by Dr. Ingrid Rimland Zündel
In the early 1980s, I was working in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., doing research for my trilogy called “Lebensraum”, narrating my family’s flight from the Ukraine in 1943 under the protection of the retreating German forces. There, I came upon an article describing the last major World War II battle between the German Wehrmacht and the Russians that took place, as I remembered it in fragments, in the vicinity of Berlin. I was caught in its midst as an eight-year-old child when it happened.
In my memory, I see the various events pertaining to that battle much like a slide show – there is no continuity. I was too young to have understood that what I experienced, and escaped, were the death throes of what mainstream media now distorts as the well-deserved outcome of a despicable dictatorship right in the heart of Europe.
Here is what I remember.
There were four of us still of my once-extended family. In years past, long before I was born, there had been hundreds of relatives – aunts and uncles, grandparents, cousins, neighbors distantly related to us –
…all of them gone, exiled to Siberia, executed, starved to death in two Soviet famines, left frozen by road in a desperate scramble to escape Stalin’s Red Terror that had menaced my people for decades.
Now there was only my grandmother left, whom we called Oma, (translated, Granny) my sister Wally, four, my pretty mother, then in her very early thirties, and I.
And, no, to set the record straight up-front, I am not a yammering Jew. I am proudly German by background, born in the Ukraine, now a naturalized American. My people were called “Volksdeutsche” by the Reich for centuries – ethnic Germans who had left their homeland five or six generations ago, who were now retreating back into the Fatherland with the Wehrmacht as Germany was losing the war.
In the article I found at the Library of Congress, the slaughter I am about to describe was called the “Battle of Halbe”. I don’t remember the City of Halbe itself – I remember two towns in the vicinity, villages actually, called “Kausche” and “Greifenhain”. I remember both places quite vividly, albeit with gaps in-between.
Kausche first. We had landed there after a harrowing escape from Poland, right before Warschau fell to the Soviets in 1944. We were desperately trying to reach the gates of Berlin, but we got stuck in this village called Kausche.
In those desperate last weeks of the war, refugees were flooding everything and often sleeping in the churches, schools, or even outside by the road, but we had lucked out – the mayor of Kausche had assigned us to a single room at the end of a barn which might have been the servants living quarters in days past. One small, smoky room – but at the very least, we had shelter.
The four of us shared our quarters with a hugely pregnant woman called Frau Weber and her chubby daughter, Erika, age ten.
The main house was opposite us, and to the side was a third building that I remember only because a young German soldier, for some reason never explained to his hysterical mother who tried to save his life, was willy-nilly executed on its steps a few weeks later by some Russian. He was left lying on those steps for days, for no one was permitted to touch him.
But I am getting ahead of my tale. It may seem strange today, but in those chilly April days of 1945, we all still believed that the war could be won by the Germans – and would be won in no time! That’s what Dr. Goebbels still promised in a widely broadcast radio message, most likely his last – and doubt would have been heresy.
Frau Weber’s husband was at the Eastern front and believed missing. He had come home on furlough, and now she was expecting and waiting to give birth. Erika and I had formed a somewhat guarded friendship, because Erika – a big girl for her age – shamelessly bossed me around.
I was skinny and scrawny, no match for Erika. I both admired and loathed Erika, for she was quite pretty in an aggressively flaunting way, which made me ill at ease. She once pulled up her sweater and showed off what was happening already to her chest – two tiny buds the size of small cherries. Nothing like that could be found on my chest, which was clearly a serious shortcoming.
The next memory I have is that the horizon in the distance turned suddenly a very fiery red. I am not talking about some puny little sunset – it was wall-to-wall red, the most spectacular sunset on earth! Somebody surmised with a frown that perhaps Berlin might have been set on fire by yet another bombing raid.
In retrospect I do not know if what we saw burning was Berlin or if it was another city nearby that was being bombed to shreds by the Allies. We saw this horizon, set aflame by the enemies of what we called our Vaterland, night after night after night – for weeks, as I remember it!
