|Karl-Heinz Lüdtke autobiografy part 5|
I left Greece with a pain in my heart, all the things I had learned in theory I had put in practice in the 1½ years I had spent in Greece. Unfortunately it was war.
So I was on the last train to Saloniki, it was a uneventfull ride untill we were attacked by an enemy Messerschmitt Me-109! The train and all on board survived and as an intercity we raced through the beautiful Greec landscape. When we arrived in Saloniki I reported to the Staffel, most of them were already there. I was fortunate as they were able to get me on a Junkers Ju-52 bound for Vienna. This was to be my last flight during the war. After arriving in Vienna I went by train to my final destination Kamp on the Eastern Sea, there was a base for Luftwaffe reserve personel. There I received my next orders, I was to proceed to a hotel on the Italian Riviera! Unfortunately the Americans were faster. I then received some free time, the last I was to get before the big storm. My father provided plenty of food and drinks. When I returned to Kamp my new orders had already arrived, I was to go to Quedlinburg. There was the dissolutionregiment of the Luftwaffe, lead by old major. I wasn't there a long time because one day, during a heavy rain, in the barracks (of the famous paratroopers) we were lined up to receive our new orders. It went as followed, we were lined up in three rows with one meter inbetween us and the old major walked through the rows looking at us and dictating to his clerck, he goes to the armored divisions, he goed to the infantery and so on. When he came to me he said I was to go to the Herman Göring division in Berlin-Reinickendorf. I was shocked, this was an elite unit, this didn't look good for me. While waiting for the trip I wandered through the barracks and of all people I saw Wilhelm Lange, my old pilot. He was also waiting for his ride, but where to?? For me the waiting was over, I went to Berlin. I didn't know what to expect, as in the flying personel things weren't as strickt as with the infantery. When I arrived I immediately received my first order, I was to proceed as courier to Poland where the division was on the front. They were situated just before Warsaw and what I lived through with this unit is undescribable. I reported to the HQ where the hauptfeldwebel stood to attention as I arrived, I never saw this and didn't know what to do which upset him. He was an awful person and I felt for all those who had to fight under his command. I left as quick as I could, not wanting to stay there and maybe even be commanded to fight on the front. I only had one thing in mind, how do I get to my parents in Kolmar as fast as possible, the length was about the same as to Berlin and I made it. My parents were astouned and very happy to see me. It was dangerous, interrupting my mission to Berlin for a visit to my parents but those were three wonderful days during which I met a beautiful girl who's sister was a butcher. Well I was treated with saucages and potatoes, very nice.
After my return to Berlin a quiet spell set in, new units were formed, nor in Berlin but in Poland, and there was no job for me. Shortly before christmas 1944 I got my new orders, for the second time I was to go as courier to Poland, but this time to another unit. This time everything went smooth and again I made a stop on the way back in Kolmar. My parents were even more surprised than the time before that their son was again at home. This stop-over I decided to ask the girl I met the time before if she would be engaged with me and whe responded positively. This was the last time I was able to see my parents during the war as the next time when the German army was in retreit the road to Kolmar was blocked by the Russians.
