That night, as we tried to sleep, we worried about the SS teacher. Our sleep was interrupted anyway by the passage through town of another wagon train. We heard It rumbling along the road as the iron bands on the wooden wheels bumped over the cobblestones. Siegie and I looked from our darkened room out into the night. We saw the blue lighted lanterns bobbing and weaving where they hung from the wagons. We knew the wagon train was a refugee wagon train because refugees usually traveled only at night and because the government required night traveling wagon trains to put blue filters on their lanterns. The government required a blue light instead of red or yellow because night flying planes couldn't see blue from the air.
The next morning, instead of a wagon train from the east, a truck convoy from the west entered Oberhof. An Army group called Organization TOT pulled into Oberhof. Organization TOT's trucks were large trucks of the type used in construction work. When a driver started one, the sound reverberated throughout Oberhof. On the day TOT arrived, its soldiers started construction work on defense positions around Oberhof. When Siegie and I walked home from school, we stopped to talk to one of the TOT soldiers.
I asked, Hey, soldier, what are you making here?" He said, Panzer traps."
"Tank traps?" I asked as I wrinkled my face.
"Oh yeah. Tank traps and machine gun nests," he grunted as he shoveled dirt out of the hole he was digging.
"But, why? We don't have any tanks or machine guns around here."
"That may be true today," he grunted again, "but, it probably won't be true tomorrow or the next day."
I looked at Siegie. His mouth hung open. I asked the soldier, "Tomorrow or the next day? Why?"
"Because this area Is about to become a war zone." The hair stood up on my neck. I raised my eyebrows. I asked, "A war zone?"
"Oh yeah. Haven't you been having wagon trains come through here?"
"Well, sure. Two or three have been through."
"Well," he straightened and leaned on his shovel, "a war zone always follows the wagon trains. We're getting this area ready for the war."
Siegie and I didn't even tell the soldier thank you. We turned around and ran for Grandfather's house. We found Grandfather oiling some farm equipment. We told him what we had just learned. As he questioned us about what the soldier had said, an ominous rumble crept over the conversation. We turned to look toward the road. We saw another wagon train rattling through Oberhof in broad daylight.
The lead wagon carried a banner that announced the name of the city where the wagon train had originated. We watched as the lead wagon pulled over to the side of the road. The name on the wagon was that of a town in eastern Germany, a place which had been in Poland. The wagon driver dismounted and walked up to Grandfather's house. He asked Grandfather in a rough German if he could borrow some food for his horses.
Grandfather said, "I'll sell you some."
The man winced.
"On the other hand, III trade you some hay.”
"Mister, everything I have in the world is on that wagon."
"I don't want your possessions. I want your information."
"Information about what?"
"Everything! About everything that has happened on the road since you left your home."
The man nodded, "That's fair. What do you want to know first?"
"I want to know why everyone is afraid of falling into the hands of the Russians?"
"Ah, now that's a good item, friend," the man nodded again. "The Russians are brutal. They want revenge against any German, or German ally. They're brutal to any nation that has not sided with Russia in the war against Germany."
"Why would they want revenge? For what? What makes the Russians so feared?"
The man squinted his eyes. He said, "I was told that six hundred thousand Russian men, women and children died of starvation because of the great German offensive. The Russians want revenge."
"What do they do? Torture people?"
"Worse than that, friend. They rape all the women."
Grandfather's voice rose, "Rape the women?" He shouted, "Rape all the women?"
"Yes!" The man shouted back, "They have been given two weeks in any town or country they capture where they can do anything to anybody without fear of punishment."
"My God!" Grandfather shook his head, "That's obscene."
"It's the truth," the man nodded brusquely.
Grandfather loaded a basket with straw for the man's horses. He carried it to the man's wagon. As the horses ate, Grandfather questioned the man. When the horses had finished eating, the man climbed back on his wagon. The wagon train continued its crawl along the road.
Siegie said, "I'm going home to tell Mom what we found out."
Grandfather motioned to me to stay behind. After Siegie was far enough away that he couldn't hear, Grandfather said, "I want you to help me bury some things."
I said I would, and as I started to leave, Grandfather and I saw an Army convoy coming from town. The convoy was the Wehrmacht unit stationed in Oberhof. All their equipment was loaded, headed east for the front. Grandfather and I watched them leave. He shook his head. He had a sad look on his face.
When I returned after supper, he had several boxes of silverware and china, and he had a sofa on the back of his wagon. He drove into his woods to a place where Siegie and I played war. Previously, we had dug a hole in the ground that we used for a make believe-machine gun nest. Grandfather had already scooped it out deeper. When we arrived at the hole, I helped him unload his boxes and his sofa.
I asked, "Grandfather, why do you want to bury all this stuff?"
"Because I don't want the Russians to get it when we leave."
"So," I grinned. "we're definitely going to make a run for it?" The idea of making a run for it was exciting to me.
"Are we going to bury everything in your house?"
"Nope. I'll be taking only the things Grandmother needs to set up housekeeping, and I'll be taking some plows in case we have to stay anywhere for very long. Then, after the war, we'll be back."
"And we'll dig up this stuff? Kind of like a treasure hunt?"
"Yah," he said again. "I've had you come with me because I might not... because of the war, Grandmother and I might get...." He stopped digging and put his hand on my shoulder.
I smelled his work hardened hand on my shoulder. I smelled his clothes. He said, "Well, Manny, let's just say your memory is better than mine." He winked at me. He said, "Just be sure to remember where we have buried It."
"Then we can dig it up, together?"
"Good enough. We'll do it just that way." We finished burying the stuff and returned to his farmhouse in time to see another wagon train weaving its way through Oberhof.
The wagon train's blue lights stretched into the darkness to the east in a wavy line like a slow-moving snake. The steady grinding noise of its pas...