Monday, March 14, 2016

The Swan (Part 4 and a half): WAR

IV and a half.  A genuine German anti-fascist

TRANSLATED COPY/Translated by H. Jakubowicz

The following is a true and exact rendering of a letter written by a genuine German anti-fascist in the German language. Names of persons and places have been abbreviated.

Paris, August 9th, 1945

Dear H.,

     After staying in Berlin illegally for two and a half years I have returned some time ago to Paris and I am sorry to find that you are not yet back in Europe. Therefore I will give you a short account of all that has happened to me since we saw each other in the Summer of '41.

     When we embarked in Marseilles I was still a mechanical founder in F. Later, however, I was working as a construction engineer in the works at F. During the middle of 1942, however, the position became precarious, the police had the noble intention to arrest me for deportation I vanished and went to B.E. at L. There I spent about seven months. E. had arranged things for himself in L. quite well. Without any difficulties he could study at the "Bibliotheque Municipale." 

     I succeeded in obtaining good documents—naturally forged ones—for the comrades who were living in L. For E. I had procured papers from Lorraine, which he kept for the beginning in reserve because he could still exist legally. We had conceived the plan to go to Germany with our false papers. The plan was discussed exhaustively and E's great experience was a great profit to me. I should go as an advance scout, should reconnoitre and prepare, on the ground of the experiences gained, with my forged papers, his removal too. The French workmen who were, at that time, forced to go to Germany, had all a claim to return on leave after six months. So in February 1943, I left L. with the intention of being back by the end of the summer. 

     E. did not give me the addresses of our people, because they did not know me personally and they hardly would have been prepared to deal with me on the strength of perhaps very vague personal references, because they all had to fear informers. One month after my departure E. was arrested because of an entirely bloody and unimportant difficulty with his papers. Friends who are here reproach him for his alleged careless behavior, but I can hardly believe that. Our connections in L. were so good that, for example, M.F. a short time after his arrest with forged papers, was released again. Probably E. has had just damned bad luck. He was in the clink only for the ridiculous time of a fortnight, but as he had been arrested under his real name the NSV (NS.-Volkswohlfahrt-NS. Charity Organization) took an interest in him. They told him he should not be so dumb as to sit in the clink for the French, he should rather go to the Reich. Because he refused, the Gestapo took the matter up. He was carried away and we have never heard of him again. Naturally, one has to expect the worst in this case.

     In the middle of February I arrived in Berlin. At first I was working as a construction engineer in an aircraft factory in Tempelhof. My flat was in Wilmersford. Already then war morale was on the decline. In the construction offices we were building the "Stukas NN"—the man occupation consisted in sleeping. Even in the construction offices 80% of the staff were foreigners. After about a week I found the first communist. There was no organization, but also in isolation he stuck with unshakable firmness to the proletarian creed. After hardly a month had passed in Germany, the Gestapo arrested me. A French fascist had reported me for "anti-German" activities. Still as a Frenchman I went to the Gestapo headquarter in Burgstrasse, from there to the concentration camp at H. I was able to talk myself out of the charge—for which the punishment was death—and got a close shave with 56 days K.Z. This was not an ordinary K.Z., but a special camp where "intensity was calculated to replace the length of the punishment period." 

     In the main, recalcitrant foreigners got their treatment here. We were about 1,000 men from all possible countries. Our mortality rate in summer was 20 men per day, in winter about double. Daily we had to do about eight hours of heaviest railway work. Three hours march daily to and from the S-bahn (fast suburban railway) building site N. and roll calls every morning and evening extending over four hours in every weather. We received extra rations for heavy manual workers but especially the roll call exhausted men completely. Beatings and murders were perpetrated on principle by the Ukrainians and Poles whom S.S. selected for this task. The corpses were thrown into a large pit. The building contractors received laconic information, e.g. "workmen X. died from pneumonia" or "appendicitis." 

     The death certificates were already filled in in stock with the medical orderly. Only the name had to be put in. The air raids were the most terrible thing because we were locked up in the huts and in case of a hit the men should rather die than be left at large and thereby offered a chance for flight. The maximum punishment for a European was 28 days, for Russians and Poles, 56 days. (As a "political" I was an exception and had also 56 days. As the S.S. was incapable to run the complicated camp administration themselves they appointed some German communists who were already imprisoned for years and who ran the show. I shall never forget these fellows. There morale was entirely unbroken and they ran the camp in model fashion. Their moral and physical cleanliness contrasted impressively with all the other prisoners. After about four weeks of extremely heavy work for which, however, my navy and foundry work at F. had been an inestimable training, I fell ill. When that happened the communists took me into the office because they, as I did myself, assumed that I would remain in camp until the war was over. (Nobody knew my "time.") Daily they read smuggled newspapers and they were informed about the London broadcasts. There were serious valuable political discussions. The communists were of the age groups of 30 and 40 years. Ideologically, they had nothing in common with "the filthy party line." 

