War Costs More Than
Money - Part III
The Young and the Helpless
By Alfred Opp, Vancouver, British Columbia
Edited by Connie Dahlke, Walla Walla, Washington
My brother was eight years old and I was not yet 15
when the security guards took away our parents. Left
on our own, we had to find ways to survive. People
in our apartment house were also stressed and, fearful
to be seen with Germans, they momentarily went cold
on us. We wanted to stay alive and well until our
parents came home. My brother and I avoided any contacts.
Most of our time we spent huddled up in our apartment.
My brother and I were very close, and he stood up
well under this situation. As time went by, we were
down to one meal a day.
It was very cold outside - people could not remember
when it had been so cold. To go outside was to risk
getting sick. Desperate for assistance, we thought
the church might help us. One day we went looking
for a church, seeking help. When we found a church,
there was not a soul around. The door was unlocked
so we went in. What we found was a god-forsaken place.
Benches had been moved aside and the aisles used to
house troops. Behind the altar we found trash mixed
with human excrement. The entire building was a ransacked
mess, however the altar with the crucifix was still
in place. As we looked around, we found a bookmark
in the debris and also a booklet. We picked both up
to save them. I remember so well how we stood there,
totally lost. To us it felt we had hit the wall. Feeling
sad, we left and went back to our apartment. That
night, like any other night, we knelt down by the
bed to say the prayers Mother had taught us when we
were little. This time we had the two items from the
church with us. Just going to a church left us feeling
good. Despite the church being full of dirt and stench.
the Lord gave us a gift that provided us with some
peace of mind. It was a crucial time for us and helped
us maintain our inner strength.
My parents were solid in mind and character. They
had good hearts and they walked a straight line, never
wavering. We children were expected to work for what
we got. Mom and Dad gave us an open door to gain independence.
They never used scare-tactics on us to keep us from
sinning. If we did sin, Father told us what we did
wrong and how to fix it. If we didn't take his advice,
he helped us with the strap. We received such help
anytime we needed it. They loved us and we loved them.
It was our parents who led us to freedom.
In our life, God is the referee. The playing field
is the world around us. To win at the game, we have
to train hard. If we carried extra stuffing, we worked
it off. We didn't need drugs or sermon artists to
do it for us. In prayer, one comes to see himself
- a true picture shows up within the person. With
a signal from God, our conscience paints the picture
well. Minds can work miracles, and often do. Today,
I thank my parents for their wisdom and leadership.
Starting early, I was taught to be strong and independent,
standing on solid ground with advantages that we earned.
There were victories and defeats, laughter and tears
and many wounds. I thank God and the people in my
life that I walked away from it whole.
The apartment building we were in had five units -
Polish people occupied four of these. We were the
lone Germans and were not exactly welcomed. After
a while it got better, but never came close to what
one could call trust. We Germans were forbidden to
have close contact with the Poles. The Polish people
knew this, and also had no interest in becoming our
friends. My mother was such a friendly person - her
neighbors could not give her the cold shoulder for
long. Soon the apartment building was like one family,
with but one orphan. When our neighbors asked how
we were doing, our answer was always "Very well."
The trust of our neighbors that my folks worked so
hard for, paid off in the long run. When Poland got
their town back, the people in our apartment building
did not report us, even though they were strictly
instructed to stay away from any German, and and warned
that if someone was caught helping a German friend
or neighbor they would be punished.
Our neighbors refused to be intimidated, and stood
by us. Two of our neighbors told us to bring our belongings
to them for safe keeping. We did that gladly. What
they couldn't prevent was a routine check by the local
police. It was then that our parents were taken away,
leaving us boys home alone. We soon ran out of most
food items. There was no additional food available
- you couldn't buy or even steal anything during the
closing days of the war and for days after the fighting
moved on. Our neighbors, Josef and Mieta Pieck had
a teenage daughter, their only child. One day she
mysteriously disappeared. Our neighbors were devastated.
