Another Narrow Escape

March 31st, 2012 → 5:18 pm @

After Father and I narrowly survived the British bombing raid in Ulm (the topic of my previous blog) we somehow found our way back to Bregenz, Austria

“…In Bregenz we immediately went to the employment office. This time, though, we were treated with obvious contempt. The administrator with whom Father dealt with considered him to be a deserter having fled a city that needed all the help it could get in order to restore its vital infrastructure. Eventually, we were given train tickets for Salzburg, Austria, and directed to report to a camp on the outskirts of the city.

A day later we disembarked at a railway station on the fringes of Salzburg. The camp, where we had been told to report, was only a short walking distance from the station. As we arrived at the main gate we saw hundreds of people who appeared to be refugees like us, slowly coming from the direction of the station with their belongings, making their way into the facility. To put it mildly, the place looked quite ominous and suspicious, particularly to my father. By word of mouth he had heard of concentration camps but never mentioned a word about them to me. That skepticism would shortly end up saving our lives.

The camp was quite large and made up of multiple extended rows of wooden barracks. It was surrounded by about a fifteen foot high barbed wire fence curved inward at the top, obviously meant to keep people from leaving. In addition, two armed soldiers were posted at the gate. After being liberated by the French, father told me that the place had probably been a temporary holding area for “undesirables” who later would most likely end up in a concentration camp.

Father and I were among a large group of people as we entered the camp. We had barely gone through the gate when Father stopped suddenly. He intuitively sensed danger and wasn’t about to be interned voluntarily. Without looking directly at me, he whispered to me that we would slowly turn around and walk back out of the gate. He also asked me to be as casual as possible in order not to attract any undue attention from the guards. I remember that it all came about so quickly that Father didn’t even set down either the suitcase or duffle bag he was carrying.

We were lucky because a lot of people were still entering the camp and the sentries weren’t paying much attention to what was going on around them. We walked quickly back to the railway station and boarded the next train headed back to Bregenz. I suppose that father’s newly acquired identification paper from Ulm was still working since I don’t recall anyone at the station questioning us as to where we were going. We met an Estonian refugee on the train who was on his way to a small village called Götzig, not far south from Bregenz near the Lichtenstein border. He was going to work in a shoe factory there and suggested to Father that he might also want to seek employment at the same plant when we got to Bregenz…”

Before long my father would be threatened with execution by a German military police unit close to the Swiss border. But that’s another story reserved for another blog.

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British Bombers Level Ulm

March 23rd, 2012 → 4:43 pm @

“Father, for some reason, thought it best to get away from the building since we had no idea where the inn’s air-raid shelter was. Given that the hostel was built on the side of a steep hill it seemed most logical to move down to the bowl-shaped orchard below the house rather than waste more time and effort running up the hill.

We had only gotten halfway down to the bowl when I saw the bright flashes and columns of dirt flying skyward as the first three bombs, in rapid succession, exploded on the ridge in front and above us. The ground shook beneath our feet and the roar of the detonations was deafening. At the same time, shrapnel from the bombs whizzed by hitting many of the fruit trees around us. Clearly, that was not the direction to go.

As we turned around and started to run back up towards the lodge several more bombs hit fairly close behind us. Father shouted at me, on top of his lungs, to hit the ground, and I did instantly. Unknowingly, I had left my rear end up in the air. Father slapped my butt down and sarcastically asked me if I wanted to have it blown away… 

For the next twenty-five minutes the building shook constantly and debris fell from the ceiling as bombs exploded around us. We could also see the brilliant flashes accompanied by the explosions as the trap door was continuously lifted up and then slammed down by the shock waves of the detonating ordinance. Finally, as suddenly as it all had begun, the bombing stopped. After waiting for a few minutes we began, in single file, to cautiously ascend the stairs that led out of the cellar to the outside world…

The ferocity of the attack was astounding. It was hard to believe that the inn hadn’t been hit directly and been obliterated. In the orchard below the lodge where Father and I had run at the beginning of the raid were six large bomb craters. There was no doubt in our minds that had we stayed there for several more minutes or seconds we wouldn’t have survived the attack since one of the craters was at the exact spot where Father and I had hit the ground…

Only recently have I been able to find details about the British night attack of Ulmon that fateful (December) night.  For instance, the raid was carried out by 317 Lancasterbombers and 13 Mosquito night fighters. A total of 1,449 tons of bombs were dropped during the 25-minute raid, starting in the center of the city and then creeping back to the west, across the industrial and railway areas and out into the country. The Gallwitz Barracks up the hill behind our hostel and several military hospitals were among the 14 Wehrmacht establishments destroyed…”        It was another “adventure” with more to come!

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Divide and Conquer in Estonia

March 22nd, 2012 → 1:56 pm @

In no small way the aftermath of the 50 year occupation of the Baltics after WW II by the Soviets continues. “Divide and conquer in Estonia,” http://www.baltictimes.com/news/articles/30851/ , provides a classic example of how the Russian Government refuses to stay out of the affairs of its independent neighbors. I guess for them it is a form of “International Relations.”

