Hans, Berlin 1945
Our backs were now to the Chancellery. The game was almost over. My brothers were safe for the moment, and we were eating better than most in the Reich at the time. However, reality was becoming difficult to ignore. I was hoping the Americans would arrive soon. It was important that we should be defeated by them rather than by the Russians!
Did it matter that the SS who fed me as one of them, who also fed my Jewish companions… did it matter that they would kill us all if they found out about my brothers?
No it didn't matter. We lived with what we had. This was not a moment to worry about the hand that fate had dealt us. We had what we had. Some of it was shit and some was pure gold. The Fuhrer, our nation's leader, a man I admired and loved, thought me a hero and that was the most wonderful thing imaginable. Now all I had to do was use it to keep us alive until we were defeated. If we were defeated by Americans and British then we should live. If it was the Russians… then I would kill us.
I hoped it would not be Russians, we had come too far for that.
I still had my potato-masher grenade… our ticket to peace, if it came to that… I would gather us in a family huddle and quietly pull the pin from the grenade… hopefully we would all be dead before the pain arrived.
I hoped it wouldn't come to that, we had come too far. But if it did then I took comfort in the thought that Mama, Papa, my brothers, Waldi, Jan's mother and Gramma were all waiting for us.
That night we slept in a cellar close to the SS command-post. If my Fuhrer needed me close-by then that was where I would be. Curiously, we felt safer than we had for a long time. Even though we were surrounded by Russian and SS forces, all of whose one aim was to kill us.
Solo and I chose a quiet corner of the cellar. We had a mattress and blankets, someone had lived there before us. The bedding might have lice in it but we didn't care, typhus was a distant worry… and we had each other.
I curled around Sol, his smaller body tucked into my stomach, my hardness pressed against his bottom. I kissed the curls on the back of his neck. They smelled of stone-dust.
"We have come a long way together Hans."
"Yes… I expect we have a long way to go still." I said reassuringly.
"Shall we make it out of here? The Russians have us bottled up pretty thoroughly."
"As the Fuhrer said… that depends. I don't think it matters what the missing Army Groups do now. If they were going to arrive in time then we should have heard their guns."
"Hans, we're just a bunch of kids amongst the ruins… why can't we just make a run for it? If we head west we shall meet the Americans eventually!"
My little Solo was growing up. He was thinking for himself… I felt a little weight lift off me.
"If it was just you Solo I would say let's go for it, but… I wear a uniform, I have a duty to the Fuhrer to stay here as long as he needs me. If he releases me from that… then I can run!"
He could see the humour and irony of his role as the Fuhrer's Jewish defender…
"You are right, we can't run, we must behave like Germans!"
Then he laughed quietly and a little hysterically…
"Like the Germans who murdered my parents, and got yours killed!"
"No, like Germans whose Fuhrer tried his best, and who at the end took time to thank us for doing our duty. He is still looking after us… he gave us the SS-Oberst to keep you safe."
"Anyway, I think the Russians hate your people as much as mine did. When this is over you really must try making more friends than enemies!"
We both giggled… at that moment black-humour was better than none.
I pulled him closer, and the hand that had been gentling him in a maternal way I allowed to drift down to his pants. He sighed and put a hand backwards to press my bottom into closer contact. I kissed him. I could feel tears silently running down his face.
I took him in my hand and as he stiffened I opened his pants. In the last few months he had begun to grow up. I could feel small curls tickling the side of my hand. He was becoming a man.
"You are growing up Sol"
"I just want time to finish doing it!"
"You will, I promise… "
I didn't know how I was going to keep that promise… but I had kept the promises that I had made to the Fuhrer when I was ten, and I had kept my promise to Gramma, so maybe I would find a way to keep this one.
I loved Sol. I loved all four of them, as brothers, but Sol I knew I loved as more than that. The soft gentle nature of this boy whose only wish had been to become a rabbi and make his mother proud… I loved him… he was crying and I needed to make him stop, to make him sleep. Tomorrow was another day… and maybe, if we were lucky, there would be another one after that.
If we were lucky.
I followed instinct and the needs of love. I began to stroke him gently.
I felt his cheek become warm.
He tried to get his hand to me, but I pressed him away infinitely gently.
"No Sol, this is for you."
I brought him to full excitement and held him there as long as I could. I knew that just for those few minutes his mind was empty of the loss of his family, empty of the fear of tomorrow… empty of everything except the love that was desperate to make an end and desperate that it last for ever.
When I heard him begin to whimper I speeded up slightly and infinitely slowly brought him to a sudden crash. It was the biggest ending I had ever seen, or rather felt in the darkness. His body jerked in near epilepsy. He had been tense with fear and all of that, the sex and love unleashed themselves in just a few moments of emission.
