• Hans Brandt,
    Chemnitz, GermanyMORE...

    My name is Hans Brandt. I was born in Chemnitz on December 25, 1925. I went to school here.

    I was sixteen when I was conscripted. And when I was seventeen years old, I started to learn how to work with anti-aircraft systems. I was sent to Czechoslovakia first, in Mahrisch-Ostrau, for training. I advanced in rank while rebuilding our units, then we went on to France in 1943, near Paris. There, we built new units. I was tasked with securing airports. I don't remember the names of the towns anymore.

    When the Americans arrived in France, on D-Day, I went to Regensburg. We were given the orders to retreat and that's when I was captured. I was eighteen.

    They paraded us through many towns in France, to display us like a symbol. There were two or three thousand of us imprisoned in the camp. We got very sick, because for several days we didn't have anything to eat or drink, we could barely stand. We were told that the food we did get was from destroyed German shipments. They also divided us into several groups, and I was part of one tasked with going into the forest to cut firewood.

    By the winter of 1944, I was in a place called Wood Camp 2 in the north of Normandy. I remained there until 1945. Before the Americans came, it had been a fully-equipped German camp, but it had been destroyed, and we had to rebuild everything for the winter weather. I think this was in February.

    Later, I was transferred to another camp in Le Mans. In March, I was taken to Marseille, where I remained until April 3. From there we went on a ship to Gilbraltar, and on to New York. The journey laster twenty-six days. By then, Germany had surrendered.

    In May, I was sent to a smaller camp and was put to work with dairy machinery. We were observed by Americans, but they were forbidden to talk to us and we weren't allowed to talk to them. I never learned any English. I only ever spoke German with other prisoners. There was an American woman who gave us orders directly, but this was forbidden so the Americans shot her in the leg. Just because she spoke to us. But the man who shot her, he was sent to Japan to fight because her punishment had been too severe. Mostly, we communicated through motions, moving arms and legs. Some of us communicated through English. We didn't understand at the time why he shot her.

    We were in groups of ten people in the camps, and we wanted to survive so we decided to say we were all artists, all musicians. To avoid the harder work. The Americans believed us. There was one very tall man, a man who looked like he'd worked hard all his life. They asked him what instrument he played, and he said, "I play the harp." They never asked us to play these "instruments." I said I played the trumpet.

    In November, they moved us to Boston, where I worked at a paper processing plant. At the beginning of December, we were sent to La Havre on a big ship The George Washington. There were three or four thousand prisoners aboard.

    From there we left by train and the Americans turned us over to the French. We arrived in Berlin, and from there I was sent along with few others to mine in the mountains for coal. We were to be paid, but we only got half of our salaries, with the other half promised to us once we were free. I tried to flee the mine in April, but I was recaptured within a few weeks. I stayed there until June 4, 1948. Eventually, the prisoners in the east were turned over to the Russians. We came to Eisenach and we were checked out in the hospital for illness and injuries. I was freed on December 6, 1948. We never got our money. The French kept it. The Russians gave us a single Deutschmark each, in small change.

    I returned to my town, to the place where I had worked as a locksmith. The manager asked me if I would enroll in studies because many educated men had been killed in the war and those with good education were in demand. I was interested in studying something, but I had no background, so I began my education in Chemnitz, in a facility for workmen and agriculture workers. Then I went to Dresden and studied to become an engineer. I finished my the university in 1957.

    In the meantime, the town changed its name from Chemnitz to Karl-Marx-Stadt. I worked so well when I came back that I was promoted to Second Director. We built cooling systems for trains.

    In 1967, however, I became very sick and was too ill to continue working. And when I regained my health, I worked only in the planning aspects of my profession. By 1990, when everything changed again, I was sixty-five. I was lucky, because after the train factory closed that year and many people lost their jobs, I was able to retire.
    I had been friends with my wife before the war. She was a widow and had a son. Her first husband had died in Slovenia. We married in 1950 and had four more children together. The children all went on to have good professions. They were able to travel after 1990, as before they were only able to travel around East Germany. Later on, they traveled around the world.

    We had a wonderful garden that the family would work on together. I just prepared it for the winter. But I'm getting too old to tend it now.

  • Uli John,
    Freudenstadt, GermanyMORE...

    I am Uli John. I was born on October 22, 1922, in southwest Germany. I had a peaceful childhood. I had a lot of fun around the village, with the boys and girls there. I lived on a farm. I loved the farmer's work. Sometimes my father hit me for getting in trouble.

