Countdown to VE-Day

In the diary he kept during his time as a soldier in the German army and as a prisoner of war in Britain, Eberhard Wendler wrote the following in the period up to and including VE-Day.

22 April 1945:  We had a film show in the dining hall – a film about Friedrich Schiller*.

[*NOTE:  for the British authorities, finding suitable films to show to the German prisoners was a constant problem, as the German cinema industry had been controlled by the Nazi propaganda ministry for the duration of the war.  Films with cultural themes – such as this one about the German poet, philosopher and playwright Friedrich Schiller were among the few which were considered appropriate – RQ].

24 April 1945: My birthday. At midnight I was woken by three comrades – Koch, Böhme and Kuse – and they congratulated me. They had prepared a beautiful display of flowers on a little table, together with the picture of my family home that I’d had painted [by another prisoner]. At 16.00 hours that day we returned to the camp and were individually searched, and taken out on to the sports ground. When we went back into our hut everything had been turned upside down [by the guards].

6 May 1945: (Sunday): we had a film show. In the afternoon we had to hand in our vests and underpants, gloves and one blanket. In return we were issued with two pairs of short underpants.

7 May 1945: the war was over. On 8 May and 9 May we didn’t have to work.

[Eberhard’s account of the war ending is exceedingly brief.  Perhaps it was difficult to express his thoughts in words at the time.  Recently he told me: ‘When the war was over, we thanked God that it was finished and we were happy to be alive, but we wondered what was going to happen now. Germany had lost and they could do whatever they liked with us. And we thought they’d take it out on us.’]

TO BE CONTINUED …

Countdown to VE-Day: the countdown continues

Seventy years ago, Eberhard Wendler wrote in his diary:

15 April 1945:  bought myself a book – Der Polarwind und die Obrigkeit (The Polar Wind and the Majesty)* from my work-party leader for 20 large cigarettes, and bought a brush from the camp shop for 3s 6d [about 17p.]  In the evening there was a raffle organised by the Red Cross, and I got a cigar.  Ordered a text-book for learning English.         [*by Norwegian writer Lars Hansen]

17 April 1945:  According to the camp newspaper, Werdau has been captured [his home town in Saxony, Germany].

Countdown to V-E Day : 70 years on

Eberhard Wendler’s diary records some of the events which broke up the monotony in the POW camp where he was held prisoner during the last weeks of WW2.

8 March 1945: visited the camp dentist in the morning and walked in the afternoon.

15 March 1945: at the dentist’s again (he extracted one of my teeth, left upper).  I bought myself the book, ‘English in a few days’ – both volumes – for four shillings.

16 March 1945: had my watch cleaned for one shilling and had my two pictures framed.  [Note: many of the POWs had skills which they could barter in this way].

18 March 1945: we received our second uniform.  I got just one coat, and exchanged a pair of socks.  Since 11 March I’ve been attending English classes, Saturdays and Mondays.

26 March 1945: a rainy day – we were all back in camp by 4.00 p.m.  I received two packets from home.

29 March 1945:  I bought myself a large mirror for “1.8 Schilling” [1s 8d – about 8p in decimal money] and two brushes for one shilling [5p].

30 March 1945:  (Good Friday).  We worked till evening.  On 31 March and 2 April there was no work – Easter.

Note from Robin:  the above are actual diary entries from 70 years ago, recording the events in one soldier’s life.  In Hitler’s Last Army you can read about the Big Picture, with events and decisions which affected tens of thousands of German prisoners in the UK!

Countdown to VE-Day (continued)

On 21 February 1945 Eberhard Wendler wrote in his diary:

‘Received a letter from Willy and Gertrud posted on 28 November 1944.  Bought myself a pair of scissors for 2 shillings’

[Evidently the postal service was still slow.  Many useful items were bought, sold, and bartered among the prisoners.  Two shillings (10 pence in decimal currency) represented a prisoner-of-war’s wages for two days of farm work.  Cigarettes were also used as currency:  four cigarettes were worth about one shilling].

Clearly little of note happened during the next three weeks or so, because Eberhard makes no entries of any consequence until mid-March.  We’ll join him again then – seventy years on!

COUNTDOWN TO VE-DAY

Eberhard Wendler’s wartime diary continues:

‘10 February, 1945: at 2.00 p.m. I received the first parcel from home.  It contained skin cream, a mirror, a mouth-organ, a handkerchief, socks, sugar cubes, sardines in oil, and cakes.

11 February, 1945: I received the first letter from home dated 24 November 1944.’

Mail between POWs and their families went via Switzerland and wartime conditions inevitably made this a slow process.  The parcel from home on 10 February was the first communication of any kind that Eberhard had received from his family since his capture six months earlier. Finding a mouth-organ in the package left him a little puzzled, however, as his mother new very well that he did not play the instrument. But it turned out to have been an inspired gift, as he explained to me when I was researching the book:

‘I couldn’t play, but some of the others could. After lights-out it still went on. And you could hear people sobbing. Every song was about home. No marching songs. That word, Heimat, [home] is holy. You can’t translate it. It’s your homeland and your own village – it’s sacred to us. They played that mouth organ right through the night and you could hear them sobbing – all in the pitch dark. We love our home … the songs we have about home. I’ve got a satellite now and listen to German music – not news or politics, but the lovely songs.’