Fritz – All I Do Not Know

My father was born 1930 in Breslau (Ger., Eng.). His father was named Wilhelm in 1896, his mother Emma, I do not know her year of birth, she was a bit younger than her husband. They married maybe 1928.
Wilhelm and Emma were born in villages somewhere in Silesia (Oels?), I do not know when and how they came to the main city, where and when they met. Wilhelm miraculously survived WWI serving in the front line, at Verdun (Ger., Eng.) and somewhere near the chemin des dames (Ger., Eng.). I think there is a gap of some years in his biography, it may be a total imagination, but the family lore only starts sometime in the mid-Twenties, when he started to work self-employed in his business as tailor. The family of his wife always looked a bit down on him, because Emma came from a more bourgeoise staple, her brothers and sisters (as I recall it) were better off; I think to remember that one or two of them were members of the Stadtrat of Breslau, but I may be wrong. At least I remember that she told me about the fine and vornehm habitations her siblings lived in. The rented flat in the suburb Wilhelm could provide was not genügend.
Fritz was the only child. His childhood and youth were seemingly easy. He always remembered the summers and the Freibad, swimming was his favourite, and table tennis. He was a member of some swimming club, I do not know the details, but they trained swimming, diving, jumping and so on. He spent the summer either in the open-air bath or in the river. For some time Emma was working in the Freibad, I have no idea what she did there – but he got free entrance.
Wilhelm was busily working on his sewing machine. He was Meister, a master craftsman,, so he could employ Gehilfen and train Gesellen. His business consisted mostly in changing standard clothes to individual fitting (Änderungsschneiderei) and he worked on contract basis for the large clothing sellers. They would sell a suit and if the customer needed changes, Wilhelm would do it. He bought special equipment, notably a machine that could stitch leather – even when I learned to know him as a child (he died in the late sixties when I was not yet in school!) – he mentioned that machine that it made him stand out and get better jobs.
The NS? Wilhelm was initially  not averse to the whole thing, but it changed a lot when he was badly beaten by SA, for looking not aryan enough – he was a small dark-haired man. Emma was not very fond of the Fuehrer, she simply rejected the pseudo-religious features of “the movement”; she was deeply rooted in her christian believe, worked a lot for the church, the protestant of course – later, after the war, she was very dedicated to the small Lutheran parish she found in the middle of the deep catholic Bavarian Forrest.
At the start of WWII Wilhelm was drafted into the air force (!); for some time nothing happened and he was in the barracks, where his wife visited him with their son. He was then sent to Peenemünde (Ger., Eng.) to guard the missile developing centre (Ger., Eng.). But after a short time, maybe 1941 (or early 1942), he was 45 then, they sent him home. He reached the age, the Reich was winning everywhere, you’ve done your duty. Breslau was for a long time a peaceful place, I do not think that there were bombing raids.
Fritz went to school. They sent him to a Realgymnasium (Ger. only), and he was in the last class of this school: I am not sure, but I think the whole thing called Realgymnasium was abandoned then. The war came nearer (Ger., Eng.), and Breslau was “evacuated” – a damn crime, I do not want to go into details. Fritz was sent together with his class to a place in the Eulengebirge (Ger., Eng.), South of Breslau: No worries, you’ll be back at Christmas. Yeah. They were taught the regular curriculum, as possible, and additionally such nice things like putting together a machine gun and using a Panzerfaust (Ger., Eng.). This must have happened winter 1944/45.
Wilhelm was reactivated and had to serve in the Volkssturm (Ger., Eng.). He became a Meldeläufer or Meldegänger, dispatch runner,  in the Festung Breslau. Emma was arbeitsdienstverpflichted (Ger., Eng.), and worked in a can factory. I have no clue what they canned there. And I do not know how she escaped from this place. They were separated. Wilhelm made it later into British captivity, he was found in Plön (Ger., Eng.) – no clue how he made it. He was in Breslau after the fall of the “fortress”, and when he came to the destroyed house he once lived in, he was nearly beaten to death by Poles for plundering: He wanted to rescue his sewing machines.
Emma was somehow evacuated and came to the above mentioned Bavarian Forrest. They heard of each other simply by accident, via a former co-tenant, who accidentally ran into Emma on a station, she had met Wilhelm earlier on her travel through the mess.
Fritz? Was on his own. The class should become formally members of the HJ (Ger., Eng.) to Fuehrers Geburtstag 1945 (Ger. only). But they came to the ceremony in unsuitable clothes and were not marching – my father did not know, even after forty years, whether the officer in charge (he remembered it to be Wehrmachtsoffizier, no party-honcho) was simply fed up with this unmilitary class, or whether he used their appearance as an excuse to spare them this nonsense. Anyway – the teachers one by one dropped off, and the bunch was on their own. They cheated death one time when they were earmarked to go to Dresden, their train did not come. They could watch Dresden going to hell in one night of February 1945 – and went back to their Baude (Ger. only) in the mountains.
I do not know whether he went there in a group or alone, but he went to Colditz, the safest place in the rest of the Reich (Ger., Eng.). I do not know how long he was there. Some day the Russians arrived and the war was over. He had no idea where (or if) his parents were alive, so he worked as farm hand, Pferdeknecht.
I do not know how or when he decided to go, but as I recall it was his own decision. So he went away to the West over the “grüne Grenze”. When he was in the West the Red Cross could give him the whereabouts of his mother, Emma had earlier arrived in the woods. This must have happened 1947 or early in 1948. So he went to his mother and started to learn a profession. First of all he had to go to school again, because he had no  formal Schulabschluss – he once showed me the house where he had to attend classes.
After that he learned the profession of a Kaufmann, merchant. Daily commute of more than one hour in one direction with the train through the green nothingness, we did this travel on some occasions together years later. 1948 Wilhelm surfaced, and the family was together again.
Sometime in the early fifties (1951, at 21) Fritz finally decided to join the Zoll (Ger., Eng.). I have no idea why. He hated weapons and I never (not even as child!) saw him in a uniform. Maybe the idea of a safe income, the promise of stability was overwhelming. They sent him to the North of Bavaria to the inner German border. Their first “office” in a village called Fornbach was a former pigsty. He served at this damn line through the fifties, met my mother, they married.
I stop this waffle here. Too long. Maybe I will continue later.

