Thursday, May 27, 2010

“The Bombed and the Bombardier”
Andi with an introduction by Art Kramer
1967- German

On April 20 1945 we (the 344th Bomb Group) attacked the Bavarian city of Straubing. I was one of the bombardiers on that mission. I recorded our bomb hits and after the war placed the photograph on my website where it can be seen today. Recently I began to receive letters from a Straubing resident who’s family went through our bombing. Here is their story.

(The letters have been slightly edited for brevity and relevance.)

--Art Kramer

Dear Mr. Kramer,

Today I found your picture of Straubing in the Internet. I am 37 years old and I grew up in Straubing. I think I have a story for you belonging to this picture. But because my last English lesson is 20 years ago it is hard for me to write in English. I can try to tell the story to you if you are interested in it.

Greetings from Bavaria

* * *

Hallo Arthur,

I hope it’s no problem for that I call you Arthur. Your name sounds German, doesn’t it?

Yes I want to tell you the story -- and it will be an emotional story for me. But it will take me a lot of time to write in English language. I am not used to write in English. So I hope you excuse my mistakes.

By finding your picture I get really scared. If you have released your bombs over Straubing seconds earlier or later I would not be alive. Somewhere on this picture is my Grandmother with her little baby (my mother) and I want to tell you here story. She told it to me in the early 90s and died in 1996 at 83 years old -- her body was as a matter of a lot of illness in a really bad constitution but her brain was still very alive -- but in 1996 she hasn't lost her power.
Please give me some days to write her story. At the moment I have a lot of work for my job and at the evenings when I have time to write emails I am tired.

Some years ago I bought a book about the bomb raid over Straubing. There are pictures in it. I will look for it. Maybe there are some pictures in it which you want to see.

Have you contact to people from Straubing?

Greetings from snowy Straubing


* * *

Well now Arthur,

I try my best in English.

I was born in 1967. Straubing has been grown at that time and I grew up at the place I signed with the red point on your picture. You will find this picture as a detached file to this mail. I still remember the damage your bombs have done around the train station. At the beginning of the 80s the last prints of the bombs has been cleaned up. But sometimes still streets are close by construction works when they find by digging in the ground blind bombs of the bomb raid.

In the early 90s I lived in Munich while I was studying at the Ludwigs Maximilians Universität. Every weekend I went home to Straubing to meet my family and my girlfriend.

It was summer when I visited my Grandmother. We were sitting outside in the garden -- while she was telling her old stories I read the newspaper. After a little while she told me about the “Amerikaner” and how she survived the bomb raid. I stopped reading the newspaper and started to listen to her story. It was not a fantastic story but when there would have been a bad end I would have not been alive.

Here is her little life story:

In 1913 she was born in a little village about 10 miles outside of Straubing. Her family was a poor farmer's family. Her mother has borne 17 babies. But at that time a lot of little children died because there were no antibiotics on pneumonia. So in her family: 5 children died.

She grew up in the poor time of World War 1 by having no luxuries and feeling hungry every day. It must haven been in the early 1920s when she lost most of her possibility to hear. (I still don’t know the reason I have never asked but I feel now that I have to ask my mother very soon about this.)

14 years old she learned how to be a tailor. At the time she finished to become a tailor it was very hard to find a job in Germany. So she did what every people in Bavaria did when they were poor: She went from farm to farm to work in the farmer’s family as a tailor as long as the work in the family was done. She got paid very poor but at every farm she had a roof over her had and something to eat. It must have been the late 1930s when she met the man she married.

I remember her telling me stories about the voting and the Nazis. She had tears in her eyes. She said she voted for Hitler because he promised a better life. But not really a lot for her situation changed with Hitler and she had not the possibility to inform herself because of her fight to survive and her handicap in hearing.

She believed in Hitler until he has stolen her husband.

I also remember that we had only one TV in our family. It was in my Grandmother’s room. I once went to her room to watch TV -- I made her a construction with a strong amplifier and a headset so she could manage to follow the words. She was sitting in her room watching a documentation film about Dachau while she was praying with tears in her eyes.

With her husband she rented a little room. But they could not meet each other very often because they had to go to work. She as a tailor every week at another farm. He as a carpenter at other farms.

When 1939 the war started her husband had to go to the army. He was in the 6th Army (Do you know the story of the 6th Army in WW2?)

