My longest Railway Journey, ever

 

In January 1945, seventy-five years ago, I was on my longest railway journey, ever. It was not a journey to a holiday destination or in any way meant to be pleasurable. I was, along with many other boys, a refugee on the run from the fast-approaching Red Army.

We all knew the Second World War was reaching its conclusion.

All throughout 1944, I was in a boy’s home in the small town of Friedland in Upper-Silesia (now Korfantów), Towards the end of 1944, we knew that the front was coming closer and closer. Shortly after Christmas, we noticed that something was going to happen.

Just after Christmas, columns of prisoners were shuffling, rather than walking, on the country road that passed the home. We rushed outside to see who they were. They were people in striped uniforms. We were told by the staff that they were criminals. But by the look of it, they were not. Criminals were tough looking people, so we thought. Those here in front of us were poor people who could hardly walk. We had no idea who they really were. Those columns walked past us for hours. It was a terrible sight. That was when I heard the word Concentration Camp for the first time.

A few days after that we, boys of the ages eight to fourteen were told one evening to get ready for a long walk to a village nearby. Still today I have no idea what its purpose was. It was bitter cold and dark. Had it anything to do with the war? As we walked for many kilometres we could see what seemed to be the flickering lights of an electrical storm. In winter? There was a constant rumbling in the air and we realised that was no thunder either. One of the staff told us in response to our questioning,

‘This is the artillery in a big battle and the Russians are not far away.”

The purpose of being in the home was so we would be away from the air raids in the cities. We were supposed to be safe, but now the war was coming to us. Soon came the instruction to return to the home, which we did. The whole episode remains a mystery to me even today. Our days in Friedland, the name of the small town, meaning Land of Peace, came to a sudden end.

Only a couple of days into January, one late afternoon, we were told to get ready to go back to Berlin. The Berliner children would go back home and the children from Silesia would go to Moravia. On a neighbouring blog of land near our home, there was also a girl’s home. Sometimes we had outings together with them or they performed a play for us. The girls were older than we boys and they seemed almost adults to us.

In no time a couple of buses arrived to take us to a railway junction at Neisse(Nysa now). We Berliner children got into one and the others into another. Some of the staff would follow in a car. We had no time to think. We clutched our few belongings to our bodies.

The Silesian boys were so different from us Berliners but we had become all friends with a common destiny. It was a sad moment in our lives.

As the bus rumbled through the dark country site the bigger girls started to sing, mostly hiking songs and the mood in the bus turned and we were all happy till they started to sing Lehar’s song from the brave soldier who kept watch on the River Volga for his fatherland. It was ironic because he was Russian and we, the Germans, had invaded Russia in this war. I loved this haunting song as I knew it from home because my mother loved it too and the girls of the home had sung it in one of their concerts. It is the ultimate anti-war song of the lonely soldier who asked God to send him an angel to save him.

Suddenly, the bus turned off the country road and we were in front of the railway station where a Red Cross train under full steam was waiting for us kids.

‘Out, out – quick, quick!’ came the order from the sister in charge. The girls got off first and I never saw them again.

Schnell, Schnell – hop on. We have no time to waste,’ someone said.
We climbed quickly onto the train. Inside the carriage, it was dark but for some dim blue light. Red Cross nurses were rushing about. I heard babies crying but could see nothing. On both sides of the carriage were triple story bunk beds and we were told to get one each.

I climbed on a top bunk and tried to catch my breath. Slowly my sight adjusted to the darkness in the carriage. On the other side were the babies. Four across to each bunk. Forty-eight babies in all and some of them were crying all the time. The nurses had all their hands full and demanded from us absolute obedience or we would be thrown off the train. No running around in the carriage, only the walk to the toilet would be allowed. Unknown to us this would be our world for the next three weeks.

And what a world it was. During the day we could not see throw the frosted windowpanes. During the night only a dim, bluish light made recognising anything barely possible.

The radio was on almost all the time. Every hour we heard the news from the army. The bulletin always started with, “The Supreme Command of the Army announces (Das Oberkomando der Wehrmacht gibt bekannt!)“. WE knew we were in Silesia but not much else. On the way to the toilette, we saw that there was snow everywhere. The train moved for a couple of hours and then stopped for a while. We heard other trains going past, probably taken supplies to the front. But where was the front? According to the news bulletins, we were going parallel to the front. The Red Army was not only chasing us up from the South-East but they also came from the East. Breslau (now Wroclaw) was declared a fortress and was to be defended at all costs.

