Over the last three or four weeks I received many varied questions from my readers and tried to answer each and one of them individually.
However, Ms. Bunny, asked several questions which might be of interest to many, if not all of my readers. The answers might shock a few people who never read international accounts of that time. Let’s see if I am able to do this in a neutral and balanced way.. First of all the personal questions which are easy to answer.
1) Do I know what happened to my grandfather? No, All I knew that after his wife, my grandmother died, he was unable to keep his mouth shut and I think that this was the reason for his arrest by the SS. These prisoners, as well as homosexuals, were used as cannon fodder, Meaning they were sent to the front line. The line of the first defenders to catch the brunt of the advancing enemy.
2) Was it difficult to stay in touch with Harold due to the iron curtain? No, not at all, because Harold always found a way. Due to his incredible language skills he served on several occasions as a translator with Khrushchev’s team, including his historic visit to the United Nations in New York where the Russian premier took of his shoe and banged on the speaker podium. Remember this? He was outraged about our U 2 observation flights over Russia. Most of my future books will follow Harold as he proceeded with his own agenda. The future books will therefore also follow Kommissar Godunov and his political ambitions.
3) Do I still have family in German? No. But I still have a few friends who are, like me, in the middle 80s and consider me nuts, trying to write about times nobody in Germany wishes to remember.
4) How many civilians were killed during the time frame I am writing about?
Well, here is where it gets a bit difficult. But, besides Ms. Bunny’s question I received a few other likewise ones. My first response is: Nobody knows. Eight to ten days after Germany surrendered the Russians were still counting their own military deaths. In my own experience there was no effective way or method to tally the German civilian casualties. The Russian authorities reported about close to two million civilian casualties in the general area between Warsaw, Poland and Berlin. My question is: Did this include the casualties in the refugee trains? I mean the many trains filled with civilians fleeing from the Soviet onslaught. The common practice was that the Soviets raped all the women and girls and then burned the trains, filled with refugees, to ashes. Flamethrowers are a terrible weapon in combat. Used on helpless civilians…..your call.
Now, how many trains were there? Who did the counting? There was a report in a British paper where the reporter estimated that this alone amounted to over 20,000 casualties. The Russian papers estimated that the civilian casualties during the last week in Berlin exceeded 160,000. The German estimates were considerably higher. Again, who did the counting?
George Kennan, the US Ambassador to the Soviet Union (at that time) summed it up, and I quote:
“The Russians swept the native population clean in a manner that had no parallel since the days of the Asiatic hordes.”
Let me, please, add an undisputed fact which I remember from my assignments to the KLV camps in 1943. An average air raid (in 1943) killed between 1,000 and 2,000 civilians. In addition, each of these attacks always rendered at least 20,000 homeless. It was because of these figures that the KLV camps became mandatory with the terrible result that when we returned the children from the ‘”safe” camps, nobody had any idea where the relatives where or if they were still alive. I know for a fact that in the end thousands of children went unaccounted for. It is anybody’s guess how many found their home or their relatives, or got adopted, or simply died. No school kept a record. It was no big deal at that time, the children had ‘no voice’, nobody cared, unless it was a parent looking for his child.
I tried in my books to write from my own young perspective, and avoided, on purpose, statistics. I mean I could, it would be a simple task. Which brings me to a question of my own: Should I write a small statistical follow up book? I mean no personal involvement. But, there were countless books written about figures and samples of atrocities. So, why add to the gruesome stories? My original agenda was to give a voice to our generation. Thankfully, some of the responses I get are telling me that I am succeeding.
Let’s see how best to start this post.
It is, in a way, intended to (partially) answer the question when my next book is being published.
Well, my friends, life happens …………..
If you followed my posts on this site, you know that we have a small ranch in northern California and besides our variety of animals and pets, we also have two studio apartments. They are clean, carpeted, one room units with a studio kitchen and a bathroom. Not much to write home about. In order to offer a small convenience to our tenants, we also provide a washer in a separate room.
That was a mistake, a major one as it turned out.
To put it as simple as possible: One of our tenants, an otherwise nice lady, must have read something about unlimited opportunities in the free enterprise system. She opened up a laundry service for her friends and strangers. One sunny morning I walked out of the door and could not help noticing freshly laundered underwear and linens fluttering in the breeze.
After a polite knock on door of my tenant I was unable to enter the room. There were bundles of unwashed laundry stacked up on top of each other wherever I looked.
The nice lady smiled at me: “Well, I don’t have the money to pay next months rent and…… I know that you need it and want it……. and I had the idea of making some extra cash by washing my friends clothing.” Another smile.