Thins were quiet for a short time after my return to Berlin, but soon I was to get my marching orders for Poland. I got stationed somewhere in the Walacheim in a hotel, I don't remember exactly where. I was quartered in a hospitalroom where an old medic-Obergefreiter was the doctor. The soldiers that weren't fir to fight were brought together behind the front which wasn't far away from where I was stationed. All were to be transported back by horse and cart and tis was something which had to be organized by scavanging the local farms. Our cart was also packed with bread which could also be used for the fighting troops at the front. On my cart was also the old doctor and later an Unteroffizier also joined us. Thankfully the cart had a roof so the bread wouldn't get wet and the support people could shelter. The winter of 1944/45 was very cold, especially on the eastern front. The sheets and covers we had for the horses proved their worth. We travelled in a colomn of carts for the first part of the journey to the west, but after a couple of villages the number of refugees grew and grew and most of the colomn lost site of each other so in the end we all made our way west on our own. Our destination was a hotel in Warthegau. As I still wasn't cured of my flu I was placed in one of the rooms. In the hotel new units were formd out of the soldiers that entered. It was a sorry sight to see the new recruits, young boys fresh from the training and all they could take with them was their uniform, a rifle, a helmet, 3 pair of socks and 1 underwear. The old doctor and I were somehow considered a team and were left as we were. We were in the hotel for 14 days when we received new marching orders, again to the west. I got the same cart as I used for the first part and most of the bread was still in it, you have to know that it was "kommisbrot" and remained fresh for a very very long time. We took along the luggage of the soldiers fighting on the front and set out west. The road was even more packed with refugees than before and riding as a colomn proved impossible so in the end we again went west on our own. The streets were filled and we moved along very slowly when all we wanted to do was get away from the front as quick as possible, but that's also what the refugees wanted. The situation was horrible, but every cloud has a silver lining they say and in a small town I saw a Tante-Emma shop, which was owned by the sister of my father. I got of the cart and said that I would arrange some supplies as we were running out of food and sigarettes. My Aunt was very surprised to see a relative of her and after a (longer than needed) time I left the shop I noticed that the cart had moved on. I managed to get a lift on a lorry and after a short time I had caught up with them. The Unteroffizier wasn't going to wait for me and had told the rest they were going on. Later in Berlin-Reinicken I saw him again, ready for the front. Fortunately he didn't saw me as he might have ratted on me. We left the mainstream and went via countryroads through abandoned villages. We searched most of the houses for any mediaction we could find. We found some preserved fouds in a basement but they were difficult to transport so we opened the glasses there and ate some of it, the rest we took along without the jars as it was a very cold winter and it would stay well preserved outside the jars. We were on the move as much as possible giving the horses the rest they needed with the help of some farmers we came across. As mentioned we stayed clear of the mainstream but we had to cross the Weichsel and there a bottleneck appeared in Thorn. We went across the river quit quickly because as military personel we went ahead of the refugees. Later I found out that the crossing was attacked by Russian fighters and many people died in the attacks. I also have to mention that in one of the villages we came across. As the fighters appeared out of nowhere we quickly took shelter in the basement of a church. I got a real scare there as there were many dead people who hadn't been buried yet. We wanted to help but there was no-one there and the ground on the graveyard was frozen solid. On the other side of the Weichsel we made a stop for a few days in a monestary in Thorn. When we crossed the Weichsel my thoughts went back to 1941 when I trained with a Junkers Ju-88 crew from Kampffliegerschule 4 in the use of the dinghy. The nuns at the monestary took care of us and the horses and that gave us a chance to get a good rest. As there were also girls we were also relaxed in another fashion! As I wanted to see my parents again in Kolmar I had to travel in the direction Schneidemühl and on that road misfortune struck. We were traveling on a bumpy countryroad when we went downhill and the cart went out of control and as the cart had no brakes and the horses weren't able to stop the rush. Fortunately the cart didn't tip over and we were unhurt, the horses also didn't have much to suffer but it was a very scary moment. In the next village we stopped for two days and were able to exchange the horses for two fresh ones at a local farmer. The Russians were faster than us with our cart because as we turned to