Here is my unique story. I am a survivor of World War II, having been born in Berlin, Germany. As a child I suffered through the bombings and the consequences from the war. Yet just a few years later I was serving in the United States Army in Korea.
I was born July 20, 1933 in Berlin in an area called Berlin-Staaken the same year Hitler came to power.
Our home was nothing more than a small shed, which my dad built on a small plot of ground that he rented. Our home was about the size of a one car garage and was our home for about 18 years.
We lived a simple life. We used an oil lamp for our light at night. Our small coal stove kept the place warm which also provided the fire to cook our food. Our only source of water was from an outside pump located near the entrance door. Sometimes the pump froze up in the winter, often we had to build a fire to melt the frozen pipe. Then the pump could function again. We did this by digging a deep hole around the pipe where we built a fire around it.
Before there was any sense of war, when I was around 9 years old all the children were required to join the Hitler Youth. We lived in Berlin-Spandeau, in the outskirts of Berlin, so much of the intensity of the program did not affect me as it did for others in Berlin. For me, at the time, it was almost like going to camp. We had our meetings and learning sporting and survival skills. Nonetheless I also learned how to shoot the German Bazooka, the “Panzerfaust” and was give a Hitler Youth pin and dagger. Luckily for me I didn’t become intensely involved. I think, partly due to my mother, as well as luck. I do remember one time marching as a group down the street, with instruments and a drum, loudly singing the Hitler Youth songs.
By the time I turned 6 the political conditions were starting to get intense, and bad times would be quickly approaching. But I was still oblivious to the fact that there was a war going on, which at that time was far away from Berlin. My parents did not talk about such things, at least not in my presence and so at that time life went on.
The Nazi party had gain control, and pressure was mounting, many terrible things were happening. It was getting to be a fearful time to live. At that time, it was not unusual for citizens who were against the Nazi regime to disappear. Things were starting to move in a rapid way one by one. For instance, Hitler removed all the standing Judges and replaced them with his own judges who supported his philosophy.
For the regular people simple infractions became law such as if you did not fly the Nazi flag you would be in trouble.
My dad said that a neighbor who was an active member of the Nazi Political Party was always trying to get him to go to their meetings. He didn’t like the Nazi party and he didn’t want to go to their meetings. And he didn’t want to fly the Nazi flag, even if he could have afforded one. But he was afraid this man was a spy and might turn him in.
The people were also required to take the Nazi newspaper. My dad could not afford the paper in the first place, and secondly, he didn’t want the paper, and therefore was turned in by the paper delivery boy.
He figured he had better do something. So, in order to keep out of trouble my dad created a small 8″ square plaque he made out of scrap metal he found at work, painted it red and black with a swastika on it and attached it to the outer wall of our house.
Germany was suffering from a great depression since the 20’s and when Hitler came to power he promised food and jobs for all the people, he would build highways and promised that each family would have a Volkswaagen car “the peoples car” and many other things.
But he turned out to be a cruel and ruthless dictator and was ben on revenge about World War I, plus he blamed the bad economy, and other things, on the Jewish people. He first instructed them to leave Germany. Those that didn’t were persecuted. He also demanded total devotion form the German people. Anyone who disagreed with his ideology was put in Concentration Camps or outright executed. Little did most of the regular citizens know, that he was persecuting and eliminating German citizens who did not agree with him. Many were teachers and professors. When they started finding out, they feared for their own lives.
Here is how the oath of allegiance changed. Before August 1934 it read, “I swear by Almighty God this sacred oath; I will at all times loyally and honestly serve my people and country. And, as a brave soldier, I will be ready at all times to stake my life on this Oath.”
The Fuehrer Oath, effective August 2, 1934, it read, “I swear by Almighty God this sacred Oath: I will render unconditional obedience to the Fuehrer of the German Reich and People. Adolf Hitler, Supreme Commander of the Wehremacht, and, as a brave soldier, I will be ready at any time to stake my life for this Oath.”
World War II started in September of 1939 when Hitler attacked Poland. I was 6 years old at this time, however the first memory I had of war was when my dad was drafted and came home wearing a uniform. This was in about 1943 or 44 and I was about 9 or 10 years old. He was classified as “not fit for combat” because of a heart murmur and was sent to a military base in Berlin to be a cook. He worked there during the week, and then on weekends he would come home. He was able to bring home leftovers to our family, which was a great boon to us because food was scarce.
