Miracle on the Bridge

Part two of three in Harrison columnist's experiences at the end of WWII

Finally, we reached the outskirts of Freiburg. We had come here to meet my father and brother who were already there, but this never happened. Due to a severe air attack Freiburg was declared a “closed city” due to the danger of an epidemic looting and other such things. We also could not find out if my father and brother were still alive and we were very worried. It was another lesson of the futility of planning during a war. You do what you are told to do and in our case this meant to stay with the group we had come with and follow orders. And so we began the long track through the Black Forest. Somewhere we found a proper axel to pull our truck, somewhere we received food and drink and somewhere we were under air attack as before but, after three days we reached Konstanz.

We slept in the trucks and it was cold. My cousin developed a severe cold and somebody gave us a bottle of “Schwarzwalder Kirsch”, a strong schnaps which, so they said, would keep colds, etc. at bay, which was partly true. Finally, we reached Konstanz, a city that had not been harmed due to its closeness to Switzerland.

Once there, we were guided to a very old and historic building, the “Konzil”, which has seen a lot in its life but was now declared to be an “Auffang hager”, a refuge for displaced persons. It was a huge place, filled with as many beds as one could fit in. The beds were covered with “sheets and pillow cases” of heavy-duty packing paper. It was cold and drafty and we only stayed there one night before we decided to take matters in our own hands. But so did all the others and, when we came out of the building, we just followed everybody to a large bridge, which connected the old and a newer part of Konstanz. The bridge was packed with people and vehicles, all trying to make it to the other side.

It seemed to be a hopeless situation but exactly at this moment a miracle happened: somebody called our name and pushed towards us. It was a lady we had briefly met in Colmar while she was visiting her son, a member of the theater orchestra. She explained that she was a member of the Red Cross and that the area’s office was in her house. We followed her and, when we saw a huge Red Cross flag over her door, we felt instantly safe and when she showed us two rooms we could have, we were truly overwhelmed!

My cousin, whose cold had developed into something more serious, was put into a hospital for a week to get help and then, with the help of the Red Cross, returned to Paris. We, however, stayed there until the end of the war which, after all we went through, actually seemed anticlimatic. Word went around that in such and such a place, not far from where we lived, they would disperse “Maggi Erbsen soupe”, powdered Pie Soup one only had to dilute with water, heat it up and presto! another fainting spell due to hunger was avoided! I decided to go for it but promised to return as soon as I heard shooting. I think I was one of the last persons who received the powder before returning to the safety of the Red Cross building. It was not long after when the city was occupied by French troops and the war was literally, if not formally, over.

It took another while, however, until my brother suddenly arrived. Though we knew – through the Red Cross – that my father and brother were still alive, it still took some time “til we would see each other again. But one morning when I came downstairs for breakfast, I was told that Rudy, my brother, had arrived in the middle of the night, starving and totally exhausted. After finding out where we were, he decided to hike through the entire length of the Black Forest to Konstanz. We listened to the story of his and my fathers’ experience in Freiburg realizing that he obviously had to talk about it. Soon after, things changed again, but you will read about this in the conclusion of the story.

Ruth Altendorf