Monday, 23. April 1945

My mother wrote:

Day 3: Monday 23. April 1945

“Today the ‘queuing fun’ continues. From 10 am to 4 pm, once again we queued in vain. Later there is butter for free. 1/2 kilo per head, but no luck here either. Just when we were about to enter the shop the supply runs out.

So, slowly we are becoming weaker from hunger – the cold – and tiredness. Let us hope that we get through all this. The shelling is getting louder, but people are getting dulled. We will see what the day brings tomorrow.”

As usual, my mother and I  exchanged places in the queue. Often the  queueing  went on for hours.

My mother’s diary is not really comprehensive and I must say so much is missing and I saw the world around me differently from the way she saw it. Different impressions are often the result.

On that particular day, we were hoping to get “our” butter ration as long as we waited long enough.  For me, all this waiting among the old people was an experience in itself. “Old people” because younger persons were either working or helping out at the front. Not to speak about the men that were in the army and were just now defending Berlin against the onslaught of the Red Army. And for a nine-year-old boy all people are “old”. For me, it was interesting to listen what they had to talk about. Some were fearful and others were stoic. Whatever will be, will be!

In those days, the  butter did not come conveniently prepacked in 1/2 kilo portions. It came in  drums and the grocer had to weigh every portion himself.  This was a very slow process done with a wooden spatula.  The People  owning  the shops were usually very old people who should have been retired a long time ago.

On this particular day, we inched our way towards the shop door. Just at the moment when I reached the door and the butter seemed to be in reach a motor lorry of the Waffen-SS stopped at the kerb.  Heavily armed soldiers jumped off and entered the shop. I could not hear all the conversation that took place, but one word I could understand, “Requisition”. That was the end of our  dream to have some butter. It wouldn’t have been much anyway,  but  every scrap of food was important. as regular supplies were not available anymore.  The soldiers carried out a few drums of butter, threw them into the lorry and disappeared. The people in the queue grumbled and went home. They were probably  thinking if  their own  soldiers  were stealing from  them,  what could they expect from  the Russian soldiers who would be, most likely, out for revenge?

 In those days people, when they departed, did not say, “Goodbye” or “See you later” but said. “Bleib’ übrig!”. This is very difficult to translate and the meaning is obviously to stay alive and survive, but actually   wishing you to be at least one of the few who was still alive, after  the battle was over. The feeling of this being the “endgame” was in the air.

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Sunday, 22. April 1945

The calendar says it was Sunday.  I have to confess,  the weekdays were meaningless at the time.  I can’t remember when the newspaper stopped either. During the last few weeks, the newspaper was reduced constantly in size. Four pages became two and eventually the paper had only one sheet. What did the paper tell us.? It told us where the front was.  By now   the Red Army was closing in on three sides. It was clear even to us, that they were going to encircle Berlin to cut it off from the West. Any relief  for the beleaguered city could only come from there. Our needs were immediate. Some food was still available and extra rations were announced over the radio. Sometimes, only selected shops would have a particular item and long queues would form.

Here is how my mother saw the day:

Day 2 Sunday 22. April 1945

“It is Sunday! After being awake half the night we finally got a few hours of good sleep. Suddenly, rumours are spreading like wildfire throughout the apartment building: There are to be extra rations of meat, legumes, coffee and other groceries. The sale is supposed to start as from 11 o’clock on. Peter has already, at 10 o’clock, taken his place in an endless queue at the butchers. Every hour or so we are swapping places with each other so that we can have a rest or something to eat. It is a cold and rainy April day. Now, after 6 hours queuing, we are exhausted and we are cold right through to the bones. We are giving up queuing for the day and console ourselves with more luck for tomorrow.

The activities of the artillery have somewhat lessened. Only towards the evening it is getting more livelier. But as from today, we are allowed to stay in our  building’s air raid shelter. This is much better because we are able to go back to our flat to fetch something when and if the need arises.

Some of the occupants of the upper story flats have already arrived. Today we are especially brave as we go after a while into the flats to be able to sleep in our own beds.

According to an OKW (Supreme Command of the Army) statement the enemy is now at Lichtenberg (approx. 8 km as the crow flies.berlioz).”

This was the block of flats or apartments where I grew up

This was the block of flats or apartments where I grew up

The small green door, then black and of better design, led to a hallway and to a courtyard. The shop on the right used to be our greengrocer where we often queued for hours to get  potatoes or some veggies.  To the left of the door can be seen a  window.  This used to be a barber shop before the war. When Herr Vogel, the barber, died  the shop was converted into a room.  Herr and Frau Vogel were the parents of our  caretaker. The next shop used to be a shoemaker who was not only repairing our old shoes but was  making new ones if we supplied the leather. For instance from an old handbag. He was not only paid with money but also in kind.

The other tenants have relented and allowed  us back into the air raid shelter. I  must have looked harmless being without my sisters.  I would not say “Boo” to anyone. My mother was my God. At that stage of my life, obedience to her was the only object of my  life.  In the evening, when we moved into the communal cellar, that was the air raid shelter, my bed was on a two seater kitchen bench. Even for me, it was too short. My mother made it comfortable with lots of cushions and blankets. We were right in the middle of it. The other people took their places along the walls of the cellar.

Entrance door

Entrance door (photo with the  courtesy of NotMs Parker)

The hallway to the court yard  (phot with the courtesy of NotMs Parker)

The hallway to the courtyard  (photo with the courtesy of NotMs Parker)

In the photo on the left, you can spot  four bricks made of glass on the ground. They were there to let some light into the cellar. But it was next to nothing. After one walked through the hallway one saw the courtyard.

The courtyard, then there was no greenery and the wall all looked from the grime

The courtyard, then there was no greenery and the walls  looked black from the grime of years of neglect.

We lived in the apartment in the corner on the ground floor. In the flat above us  my  maternal grandparent lived  before they passed away. This courtyard played a big part later after the Russians arrived.

Berlin – the last battle in Europe during World War 2

Brandenburg Gate at the end of WW2

The inner city as seen from the Brandenburg Gate at the end of WW2

Seventy years ago, on the 16th  of April 1945,  the final stage  of the war against the Nazi Regime in Europe had begun. It is known as the Battle of Berlin.  I think, it was more a dangerous mopping up of  the remnants of a bad regime that had only spread “blood and tears” across a continent. Why it came to that, will be still discussed in a thousand years. Perhaps this is the only legacy of a regime that called itself “The Thousand Year Empire”. It lasted only twelve years.

Germans are such proficient people that it takes a mighty effort by others to undo or to rectify a situation created by them.

During the next few days, I will write about my own experience during those fateful days when death was stalking us all in Berlin. I was was lucky enough not  to have experienced a traumatic event. Those accounts will also contain a short diary  written by my mother.

In English, there is the word “Downfall” for this period. But the Germans have another word for it, “Untergang“.  It is more the sinking of the regime, a “Götterdämmerung” of Wagnerian proportions. It is the total destruction, the submerging and burying  of all remnants of the regime. After five-and-a-half years of war, Berlin was not recognisable anymore.

Anhalter Bahnhof (train station) around which one of the heaviest fighting took part

Anhalter Bahnhof (train station) around which one of the heaviest fighting took part

Out of ruins always something new grows. Over time and more historical events, Berlin was reborn because it was and is, a resilient city. I had my own personal rebirth on my tenth birthday. More about it in a later post.

At the time, I lived with my mother and a great-aunt. My father was in the army trying to stop the Allies in Italy.  And we had no news from him for months. My two sisters were somewhere totally unknown to us. The Red Army was coming and for the second time I heard the distant rumble of the artillery.

The stage was set for the final assault on Berlin.