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Wars are Unavoidable

March 20th, 2012 → 4:49 pm @

Wars are unavoidable unless we make a determined attempt to change the world’s social dynamics from “winners takes all” to “we’re all in this boat together.”

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War and the Resilience of the Young – Part Two

March 17th, 2012 → 1:39 pm @

As I recall, the event below, like many of the others, seemed to be more of an action-packed adventure for me than being concerned about my personal safety. Of course, there was a notable exception. I’ll discuss that episode in a future blog.

“Father and I departed Tallinn for the earth works (construction of infantry fortifications) on September 5, 1944. The destination of our group was a little village called Luua, less than twenty miles north of Tartu. The mood of the men and women riding on flatbeds and in open freight cars was almost festive. They joked, laughed and sang folk songs for most of the trip. Of course, Estonians are known to sing for any reason, even if they were headed for locations not too far behind the front lines.

In Luua we were housed in the main building of an old German manor. From the village we were transported back and forth to work in open trucks. The location where we built all sorts of infantry trenches, machine gun nests, and bunkers, in addition to clearing away a lot of the underbrush to improve the line of fire from the trenches, was only about a mile south of Luua…

…Most of the twelve days at the earth works and at the manor were uneventful. Occasionally we could hear muffled artillery fire from the direction ofTartu. Once we were even strafed by a lone Soviet fighter. Fortunately, the plane only made one relatively high pass at us. By the time Father had pulled me into one of the dugouts the aircraft had already disappeared.

Before long, however, the peace and quiet of the countryside was shattered by the thunder of war. Since the nights had become chilly, Father and I were sleeping with several other people from our group on the floor of the manor’s large kitchen. At precisely six in the morning on September 17, we were awakened by the sudden shaking of the concrete floor. The Russians had launched their anticipated massive attack. For two hours the ground shook beneath our feet, and from the south we heard the continuous rumbling of heavy weapons…

…Eventually the defenders (in Tartu) were overwhelmed by the sea of Soviet troops, tanks, artillery and planes. Once the Soviet forces broke through, there were hardly any combat ready troops left to fall back to the newly constructed fortifications behind them, and there were no available reserves. It was the beginning of the end forEstonia.

Since it was Sunday, the trucks that normally ferried us back and forth from the work site were not at the manor. We were told, nevertheless, that the vehicles would be there early Monday morning as usual. If necessary, they could then take us farther northward away from danger. Luckily, Father’s survival instincts were as sharp as ever. After hearing about the vehicle situation I recall him telling one of his friends, who was from the local area, “By tomorrow morning Russian tanks will be here instead of the trucks. I’m not willing to risk wasting valuable time waiting and hoping that we may be picked up at daybreak. With the enemy on our heels the only possible safe way out of here will be through the nearby forests and swamps. No, I’ll take my son and start walking for the nearest train station immediately”…

…We walked what, for me, seemed forever and we were without any food or water. At one point in the late afternoon we even came close to being run over by a column of fleeing German panzers. Finally, by nightfall we arrived at the Kaarepere Railroad Station. There we were momentarily scared out of our wits by the Station Master when he informed us that no more trains were expected to arrive from the direction ofTartusince the city had been overrun by the communist forces.

A German troop train, however, was already at the station ready to depart for Tallinn at any moment. The man suggested that we check with the commander of the unit and see if he would allow us to board his train. I remember nervously going into the caboose with my father. There several German officers were warming themselves around a red-hot potbellied stove.  As they saw me some of them immediately began to smile and pat me on the head. They also offered me food and drink. We stayed in the caboose until we reached Tallinn…”

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War — WW II, Korea, Vietnam, Rwanda, Iraq, Afghanistan, Arab Spring, Syria…

March 13th, 2012 → 4:23 pm @

Where is the end to all wars? We now live in the 21st Century where innovation and creativity are supposed to reign. Yet we seem to have no clue or maybe even desire how to eradicate the ceaseless slaughter of innocent people.

Humans are not born with a blank slate for a mind. Instead, we arrive with all the basic rudiments of our mental circuitry in place ready to act in response to our immediate environment. At the same time, we are able to learn from our experiences.

Thus, humans are equipped not only with instincts, but also with much broader innate drives or predisposed genetic tendencies such as concern for status and for affiliation. This means that our behavior is “influenced” by our genes rather than genetically determined and that we do have free will.

Innate drives fall into two fundamental categories: a set of selfish drives (e.g. concern for control, rank, status, territory, possessions, savagery and bloodlust) and a set of altruistic drives (e.g. concern for attachments, affiliation, altruism, care giving, care receiving, morality and empathy).

People seem to function best in a social context where both categories of drives can be expressed in a balanced manner. Such an environment consists of individuals who express a mix of moderate self-interest and outward-reaching altruism.

So, when are we going to learn how to develop social contexts where both categories of our drives can be expressed in a balanced manner? Put another way, when are we going to learn not to constantly energize our selfish innate drives? Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen any time soon when you take a serious look at the media, politics or the quest for international relations.

That means war is inevitable. As Bertrand Russell has said, “War never determines who is right, just who’s left.” And, those who are left will also suffer greatly in the process!

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