10. Mai 1945
|Discovery and capture near Pape|
|or near Nida/Butinge/Sventoji; one more day of marching could have led even farther to the south.|
|March with 12 men probably up to the road Libau–Krottingen then with a large column probably Rucava–Darbėnai|
We march all night long. As the day begins to dawn, we turn towards the dunes. Behind the dunes the forest is rising, in the protection of which we want to spend the day. Since we don't know what is happening in the forest, we don't want to walk upright over the dunes. So we duck down and begin to crawl up the dune between the tufts of dune grass. Then my foot gets caught on an obstacle. Immediately I lie motionless. I "freeze", as military training dictates in certain sudden dangerous situations. I look around. My foot was caught in a wire. It is already bright enough to make out the immediate surroundings. The wire is taut, and as I follow it further with my eyes, I discover to my amazement a whole network of fine wires. At the intersections of the wires are thin rods with a dark brown bulb. They look very similar to the brown, velvety cobs of our reeds, but are barely a foot high with stems. They are not reed butts either, but foot mines! We are in the middle of a minefield laid by the Germans against surprise enemy landings. What saved me here? I don't think it was the military training drill that made me react so quickly. I reacted instinctively. It was instinct, the animal scent of danger. Or wasn't it my guardian angel again??
Now that we had recognised the danger, it was easy to avoid. We cross the dunes and reach the forest. A clear-cut had just been made here. Everywhere lay felled and delimbed tree trunks and high mountains of cut pine branches. These were ideal hiding places. We crawl under one of these piles and want to sleep the day away here. We still don't eat anything. I don't feel hungry at all, although I haven't eaten for almost 24 hours. I've always been a modest eater, and that's to my advantage now. We stretch out and try to fall asleep. In the meantime it has become light.
We have not yet fallen asleep when we suddenly hear voices. Schnack peers cautiously through the branches. "A group of Russians," he reports. Soon more appear. It is not long before numerous groups of Russian soldiers have gathered in the clear cut. They seem to be practising. We suspect that there is a troop housing area nearby, probably a village. So we lie under the protective mountain of pine boughs for a few hours, while the Russians swarm around like ants on the clear cut. Some are very close. We observe that one group is suspiciously busy with the piles of cut branches. There they are, slowly approaching our pile. We flatten ourselves out. I am lying on my back with my face covered with moss. Now they are approaching. I have my eyes closed, but I hear and feel them throwing the branches apart. They have spotted my medic. The white drill jacket he was wearing gave him away. I keep lying still. Then I hear a Russian say: "On speet," he is asleep. So they discovered me too. Now it was over. I rise, and already I am surrounded by the Iwans. A small, elderly sergeant is their squad leader. They search me with masterly routine. In the twinkling of an eye I am rid of my wristwatch, wedding ring and riding boots. Then they cut off the seat leather from my breeches. In the meantime they also found my second pistol in my rucksack. After they have looted us completely, the sergeant sends us away with a guard. It all happened very quickly, without many words and without spite. Our person was of no interest to the Ivans. They only wanted our valuables. Of course, this was pure looting, but who gets upset about it in such a situation! They could have shot us and no one would ever have known. It was 10 May 45 at 2.30 p.m.
So we walked along with our guard, me on stockings. Schnack was luckier. He wore lace-up shoes, which the Russians didn't want. But they were crazy about my riding boots. I had put them on on purpose before the surrender because I thought they would serve me better in the mud and snow. But the Ivan thought the same. At that time I didn't know how much the Russians wanted good shoes.
On the way, we were joined by a group of Germans who had also just been caught. A tank lieutenant and two men. After a few hundred metres we had reached the Russian battalion command post. I sit down with Schnack on a crude bench and wait. Shortly afterwards a Russian major appears with his adjutant and an lance corporal. We stood up and saluted. The Russians eyed us and exchanged a few words with each other which I did not understand. The adju, a first lieutenant, approached me and tore my camouflage jacket aside to see my shoulder boards. "Yes, an officer," he said to the major. The major meant me that German soldiers who were not with their units after the surrender and were roaming around were suspect of illegal combat activity, and that was dangerous for them. He speaks calmly and not unkindly. Only the Russian lance corporal, who is constantly prowling around the two officers, is spiteful, pacing back and forth nervously and restlessly, constantly talking about "zastrelyat", shoot. I draw the major's attention to my stolen boots and ask him to get them back for me. He then sends a man out, who returns a quarter of an hour later with the news that the sergeant will not hand over the boots. So the major sends for a pair of lace-up shoes. I have never seen such worn-out shoes as these. And without laces, too. But that was all that could be done.