"I love you Hans… you are the best brother ever!"
"I love you Sol… I couldn't have hoped for such a brother again either!"
Then we both cried ourselves to sleep, but now they were tears of hope, I had after all made him a promise and I intended to keep that promise. Somehow I would get my little family to safety. But it did depend on what the Fuhrer did next… and he didn't seem to have many options left.
Two days later, another eight Russians had died, and the Fuhrer made our decision for us.
When we went to the SS command post we immediately realised that the mood was very sombre. The colonel came to greet us.
"Right, my young Sturmbannfuhrer, I have a task for you… First, did you bring everyone in your group with you… nobody left in hiding?"
" No, mein Oberst, we are all here. We shall carry out whatever task you have for us!"
"Your orders come direct from the Fuhrer. They were given to me, by the Fuhrer himself, on the day that you received your field-promotion. He was prepared even for this moment."
I stood at attention, ready for whatever was to follow.
"It is time for us to evacuate the secretaries and the remainder of the children. The time has come."
"But Herr Oberst, we are not children, we are fighters here to defend the Fuhrer… surely he needs us!"
"No, Sturmbannfuhrer, indeed you are NOT the children!
"No. you are not the refugees here… You are the escort!
"Gather all the automatic weapons, Panzerfaust and ammunition that you two can carry." He pointed to Solo and me. Then he pointed to the little guys…
"You… Run to the SS field kitchen. Tell them that the Oberst has ordered you to collect sufficient lightweight rations in knapsacks for ten people for two days. If they have no proper rations, then as much bread and cheese as you can carry. Also water, as much water as you can manage". Take all that to the south-west gate of the Chancellery and wait there for your… for SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Hansi to join you"
He turned back to me…
"Remember… It is the Fuhrer's last wish that his staff should reach safety… and that's the American lines, not the Russians. So you have quite a journey ahead of you."
"His last wish?" I said in a small voice.
"Yes, well no… maybe… Last night the Fuhrer authorised that attempts be made to break out towards the American lines."
"But what of the Fuhrer?"
"The Fuhrer's life has been dedicated to the greatness of our nation. I am sure that he intends to ensure that his life shall not continue one moment longer than it serves the dignity of our nation."
"You mean… he will die rather than… be taken alive!"
"That would be logical… but that is no longer our problem… we have our orders."
"You and your brothers must take the women and children to safety."
"You travelled hundreds of miles alone. You are better qualified to lead this party than anyone else I know. These are his people, the Fuhrer is trusting you to look after them."
"Blend in with the hordes of refugees. Get them to the Americans."
"Jawohl mein Oberst!"
"Sturmbannfuhrer Kersten, you have been brave and resourceful… be brave now… Have a long and successful life… remember us!"
"I shall, and thank you… Look after the Fuhrer!"
The Oberst was quietly crying… I turned away and pretended not to notice.
Then I changed my mind, turned back, threw my arms around his smoke blackened uniform and hugged him.
"Thank you, my Oberst, thank you for everything you've done for us. I will make sure everyone reaches safety. The Fuhrer will not be let down by me!"
Then one last time, I threw him a magnificent straight-arm salute, cried…
"Heil Hitler" for the very last time ever, and ran off before we could embarrass ourselves.
Over the noise of the battle, I heard…
"Heil Hitler… Good-luck Hansi!"
At the Chancellery, Brigadier Mohnke had gathered a group. I recognised a number of them; secretaries Junge, Christian and Krüger, Hitler's dietician Manziarly, Dr. Schenck, Walther Hewel and a number of others.
The Brigadier being a soldier intended to break out towards the German Army which was positioned in Prinzenallee. That just struck me as jumping from the frying pan into the fire. The German Army was after all exactly where the Russians were headed.
I said to the party that were waiting for me that we would be better off heading for somewhere quieter and attempting to slip through and blend with the mass of refugees already headed west. I think the Oberst had chosen my party well, they all nodded and I felt that they had more confidence in me than the Brigadier. No one changed groups.
On the other hand, a few of his group separated themselves from his suicide mission and joined us. Perhaps they thought that street-wise Hitler Youth fighters showed more promise than desk-Generals… I don't know… I certainly thought so!
Whatever their reasons I soon had a small party of secretaries, two children and my brothers waiting for me. We re-entered the Chancellery and I led them down into the cellars. One of the ladies became fearful that we were lost and that the Russians could appear at any moment…
"Hansi, where are you taking us? Is this the way? One cellar looks just like another!"
"I played hide and seek down here many times with the Goebells-kinder and the two sons of Herr Heydrich, before he was killed. I know these cellars like you know your filing system… a mystery to everyone else but not to us!" and I smiled to give them confidence.