the road to Kolmar to visit my parents there was a big sight: WARNING RUSSIANS. We immediately went on our way and as we didn't want to get caught in the groundfighting we went around this area with a wide arc. We didn't hear any gunfire so the front must have been at a safe distance, we were lucky again. We were now more than three weeks on the road and medication and supplies were runing out. The bread was really hard now and the only way to eat it was to dunk it in coffee. Shortly before Neustettin we had another pause in a small village where the parents, two sisters and a brother of my brother-in-law lived. The men on the cart didn't mind me stopping there as they were only too happy not to be involved in the groundfighting. My relations were happy to see me. The next day we went on our way to the regret of my relations. The sister of my brother-in-law and her sister-in-law were later taken to Russia by the Russians and were never seen again! So far we were very lucky on our trip and on the road past Kolmar and Schneidemühl we never entered the bigger city's as the checkpoint there were very strickt. At Schwedt we wanted to cross the Oder but our horses had to take a rest, the animals were almost at the end of their power. We had only a short distance to go to Berlin-Reinickendorf. We stayed at a farm which was run by the wife and daughter of the farmer with the help of another girl. The farmer himself was on the front fighting. Now it happened what we most feared, a "politician" had reported us to the distrcit commander and I had to report to him which I did promptly. This satisfied the Hauptmann and he made up transportationpapers for us and wished us a good journey. Back in the village we quickly made our way to the Oder bridge. The only drawback on the papers whas that we had to report to the mayor in every town we passed, but eventualy we reached the barracks in Berlin. There I reported to the watchcommander who told me to bring the horses and cart to the reliefstation at Velten. I went on my way and reported to the station where there was a Gefreiter behind the desk and behind him an old Oberfeldewbel, the station was run by an Oberleutnant who had his left lower arm amputated and now found himself at a deskjob. I handed him my papers and he asked me who-what-where and so on. He also asked me if I had any experience with horses, I just replied that I had the four weeks from Poland back to Berlin and he asked me to stay and take care of the horses, boy was I glad. Looking back on things they weren't realy bad, considering there was a war on. My parents even came to visit me by train! I was stationed at a farm and had too keep the horses fit and to make sure that the cart was in order because there was much wrong with the cart. I was just to keep me occupied because there was much doubt if the cart was ever going to be used again. I was ordered to go to Riesen in Sachsen to get a wagon and spare parts. It was a long distance and with the situation I was going to take a long time, but what did I care then, I wasn't on the front. This time I had all the right paperwork so nothing could happen along the way. My thoughts were already on the way trying to visit all my relatives along the route. I had a fourspan coach for the trip to Riesa, I had no clue how to drive such a contraption. They gave me two soldiers for support. When we left Velten we tied two horses to the back of the coach which made the handling of the other two horses much easier. We cicled Berlin and went to Dresden, the roads there were hadrly used as there were almost no lorry's left and cars were gone all together. Even refugees were little in number so we had the roads mostly for ourselves. We went via Zossen, Baruth and Golßen, here we were halted by MP's. As I mentioned we had all the right papers so after a short delay we could continue on to Luckau, form thereon via Herzberg, Elsterwerder to Riesa and of course pausing in every village. In Riesa they already had the supplies ready for us, an infantery cart loaded with supplies. So we went back to Velten with the cart and the coach. The route was almost the same as the one to Riesa, only this time we diverted via Lübben in the Spreewald. In a small town nearby we had a long halt to give the horses some rest. During this rest I went on a bent bicycle to Lübben to visit my parents and sister who couldn't believe their eyes! I stayed there for two days and went back to the restplace from where we continued to rest again a few villages down the road. There I picked up a bicycle again and went back to Lübben to my parents and sister and we even went to the cinema that time. I later returned to the waiting crew who stayed with the horses and they wern't angry with me, they were glad to get a break from things. So we continued via Golßen, which was still a major checkpoint by the MP's. But there was no problem this time so we continued to Berlin. When we reached Baruth we made another stop, because on the outskirts of the village lived my grand-parents from my mothers side. We didn't stay very long because they only had a small house and very little food, we were three young men and could eat quite a lot, something