Then a distant rumbling started, and we could see huge clouds of black smoke bulging in the East. It sounded and it looked as though a thunderstorm was heading toward us.
At that point Frau Weber announced in her blustery way that she was about to give birth. She left Erika in Oma’s care and walked on foot to wherever she needed to go, and on foot she came back after another few days, carrying a little mewling something that Erika announced was her new baby sister, whose name I have forgotten. Maybe it never had a name? At any rate, Erika was preening herself, which made me even more jealous of her.
Very shortly afterwards, Erika and I were “playing marbles”, as we called our little game – flipping little glass beads in the dirt – when we noticed a small troop of civilians come racing down the road. A woman with two teenage boys and several small girls, each on a bicycle, stopped near us, out of breath, and shrieked at us that we should run:
“The Russians are coming! The Russians are just about here!” The Russians were already at the outskirts of Kausche, they told us, knees flying and lips trembling, and they were pillaging, burning, raping, murdering whatever happened to be in their path!
Erika and I just stood there, staring. They jumped back on their bicycles and took off like some people possessed.
Run we did – but not very far. I don’t remember if I ran with my family or if it was just Erika and me – but what I do remember, clearly, is that we made it to the outskirts of a forest, and there, with his back against a tree, sat a dead German soldier, nicely uniformed, doubled over, still cradling in his lap the head an equally dead comrade who lay sideways in the grass, legs sprawling awkwardly.
After that, there is a blank. Maybe a day? Maybe only hours?
In my next memory I find myself again in our little room at the end of that old barn in Kausche. The room was filled with maybe a dozen other people, mostly young women and girls in their teens – and my Oma was wrestling with Frau Weber who was stabbing the air with a knife, announcing – shrieking like a banschee – that she would slaughter her baby.
Oma later told me that Frau Weber’s mind had snapped in two from the horror of it all – and horror it was, unimaginable horror, that now kept pouring into our room, non-stop, for more than a day and a night. The door had been kicked open, and hordes of “Russians”, slit-eyed, grinning, kept pushing in, grabbing the girls, grabbing the women, even grabbing the still bleeding Frau Weber and wrestling them all to the floor.
I am talking about several dozen “Russian” soldiers – Mongolians, actually, in Soviet uniforms – who had been recruited by Stalin at gun point to take revenge on Germany, as Ilya Ehrenburg, the Jewish-Soviet propaganda minister, had urged them in many a broadcast: “Kill! Kill! And kill! Nobody is innocent. Nobody! Nobody! Neither the living nor the yet unborn!”
I am talking mass rape. Serial raping. Non-stop!
I did not see any of this. I was told about it later, after I was old enough to understand. My Oma had me in an iron grip, pressing my head against her sweater, thus covering my eyes. She rocked and rocked and rocked. I don’t remember that she cried or even sobbed. I remember her as being silent, but she was trembling.
Violently. Rocking. With my nose against her breasts, I did not see a thing, but she saw it all, and she survived it all – and never again did she talk about what she saw and experienced that night – or in the many nights to come.
I know today she saw her daughter, my pretty young mother, violated on the floor right at her feet, with Soviet soldiers taking turn with her, holding other girls and other women, raping them non-stop – with ever new swarms of Soviets pouring in and taking over where the previous ones left off. In the madness of it all, our building was hit by a shell, killing two goats, I believe. In the room itself, there were some punches thrown and some teeth lost, but no killings. Only rape. Non-stop rape. Assembly line rape of young German girls, young German women by some Asians in Soviet uniforms.
The next memory I have is that all of a sudden, out of nowhere, our yard was flooded with some German troops who had briefly broken through the front and were fighting to make it to what they still believed was safety in Berlin. I remember this day as the 20th of April – Hitler’s birthday. I am not sure about this date, but I do know with certainty that it was around the time of April 20th. I can still hear Dr. Goebbels’ reassuring voice from the radio.
Our saviors! As happened countless times before, ever since we had left the Ukraine in the fall of 1941, those German boys and German men had bravely fought their way to us – at their expense, at their inconvenience, at great costs to life and limb, to save us! That’s what we then believed, and what I still believe.
My Oma, that stoic, collected, deeply religious women, grabbed one of those sent by her German Lord in German uniform and clung to him and cried and cried and cried. He awkwardly patted her back and said, “Omalein, don’t cry! Don’t cry! Please just don’t cry – we’re here!”
In that Library of Congress in Washington, D.C,., decades later, I read that that troop of young boys who had broken through the Russian front and very briefly occupied the village of Kausche, were murdered almost to a man. They never had a chance. In what was next to come, they were just pulverized!
Then, suddenly, don’t ask me how, we found ourselves atop a German vehicle, part of a long, long convoy of fleeing troops mixed with civilians whom they were picking up along the road in a mad scramble of escape. In retrospect, that vehicle now seems to me a cross between a jeep and truck; I don’t know what it was called – an LKW? Lastkraftwagen? We were huddling in the back, covered by a canvass, maybe a dozen of us, civilians mostly, but including a man with a very bloodied turban on his head. The four of us – Oma, Mama, Wally, and I – were still together, crouching in that vehicle, heading into the Greifenhain Forest.
It was slow going, because we were being shot at from every direction, constantly – several times the shelling ripped right through the canvass, and all of us expertly ducked. It was still chilly; my Oma had wrapped herself in a blanket, which later was found to have several shell or bullet holes. Miraculously, she was not struck, nor were we. How the four of us escaped that Greifenhain Forest, unscathed, is beyond me!
Our first driver was struck and instantly killed. We had to jump down. We were almost immediately swept up by the next vehicle and taken a bit deeper into that forest – until that driver, too, was killed. In my memory, this happened three or four times because either the driver was hit, or the vehicle became immobilized by the shelling.
In no time at all, the entire road was rammed with abandoned vans and trucks, dead soldiers and a few civilians left and right, bullets and shells flying every which way, a few of us still staggering along in military vehicles at snail’s pace. Intermittently, the call went out from front to back, from vehicle to vehicle: “Panzer nach vorn! Panzer nach vorn!” Panzer to the fore! There finally appeared one of those monsters on chains, pushing ahead past stalled vehicles, grinding the dead on the road right into the dust – that was the last, still-moving German Panzer that we saw.
What happened next was wholesale slaughter lasting a day and a night – at least that’s what the article in Washington, D.C. explained. The remnant Wehrmacht was surrounded totally, still with a handful of civilians in their midst. In the 1980s in Washington, D.C., I read about that slaughter at a time when the city was getting ready to inaugurate Ronald Reagan. That was the first time that I really understood what happened in that Greifenhain Forest.
Somehow I was separated from my family that day, or maybe later in the night, in a mad, mad scramble for survival – I have no memory of the details. None! There is a blank spot in my brain where memory should be. I have completely wiped it out! It’s gone!
I was later told that, after having been lost in that Greifenhain Forest for an entire day and night, I found my way into an abandoned farm house at the outskirts of the Greifenheim Forest where my family had run. How I got there, I don’t know. Oma told me that, for an entire week, I could not speak a word. I would just sit on the steps of that farm house and rock. I can still describe it to you.
This farm house was abandoned by its owners – we never found out what happened to them. Now it provided some shelter of sorts not only to the four of us but to what seems to me in retrospect to have been fifty, sixty wounded German soldiers who had either crawled inside with their last strength or had been dragged there on their legs by Mama and Oma once the shelling had died down.
One of them was so badly wounded that he only made it into the hall, where he begged to leave him be, to let him die. Throughout that horror-filed night, with my mother repeatedly being pulled out by the Soviets to have their way with her, my grandmother would check on that dying boy in the hall. At one point he begged for a container so he could urinate. She found an empty fruit jar to assist him. It filled to the brim almost twice. In all his pain, this dying boy had held his urine for the longest time so as not to embarrass himself.
For a few weeks, that dwelling housed not only maimed and wounded German soldiers but a group of chattering Russians who had set up some kind of Headquarters’ Command. By then, the war had ended, but nobody ever told us. There were dead soldiers lying simply everywhere – in the farm house itself, in the front yard, on the steps, in the garden, outside the stone arch gate that was stuffed to the very top with the bodies of dead German soldiers to keep us inside and to keep the outside out. I remember their arms and heads hanging down – dozens of arms, overlapping, heads dangling.
The bodies that were lying around did not scare me – there were simply too many of them, and we got used to them. The story in my family is that one day my little sister was found sitting on the legs of a dead soldier, serenely playing with a little porcelain doll she had found. “My little dollie says Heil Hitler,” the four-year-old said to a Russian who happened to pass by, and Oma held her breath, but he just laughed uproariously and patted Wally’s head.
There were so many dead, with no one left to bury them, that they were around far into the summer. I remember one, behind a hedge, who had been flattened completely by a panzer. The bloody outline of that victim was still there for weeks after all the shooting stopped, and whenever we passed, a huge swarm of flies would lift up. By then, the days were warm and getting hot, and the stench of so many bodies was just about unbearable.
So here we were, sharing somebody’s farmhouse with about a dozen Russians and many, many wounded soldiers. My mother was repeatedly pulled out by some lout to be raped, again and again, hundreds of times in the weeks and months to come. My grandmother, meanwhile, cooked for the wounded Germans as well as for the Russians. She had found some oatmeal and some canned stuff in the cellar and every day managed a watery soup.
I remember one German trooper, particularly – a young boy whose chin had been sheared off. He would dip his whole grotesquely wounded face into the oatmeal and try to lap some of it up like a dog. Blood and pus would drip from the hole, where once his chin had been, right into his bowl of oatmeal. He was merely one of many, horribly hurt.
The farm house was full with the maimed and the dying; the hall was full; the shed across the yard was full of them, hurting and bleeding but eerily quiet – except at night when some back in the shed, within the straw, still sang some haunting melodies. It seems unreal, absurd – but that is exactly what happened!
If you were in that war, you know that Germans always sang. Now you will hardly ever hear the Germans sing because their souls are dead – but then they still sang, very softly, at least a few of them. “Lily Marlene” drifted right into the room where I slept by an open window so I could strain to listen to them sing.
One day, the Russians decided that whoever was still able to walk should line up and be marched off to somewhere. Some did – others, too wounded, refused. Not long after that, we heard shots, one after the other. I don’t remember if anybody checked what was going on not far from my window in a ravine. I have no idea what happened to the rest of the men in the straw.
I should also tell you about what happened to Frau Weber. My Oma discovered her in the days to come in her search for wounded soldiers – and later on for food. Frau Weber was dead, Oma said. Only half-buried. Her lower body was covered with earth, but her upper body and her head were still recognizable.
Then someone steered Erika to us who told us that, after her mother was hit by a shell, she had grabbed the baby out of her arms and ran. She said she did not know what to do with the child, and she could not clearly remember what happened to it – she thought that she had lost it somewhere. Erika was only ten years old but, as I said, quite chubby and looking mature – and she had been raped, many times. In later years, I would sometimes be reminded by my mother how lucky I was – I was scroungy and skinny, and nobody ever touched me. At least not to my knowledge!
Somebody told my mother later that Erika was last seen last in a transport of Russian-German refugees who were sent back to Russia. This post-war operation is known to history as Keelhaul, whereby the Allies turned the ethnic Germans from the Black Sea, who had been briefly saved by Germans, right back to Stalin – to do with as he pleased. Not many did survive Siberia.
Our family escaped Keelhaul by a hair’s width – by fleeing one cold night across the border at the Harzgebirge into the British sector. That is another story for another time. I have described it, briefly, in my first novel called The Wanderers.
Why did I tell this story now? It seems that, every year, there is a group of German patriots who organize a quiet Memorial Walk in honor of the last ones who fought and died on German soil in the massacre called Battle of Halbe. This simple gesture of respect of honoring one’s dead is not as easy as it sounds in Zionist-besotted Germany, for it is far from certain that they will get a permit.
Source: Veterans Today