As I ran for the outhouse, the roar of the engine on the Russian fighter plane filled the air. I knew he was shooting at me because I could hear the rat-a-tat-a-tat-tat of his machine guns, and I could hear the whack-whack-whack of the bullets as they chewed up the moist earth behind me. I jumped into the outhouse and slammed the door on the one-holer. I covered my face with my hands and cringed as I heard the bullets tearing up the path to the outhouse. I thought, God, what a place to die. Please don't let me die here. I'm too young to die! My stomach quivered. As I sat there cringing, I wondered how the world ever got to be this way. I knew for sure that in my nine-year-old memory, on that day in Oberhof. Germany. in I945 that things had been better than this. Being buried alive in a Berlin basement had been better than this.
I remembered that a few miles to the north in Altdamn, just a few years ago, in late I938, every day had seemed like a Sunday or a holiday to me. I had been little over three years old then, and one of the most pleasant and earliest memories I had was of that winter when my older brother. Siegfried, got sick with the measles. My parents sent me to stay with Grandfather Eduard Kaiter at his farm near Oberhof, in northeastern Germany, about 70 miles northeast of Berlin. The memory is very clear to me, and it's easy to remember because of the many sleigh rides Grandfather took me on.
Grandfather was very good at working with wood. He had built his horse drawn sleigh by hand. He had put sleigh bells on the sleigh and on the horses' harnesses. When he was ready for a ride, he would load up my aunts, my cousins and me, and we would go zipping through the forest and across the farm fields. For me it was a joyous time.
Grandfather Eduard wasn't a large man. He stood about five feet and seven Inches tall. He was of Cossack descent. He had a small face with a pointed nose. His hair was dark, and he wore a large grey mustache. I loved being around Grandfather. I loved the smell of his hands and his clothing. His hands always smelled like wood, or leather, or horses, and his clothes always smelled fresh from the outdoors where he worked on his farm. His farm was a horse farm where he raised horses for the Army of the Third Reich, the Wehrmacht, in support of the war effort.
While I was at his farm, I saw a picture on his living room wall a group of men in the Cossack Cavalry. When he saw me looking at the picture, he pointed to a person in the picture and said, "That's your grandfather, me." Pointing at the Cossack hat and clothing. In the picture, he asked, “Isn't that snappy? Isn't that hat better than a hat with a pointy thing on top of it?" He was referring to the pointed hat the Prussian Army wore. During the reign of Kaiser Wilhelm, Cossacks had fought the Kaiser's forces to a draw. Grandfather Eduard always claimed that the Cossacks had won. Of course, I always agreed with him that the Cossack uniform looked snappy.
That December Grandfather and I, and a couple of aunts and a cousin, took Christmas presents in the sleigh from his farm house to my parents' apartment in Altdamn, a ride of about fifteen miles. I remember the woods in that part of Germany as being very unique. Originally, there had been no forests in that area. During the reign of the Kaiser, however, the government had required the landowners to plant groves of trees every other twenty acres. The trees had been planted on a grid pattern, and Inside the grid they were all spaced evenly apart. The Interesting thing for me was that the land was relatively flat, and I could sit in the sleigh in the middle of a section of forest and see a thin strip of light reflected off the snow at the end of the forest on all sides. The tree limbs had been cleared from the tree trunks up as high as a man could reach. The landowners were allowed to prune the trees that way for firewood, but they couldn't cut down the trees without special permission. The trip through the forest was very exciting among the trees with the snow and the bells. The excitement ended for me when we arrived In Altdamn.
My brother had recovered from the measles by then, but I contracted the mumps. My parents and grandparents told me that I could not stay at home because I might give the baby the mumps. When I complained that I was the baby of the family, they told me that a new baby was coming. It would be bad for me to give the new baby the mumps when it arrived. The announcement of the baby was unwelcome news to me, but my father made the situation bearable for me by permitting me to recuperate at Grandpa Emil Gutknecht's townhouse in Altdamn. Grandpa Emil was my mother's father.
The stay at Grandpa Emil's townhouse was not as pleasant as the stay at Grandfather Eduard's farm. Grandpa Emil was stiffer than Grandfather Eduard. Grandpa was a retired Prussian soldier. In early I939, he was still very tall, very erect. He was about six feet and two Inches tall, had receding blond hair, and when he walked, he walked just like a fence post: straight up and down. Grandpa also had a large mustache that he was very proud of. He kept it waxed and curled to a neat point on each side.
Grandma Gutknecht always seemed to be knitting. She couldn't see very well, and I was always amazed that she could knit without looking. She didn't play much with me. She wasn't well enough. She and Grandpa lived on the top floor of a townhouse building. Their place was large, and I spent time exploring the rooms.
Grandpa had a picture on his living room wall, too. It was of a Prussian Army unit. When he saw me looking at it, he pointed to a man in the picture and said, "That's your Grandpa Emil. Just look at that uniform. Look at how that hat comes to a sharp point. Now isn't that better than a floppy Cossack hat?" Of course, I always agreed with Grandpa Emil that the pointed Prussian hat looked better than the floppy Cossack hat.
How could I disagree with either of my two grandfathers? My two middle names came from them. When I was born on November 21, 1935, both grandfathers wanted me to have their first names. They argued over it. My mother settled the argument. She said, "I'm going to name him. I named his brother Siegfried. I'm going to name him Manfred." That settled my first name. Even so, they both wanted me to have their first names as my middle name. They continued to argue about which of their names should come first as a middle name. They finally had to draw straws. My name came out as Manfred Eduard Emil Kaiter.
I recovered from the mumps in the spring of I939. Not long after that, the ground began to thaw. That part of I939 was special to me, too, because the zoo opened again. We went frequently to the zoo and to the park. The zoo stands out clearly in my memory as being brown and green. All the gates and fences, and the little bridges over the streams with their guard rails, were made of unfinished pine poles with the bark still on. The cages and the bars on the cages were also made of pine rails with the bark still on. The zoo was rather large and had several green meadows within Its boundaries. It had a creek with swans.
The Altdamn park was where I swallowed the money. Everyone was concerned about how things were going to come out.
We celebrated Easter in the park with an Easter egg hunt. Siegie and I received our Easter baskets with candy and eggs inside. The folks usually gave us chocolate candy formed in the shape of coins and covered with silver and gold foil. Sometimes the chocolate was shape...