Then I heard the news that Litzmannstadt (now Lodz) had fallen. My father was stationed there for a few years before he was transferred to Italy. Now the Red Army has pushed past it.

We boys were not sure whether our train could be attacked by ground attack planes or were we safe because we were a hospital train and clearly marked so.

Sometimes the train went backwards for long times. While the front seemed to collapse everywhere the nurses on our train were busy looking after the babies. We had no idea why they were on the train. The mothers did not seem to be on the train as the babies were not taken out of the carriage.

Funnily, I can not remember what we had for our meals. Did we have warm meals or not? I can only remember getting slices of bread with jam. What I did not eat I put under the cushion with the result that I had soiled my cushion with jam. Horrible!

For entertainment, we climbed into the other boy’s bunks and played cards or just talked, about the war and the Russians and we were speculating about the babies on the train. We lost track of time and dates. We had no changes of clothes eighter. When would the train ride end? Hopefully in Berlin.

Then, one day, late afternoon, the train stopped at a large station. Again we heard, “Schnell, Schnell!” We ran across the platform to another waiting train. It was a passenger train consisting of very old fashion carriages. I had time to read the station name on a large sign. It said, “Görlitz“.

Someone said it was the 30th of January an important date in the Nazi calendar. It was the 12th anniversary of the day the Nazis came to power. We had no time to think about it. We rushed over to the train and took whatever seat we could find. The carriage was full of soldiers and their luggage. Those soldiers were exhausted and they were manly asleep for the rest of the rail journey to Berlin.

So far, we had been on the hospital train for more than three weeks not across Europe or even Germany, but for a journey of about just 300 km. A trip that should have taken not more than three hours. We did not know that could happen, but we were looking forward to seeing Berlin and our families again. What would happen next?

Soon after the train set in motion, it became dark and the train hurtled during the darkness to our destination. We went right through a blizzard with snowflakes as large as butterflies. I wished every snowflake would turn into a German soldier to hold back the onslaught of the Red Army.

There was a short halt a Spremberg and on we went. It did not take long and I recognised our train going through Königswusterhausen, not far South-East from Berlin. We were heading for Berlin. What a relief.

When the train finally stopped I found myself at the same railway station I set off from in January 1944 on my very first railway journey, Görlitzer Bahnhof.

If I hoped to see my mother I would have been disappointed. We could not even leave the station as Berlin had a preliminary air raid alarm. But this is another story.

What Children Worry About Most

Quote: “It is well known that parents spend a lot of time worrying about their children’s future, but do they know their children are worrying too?”

Watching the Midday News today an item caught my attention. They were talking about a survey done of 10 to 13 years old.

43% worry about their future and 37% about family. In the news item, they were mostly talking about the latter.

It made me think about the time when I was 10 to 13 years old.  That was 1945 to 1948 and it was a particularly bad time to grow up in Berlin after WW II.

Luckily we weren’t bombed out and still lived in our now windowless apartment. My mother worked as a Trümmerfrau during the cold winter months and beyond. 

My father, unknown to us at that stage, was in an American PoW camp. Did I worry about my future? Not one bit it only could get better, I thought. But it did not for a long while.

For me, it was more worries about the family.

Dad returned in May 1946 and brought my two sisters along whom he had picked up on the way from Bavaria. We were a family again for the first time since 1939.  On that beautiful Spring day, the future gave us a glimmer of hope.

It was not to be. Dad had lost a lot of weight and his old job as a taxi driver was not available. No cars, no petrol! After a few months of unemployment, he landed a job with a road construction company and had to work with a jackhammer. That was heavy work for his emaciated body. The food was rationed and meals were never enough for him.

Sometimes during the night he got up and ate food that was for us kids for the next day. That was when the trouble started. My mother accused him of stealing food from his children. Dad started to sell things from the household to buy extra food on the Black Market. Anything could be bought there if one only had the money. Some of the money he took to the racecourse do “double it” as he said. He never had a big win.

So arguments arose often for any reason, or so I thought. Dad became abusive and family life became a nightmare for us all. Finally, my mother could not stand it anymore and she left him. She took us children with her.  On the day before, when I realised we would move out and the family would break up, I started to cry. My mother mistook my weeping and offered me to stay with dad. That was not what I wanted. I wanted the family to stay together.

Dad was especially nice on the night before and he told us about his wartime experiences, especially in Italy. He was a motor lorry driver taking supplies to the front line. The convoys were constantly under attack by American warplanes.  As the convoy proceeded on the high mountain roads along the Apennines  Mountains the planes were actually flying below them and they attacked the German lorries sideways. There must have been carnage.

