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German Boy

German Boy: A Refugee's Story

Wolfgang W. E. Samuel
With a foreword by Stephen E. Ambrose
Copyright Date: 2000
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    German Boy
    Book Description:

    What was the experience of war for a child in bombed and ravaged Germany? In this memoir the voice of innocence is heard.

    "This is great stuff," exclaims Stephen E. Ambrose.

    "I love this book."

    In this gripping account a boy and his mother are wrenched from their tranquil lives to forge a path through the storm of war and the rubble of its aftermath. In the past there has been a spectrum of books and films that share other German World War II experiences. However, told from the perspective of a ten-year-old, this book is rare. The boy and his mother must prevail over hunger and despair, or die.

    In the Third Reich young Wolfgang Samuel and his family are content but alone. The father, a Luftwaffe officer, is away fighting the Allies in the West. In 1945 as Berlin and nearby communities crumble, young Wolfgang, his mother Hedy, and little sister Ingrid flee the advancing Russian army. They have no inkling of the chaos ahead. In Strasburg, a small town north of Berlin where they find refuge, Wolfgang begins to comprehend the evils the Nazi regime brought to Germany. As the Reich collapses, mother, son, and daughter flee again just ahead of the Russian charge.

    In the chaos of defeat they struggle to find food and shelter. Death stalks the primitive camps that are their temporary havens, and the child becomes the family provider. Under the crushing responsibility Wolfgang becomes his mother's and sister's mainstay. When they return to Strasburg, the Communists in control are as brutal as the Nazis. In the violent atmosphere of arbitrary arrest, rape, hunger, and fear, the boy and his mother persist. Pursued by Communist police through a fierce blizzard, they escape to the West, but even in the English zone, the constant search for food, warmth, and shelter dominates their lives, and the mother's sacrifices become the boy's nightmares.

    Although this is a time of deepest despair, Wolfgang hangs on to the thinnest thread of hope. In June 1948 with the arrival of the Americans flying the Berlin Airlift, Wolfgang begins a new journey.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-134-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Stephen E. Ambrose

    In early June 1998, the National Archives in Washington hosted a one-day conference on the fiftieth anniversary of the Berlin airlift, with speakers ranging from elderly men who had been in the Truman administration to young scholars just beginning their careers. The high point came at the end of the day, when eight men gathered on the podium. Seven of them had been pilots, the men who took the cargo planes into and out of Berlin on a three-minute basis, day and night, for over a year. The eighth man was listed as retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Wolfgang Samuel,...

  4. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-2)
    Wolfgang W. E. Samuel
  5. Chapter 1 January 1945
    (pp. 3-14)

    I ran across the plowed field instead of following the smooth dirt path along the Bober River. I was afraid that someone might be lurking in the dense, dark bushes lining the steep riverbank. Besides, running across the field would get me home more quickly. My hands were stiff and hurting from the unrelenting winter cold. I wasn’t sure, though, if I would feel any more secure once I got home. I knew the Russians would arrive any day now. Maybe we would just wait for them. I was more afraid of the Russians than of anyone hiding in the...

  6. Chapter 2 Flight from Sagan
    (pp. 15-30)

    I rose from my chair and slowly walked toward Mutti. She stopped laughing as I approached. Her expression changed to something between annoyed curiosity and a frown. It was the expression she put on her face when she was about to scold me. It didn’t matter. I had her attention. Just as I opened my mouth to speak, there was a loud, insistent knock at the front door and the simultaneous ringing of the doorbell. It was ten o’clock at night. No one was expected at such a late hour. I bolted for the door to look through the peephole....

  7. Chapter 3 The Train
    (pp. 31-40)

    The stationmaster’s hut was set in the middle of the weathered concrete platform. I looked at my reflection in its tiny window. I was just a little taller than most of my classmates. Once blond like Ingrid’s, my hair was now brown, and was covered with a thin layer of snow. I brushed the snow away. The boy looking back at me from the window didn’t look like me at all. He looked so normal—not cold, hungry, and tired as I was.

    Looking down the platform, I decided to run back and forth, from one end to the other...

  8. Chapter 4 161 Schönhauser Allee, Berlin
    (pp. 41-50)

    We walked out of the Zoo Station—a young mother of thirty years, a five-year-old girl and a nine-year-old boy—following Lieutenant Schmitt’s directions into the heart of the city. In the dark I didn’t see any evidence of destruction from the English and American bombing raids. We came to a wide, tree-lined boulevard and the entrance to an underground passage. Carrying our three suitcases, we carefully descended the steep steps. Once below ground we found the passage lit by both overhead lights and lighting from several store windows. I stopped in front of one of the windows to rest...

  9. Chapter 5 A Town Called Strasburg
    (pp. 51-71)

    On Monday, March 5, 1945, Mutti decided it was time for us to leave Berlin. We’d been at the Schmitts’ since January 25, nearly six weeks. Leaving Berlin was fine with me. I was getting bored—I had no school, no friends to play with, no books to read. Only ruins and the never-ending bombing raids. “We are leaving tomorrow,” Mutti said. Just like that. Herr Schmitt, standing nearby when she made her announcement, readily agreed with her.

