8. Mai 1945
8.5.45. A front cinema has announced itself for today. At the back of the battalion, in a barn on a farm, the film „Der Tag nach der Scheidung“ (The Day After the Divorce) is being shown. Each company is to send a platoon to the rear. I, too, go along. It is 11 o'clock in the morning. The film is playing. Kurfürstendamm and the Memorial Church appear on the screen. Honking cars and ringing trams in the hustle and bustle of traffic conjure up memories of home. Berlin! My home! Memories of peacetime experiences come to life. I am completely absorbed in these images of my homeland. The front and the war are forgotten.
Then a bright light shines into the dark room. A voice calls out: "First Lieutenant Schrödter to the adjutant!" Still quite dazed by the homely atmosphere of the film and somewhat reluctant about the interruption, I step out of the darkness of the barn into the open. Outside stands Lieutenant Bartenwerffer. He looks at me, takes a few steps with me and says only one word: "Over!" I understood immediately. Surrender! While I am thinking this, I hear him next to me pronounce the same word. Almost mechanically I reply, "Oh my goodness, what a mess!" This event does not come as a surprise, but now that it has happened, it looks a little different. Even more so at a moment when I was in Berlin in my thoughts. It was a cold shower.
While we are now slowly walking back to the battalion, the Adju gives me some more instructions on how to carry out the surrender procedure. At 2 p.m. the men in the positions are to put white cloths on the shelters. The Russians have instructions not to take over the positions until tomorrow. Everybody remain in the positions. It would be pointless to try to make their way to Libau, as all roads there are blocked by military police. Further instructions will follow later.
I also learn that the HQ Courland has been conducting surrender negotiations since 6 May Our surrender had become necessary because the Reich had already surrendered before and further resistance up here would have been pointless. The HQ deliberately dragged out negotiations with the Russians in order to still get as many people out of Courland as possible; in the two nights of 6-8 May alone, 80,000 men embarked in Libau and sailed for home, namely 30,000 officer cadets and 50,000 wounded. Hence the bombing raids on Libau during the last nights! However, it is questionable whether the transports will all reach home, because they were attacked by Soviet bombers and naval forces not only during shipment, but also during departure and at sea.
So I go back to my positions and announce the surrender to my soldiers. They take the news with stoic calm. It didn't really come as a surprise. I tell them to put white sheets on the bunkers at 2 p.m., that they should stay in their positions and that it would be pointless to withdraw. Then I go to my company command post, where I burn all the letters, diary entries, position and fire plans. Only the mine plans have to be handed over to the Russians according to the order. Then, to everyone's regret, I pour the cognac bottle, which is still almost full, into the water. The men would have preferred to drink it up, but it's better if we stay sober now. Afterwards, I take apart the Russian drum revolver I've been carrying since the Cauldron Battle of Uman and throw the individual parts into the swamp. Then I pack up the rest of my belongings and wait for things to come.
2pm. Now they put the towels out in front! After a quarter of an hour the phone rings: "Herr Oberleutnant, there are Russians in front of the position! They're waving and approaching our positions very slowly and carefully!" I immediately pass the message on to the battalion. According to the agreement, they're not supposed to come until tomorrow. This is already the first breach of the agreements by the Soviets! and this only a quarter of an hour after the agreements came into force. That is typical of the Russians.
Over by the Lithuanians, shots are fired. Infantry fire flares up. The Lithuanians do not surrender. They know what awaits them. The Soviets claim them as Soviet citizens and treat those who fought against them as traitors. This can mean death for all of them.
The field telephone rattles again. A sergeant is on the line: "Herr Oberleutnant, now the Iwans are in the positions! They are beside themselves with joy. They keep shouting 'Woina kaput, Itler kaput', taking the weapons from our men. A Soviet sergeant is behaving a bit rabidly. A disgusting fellow. The others are peaceful." That's how the report came through in torn sentences. I immediately passed everything on to the battalion. Soviet officers have already arrived there, Bartenwerffer tells me on the phone.