What do you do? I mean I left Germany because of the American free enterprise system. Now where do I go? It was not funny. It cost me four weeks and a professional eviction service to get the lady to move. The electric bill alone exceeded the monthly rent and I had the septic tank overflowing.
In the end she had some furniture which she had to place in storage but no money to do so. In order to get her out I offered to pay for the storage unit with the result that she asked me if I could prepay for two months. I did. My wife said: “Anything to make her go away” was fine with her.
So, yes, I am writing to get the next book published before the end of April, but honestly, it might be a little later because this was not the only delay in my schedule.
In the meantime, please stick with me.
I feel that I need to clarify a few points based upon some of the reviews I have received. It could be that I was not clear enough in my books or perhaps, some readers simply missed them.
One of my readers commented that he did not know about the KLV ( children evacuation) camps. I cannot say for certain why he never heard about them, but I do want to remind my readers that I am writing about my personal experiences in Berlin and in that respect, I have firsthand knowledge of the camps. There is also a great deal of information about them on the internet as well.
Berlin, as well as Dresden, Hamburg and a few other cities were the major target of the allied air attacks. In some of the cities, like Berlin, these air attacks lasted over two years. Dresden experienced a fire storm which lasted for three days nonstop, causing the asphalt to melt. Because of this, individual school administrations initiated the air evacuation system. The camps were located in selected parts of Germany and German occupied Poland, which were not on the list of the allied air targets.
Long after the war, I personally met school children in my age group who lived in Western Germany, along the Rhine River, who never experienced a single air attack. It was almost as if they had been in a different war. Thanks to the Americans they never saw a single Russian, let alone a Mongolian or a Russian Kommissar..
Western Germany was spared a bloodshed, thanks to a civilized enemy. Parts of Eastern Germany, by contrast, were slaughtered.
One of my reviewers wrote that I “toned down” my writing which clearly did not sensationalized the brutality or the horrors after the Russian occupation. He’s absolutely correct, I did tone it down. While I personally witnessed the atrocities, I see no reason to repeat that which had been reported or white washed to no end. By now everyone alive knows that “War is hell.”
This brings me to the mindset of my classmates during the end of 1944 and the beginning of 1945.
There was no doubt in our minds that once our father was drafted …we would never see him again. We literary buried our father in our mind while he was still alive. There was also no doubt in our mind that we would lose our mothers too. It was not a question of “if” but a question of “when”.
I had many eight and ten year old children come up to me in the camps. They came in the evenings, when the few activities of the day slowed down, and they asked me: “Horst, when my parents are gone, will you still be my friend?”
I simply wrote the first three books to give a voice to my age group which did not survive. I have no agenda other than trying to convey what it was like when you were 14 years old and asked to do the job of an adult……at a time when the adults in your life disappeared. Arrested, killed in action or by suicide.
Another reviewer remarked that “the author did not once mention the extermination camps.” He is correct. I did not mentioned the camps because as a 14 year old in Berlin I did not see them or hear about them. None of these camps existed in Berlin and because I did not have firsthand knowledge of them, I could not write about them. I did, however, write about the Germans who disappeared because they wore sandals and were therefore called Jesus imitators. They offended the SS and this alone was a crime in itself.
My own grandfather disappeared one night and was never seen again. I still don’t know why. My best guess is that in spite of his wisdom he did not know when to keep his mouth shut.
Well, I hope that this clarified some unasked questions. If I still missed something please feel free to leave a comment below.
And, thank you for reading my books.
Yesterday I received the following comment from a valued reader:
“I am also a Vietnam veteran and just finished all three of your books, and loved them. Personally I would make them mandatory reading for all 14 year old boys today if I could. I think you have a lot that could be taught to them.
Here is my answer of today, you can also read it in the comments below my post : “Sitting on a football”
It is nice to hear from another Vietnam veteran and I am honored that you like my books.
Yes, sometimes I think that I should send the book “Loyal to a degree” to a school administrator and ask him if he would be interested to give me an hour to talk to their history class.
It would be interesting for the children as I am one of the few who lived through 1945 and is still around to talk intelligently (or so I think) about these times.
One the other hand I am sure that you, as a Vietnam veteran also have interesting stories to tell about a terrible war.
It was all about survival, wasn’t it?
And today? Does it matter anymore?? It’s a loaded question, isn’t it?
I am an American citizen since 1959 and I like to thank you for your time serving our country. Take good care of yourself.