     After my release I met a woman with whom I lived the whole rest of the time.

          In November 1943 the heavy English air raids on Berlin began which later on devastated the whole West of Berlin by fire. In spite of the tremendous material destruction these raids naturally  could not bring about the revolution. The effect on the factory was almost insignificant. People suffered the inevitable and life went on. 

          The leave regulations had been changed and I could not return to L. before February 1944. There I heard of A's arrest. This had made all our plans futile. Shortly afterwards I returned to Berlin. 

          There I worked then for X. who built "Panzers" and later I was transferred to Y. where important engine parts were made. 

          Although this work was priority no. 1,  sabotage in this factory was rife. A precision raid by the Americans caused heavy destruction in this factory and nothing went ever right again there. The demanded amount of labor was 72 hours per week. But that was only on paper. We sat there but we did not work. The regulations about secrecy were carried out in such a way that we could take away all the blueprints of the factory if we wanted. Everybody was fed up. I could observe a general "je m'en foutisme" (let them all go and hang themselves). Nevertheless, everyone was subjected to an iron military discipline. S.S. with bloodhounds were in command of the work-security guard. At the most 10% of the workmen were Germans. 

     The air raids had changed their tactical character, after February '44. The Americans attacked, in daylight precision attacks, mainly industrial targets. Civilian casualties in Berlin were relatively few. But when they attacked the city proper, the effect was devastating. So, for instance, in the heaviest air attack on the area of the City of Berlin on the 3rd February 1944. On that day from the Gesundbrunnen in the North to the Hallisches Tor in the South the whole East of Berlin was reduced to rubble. The Americans dropped mainly heavy explosive bombs. Within three-quarters of an hour at least 50,000 people died. The streets were reeking of corpses for weeks and this smell is still in my nose.

          From Winter 1943-44 hardly anybody seriously believed in victory. Almost everybody listened to the B.B.C. Anti-fascist feeling was widespread. Because there was no organised expression of this feeling all the the countless individual actions failed. From the beginning of the war the number of special tribunals had been raised from one to seven. They worked without stopping. In general a miserable travesty of justice. I have listened to some of the trials. The main form of anti-Nazi activity was something like that: whispering propaganda with B.B.C. slogans (the Moscow radio was practically not listened to at all because of its monotony). Ca'canny, absenteeism, actual sabotage, passive resistance. Desertions from civilian and military services were already considerable. A tremendous impression was made by the first sign of the nearing storm, the fall of Italian fascism. The Nazi badges suddenly vanished from the buttonholes. The N.S.D.A.P. had to issue a party order which threatened everyone with expulsion from the Party who did not wear the Swastika. In the dustbins of Wilmersdorf S.S. uniforms were found which had been thrown away. Far into Nazi circles the S.S. had the names of bloodhounds. The most hated man in Germany was no doubt Hein (Himmler). What actually happened in the K.Z. however, the masses ignored. Also I was carried away by the general feeling and I anticipated a coup d'état (a putsch) of the Right after the Italian model in winter. 

     Once again everybody was seized by feverish expectations when the generals made their putsch in Summer '44. At that time I lived near the Landwehr Canal off Bendlerstrasse where the German War Ministry was. At night one heard the shootings. The feeling of the people during the following days is best characterised by the often-heard words, "T'is a pity." From this time onwards life in Germany degenerated unbelievably quickly. Practically, there was only one punishment left: death. Also for petty criminal infringements, according to the so-called "Law against persons harmful to the People's interest." Children under 16 could be sentenced to death. Every soldier had the right to shoot on sight persons whom he only suspected of treason. Sexual morals corrupted. Everybody who could only creep was armed. Women and girls were forced by the Labor Exchanges to man the S.A. and searchlight batteries. The most dangerous profession belonged to a police or Wehrmacht patrol because anybody who had reason to fear them fired on them on sight.