Once again the phone rattles: "They're disconnecting the phone now!" the platoon leader reports from the front. Then the connection is interrupted. I now contact the machine gun base on the island. They can overlook the whole section. The base reports that they are now gathering all the weapons and equipment at the front. Not all of them, by the way. The rascal sergeant threw his machine gun into the swamp before the Russians arrived at the position.
How everything crowds around the leader in danger! The whole company squad is around me, hanging on my face. Everything I do and say now is decisive for the inner balance of the men. The armoury sergeant has also come to me with his aide. If I got nervous now, the men might go crazy. But there is no cause for excitement.
Now the base reports that the company is lining up and being led out of the position. It is being taken to the Russian lines. Now I only have my company squad and the half-platoon on the island. The Iwans don't dare go into this dangerous swamp terrain.
I call the battalion, report the company's departure and suggest that we come to the battalion with the company squad. The adjutant doesn't really like it. After a while I call him again and make it clear that it is pointless to stay here alone. He agrees. I now divide the company squad into groups of two men each and let them move off to the rear at short intervals. First the radio operators with their equipment, then the telephone operators, then the armoury sergeant with assistant, then the messengers and finally myself with my medic.
Our last walk in freedom! What a pity for so much futile bravery, so much heroism, so much spilt blood! The only thing that remains is the awareness that the army did not lose this war. It was lost by the incapable clique of political demagogues around Hitler. This includes a few incompetents and Nazis on the Wehrmacht command staff. The politicians are the ones who lost it.
The Courland Army had to surrender because the empire had capitulated and because it no longer got any supplies. Their power of resistance remained unbroken. The Courland Army remained undefeated until the last hour!
8.5.45. The war is over and lost. You have to hand it to Hitler: what he does, he does thoroughly. He also lost this war thoroughly. If he had at least stood at the front in the trench and fought to the last cartridge, as he had always demanded of us, then it would have been an honourable exit! According to a law he himself had passed, suicide was considered desertion. Of all people, the man who always spoke of the high virtue of honour made the most dishonourable exit in front of history. His accomplices followed him on the same path. Cowardly and dishonourably they slipped out of history. The rise of the empire, which had begun so brilliantly, collapsed because of the inner worthlessness of its leaders.
These wretched party bigwigs, who constantly blathered about national honour, Germanic loyalty and holding out to the last drop of blood, deserted when they had to stake their own lives for their system. It is said that all party leaders and active Nazis had left the fortress of Courland with official tickets one day before the surrender. A nation that gives birth to such creatures and tolerates them among itself does not deserve a better fate. Now the the regular guy on Main Street has to bear the whole burden of the consequences of war.
Character is fate.
Should my life, with all the good intentions, plans and tasks I had set myself, remain so unfinished? My life was only in the shell stage. It is true that I had achieved my civilian career goal for the time being with my promotion to the position of grammar school teacher. In the field I had become first lieutenant and company chief. And I had married. When I could have begun to fill out my life, fate threw a spanner in the works. I am well aware that marriage is not a garden in which everything always blossoms and flourishes. But a person living alone is incomplete in some ways. I have found a woman who is not really my "type". In my mind I was always looking for a gentle, cuddly woman and found a very independent, headstrong and clever woman. Today I am very happy about that, because our children will need her when I - maybe - will not return. But I was clear about my marriage duties: the task of the spouses is to work their way up to a higher being in mutual formation and in common striving, to reach ever greater perfection and to bring each other to heaven. And to pass on the most precious of their essence to their children with the request to the Lord God that nature may graciously support them. This is the spirit in which I wanted to conduct my marriage.
And how I wanted to thank my dear parents for all the care and trouble they had taken on my behalf! Too late! I am glad that I was able to communicate this late realisation to my parents at least in a letter. For 35 years I lived more or less thoughtlessly with my parents. Now that I fear I will never see them again, I remember how rarely and how little I showed them my love and gratitude and what more I could have done for them.
I am not struggling with my fate because of this change in my life. A lot of things in life get stuck in good intentions anyway. So only a fraction of my good intentions would probably come true. But may the Lord God, if I don't see home again, take the good will for the deed.
