20 July, 1944


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)

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.”

 

 

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6 thoughts on “20 July, 1944

  1. It is amazing how well you do remember that day seventy years ago! As all the children came home after a long and tiring day the head sister told you: “Someone tried to kill our beloved Führer.” Ja, “der liebe Führer”, my grandmother Olga used to refer to him in that way. But I think she was the only one in our family who still had kind feelings towards Hitler at the time of the assassination attempt. She was very much ridiculed by the family for still believing in him.

    • The expression the “beloved Führer” could be heard everywhere at the time. People must have thought he had super human qualities. Many German people thought he got rid of the depression and lead the country to prosperity. The price of that prosperity was the war and the loss of all savings due to super inflation.

      The moral implication of the Nazi policies did not seem to get through to the average person.

  2. How sweet those berries must have tasted. Corn flowers and poppies. Childhood memories to ease what must have been such difficult times for so many. Good story Peter and simply told. Well done!

    • I was a lucky one. I never experienced a trauma. Difficult times? Yes. For others it was much worse and they are the ones who are not here to tell their stories.

  3. I am really happy that life has not been too wicked for you. That was a scary time. You have suffered too much but not the worst as you said yourself. It was a really dark time. 😦

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