          When the Russians stopped on the Oder in February '45 we believed that the Gestapo would still gather enough force to deal with those elements they thought dangerous. Indeed the assassination of former leading members of working class organisations in the working class quarters became more numerous. Gestapo gangsters bumped them off in this way. From February '45 I never went out unarmed. A doctor who was friendly with me provided me with sickness certificates and I never had to work again. We knew that Himmler had issued the order to "liquidate" all the K.Z. prisoners and ex-prisoners when the retreat from the East had started.

          Form February '45 onward there was an R.A.F. raid with 2-tonners each night. The warning went about 10 p.m. The all-clear came about 4 a.m. The people made a habit of going to the shelters already before the raids started. In addition there were the American daylight raids. Everybody heard with great relief of the breakthrough in the West, this could only be the end. Before the Russians had got going with their assault the Americans had crossed the Elbe between Magdeburg and Wittenberg but then they stopped. For several weeks already gas and electric power in Berlin was confined to a few hours daily. The sirens sounded usually only after the first bombs had announced the presence of enemy 'planes. On April 21st was Adolf's birthday. On the 22nd we heard Russian gunfire in the East for the first time. At the same time the first Stomoviks came. The Berlin Radio announced that Berlin A.A. batteries would now be used only against targets. 

     In the meantime the Gestapo, the S.S. and Co. had fled already. But about 7,000 barricades had been erected. The next day Russian guns bombrded the Alexander Plaatz. Two days later the Russians held already the Ring of Autobahnn round Berlin. That meant that the city was entirely surrounded. I observed the whole carnage from my girl's house in the Brandenburgische Strasse in Wilmersdorf. Now day and night hell was let loose and never stopped. In broad daylight the Russians bombarded the center of Wilmerdorf from Wannsee-Nikkolassee. Although many shells exploded in the middle of the long queues of women waiting for food the survivors went on queueing, forced by hunger. Now there was no gas, no electric power, no light, and no water. There was also no German Army left. From sergeant-major up to general everybody roped in his handful of soldiers in the streets. A motley crowd of marines, Luftwaffe and Army soldiers, of police, Volkssturm, S.A. and S.S. formed the so-called "Combat groups." There armament was very poor. Most of them had "Panzer fists."

          The house in which I stayed was fought for during five full days and five full nights. At first a German obsolete Panzer defended it which after 12 hours had used up its whole ammunition and therefore rolled away. Next morning a Russian "T 34_ advanced against us. At a distance of 22 yds. they fired into the neighbouring building were the police were entrenched. Then a young fellow shot it up from the next building. When the Panzer started to burn several houses went up in flames as well. After that the Russians tried to soften us up with heavy mine throwers. The effect of these things is only to be compared with the heaviest bombs. During that time we played Skat (a German card game) in the cellar. Soon after this the Russians sat in the houses opposite us. Some S.S.-men threw them out again in a counter attack. In one of the houses the women had welcomed the Russians and given them hot coffee. A young S.S. scamp thereupon shot all the inhabitants of the house. "Traitors of the people." Already before an army private had been hanged on a balcony as a warning. In this absolutely hopeless situation the power of Nazi terror was once again demonstrated. The Nazis had the cheek to spread the solgan in the cellars: "We need only hold on for a few more days. The relief army is on the march. It stands on the Avus (the automobile racetrack between the West end of Berlin and Wannsee). In the meantime our flanks had been turned. The Russians advanced through the Uhland Strasse and they fought already for the Zoo-shelter where the Fuhrer's staff was. All the houses opposite us were gutted. The house on our left burnt out. Behind us the Russians already in our block. Uninterrupted infantry fire. Then the roof of the house next to us is set on fire. 

     We had only one way out—to the right, before our house is burnt to the ground. With some bold men I am rushing on to the roof and in a hail of shells we extinguished the blaze. I had to take over the practical command and we decided to close up the breakthrough to the neighbouring houses, that meant to brick up all exits, and to hoist the Red Flag. After a debate of several hours with the NSDAP boobies, I had to withdraw with the others, otherwise the S.S. had liquidated me. In the evening in the midst of battle—it was 1st May—we left the house. Towards night the infantry fire subsided. Under cover of night we looked for shelter. It was an eery sight. The flames of innumerable fires plunged the town in a weird blood-red hue. Now and then a patrol crept from the shadow of the houses and examined us sternly. We were taken in in an ordinary basement where gravely injured people lay around. All the other soldiers drank until they were senseless. But all of them were fighting on. The next morning somebody shouted "Urri" through the cellar. The Russians had arrived. The first thing they did was to take away all the watches "(Urri-Uhren-watches).

