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Born on the wrong Side of the Fence

Biography and Memories of an Austrian Migrant

1936-1947

Bruno Ehlich

2005, 2009 Bruno Ehlich

Chapter 15

The Missing Children

    Slowly Vienna took on a more civilized appearance. Trams started to run, and the underground was running partly to some of Vienna's 21 suburbs. Buses and taxis started to appear again. Still, the rubble of burned-out buildings was everywhere. I just struggled through school. By losing one full year of schooling in Germany in the last year of the war, it took a toll on me. I just could not catch up.

    We had a butcher shop in our building and the owner was a very respectable, friendly person. Mum sometimes asked him if she could pay for the daily meat when Dad got paid. He always obliged Mum and in return Mum fixed his uniform when it was torn. His butcher shop was neat and clean and it came as a surprise when one morning the shop was closed.

    There was a sign saying "until further notice." However, the shop never reopened. Mum and all the other customers had to walk a kilometer to the next butcher. What had happened to the nice butcher? We thought his business was good and he had lots of customers. With the supply of meat so short after the war, that might have had some effect on his closing, but did it? Surprise! Surprise! We did not have to wait too long to find out what happened. One day the police asked questions of his ex-customers, wanting to know if they had noticed anything funny about the meat he had sold lately. Yes, some said, the meat tasted a bit sweet and had a different feel and color. Weeks later, we read in the newspaper that the butcher was to be hanged for killing his wife and disposing of her by selling her meat to his unsuspecting customers. He would have gotten away with it for sure if it were not his bad luck that one of his customers was a lady pathologist. One day after purchasing several pounds of meat at his butcher shop, she noticed by the shape and color that this meat was human. She took it to the laboratory at work and confirmed her suspicion. She notified the police immediately, and they broke into his freezer only to discover the upside down body of his wife hanging on a hook amongst other animal meats. The body had already been partly sold to customers. After the war in Austria, the death sentence was still used for murders and established war crimes and rapes. Therefore our good butcher was hanged, but not in his freezer.

    Unforgettable is this unbelievable horror story, which unfolded in early 1947 in the last month before we made our next major residential move and thanks to God away from the rubble and misery of burned out Vienna. As I mentioned before, I had to walk to school quite a long way. This, however, was very pleasant during the summer or springtime, but not so in autumn or winter.

    It all started one day in school. All the pupils and teachers were called into the school's gymnasium. There we were surprised to see amongst our teachers several high ranking policemen and policewomen. They assembled on the stage and seated themselves. Our headmaster introduced all the police personnel and outlined roughly the reason for the urgency of this meeting. The senior policeman and policewoman took center stage and with very serious and stern-looking faces they explained that in the last few months, several children attending this school were missing. By "missing" they explained that the children had never returned home after school.

    Nobody, including the police, had any idea what had happened to those children. Most of them were under the age of 12. We, the students, were asked for input or if we saw or knew anything at all. After about half an hour the meeting was ended due to lack of evidence or knowledge of anything regarding this matter.

    Later in the week, two more students went missing from a school nearby. The disappearances only stopped momentarily as parents walked their children to school and picked them up after school. However, on weekends more children went missing. All in all, 20 children had disappeared in our district alone. Parents started to keep their children at home now and wherever their children had to go, their mother or father followed. School attendance was down as children stayed home. Vienna's newspapers were full of ideas. The police and detectives worked around the clock. Then one lovely sunny hot summer day, Vienna awoke to church bells ringing and newspapers with blaring headlines, "CHILDREN FOUND DEAD!" Vienna came to an abrupt halt. People could not get enough information. The newspapers were all sold in minutes. Churches were full to the brim with people praying for those dead children.

    What had happened? The story unfolded like this. Several weeks earlier one very young-looking lady detective, with the backup of several other detectives, tried something not attempted before. She had her blond hair arranged in plaits like a nine- to thirteen-year-old Austrian schoolgirl and wore a typical Austrian schoolgirl's dress: white blouse, blue skirt, white knee socks and high-laced shoes. With a leather schoolbag on her back, she tramped the streets in our suburb up and down for days. She was followed by three armed male detectives. One morning as she pretended to be on her way to school, she walked past an open doorway of a four-story high partly burned out office building. Standing next to the doorway was a blind person. I must say here that in Germany and Austria, blind people wear a yellow armband around their right arm. If a person is totally blind, this armband has three large black dots printed in a triangle on it. This all children learn in school and they are taught to be very helpful and kind to those persons.

