After a while the air seemed to stop going out, but the basement became very hot. A couple of hours passed before the old man peeled the blanket away from the edge of the door. He walked back across the room and felt of the air coming in the window. He nodded his head in a brusque affirmative, returned to the door and took the blanket down.
Someone shouted, "Hey! Aren't you going to stop the air from going out?"
The old man shrugged his shoulders. He said, "No need to. The air is as hot in here as It is outside, but we can breathe it.,
He tried again to open the door. When he found that he couldn't budge the door, he said, "Something is blocking it from the other side." He held a conference with a couple of the men. They decided to take turns knocking on the door in Morse code to attract attention. The old man pulled a bench over to the door and sat down. He started knocking. He and the other two beat on the door throughout that night while the rest of us tried to sleep.
While we had set in the basement and endured the bruising of the bombardment, both sets of my grandparents had been awakened by the shaking earth back in Altdamn and Oberhof. In Oberhof Grandfather Eduard got out of bed and went to his bedroom window. When he saw the horizon lighted up as if it were on fire, he called to Grandmother, "Emma, come and look."
She saw the glow and asked, "I wonder what has been bombed?"
Grandfather Eduard said, "It's got to be Berlin. That's the only thing big enough in that direction."
Grandmother put her hand to her mouth. She said, "Erna and the boys are there."
"Yes," Grandfather nodded. He had already thought beyond that. "They're going to need help. They might be injured. I think I had better go get them." He started to pull on his clothes. He said, "Mother, put together some food, water, and blankets for five people for about a week. I'm going to get the horses and the wagon ready."
Grandmother put on her robe and went to the kitchen.
In Altdamn, Grandpa and Grandma Gutknecht both saw the burning horizon. Grandpa Emil knew instantly what it was. He said, "The Allies have bombed Berlin, and from the look of it, it's bad.
"Erna and the boys went there for the parade."
Grandma Gutknecht started to cry softly, "My baby, my baby." She stopped and remembered, "We have Luther, but Siegie and Manny are with her. What do you think has happened to them?"
"I don't know, Mama," Grandpa Emil said, "but I'm going to find out."
"But, how can you? We don't have car. How can you get there?"
"It doesn't matter. I'm going. If I have to, I’ll ride the bicycle, or I'll walk, but I'm going." He started to dress. He said, "I need for you to fix some food, in a rucksack, and some water. Enough for me for a few days. Make it a week."
She made her way to the kitchen. She was through quickly. She took the rucksack to Grandpa Emil. With tears in her eyes, she said, "Be careful, Papa. Bring them back."
He said, "One way or the other, I'll bring them back." He got on his bicycle and left for Berlin.
At Grandfather Eduard's farm, near sunrise, Grandfather had finally gathered a couple of shovels and a pickaxe. He was loading them on the wagon when Grandmother brought out the last of the food she had prepared. Grandfather loaded it onto the wagon. He turned to her and said, "I don't know what I’ll find when I get there," he waved toward Berlin, "but I'm not coming back without them." He kissed her, climbed on his wagon and left for Berlin.
Somewhere along the way, Grandpa Emil and Grandfather Eduard caught up with each other. Grandfather Eduard offered Grandpa Emil a ride on the wagon. Emil accepted. They didn't say much as they rode along together.
By the end of the first day in the basement, our entombment was clear to us. The old man told us we were trapped. He told us we could wait to be found and dug out, or we could get ourselves out. He said, "I don't know when or even if, we will be found."
That was kind of hard for me to take. I had never been trapped underground before. I felt very small and insignificant. I had a wild desire to run over to the pickaxe, grab it and try to beat down the door with it. I really didn't like thinking about it.
I didn't have to think about it very long because right after the old man said he didn't know if we would be found, the man who had been chained to the wall started screaming that the walls were closing in on him. He started crying and throwing himself against the manacles. I didn't believe a Person could do that without hurting himself. The old man merely gave him another sedative.
I didn't have the first idea about what we should be doing, So I sat on the bench leaning forward with the others and expectantly watched the old man. He walked around in the yellow glare of his lantern. He walked from one end of the basement to the other, shining his lantern on the walls, the ceiling and the floor. As he walked in front of a woman with a baby, she stopped him and said, "Mister, I need some water to wash out this diaper and clean up my baby."
He looked at her for a few seconds. He said, "Madam, we have very little water down here, and I don't know how long we will be here. I can let you have a little for the diaper this once, but none after that for washing diapers." He gave her some water and then told all the basement occupants if they wanted to use the bathroom, they would have to go into the back corner of the other half of the basement. He put a pile of dirt from the fire control bin back in the other room which we could use to cover the waste. He put some lime back there for the same purpose.
As he continued his Inspection, he stopped just below the basement window. He stared at it for a while. He said, "Looks like that may be the best way of letting someone know we're down here." Someone asked him what he meant. He said, "I believe bricks from our building have collapsed and fallen outside the basement window. If that's true, then not just our building has collapsed, but possibly many of the buildings around us have also collapsed.
Many other people may need help just as we do, but we've got to find a way to attract attention to us. If other buildings have collapsed, then the rescue squads will start at the end of a street looking for the places where people may be alive, and that's where they will concentrate. If they don't know that we're here, they can't help us.
"I could be wrong, and we might be a few hours away from rescue, but I don't want to take a chance. We've got to move some of those bricks out of the way. We've got to attract attention to ourselves."
That brought some order to our situation. A man, who appeared to be in his late thirties, stood up and went over to stand beside the old man. He said, "It looks pretty solid up there," and he pointed at the bricks in the window. "How can we move them?"
The older man turned. He pointed at the pipes strung alone the ceiling. He said, "We're going to have to break some of those pipes loose and drive them through the bricks."
The younger man slowly shook his head. He said, "I don't know."
The older asked, "You have a better idea?"
The younger shook his head again. He studied the old man's face in the yellow lantern light. He peeled off his shirt. He asked, "What do you want me to do?"
"Come here." The older man went over to the axes and picked up one. He said, "We're going to have to use these axes to break the pipe. These are the only tools we have."
"Which pipe?" The younger reached up and tested a big cast iron pipe.
"Not that one. It's sewer."
The younger reached over and tested a pipe that was wrapped in insulation.
The older said, "Wait a minute. I think that's the steam delivery pipe." He walked down the hallway between the two basement rooms and into a door in the mechanical room. When he came back, he said, "Yes. It's the steam delivery pipe. We need to break the other pipe. It's the return pipe. It should be cool by now." He and the younger discussed procedure. Soon they were hacking away at the pipe.
Although we were still in the month of April when the air outside should have been very cool, the air coming into the basement was hot. The basement was hot, and the odor of human waste and sweat was foul. The old man had his shirt off, and sweat glistened on his and the young man's bodies. Two other older men helped them during the next two days as they strove to break the pipe free.
While the men worked on the pipe, Grandfather Eduard and Grandpa Emil had a difficult time getting into Berlin. The first problem was that the road had been bombed out in several places. Whenever they came upon a destroyed section, they took side roads. They traveled a great deal that way. When they were able to get back on the road, they were continually forced to pull over and wait for Army convoys to go by. Finally, someone in the Army told them to get off the highwa...