Sunday, 2 September 2012

A Father's Day Tale

Dad, Mum & my future Tormentor 1941
It being Father's Day today I thought I would write about my Dad.
By all accounts he was a rather serious man, his head buried in books when he wasn't politically active.
Upon his return from seducing the young maiden in Wemding (please refer to this blog: http://popomike.blogspot.com.au/2012/08/how-herbert-met-theresia.html), he joined the socialist party (SPD), which he belonged to till his death.
Fast forward to 1943 and my arrival in this world. Want to know more about that follow this link: http://popomike.blogspot.com.au/2012/08/believe-it-or-not-i-was-born.html
Dad working at the rail car manufacturing place, commonly known as Schwarzkopf, experienced a rapid drain of able-bodied workers. He was in charge of the final assembly/quality assurance department. In those days, few lifting/labour assistance devices were in place - no OH&S in them days. Assembling rail cars is not really for the weak or faint-hearted and definitely not women's work. The solution - use Russian prisoners of war to do the heavy work.
Small problem though - the poor buggers were malnourished and emanciated. They would be trucked in by 6:30 AM to start work. They got a 'Lunch'-break at noon with, low and behold, "food" supplied! The food was usually a watery soup, if you could call it that, with a few cabbage leaves floating in it plus one slice of stale German rye bread. The poor buggers would be picked up at 5:30 PM for transfer back to their camp.
That was Monday to Friday, on Saturdays they would finish at noon, thus avoiding the need to feed them.
My Dad being a socialist, and basically extremely kind hearted, used his position to 'force' some of these buggers to work even harder.
The 'Mad Scientist's' property being rather large for Berlin standards (approximately half an acre), and Mr Egghead not inclined to look at the garden, let alone tend to it, it had gone rather feral over the years. So Dad figured he could get some of these guys to come for the weekend and put some muscle into cleaning it up. He got the appropriate permits and had to sign guarantees to return them safe, sound and unharmed.
He would take four or five prisoners home Saturday lunchtime and bring all of them back with him Monday morning - not even half a POW missing! Believe it or not, that operation was carried out on the local commuter train! No security transport, no guns, no guards!
They were told, the first few times till word got around, that they must be seen in the garden all Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday, come rain, hail or shine.
Not a problem, they were happy to do it and even worked their butts off. It was all a ruse - they got fed lunch and dinner on the Saturday, three square meals on Sunday and a decent early breakfast on the Monday.
It wasn't long before dad was inundated with requests to join the 'extracurricular workdetail' - word had gotten around the POW camp of what was going on. Naturally, everybody wanted a good feed and a comfortable sleep in a decent bed.
My Dad and I
I benefited from the whole arrangement by having lots of 'Uncles' around at weekends to cuddle and play with me.
Well, the war finally ended and the Russians were occupying the Eastern part of Germany. They got to work to organise some sort of local government to restore some order and civility in the area. By September 1945 they had managed to organise local councils and arranged for elections to be held for the various offices. One small hitch - only socialist and communist party members were eligible to be put on the voting list. Dad was running for the position of Mayor of Koenigs Wusterhausen, the nearest sizable town which incorporated Neue Muehle. His opponent was a rather 'shonky', and despised, communist. They did not have opinion polls in them days, BUT there were straw polls, i.e. asking around who was likely to win. Apparently, dad was about a country mile in front, which did not impress his opponent. What to do, the communist thought.
Swish Russian ZIL - cops lead a good life
Easy fix, go to the Russian authorities and say: "Herbert exploited and tortured Russian POW's!"
Problem solved! A couple of weeks later a rather large car, as seen here, pulled up in front of our new abode (we had departed the mad scientist's premises by then) four officers emerged, marched down our pathway and arrested dad. The picture of the four guys coming down the pathway and then marching away with Dad, is indelibly imprinted in my mind. In fact, it is the only mental picture I have of dad.
Watchtower at Buchenwald
He was taken away, never to be seen again! They took him to a prison in Potsdam first, where my 'Tormentor to be' (my sister) was able to see him a couple of times. By year end he was transferred to the old Nazi favourite - Buchenwald concentration camp, which the Russians had conveniently re-named Buchenwald Gulag. Guess the Russians figured why not use existing infrastructure instead on wasting money on new one!
Dad was there till autumn 1947 when he contracted double-sided pneumonia and, there being no medications available in the camp, dying a months later despite four doctors (also interned on trumped up charges) being with him at the time.
On that note: Happy Father's Day Dad - you'll always be with me.

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