I remember when the heavy bombing of Berlin started from the Allied Forces. Suddenly the war that I barely knew existed was in our face. In the beginning the bombing of Berlin was intermittent but after awhile it came nightly. Towards the end, the bombing increased as much as three times a night in 1944 and 1945. We were all very afraid. There was an armored tank factory about two blocks away from our home. This was an attractive target, and our neighborhood often took the flack.
A large home down the street from us had a large cellar. It was designated by the local defense people as the neighborhood bomb shelter. The bombings occurred every night by eleven o’clock. As the sirens would go off in the darkness all the people would rush for the shelter.
Sometimes there was not enough time for our family to reach the shelter before the airplanes were above us. Either the sirens had not sounded soon enough, or sometimes it was very difficult for my parents to wake us up.
So, my dad decided to dig his own shelter next to our home for those occasions. He dug a long deep hole in our yard and placed logs across the top and covered it with dirt. On either end, he left it open to allow enough room to get in and out. This makeshift shelter provided more safety than just staying in our house.
We could hear the low roar of the bombers as they approached. There was a certain kind of whistling sound as the bombs fell. We watched the battles against the darkness of the sky. There were rumblings and artillery light flashes going on, with bullets and fragments flying all around in the darkness.
Then, of course, the German ground artillery would follow up with their defensive actions and fire back at the airplanes. Sometimes they would take down an airplane and in the search lights we could spot the parachuter jumping out of the airplane.
From our bomb shelter we could see all these battles going on in the air…If you can imagine as a child, seeing, bombs falling, drifting parachutes, and searchlights shining back and forth into the night time sky.
Ironically, the neighborhood bomb shelter was hit one time and we were in it. Other people had to come to dig us out of the debris and rubble. The good thing was that only the one corner of the house was destroyed.
The planes flew in formation. There would be perhaps twenty planes flying in what was called a carpet formation and on command all the planes would release their bombs all at the same time, creating it a “carpet” of bombs aimed at their target.
Despite the bombing, the ordinary people tried to have some resemblance of a normal life. Because the air raids occurred at night, the people knew they could go to work the next day, providing they survived the air raid, went to work; and the children went to school.
The next day on the way to school we would look for the shrapnel lying around. If they were shiny, the boys decided that those were from last night, others with rust were from earlier times.
There was one kind of bomb that was rather small, a cylinder half the length of a fence post. The shape was 6 sided and about 6 inches in diameter. It was designed to start fires rather than explode outright. It had a delayed ignition and upon detonation it would fizz, then flame up. Often it would hit the roof of an apartment breaking through the roof and just lie there, but not having enough force to penetrate the structure.
The next day after the bombs fell the grownups would help each other to clean up the damage, whether it was someone’s home or debris that had fallen on the roadways.
There was a short time that we were staying with a family, not long after getting there, the Russians had reached the subdivision and we found ourselves in the center of a battle between the two opposing forces. The Russians on one side of the river and the Germans on the other side. The shooting and bombing came from both sides with us in the middle. While we, as citizens, were not the target some of the German and Russian artillery would hit our homes. There was no basement to hide in and not knowing what else to do my mother and her friend were always hiding in the attic. One time it was decided to bring the women down from the attic. Just as soon as the women got down, the house was hit by a bomb which knocked out the very corner where they had been hiding.
In preparing for this battle the bridge over the river near the subdivision had been blown up by the German military so that the Russian tanks would be stopped. It was not long after, that some people trying to get on the other side, made a makeshift raft, it capsized, and several people drowned. I was there fishing for cray fish when it happened and witnessed the whole thing. The drowned people were brought to shore by the rescuers.
As the Russians took over, any German soldiers, or other men who were found in hiding were captured and taken to a shelter, not long after they had to walk to Poland where they were marched toward Russia. The first thing they were forced to do was to harvest crops for the Russians. If they survived that ordeal, were transported to Siberia in cattle cars. They were given very little food and water.
The Russian soldiers claimed the spoils of war and took for themselves anything they wanted. They took bicycles, watches and water faucets back to their homes in Russia. They wanted running water, not understanding where the water came from.
In this advance the Russian soldiers overtook our little subdivision making themselves at home, eating what little food the people had, and otherwise taking over. During this time, I witnessed and experienced some very horrific things no child should have to endure.
One Russian soldier, an officer, had made himself “at home” in the house next to ours, and discovered that the parents had been concealing the presence of their 13-year old daughter whom they had been keeping indoors. They had also dressed her to look like a boy and cut her hair hoping this would help to keep her safe.