          Berlin fell after exceedingly hard fighting. The superiority of the Russians in numbers and material was enormous. Nevertheless the Russians lost here quite a lot. The combat tactics were fighting from house to house. Nowhere did the Russians attack with cold steel as I saw it so beautifully filmed in a Paris newsreel. With snipers they worked from building to building and advanced slowly. The had Panzers for support. But since the appearance of the Panzer fist the Panzer has become a very vulnerable weapon in street fighting. In the first days after the fighting was over I could see the proof of this. Hundreds of shot up T 34s were lying about. In Berlin the Red Army has lost thousands of Panzers. Almost all of them fell to the Panzer fist. I have seen only very few destroyed German Panzers, that means that the Nazis had almost none left and they had also very little heavy artillery. In the Panzer fist the Nazis have created an excellent weapon for civil war. 

     The equipment of The Red Army was very good, very great numbers of AA and light guns. Heavy ones I have hardly seen. Every Red Army man who was in the fighting line had a tommy gun which, however, was much heavier in weight than the German model. The trucks were almost all Studebakers. The officers were clean but the soldiers were filthy and unappetizing fellows. Generally they were peasants. Russian, Ukrainian, Polish and also Mongolian troops participated int he fighting for Berlin.

          When we returned our house was fortunately still standing. Russian soldiers were just starting to loot everything. With us were two Ukrainian girls who could make themselves understood. Therefore they stopped looting. We were still living in the cellar. It was the 2nd May. Berlin did not fall before the next day. Relieved and without any idea of what was to come we wanted to sleep in the cellar  but soon one of the two Ukrainian girls came to my wife and in an absolute panic told her to make herself invisible at once unless she wanted to be raped in the night by Messrs. the officers. The girl had heard such warnings. I did not want to believe it but my wife became scared. The small Ukrainian cried and implored us to go away. As "Frenchman" I asked an officer who understood some German whether I could leave. He said: "Without woman." Then I knew what was coming. 

     We organised a regular escape through a hole in the wall and went to the flat of an acquaintance in the Schmargendorf. There the Russians had already been for a week and we thought that it might be quieter there. In the street I met a woman with her young daughter who pushed a pram. She was crying bitterly. "My daughter has just been raped five times." What I saw later in Schmargendorf was horrible. Without ever stopping the Russians searched all the houses for "arms" and always found women only.These were not regrettable incidents but literally the common behaviour of the Red Army in Berlin. Immature children and old women—as incredible as it may seem—had to atone for the Nazi crimes. It was not rare that individual women were raped up to 30 times. Execrable mutilations of women. 

     An epidemic of suicide began to spread. The rapes were so common that nobody would ever believe if there happened to be a young woman who said that she had not been ravished. Dozens of my own friends, women, have gone through it so that everybody can believe me without fear. A girlfriend asked my wife whether she had also been violated. As I had managed to save her from it the other one asked quite astonished: "What? You haven't had to do that? Does such a woman exist?"—Generally it can be asserted that about half of all the women of Berlin were raped. The city itself was robbed completely clean. There was no exception with foreign workers or their wives or prisoners of war. Who refused was shot. When the Russians captured Berlin there were two and a half million inhabitants left. The rest of the 4 million people had run away with a bad conscience. Those who remained greeted the Russians as liberators. The disappointment was cruel. Many communists on the first day had donned red armlets. After they had seen that their wives and daughters were ravished with the others they threw their armlets away again. For days on end unbroken chains of trucks were rolling eastwards from the Hallisches Tor. Not only watches and valuables were stolen but especially the few household goods which poor workmen had saved from the air raids. The Russian trucks were crammed with mattresses, crockery and clothes. For the Russians who did not know the still relatively high standard of German workers there was simply nobody else than "bourzhuys" left in Berlin.