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12 thoughts on “Fritz – All I Do Not Know

  1. Ahh… If you had parents off a certain age your personal histories were so influenced by both wars. I wrote down a few Kriegsgeschichten from my mother who was born ’23 in Siegelbach. My mother met my dad in the 50s too, except he was a American soldier. Wie kannst Du denn einen Ami heiraten?..she was asked at the time.

  2. “I do not think that there were bombing raids”

    The intensive bombing campaign didn’t begin until early 1944. The US had entered the war late and largely unprepared, hence the delay in converting industry to war production and assembling and training the armed forces.

    PS: The first German I met was Dora, who had been a post-war bride. Her husband worked with my father.

  3. The contrast between your settled and sedate librarian’s life and that of you predecessors could hardly be sharper. You’re fortunate to know so much detail about what happened before and during the war. My Dad (aged 80) is reluctant to speak about what happened to his family, so we don’t ask him about it. I respect his right to silence but I wish I knew more about what happened to them in the C20th.

  4. Herr Historiker LX – “Mago era” is uninteresting: Born, read, died.
    Thank you for the interesting link. Additional I think the city must have been pretty down the list of General Harries. But in the area around worthwhile aims were found, like Leuna and such. The town was definitely not destroyed by allied bombing, but because it was declared a “fortress” and should stop the advance of the Red Army. Pure stupidity.
    I hope Dora was friendly.

    I know nothing, 1looby. A right to silence may exist, but there is also a right to know. And when he’s dead his story is and stays untold. I should have asked my father a lot more.

  5. Sorry Mr Mags but i’ll have to come back later for a read… The pain killers are making the words jump all over the screen… i need tosleep now….

  6. Really interesting, thank you. My grandparents and parents were also of an age to be involved in both wars, though older than yours, and married in 1909, 1922 and 1947 respectively. I should have asked more too, but my father and my mother’s father (other grandfather died before I was born) volunteered little information. My father was in the Medical Corps and was proud never to have had to fire a shot at another person.

  7. I actually wrote down some stories that my mother told me from the war. When I’m feeling more like it after my foot surgery tomorrow I’ll repost the links. She was in Chemnitz when it was bombed.

  8. Dear Princess – rest. And please do not mix payne killers with gin, you hear?

    Your father was a lucky man, Z.

    She must have been between ten and twelve then. Yes, I would like to read it, Foam.

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