But when the soldier took over the home the girl was discovered. He decided that he was going to save her for himself. But upon returning to the home after some duty, he found out that another Russian soldier under him had also found her…and had already raped her. He was livid that the other solder had gotten to her first. He dragged the man into the nearby woods, hung him upside down from a tree and shot him in the head, leaving him dead, cut him down, running over him with their own tanks.
For a long time, I debated whether or not to describe this next part of my story because it was so dreadful. But I finally decided to relate these stories as a warning to others that we need to be ever vigilant in protecting and defending our freedoms and our families.
The Allied forces estimated that in Berlin alone, some 90 thousand young women were raped by the conquering Russian soldiers.
In my family, my Aunt Gertrude had married her husband, a young pilot on leave, on July 28, 1944. The very next day returning to battle, he was shot and killed. She was left all alone and defenseless. In the ensuing years during the Russian occupation, on several occasions she was raped by Russian soldiers which resulted in two different pregnancies. She bore two sons, and lovingly raised them.
The first was named Klaus and was born February 1945. He died as a young adult. The second son, Gerhard, was born April 1949 and grew up to be an upright person. He married and had two children. He lives in Poland.
I had another cousin, named Edeltraut Skrotzki, a teenage girl at the time. Who was so brutally raped and abused by the Russian soldiers it contributed to her death a few years later. She was only 14 or 15 years old when she was snatched up from a field where she was playing. She tried to escape but could not run fast enough. She had been shipped out to Siberia for five years. Over that time, she became very ill and was declared “useless” by the Russians. Amazingly in 1949 they actually sent her home, but she was in a very weak state of health and emotionally distraught. The family records show that she married in 1952 but died as a young woman.
While living with this family, the husbands had hidden their wives in the attic for their safety, but despite their efforts my own mother was discovered and raped by a Russian soldier.
Even I, as a young boy was not safe, and was abused and sexually assaulted by a Russian soldier. It was a very frightening experience. I felt dreadful and helpless and couldn’t speak about it to anyone for years.
My world had gone made. All this left a deep scar on my heart. I tried to bury these memories, and I kept the burden to myself and never told a soul these things for a very long time. It was just too awful.
These stories are heart wrenching and unbelievable.
In May of 1945 Berlin, after Hitler’s suicide, Germany had finally surrendered to the Allied Forces. They war was over, but that suffering was not.
As the fighting was coming to an end many men were captured by the Russians. My dad, who had been drafted into the German Volkstrum for less than a month was making his way home on foot, was captured by Russians, and before it was over he spent nearly 4 years as a Prisoner of War in Russia. Mind you this was after the war during the occupation.
Along with many other POWs they were put to work to aid the Russians. Most of that time was spent in Siberia. They were put to work on several different projects such as harvesting crops (that they were not allowed to eat), at a lumber camp and a rock quarry. Before my father was released he was suffering from severe malnutrition. During all that time, our family did not know what had happened to him, if he was alive or dead.
While he was gone my mother had to fend for herself and find ways to support herself and her two young sons in all this mess and confusion. This large city of Berlin had been reduced to rubble, there was no food, cats and dogs were eaten as there was no other food. My Mother was very clever in figuring out how to get food on the table. Leaving my little brother with a neighbor, she would take me with her. We would take the train to the end of the line where the farmers were. There we would beg for potatoes. We had to be careful coming home with our bounty, because if a Russian soldier wanted our food, they would just take it.
One time we witnessed a very sad sight. An old man with a pail of milk he had begged for from a farmer was confronted by a Russian soldier. He wanted the man’s milk, but the old man was not having it. So, he thought, if I’m not going to have it, neither are you and dumped the pail of milk right on top of him. Sadly, the Russian soldier pulled out his gun and shot the man dead.
During the last siege of Berlin there was hardly a building that had not been bombed out or had received some kind of damage. Every able-bodied individual, mostly the women, was called up by the government to help with cleaning up of the fallen bricks and rubble in the streets from the bombing. There was no one my mother could leave my little brother and me, so she had to take us with her. I was 12 and my brother was 6. As the people cleaned up the rubble they would find the dead bodies, and sometimes body parts like arms and legs. This is what we witnessed as young children.
