Wolfhilde's Hitler Youth Diary 1939-1946
Written by Wolfhilde von König

Russian Prisoner Of War

As told by Emanuel von Koenig, Wolfhilde's younger brother.  This starts on page 288 of the book.  He was just 18 years old in 1945...

    10 - DAD_RUSSIAN POW.mp3

Russian Prisoner of War - April 1945 thru June 1946:

The Long Road Home.


A few days before being captured we were on patrol and stopped for a short rest in a wooded area. I noticed the body of a dead German soldier, lying face down. Since we were short on ammo and food, I went over to inspect his knapsack. No ammo but a piece of sausage and a pair of red and black knitted mittens. Since the nights were still pretty cold I kept the mittens—and shared the sausage.

On the day before my capture we held a position along a ridge and we were strung out relatively thin. In the late afternoon, our unit was apparently pulled back - but the order did not reach us at the end of the line. It became dark and there were the four of us, isolated.

From our location we could see a few burning farm houses and they gave enough light to be able to see Russian columns moving along a road. We decided on the direction to go and after a few hours we came to an abandoned village. We were exhausted, went to a farmhouse, went upstairs and found a place to sleep. What woke us up in the morning was the unmistakable sound of moving tanks.  Then it suddenly dawned on us that there was no German armor anywhere near.

Russian tanks and infantry were moving through the village and we noticed patrols working their way down the road going from house to house.  It was not long before one entered the house we were in.  We heard, in German, the question if there was anybody there? I answered: Yes. How many?  Four.  Come down with your hands up.  

I had learned from experience that in confrontation it is best to project a very positive attitude and positive thoughts.  I was the first one and as I came around the landing to the staircase, at the bottom of the stairs were three Russian soldiers with three submachine guns pointing at my belly.  All went well.  They treated us kindly and even shared some food.  We were taken to a collection point which was the fenced-in yard of a farm.  During the day more prisoners were brought in.

Late afternoon we were taken individually to the back of the barn.  Standing there were a Russian soldier and a German officer.  I need to point out that after the defeat at Stalingrad a number of German officers formed a group to work with the Russians.  They believed, at that point, that the war was lost anyway, and that their cooperation could shorten the duration of the war and save lives.  He was one of these officers.  His first order was for me to turn over any valuables—coins, wristwatch, rings and any other jewelry.

When I opened my knapsack the Russian became very agitated and released the safety catch on his rifle.  The officer apparently told him to calm down and then asked me how I came to have the mittens. It turned out that they were Russian Army- issue.  After I explained how I got them and this was conveyed to the Russian, the safety went back on. Of course he kept the mittens.

The next morning we started marching and during the day the ranks of our column swelled.  At about noon we had a short break.  We were allowed to drink from a creek which was adjacent to the road.  We all flopped down to fill up on water.  When I had enough, I looked up and on the other side of the creek I saw the bloated bodies of two dead cows in the water.   Too late to worry.

A few hours later we came to a small village. There was a knoll with a number of Russians standing around. We were ordered into a single file formation and led to a spot where there were many baskets full of scissors; anything from nail scissors to garden shears.

A Russian would call two of us, take the next scissors and go through some pointing motions meaning: "Cut each other’s hair." We recognized that this was the beginning of a delousing operation.

To one side were picnic tables staffed by mean-looking Russian woman soldiers.  Once sheared, we had to strip, put our clothing in a net-type bag and submit to being sudsed and  shaved over every part of the body.   Then into a mobile unit to be sprayed with some awful smelling stuff, followed by a cold shower.

We spent the night in a fenced field. The next morning I was called by name to be taken to interrogation. I wondered how they knew my name and then I noticed that all my papers were gone. I was still in Navy Blues and I figured that because of that they wanted to take a closer look at me. I was taken into a house where, behind a table in the interrogation room, sat a Russian officer. He spoke perfect German.

"Sit down. Your name is Emanuel von Koenig?"

 "Yes, Sir."

"The von in your name indicates nobility; therefore, your father is a Junker and Junkers have large land holdings. What I want to know from you right now is where those holdings are located."

"My father works for the State Railroad. He is a surveyor.  We live in a rented apartment in Munich and I have never heard of any properties."

He changed the subject for a while and then came back to the same question. I gave the same answer.   He then advised me of the penalties for lying to an interrogating officer. He repeated the question; I gave the same answer.

Then he made me an offer: “We will take you behind the German lines.  If you can convince some German soldiers to surrender and come back with you, we will release you and you can go home.”