which we didn't want to burden my grand-parents with. The trip went on to the railroad station of Baruth where the sister of my father lived, her husband worked for the railroad. They had it a bit better in the food department and made us something for the trip. We went on to Luckenwalde passing Stülpe, a small town where my uncle had a sawmill. We were surprised to see how much he had in his basement and we were given a big meal. I unfortunately had to tell my uncle and aunt that their son had died while with the Luftwaffe after which they treated me even more like their son. The cousin placed the wagons and horses on the farm of the mayor. By that time I was already a couple of months with the Herman Göring Division but still wore my Luftwaffe uniform with the insignia of a scout. Three days past, two villages down the road we had another break of two days, this time me going by bicycle back to my uncle, I was young and made some careless mistakes because If I was caught I was to be shot on site. We continued to Velten via Luckenwalde in a westerly circle around Berlin. When we arrived in Velten only the Feldwebel and the clerck were left, the convoi with the Oberleutnant was already underway to our new base. I was in for a bigger surprise than that, behind the desk was my fiance from Kolmar Warthegau! The clerck made no mention of us being away so long, he was more than happy to see that we arrived with all the supplies. My fiance and I bunked together in my room at the barracks. I didn't know when I was going to take the supplies to the new base but I first received an order to bring an old horse to a butcher in Spandau, not exactly a job I liked to do. When I was back I received the orders to proceed to the new base, but what was I to do with my fiance. She took the train and was already there when I arrived with the cart and horses. She was allowed to stay with me in a farm when I was based.
We didn't stay long in this village and continued to Eberswalde, my fiance stayed behind and was able to work as a shop assistant with a butcher. The base was just outside Berlin on the road to the Schorfheide. That road was the main road to the Karinhall, the majestic house that was owned by the man who gave the Hermann Göring Division it's name. One day he drove past, stopped and asked us what we were doing there. We told him we were the convoi from Reinickendorf, he wished us all the best and continued with his own convoi. We were placed with a number of local farmers. From now on food was scarce right up till the end of the war. To try to get some meat I took a cart and went via Eberswalde to Nieder Finow. There I heard the guns of the front and decided to turn around, unfortunately without any meat. I passed Eberswalde again and it was deserted, very spooky to drive there with nobody in town. We saw a shop that had it's door open so we took a look inside and found a Sanella margarine box that was still full. That was everything we could bring back to our cook. We told everybody about the gunfire we heard and very soon we could hear it where we were based. The Oberleutnant did the only thing we could do and prepared for to leave the next day. We noticed that the farmers also prepared to leave the area. We decided to take the convoi and ride in the direction of the American troops. The Oberleutnant, Feldwebel and I were in the front coach, the infanterycart with the Obergefreiter was in the back also carrying the margarine. The road to the Elbe were not only packed with people but also with rumors. We travelled in the direction of Wittenberge where there was a bridge across the Elbe. To clean and rest the horses we stopped in a brickyard, I was just taking the horses from the coach when the granades landed. I never prepared the horses any faster than then and at full speed I left the brickyard, no sign of the Oberleutnant and Feldwebel. On the road I saw soldiers in ditches, guns at the ready, a anti-aircraftgun in the middle of the road. This was the front which I had now seen for the first time. I hurried along the road direction west, on to Wittenberge and what did I see, my Oberleutnant and Feldwebel and the other part of the convoi. In front of us were the Americans and to the rear the Russians, there was no option. Then the news arrived that Hitler had shot himself, that was the first real hint that the war was coming to an end and the only option for us was surrender. From a far we saw the Americans and to the back still no sight of the Russians, boy were we happy to have made it. We threw our guns and pistols in one of the carts when we were 100 meters from the Elbe. The Americans orders us to place the carts and coach in a field which we of course did. Everything was very hectic now as the Americans were'nt prepared for so many prisoners. The clerk and I stayed together and I carried the margarine that I found in Eberswalde. Along the way we were able to exchange the margarine for some civil clothes, something which the Americans didn't appreciate. Then a rumor started that the Russians were coming and panic broke out, the Americans lost control of the situation and many of the prisoners were able to flea over the hills.