After the takeover of Germany and Berlin by the Allied Forces, the Americans negotiated with Russia. Berlin was divided into 4 parts the part for the Russians became East Berlin. American, England, and the French joined together and became West Berlin. Likewise, the rest of the country became East and West Germany. The problem was Berlin was in the east, and Russia was determined not to bring in food and block all the roads into Berlin.
West Berlin was occupied by America, England, and France.
Concerned about the starving millions in Berlin, the Americans immediately worked to establish the Marshall plan to bring food to the starving people. They began an airlift into Berlin to avert the roads closed by the Russian government, supplying food and coal for West Berlin. This lasted over a year with a continuous stream of flights, one after another, only minutes apart. The Americans had no say in the East side.
One of the first things the Americans did was to send the children who were in a state of malnutrition to the out-laying farms so that the children would have access to nutritious food. I stayed with a farm family in Friesland, quite a long way from Berlin. After 6 months and well nourished, they brought us back to my Berlin.
This is when I entered an apprenticeship program at the age of 14. My dad was still missing but my mother wanted me to have a better life that they did and made sure I got some schooling. Every day I went to my boss (Malermeister, a title that he earned, here would call him a contractor). Before I went to work he would ask me if I had something to eat I would say no. Then he would give me something to eat. He and his wife were kind people. I graduated from this program and worked as a journeyman for a couple of years.
Before I finished this program, my dad returned. One day he just walked into the house, alive but sick, suffering from extreme malnutrition. What a lot of rejoicing went on that day. He had along story to tell. He didn’t to tell everything though because it was so terrible.
After a year or two an opportunity came for me to go to America. I was excited to this, but my dad said no. I was too young to set out on an adventure like that. I never let up, though. Repeatedly I asked again and again.
At the age of 19, after finally receiving permission from my parents I immigrated to America. All my belongings I carried in one suitcase.
I had hopes of a better life and tried to put the bad memories of the war behind me.
I flew to Hamburg, Germany, where my Uncle Fritz Stank picked me up. After a short visit with him, he took me to Bremen, Germany, where I boarded the ship the “SS Columbia” which took me to Halifax, England. In England the ship picked up a group of girls who had been there for the inauguration of the new Queen. We were only there long enough to pick them up and then back on our way to Quebec, Canada.
From there I was picked up by my American friend I met in Berlin after the war. He picked me up and we drove across the country to his parents’ home in Provo, Utah. These people helped me with all the things I needed to know and to get settled in my new country. They got me into college that helped me to learn some English.
Now that I was here in America I expected to build a wonderful life for myself and to at last enjoy the freedom I longed for, without fear of war and strife.
I was unprepared for prejudices I met from many people. They hated Germans and were not inhibited from letting me know. They made me feel very unwelcome. [At a later time, I realized that many families had lost their father or son during the war. That’s why they could not love German people. Then I could understand more].
I became very homesick, and if I would have had the money, I would have turned right back and return home to my family.
I didn’t expect that kind of behavior from gracious and freedom loving Americans. Of course, not all the people treated me this way. Many tried their best to make me feel welcome, but I had this underlying feeling of rejection and uncertainty.
Two years later, with the help of another benefactor, I was able to get my parents and brother to join me in Utah. I had no sooner got my parents and brother here and established (1955), when I received a letter from the President of the United States to report to Fort Douglas, Utah for a physical examination to be found fit to be drafted.
Thereafter, I was drafted into the U.S. Army. I reported to Fort Carson in Colorado for 16 weeks of basic training. After 8 weeks I was given 2 week furlough. During the time I returned to Salt Lake City and helped move my family from Provo to Salt Lake City.
Because of the circumstances it had been a great blow for all of us, so, I wanted to be sure they would be near the German community where they would feel more at home.
After my basic training was completed at Fort Carson, Colorado I was shipped to Fort Lewis, Washington where I and the other soldiers were shipped overseas.
We entered Inchon, South Korea and from there were transported to the Army camp on the 38th Parallel. It is aligned with the Injim River which divides South Korea and North Korea.
With an adventurous spirit I tried to make the best of the situation. While in Korea I gained valuable experience, not all was pleasant, regardless, I accepted every opportunity to serve my new country and do my duty. I accepted every assignment with eagerness, to learn what I could from it.
One of my first duties was to be a Guard on the 38th Parallel. We did what was called doubles, where one American soldier was teamed with one South Korean soldier.
One person was required to stand at the gate and the other covered him from the bushes. A sign on the fence said, “Stop. Not allowed to proceed” in the Korean language.
At Christmas time I took a picture of the mail truck. Painted on the back of the truck read: “Merry Christmas on the Front Line.”
