Part 24: Bike Ride With Obstacles

Despite all the distractions and what I remembered pleasantly, a dark, hidden fear remained deep inside me. Even after many years, this fear crept up abruptly in me.

Long after the war, when on Wednesdays at twelve sharp the sirens would announce the middle of the week with a long-drawn-out wail, that is, a completely harmless event, I would get goose bumps, the hair on my body would stand up, and for seconds I could not speak. I was unable to do anything about it.

The fifth year of the war had long since slid into the sixth. The Allies were fighting their way deeper into the Reich from the west and the Red Army from the east. Nevertheless, National Socialist propaganda was constantly spreading slogans about the final victory. Father received orders not to leave the plant. He therefore thought it would be better to keep his family together in the approaching final phase of the war. The evacuation at grandma’s and aunt Emmie’s was finished, mother brought us home.

The thunder of the guns, at first softly rumbling from a distance like a gathering thunderstorm, came closer every day. There were no more air raid alarms and bombing raids, but American fighter-bombers were constantly in the sky. The single-engine planes totally dominated the airspace. Flying low, they fired their cannons at anything that moved. The planes took off shortly behind the front line and thus had a considerably extended radius of action. The fighter bombers, the ‘Jabos,’ did not have to fear any resistance; the German air defenses had long since been incapacitated and had nothing to oppose the Americans.

On one of these last days of the war for us, my mother sent me to the milkman to buy milk for the last food stamps. I swung onto my bicycle with the jug because the milkman had his store in the basement of his house a good distance away. But I didn’t get to the store because on the way there I had come into the immediate vicinity of the multi-track railroad track on which a freight train was standing. Suddenly a couple of Jabos swooped down on the train, dropping their fragmentation bombs, and firing from all guns. At the take-off, the airplanes raced so low over me that I could see the heads of the pilots clearly. The bicycle and the jug flew into the street. Frightened, I jumped behind a house gable. From my cover I recognized the real target of the fliers. So, I waited for the attack, which was not dangerous for me, collected the jug and the bicycle and drove the last part of the way to the milkman. A short time later I came home with a liter of skim milk.

The events came thick and fast. Suddenly my father was at the door, although he was not allowed to leave the factory. We had to hurriedly load blankets, food, and the bare necessities onto bicycles. Packed like pack mules, we walked the few kilometers to the plant in a hurry. In the break room of Father’s construction site, Mother set up a makeshift night’s lodging on the floor. There were only a few tables and chairs in the room. Next door in the toilet there was a sink. That was all. The factory had long since stopped production. The steady hum of the pumps and machines had fallen silent. No more smoke rose from the chimneys. The factory streets were empty and devoid of life. A cold, threatening silence lay over the huge factory of steel and stone, its rhythm of work extinguished like the breath of a large, dead animal. 𝓣𝓸 𝓑𝓮 𝓒𝓸𝓷𝓽𝓲𝓷𝓾𝓮𝓭

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