    “Yes,” he replied, “the weather will improve as we get into spring, and the Americans will surely take advantage of that and...

  10. Chapter 6 A Brave German Soldier
    (pp. 72-90)

    Frau Zoske, Oma’s next-door neighbor, was a mousy-looking woman, no more than five feet tall, with rotting blackened teeth, who rarely left her apartment. Her husband was in the Wehrmacht and had been declared missing the year before somewhere in Russia. Her second son, Horst, at fifteen, was in the Hitler Youth; he proudly wore his uniform when he went to his weekly meetings and on most other days of the week, too. His brown uniform shirt was adorned with the customary Hitler Youth patches and insignia. He wore black corduroy shorts held up around his thin waist by a...

  11. Chapter 7 The Face of Death
    (pp. 91-110)

    As we drove through the darkness, a cold mist masking the wagons ahead and behind, I drifted in and out of sleep. I heard Mutti ask our driver if he couldn’t get Oma on our wagon. He handed her the reins and crawled into the back where Ingrid and I lay. He motioned for Oma to climb up. She came running, and he grasped her hands and pulled her up. He rearranged some boxes to make room for her to sit. Oma took off her shoes and rubbed her feet. Then our driver jumped off the wagon and found room...

  12. Chapter 8 Surrender
    (pp. 111-119)

    Our wagons rumbled into the abandoned village, parking on and around the grassy commons in the village center. The horses immediately started to feed on the succulent grass. The commons was a long rectangle edged by huge horse-chestnut trees, which had begun to bloom. The old trees and the solidly built, neatly kept farmhouses and shops facing the commons gave the village a welcoming, friendly look. Yet there was not one person in the village other than us. No wagons to be seen near any of the farmhouses. No horses or cows in the stalls of the adjacent barns. No...

  13. Map
    (pp. 120-120)
  14. Chapter 9 The Americans
    (pp. 121-140)

    Mutti handled the reins of our horses expertly. “Hue-hot,” she cried loudly, urging the horses to move out. The horses responded, and the wagon moved forward effortlessly. I sat on the driver’s seat between Mutti and Oma. Ingrid sat in the wagon’s interior in a place she had fashioned for herself. As Mutti moved our wagon away from the threat of the looters, both she and I looked for a place to go. Simultaneously we saw what looked like a manor house on a hill near the edge of the soccer field. With a smile Mutti directed the horses toward...

  15. Map
    (pp. 141-141)
  16. Chapter 10 The Russians
    (pp. 142-159)

    At first light, even before I washed up, I ran down to the village. The fire station was empty. The Americans and their tank were gone. The only evidence of their stay was a broken tank tread in the ditch alongside the road. There was no army now to keep order, and no police. I knew it was again a time to be especially careful. The Russians would come soon. After all our running away from them, they would finally catch up with us. I went to check on my gun. It was still where I had hidden it under...

  17. Chapter 11 Messenger of Death
    (pp. 160-172)

    The day our barracks was to be torn down had arrived, and I knew we had to move. I planned to go to the farmer up the road and plead for help. Maybe he would let us stay in one of his barns. As I was getting ready to go see him, a car drove up and stopped in front of the barracks. It was Llydia. I ran out to meet her, ecstatic with relief.

    “I am sorry I didn’t come sooner,” Llydia apologized as she gave me a hug, “but the major kept me so busy I just couldn’t...

  18. Chapter 12 The List
    (pp. 173-185)

    Mutti was determined and wasted no time in getting us ready to leave for Strasburg. It was the last week in July. After our long and difficult journey from Sagan, we had come within thirty kilometers of Lübeck—we were thirty kilometers from freedom. Circumstances trapped us in the Russian zone of occupation. Even if somehow we had reached Lübeck, I knew Mutti would have returned to Strasburg to reunite her mother and father. Beyond that, I don’t believe she had a plan. While I thought I understood the difference between living on the other side of the new border,...

  19. Chapter 13 A Winter Nightmare
    (pp. 186-202)

    We moved out of our comfortable room the week following my grandfather’s arrest by the Communists. There was no use arguing with Paul. Some of Mutti’s women friends knew of a room with kitchen privileges near the train station, across from two sugar warehouses which belonged to the burned-out refinery. The move was easy and uncomplicated. We had so few possessions it was only a simple matter of packing our three suitcases again and carrying them to our new home. As we trudged through Strasburg, I thought about the many times we had made the three-suitcase trip—from Sagan to...

  20. Chapter 14 Summer 1946
    (pp. 203-219)

    There still were not many men around. Most had been killed or were prisoners of war. The men in Strasburg were, for the most part, either old, very young, crippled by war wounds, or active Communists. In the burned-out sections of Strasburg, groups of women could be seen with hammers in their hands and babushkas around their heads pulling bricks out of ruins and cleaning and stacking them in neat piles. They were working to help feed their children, and it was hard work. On my way home from school, I noticed that one of the house ruins was being...