After a long discussion we decided to go back to our neigborhood in the Russian occupied zone, even when it was dangerous for us. We ran down the Elbe and saw a house on a dam, we didn't know who was in there. Fortunately it was occupied by a family with children who even offered to hide us if the Americans came looking for us. We found out there were two more refugees in the house and we were kept in the attic. We talked about how we were going to get out of this place and I have said before you have to have luck in life and we did have luck. All four of us sat down in the evening near the dam and waited for things to happen. On the other (west) side we saw a punt with a man in it who came in our direction. My god he wanted to pick us up because you don't make this kind of dangerous journey for nothing. Indeed he came to us , we boarded ans as fast as we could we went to the westbank of the Elbe. Boy were we glad to get on the other side. We thanked the punt owner and went on our way as did both of the girls. The margarine again helped me as I was able to trade some of it for two bicycles and we rode south, pausen as always in small villages. We had to take good care not to fall in the hands of the Americans again and so we dressed up as civilians and behaved in such a way. We never came in contact with an American. In a hotel in a small town we were allowed to stay a few days to rest. The woman who owned the hotel trusted us so much that she left the hotel to us for two days and went away. All we had to do was to make sure nothing was stolen as these were awful days in Germany. When the woman returned she made us bread and mentioned that the Americans had a Priseoner of war camp nearby. She showed us a way around the camp to stay clear of the Americans and thanks to her we made it via Halle, which was then still in American hands, to Dippoldigswalde in the vicinity of Dresden. Along the way we had to cross the Weisse Elster and than proved not to be easy as the bridge was broken. We managed to cross the river and on the other side the Russian zone began. When we first encountered a Russian truck our hearts pounded out of our chest almost. In the distance we saw a big dustcloud which proved to be a prisoner of war transport, the prisoners on foot and the Russian guards on horseback. Our luck kept with us as we were hidden by a friendly woman who told us that the Russians picked up every man they saw and enprisoned him immediately without trial. This was all near the village where my fellow fledgling grew up so he knew the surroundings very well. Via small and secluded passeges we arrived at his hometown. When we arrived at the house of his parents they were of course very happy to see him back from the front and not s prisoner. I stayed in that village for a long time as travel was very dangerous with Russians everywhere. The village was filled with woman with almost no men around and I came across a young and sporty woman and it was love at first sight for both of us. At the back of the house where I stayed was a brook and across it a small bridge which led to the farm of an elderly woman. At one time we saw Russians coming and we had to hide, the only place readily available was under the bridge. My luck had still not run out because the Russians stopped at the brook and washed their hands. If they only looked to their side instead of in front of them I was surely bound for a Russian prisoner of war camp and maybe even as a spy as I was wearing civil clothes. I wanted to go back to Lübben, my hometown, and I had to go via Dispoldiswalde. There again luck was with me as an uncle of my fellow fledgling worked at the city hall and he provided us with traveling papers for the remainder of the journey. Along the way I came across my new found love who was on the way back to her village, she wasn't ready to come along with me and I really wanted to see my parents to let them know I was still alive and free. She was sad but could understand me, we spend a few happy days together and we departed with tears in our eyes, knowing we would probably never see each other again. We never saw each other again and never were able to get in contact. It took a long time to get from Dresden to Lübben, starting off in a goods train. Everybody was trying to get home so it was a long and difficult journey. I arraived at Cottbus where on one side of the station the train arrived to Drsden on their way to Frankfurt/Oder and on the other side the trains coming from Berlin to Breslau. what was in the train I don't know, I don't even remember what the train looked like as I only saw the end of it, and it was the train I was destined for. In Cottbus my luck again held out. I got of the train and looked around, when I turned around there was a Russian soldier shouting dawei dawei (come come). He took me in front of the main building where already other men had to take place. What we were supposed to do or what they wanted to do with us I don't know because when I saw the moment was right I escaped through the cellar of the building to the other side where I saw the train to Berlin ready for departure. There were a number of woman with prams and luggage near the train, I went to them and got flat on the ground, the woman covering me with blankets and putting a pram on top of me, nobody could see me. When things calmed down, and that took a while, I was finally able to show my head and look around, first of all at the people who saved me, my god, again a young beautiful female. We talked and felt something for each other, but this was apparantly not the season to fall in love. We had to spend the night on the station as the last train had already left. One train stayed at the station and we got on it. On the train were one woman and one man who were able to communicate with the Russian train personel and that helped. So we could also stay on the strain for the night. The Russians raped the German woman during the night, something we had to hearthat night! The next day the train went to Berlin and we arrived safe and sound in Lübben/Spreewald. At the station I asked a station worker if he knew a station worker by the name of Lüdtke. He told me to go around the station where a house stood in which my father lived. I went around and sure enough there were my father and mother. I invited my new love and the man and woman who spoke Russian and they gladly accepted. I don't know how my mother and father did it but they put a delicious meal on the table, more than enough for our four hungy mouths. The guests later went on to Berlin, my new girlfriend also, but she later returned when we spent 3 days together, only for me to find out she was already married.