Second Book: Soviet War Captivity
These notes are written under difficult conditions, often in a state of fatigue and under the oppressive circumstances of captivity. The text is almost entirely original records, often hidden from searches and finally smuggled out. It may contain some repetition and certainly also gaps.
After my release, I transferred the notes, which had been written in note form on small sheets of paper (copies on the Internet), to the sheets at hand. In doing so, I have left much in the telegraphic style of the original version, and put other things into words in somewhat more detail. I have added some events, but perhaps in the wrong chronological order. Although I still remember the individual experiences very clearly, the chronological order is perhaps not always correct. The temporal classification is also complicated because I was employed at some workplaces several times at different times. For example, I know with certainty that an event happened in summer or winter. I also remember exactly the place and the location where it happened. But I don't know in each case whether it happened in 1948 or 1949.
I cannot necessarily vouch for the truthfulness of the "Comrades tell" sections. With such reports, exaggerations and pomposity on the part of the narrators cannot be ruled out, although I personally, from my own knowledge and experience, do not doubt the truth of these reports in principle.
In the meantime, I myself have only had to correct my judgement of the Russians and their behaviour in a few points. After more than eight years of living in the Soviet Union and four and a half years of working with Russians of various professions, a fundamental change in my assessment was not necessary.
The incidents and experiences described are incontrovertible fact. They are absolutely true.
At home, people sometimes listened patiently to our reports about the conditions in Soviet captivity, but they did not believe them. Especially here in West Germany. "You were in captivity for five years," they said, "you are bitter, you exaggerate." Well, the West Germans have never seen a Russian, certainly not as an enemy. That's why they don't know him. I have only one wish left for these naively unbelieving contemporaries to open their eyes: Five years of Soviet captivity.
I. Escape Attempt and Discovery
|Area of the positions|
|4pm begin of flight across Lake Mekes to Jūrmalciems, about 8pm night march southward along the coast|
8.5.45 about 4 p.m. We had surrendered at 2 p.m., my company had meanwhile been led out of the positions by the Ivans, I had sent my company squad off to the battalion in batches and was now walking myself as the last one on the footbridge across the swampy terrain. Behind me walks my medic. His name is Schnaak or Schnack and he comes from Heide/Holstein. We approach the battalion, and eighty metres in front of us we can already make out one of our mortar emplacements which is already on solid ground. As we approach, we see that our mortar men are standing there with their hands up, while some Ivans search them from top to bottom. We stop and look at this unfamiliar picture. My decision is quickly made: Not that way! I exchange a few words with the medic. He agrees: Split! We jump off the footbridge into the water and disappear sideways into the opaque alder thicket of the swamp forest. Here we throw away two more woollen blankets to lighten our luggage. Fortunately, the ground is firm and the water only knee-deep. My high riding boots still keep the water out. We turn a little to the north because it is the only path free of enemies. Our plan is to reach the nearby coast first and then march on towards Memel (Klaipėda). In doing so, I hope above all that we will catch some boat on the coast with which we can escape across the Baltic Sea to Sweden. Perhaps a fisherman will even give us a lift. As a fare I can offer, among other things, my Wehrmacht service watch, which are much sought after because of their unsurpassed quality.
Slowly we wade through the water. The dense undergrowth protects us from view. Soon, however, the undergrowth thins out and we stand in front of an endlessly wide, open expanse. In front of us stretch table-level wet meadows, and behind them lies broad and shallow Lake Mekes. It must be very shallow, because with my binoculars I spot flocks of storks in the middle of the lake, poking around in the shallow water. To the west, the lake reaches up to a high forest. That's where we want to go, because this high forest stands on the chains of dunes that run along the coast. Orientation is not difficult for me, because I have the location of our positions to the sea in my head, and besides, the landscape forms are very similar to those of the Pomeranian coast. Behind the high forest lies the open sea.
