This is a 1988 interview done in Frankfurt with Traute Bauer, who lived in Berlin during the war.


[Above: Berlin, Brandenburg Gate, the end... for now.]

Can you tell me about yourself and your early life?

Traute: Yes, I was born in Berlin March of 1915; my father was in the Kaisers army on the east front as a lancer in Mackensen’s army. My mother was a seamstress and worked for the Wertheim store nearby. She had a hard time during the war as she was still expected to work and had to pass me off to older women to watch. She was not happy about her working conditions. After the war, my father came home and returned to working on plumbing.

There were street battles in Berlin right after the war due to red revolutionaries, but I do not remember any of it. My father leaned toward the reds as he was in a union and it was expected that union men supported the red front. I grew up somewhat poor, but in my neighborhood everyone was in the same boat, we made the best out of our situation. I grew up when the economy was not good, the company my father worked at closed in 1926, so he struggled to find work, working many odd jobs.

I was in school with many others who had parents in the red front; I noticed they seemed to like keeping us dirty to prove a point that we needed communism to make everything right. I had a teacher who praised what was happening in Russia, he was a Jew and spoke about how it was a utopia for all people. This sounded so nice many people believed this would help Germany in our time of need. I was just old enough to start understanding the politics of what was happening in Berlin.

I noticed that the NSDAP was out putting up signs, the SA would hold marches, and speakers would have small meetings, which the red front always tried to disrupt. I even pulled down some of the posters as I thought they were my enemy. One day I decided to read one I torn down, it spoke of a united Germany behind Hitler, and the 25 points of the NSDAP. I thought that it all sounded reasonable, so as I grew older I questioned more and read more, trying to get my father to explain the red front’s intentions.

I shared some of my thoughts with my father, who at first rejected that a young girl could ever be right, and this made me really want to prove myself by reading and studying more about Hitler and the NSDAP. Another girl in class had expressed good questions one day to our teacher so I approached her after school and I discovered she was from a home who supported Hitler, I think this was 1930, and they gave me a lot of literature to study. That was my awakening, and my early life in Berlin.

What do you remember about Hitler being elected?

Traute: I remember that by 1932, there was a lot going on between the red front and the SA in Berlin, the red front had a bad habit of attacking anyone who supported Hitler, my father even thought this was distasteful, and by now, his support of the red front was wavering. They had not helped him much, and seemed more like bullies than a political party. I remember him remarking that he read a tract by Goebbels, which spoke about the size of the Jews in Berlin in contrast to their power. I read it too; this seemed to open my father’s eyes, showing that it indeed is odd such a small population had so much wealth.

Jews made up less than one percent of the population, yet, in some occupations like finance, publishing, law, and building owners, over fifty percent were Jews. For most Germans they saw a problem with this, something was fishy. Hitler was able to show that those in power were the ones who caused Germany’s problems. It was pointed out that many of the early red front founders were Jews like Liebknecht and Luxembourg. Jews attempted to be German like, but acted against our self-interests.

During the election of 1932, my father voted for Hitler, he was again out of work, and since he stopped supporting the red front, they refused to let him work. He joined the SA and money came in again, and many of the comrades helped us with food and clothes since he was not working. He quickly got side work helping party supporters with plumbing and other repairs.

I was 17 and getting ready to graduate and I remember the feeling in Berlin, the reds were defeated, the SA had grown where you would see them on the street corners everywhere watching for red mobs. When the election results were in I remember some reds rioted nearby and smashed windows and started fires. The SA worked with the police to stop this. My father remarked he was a fool to support such a reckless cause, which clearly had no true aim of helping Germans, only Moscow.

The day Hitler was sworn in Berlin came to a standstill, there were parades and parties all over town, my father took us to a huge SA party where the food and drinks were plentiful. We ate very well for the first time in a long time. Almost overnight, my city changed, a big dark cloud had given way to sunshine.

What happened after you finished school?

Traute: We had no money for me to go to advanced schooling, and back then, it cost money to go even with good grades. My mother brought me on at the Werthheim store, the largest in Europe. I was hired to be a stock girl for women’s clothing. I remember how huge the store was, and you could buy most anything. A side note to tell you was this store, like all big stores in Germany, was owned by Jews. Mr. Wertheim had married a German woman, rumor was she did it only for his money, and she had to take over the business as no Jews were allowed to hold a monopoly anymore once the NSDAP came to power.

