In Hitler's Shadow: Post-War Germany and the Girls of the BDM

In Hitler's Shadow: Post-War Germany and the Girls of the BDM

by Tim Heath


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In the wake of Germany’s unconditional surrender in May 1945 and Japan’s subsequent surrender later that July, across the world the Allied press proclaimed ‘Victory War is Over’! The truth for many Germans, particularly girls of the former Bund Deutscher Madel, was that a new war was just beginning.

In Hitler's Shadow conveys the hopes, the horrors and the aftermath of the Second World War in the form of eye witness testimonies, diary entries and interviews. Through the eyes of the BDM girls, it recounts the struggle to rebuild lives destroyed by years of war, and how a country came to terms with terrible war crimes committed in its name. The result is powerful, sad, harrowing, humorous and shocking. In the realms of the study of female Hitler Youth organizations in Nazi Germany, In Hitler's Shadow has no equal.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781526720016
Publisher: Pen and Sword
Publication date: 04/19/2018
Sales rank: 629,102
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Born in to a military family, Tim Heath’s interest in history led him to research the air war of the Second World War, focussing on the German Luftwaffe and writing extensively for The Armourer Magazine. During the course of his research he has worked closely with the German War Graves Commission at Kassel, Germany, and met with German families and veterans alike. Following the successful debut of Hitler’s Girls, Hitler’s Housewives will be Tim’s fifth book to contribute to this overlooked part of an otherwise heavily scrutinised period of history.

Read an Excerpt


The Road Out of Hell

Having commandeered a Luftwaffe truck under the pretence of collecting an ammunition supply, under the cover of darkness the Dann brothers, Franz and Josef, worked furiously to prepare for one of the most dangerous journeys they would ever make. Franz tossed a full petrol can into the back of the vehicle, along with a large canvas tarpaulin. They referred to a map that had been hidden under the passenger's seat in the cab. Studying the map by torchlight, they agreed that the only viable means of escaping from Berlin was via a road to the north-west of the city, through Nauen. As far as the two brothers could ascertain, the road was still open, but its condition was unknown and there would be many dangers along the route. There was a possibility that the road was mined, which would force them to abandon the truck and continue on foot. They might have to leave the road to travel cross-country towards the American lines on the Elbe.

As the two brothers prepared, Anna and her mother and father waited anxiously, shivering in the chill night air. The flashes of exploding artillery shells danced in the dark skies all around them and the sounds of war were coming ever closer. Anna recalls:

I was petrified and just wondering if we would get out of this alive. If caught, we would be shot as deserters or traitors and strung up from lampposts. My brothers decided we would take the truck as far as we could go and that me and my mother and father would remain in the back, underneath the canvas cover which had been put in there for us. It was not going to be a pleasant journey, but there was just this one chance we might survive this war if we succeeded.

I recall Josef putting a pistol in his belt and pulling his jacket over it and Franz doing the same. They both agreed that if anyone tried to stop us they'd shoot them dead, that's the way it would have to be. Father was also given a pistol to use if the time came. I remember the truck pulling off and it lurching from side to side and the bumping, which shook us up in the back and scared us as it felt as if the truck was going to crash or something. There were bomb craters – in fact there were many bomb craters which had to be carefully negotiated. For us in the back of the truck, there was nothing we could do but pray that we would make it far enough away from Berlin to be safe from the Russians who were closing in from all sides. I remember our progress was slow as we were travelling in the dark with no headlights on, and Franz had to guide Josef as he drove by hanging out of the window.

After what seemed some time, the truck suddenly shuddered to a halt and we could hear voices outside. I could hear Franz and Josef speaking to men outside and I heard Franz shout, 'This is a Fuhrer order! Do you want me to inform the authorities themselves that you are being obstinate?'

Huddled under the canvas, we heard and felt the bang as the small ramp at the back of the truck was dropped. A light was shone into the back, though at the time we couldn't see it as the canvas tarpaulin blocked it out. There was more talking about general road directions then the ramp was slammed shut again. Franz later told us that we had encountered a German patrol of what he described as 'rag-bags' – displaced soldiers from flak or artillery units that had just fallen back and they were heading east into the city. They probably never even made it there, I don't know.