It took me about fifty years to realise that Dad actually suffered from PTSD. In those days I did not know anything about it. And if he had said anything to Mum she would probably have said to him, “Pull yourself together!”

Through all this time when my parents had marriage problems, Berlin was blockaded by the Soviet Union and it was the time of the Airlift. We had even less than after the war. One hour of electric power a day and that during the night when industries worked less.

We all worried about the family. How would we cope? As it turned out, badly. After Mum had left Dad things became quieter for us. No more fights. I became the go-between who had to see Dad every month and collect the maintenance money for us kids. My mother had no trust in him but he always paid what had been agreed on.

They were divorced in early 1949 but remarried twenty-five years later so Mum would be able to receive a widows pension after he died from lung cancer. So he looked after us even after he passed away. Mum shared half of his pension with us children.

Coming back to the survey mentioned above I can understand that children at that age worry about the family as they themselves try to find and understand their place in the world. Their childhood comes to an end and they become aware that their parents are not perfect and struggle with life’s challenges. So they question themselves, what will become of us?

Especially now with Climate Change giving us all a big scare. Children formed a new Crusade with their Friday for the Future movement. In my time our problems were more immediate and we had not much to lose. But now, the children realise that the future looks pretty grim if nothing is being done.

I worry with them and for them.

 

The “Markets”

Every day when we listen to the evening news we will hear the mentioning of “The Markets”.

The way they are talking about it, I assume, it must be an important place or an important figure that has likes or dislikes.

It is often referred to by its liking or disliking certain policies by our politicians. “It will displease the Markets,” the newsreader or commentator will intone with a grave voice.

The “Markets” will always make adjustments, up or down, to shares, the currencies, bonds or, god forgive, the oil. The name indicates a place but it seems to be more like a Hydra like a multiheaded monster who devours good and bad news in equal proportions.

Or is it more like Tlaloc, the old Aztec Raingod, who could only be persuaded by relentless human sacrifices to make the all-important rain? We, the populace are the sacrificial lamb on the altar of “The Markets”.

Anyway, the actions of “The Markets” can have devastating consequences for millions of people. Not only will people lose money but many are driven to madness or even suicide.

Pleasing  “The Markets” can bring out the economic sunshine for the few. In this case, the only positive for the multitude would be that we sleep better. Displeasing “The Markets” could lead to a recession or even depression. What the “The Markets” hate most are new or higher taxes. Pitty any politician who wants justice for all. That could only mean “The Markets” could lose some of their ill-gotten gains.

This godlike behaviour is irritating, to say the least. We are just pawns in the hands of “The Markets”. Lately “The Markets” became hooked on Donalds Trump’s Twitter utterances. Donald is the ultimate player of “The Markets”. “I can make a deal with President Xi,” he pronounces and up go the indicators of “the Markets”.

“Little Rocketman went too far and I have to blow fire and brimstone on him,” the redhaired one in the Whitehouse tweets and “The Markets” plummet because WW III could be only a tap away by Mr President’s itchy finger. Trump is the Joker masquerading as Batman.

In ancient times the Gods had to be pleased and cajoled, now it is definitely “The Markets”. What can we do, when the house prices are heading South and the value of our houses won’t cover the mortgage anymore? When we still believed in a God we could pray and hope for the best. But now, “The Market” won’t take any notice of us mere mortals.

While we, the punters, are helpless “The Markets” are not idle. They are pushing their issues as hard as they can. They have footsoldiers, called lobbyists, doing the dirty work for them. They keep prodding the politicians to get the desired outcome.

The world does not reflect our wishes nor desires. The world is now reflecting the ideas and wishes of a money-hungry, amorphous, nebulous and structureless conglomerate that runs our lives for their benefits only. Their slaves, our politicians, tell us what is good for them is good for us. The trickledown effect will make us all richer.

My foot it will!

 

 

 

 

Election Fever

We just had an election and we ended up with the same mediocre government we had before. They are not a government to guide us through the perils of our present times.

 

The so-called democratic system allowed us to elect a mediocre government, by mediocre people for mediocre people. The best we can say is, we live in a country administered by bookkeepers who always enjoy a beautiful set of figures.

 

There are always mediocre voters in a country but it doesn’t follow that we have to cast a vote for a mediocre government.

We had this government for the last six years and can say with certainty that they did nothing right or advanced our country only one iota. They did not advance the cause of our indigenous people, the Aboriginals who look back at a continued culture and possession of this continent for more than sixty thousand years. We asked them for advice and they gave the glorious “Uluru Statement from the Heart”. They were asking for a treaty or Makarrata ( a complex Yolngu word describing a process of conflict resolution, peacemaking). Their ideas and suggestions were rejected during a press conference given by the then PM Malcolm Turnbull in a thoughtless flash.