    Respectfully, our lady detective said "Gruss Gott," meaning greetings from God, an everyday common German or Austrian greeting. The blind person, an elderly male, respectfully replied with the same greetings, but added, "Please, little girl, would you be so kind as to deliver an envelope upstairs to the third floor, to Number 14. Please, as you can see I am unable to do this myself. Just knock on the door upstairs and a lady will open. Just give it to her, my darling little child."

    Our lady detective here had the suspicion that somehow something was very unusual about his request. However, she obliged his demand, but being very careful decided to arm her small revolver under her skirt. She also knew that her partners must have seen her entering the building. Later they told the story that they had seen her talking to a blind man, but as she entered the building he took off his armband and ran away so fast that it was obvious to them something was very wrong. So hastily they followed her upstairs.

    When she reached No. 14, our lady detective knocked on the door and she observed that she also was being observed through a spy hole in the door. The door was opened by an apparently old-looking lady who asked her to put the letter just inside on a small table. As she did that, the door slammed shut behind her and two men stormed out of one room. As they took hold of her, she put her hand under her skirt and pulled the trigger. One of the men collapsed on the floor, having been shot in the stomach. As the second shot was fired, the other man fled through the front door only to be confronted by our good detectives who were just about to smash the door in. He was shot straight through his leg and also collapsed. Our old looking lady turned out to be a third male accomplice. He was apprehended without a struggle.

    What confronted the three detectives now was the biggest, and I mean biggest, horror story ever told at that time. By entering the rooms in that apartment, they discovered human carved-up body parts hanging on butcher hooks. In another room there was a complete running soap factory in full swing and complete machinery set up for making canned dog and cat food. To top this, the blood-spattered bathroom was waiting for her, our lady detective. Going into too many details here would sicken one's stomach. To cut this story short, after recuperating and a short trial, all three were hanged in Vienna's jail. There was a huge funeral for all of the slaughtered children. People never knew if they had washed themselves with this soap or fed their animals with that pet food. Much of that was confiscated after the arrests. All three male criminals later were discovered to have been SS guards from that dreaded concentration camp Treblinka in Poland. We children went back to school and were told the whole story, and believe me it was the best lesson in my young life: Not to trust anybody.

    Austria and Germany were bad places after the war because so many war criminals and murderers were running freely about. For me, I just say what I saw in the concentration camp in Flossenburg makes my stomach turn when someone says to me, "OH, THAT NEVER HAPPENED." So as I sat in a 707 one day many years later and one reporter showed me the pictures of handcuffed Iranian child combatants lying on the ground in one line and an Iraqi tank driving over their young heads. WHAT, THAT NEVER HAPPENED!  What a joke! What, four thousand Polish officers cut down by machine gun fire by the Russians during the Stalin period? WHAT, THAT NEVER HAPPENED! God please look after them. Many people I have met in my life who said to me, "Bruno, it can't be that you experienced all this." I wish God had spared me all this. Believe me my friends, this is nothing compared to what the brave U.S. and Allied soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen went through by giving their lives and souls and health to deliver us Germans and Austrians and many more nations from the dreaded Nazis. For me personally, I thank the 90th Division for their deeds, as you have seen in previous pages.

GOD BLESS THEM ALL

P.S. This ends the period between 1936 and 1947. Thereafter I had no more contact with the GIs of the mighty U.S. Army, as my family settled down in the Russian occupation sector.

    I personally thank Glenn and Vern Schmidt for their help, research and giving me the encouragement to continue writing. I myself and my wife Josie developed a beautiful relationship with these beautiful men and their beloved wives. Of course I will continue writing my memories for a long time yet. However, I just would like these first few chapters to be published in the U.S. to thank especially the 90th Division. However, as we could not establish the whereabouts of those tankers in Leuchtenberg, Bavaria, near Weiden, I consider these chapters still unfinished, until further research. Then a further amendment would be published.

GOD BLESS AMERICA

Bruno Ehlich, Sgt. (retired) RAAF, Australia

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