More from the diary of Klaus Behr, a German POW at Springhill Camp
22.9.45: A ‘political infant’
And now a word about the third lecture by the German Democrat who visits us on Thursdays, “Weimar and its Errors” was the extremely interesting topic. It showed me how easily we’d made it for ourselves up until now. We just adopted the opinion we were presented with without any independent thought and treated it as fact. Now that we’re learning to look at things from another perspective, you could kick yourself for your own stupidity; everything seems to blur before your eyes; I feel incapable of making any political judgement regarding the time up to the beginning of this war. At the age of 14 to 16 I thought I had political judgement; now I recognise from the presentation of the character of Brüning [German Chancellor up to 1932] for example, that I was at that time politicised towards German Nationalism, whose failings are only becoming clear to me today. I suppose nothing else is to be expected of a boy of that age, later the possibilities – yes even just the will to form your own political opinion – were lacking. So at 27 I find myself to be a political infant who was up till now only aware of the negative, namely that things can’t go on as they were and a little independent thinking cannot be avoided.
Hurrah! I can write with my right hand again; even if the discomfort has not yet quite been overcome, it’s still cheering. A bit of “Wiener Blut” [film 1942] showed us last night that fortunately life doesn’t only consist of politics and food shortages, this time through a lively [Willi] Forst [film director] film, really delightful in these circumstances; the sound was good, too!
[Vienna Blood (German:Wiener Blut) is a German operetta film from 1942, based on the 1899 operetta of the same name. With box-office takings of seven million Reichsmarks, it was one of the most financially successful films of the Nazi era. [Wikipedia 8.8.17]]
A marvellous, sunny but cool autumn morning makes your thoughts take flight again. No longer to the summer days on the Leningrad front as did the sunny morning hours a few days ago when I began my peaceful detail with a hour’s reading in the morning on the little veranda, but this time my thoughts head off down the high road of memories …
29.9.1945 News of home – a country divided
Yesterday, however, the newsreel showed us with grim clarity the terrible situation in Germany; this view of reality was really distressing. Illusions were replaced by facts, and indeed by very sad ones. Apparently we have to come to terms with a Germany west of the Elbe! The victory of the Slavs seems to be having the results originally expected and not as we believed we would see it after the end of the war. The age of the Slavs has dawned, it seems, and, you could add, the end of the West. Europe sank with Germany!! – And so for the time being there may be no place for us east of the Elbe. That is, for us personally, if the English-American garrison leaves Berlin. We’ll have to go with them and that means: leaving the beloved soil, the family home, the factory, in short the concept of home, which is rooted deep within the heart. How fortunate that for the time being through the occupation of the western allies a dam has been put in place to resist the irresistibly encroaching wave of the East. I can at least hope still to find my relatives where I left them. How would it be if I had to picture them among the wretched refugees in the Eastern Zone, as many, so many, of my comrades must. Is it not an end of the world which one has survived, being pulled along by the floods with a life-belt on? And now it will be our task to look around for a chance of resettlement in western Germany and take concrete steps to carry it through.
But first those at home are faced with a terrible winter, as far as you can tell from here, though indeed nothing appears favourable to us here. It’s terrible and hardly bearable, the thought of it’s being impossible to help those at home in their great need. At least there’s the hope that the British will assuage the greatest need in their part of town but how can one imagine the conditions in the other districts, where there’s already a lack of foodstuffs and now there’s said to be such a plundering of the country going on as has never happened before and in addition millions of refugees from the regions to the east of the Oder and Neiße rivers? I can’t think how you could imagine that. It’s bound to become a horrific winter of starvation and death.
