Finally, the war came to our street in earnest. Meaning, units of the Red Army occupied our street and the surrounding area. Around the corner the 8th Guards Army under General Chuikov. established its headquarters. This is how my mother saw what happened that fateful day:
“Day 7 Friday 27. April 1945
Naturally, it was another restless night. One knew, we have reached the end of the line – it was all about our freedom now! Obviously, not many people from the building had actually come to sleep in the cellar. We can not really sleep, our nerves are too much on edge. Sometimes we shut our eyes. But each crackling of small arm’s fire, or any other noise, and our heads are up. Then again, there is a deadly, frightening silence. Outside now, there is no sound or step.
But this silence is for our ears and hearts doubly alarming !!!
Suddenly, a rumbling noise comes closer and closer. Between 3 o’clock and 4.30am Russian tanks roll through Immelmannstrasse. Always in the same, heavy dull, but rattling way. Then we hear horse drawn carts moving. Then the first steps. One can hear strange voices and sounds coming through the open cellar windows.
Oh! How frightening to hear, these strange Russian sounds! Our thoughts: “What do they want from us strangers, our poor little tribe of people? Are they bringing peace and quiet? Or Violence – Rape – Death ???”
Our nerves are nearly bursting. Suddenly, all the tenants of the building are together in the air-raid-shelter, everywhere, where one’s eyes are gliding, one can see pallid faces.
Then fast and heavy steps come storming down the stairs. The door flies open – our hearts stop for a moment – three Russians are standing in the cellar – they smile. As if on command, we all get up from our seats and raise our arms in a gesture of surrender.
They kept shouting – “Russki good! Russki good!” Our strongly beating hearts slowed down a little bit. The Russians came to every person and demanded all jewels, rings and watches.
“Uri, Uri, Uri” they called out again and again. Within five minutes, they had taken all jewellery from us. My wedding ring I had hidden in my mouth and could, therefore, save it.”
From here on, there is no more original diary kept on a daily basis. What comes next is what my mother had added to a hand written copy of her short diary. It is, in fact, a synopsis of what happened after the liberation by the Russians. I will write about it in a separate blog.
For me, and I suppose for everybody else, this moment, when the three soldiers entered our cellar, became a defining moment in my life. We had no idea what would happen next. They could have thrown in a couple of hand grenades or killed us with their machine pistols they had slung around their bodies. But nothing like that at all. Like Mum said, they smiled.
We had heard so many horror stories about the Russians, they were Untermenschen, so barbaric were they, that we had to make war on them. We were not encouraged to expect any mercy from them. And now they were here. I’m not sure whether anybody in that cellar was thinking how the Russian people must have felt when the German Army invaded their country.
This was here and now. I concentrated on the first one. You could see he was dressed differently from the other two soldiers, and in charge of them. He was dressed in a black leather jacket and cap, clearly one of those dreaded Commissars, the worst of the lot we were always told.
His gaze went round the room, maybe looking for German soldiers that were hiding among the women of Berlin. Then he spotted me! In two, three steps he reached me and put his hand on my shoulder and pushed my raised arms down and said: “You don’t need to surrender. Russians don’t make war on children!”
Don’t ask me what language he was speaking, it was angels music in my ears. So, for me the war was over. I loved Russians ever since. What if he had shot my mother in front of me? Would I hate Russians now? A personal experience can determine our behaviour for the rest of our lives.
A new reality opened up in that dark, badly lit cellar. To the word “Uri,Uri” which meant watch, we learnt fast the next command, “Frau, komm”. This was something the women dreaded most of all. Even as a nine-year-old I had an idea what it meant. When our leaders start a war they don’t consider all the consequences. We were told we had to fight the Bolsheviks, now they were in Berlin and were taking our women as a reward or trophy. The Commissar, or political officer, did not steal anything from the people in our cellar.
The war was not over. We still could not go into our flats which were open to all comers as the windows were blown out and the doors were off the hinges. Like the penguins, we huddled together. There still was safety in numbers. Alone in our apartments, we would be on our own.
It was only the beginning of a new time and we looked forward to those new times with trepidation.