It seemed we had been driving all night. We had to make frequent stops, to negotiate bomb craters, damaged or abandoned vehicles and tanks, and to go to the toilet of course. The fear made you want to urinate almost constantly. The truck stopped for the last time not long before dawn. There were vehicles strewn across the road and all burned out. My brothers helped us out of the back of the truck, and I remember my legs hurting and bruised from the bumpy ride. In fact, we had bruises all over after that journey.

The sky was becoming lighter, and with the prospect of daylight would be the danger of attack from the air. We would have to continue the journey on foot from now on – across fields. Franz and Josef had torn up two large sections of white sheet and we would raise them over our heads once we spotted the Americans. It was crazy, as any Germans we might now encounter up this way we might have to kill if we were to make it through to the Americans. The road, even in the dim light of early dawn, was littered with corpses that were crawling with maggots. The stench was so horrific we covered our noses and mouths and walked on past vehicles with charred bodies hanging from them. This was no shock to us by then, as we had lived with death for so long, and had seen so much, that this was normal by now. Death had been our constant companion – it neither shocked nor repulsed us anymore.

Suddenly, the Dann family, weary from their night of travelling, spotted movement ahead in the early morning gloom. A large group of figures emerged into view – they were German soldiers. At first, they drew up their rifles menacingly, but the family shouted to them, 'Lower those damn weapons, we are Germans from Berlin.'

There were a few seconds of silence as if each side was trying to work out whether the other was telling the truth. As they approached, still with their weapons half pointed at the Dann family, they drew a sigh of relief. They had a Leutnant with them, who immediately began to babble, 'The Americans and British are behind us now ... what of Berlin? What has been happening there? Our reports have been confusing.'

Franz addressed the officer and replied, 'Sir, Hitler is probably dead by now if the Soviets have got him and the Soviets are in Berlin. If you go there you will probably die. There is nothing but death. The Soviets have made incursions into Berlin now, and may God be with all those people there. The Soviets are raping and killing – you must believe us.'

The officer looked down at the ground, rubbing his chin with his hand before replying, 'Then the war really is lost? Now what are you people proposing to do with yourselves? Are you deserters?'

Josef Dann barked at the officer, 'Sir, we are not deserters, we are survivors. I for one was not going to remain in that hell and see my mother, father, sister and brother perish before that red storm of murder. The Ivans were killing everything that moved. Women and girls who ran were shot in their backs, and those who did not run, were raped. Men were beaten to death or left crippled.'

The officer looked at the bedraggled Dann family, then looked down at the ground and Anna recalls him whispering 'fuck' to himself. Anna's father, who had kept silent to this point, then said to the officer, 'We are walking to the Americans as we will be safer with them than going back to that hell back there (he points towards Berlin). If you are going to shoot us as deserters, then get on with it – go on, do it now if that's what you want.'

The officer displayed the hint of a grin and replied, 'We will not kill German citizens. We are Wehrmacht, not SS, but if you have any weapons on you then we want them, and then you can do what the hell you want.'

Franz and Josef reluctantly handed over their sidearms to the officer, then the group of German soldiers begin to trudge off in the direction of Berlin. The officer turned around and shouted, "I hope that you find what you are looking for, but things will be no better where you people are going!'

Anna recalled how the officers last remark gave her cause for concern: 'It made me think that maybe the Americans and the Western Allies would also treat us badly. We were going into the unknown and the unknown is a frightening thing, isn't it?'

The family walked on but a little over an hour had elapsed before they halted as they could hear the distant sound of engines approaching. The noise of engines grew louder until, just above the treetops, six P-38 Lightning fighter aircraft roared overhead. They flew along the treeline above the road, then four of these American fighters flew on while two peeled off, banking back around. Anna recalls what happened next:

I thought, hooray, they have seen us and I began to jump up and down and wave at the planes as they began to turn. Franz, Josef and mother and father shouted in a kind of panic, 'For God's sake stop that right now Anna!'

