A German reader tells us about his mother's experiences during the War. "My mother, Ruth Kaplaneck, lived
with her family in Berlin. Like all teenagers she pitched in to hlp when the bombing got serious in
1942. Her duties were to to evacuate her half of the city block near Hagelberg Strasse. As a result of the
first big raid, she recalls people died that she was unable to get to as a result of direct bomb hits (month,
day, year?). There were streets near her home that received direct hits from bombs intended for munitions
factories on the outskirt of the city. The bombs fell a mile short of the intended target. The blockbusters
dropped by some of the planes could reduce a city block to a a huge crater. If the people were not evacuated, an
easy 1,000 civilians could have been killed in the explosion. The worst bombs were the incendiary ones,
clusters of vials of glass containing phosphorous. The bombers dropped these in bundles. Gravity would separate
them and they fell into the shape of a glowing Christmas tree which is how they were referred to--Tannenbaum. And then dear the end of the War my mother was drafted and train as a telegraphy. And then after missing a train she was almost executed."
I can only refer to my relatives and friends of what they lived through.My mother is 5ft 2 and weighed close
to 83 lbs when she immigrated to America (date?). My now deceased uncle Gerhardt was 6ft tall and weighed 145 at
the end of the war. He attributed the use of strange "fillers" in the "city bread" rations for most of it--
pulverized nuts shells, corn stalks, plantain, and sawdust became pretty common "extenders". Wallpaper paste was
recycled in hot water to mix into the flour for extra body and hopeful protein. YUCK. I have heard of food that
sticks to your ribs, but wallpaper paste seems a bit of an extreme. "Das Deutsche schwein frist alle" (the
German pig eats everything) was a common sentiment felt amongst the civilian population who felt no
different than pigs eating garbage for their rations. Milk was reduced to blue white water for anyone over the
age of 15, as all calcium and butterfat was removed. My mother said it looked like crap and tasted far worse.
She quickly gave up milk for life because of it. And as bad as all of that was, when the Soviets took over
Berlin, it was even worse. Adolf's dietary plan for the population was just enough to keep one upright and
breathing, and constantly hungry.. the Soviet's dietary reduction was a dare to exist.
My mother lived with her family in Berlin. She grew up at 39 Grossbeerenstrasse in the Kreutzberg park area
of Berlin. Their home was on the outskirts of the famed Park and Zoo. Live animal exhibits were in the park near her home, but the zoo itslef was a good half hour from her home by trolley. The home was closer to the trolley turn around station. Their home was leveled with the major raids on Berlin (January 30, 1943 I believe). The home was a family owned apartment building for over 50 years. The raid occurred as snow was falling about 7 pm in the evening. Three generations of family made homeless in a matter of minutes.
HBC mentions the Nazi plans to eliminate Slavs amongst many others--Generalplan Ost. My Grandfather Kurt's family came to Berlin from Bohemia and Moravia 75 years earlier.
They were brought as artists to Berlin by King Frederic of Prussia. My grandfather was the Choir director and
organist at the famed Berlin Protestant Dom Kirche. And was one of the many German citizens who did NOT join the Nazi party. That shocks a lot of people. And for NOT joining, a competitor to his music store business had him publicly denounced in Der Sturmer. This was the ultra-national Nazi hate rag of the day. So as my mother crossed with her sisters out of the Kreutzberg Park home from school, the windows along the streets had a full page photograph of my Grandparents walking hand in hand on the street. And he was publicly denounced in bold
lettering that he was "a mongrel who had despoiled a fine Aryan woman". He had gray eyes and light brown hair and my
grandmother was a blue eyed blond. Can you even imagine the shock on my mother and her sister's faces on the
way home from school seeing that? And how ludicrous it was to public charge a man like that who was a life long Protestant and choral conductor in the largest Protestant Church in Berlin.
All across the city were denouncement kiosk poles (called Litfass Saule) used
to announce the death of a neighbor found guilty in the People's Court for violation of a never ending list of
crimes. Tell a joke about Hitler or the Third Reich, be overheard and arrested and sentenced to death. A famous
20 year old concert pianist made that mistake in 1944, and his party loyal girlfriend turned him in and he
Like all German girls, my mother anbd her sisters had to join the BDM--the girl's division of the Hitler Youth. My mother signed herself OUT of the local BDM unit by lieing. She managed this early in the war on the excuse that her family was moving to Munich and she would reenlist there.
They accepted her announcement one morning at choir practice. They never tumbled onto the fact that her two sisters Sigrid and Anneliese Anneliese was still singing in the in the Children's "Rundfunk Choir" My mother wanted no part of
it at all.
Mother was born November 8, 1924. Thus she was a teenager during
the War. Many teenage boys and some girls manned the FLAK batteries
surrounding German cities. No flack guns for her or her sister or the overwhelming majority of girls.
As the men and boys started being drafted from their classrooms, systematically shipping off the 18 year olds
and then the 17 year olds and finally the 16 year olds, the school girls had to pick up the slack quickly.