Under her guidance, the store grew bigger and she added attractions to the inside, like bands, performers, and even a small place to watch movies. By 1937, I was promoted to run the women’s hosiery department and to sell. I met some of the wives and girlfriends of very high up people. I made a very good living and moved in with a girlfriend close to the zoo, and close to work. It was a very good time to live in Berlin, dances and parties were going on almost nonstop, it was the best time.

Can you remember anyone important you met?

Traute: Oh yes, I remember them all. Some were very friendly like Dr. Leys wife who was very sophisticated and liked buying stockings and expensive silk undergarments from Italy. She always tipped me for giving her advice on the new trends. Mrs. Speer was cold and demanding, making it known that I was there to help her, and she was about the only one I can remember who seemed elitist.

Mrs. Goebbels came in with her au par and I was wearing my party pin. She was very friendly and remarked the store was well kept and cleaner now that Jews did not run it, then she commented how delightful my outfit was and how the pin topped it off. I told her where she could find it; we were encouraged to buy our clothes from the store, and received a big discount. In a sense, we modeled what was sold.

At first, I did not know whom she was until a man and his wife came to speak to her, he seemed like a big person who wore the Golden party pin on his suit, and called her Mrs. Goebbels and asked about her husband Dr. Goebbels. A big SS General came in with his wife to do a tour since we started selling NSDAP related uniforms. There was a section ran by an old guard, who was disabled in street fights with reds. He was very popular with everyone, and took the group on a tour with management.

I remember this visit well for what happened. His wife tried on some items in my department and she had left her pocket book in the dressing room. I found it and ran after her. They were with a large group of party officials and SS men. As I approached, I tripped on my heels and fell down, but clutching the purse. A few men in black uniforms helped me up, and she thanked me for taking a fall for her. Later that day I was asked to go to the mangers office. They had called to compliment me so the store manager named me as the employee of the month, and I received a bonus.

Emmy Sonnermann who married RM Goering, came in often and liked the high-end undergarments and would special order from all over the world. She was very sweet and liked to talk a lot, we spoke often about high fashion and movies when she came in. I worked close to the government quarter, so the store stayed quite busy as we had many high-end items from all over the world.

What do you remember about the start of the war?

Traute: We were stunned when war was announced. I knew we were having problems with Poland but never thought it would turn to war. The mood was one of sadness and worry. When war was announced, many shops and stores closed so people could be with their families. The Führer came on and spoke to the nation saying Poland had been relentlessly refusing to work with the Reich to settle the corridor issues. I knew Germans in Poland had been expelled and forced to give up all their belongings, and rumors were some had been killed. My father spoke of this often.

For first few weeks, we were glued to the radio, and when victory was achieved, a great sigh of relief went up. Berlin was back to normal, the soldiers came home and held a parade, and things were happy again. We called the war with the Allies the phony war as there was no fighting. My father was made an air defense person; he had to start doing air raid drills. The Allies bombed Germany the first day of the war and put all cities on high alert.

For the people of Berlin the war seemed so distant until early 1940, which is when Berlin was first attacked I believe. A lone French plane bombed a suburb, but the English brought more planes and actually hit Belin terrifying us all. This was in May of 1940. My father was called to help remove the dead, which included children. This was hard on him, and he was a combat veteran.

What was life like in Berlin during the raids?

Traute: It was something a person would wish to forget, and not remember. As I mentioned the war started slow for us, the fist raids were in early 1940, and then they came sporadically. It was not until 1943 that the heavy, crippling raids came. I worked at the store until late 1943 when it was damaged and many Berliners fled the city so had no time for shopping, many shops closed up.

I remember seeing the shelter and flak towers being built by the zoo, it was close to home. The sirens could go off anytime, as they wanted to give plenty of warning so we could seek shelter. Many were angry at this and complained. I would hear it every time we were sent to the shelters, and no bombs fell.

I had a friend who worked in the Luftwaffe ministry and she said it was hard to tell which direction the bombers would go so any city in the potential path had to be alerted. This kept many people up and made it hard to sleep; luckily, this did not happen very often, maybe once or twice a month. We always knew they were coming for Berlin when the mighty flak guns opened up, they made a racket and shook the ground, and you could smell the powder. Then bombs could be heard exploding, some close by.