 

Another subject of contention is the locking-up of refugees.  The East German government had the dubious distinction locking up people who tried to leave their country. Here in Australia, we are locking up people who were escaping tyranny and arrived on our shores by boat.

 

Unemployment in a capitalist country is encouraged by the government as a tool of keeping the wages of the working class low (it is the desired effect). The unemployed are paid an allowance called Newstart which is so low that nobody can live off it.

 

Then there is Climate Change, a challenge for the survival of all mankind. Something has to be done by our government in concert and cooperation with the global community. Oh no, they say we are only causing 1% of the global CO2 and whatever we do won’t make any difference. They are forgetting that we are only 1/3 of 1% of the world’s population. We are the highest per capita producers of greenhouse gases.

 

I’m touching here only on a fraction of issues where urgent action is required. But what can you expect from a mediocre government that thinks tax cuts for the wealthy is the way to go. Surely, as the sun follows rain money will trickle down to the underclasses? It is like it was during the times of the Romans when the poor walked every day across ancient Rome to sit under the tables of the rich patrons and waiting for the crumbs to fall off the tables. Sometimes, they would drop some food to their hungry clientele.

 

How can one combat a mediocre government? When one lives under a dictatorship revolution becomes one’s duty. If one lives under a rotten, mediocre government rigorous, intellectual thinking becomes the duty. We have seen, by yesterday’s example, the elections don’t always solve the problem. The electorate has to become aware of what is wrong within the country to permit the necessary change.

Leaders, elected or otherwise, have the duty to lay the framework for policies that are understood by a majority of people. Surely, the media has its part to play. But what good is a media platform that works actively to falsify reality and supports the status quo of keeping the clientele under the table and make the middle classes even richer?

 

The desired framework of policies will give the people and the country the tools to cope with the changes in the future. And we need leadership which can combine principle and pragmatism. A tall order but we had it once under the late Bob Hawke who passed away only two days before the election. I was sorry for him that he would have missed the triumph of his party but now, I think he was lucky to be spared the disappointment of the loss of the election for his party.

 

Personally, I’m at a loss and feel like fever has befallen me. I’m confused about what will happen next. Perhaps we should rest our minds for a while and await the final result and then plan for the future. At my age, I just turned eighty-four, and not much future lays ahead of me.

The Federal Election 2019 in Australia

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Our beautiful Parliament in Canberra

Today our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, announced that Australia will have an election on the 18th of May.

When he announced the date, he said, that the election will be about whom we trust. He got that one right. I and many Australians don’t trust him. Not one bit.

When he made the announcement, he was talking only about money and that his government is balancing the budget. As if this is the aim of a government. The government must also give directions to the future of the country and act on the wishes of the people and on the advice of the scientific community.

What can you expect from a government that thinks climate change is crap and the development of new coal mines is essential for our development and new jobs?

This bloke is unable to think beyond a set of numbers. He thinks when the budget is a beautiful set of figures that the country is right on track. It would be a book keeper’s dream come true.

But the people of Australia expect a government to do more. Planning for the future, for instance. If you have a plan then you adjust your figures accordingly and not bent the future to fit the figures. The future will happen and no set of imaginary figures will be of any help.

When the PM is talking about “hard-working” Australians he is not talking about the working people who actually produce the wealth but he is talking about the people who skim off the profits and are the rent seekers of this country.  Wages have not risen for six years but profits have risen by 25%. The beautiful set of figures he is dealing with in his budget have no relations to the shrinking amount of money in our wallets.

Our government has adopted the neo-liberal thinking and they hope the profits will one day trickle down to the workers of this country. My foot, they will. There is no evidence, nowhere, those trickle-down economics have brought prosperity to the masses. Tax cuts for the rich go straight into profit or are diverted into speculative property or shareholdings.

The other line of thinking of this government is to scare us. Hordes of refugees are just waiting to come to our country to take our jobs AND go on welfare at the same time. So, we need strong border protection. We ordered submarines from France and fighter planes from the USA. They say the large cities of our country are so congested because of the migrants and refugees that we have to reduce our intake of them. Last year we had a net migration of 190 000 and next year we are being told it will be reduced to 160 000. And here comes the lie in the budget; they plan to have 284 000 next year. This number is necessary to have a certain growth forecast which in turn creates a budget surplus.