Next, through an interesting set of circumstances, came the opportunity for me to work in the camp PX. While on a religious retreat in Japan I met a sergeant from another post. In conversation, I told him about how before being drafted I ran my own painting business. He wanted me in his PX and submitted a request to have me transferred to his unit. But when my sergeant saw the transfer request, he tore it up and put me in his PX. It was a very positive experience for me.
Essentially, I started out as a clerk as a PFC (private first class). In a short time, I worked my way up to Manager, second only to the Sergeant who was in charge of all personnel at the PX. There were about 6 others working as clerks. On becoming a manager of the PX, I was promoted to Specialist 4.
It was not only my job to sell merchandise, but as manager it was my duty to track the inventory, do the ordering, keep records and handle money. I got my own office space to do the paper work.
My major responsibility was to take the proceeds once a week to Headquarters in Seoul Korea – a day’s job. This was a great responsibility, but also a great privilege as this gave me the opportunity to check out a jeep from the motor pool to make the trip, something that the regular guy did not have the opportunity to do.
It was also my job to guard the merchandise and money. It was known that the Koreans would break in the PX for cigarettes, because of that we had to carry pistols. My sergeant and I were required to stay in the PX all night. The cots were set up in the inventory storage area. It was required that two people had to be there at all times, therefore the cooks also brought food for us. After getting this position, maltreatment lessened, because I was able to prove myself.
Being away from the barracks, I had more privacy which meant I could hang pictures and such. But especially this meant that I could avoid the nightly inspection at 11:00pm. With more privacy this made life a little more pleasant.
After my sergeant rotated back to the U.S., I was appointed to act in his place because by then I knew the whole operation. My name was up for Sergeant but before that could happen I was rotated back to the United States 16 days early, so I missed a great opportunity.
This led me to believe I didn’t qualify for some of the greater veteran benefits. Because of the language barrier and the particulars of the military jargon I didn’t understand.
It was much later that I learned the extent of the VA benefits, which I am now very grateful for. If I would have understood, I would have gone to College on the GI Bill. I was always interested in architecture and perhaps that might have been what I chose. Regardless it would have made a huge impact on me and my family for the better.
It had been a disappointment to me, after having escaped the sufferings of the war to leave. And now again being parted from my family and going into a possible danger zone.
But, in a way I thought going into the Army might change how people were treating me.
But even serving in the Army, I was exposed to hatred and abuse that I never would have expected from America. While in the field on a maneuver, I was in my sleeping bag. As the sun cracked the horizon a lieutenant come over to me and kicked me in the back and said, “Get up you Nazi Swine.”
I was alarmed and didn’t know what to do, or that I even had the right to do anything about it. I just sucked it up and just trie to make best of the situation and stick to my duty. Not all the people treated me badly, but I certainly felt discouraged. I decided to do my best and make best of my situation.
I’m glad I developed a good attitude because it helped me to have a better experience and to be able to learn many new things.
I served nearly two years in Korea and then four years in the Army Reserves for a total of six years of military service.
In 1959 after fulfilling all the citizenship requirements , the 5 years residency requirement, passing the American history test, the Constitution, citizenship classes, which included the Constitution, learning how the American government works, how laws are made, I became a Naturalized Citizen of the United States.
I was forever fascinated by the Constitution, and how the government works. I then went to court and was sworn in and took an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America!
The following letter and ribbon was presented to Korean Veterans by representatives of the Korean government at a special ceremony and celebration in 2000. It was the most impressive program I have ever seen.
Dear Walter Kuefner,
On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War, I would like to offer you my deepest gratitude for our noble contribution to the efforts to safeguard the Republic of Korea and uphold liberal democracy around the world. At the same time, I remember with endless respect and affection those who sacrificed their lives for that cause.
We Koreans hold dear in our hearts that conviction, courage, and spirit of sacrifice shown to us by such selfless friends as you, who enabled us to remain a free democratic nation.
The ideals of democracy, for which you were willing to sacrifice your all 50 years ago, have become universal values in this new century and millennium.
Half a century after the Korean War, we honor you and reaffirm our friendship, which helped to forge the blood alliance between our two countries. And we resolve once again to work with all friendly nations for the good of humankind and peace in the world.
I thank you once again for your noble sacrifice, and pray for your health and happiness.
Kim Dae-jung, President of the Republic of Korea
We honor you, Ewald Walter Kuefner.