In Memory of Onkel Hans
On this day, February 2, 1943, the German Sixth Army surrendered to the Russian Red Army at the Battle of Stalingrad. On January 1st, Goebbels had ordered the playing of Karl Böhm’s Symphony No. 7 on German state radio to “commemorate” the loss of the brave Sixth. (Herr Schicklgruber’s vanity and deficient military strategising butchered and sacrificed the Sixth Army.)
Ninety-one thousand prisoners were force-marched off to POW camps. At the war’s conclusion, only 5,000 remained alive to return home. One of these may have been my Onkel Hans. (He was actually my grand uncle, my paternal grandmother’s very younger brother. He was only two years older than my father so, in sense, I relayed to him as “uncle.”)
I say “may” because I am unsure if he served at Stalingrad. I do know that he served on the Eastern Front and that he was a prisoner in a Russian POW camp. The war, and one’s role in it, was not greatly discussed in my family; it was taboo.
Onkel Hans was one of three family members who served in the Wehrmacht. My maternal grandfather, a card-carrying Nazi, served and fell in Yugoslavia. Obviously, I never met him. My father served as part of an anti-aircraft battery parked behind a feared and respected Flak-88. He returned from the war without a scratch.
Onkel Hans was not so fortunate. He returned from the war a cripple. I was told the story only once.
Onkel Hans and two fellow prisoners (juvenile wannabe’s are welcome to think of them as his “Kameraden”) had set out one evening to steal potatoes from the camp kitchen. Like most prisoners in Russian POW camps, they were starving. (1) They proceeded from their hut along the roof tops of other huts towards the camp kitchen. Upon reaching the kitchen, Onkel Hans was to be let down the wall from the roof into the kitchen’s grounds. As he was being dangled off the roof by his fellow prisoners, a Russian guard rounded the corner. They let go of his hands and fled. Onkel Hans fell to the ground below. Both legs were broken and never properly set.
Prior to the war, Onkel Hans had been a strapping young man, quite popular with the ladies. He lost several inches in height due to the broken legs. After the war, he lived out his life as a withdrawn bachelor in a single, dark room. He was a house painter if and when he could find the work. His sister, my grandmother, delivered meals to him. And he drank, he drank hard.
I tire so of Nutzi drag queen poseurs and their infantile war fantasies and games. They bore me to fucking tears.
Footnote (1): In the book version of Enemy at The Gates, the story is told of a group of Italian POWs’ taken prisoner at Stalingrad quest to stave off starvation in a Russian POW camp. In one camp a small group set to filtering through the feces of their own and that of fellow prisoners to pick out undigested kernels of corn. Starvation was thwarted and surplus kernels were gathered and sold back into the camp’s black market. Starvation is the mother of all necessity.)