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Tough Survival Times in My Life

Bernard Siehling
As I look back on the past decades, it occurs to me that in hindsight the years 1946-47-48 were
the most difficult and dangerous of my life. Why? I was 16-17 years old and attending High
School/Gymnasium in Borken, Germany was totally defeated and destroyed with the end of
WWII in the spring of 1945.
The country was administered by allied military authorities that even issued permits as to who
was allowed to ride a bicycle, the predominant mode of transportation for the local population.
Literally millions of D.P.s, conscripted workers, who had been forced to live in camps, and with
their manpower kept the German war machine running as armament workers and farm labor, all
against their will, of course. They mostly came from the eastern countries, (now under
communist rule) and were reluctant to return, hoping instead to be permitted entry to the U.S.
Forced labor workers from the western European nations found their way back to their home
towns without delay.
Many found shelter and food in a camp 10 miles to the west of us under 'nominal' allied
supervision, but at night took advantage of the darkness to clean out one farm at a time. Farmers
had survived the war relatively unscathed and now were robbed of goods to be bartered on the
Black Market, like hams, bacon, lard, butter, linens, gold or silver jewelry, anything that
maintained its value or fed a starving population.
Every day reports surfaced that this or that farm had been cleaned out, quite often ending in the
death of the family man, who felt he had to protect his brood as he offered resistance. Horrible
crimes were constantly committed and no authorities to report to, no police, no military. Some
farmers resorted to extremes like high-voltage wires surrounding the homestead, but would be
persecuted if anyone got hurt.
Since attacks generally happened at night when a tired farmer is sound asleep, defenses were
always too late, and the element of surprise on the robbers' side. My neighborhood took
measures of protection by posting a type of home guard, men walking house to house inspecting
for suspicious activities.
Here is how my days went: Off to school at 7 in the morning, back by 2 pm, homework and farm
work, as was the order of the day, and whatever was more urgent, often times plowing or
dragging a field till 7-8 pm and subsequent guard duty for 2-3 hours, hopefully without any
dangerous encounters.
The duties turned out rather successful, even though little episodes kept up some excitement. I
remember visiting the next-door neighbor's premises, lights were on in the pig barn way past
mid-night, and a peek through the partially drawn curtains told a secret: The neighbor was
distilling alcohol for his up-coming wedding. The guards resolve: Let's get going
if we hope to be invited to the festivities!

However I can well remember the sunny Sunday afternoon when a group of Slavic looking
bicyclists knocked on the door demanding ham, lard, butter, meat etc. It was Sunday afternoon
nap-time and Dad came hopping into the parlor on one leg, (he lost the other in WWI as a 19
year old his first night on the French battle field) and stated briskly: What we have on hand we
need for our own family! The group hopped on their bikes: "We will be back tonight!" Now
what to do? We shared the events with all neighbors, who mentioned that a British patrol was
seen in the area cruising for unknown reasons, we managed to get word to the sergeant and he
quickly agreed to assign 2 men to our house. We felt safe and urged the "tommies" to stretch out
on the sofa. They voiced no opposition and soon all were sound asleep.
I had never slept except with open windows and was awakened at midnight by calls for 'Hoelpe'
in the local dialect and recognized the neighbor's voice and woke our "tommies". They
explained: We are to guard your house and family. My father walked to the pasture fence,
telling the neighbor: "Come to our house" and he decided to give it a try. His family was
barricaded on the second floor, and he left the house by the front door; when he noticed
movement; as he slammed the door shut, a hand grenade exploded in the shrubbery without
harming him. Our guards fired a burst of their MPs into the air and the intruders took off. I
walked with our "tommies" to the house next door finding the entire lower story ransacked, but
all personnel safe.
Was this attack aimed at us? Were we saved because the wrong house was picked? Had
someone been hurt, no laws would have ruled in favor of German citizens. They were animals to
be hunted; even my American citizenship was useless!
The state of lawlessness only improved with the currency reform in 1948, when conditions
returned to normal and Germany was recognized as a defeated but free country with democratic
institutions and the economic miracle was about to take off. The above musings are likely to
appear improbable 68 years later, but in my recurring nightmares those earlier happenings take
on a stark reality.