A few days later three women originally from Mannheim, asked me to go to Strasbourg with them. I agreed to go since I had to see about getting replacement ration cards, which were vital if we ever expected to travel beyond this village. Ration cards were very important, as they also served as internal passports and contained all of our personal information. These women told me that they knew how to circumvent the official red tape and said that they could help me with the documents. When Elsa agreed to care for my children, I was ready to go. Our plan was to get the documents from the Nazi officials in Strasbourg, then come back to Bischoffsheim for the children, and then return to Mannheim.
Unexpectedly, an unpleasant surprise awaited us in Strasbourg! When our train pulled into the railroad station, we found hundreds, if not thousands, of people jammed together on the platforms, all scrambling in different directions to get onto waiting trains. With the war drawing to a close it seemed that suddenly everyone wanted to go home again. Most of these people had arrived here from neighboring villages by whatever means of transportation was available to them. Cars, buses and even horse-drawn carts were bringing people in from their places of refuge. In Bischoffsheim no one officially knew if we could return to Mannheim, but apparently everybody here in Strasbourg heard that we could. As the Allied forces came closer, people became more frightened, not knowing what to expect.
We pushed forward through the crowd, looking for the ticket office and perhaps naively believed that with a little luck we could find someone to help us with our baggage. When we finally got inside the railroad station we saw a pompous Gestapo official exhibiting a vile temper. Apparently he had received orders to clear the railroad station of people, since it would make a splendid target for the Allied airplanes. He shouted that he had a telegram from the Führer himself, and that we would have to move on now! Of course it was just an exaggeration but his hyperbolic statement just fell on deaf ears. As he frantically waved a crumpled piece of paper, the old people, nuns, children, sick people and wounded soldiers standing in front of him just stood frozen in place, not knowing what to do next.
One brave self-appointed spokeswoman tried to reason with this loud-mouth; however, he was in no mood to listen. Instead he grabbed her by her shoulders and shook her with both hands, ranting and screaming until she cried for him to stop. Jumping to her defense I pleaded with him, “Please don’t be angry with us. I need ration cards and just want to go home to Mannheim.” “And why do you want to go home now?” he asked. I explained that the soldier we were sheltering told us that the entire German Army was retreating. If alive, my husband would soon be returning from the war and I just wanted to be there when he came home. It was all to no avail as our pleas fell on deaf ears.
His manner became threatening as he stretched out his fat neck and pushed his bullhead at me. Smelling his hot breath and feeling his spit on my face, I heard him yell, “Who did you talk to?” “Why do you want to know?” I bravely asked, expecting the worst. “Answer me!” he repeated. “Give me the name of the person you sheltered!” I faltered, knowing that bad things were about to follow. Here I was just helping a German soldier and this Nazi bureaucrat took it upon himself to punish me.
His three huge gold rings cut my face deeply as he repeatedly slapped my face, shouting obscenities. Shaken, I stood there trembling, trying to wipe my bleeding nose and expecting additional blows. Very timidly one of the other women asked just what it was he wanted to know. I stood with my head bowed, as he continued with his demands. I knew that he wanted me to reveal the corporal’s identity. He also wanted the names of the other soldiers who were with him in the village. I told him that they were just German soldiers that needed help! Not even knowing the circumstances, he accused them of being cowards or scared rabbits, Etappenhasen, as he called them. This was a derogatory name given to soldiers suffering from “shellshock” or Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Frightened of what could happen to them, these soldiers in Bischoffsheim stayed close to the mess hall, or goulash kanone as it was called. The local authorities had authorized our helping them and I just couldn’t betray these men! Who was this bully to get involved? I think he was just one of those “Little Hitlers” trying to make a name for himself!
Photo Caption: Heinrich Himmler, Reichsführer-SS, chief of the German Police, shown with an SS entourage at Mauthausen in 1941, including Sepp Dietrich (left). (Visit Captain Hank Bracker Facebook)
Captain Hank Bracker, who served with the U.S. Military Intelligence Corps, is the author of the multi-award winning book, “The Exciting Story of Cuba” has now written “Suppressed I Rise.” This book is for anyone interested in a very personal human view, of the history of World War II. A mother’s attempt to protect and raise her two young daughters in hostile NAZI Germany challenges her sensibilities and resourcefulness. Both books will be at the NYC Book Exhibit this summer between May 31st & June 2nd at the Jacob Javits Center, but are presently available at Amazon.com, Barnes&Noble.com, BooksAMillion.com and many Independent Book Shops.