Yes, as an Author, writing about forgotten times, I can’t help wondering: “Why I am writing this stuff?”
“Is anybody interested enough to read about it? “
Based upon my recent book sales and comments, the answer is: “Yes,” there are readers who I am able to “touch.”
Thank you for all your kind comments. They keep me writing.
However and finally, tell me dear reader: ” Does it matter anymore?”
Well, I finished writing my third book. It was released by my virtual assistant Christina Haas of Zenith Business Solutions on November 20th and the paperback edition should be out by next week. Shortly after Thanksgiving.
Chris did also the formatting and for the third time also did the cover art = book cover, and I can’t thank her enough for all her diligent work and her constant support.
As I mentioned on this site before, I wrote this third book in response to the many questions I received from my readers regarding the “early years” of Karl. So while it is actually my third book it is also a prequel.
While I trust that I answered all of the pertinent questions, I realize that “Children to a degree” will probably trigger additional questions and I cannot emphasize enough that I am available to answer or discuss any comments you might wish to express.
In the meantime I am writing the fourth book in the series. It will be entitled “Partners to a degree” and I am aiming to finish it by February. This fourth book will start with the efforts of Karl to secure the release of his father from the Soviet POW transports to the labor camps in Russia. It will also cover the initial training period of Harold, (Karl’s friend) within the Russian State Police network.
Harold’s primary motivation was revenge, and I would have never wanted to be his enemy, but he was also sufficiently smart to advance himself beyond his initial ambition.
He led an extraordinary and dangerous life while he was coming of age and you might find reading about it interesting as well as informative in regard to the Soviet actions during the evolving cold war.
Even after I immigrated to the USA, Harold kept me up to date in his endeavors until he died well into his seventies.
I like to take this opportunity to thank my loyal readers for reading this series and I will do my best to keep you entertained.
A few days ago as I was working on the prequel I tried to think of the funnier (funnier = is this a word?) memories of 1943. Nothing came to my mind because there was not much fun.
However, I did remember something from 1947, but it does not fit into the time frame of my books..
At that time a sister of my father lived in the USA and she sent us a “care” package to Germany . It was filled with all the goodies: flour, sugar, chocolate, Crisco, soap, and a shirt for my father. And then, my, brother who was 10 years old at that time, pulled a strange item from the package. It was made from brown leather and kind of oblong, oval , if you will. It looked like a ball but it was not round. It had a small paper note taped on the side ” For the boys” my aunt had penned on it.
My brother looked at it from all sides. “Horst, look at this thing, what is it?” He asked me. I could not answer him. In all my life I had never seen anything like it. We rolled it around on the floor and then tried to kick it to each other, but because it was not round it rolled nilly willy wherever it wanted.
After a while we decided that it must have been a ball at some time. We figured that some other heavier package must have squeezed our package during the long sea voyage to the point that the round ball lost it’s shape. If we could find a way to press it back into shape we could perhaps be able to play with it. However we had no press or vise to bring any pressure to bear. The only thing we could think of was to take a board, place it on the ball and then sit on it. I remember my brother sitting for hours on the weird shaped thing.
“Take a look, Horst. Is it round yet?” He would ask. “No, not yet, Peter. Sit on it some more.”
Here I was, 17 years old and having looked death in the face more than once, able to extinguish phosphor canister bombs with a sand filled paper bag, survived the Mongols as well as the SS, but I had never seen an American football or had any idea what this stupid leather thingy could be.
After other children started to tease my brother, he gave up sitting on it and threw it in the garbage.
This is not intended to be a major lesson, but I like to keep in touch with my readers and not much happened in the last two weeks.
My cover art designer and VA , Chris Haas, told me in an email that my book ‘Trust to a degree’ is now available on Amazon in the paper back edition.
She also mentioned that she is battling some wasps ‘Yellow Jackets” .
This prompted me to ask her if she knew (what the English people consider ) the difference between garden work and yard work?
Here is her answer:
Well, yes, maybe my American readers wonder if they learned something?
As far as my British readers, Hmmm, “Wipe the smirk of your face, please, we are still a young country.”
As of to day, September 22, 2013, I finished 7 chapters. We are still not sure about the title because the title should indicate what the book is about.
Not that easy to do when you consider that the book will not only follow “Karl” from 1940 to the end of 1944, it will also describe the educational methods.
The schools in Berlin had to double up and triple up the number of students per class. Female teachers (some of them wearing lipstick) (and you have no idea what that meant in 1942 ) were introduced in all boys schools. Shortage of teachers and facilities caused the introduction of a morning shift and an afternoon shift. To even it out the classes rotated every week.
