Seventy years ago it was a beautiful summer’s day. I was in a small town in Upper-Silesia. The town was called Friedland (Land of Peace). It is now called Korfantów.
Being there, it really felt like peace in a time of war. I lived in a boys home and was safe and out of harm from the daily air raids Berliners had to suffer at this time. At least we had the luxury of sleeping through the nights. Later in the year of 1944 we often saw the American bomber formations on their way to Katowice and the industrial area of Silesia. It is quiet a sight seeing hundreds of planes flying in formation and trailing their exhaust contrails.
On 20 July, a Thursday, it felt like Sunday because we were on school vacation. The people in charge of the home decided we could go to the woods and collect blueberries. We thought so too, but did not know what lay ahead of us. Straight after breakfast we were on our way. The last big building we saw on our way out of town was the Catholic Church.
An old postcard of the church (Google image)
It turned out a long walk in the direction of Tillowitz (today Tulowice). I had no watch nor did anybody tell us how long and far we had to walk. To the right and left of the road were endless fields covered with ripening grain, wheat or oats. I saw lots of reddish poppies and blue cornflowers. They looked so enticing and seemed to call me, but I also knew about the Roggenmuhme (a female ‘field spirit’ who will punish anybody who entered the field to damage it), who, we were told, will take naughty children away, never to be seen again.
At the beginning of the walk I felt excited and took in the sights and sounds. Larks flew up from the fields and stopped in mid-air and sang their beautiful songs. The telegraph wires, swinging from pole to pole and connecting people talking to each other, where humming their eternal melody.
As the sun climbed higher into the sky it became hotter. With all my stopping and looking I fell behind the others. They seemed to me so far ahead that I was afraid they would forget all about me and surely the Roggenmuhme would get me. Fear gave me extra energy and I started running and was able to catch up with them.
We must have been walking, what seemed to me more than two hours, before we reached a wooded area. The forest gave us shade from the merciless sun. I have no idea how hot it really was, but the forecast for today in 2014 is for 30°C. It could have been similar.
Finally we veered off into the bush for a rest. After a while the female carers sent us off to look for blueberries. And there were plenty. There were also cranberries but these were not wanted. The cranberries went straight into our mouths. I was nine years old and after a long walk I could have eaten a horse.
Each one of us had a little container in which we collected the blueberries. Once full, we took it to the women, who were sitting on the grass and chatting away, and emptied them into larger containers which they later carried in their rucksack.
I collected the berries into my old sandwich satchel and every time I emptied it, I received a tablespoon of icing sugar as reward. I loved that very much and the icing sugar disappeared into my mouth without any delay.
I can’t remember whether we had any other food, but I would say, the ladies brought sandwiches along for all of us. This went on for a long while and we were running to and fro to empty our little containers for the sweet reward. I have forgotten how much icing sugar I ate that day. Late in the afternoon came the signal that we had enough blueberries and after another short rest we started the long walk back.
On the open road it was still hot. The sun still shone strongly from the cloudless sky. We all were tired by now and walked at a much slower pace. I was always under the impression we walked back for three hours. Perhaps the women told us the time when we started the walk back home and I know it was eight o’clock in the evening when we finally arrived at the home.
The Head Sister of the home was already waiting and looking out for us and when we arrived tired and worn out she told us, “Someone tried to kill our beloved Führer.”
We heard the message, but we could not comprehend it. How was that possible? How could anybody do such a thing. But the Führer was alive, that was important and what was even more important was that we got our supper. We were starving and while we were chewing our sandwiches, we were discussing the big news.
I doubt many nine year old today would be interested in news of a political nature, but we were. A big war was going on at several fronts in Europe. My father was in Italy that is all I knew at the time. He was actually shot at every day by American fighter planes driving a motor lorry with supplies to the front.
From that day on the news would become grimmer by the day and five months later the war would come to the “Land of Peace” and we took a dangerous train ride back to Berlin.
Perhaps it was the last long, hot summer’s day of my childhood and I ate a huge amount of icing sugar that day. A day when a brave man, Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg , tried to rid the world of a dangerous dictator. He said:
“It is time that something is being done. The one, however, who dares to do so, has to be aware, that he could go into German history as a traitor. But if he omits this deed, he would be a traitor to his own conscience.”