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Helmut



When Donnee was a short term patient in the Cowichan Lodge in Duncan, B.C. due to early Alzheimers , I was there each day to have lunch with her. At the table was an elderly German woman. Her husband came in also each day to have lunch with her and thus over the weeks I got to know him pretty well and he relayed the story of his youth in Hitler's Germany and time in the German 6th Army. To protect his privacy I will call him Helmut. Eventually at the age of eighteen he found himself in the blitzkrieg attack on Germany's former ally, the Soviet Union and he fought at the Volga River which he termed “the river of Hell.” In this campaign against Russia that ended with the German's route from Stalingrad, Germany lost two million men and Russia lost many more. The Sixth Army was cut in half by the Russians trapping 22 Nazi divisions in this battle for Stalingrad. Never to return, 65,000 German soldiers marched off to slave labour camps. This battle changed the direction of World War II and from this defeat the surviving Germans began a long flight as they slowly retreated back into Germany. Many months later Helmut found himself at Seelow Heights manning a flack gun. Seelow was the last and best defence the Germans had to save Berlin and to a great extent it was manned by a depleted and dispirited army and Waffen SS, members of the Police Force, boys in the Hitler Youth and the Volksturm -- (elderly men, many of whom who had fought for Germany in the First War!). Hitler had issued orders they were to “fight to the death!” By the Spring of 1944 the total invasion of Germany by the Russians became a real and fearsome reality to the people of Berlin.

As the Russians pursued, the retreating German army halted on the slopes of the Seelow Heights. It was a great vantage point looking down on the Russians. Hitler had ordered the Germans to destroy everything in their path in his bitterness at the Stalingrad defeat. In February Hitler declared Berlin a fortress to be defended to the last man. Helmut was then operating a flak gun at the Oder River. There were plenty of Russian bombers but very few German bombers had survived. The Commander General defending Berlin, General Hellmuth, had 60,000 Volksturm troops. He organized a construction force of 70,000 labourers to construct anti tank trenches to act as defensive positions before the battle. All the anti aircraft battalions stationed around Berlin belonged to the 1st Berlin Flack Division under General Otto Sydow. This army fought for two weeks in defence of Berlin against 2,500,000 Russian soldiers who could taste blood. The Americans and Russians were vying with each other to see who would reach Berlin first, but eventually Russia would be given that prize. The assault on the Seelow Heights was the last line of defence that Berlin had and by April 19 the Russians had broken through and the final route to Berlin began. Somehow Helmut ended up at the Reichstag building because this was to be defended at any cost. The glass ceiling shattered down onto the men and they fled deeper into the building fighting back Russians all the way. In those last explosive, murderous and dust filled hours, towards the very end, Helmut was assigned to guard an air intake shaft and the exit from Hitlers bunker that stood in the garden of the Reich Chancellery. His orders were to shoot anyone who tried to leave the bunker. On the night of the 29th the defence of the Reichstag failed. A lone radio announcer intoned that Hitler had committed suicide. It was now that this twenty year old soldier left the grounds of the bunker with a small group and fought his way across the Teirgarten Park through the Russian lines. Later they were captured at the American front.

And there sipping on a cup of tea sat Helmut who had lived through this hell and survived! Every war has its survivors and I had come to know one! I felt I had to ask him why he joined up to begin with? He said all his friends did, and they said that everything that Hitler did was legal. To begin, they thought Hitler was a joke! I was left with the feeling that although governments may proclaim their acts as legal what they do may be dead wrong and criminal just the same. When Donnee and I parted from him he gave me the “blood badge” Hitler had presented to him earlier for having been wounded. He also has Hitlers autograph written on a candy bar wrapper. In the end that was all the struggle was worth to him. Two words on a candy bar wrapper! This is not a political story, just a real life experience of a soldier from “the other side”.The stories from our side are the same. Just pure hell. All that ever remains of war for all the combatants are the memories of what was.



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Hello and welcome to my thought process !

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