Home Coming

in

When I first picked up the book, Denk Ich an Sonneberg, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Referencing the war in the subtitle, “Experiences and Thoughts, Sonneberg until the end of the Second World War,” suggested content might dwell on that event.  However, it did not; the war was more of a backdrop to the events and observations submitted. I was pleasantly surprised by how well written and interesting was the book.  

The topics Renate, the author,  chose to included was also interesting.  Some might seem trivial, such as the descriptions of washing day, a tour through her grandparent’s (my great-grandparents) home, their work,  and making Sambarger Klöß (dumplings).  These choices imbue importance on those things; through all the noise of the times, these were the things that she chose to talk about.  Together, these vignettes paint a larger picture of daily life, perceived by a young girl who was just in her early teens at war’s end, sometimes skewed by the events of the war, but more often simply reflecting the way things were, the way things were done and had been done for years or centuries.  In one sense, I couldn’t help but think of Gone With the Wind.  

References to the war are mostly allusions, contextual; how the events of the war might have coloured her daily life.  The impact of a school friend who suddenly stopped coming to school and simply disappeared; helping a neighbour, who was blinded in a bombing raid; looking for wild berries in the woods, to supplement their food rations.  

One of the more compelling and touching stories was the home-coming of her father, Otto.  I first met Otto in 1971, and again a few years later when I worked in Berchtesgaden.  At that time he was a man in his 70’s.  Stiff with age, quiet, reflective.  He had the dignified air of an elderly Prussian.


“Wir hockten alle zusammen in der Küche. Anna hatte ein zaghaftes Klopfen im Flur gehört. Brummelnd wie immer, ging sie zur Tür, um nachzusehen. Ziemlich aufgebracht kehrte sie darauf zurück, um uns mitzuteilen, daß draußen ein völlig zerlumpter Bettler stände; sie hätte ihn nicht hereingelassene. Unserer Mutter kam das sehr merkwürdig vor, denn obwohl es im letzten Kriegsjahr manchen Menschen sehr, sehr schlecht ging, die Flüchtlinge zu fünft und mehr in einem Kämmerchen hausten und fast nichts zu essen hatten, hatte sie nie erlebt, daß Menschen bettelten und zu diesem Zweck gar an die Haustür kamen. Argwöhnisch ging sie also, um selbst nachzuschauen. Erst wer alles mäuschenstill, und dann hörten wir ein lautes Schluchzen meiner Mutter. Sie stand mitten im dunklen Flur und umarmte den abgerissenen alten Mann, der in der Tat furchtbar aussah. Am Kopf trug er einen dicken blutigen Verband, seine olivfarbene Uniform wer total verschmutzt. Als erstes kamen mir die hohen Lederstiefel bekannt vor, da schrie aber schon mein Bruder “Vati”, und uns wer mit einen Schlag klar, wen wir für einen armen Bettler gehalten hatten.
———————-
We all squatted together in the kitchen. Anna had heard a timid knock in the hallway. Muttering as usual, she went to the door to check. She was quite furious that she came back to tell us there was a completely ragged beggar outside; She would not let him in. It was very strange to our mother, for although, in the last year of the war, many people went very badly, the refugees were five and more in a chamber, and had almost nothing to eat, she had never known that men begged, at the doorstep. So she went to see for herself. At first all was silent, and then we heard a loud sobbing of my mother. She was standing in the middle of the dark hall, hugging the demolished old man, who was indeed terrible. On his head he wore a thick bloody bandage, his olive-colored uniform totally dirty. First of all, the high leather boots seemed familiar to me, but my brother “Vati” (father) shouted, and who made us clear with a blow who we thought was a poor beggar.”


“Man kenn sich heute nicht mehr vorstellen, wie wir in diesen letzten Monaten des Krieges um unseren Vater gebangt haben. Jeder Nachrichtensendung über den Vormarsch er Russen in Schlesien hatten wir angstvoll gelauscht. Schweidnitz war seine letzte Dienststelle, hatten die feindlichen Panzer es schon überrollt? War er in Gefangenschaft geraten, oder hatte er sich rechtzeitig absetzen können? Nun hockte er plötzlich weinen an unserem Küchentisch, und er war so glücklich, uns alle wohlauf zu sehen, daß er nur stockend von seinen Erlebnissen berichten konnte. Beim völlig ungeordneten Rückzug unseres zerschlagenen Heeres war sein Fahrer mit einen Lastkraftwagen kollidiert. Unser Vater saß auf dem Rücksitz, und das rettete ihm des Leben. An der linken Hand war die Schlagader verletzt; aber es geb auch noch Wunder: In der Nähe befand sich ein noch funktionsfähigen Verbandplatz, und dort ergatterte er von einen Stabsarzt sogar ein Papier, das ihm erlaubte, sich in ein Lazarett nach Thüringen abzusetzen, was ihn nach abenteuerlichen Fahrt mit letzter Kraft gelang. Ja, das Chaos herrschte überall, aber ein Verwundeter, der ohne Marschbefehl mit Zielangabe irgendwo auf der Landstraße im zerstörten Land angetroffen werden wäre, hätte mit seiner Erschießung rechnen müssen.
—————
It is no longer possible to imagine how we have begged our father during these last months of the war. We had been terribly listening to every news about the advance of Russians in Silesia. Schweidnitz was his last service, had the enemy tanks already rolled over it? Had he come into captivity, or had he been able to leave in time? Now he crouched suddenly at our kitchen table, and he was so happy to see us all well, that he was only able to report his experiences. With the disorganized retreat of our battered army, his driver had collided with a truck. Our father sat in the back seat, and that saved him. On the left hand, the artery was damaged; But there were also miracles. There was a working wound dressing place in the vicinity, and he even got a paper from a staff physician who allowed him to go to a hospital in Thuringia, which he succeeded after an adventurous journey with his last strength. Yes, the chaos prevailed everywhere, but a wounded man who would have been met without a marching orders somewhere on the highway in the ruined land would have had to face his execution.”


“Unser Vater konnte nur ein paar Stunden bei uns bleiben, dann mußte er sich im Sonneberger Lazarett “Erholung” melden. Aber das machte uns gar nichts aus, Hauptsache, er war in unserer Nähe und den Russen heil entronnen, denn nun hatten wir einen Beschützer, wenn die Amerikaner kommen würden. Die Tage bevor Sonneberg sich endlich ergab, wurden die Verwundeten auf Karren geladen und nach Karlsbad verlegt. Wir waren fassungslos: Nun würden unseren Vater vielleicht doch noch die Russen erwischen! Erst Wochen nach Kriegsende erfuhren wir, daß es ihm gelungen war, sich mit dem Fahrrad zu seinem Bruder nach Berchtesgaden durchzuschlagen.
————-
Our father could only stay with us for a couple of hours, then he had to report “recovery” at the Sonnenberg hospital. But that did not matter to us, chief, he was near us and escaped the Russians, for we had a protector when the Americans would come. The days before Sonneberg finally surrendered, the wounded were loaded into carts and moved to Karlsbad. We were stunned: Now our father might be caught by the Russians! Only weeks after the end of the war did we learn that he had succeeded in cycling to his brother in Berchtesgaden.”


Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *