There it was. They had me. I took a deep breath and prepared to step forward. Behind me, I heard a tearful David shout, “You can’t blame me for that. It was my father’s idea.”
His confession surprised me so badly that I almost fell forward. In total surprise, I turned to look at David. The Headmaster spoke behind me as he laid a work hardened hand on my shoulder, “It’s alright, Manfred. You couldn’t have known. We were just as surprised as you when we found out.” I was so relieved that I didn’t even ask what he had done. The headmaster gave me a piece of folded paper and said, “When you and your brigade get to Berlin, find this man and give him this piece of paper. You should have some work to do!”
My work brigade and I left the Head Master’s office and headed for the dormitory. We walked in stunned silence. In the dorm rooms, we packed our things. We left nothing behind to show that we were ever there. The new students for next year would have clean rooms to live in.
On the train, the other four guys in the brigade sat quietly discussing David. One by one, they admitted to doing or saying things with their parents that caused them to fear exposure just as I had feared. Finally, they asked me if I hadn’t been afraid. I turned their question over in my mind, had I been afraid? What could I say to them that wouldn’t take the rest of the train trip? Without opening myself up to trouble what could I tell them about running from the Russians from Oberhof to Castle Willigrad. Or the events at Willigrad with the Russians stealing from us, or the German Army trucks that we took stuff from, or the friendships with the Americans, or the boat my dad built to escape the party members he had criticized, or my conversation with my Grandfather when he told me to go to the Americas. Instead, to deflect their curiosity, I said that I was afraid they were going to get me for raising too many rabbits and not telling the party members about it. They laughed, and I told the story of how Grandfather talked me into raising rabbits when we were all starving, but I didn’t tell him about Grandfather’s secret piglets.
We arrived in Berlin late in the afternoon and immediately began looking for apartments to rent. Much of Berlin had been restored, although not all of it, and rental space was scarce. The guys asked me why was it that I knew so much about Berlin. I simply told them I lived there before it was bombed out. I didn’t tell them about being buried alive in a basement, or the melted cannon. The memory was just to hard for me to talk about. In spite of that we wound up in a basement. We rented a two-bedroom apartment, five guys in a two-bedroom apartment. Oh, brother! But at least we would be able to afford it.
The next morning, we were up early. The bathroom was down the hallway. We had to share it with the landlady and her young daughter. I stood in line to shave, to bathe, and to do other things. I determined that I was going to buy a wash basin and a mirror the first chance I got so that I could heat water on the kitchen stove in the mornings and shave without standing in line and waiting.
When we were all ready that first morning, we took a trolley to the address the Head Master had written on the paper he had given me. We walked about two hundred meters from the trolley stop to the worksite. Several armed Russian soldiers were walking around guarding something, I didn’t know what they were guarding. It wasn’t obvious. We started to walk onto the worksite, and immediately, a Russian guard cane over to us. He pointed his rifle at us and told us to stop.