From my perspective, the Allies were not concerned with hitting military targets; to them the whole city was one. The more people killed the better; we did not understand this war. Once while I was in a shelter a woman said she listened to the BBC and that the English were paying us back for London, which another women who was in a government position said they are lying, we paid London back for earlier raids on the Reich. They got into a debate on who started bombing cities first if you can believe it, while being bombed themselves. This was one reason it was frowned on to listen to the enemy’s radio broadcasts, but many did anyway just to see what the enemy was saying.

I want to add that during the war every effort was made to make life seem normal, stores were open, sports events went on, movies were shown, the circus went on, the lights stayed on at night, and there was little mention of the war. Except for the flak guns, you would think it was peace time. It was not until late 1943 that things got bad for Berlin with bombings and rationing.

I would say 1944 was the turning point for us, total war had been declared, and the rubble stayed around from the bombings. Wertheim had been damaged and shopping was curtailed as everything was rationed. My life changed as I was now out of work, but quickly recruited to serve as a LW helferin for the Berlin air defense. I was stationed in a building on the outskirts of Berlin, and since my apartment was damaged, I moved in to new quarters.

I was trained as a plotter to update aircrews on the location of enemy bombers. This job was very fulfilling as I felt I was able to fight back against the terrorists in my own way. I believed every bomber I helped shoot down was saving German women and children. I got a sad picture of the state of our defenses however; our Luftwaffe was outnumbered and now staffed with inexperienced pilots, who were easy pickings. I heard one officer say our men were outnumbered 30 to 1 in the air.

I would be privy to after action reports, and our tiny defense took a heavy toll on the bombers. I became very close with many of the girls working here; we formed a strong bond and helped each other through losses. Many girls had boyfriends or husbands at the front, and when they fell, it was very hard.

Were you in Berlin during the battle, and did you hear about the red army atrocities?

Traute: I stayed in Berlin until April of 1945, right when the battle started. We were ordered to evacuate west to the lw base in Stendal. By April, the air attacks had slowed as most cities were either taken or destroyed. I could hear distant artillery fire the day we left. We had it hard trying to move, the Allies shot at anything, and I mean anything on the roads. I had seen dead from the bombing raids, but the roads outside Berlin were littered with dead civilians shot while fleeing. It was pure murder.

This retreat was chaos, cars would break down and clog the road, and planes strafed the columns with no military vehicles or personnel in them. I was riding in a wood burning car that smelled like a fireplace, and I remember the warnings that you could die if fumes get too bad. It took a week to reach a town that should have taken a few hours. Bridges were out and the roads too clogged. We had to sleep in the car and food was scarce. An SS unit of a foreign division offered food to us, and showed our driver a way to go without bridges they were very kind.

I remember I was amazed at the amount of foreigners who served in the armed forces. In Berlin, there were thousands of volunteer workers from all over the world. Friends even spoke about prisoners of war from Poland and France being allowed to work freely in the city, without guards. You would see them cleaning around government offices. The zoo also had some working with the animals. Speaking of observations I want you to know there was a lively Jewish community in Berlin also, contrary to what is told today. One would even see orthodox Jews going to worship some days.

They had their own hospital, schools, and businesses, which were unmolested. There was a law firm close to the store, which was Jewish, as they had to have Israel in their name, so I recognized many Jewish businesses that way. It shows not all Jews were hostile to us, and we left them alone.

Anyway, my part in the war ended in April when we reached Stendal, no sooner did we arrive and set up, then the Americans arrived and the town was surrendered. I never saw any mistreatment by the Americans, the only thing I saw was those ripping medals and decorations off surrendered soldiers.

To your question of red army atrocities, I left before the battle so I never saw any. I did however hear many stories after the war regarding rapes and killings at the hands of the reds. I had a friend who was a helferin, she refused to leave Berlin and she was raped by a mongrel, becoming pregnant. She then drowned herself as she could not bear the shame and she did not want to bring a mongrel into the world. This was hard to learn of. She was one of many countless women who had this happen, it is said millions of women from Russia, Poland, Baltics, Hungary, and Germany were raped by the reds, who were actually encouraged to do this.

It is said our soldiers did this in Russia, so it was a natural act of revenge when the reds did this. I spoke to many soldiers who said our men did nothing of the sort, and would have been shot if they did. I have come to see that the Allies, and most of all the reds, do not tell the truth regarding the war.


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