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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 7

Homecoming

    Walking home we again heard the church bell ringing. People whispered to each other quietly. I asked my mother, "What's the matter now?" and she whispered in my ear, "The war is over Bruno." It was the 9th of May, 1945.

    Sometimes I remember the innocent question I asked. "Mum, who won the war?" She just grabbed me by the arm, tears running from her eyes, and whispered, "We lost. Just hope Dad's coming home." Having not seen Dad for over two years, Mum was on the verge of collapsing, which I sensed, even as a nine year old. Poor Mum not only had to put up with all of this misery, including my brother's asthma, but with not knowing if Dad was dead or alive.

    This was only the beginning of our trouble. Arriving at the hotel, Mum looked up to our hole where the window was, now partly fixed with wooden boards.

    We made our way up the staircase leading to our room, expecting it to be messed up and unlivable. We opened the door and to our surprise, it was spotlessly clean. Mum said to me alarmingly, "Bruno, our carpet is missing." Mum's carpet was a two- by three-meter Persian rug given to us by Aunty Rosa from Purkersdorf near Vienna. The carpet was nearly 50 years old then. Mum started crying and became really upset, looking onto the bare floorboards. Opening our only wardrobe, to our amazement, there was our carpet, standing nicely rolled up in the corner among Mum's dresses and blouses.

    We dragged the carpet out of the wardrobe and started to roll it out. We then smelled it and it had the unmistakable stink of urine and excrement which were piled up in the middle of the carpet and then rolled up like a large pancake. Mum said nothing. She just rolled it up, dragged it out and put it on the cart. Then we pulled it out into the woods and buried it.

    Coming home, we started to clean the floor and to our great, great surprise, the unbelievable thing, under the bed was (hold your breath, readers) a large U.S. food parcel. It was unopened and weighed at least six kilograms. First Mum did not know what it was, also thinking it could be another joke like our carpet. No, it was not. God in heaven! Mum's tears were just rolling down her face. Her hands were shaking as she opened the parcel. First Mum locked the door and told us boys not to tell anyone. To our disbelief, there was chocolate, coffee, biscuits, tinned food, bully beef, cigarettes, medicines including condoms and much more. I cannot remember anymore but one thing I have never forgotten: my first bite into that chocolate and Mum's first taste for a long, long time of coffee. Wow!! We all just sat there all day in that room; we munched, ate and drank. There had to be more than one GI billeted in this our room. One of them must have been a witness to the bad behavior of his comrades. Feeling remorseful, he quickly slipped a good (U.S. rations) parcel under our bed. A man of God, I pray, and hope that this GI survived the war and I hope to find him one day and thank him for what he did. He may have had to go without this food, God only knows.

    Regarding this incident, we never felt any animosity towards any of them. How could we for what they did? The brave young spirited U.S. GIs were our saviors, giving their blood and lives for us. A lot of us have forgotten by now, but I never shall. Today, having been in the permanent Royal Australian Air Force for 20 years and having experienced war and peace, I can understand why all this happened. The atrocities the German armies and also civilians did to all their prisoners and slave laborers, including captured GIs and other nation's soldiers, is the most inhuman thing one can do. These brought on terrible revenge to some of the German civilians. Some of those infantry soldiers must have seen some very terrible things in those parts of Germany. Especially the consequences of the Flossenburg camp death march towards the south. Thousands of dead prisoners were strewn amongst the ditches of the road, shot only because they could not drag their decimated frames any longer. With tears in their eyes, staring into an SS pistol, waiting, waiting for that shot. The one you never hear. Last pleas useless; last fleeting memories of home far away -- wife, mum, kids. Sunken eyes staring in that cold winter's day. Tears. "Bang." The GIs found hundreds of them but to go too deeply into what I saw with my nine year old eyes would bring back nightmares. One can see what every U.S. infantryman went through day after day, giving their lives, souls and health to liberate us from the evil Hitler and his henchmen.

    As the road of the death march was only one kilometer from us, and being little boys, knowing the woods with every nook and ditch, we followed the banging, shooting and yelling. We hid among the trees and bushes and my brother and I witnessed the slaughter in front of our eyes. Frozen with fear, we retreated. This scene is permanently embossed in my brain, especially one old man's hand raised. The lost look on that blue cold winter's day. His spindly legs with no socks in his striped prisoner gear. At zero temperature, death was a relief from his agony. The prisoners marched on and every kilometer, one was slaughtered. God be with them. Fifty-eight years later, I found God. God was denied me as a young child but God does not forget you. Only by believing in Him, I have found peace in my mind and soul as we all will be resurrected one day and judged according to our sins.

    Some religions were especially hounded by the German Nazis. The Jehovah's Witnesses in particular. The following is a story written by one of them, who survived the Holocaust. May this be a reminder to all of us. Let us not forget the nations that sent their young and brave to fight evil. I thank, on my knees, the brave heroic U.S. Army. Especially the 90th Infantry Division for our delivery from those terrible years of evil. I pray for their dead and all of the wounded, in body and spirit, those men and women who survived and their suffering families back home. To all of them, thanks from a little boy soldier.

Contents                   Chapter 8