« Horse Sense | Main | Cats »

All That Was: Chapter 27 - Growing Resentment

...One evening, in between air raids, we witnessed a strange kind of marriage ceremony unfolding in the function room of the hotel. Only young German women were present. Each one stood in front of a chair, empty except for a small glass jar in the centre. Apparently the chair symbolized the girl's fiance who had gone to war, and the jar contained his semen. A clergyman of some sort conducted the service in the shadow of Hitler's portrait...

Lusia Przybyszewicz and her two Polish companions continue to work at a hotel in war-time Germany. But the Allied troops are approaching. The war is nearing its end. And major changes are afoot.

Lusia's book All That Was, a detailed, vivid and absorbing account of her experiences, is available from her at PO 404Vaucluse, NSW 2030, Australia ($25 Australian plus postage).

From September 1944 on the Allied air raids became a permanent feature of our lives. Barely a day passed without the 'Flieger Alarm' siren's warning to run for cover. Night bombing often followed. Both work and sleep were frequently disturbed. The Allied air power was poised over the industrial heart of Germany - the Saar, the Ruhr and the Hamburg region.

Since most raids set out across the Channel from England, K.D.F. Stadt was never far from the danger zone. By itself though, except for the Volkswagenwerk, it was not much of a target.

The steady drone of the Allied aircraft flying past on their missions of destruction became a familiar sound throughout Autumn 1944. The German Luftwaffe, including the 'Flak Artiller,' was no longer effective in defending the fatherland at this late stage. The entire countryside lay unprotected.

Never will I forget the awesome yet common spectacle of the night sky lit up by phosphorous bombs pelting down on Hanover. We picked the clearing beyond the hotel for our vantage point. There we would pause in the dark and contemplate the dazzling brilliance of the explosions which followed each bomb strike. We could not hear much because of K.D.F. Stadt's remoteness from the city under siege, but we sure feasted our eyes on the eerie sight.
As the cold rainy weather set in with a vengeance, we found very little shelter from the elements amongst the trees. While we huddled together to keep warm, we found solace in the knowledge that the daily assaults from the heavens were indispensable to our eventual freedom.

One evening, in between air raids, we witnessed a strange kind of marriage ceremony unfolding in the function room of the hotel. Only young German women were present. Each one stood in front of a chair, empty except for a small glass jar in the centre. Apparently the chair symbolized the girl's fiance who had gone to war, and the jar contained his semen. A clergyman of some sort conducted the service in the shadow of Hitler's portrait.

In the town new conscripts in the Wehrmacht uniforms could be seen. The majority consisted of 15-18-year-old boys, all former members of the Hitler Jugend. However men aged 50-60 had also been called to arms.

One evening, probably in September 1944, the Cheffin called me into her office to ask whether I would like to become a Volksdeutch and join the B.D.M. (Bund Deutscher Madel-Federation of German Girls). She had obviously been prompted by some Nazi official. I concealed my revulsion at the very suggestion. I told her that as a Pole I felt undeserving of such an honour and that, anyway, my German was not up to the task. She smiled and let me go.
From my recollections the B.D.M. did not enjoy a very good reputation. Germans often made jokes about the organization. They used to say it stood for 'Bitte driick mich' (Please squeeze me.)

Throughout September 1944, there was a temporary halt to the Allied advances on the Western front. This was due largely to some problems the Americans had with supplies reaching them via Normandy. Consequently the enemy pushed them out of Arnhem on the Rhine. They suffered heavy losses. Fierce fighting in October around Moselle finally resulted in the capture of the important city of Aachen on the 21st.

Before the winter 1944 took hold, the Russian advance on the Vistula river in Poland and in East Prussia, petered out as well. Were it not for witnessing the savage, never-ending Allied air raids we would have most probably lost heart at that stage. The lack of some encouraging news from the front combined with the thought of another imminent, freezing German winter was hard to swallow. Yet we managed to cope and carry on regardless.