2.10. 1945: Out with a work detail
Yesterday I went out again with the work detail. According to the doctor my hand is fine again, though it wasn’t just a torn tendon. …A lovely trip, about 30km via Broadway and Evesham to Alcester compensated for the not altogether pleasant effect of this ‘hand business’. A longish repair stop at a petrol station allowed us to experience Evesham as it was gradually awakening. But I still experienced such special feelings – I think I can describe them correctly as painful – whenever such magnificent cars stopped to fill up and had their elixir of life flow into them. At such moments I enjoy again my own memories in this connection and my heart contracts as the car glides away again and with it the thought that I have been allowed to witness this at first hand again. Such a beautiful car, new and modern, utterly swish inside and out, and such poetry of an engine, hey that’s something; but unfortunately just the sight of it isn’t enough!
In the journey back in the evening – what happened during the day is of no interest – you could again be really painfully moved by the hustle and bustle of people going about their business. If you happen to pull out into this wave of traffic, cars swirl around each other, traffic-lights light up, pedestrians stream to the shops and you draw parallels with our poor homeland! Only discovering attractive female faces in the crowd is something of a consolation. Besides the effects of war, devastation, politics and a thousand put-downs, there’s now also that which we’re in danger of beginning to forget in our situation, something that you’ll still find even in our poor homeland – a sympathetic woman’s heart!
And now I’ve got to join the left-handers again for 14 days. My right hand is out of action due to a relapse; so I’m struggling one-handed through my PoW existence, no great pleasure; on the other hand there’s also no work detail. Yesterday was a wonderfully warm autumn day and just as regularly as my creative urge most awakens towards evening, I also just as regularly grow weak on these beautiful days, weak in heart and spirit; in a trice my thoughts are at home with my parents, in the garden, in the house…
Quite wonderful October weather tempts me despite the ‘left-handedness’ to another entry. It’s so wonderfully warm that I was able to go and sit outside to read at sunrise and that deserves to be noted in England. Apart from that I’m making the best of this golden free time.
Hurrah, my right hand is set free again! Hopefully not just till the end of the first day of work?! I’m almost sorry that this undisturbed time of working as I wish to has come to an end again. In this last week which is at my disposal to work ‘with both hands’ I’m diving at full steam into short-hand to get this task wrapped up.
20.10.1945: A postal delivery
Today I have to add in an event in the camp. Up to now only a few have occurred which may account for its remarkable significance. For the first time a fair-sized postal delivery has arrived here and that means something when most of the 2000 comrades have heard nothing from their relatives for more than 14 months. It’s the answers to the brown postcards sent four weeks ago. Unfortunately Berlin was excluded and with that the possibility of my receiving any news about the situation at home.
24.10.1945: Happy Birthday Klaus!
And so I’ve completed my 27th year! Yes, dear parents. Your youngest is 27 today! And in the knowledge of this we are indeed together today and celebrating a little. I have four walls, which I have to myself this morning and having my own celebration, since because of my late shift in the laundry I have the morning to myself; time, peace, a room, that’s a lovely birthday present in these present circumstances and in addition I was granted something unexpected, an apple!
And then there was another birthday present! Rolf the kind fellow wouldn’t hear of anything else, I had to take a portion of the cocoa and sweeteners which he had just got as a birthday present and improve my morning milk pudding with it.
26.10.1945: First Anniversary
Since our stay here in the camp is approaching its first anniversary. When we were setting out again for the laundry through the darkness yesterday evening I realised how different it is to the situation a year ago. At that time there wasn’t an opportunity to leave the camp and if it ever happened that you had to pay a visit to the quarter-master that happened in broad daylight with various Tommies on guard. Today we set out in deep darkness, only the Tommy on the gate takes note of us, then go along the path outside the barbed-wire through the little copse to the laundry. If a guard doing the rounds behind the barbed-wire notices us and calls out a few words to us, as happened yesterday – so it’s nothing more than him finding out what those PoW’s chattering out in the darkness are up to – did we know what time it was, he’d like to know! When I told him he calmed down, since he was about to be relieved. There’s a much more friendly atmosphere, contributed to by the fact that we’re all suffering in the same way caused by the pedantic army way of doing things by all our commanders. Nobody sees anything bad in it if he sees us PoWs wandering around the area, the time of forced exits is long past.