any fiend from violating her again. Tuberculosis had infested her body because of sufferings during the war, but the bestial behavior of the sex crazed soldiers was what further hastened her early death. We managed to meet soon after the ordeal, and I stood by her until the end approached. In her final hours, she confided to me the almost unspeakable injury and abuse inflicted on her in that border outpost.
Soon she was laid to rest in a little cemetery at Eschwege. At her graveside, once again, I swore eternal revenge. I became intensively anti-Soviet and never missed an opportunity to cause them trouble. I always spoke against them. It was this burning hatred of the Soviets and their foul system that later led me to become a dedicated spy.

Werner I. Juretzko - Years without hope

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