We continued to plot and scheme in collaboration with the French boys. A young electrician, Robert, taught me how to create a short circuit (Kurzschluss). When I felt sufficiently confident that I would not bungle the operation, one evening at the hotel, just before the dinner rush hour I swung into action. I had previously located the fuse box. I had no trouble at all in carrying out our plan, aimed at plunging the entire hotel into darkness. Before the staff could find the candles, a great commotion broke out in both the restaurant and in the kitchen. The scene was just wonderful to behold. Of course the three of us added as much 'genuine' panic to the situation as we could master, and we loved every minute of it.

Hitler used the apparent lull in the fighting that autumn, to regroup his remaining forces for a final decisive attack on the unsuspecting Allies. He had hopes of splitting the enemy's defenses. According to his desperate plan, the Germans, under the cover of darkness and winter fogs of the Ardennes mountainous terrain, suddenly struck on the night of 15th December, 1944. The element of surprise allowed them to make some advances at first, but within a few days the Allies stopped them, and they never reached the Meuse river. At that point their resistance on the Western front practically collapsed.

The Allies' task now was to plod through the winter snows to the Rhine and beyond. With the objective of establishing a bridgehead over the river, they soon began to drop troops by parachute onto the mainland. Photographs of captured English and American airmen in the middle of nowhere appeared now and then in the German press.

Remarkably, none of those momentous events had much bearing upon our every day existence. Cleaning, polishing,chilled to the bone,battling mountains of snow and sleet in the streets - all that went on and on.
The one bright recollection I have of that period is that of Heinschen. He was a thoroughly decent young German civilian who was then domiciled at the hotel. He freely discussed with me the German defeats and their likely repercussions on his homeland. He talked to me as an old friend would and even broke news of which I was unaware at the time. He tried very hard to show his friendship to S. and R. as well. The unforeseen events that followed did not give us enough time to fully understand his motives.

Preparations for Christmas '44 went on just the same but on a more modest scale than the year before. Due at least in part to Hans's absence, his wife envisaged a low-key celebration of the festive season. Hans was languishing on the Eastern front. The news warmed our hearts. We were not likely to miss him! I actually felt that the Cheffin shared our sentiments, although her reasons were obviously quite different from ours.

Because of a special directive from above advising restraint in honour of the dead, the Gaststatte guests were not so rowdy this time round either.

In early January 1945, the three of us could no longer ignore the fact that a resentment towards us was building up amongst the German personnel. Only Giesela remained cordial toward us. We began to fear the worst. We discussed the situation with Henia, who felt the same enmity at the pharmacy. Seeing she had easy access to medicines, she offered to have cyanide capsules ready for each of us in case of emergency. She kept her word.

The first one to be singled out was S. ‘mitt den dicken Bauch’ (with her fat stomach.

She always had the tendency to argue a lot and to answer back. Under the prevailing atmosphere of suspicion Frau Hagemann could take it no longer. One day during a particularly lively exchange between the two of them, probably over potatoes, Frau Hagemann suddenly fired S. We were left speechless.

Within a couple of days, still in January 1945, S. had to pack her belongings and move on to the Polish camp. The Polish anti-Semites could tell a Jew with the greatest of ease, so S.'s exposure to them was fraught with danger.

Unfortunately, in this new environment there was nothing we could do to prevent this relocation occurring. We had just enough time to make the painful decision of ceasing all contact with her in our attempt to lessen the risk of denunciations.

R. and I were bewildered and tense. As it turned out, I had only about a couple of weeks left for commiseration before my own dismissal. Over some fickle incident in the kitchen, which I cannot even recall, the Cheffin, who addressed me with some justification as 'Christa mitt dem dreckigen Holtz Schuhen' (Christa with the dirty wooden shoes), accused me of rudeness (Frechheit). I had no doubt that it was a trumped-up charge, but I could find no way out. I simply had to go. I was ordered to report within one day to the authorities at the Polish camp.

Ergo, it came to pass that from the beginning of February 1945, R. was the only Pole left at the Hotel 'Am Hochen-stein.' From then on until the Liberation the three of us had no further contact with each other. Henia stayed at her post till the end.


Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.