    In 1940 I finished high school. Then I was a volunteer for the army. I was sent to Czechoslovakia for training, then to Poland. I was stationed in these places in the war: 1941, Poland. 1942, I was in the Russian campaign, where I became ill, and was sent back to Germany on recreational leave. I attended an officer school in Berlin. In 1943, I went to France. In 1944, to Italy to the front against the Americans, in the fight for Rome. In the end of that year, I went to Belgium for the Ardennes offensive and on December 31, I lost my left arm.

    I got a letter: You must become a member of NSDAP, of the party. I wrote a letter to my brother, who was also an officer in the war. He wrote me back: Do not become a member of NSDAP, because we don't know how the war will end. This was the same year.

    There was an order from the highest levels of the army, from maybe Hitler himself. It said that all the injured should be amputated, people with legs injured, arms injured, because it would be faster than being treated in a hospital, so that the wounded could rejoin the fight. So four weeks later, amputees would be at the front again. After an operation in 1945, I went back to Germany to the final fight against the Americans.

    The soldiers on the front lines had no idea what was happening at home. We were told that we weren't going to war against America, or against France. We were going to rescue the homeland. This was told to soldiers across the fronts. Because soldiers were often apolitical. Perhaps many of us were of good intention, doing wrong things.

    I remember once, on Christmas Eve, in Russia, the soldiers were throwing presents they'd gotten from home to each other, across the lines. There was still gunfire, but it all went high, for show. The packages were full of sweets or cakes, small things sent over. Cigarettes, perhaps. A symbol for the holiday.

    The last year of the war was a real mess. I was an officer, commanding my unit, and I did something forbidden: I dissolved it. I wrote everyone passes, for groups of two or three people, one weapon between them, so that they could get home. I could have been shot for this, but I did it because the war was ending and I felt they needed to get home. Everyone made it back. I traveled with a bicycle and on foot from a French zone, which became an American zone at the end of the war. Not far from Bavaria.
    The village I returned to was occupied by the French first, then by Americans. I had learned to speak French in school, so I was able to communicate. The mayor of my village had been imprisoned, he was a Nazi.

    Before the war began, I had wanted to study French. But the year after the war, I studied forestry. They told me I couldn't do it because I only had one arm. But I worked a year in the forest to show that I could, then I was accepted and began my studies in Freiburg and Breiscau. I started my career as a woodsman, cutting down trees. I later became a teacher in the forestry school. I taught about construction of forest territories, hunting, shooting, sports, horn blowing, etc.

    I was married in 1956. We had three children, all boys.

    We established many contacts in foreign countries, to France and Russia, the United States, other veterans of war, some through family members and forestry colleagues. I made some friends of former enemies. People who fought in the war and know what war really means.

  • Lydia Zellner,
    Regensburg, GermanyMORE...

    My name is Lydia Zellner, born 1920 in Hamburg. We had a nice and quiet childhood in Eimsbuttel, my father worked as a caterer on cruise ships and sometimes we would't see him for a long time. But once I turned 14 I started accompanying him hon cruises. That was an unforgivable experience, we went to Copenhagen, Zopott, Heligoland...

    I studied in Hamburg and after I finished my apprenticeship I thought about going to Switzerland to continue my education. I remember how excited I was about it, I got accepted to a university there and already had my hotel arranged, but my father told me - 'Forget about it, the war is gonna start any day now'. And so it happened.

    At that time I worked in a hotel called Reichshof. We had guests all over the World, a very diverse and multicultural atmosphere. When the war broke out everyone was gone, all guests left and the hotel was empty. Soon after all the young men were drafted and it was just a few women us girls and an old men left. At that time Hamburg was quiet, even though the War was happening in Europe not much was going on in our city. The British were dropping leaflets from the planes, only later it was bombs instead of paper.

    The first air raids came in May 1940. We cleared out our cellar to have a space to hide from air strikes. Everyone had to bring his own stool and a cooking pot - as protection for the head. Around that time a home for disabled children in Hamburg was bombed and 45 children died in ruins. There was a man staying at our hotel, an SS officer named Hestner. After this horrible tragedy he said to me "don´t fret, they are just useless eaters". That was how these people thought about other humans. He died shortly after that in Poland.

    One day in Hamburg I met Elfriede, she was my former schoolfriend and it was the day of her wedding. The roads were bombed, and the church had been shut down but she got lucky and managed to marry just before it got closed. Later she pregnant and her husband left to the war. He never came back.