In order to reach the forest, we must now, willy-nilly, go out into the open space. Slowly and carefully we stilt over the soft and treacherous meadow floor. But it bears. We are already far out. Now I recognise a village in the distance on the opposite shore of the lake. It is about three kilometres away, but we can clearly hear singing coming over the water. We know these voices. They are Russian. Then the storks notice us. First individually, then in groups and finally in whole flocks they rise into the air and soar away. This is dangerous for us. From the behaviour of the startled animals, one can conclude that humans are present. The Russian outdoorsmen have an excellent sense for such things. But it's no use, we have to cross this plains to get to the forest.We have already waded more than a kilometre when suddenly a small watercourse blocks our way. But nearby we find - it's like a miracle - a boat. I grab the edge of the board to get into the boat. I slip on the muddy bank and slide into the water up to my belly. The meadow broke off here with a steep edge into the water, but since everything was under water, it was impossible to tell. With Schnack's help I pull myself out again. Now the medic climbs into the boat, which immediately starts to sink. The barge has a big leak. But we have to get across. I carefully stand on the edge of the bank, push the barge off with a powerful swing and at the same time jump into the gliding boat. Then we paddle obsessively with our four hands, because the boat sinks away frighteningly fast under our weight. Fortunately, the stream is only fifteen metres wide and we reach the other bank at the same moment that the water rushes over the edge into the boat. Soaking wet, but happy to be alive, we continue on our way. We leave the flooded boat behind. It is only a hundred metres to the edge of the forest. The bank rises gently. The ground is sandy and dry. Right at the edge of the forest we crawl into a thick bush and take off our wet clothes. It is late afternoon. The May sun still warms us a little, but it's not enough to dry us off. I dump the water out of my boots and wring out my wet stockings. At least it was still lucky that I only got wet up to my hips. We decide to rest here and wait for the night. We don't want to eat yet. I only have half a loaf of bread left and the small can of meat from my emergency ration. Schnack has nothing left. So we want to try to get something in a village at night. Our situation is not very rosy and I say to Schnack: "Now only the Lord God can help us!
After dark we "slip" back into our wet stockings and boots and disappear into the darkness of the forest. We use the forest paths because you can walk more quietly here than over the cracking branches of the forest floor. Soon we reach two houses in the forest, which we bypass. Then the forest suddenly thins out and we are standing in front of a large village, whose first row of houses already begins close to the edge of the forest. Still in the shade of the forest edge, we lie down beside the path to observe. One of the wooden houses in the middle of the village is on fire. There is little movement in the village, but we recognise from individual voices and typical noises that the village is occupied by Russians. We give up the hope of sneaking up to one of the houses and getting something edible from the inhabitants. Before hunger drives us to such a risk, we want to avoid it.
Behind us we suddenly hear the patter of horses. Two riders are coming along the forest path from the same direction we had come from. They are talking half aloud while the horses stomp past three metres from us.
We now creep along the edge of the village, always under the protection of the dark forest. The firelight of the burning house is a little disturbing because it could reflect on our bright faces. At the other end of the village we come across a forest path that leads out of the forest into the village. I suddenly recognise this path, and now I also know the village. It is Jurmalciems, where our battalion staff was located, and which I always reached from my position by this path. Now I am oriented. We use a fork in the road and after a short time reach the Baltic coast. We go down to the beach and march south on the firm sand along the water. In the bright May night, accompanied by the soft sound of the waves, we move along like two wandervögel. It could be a romantic idyll if it weren't so life-threatening.
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- acc. Haupt, 1979 p. 121, since 7 May
- It is probably the ceasefire in the south-west area from 02. 05. 12.00 (KTB OKW 1944-1945 p. 1470), in Northern Germany, Holland and Denmark from 05.05. 8.00 meant (p. 1474)
- Pcture rom Haupt 1979 S. 134 with kind permission of the publisher; additions by the author
- Война, war
- as reported in the I. chapter of the Second Book
- The hope was not entirely unjustified, but success remained uncertain: a few succeeded in getting as far as Memel and Insterburg (Haupt 1979 p. 129), thousands made it to Sweden, which, however, sent them back for the most part ("Extradition of Germans", see 9.2.46).
- The Lake Mekes (map "Karte des westlichen Rußlands" sheet H 16) has been drained in the meantime.
- sunset approx. 21.30, sunrise approx. 05.30
- in January