We came out at the Friedrichstrasse Bahnhoff, in time to see Reichsleiter Martin Bormann, Dr. Stumpfegger and Brigadier Mohnke ahead of us. Their group headed back up to the surface. There would be chaos up there with hundreds of civilians and military personnel attempting to find refuge.
We instead headed on down, taking passages that led further from the mass of High Command and bureaucrats who were still arguing, and doing everything but take minutes… Some things didn't change even when their world was coming down round their ears. I was more certain than ever that our little nondescript group stood a much better chance of escape than they had.
We had heard them say that they intended to cross the Weidendammer bridge under cover of some Tiger tanks. I thought 'yes, and under a huge Russian artillery barrage as well!' That had been the point at which we left them completely! It seemed a good idea to be as far away from them as possible when they and their tanks were spotted by the Russians.
I addressed the party.
"If we take the little footbridge downstream from the Weidenhammer bridge then we shall be twice better off. It will be quieter anyway, and second the Russians will be too busy with the Tigers at Weidendammer to bother with us."
When we got there we could see an even smaller group crouched low and running for the footbridge. I said, "We'll let Bormann and Stumpfegger cross ahead of us here, and then when the Tigers attack at the Weidendammer we'll make our move. Having Bormann ahead of us will give us a clue as to what we face… He always wanted to lead the Reich, so we should let him do it now."
To their credit there were a few brave little smiles at my poor attempt at a joke.
As it turned out the little metal bridge was quiet, Bormann and his party disappeared into the smoke without incident. When we heard the barrage start upstream we were on our way. I told them to look like a party of women and kids.
I carefully took off my helmet. "If we don't look like soldiers, hopefully they won't bother with us. They can't waste time rounding up women and children when there is a major battle going on upstream. If they can they'll shoot us, but they aren't going to chase us. Keep down, run fast and keep running. If we can make the next two miles safely we should be through most of their forces… After that, they are facing towards Berlin centre, once we are past them they won't even be interested in us."
That was Sturmbannfuhrer Hansi's briefing to his troop!
In fact it was one of the more successful military plans to come out of the Chancellery that week.
By dawn we were well on our way. We had a long way to go but the enemy had bigger fish to fry than us. We had our backs to them and they had theirs to ours. I thought of the Oberst and prayed silently that he was safe. I knew what he had done for us, and what the Fuhrer had wanted him to do for us… I was grateful and sad for all of them, but I was also too busy shepherding my little band to think about them for long.
We had travelled rather more north, maybe even north-east than I wanted, but there were Russians directly south of us, so I was going round the top, eventually we would have to find a way to get west again.
We were walking along a railway line when I heard clumsy footsteps and swearing behind us. I quietly told the others to keep going, I would check who was following us, and tell them to be quiet before they got us killed. I hid and waited.
Two figures appeared out of the darkness. I could see that they were carrying suitcases so it was likely they were Germans, but they could be Russian looters. Either way I didn't want them following us. They were making enough noise for a small regiment. If they were Germans then they had forgotten any Jugend field craft they ever learned!
I picked up a stone about the size of an apple, and threw it in a high arc, like a grenade. If they thought it was a dud grenade then they might fear a second live one. They stopped and dived flat. One of them made a strange noise, struggled for a few minutes and then lay still. His companion stood up. "Kamerad!" he shouted.
That I didn't need! Shouting! The man was an idiot and was going to get us killed!
I ran towards him, urgently whispering "Silence!"
He kept on saying "Kamerad! Kamerad!"
I ran up and without stopping hit him in the jaw with the butt of my assault rifle. He went down, and his mouth fell open as his eyes bulged and he gasped "Hansi!"
From him there came a strange smell of almonds and I suddenly realised that he must have had a cyanide capsule ready in his mouth and my rifle butt blow had crushed it. There had been a lot of worry in the Fuhrerbunker about how effective the capsules were. This one certainly worked. He struggled to breathe for thirty seconds, maybe a minute… then he was gone.
Avoiding the toxic fumes I turned his face towards the light and gasped…
I had just killed Martin Bormann.
I looked then at the other man… 'Dr Stumpfegger'
I had probably killed as many residents of the bunker as the Russians had that night!
I left them there on the side of the railway line and bending double I ran to catch up with the others.
"Who was it?"
"They aren't following us… anymore!" I said abruptly.
No-one asked any more of me. Maybe they were reassured that when people followed us they stopped if I went after them. Maybe they just had enough problems of their own that they didn't need to speculate as to what I had done to stop our pursuit.
But Solo in particular looked scared. He hadn't looked this scared earlier.
He edged a little further away from me.
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