Victory in Europe

map of POW camp, Springhill
Springhill camp
Victory in Europe |
"Bundesarchiv Bild 183-R77767, Berlin, Rotarmisten Unter den Linden" by Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R77767 / CC-BY-SA. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 de via Wikimedia Commons.

It is May 1945 and the end of the War is in sight, but for Klaus Behr, a prisoner-of-war in Springhill Camp, the future seems bleak and he fears for his family and his country.

2nd May 1945:

Hitler is dead.  Dönitz is his successor.  The Fronts in Italy and in western Austria have surrendered unconditionally, so that’s the news which today brought.  The belief which shook me greatly is that Pe [Papa] was probably conscripted into the Volkssturm right at the end and, as things look, forced at gun point to fight.  I can’t express how I feel about that.  [Trans. Note: Volkssturm – fighting force of civilians aged 16-60 yrs and capable of bearing arms, conscripted by the decree of 25th September 1944]

3rd May 1945: Fears for family in Germany

I feel as though I’m experiencing the end of the world, as if on a Noah’s Ark.  I’m torn apart when I think of my relatives at home.  They were already living in such pitiable conditions when I last saw and heard from them in June/July 1944.  What a wretched existence they had in the ruin of our former little island of peace, pursued day and night by fear of the next air raid, sitting huddled together in the cellar listening for the grim rushingand whistling of the bombs, the tension threatening to tear one’s nerves apart, seconds becoming an eternity.  Their fervent wish was to be delivered from it all, and it filled a thousand prayers to God.  And how many terrible things did they have to bear, if God indeed had let them live?  One air raid after another day and night, and then when the Russians came there were more dreadful days, whilst the battles raged in the streets of Berlin and the shells, flame-throwers and machine guns did not stop as it reached our home.

Berlin in Russian hands

These are only presumptions and imaginings which are almost too much for me to bear.  Berlin is now completely in Russian hands; tanks in the Grünewald, Dahlem, Halensee and Hohenzollern railway stations taken, resistance in Charlottenburg, Weißensee fallen, Berlin completely occupied!  Now there is calm, but what do the ruins of Berlin look like?  Do they have anything to eat at home?  How will they get anything?  Did Pe have to take up weapons in such a senseless cause?  What has been his fate?  How will the Russians behave?  Will they pounce on all the food still available and leave the population to their fate?  It’s dreadful!  I scarcely see life as a gift anymore, if that wouldn’t seem like disrespect for God, after six long years of many dangers survived, and I seem to be on the brink of a new life.  But how will this turn out?  That’s the terrifying thought.

6th May 1945: Capitulation and the end of an Empire

A large proportion of the German army has capitulated.  There’s still some resistance to the Russians, around Dresden and in Bohemia and Moravia.  Besides Hitler, Goebbels and Goering are apparently dead.  In this country (England) the announcement is awaited by the hour that the war in Europe is at an end and the victory celebrations can begin.  You can imagine what our feelings are like.  You have to make an effort to finally bury thoughts of a strong Germany, a German Empire and colonies.  My personal consolation, which has helped me cope with almost 8 years of loss of freedom, has now dissolved into a mirage. I’ll be happy – much more than that – if I find my relatives again, and in good health;  I’ve almost become indifferent to the other circumstances which used to be top of my wish-list for getting home.  Now that there are probably only days to the end of the fighting you feed yourself on the hope of being home next Christmas, if everything goes right.

8th May 1945:  Victory in Europe

The English are celebrating victory over Germany today after the radio announced yesterday the end of the European part of the Second World War.  Victory celebrations, a picture of the Russians laughing as they raised the red flag over Berlin – those are the things which determine my feelings and arouse primal resentment against those who practised the most monstrous deception over a whole nation and trampled on all ethical values.  That’s the deception of the longed-for end of the war, the long desired day – you could despair at the thought.

20th May, Whitsun 1945 – and a familiar church service

A festival in peacetime again for the first time and yet the gloomy rainy weather seems to reflect the feelings of a prisoner of war.  A bright sunny day would only fill me with pain.  The gloomy, rainy curtain which hangs at the window seems to obscure what one feels is the future.  You feel you want to give that a dark colour, too and think perhaps also – as in 1937 – you have to be happy that you can’t see a peephole in it.  Just as you couldn’t picture life without war anymore, so the thought of a return home seems to have retreated far away and you suspect that hardly anything is left of the happy and comforting environment to which you felt so attached, so I comfort myself today that I cannot see into the future.  But today also brought a lovely church service when two newly-arrived uniformed German chaplains shared the office and can at last provide what we’ve long had to do without.

7th June 1945: Russian occupation and what this might mean for Germans

You can’t approach the future logically unless accompanied by the thought that after overcoming the many dangers of endless war, fate can’t have such bad things in store.  Apart from that it would look gloomy enough.  Only a little news reaches us here from the Russian occupied zone which seems to be hermetically sealed off.  Some people are prophesying forced labour in Russia, if we ever make it back home, others predict a future so rosy you have to disbelieve it.  What we foresaw before the end of the war now seems to be turning out to be true.  The war does not seem to have ended with our capitulation.  After the weapons have barely fallen silent, the first arguments that Russia should have the right to occupy all German territory beyond the river Elbe are appearing, and indeed they’ve already reached it, probably as a first stage.  So far it’s peaceful, but it will have a violent end if the others aren’t tolerant enough.  … A blessing that our programme of activities and comrades here are unlikely to allow too much time for such thoughts and so considerably lighten our lot.  Besides that, you always tend not to believe these prospects and secretly look forward to a rosier way forward.

10th June 1945: “Chalking messages on the rubble”

Yesterday, when the Scotsman here took the evening roll-call, we were really aware of the change.  He’s just playing a wartime bit-part here, and will at the end travel back to his property and go on with his life.  We don’t know what ruins are awaiting us, when and where we’ll find our near and dear ones again.  Or as someone reporting back from Germany told us – those going home were seeking out their relatives by chalking messages on the rubble in the chaos.  What incalculable pain!  I feel as if I have two lives, the first ended in 1944 with the last news from home, the next awaits me as an unknown quantity.

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