The mandatory Junkvolk demanded two afternoon sessions each week. Some parents embraced it, others not.
The list goes on and on and I am trying to write the book without sounding boring. But these details are important because in one of the reviews of Loyal to a degree, a reviewer opinionated that “Karl” might have been “cleaned up”. Well, it cannot be denied that there was a highly concentrated effort by the Nazis to instill the Nazi doctrine into the minds of the children. It worked to their advantage that the children at that time were products of the Prussian upbringing, meaning unquestionable obedience. But not all of us were numbed by it. Some of us had grandparents which were also influential on our developing minds.
Anyhow, I am getting ahead of myself. All I wanted to say was that I am still thinking about the title.
If I don’t experience too many interruptions, I hope to have the book published during the month of October.
In the meantime I like to thank my readers who bought “Trust to a degree”. I hope that you are enjoying it.
Don’t hesitate, if you have any questions about it, to leave a comment.
Chris Haas just emailed me that she is done with the formatting, and all the other details which precede the publishing with kindle. She was ready to do it today, but I was dragging my heels. I mean would you publish your book on Friday the 13th.?
So we decided on tomorrow, Saturday, September the 14th. Better, much better in my humble opinion.
In the meantime I started to write the prequel and almost finished the third chapter today.
That’s for now.
Let me know how you liked “Trust to a Degree,” please.
First of all, please let me express my thanks for all your comments.
Frankly, I am a bit overwhelmed. The last two weeks were filled with writing and re-writing the final chapters of the second book, which kind of prevented me from paying attention to my website. I know that this is not a very good excuse because I should answer your comments in a timely manner. I will do better.
In order to answer your comments and questions in the most productive way, I thought that it might be best to write this post. However, if I missed something, please let me know. It might take me a day or a week to get back to you, but, I will answer. Promise.
Now let’s start with Penny, who asked if some of the events were not true, since the book states that it is “Fiction based upon true events.” Penny, you are not alone with this question and I can assure you that all the events, places, and times are true. I took no literary license. I did however, change the names and family backgrounds, “father’s occupation” for example. The same is true of my second book “Trust To A Degree”. Again, no literary license has been taken. Due to the many questions I received regarding the time period between 1940 and 1945, I decided to write a prequel which will accurately describe how we were trained and schooled. It will also describe the vast differences between the Prussian doctrine and the Nazi agenda. I am living now for over 50 years here in the USA and it is still interesting to me that most of my American friends, as well as my readers, have no idea ( and how could they?) about the essential differences. Not to worry. The prequel will compel many readers to rethink, or at least understand, what was going on in the German school system as well as in the educational system under the Hitler regime. This book is not written by a “reporter” but by me. I entered the German school program in 1935. If you like to compare history, chances are you will find the prequel interesting. No fluff, just facts
Monika, I liked and I thank you for your comment in which you mentioned that your father was Russian. I understand why he traded his gold teeth towards his goal of freedom. I am sure that you are proud of him. Your fathers story is very interesting and if you have any notes from him describing his fight for freedom you might think of writing a book about him. I am sure that you will find a wide audience. If you wish I’ll be happy to introduce you to my editor and my promoter and cover art designer. Just let me know.
My upcoming book “Partners To A Degree” will in a certain, however limited, way touch on this subject. It will report about the many Russian soldiers, as well as officers, who committed suicides when the “Iron Curtain’ came down and some of the Russian occupation troops were ordered back to Russia. There was no place to go for them….so they took the easy way out! You had to know their alternatives to understand.
Janie, thank you for your very kind words. Believe me, they are very much appreciated. And you are right if you say that people don’t learn from history. But, on the other hand, Jamie, it would be beneficial for these people if they would keep one ear on the rails which lead from the past to the future. Believe it or not, you can hear a train coming, you always do!
Finally, Dorothy, thank you so much for your compliments. Coming from a retired school principal they mean not only a lot to me, but also show me that I am on the right track with my books. I am not trying to be a teacher or an educator. I am just writing about a time in history when we “kids” did not have a voice. Neither during the time things happened to us, like losing our parents, or later on when we went hungry. I am trying to give a voice to the children who died for an idea (not theirs) and the sad thing is, that they died believing that the SS and the “Fatherland” was on their side.
No, I don’t know at this time what the name of the prequel will be, but I know that it will be published before the end of the year and between “Trust To A Degree” and “Partners To A Degree”. I will keep you informed.
If I missed someone, or a question, please let me know.