Being an older teenager when the bombing began to intensify, she began to help with civil drefense efforts (1942). As the men and city workers originally designated Wardens were being drafted, every able-bodied teen girl rolled up their sleeves to pitch in and help. She had four stories of people in her apartment building alone to worry about. She helped get the elderly into the basements for safety. The teens looked out for each other's homes as well. And thery were always on standby as "mutual aid" to help.In wartime EVERYONE had to pull together to survive. She doesn't recall people assigned perse. It was a team of common aid to help each other. She had mentiond to me once about a lady who stubbornely refused to leaeve her aprtment withtout her parrot and its cage. And when the sireen sounded she would help the lady and parrot down the stairs to safety. A building nearby was directly hit. After the raids in the morning they would venture out to see the devestation.
The blockbusters dropped by some of the planes could reduce a city block to a a huge crater. If the people
were not evacuated, an easy 1,000 civilians could have been killed in the explosion. The worst bombs were the
incendiary ones, clusters of vials of glass containing phosphorous. The bombers dropped these in bundles. Gravity
would separate them and they fell into the shape of a glowing Christmas tree which is how they were referred
to--Tannenbaum. The bombers came in waves. The bombers flying at night would look for the fires as aiming
There were streets near her home that received direct hits from bombs intended for munitions factories on the
outskirt of the city. The bombs fell a mile short of the intended target.
Her duties were to to evacuate her half of the city block near Hagelberg Strasse. As a result of the first
big raid, she recalls people died that she was unable to get to as a result of direct bomb hits. She said she
doesn't recall which bombing did what amount of damage as she has tried hard to bury the images of what she saw
in the past as she said some of the memories still reduce her to tears. After securing elders into the basements, she and other kids would race up the stairs to the roofs to watch for the incendriaries falling onto the roof. Each day they would place buckets of sand a water on the roofs. These items were maintained daily. They would try to run and pick up the incendiaries before they exploded and dump them into the buckets along the roof edges to extinguish them. They had about 2 minutes to either douse or throw the glass tubes (incendiaries) into the streets below. This was done with their bare hands. Sometimes gloves were available. My aunt Sigrid recalls watching my mother and grandfather on the roof with other kids throwing the bomblets off the roof into the street or dumping sand on them and trying to drown them in water. Can you imagine doing your homework at night and going to bed with your shoes on in anticipation of the air raid siren that would go off between midnight and 2 am in the morning. And then repeat this every day without stop? Even on Christmas eve.
Teen boys were originally the designated ones to help unbury people trapped under the rubble of collapsed buildings as ambulances and fire trucks arrived. And soon it was the girls task to pick up the slack and to lift the concrete and debris and pullout survivors and the dead nightly as the boys were being shipped out at an alarming pace. Air raids might occur three times a day. The Americans came during the day and the British at night. There were even some Soviet raids.
This weird game of "explosive chicken" resulted in one of the incendiaries exploding as mother reached for
it. This was about 6 months into the bombings (date?). The explosion resulted ..and resulted in a burning
flash. She lost her eye sight for 6 months and speech for a year. She was very lucky. Both eventually
my Mom was drafted in Berlin (January 9, 1945). After a 6 minute physical, she with 19 other girls were
shipped by train to a Luftwaffe Air base at Kampfgeschwader 4. They arrived there on January 10. They were
issued small men's uniforms and given boxes of safety pins to take the seams in and prevent their pants from
falling on the floor in the school rooms. They were given instruction in telegraphy. Four months later they
were evacuated from Konigsgratz in what is now the Czech Republic as the Soviets approached, but missed a train connection in a train yard outside of Berlin when they went for a bathroom break. We were arrested and shipped back to Lubeck as 'Deserters'. When they arrived in Lubeck they were sent to a Luftwaffe school set up there from a coverted girl's school. A new law went into effect ovenight that stated "anyone away from their unit (as mom and her friends were) were to be treated as "deserters" and subject to courtmartial of which execution would have followed a "show trial". They were subject to that edict. After their arirval at the Luftwaffe school they went through daily interrogations by a political education officer and matron who were to select the most likely (or worst) offender for a show trial in Hamburg. They selected mother. One of the other girls were given the option to vindicate herself testing out leaky gas masks in a tunnel.
One was forced to dig trenches with other girls to try and stop Soviet tanks nearing Berlin. Another girl was
shipped to a "Lebensborn" facility as they discovered she was pregnant and wanted her to produce more cannon
fodder for the Fuhrer. Mother on the other hand was hand cuffed to a rail inside a transport truck headed for Hamburg where show trials were being held. She was rescued while still in handcuffs by the truck drivers, two unexpected Guardian Angels, on her way to the People' s Court to get a death sentence. She did not know either of them. They told her she was to be publicly hanged in the Air Force schoolyard of Lubeck as a warning to anyone not to follow orders to the letter. The two of them intervened and saved her from her date with execution and provided her false military separation papers, a railpass home to Berlin, and set the truck on fire to help her escape. A most unklikely pair of "guardian angels" who saw no benefit in executing a kid out of highschool as the war was just about about to end. They were a most remarkable pair of people she will never forget and to whom she owes her life. Even in wartine..ANGELS DO walk amongst us.
For mother's 85th birthday, I assembled surviving photos and memorabilia of her life growing up under the
nightmare of Hitler. I am currently measuring out the exact amounts stated on the first ration card and saved in
my friend Gisela's diary that I may show viewers of my album exactly what ration cards bought. you may find the
album I made of interest as I captioned each photo with my familys; oral histories of what they saw and lived
through 70 years ago.
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