Siegie and I re-entered school at Oberhof. I went back to the woman's class. Siegie was stuck with the SS teacher again. When we showed up for school, and the students saw our mementos of the Berlin bombing, we became the heroes of the day. We displayed our souvenirs and passed them around the classroom. We spent half of the school day telling about the bombing and our escape.
The Berlin bombing and the appearance of the Army marked a very noticeable change in the peaceful and serene life around Oberhof. The Army stationed anti-aircraft guns around Oberhof. Those guns were manned by women. The women were pretty good gunners, too. They shot down a number of allied planes. When the pilots bailed out of their crippled planes, the women shot them down too. When the enemy bombers and fighters escaped the anti-aircraft gunners, we watched our fighter planes attack them. Several times, during school, the teachers stopped classes so that we might watch those aerial dogfights. Whenever we saw a plane shoot down another, we cheered. Because we sometimes cheered for the wrong winner, the SS teacher taught us how to recognize our planes and the enemy's planes.
The SS teacher was a strange mixture of bravado and hurt pride dressed In an Imposing black SS uniform. He had lost a hand in battle and had a metal clamp at the end of his arm. Instead of being allowed to fight the enemy, he was made to teach children.
He did succeed in teaching us to recognize enemy planes. He taught us that our planes, the Luftwaffe, had a cross on them. The Russians had a red star, the Americans a white star and the British a circle. Whenever we saw a plane with a star or a circle go down, we could cheer. We learned that lesson quickly.
Even though I felt secure and safe at Grandfather's home. I didn't get to enjoy that feeling long. When Siegie and I came home from school one afternoon, Grandfather and Grandmother were not around. We walked into the bedroom we shared with Mom and Luther. Our suitcases lay on the bed.
I asked, "Why are our suitcases out, Mom? Are we going to take a trip?"
She said, "We're moving."
Astonished, Siegie asked, "Why'?"
Calmly, she replied, "I've made arrangements for us down the street. We're moving to our own apartment."
Sounding like a kid who's having fun and has just been told to go to bed, Siegie asked. "But why?"
Before Mom could answer, I asked, "When are we moving?"
With determination, she said, "I'll tell you why we're moving after we get there. Siegie, Manny, we're going now. Pick up your suitcases, and let's go."
Siegie tried again, "But, Mom, what about….”
She interrupted him. She said, "I don't want to explain now. I want to go." She picked up her and Luther's suitcase. She took Luther's hand. She ordered, "Pick up your suitcases and march!"
We picked up our suitcases and marched.
We moved out of Grandfather's home and down the street to an apartment at the next farm house. We were still within shouting distance of Grandfather's house, but we were now in an apartment of our own, just like in Berlin.
We still stopped by Grandmother's every day after school for a glass of milk and a cookie. After the cookie, we went down the street to our apartment. In the evenings, we went back to Grandfather's to listen to the radio. The news on the German stations was always about the war. The announcers claimed victories everywhere. Grandfather let several neighbors listen to the broadcasts.
After the news broadcasts ended and the neighbors left, Grandfather turned down the kerosene lamps. He shut the windows and doors. He listened to broadcasts from other radio stations. The broadcasts were in German, most of the time, but they gave a different picture of the war scene. He always admonished us not to reveal what we heard on the broadcasts or that we were listening to them because we could get into serious trouble.
After listening to the radio, we returned to our apartment. The apartment was a little bigger than the one in Berlin. It didn't have a bathroom inside of it either. We had an outhouse about fifty yards behind the house, and we used it regardless of the weather.
Not long after we moved into our apartment, an SS detachment arrived at Oberhof. They took over the baron's mansion. They put their organization's sign on the front of the building. They moved boxes of ammunition and weapons into the mansion. Whenever they walked down the street, the people of Oberhof either stayed indoors or got off the street and out of the way. The SS's arrival was more ominous and unsettling when it was followed by the appearance of the first refugee wagon train.
When I saw the first one, I was standing in front of Grandfather's barn with him. I was holding the reins of one of the horses while Grandfather worked on its horseshoe. I saw the wagon train moving at a crawl along the road. I said, "Wow! Where did they come from?"
Grandfather straightened and looked at the wagons. He said, "I don't know, somewhere east of here, it looks like. Let's go see." We walked the horse to the road.
The wagons were of all sizes. The refugees drove big four-wheeled ones stacked to overflowing, little two-wheeled ones stacked to overflowing, and medium sized ones stacked to overflowing.
They carried furniture, clothing and equipment. Some of the people were in cars with trailers attached. Every vehicle was so overloaded that each was weighed down to the axle. They rocked, clattered and squeaked over the cobblestones making a continual creaking noise. Grandfather stood on the side of the road watching them.
He said, "Good afternoon," in German to each of them. Some of the people just nodded. Others didn't speak at all. They all looked tired and worried. The wagon train pulled over to the side of the road and stopped.
Grandfather put his hand on my shoulder and said, "Come on." We walked along the road toward the rear of the wagon train. He spoke to each person we came to. Most of the time, he spoke German, but a couple of times, he spoke in a language I didn't know. Finally, when we arrived near the end of the line, a man on a wagon spoke back to him and said in accented German, "Afternoon, Sir."
Grandfather asked, "You speak German?"
"Yes, I speak a little."
"Where're you from?"
Grandfather's eyebrows jumped up a couple of inches on his forehead. He asked, "Czechoslovakia?"
"The same." The man nodded his head.
"My God, man! How long have you been traveling?" "Weeks. We came up the east side of the Oder."
"But, where are you going?"
The man waved his arm toward the west, "Somewhere west of here, in Germany, so that we can surrender to the British or the Americans."
The man looked at Grandfather strangely. He said, "We don't want to fall into the hands of the Russians.
Grandfather studied the man for a few seconds. Finally, he asked, "Are the Russians about to take Czechoslovakia?"
The man raised his eyebrows and shrugged. He pursed his lips and, as if he were repeating something that was common knowledge, said, "They have taken it. They're coming this way."
Grandfather looked down at me. He said in a low voice, "That confirms what the foreign radio broadcasts have been saying." He looked back at the man and asked, "But, why do you want to surrender to the allies?"
The wagon train started moving again. Grandfather shouted after the man over the rising noise of the moving wagons, "Why don't you want to fall into Russian hands?"
The man shouted something back over the clatter of the wagon train that I couldn't understand. The wagon train creaked and clattered along the road and out the other side of Oberhof. Grandfather stood for a few minutes watching the wagons. His arms were crossed over his chest as he thought.
"What's wrong, Grandfather'?"
"Bad news, son. Just bad news." He dropped his arms to his side. He said, "Let's go talk to Grandmother." We went to the house. He told Grandmother about what he had learned. He said, "We may have to think about leaving here, Mother."
She had been baking and had flour all over her hands. She stopped for a minute, holding her hands loosely in front of her, as Grandfather spoke.
He said, "If we do, I can bury some of our stuff, but I can't get all our stuff and Erna's and the boys' belongings on my wagon. If we have to leave, I'll have to arrange transportation for them."
She nodded her head in agr...