We were now sent to a blockhouse where about a dozen German soldiers were already sitting. They had all been picked up in the area. We were given food. It was a very tasty chicken broth concentrate. Probably American. Soon we had to fall in. The Major called me out and put me in command of the twelve prisoners. I have them fall in, and with the command, "Detachment at attention - no kick - march!" we start moving. Three Ivan's are given to us to guard.
Now began an endless march through forests, swamps, across open country past homesteads from which crowds of Ivans sometimes poured out when we arrived and showered us with derisive remarks. Some were vicious, others wanted to take our last belongings. But they were pushed away by our guards. We stopped at one of these homesteads. A Russian captain was quartered here, and I struck up a conversation with him. First I asked him for better shoes, but he didn't have any. Then I asked him about our future prospects. He said reassuringly that we wouldn't end up in Siberia, but we would have to reckon with a few years in prison.
Our guards keep begging us for cigarettes, but we have none. During one of our rest breaks in the forest, one of the Ivans gets impatient, snatches the haversack from one of our soldiers and searches him. But he didn't find any cigarettes.
On a country track, two Russian officers on horseback come towards us. As they rode past, one of them said to his comrade in a mocking tone of voice, "Tsigani" (Gypsy), and I almost let slip the spontaneous retort, "Ssami tsigani!", one youself! My guardian angel saved me from that. The Ivan would have shot me.
A short time later, a car comes towards us on the same road. It stops and a Mongolian officer gets out, followed by an older German officer as interpreter. The Mongolian sees the black uniform of the tank lieutenant and immediately draws his pistol. "SS?" he asks. "No, tankist!" replies the German. After a few questions, which the interpreter translates sympathetically after putting the answers in the tank lieutenant's mouth, the Mongol threatens with his finger and turns back to the car. We march on.
Since I no longer have a comb, the tank lieutenant breaks his in two and gives me one half. For the rest, he would have loved to kill our guards and run away again. He once made a remark like that to me. Maybe he wanted to knock on the bush, or maybe he was just talking. On the way, we kept passing watchtowers and guarded roadblocks that the Russians had erected in an astonishingly short time. There are posts and barriers everywhere at the entrances and exits of towns, at road junctions, small bridges or walkways in swampy areas. The country seems to be under complete surveillance. I am impressed by this perfect system of surveillance of the country and its people. The Russians are masters at this too. I realise that our escape would never have succeeded given our ignorance of this network of controls. There are quarters in all the houses and villages! We would hardly have been able to get rations anywhere. Maybe it was even lucky that we were caught on the second day, by peaceful Russians at that.
On the way I twice hear our guards talk about "spetsialny Plenniy" when they were talking to their comrades. So we are "special prisoners"? I also hear that we are to be taken to the division, and not to one of the provisional mass POW camps where our troops are gathered. I don't like that.
We cross a wide road, which runs through the forest. An endless column of German prisoners is resting on the road. Our posts get into conversation with the guards of the column. Now I switch over quickly. A quick glance at our posts. They are standing in the street, chatting with their comrades. Then I duck to the ground as if unintentionally and quickly sit down with a group of the column camped on the road. I pull down my camouflage jacket and take off my cap. Now I look a little different. Then I slip further and further away from the guards. Whether the guards really didn't notice anything, or whether they were glad to finally be rid of us after this forty-kilometre march, or whether they sent themselves off into the inevitable with their typical "Nichevo" is beyond me. Then it was already: "On - march!", and I am marching along in the large column. Later I see that Schnack is also with them.
The column marches via Rucava-Darbėnai (?). We spend the night of 11-12 May with an air force company in a barn. The night is restless and somehow eerie, as if disaster is in the air. The people are nervous. A creeping sense of panic prevails among these tie soldiers . By morning, two soldiers are dead. They poisoned themselves out of fear.
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- possibly Stockmine 44
- If the night march began at 11 p.m. and the sun rose at 5.30 a.m., they might have covered 25 km and reached the Nida-Butinge-Sventoji area, or perhaps only 17 km to Pape, which is more convenient to Rucava (the starting point for the march of the large prisoner column that followed later).
- он спит
- Thus the author initially got rid of his service wristwatch (army model with a black dial); in July in Ventspils, however, he had already acquired another, presumably the Luftwaffe watch with a white dial which he jokingly referred to as a "hair-trigger Wehrmacht service watch", which he had gold-plated (which unfortunately affected its accuracy), and which he wore until the end of his life.
- The author specifically mentions 8 May 1945, 4 p.m. as the start of the escape and 10 May 1945, 2.30 p.m. as the day of capture, but only reports a single night march and no overnight stay during the day. So it should actually be 9 May, or there were 2 night marches.
- застрелять, rather "take"
- цыгане, сами цыгане
- специальны[е] [военно]пленны[е]
- presumably the Libau-Krottingen road
- ничего, nothing (obviously pronounced "nichego")
- derogatory term for Luftwaffe soldiers