As I looked around at them, feeling slightly dejected at being shouted, at there was a crackling sound followed by a series of small explosions. By the time I had turned my head back to the direction of the planes, I felt like concrete had just slammed against me and I was sent flying into the ditch at the roadside. Bewildered, I gathered my senses to find the rest of my family lying on top of me. They had thrown themselves at me and we all ended up in a pile in the ditch. Those American planes had fired their guns at us. The planes circled for what seemed an eternity, but must have been only seconds, before they roared off and their engines again became a distant drone fading out over the fields and trees.

Franz was very angry. 'Those fucking Americans, what are they doing shooting at people like that?'

Josef replied, 'They think we were soldiers, and we are or at least we were!'

Franz replied, 'Well Anna is no fucking soldier and there she was in the middle of the fucking road waving, for God's sake!'

Father interrupted by saying, 'Okay' you two, that's enough. We have enough problems already, but the next time no silly ideas Anna, okay?'

I replied something like 'I'm so sorry father' and I was very sorry. In fact, I burst into tears as I felt I had nearly got us all killed. What the hell was I thinking, and I vowed if ever there was a next time, I would not do anything so stupid.

Events as described by Anna above were commonplace over German territory at that time in 1945. The German Luftwaffe (Air force) had long ceased to have been the once all-conquering force of the early years of the Second World War. Blighted by a chronic shortage of experienced pilots and eventually fuel, the Allied air forces now dominated the skies over Germany. It was foolhardy to attempt to move around in daylight unless the weather conditions did not permit flying. Anything that was not British or American that moved on the roads or in the fields during the daylight hours could be subjected to sudden attack by marauding Allied fighter-bomber aircraft.

Anna continues:

To make matters worse it started to rain. The rain soaked through our clothing and Franz complained that we should have brought the canvas sheet with us as we could have made a shelter with it. As the rain poured down, the road became horrible to walk on, and as it soaked through our clothes, we became quite cold. Franz and Josef said that there was a small farmhouse nearby and that we would have to get off the road and go across the fields from now on. We would go to the farmhouse and see if anyone was there and seek shelter.

The walk was by now taking its toll on the Dann family Anna's mother was becoming ever slower, to the point where Franz suggested that he carry their mother on his back. Their mother remarked 'don't be ridiculous I will be alright,' but clearly, she was not. It would take some persuasion to make her see sense. The family stopped for a few minutes in the pouring rain. The trees had no leaves on so there was no shelter at all. Anna took her ankle-high boots off and removed her socks. 'There was some blood on my socks and as I removed them, I could see my feet were blistering and covered in sores. The rain was not helping. You can't keep your feet dry in such conditions, so I had to put the wet socks and boots back on until I could dry them somehow.'

The Dann brothers pointed to a house on a gently sloping hillside. 'There is the farm over there!' They walked the last few torturous steps up to the farmhouse, which appeared to have been abandoned and had been for some time. The front door was wide open, looking as if whoever had lived here had left in a hurry. The house was dark throughout. The family stayed together and checked all of the rooms to see if anyone was around. Anna describes the scene:

It was eerily quiet, apart from the rain lashing down outside. Once we had agreed there was no one around, Franz and Josef went out into the outbuildings to check them over. They came back with armfuls of wood and began to stack it into the fireplace. Franz then lit the wood he had found in the barn outside with some matches he had had the good sense to put in a watertight tin in the bottom of his small pack. The fire took some time to get going, but once it was going, the warmth was delightful and I took off my wet socks and boots and placed them by the fire.

As the room slowly warmed up we put our other clothes bit by bit in front of the fire. We pulled some blankets off the beds upstairs and wrapped ourselves up in them and we huddled together using the sofa as a back rest. Franz agreed that one of us should be awake to keep an eye out just in case, and that he and Josef would take it in turns to keep watch while we got some rest. I must have fallen asleep in seconds as I rested my head on my knees. The next thing I know I wake up on the sofa deliciously warm and snug, not wanting to move. It was dark outside again. Mother and father had boiled some water from a nearby stream as my brothers still had a small amount of coffee in their rations. We all drank the piping-hot coffee, even though I didn't particularly enjoy coffee, especially without sugar. I drank it down and felt it warming my whole body. We needed some food as we had only a little dry bread. Down in the cellar beneath the house we discovered bottles of alcohol and some pork was hanging from a hook on the ceiling – we also found a little cheese. The pork was checked and it looked fine, so we cut pieces off and ate this with the bread and cheese. It wasn't much, but we hadn't eaten hardly a thing for nearly four days so felt immediately better for it. We then discussed what our next move should be. We could either stay here or carry on walking until we meet the American soldiers. There was a danger they might shell the house thinking there could be flak or artillery guns hidden there in the surrounding buildings. So we thought it wise to wait for first light then just to keep walking, but in the meantime we would rest.