I saw that as just two more chances to get shot. I declined. Then, more questions. This went on for about 20 minutes before he handed me my papers and terminated the interview. At the door, I was reprimanded because I had not saluted the officer upon departure.

I rejoined the column of prisoners and the next afternoon we arrived at our first camp. Inside a large fenced-in area, several very large storage sheds became our quarters. The place must have been some commercial enterprise. In the buildings were some low platforms probably for storing something. There was no straw and we slept on the wood. The food was terrible. Once a day some thin soup, thickened with some starch and floating around were some kernels of barley. The bread was awful, very black and the center not baked through. It was not very long before I, among others, developed problems with stomach and intestines.

The system in the Russian camp administration was such that if you became sufficiently ill you were transferred to another camp which had only ill people. In the first of such camps I got an upper bunk and I noticed the wall smeared with blood. Squashed bed bugs!

As my situation deteriorated I was moved again to another camp.   It had buildings with three stories and I learned that each building housed prisoners who had different infectious diseases.   My building was for non-infectious people like me, but even so, the death rate was appreciable. We slept on straw on the floor next to each other.

On some mornings you would wake up and find that your neighbor had died during the night. The idea that I could die never occurred to me. I was no longer in combat and there were no longer any bullets which had my name on them.

I had one more camp transfer. It was in Poland not too far from the German border. In this camp, once a week, there was a lineup of those prisoners where it was questionable whether or not they make it to next week. If the judgment was a NO, the prisoner received his release papers, a railroad ticket to his home town, a piece of sausage and 1½ loaf of bread.

Once you walked through the gate of the camp, you were considered a free man and the Russians could care less what happened to you then. You were no longer their problem.   If you died, the locals had to bury you.

One week it was my turn in the lineup. We had little tags with our name and a description of what was wrong. The person who made the inspection that day was a German army doctor, also a prisoner. When he came to me he looked at my name and started asking a few question. It turned out that he and my father, at the beginning of the war, served in the same unit and used to play cards together. I will never forget his last words to me: "Son, I will never get out of here, but you will." He signed me off and I was released.

Thank you, God. This was early in July 1945.

Back in Munich, in mid April 1945, a friend of my parents defied the threat of a death penalty and listened to a Swiss radio station, picking up the news of the bombing and the sinking of the ship I was on. He advised my mother. Shortly after the war ended, in June of 45, my father returned from service. At the time of my hospital stay in East Germany there was no opportunity for mail to the West. Lacking any other information, my parents had to assume that I went down with the ship. Based on this assumption, they decided to apply all available funds toward enabling my sister to continue her studies and become a doctor.

A small group of us made our way to the railroad station and waited for a train going in the direction of Berlin. There we found shelter for the night. The next morning we started walking to the station from which our next train would be leaving. People recognized us as released POWs and we were constantly approached and questioned if we knew anything about a loved one.

On the continuation of my trip I had to transfer a few times and ultimately wound up in the town of Eilenburg on the river Mulde, near Leipzig.  The train could go no further.

The Russians had declared the river a demarcation line and one could only cross with a special pass.  I wound up in a refugee camp and after a few days developed pleurisy.

Twice a week the ambulance from the hospital, located on the other side of the river, was allowed to enter the camp and take the two worst cases with them. It was about two weeks or so when I was taken out.  I must have been quite a sight, dirty and unwashed, down to about 130 pounds.

Once in the hospital, I only remember being undressed and lowered into a tub with nice warm water, then I passed out.  When I woke up I found myself in a single-bed room.

It took three procedures to remove all the blood from my lung cavity.

After some weeks I was moved to a general ward where I had to teach my spindly legs to walk again.  As time passed, I regained my strength and put weight back on. After about five months things became quite boring and I asked to be given something to do. I started helping out in the Lab and in the office.

I was also encouraged to go on brisk walks to strengthen my leg muscles and give my lungs a work out.

Life had its interesting moments but I yearned to get back home and felt ready to leave.

Then in January 1946 the hospital experienced a typhoid epidemic. I became infected and it hit me pretty hard.

Another patient, also from Munich, was released in March of 46 and through him my parents learned of my whereabouts.

After a total hospital time of 11 months I finally was able to continue my journey and I arrived in Munich in mid-June of 1946. I walked home from the railroad station. It felt good to see the city again.

On the way I met an old school friend. He greeted me and I started crying. My nerves let go.   After I collected myself I continued and when I turned the comer into our street I saw my father leaning out the window, smoking. I was halfway down the street before he recognized me and let out a holler.

My parents and my sister were delighted to see me again. Happy reunion!

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