Mieta believed that if she would help us, God would
help her daughter. A piece of bread from Mieta saved
us from starvation. Mieta's change of heart toward
us also helped us to get back in contact with our
mother. We owed a lot to those people. After the war,
I kept in contact with Mieta until she died. Mieta
never heard from her daughter again. The world was
frozen - people's hearts were cold, but Josef and
Mieta had warm hearts and gave us a hand when we were
" Sbosiba" -
I can't say if the spelling here is correct. It is
a beautiful word to me as is. I heard Grandpa say
it to his Russian friends. I'm glad I remembered it,
especially in Poland where I needed it most The Soviets
made a clean sweep against the city we were in. As
Germans, we were trapped and in a fight for our lives.
The Polish people were starving, and so were we. For
us to get food was even harder than for the Poles,
because we were the hunted. My brother and I were
alone in our apartment. After two weeks in this situation,
obtaining food became a desperate need for us. Nobody
knew where the next bite was coming from. Everything
outside was frozen. Dead horses had been partly stripped
for their meat. People were fearful to go out onto
the street; and when they did they quickly took the
nearest meat they could find. However, I never could
bring myself to eat horse meat. My brother and I were
down to a few potatoes and bit of preserves. These
we stretched by eating only one small meal per day.
Walking the street one day, I saw some Russian supply
wagons. On one an old man was sitting, eating his
lunch. As I walked by, I looked at him and smiled.
He smiled back. I stepped back and was looking over
his horses. He saw me doing this and called me over.
I knew no Russian, but felt comfortable to go near
him. He said something in Russian, then gave me a
slice of bread. When I said "sbosiba," his
face lit up. Quickly I gestured to him that I didn't
speak Russian. The old man signaled me to wait. He
went to the back of his wagon, got a loaf of bread,
and gave it to me. I bowed my head and said "Sbosiba,
Papa, sbosiba." I then left. A smile and thanks
ended that little war. Then again, the old man and
I never were in it.
The holiness of the dead.
The war left our town in Poland with a gruesome picture.
Dead people were seen everywhere. Some people got
caught waving white sheets from an upper floor window.
Not trusting anyone, snipers picked them off with
ease. Their bodies were left hanging out the windows,
like bedding being aired on a sunny day. It took days
before they were removed. A lady from our apartment
house called me over one day and warned me to not
go picking through the pockets of the dead. She told
me that Russians believe dead people are holy, and
that disturbing them is bad luck. I assured the lady
that I was not planning on doing any such thing. Days
later, men showed up to take away the bodies lying
about. To see them work was like watching men remove
rubbish. Only later did it hit me: In war, how sacred
a dead person is. But a living one isn't worth saving.
I liked pigeons - so did Bogdan.
Bogdan was the son of a Polish couple who lived downstairs
in our apartment building. The family was rather private,
but friendly when we met. One day Bogdan saw me leaving
with a travel bag, and asked where I was going. I
didn't see him that often, and when I did he was always
nice to me, so I told him I was going to my grandparent's
farm. He asked if I could bring back a bag of feed
for his pigeons.
"You got pigeons? Back home, I had some too,"
I said. "I haven't seen yours. Where are they?"
"At my friends place," he said. He promised
that when I got back, he would let me see them. When
I returned from my grandparent's farm, Bogdan wasn't
around, so I gave the feed to his dad. I rarely saw
him after that. Later, when the Soviets moved in,
I saw him more often - he was a policeman. People
in our apartment then told us that he had worked for
the underground disguised as a street sweeper. He
had no pigeons himself - the underground had carrier
pigeons working for them. Bogdan and his parents strangely
kept their distance from us. They didn't harm us,
but they didn't help us either. I still like pigeons.
I cannot blame the pigeons for what happened. In the
war, they got confused and went the wrong way.
The final solution.
A 76-year-old grandmother was a healthy person. Caring
for seven children on a farm she walked a bit bent
over. The Plan Makers thought she might be a burden
to the family settling in. She was put into a Care
Home where she suddenly died of "pneumonia."
Ironically, the relatives were not allowed to visit
her for fear of spreading an illness. After the war
the truth came out. It was not God who called these
elderly people home.
Alfred Opp is the author of "Pawns
on the World Stage" - the memoirs of his
childhood in Teplitz, Bessarabia and the experiences
of his family in war-torn Europe (Poland during 1941-1945
before they fled to East Germany in 1945, then the
reconstruction of West Germany 1945-1955).