Father decided to leave a note for the owners in case they ever came back. He wrote a short note explaining we had sought shelter, used some food and that hopefully we could come back to pay them at a later date when things were better and safer for us to do so.

The Dann family's decision to leave the farmhouse at first light the following morning was indeed a wise one, as many such properties encountered by the invading Allied forces would be fired on or shelled to ascertain whether any enemy forces were inside. Barns were often used by the Germans to hide their deadly 88mm flak guns, which were being used in a ground role, where they would be covered with straw or any other foliage, then await any unwary foe.

The Dann family left the farmhouse at dawn the next morning. Franz and Josef had cursed that they had left the map behind, but Franz had his compass that they could use to ensure they were heading in the right direction. As the family set off across the fields, the cold morning air chilled them. Yet again, the clear skies meant that at least there would be a respite from the rain that had plagued them the previous day. While walking across the boggy fields, strewn with the corpses of livestock, the distant drone of approaching aircraft again broke the silence. Anna recalls:

It was that feeling of instant terror again. Taking no chances, we lay flat on the wet ground and awaited them to pass. The planes roared over very low. As they passed over, I glanced up at them. These planes were big, with single engines, not like the ones we had seen previously with two engines and two tails. They passed over our heads and carried on without turning. They could have seen us easily as we were out in an open field, though we were lying down on the ground.

When the noise of the planes had faded away, they were replaced by another more eerie sound: the sound of creaking and grinding metal on tracks. This was a sound I knew very well – it was the sound of tanks coming. I was very afraid at this point. In fact, we were all very afraid. We took out the two sections of white sheet and tied them to a stick each and walked steadily forward down the field towards some woods and the oncoming monsters. Franz and Josef said, 'When we see them [the Americans], put your hands up straight, don't run or do anything stupid and we will be fine.'

The first I saw of them was a tank, which came into view then immediately halted like a dog spotting a hare in the grass. Its commander dropped down through the hatch out of sight into the tank. We had raised our hands and the two white flags, and in a line, we moved slowly towards the tank. Soldiers began to appear from around the sides and out of the woods. They had their rifles pointed at us and were gesturing for us to keep our hands up. My heart pounded in my chest as they approached. They grabbed my two brothers first and searched them for weapons, before making them lie down on the ground with their hands on the backs of their heads. They searched mother and then my father and they found the pistol he had hidden in his coat. They threw him to the ground and one of them kicked him. We all screamed at them to stop hurting father and they shouted back. We did not understand, but they sounded very angry. They grabbed me and looked through my clothing too, and, realizing I was only small, they then gestured at me to sit down cross legged. They talked among themselves and one of them was shouting with his hand cupped over his mouth.


Excerpted from "In Hitler's Shadow"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Tim Heath.
Excerpted by permission of Pen and Sword Books Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Introduction vi

1 The Road Out of Hell 1

2 Fighter Girl 14

3 Theresa Moelle: Homecoming 28

4 Flight Through the Sewers 41

5 Blood and Dust 52

6 Memories of a Flak Helper 66

7 Berlin: The Violation of a City 82

8 Anita von Schoener: My Rapist's Baby 97

9 Ilse Hirsch and the Assassination of Franz Oppenhoff 101

10 Don't Talk to the Germans 106

11 Green Potato Mash and Rats 124

12 East Berlin and the Grey Edifice of Communism 136

13 Illicit Liaisons 146

14 The Evil We Followed 159

15 Angels of Death 177

16 The Lebensborn Nightmare 187

Afterword 204

Acknowledgements 206

About the Author 206

Index 207

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