          On principle looting and raping was prohibited in the Red Army. At least the proclamation said so. Practice, however, was different. In Stalin's proclamations and manifestos Berlin was painted to the Red Army man as the citadel of German Fascism. The bureaucracy simply incited them. The officers in most cases took part in the excesses. Exceptions were as rare as white ravens. However, there were exceptions. Significant for the attitude of the Russian authorities was the following incident. On the second day after the end of the fighting two thousand woman had been treated in the St. Gertrauden Hospital. Naturally the doctors also procured abortions. Then the order came from above that only internal ablutions against venereal diseases were allowed. Abortion of the foetus was prohibited—without doubt out of tenderness for the sacred feelings of the women. I am sorry that I once believed such stories to be atrocity stories of Goebbel's propaganda and that I advised women to stay in Berlin. I shall never be able to forget what I have seen. I was deeply shaken. I heard the same from Frenchmen who returned from Poland and Austria.

          Politically this produced a catastrophe. All those who had waited to be able to wring the necks of the Nazis were as paralyzed. All of them, Germans and foreigners were treated alike. What the Nazis were never able to bring about these Russian idiots succeeded to achieve. There arose something like national solidarity among the Germans. Why report the neighbour as a Nazi if they rob you in the same way as him? Everybody tried to save his own skin. In the general chaos nobody molested the Nazis and they could go underground. A communist whom I knew told me "When the S.S. saw that all was lost they quite comfortably shed their uniforms, burned their S.S. military passes and changed into Wehrmacht uniform. (They all had forged duplicate military passes.) "I have not reported one of them. You will now understand why."

          When the new City administration was organised (the Nazis had destroyed all the files), the gang of petty bourgeois bargain-seekers from Kurfuerstendamm at once pressed to the front ranks. Honest elements gave the new jobs a wide berth. Nazis were fairly numerous in the new administration. The case of one of the most active people of the C.P.-line in Berlin was typical. He was fed up. The working-class elements were openly cold-shouldered. The Nazis had to report themselves but most of them of course did not do so.

          After the fighting had stopped the town looked entirely desolate. Berlin is one heap of debris. Some parts of the city got off more lightly, others have completely gone. Seglitz, Zehlendorf and Neukoelln are not entirely destroyed. There the Nazis had been disarmed by the population and the district had been handed over by the district-burgomaster. The Reichs-Rundfunk House (Reich Radio Headquarters) was surrendered at secret orders as well as all telephone and telegraph cable works. The inner city is absolutely wiped out and is now a desert of stones. All the public traffic facilities went to the devil. The North-South underground railway (S-Bahn) was blown up by S.S. in a place where it crosses the Teltow Canal. This happened during the battles when many thousands of people had sought shelter in tunnels. Many people lost their lives.

          At once the Russians started to dismantle the industrial plants. For instance Siemens, A.E.G., etc. Also the S-Bahn (Suburban railway) was dismantled as well as several trunk railway lines.

          On the 16th May all foreigners had to leave Berlin. I left on the 27th May. I had to go to the transit-camp Wittenberg where I spent one month until I travelled on to France. The grub there was too miserable for feeding a dog. I went to the farmers in order to scrounge something edible. The farmers were entirely stripped of every possession—looted. No cattle left nor any agricultural machinery. Here, the Russians grabbed the women still now, two months after the ceasefire. The villages empty of people, the doctors have no medicine for the women who almost without exception have been infected with V.D. A distressing picture. This winter famine is inevitable under these Russian masters of organisation. Under these circumstances the "Werewolf" has gained some importance. "Werewolf" is the reaction to these indescribable humiliations. Already in Berlin the killing of Red Army men was a common occurrence. Usually the Hitler Youth set also fire to houses with incendiary torches. In Wittenberg we were billeted in barracks of an A.A. regiment where there was an ammunition dump. The Hitler Youth blew it sky-high in broad daylight.

          On the 17th June we crossed the demarcation line. Under the Americans we saw for the first time fairly orderly conditions. Without doubt everything was less bad there. On the return journey we stopped at Bonn and Mainz. The towns are very much destroyed. Aachen is a waste of ruins Coblenz the same.

          On the 26th I arrived in Paris. I saw I., and Z. and R. The I travelled to S. to see W. He has kept himself wonderfully. He was badly shaken by my Berlin experiences. We are just preparing his removal to Paris. In his hamlet he would eventually go nuts. On my return journey I came through L., where I found my genuine papers which I had hidden before I left. I need them for my "legalization."

          Then I returned to Paris. There the Brigade Criminelle arrested me. The scoundrel who had reported me to the Gestapo in Berlin had been shot dead here in Paris. One of my French comrades for whom he had also secured a stay in the K.Z. has taken vengeance on him. After seven days in the clink I was released again. I think I shall find work here but I hope to be able to return to the Reich as soon as possible.


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