    On August 15th 1940 the cruise ship business was cancelled and my father was out of work. Our family started to look for a restaurant to manage. We found one in Ulm so we moved there. Um was much quieter at that time as it wasn't targeted by the Allies as much as Hamburg.

    But in 1944 the air rides began in Ulm as well. And one day the bombings destroyed the city to ashes. It was a Sunday, the 17th of December, we were open for business, the music was playing a lot of people were dining in our restaurant. And suddenly the sky turned dark, we heard the sound of sirens and rushed to the cellar. The house burned down from top to bottom, we barely escaped through the trap door. Everything around us was burning, dead bodies everywhere. We ran to the water, towards Danube and stayed there for some time. The city was in rubbles, about 80% of the building were burned out and destroyed and 25000 people were left homeless. I don't know how many died.

    We lost our home too so we moved to Dieterskirchen, a small village in the Bavarian forest because we had relatives there. It took us 3 days to get there because many stations were bombed out so it was hard to find trains we needed. On the way we had to stop a few times and seek cover in the woods because a train would stop if there is a bombings somewhere near.

    Dieterskirchen was a very small village but even there people would have a ceremony for a new fallen soldier every week. The war was coming to an end and the mood was very bleak. I remember I had a typewriter that I saved form all air raids and brought it with me. Someone told me that the SS will come and confiscate it eventually. And they really came. When I saw they were coming into the house I asked for some olive oil and poured it all over the types. The SS-officer came into the house and when he spoke too me asking if I have anything that can help the German Army I said - "I have a typewriter but it doesn't work". The officer grabbed the typewriter and said "we'll see about that". He put the sheet of white paper in and tried typing but the keys would get stuck because of the oil and he left the typewriter. I cleaned it later and it worked again, it was very dear to me because I carried it throughout all the hardships of war.

    One day we were sitting on a hill on the outskirts of the village and we saw the prisoners who were being transferred from the KZ Flossenburg to the KZ Dachau - a trek of hundreds of famished miserable people constantly beaten by the soldiers. Four people just fell down - dead. Once the soldiers left we picked them up and carried to the local cemetery. Later we had a wake and buried them in that cemetery.

    The Americans came soon after that incident. They were on a tank and took a hostage just for fun - a local farmer. They made him sit on their tank with his hands up for a long time. Before the military administration took control of the situation the American soldiers did whatever they desired - lived in the houses they wanted, took the food they wanted and made us live in barns. Everything came back to normal later but it was humiliating.

    The war was over in 1945 and we were left in destruction and poverty. But we had to move on and we did. Few months after the war was over we all cycled back to Ulm and started our life all over again. We needed to find work or open our business, we decided we'll try to open a restaurant again. We were lucky enough to find a good place near the station and we named it Ludwigsau. That was November 1945. The food supply was very limited and most of the food you could get from the black market. I would stay up for hours after work to glue the food vouchers like "50g meat" or "5g fat" on sheets of paper so we could buy food which was sanctioned.

    The winters of 45 and 46 were extremely cold and I only had one pair of summer shoes. I never want to freeze again like I did back then. But we survived

    Now almost 70 years passed since those days and before the 70th anniversary of the end of the war I am reminded about it a lot from TV and papers. I wish I wasn't. I wish I could forget all about that.

  • Alfons Bink,
    Regensburg, GermanyMORE...

    I told the priest that I was skeptical. I told him, "Now we invaded France and everything's gone well, but let's wait and see what happens."

    I didn't feel enthusiastic about the war, because we'd already experienced the First World War. After seven years of school, I was sent to the Netherlands for military training. We marched down the streets singing chants. I was embarrassed about this.

    After that, I joined the war in Monte Cassino. We were getting bombed and had no ammunition to fight back. It was quite clear we wouldn't win. I remember cycling around Italy, going from one place to another, thinking that Americans would land there, but they never did.

    At the end of the war I returned to Dresden and the Russians were already there. They didn't capture anyone because they were drunk. They were celebrating. I escaped and was captured by the Americans in Bavaria, but they released me after a few days. I was one of the first to come home. I had been wearing my uniform, but there were no badges from my unit because the Russians had taken them. I looked plain.

    I soon went to work for the justice system. Because we had been allowed to reopen the government almost immediately after the war. I was a supervisor. I got married in 1951. I practiced law in Regensberg. I had two children, a son and a daughter. I received my pension in 1988.