I was home, but the hardest thing was yet to happen, I had to report to the Russian commander. When you came from the American side you could be seen as a spy. Again I was lucky as I withstood the commander and could stay.
I got a job as civil servant and became an trained electrician.
The Russians were still not settling down as their secret service was picking up people left and right. My father was also picked up and put in a concentrationcamp. In 1948 The Russians reported he died of a heartattack in Buchenwald, but I know he died of hunger as the Russians kept all the food for themselves.
I didn't stay with the civil service for long and was recruited by the Spreewald-Bühne which did plays and opera's. I took on the technical command of the theatre. I met a young woman who already had two children and things worked for us so much that after 56 years we are still together. In 1946 I met a radio-operator who worked with Telefunken. With him I started a small radio shop in which we employed three technicians. Not that there were many radio's left as they Russians stole everything. They didn't exactly steal it but the Germans were forced to deliver their radios, piano's, motor cycles and so on to the local Russian commander. During the transport many radio's broke or just stopped working and thus our work started. Many things changed during those times, we were ordered to give a room in our house to a Russian doctor. This was just the start as very quickly the Russians took over the whole house and we had to look for another house, and I can tell you that there weren't that many around.
August 1947 I was ordered to go to Aue where I had to help in mining for uranium which was of course for the Russian atombomb. Mining this uranium whas very dangerous and many people died from the radiation. After carefull thought I left the mining behind me and went to Berlin. and then west. In the neighborhood of Krefeld I found a new start. Late 1947 I joined AEG as electrician. I had to take a test, like everybody else, and had to prove that I didn't do any unhumain things during the war. I passed the test and because the work suited me and the competition was weak I was quickly promoted to head mechanic. I the meantime I had organized a hotelroom in Krefeld-Ürdingen on the Rhine where my (then still not) wife and I lived. She also crossed the "border" illegally. The marriage wasn't long away and February 1948 I was wed. Organizing a party wasn't easy and many of my relatives from Lübben had to cross the American/Russian border illegally. Things gradually picked up and via a friend of mine I was able to get a proper room in a house and in the meantime I became father (my first and my wife's third) of a beautiful daughter. I was more away than home as AEG had many clients and I even often worked in the Netherlands. I was involved in many jobs in rebuilding the industry of the Ruhr area and after one succesfull job my supervisor came to me and offered me a house with three rooms, a barthroom, kitchen and balcony for 35 DeutschMark, well that was deal! Finally we settled and the years passed ending up to today.
I am now at the end of me memories of the war and the short time thereafter. I hope that these were interesting enough. It wasn't easy to remember everything after all those years but I have to say I had a lot of fun writing this as it was always my wish to pur my memories on paper. Now it's here.
COPYRIGHT September 2000 Düsseldorf/Benrath.