  21. Chapter 15 Escape to the West
    (pp. 220-235)

    I returned home from school on an early December day to find my father sitting in the easy chair with the big “ears.” I was totally surprised to see him. Speechless might be a better way to describe my astonishment. Although I had tried to believe that he would come to get us because he had said so in his letter and I had prayed for his arrival every night before I went to sleep, deep down I felt it would never happen, that it would be one of my many dreams which would never come to pass. I approached...

  22. Chapter 16 The Trauen Barracks
    (pp. 236-253)

    Early the next morning, we reached Munster-Lager. For most of the night, the train had sat in the station at Ülzen. It was warm in our compartment, we were alone, and sleep made us forget that we were hungry. By morning, though, I was feeling weak from lack of food. As we got off the train in Munster-Lager, my father mentioned that he knew someone in town and we could at least wash up there, maybe get some breakfast.

    A short walk from the train station stood a high-gabled house with grey plaster walls and a red brick roof, one...

  23. Chapter 17 Refugee Life
    (pp. 254-270)

    Barracks life imposed its own crushing burdens on our family. While we no longer feared for our physical safety, day-to-day life had become just as dispiriting and oppressive in the English zone of occupation as it had been in the Russian zone. With five adults and two children crammed into an exceedingly small area and with little or no privacy, our situation became one of daily degradation. The thin apartment walls meant that lives were shared with family and neighbors on a twenty-four-hour basis.

    Spring arrived. With the cover of snow gone and the ice melted, the ground in our...

  24. Chapter 18 Winter of Despair
    (pp. 271-287)

    Our principal, Herr Soffner, who was also our homeroom teacher, now, informed us that the State of Niedersachsen had decided that my class would receive an extra year of schooling, a ninth year, because in 1945 so many children had missed a considerable amount of instruction. My teachers were competent and motivated in their respective fields, and I learned quickly. In many subjects I was better read than my classmates, because I had always been a voracious reader. However, the fact that most of the others had received better formal schooling than I clearly showed in mathematics, a subject with...

  25. Chapter 19 Return of the Americans
    (pp. 288-299)

    In addition to sunshine and warmth, spring brought rumors of the Russians closing off roads and waterways to Berlin and delaying trains with coal and food at the border checkpoints, not letting them pass until many days later. In April the Russians even stopped an American military train on its way to Berlin and attempted to enter and search it. The Americans refused to submit to the Russians. After that incident, they began flying their supplies out of Frankfurt and Wiesbaden to their Berlin garrison. Suddenly, there was activity at RAF Station Fassberg. This time it was not Spitfire fighter...

  26. Map
    (pp. 300-300)
  27. Chapter 20 Sergeant Leo Ferguson
    (pp. 301-317)

    My mother liked working for the Americans. Occasionally she came home accompanied by American officers. Pilots. They wore silver wings on their jackets and silver bars on their shoulders. The Americans brought chocolate and cigarettes. They never stayed long. I could see in their eyes that they hadn’t expected to find the poverty, squalor, and depressing greyness of the barracks next door to the clean and seemingly prospering town of Fassberg. It was a shock for them to see that people lived as we did. The sight of kids still mostly dressed in the oldest of clothing, the deteriorating barracks,...

  28. Chapter 21 Baker’s Apprentice
    (pp. 318-339)

    I was alone in our two-room apartment. Mutti had gone with Leo. Ingrid had gone with my father. I felt abandoned, vulnerable, and afraid. I knew I couldn’t let such feelings persist. I thought of my grandparents Samuel, of Fassberg, and of my school. I quickly focused on these, the constants in my life, and drew from them the strength I needed to be on my own for the first time. At the age of fourteen, I had a year of school remaining. Then I would have to learn a trade and make a life for myself. I knew I...

  29. Chapter 22 Looking West
    (pp. 340-354)

    Soon after my return from Fürstenfeldbruck, I received a letter from Mutti informing me that their papers were in order and that she and Leo could marry at any time. They had set the date for October 14, 1950. If I could come for the wedding it would make them very happy, she wrote. I was fearful of Herr Krampe’s response to my request for additional time off. I mustered my courage and approached him that noon. He didn’t like my request for another week off, but he didn’t yell at me. I was ecstatic to be going. Everything seemed...

  30. Epilogue
    (pp. 355-357)

    Oma and Opa Samuel did build a house again—not only one, but two, in a village called Elmpt, up against the Dutch-German border. The second, larger house my grandfather built for my father, Willi, and his second wife. Willi continued to work for the British at Royal Air Force station Brüggen, near Elmpt, until his retirement in 1977. He had two sons with his second wife, who divorced him for transgressions similar to those he had indulged in while married to my mother, Hedy. His third marriage also ended in divorce. Willi lived to be eighty-seven years old and...