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The entrance hall of our parliament

Knowing who you are against is not enough to mark your ballot paper on election day. The other mob looks a bit more promising. At least they looked at the future and recognised the bleak outlook in regard to climate change we are facing if we do nothing about it. Alternative energy, a better education for new industries to produce electric cars and a new wages policy that puts more money into the pockets of the working class. All those measurements will create jobs and help the economy which at the moment is heading for a downturn.  The people of the first nation will be recognised and a new referendum for a Republic will be initiated.

So, if you do not want a country run by bookkeepers for bookkeepers the choice is not that hard: kick the incumbent government out.

 

Time Capsule

One of today’s news items was that the WHO finds global warming is causing more extreme weather. The target to keep the rise in global temperatures below the critical level of 2% seems now remote. Eleven years ago I wrote a letter for a time capsule. Here is the updated version of it:

My dear descendants,

I’m leaving you this message to describe to you a world that will have disappeared forever and about which you have little or no knowledge.

I am living now in the year 2019. Once, when I was young, I thought that the year two thousand was the future and us humans would live in it forever. But then one of those smart professors proclaimed the end of history. When I observe the crazy world around me today, I am sure, we are still living in the Middle Ages. A lot of history is still to come and I’m waiting desperately for the real Enlightenment finally to arrive. 

 If you know your history, you know how WW I started. Our time is very similar to it. Crackpot warlords needle the big nations and do a lot of sabre rattling. Big nations looking for strategic advantages. We don’t know where it will end. But you will know. It is in your history books. Read them, if you still have books.

What about us, you ask? Once upon a time, people used to live in small groups called family. That is, there was a father, a mother and the children. I know you want to know now what a father was, don’t you?

A father was a male human person who protected his family from other males and he worked very hard. You spot, of course, straight away that if there aren’t any other males, nobody needed protection. But they had another function, they helped produce other human beings by making babies in cooperation with the females.

We have now begun to do away with this old fashioned method. What method, I hear you ask? Well, I don’t want to embarrass you. Unless you have some old books to look it up, it would be difficult to describe. Our scientists are now able to take a cell from any human being and clone a new one. Was there any other way you ask? Yes, there was, the old method, I was talking about. Look around you. Your mother looks like you, doesn’t she? You can’t imagine any other way? We were looking different from our parents, some resemblance, but seldom more than that. Maybe you wonder how you would recognise your mother as your mother if she would look somehow different. You wouldn’t know it is your mother. But we got used to it.

I don’t imagine anybody works in your times. In case you wonder, we have started this process. For instance, I don’t work any more and robots doing more and more of the work. In America, they plan to replace three million motor lorry drivers in the near future. The world will be full of robióts one day. But you know that already.

My government gives me money and I can go to a shop and buy goods that have been produced by some workers in distant China. Perhaps you have read ‘The Time Machine’? It is very similar now. The people that don’t work have no idea where all the stuff comes from and who produces it. Very similar.

I could go on, but you get the picture. We are all crazy psychopaths and will leave you a world that has been partly destroyed by us. I don’t want to get started on the climate, because you would find out that it was us that created all the heat you suffer from. I’m so sorry.

Your male ancestor,

Peter 

Coffee and Cake

When a German family invites you on a Sunday it is most likely for coffee and cake. It is a time-honoured tradition and as far as I can remember my mother always made a cake for Sunday afternoon. A couple of times, during the dark days after World War 2, we missed out.

Sometimes she improvised and made a cake from layers slices of white bread filled with custard made from Canadian wheat flour enhanced with artificial flavours and colours. Sometimes she made a potatoes cake, half boiled potatoes and some flour or semolina. I liked this cake very much. 

Once, in the middle of making a cake, just when she shoved the cake in the oven the air raid siren started. It is a terrible sound, telling us that enemy bombers would soon arrive. We had to go to the shelter. But my mum decided not now. We had to look after the cake. 

We put our budgerigar in his cage under the kitchen table. Every time the bombs fell nearby and the whole building was shaking it started to screech. My mother dived, from time to time, from the hallway, where we were sitting it out, into the kitchen to peek at the cake. The Sunday cake was that important.

The tradition lives on and today I baked a cake.

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In case you wonder what that is, it is an Almond Plum Tart. My own creation, I may add.

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Last year Easter, I made this nice looking cake.

And there is more.

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Last week I made a Ricotta Cheese Cake, but I forgot to take a picture. I think all three cakes shown here are made from Almond meal,

I’m able to do other cakes I’m sure next Sunday another one will be on our table.