At the end of spring 1941 her husband -- his name was Johann Singer -- got front vacation. He was stationed in Russia. And while the time he was at home my Grandma got pregnant.

She still has to work a lot. End of December her husband was lucky to get again vacation from the war. He was waiting to join the birth of my mother. But on 2nd of January 1942 he has to go back to the front again. One day later my mother was born. He has never seen his daughter. In January 1943 he got missed in Stalingrad. He never came back again.

(If you will find information about the Germans and the Russians fighting in Stalingrad you will stop to ask what missed in action means at that time. To be honest I believe that he was butchered by the Russians.)

My mother has never seen her Daddy and the Daddy had never seen his daughter. But there are letters from him out of Stalingrad. By reading that letters I started to cry myself: They had nothing to eat at Stalingrad but my Grandfather sent a little piece of chocolate to my baby mother. He wrote in the letter how he joins to imagine my mother by eating this piece of chocolate with all the brown color around her mouth.

My Grandma still believed that her husband will be found alive one day. But while having a baby she had to change her life. It was no longer possible for her to move from one farm to another. So she shared a little room with her sister Lea in Straubing. Now she tried to find work in Straubing by families to make their tailor work. It was not easy for her because it was very hard for her to hear.

So in April 1945 she was working at a family which has a house next to the train station. She was lucky to take her little daughter with her. While she was sewing the little daughter was playing at the floor.

On April the 20th she was doing her work. Because she was not able to hear she could not hear the siren, which tells that the bombers are coming. And nobody remembers her working at the house. So she was still working while the first bombs were falling. When the house got the first shakes of the bomb explosions she got very frightened. But she could manage to fetch her little daughter and find a way out of this house. She runs between the bomb explosions with her little daughter in front of her chest for her life. And she made it. By knowing my Grandma I am sure that she would have made all just to survive.

Soon the war was over after the bomb raid over Straubing -- and the Americans for the poorer people had been very welcome. The GIs occupied Straubing. And hunger and fear starts to be over. But at the next years after the war it was still a hard fight for life for my mother and Grandma.

First things my mother remembers about the GIs was fear. She has never seen colored people. But: They throw chocolate out of their tanks and Jeeps. And so the little kid after a little while went very lucky by seeing American soldiers. They also brought food to the schools.

At the time the Americans are still loved by the Germans because of the help they brought to them.

I have been to the USA for vacation after I graduated from school in 1987. I met a man in my age in Oklahoma. We got friends. One year later he came over the ocean to visit me in Germany. My Grandma was full of luck to meet a real American. She also was full of thanks to your nation. So my mother. You brought them peace and help in very hard times.

And the life of my Grandma? It was going on for her to be hard. She got a bad tumor spinal column in 1966. She made it also the doctors said: no chance. Later she got hard rheumatism and gout. She made it.

In the 1980s she got poisoned by medicine in a hospital. She made it.

1987 I had to be a soldier at the German Army for 15 months. I had been a “Gebirgsjäger” that’s a soldier in the mountains. My Grandmother always was in worry about me. She always was in fear that I once have to go to war. But for God's thank there was no war at that time. With all her worries about me she made it.

Some years later she went blind. No problem for her.

All the way she joined life very lucky. She never thought about dying. She was waiting for every new day what it will bring funny and lucky things. She was too lucky with life and too curious what in life was still waiting for her.

But every people have a reservoir of power. And it gets used up. She used that reservoir more than up by having no pity for herself and waiting positively on every new day. I still miss her with all the power she had.

That’s the little story I had to think about by finding that old picture in the Internet. Not a very exciting story -- but it’s my story which holds me from sleeping the last night.

Now it’s late in the evening here in Straubing. This mail took me nearly 2 hours. But to find sleep this night I had to do it today also I am very tired.

I hope you got not bored with this mail.

Greetings from Straubing


* * *

Dear Art,

I now found the book which describes the bomb run to Straubing.

It is written in German. I thought about buying the book and send it to you.

But it seems to be not easy to get t his book once more. It is sold out. There might be a way to contact the author of the book to get an exemple. But it’s all in German and I don’t know anything about your German knowledge.

But if you want me to get the book for you I can try it and send it to you. It will not cost you anything.

What I read in the book:

The raid started on 18th of April. Around 9.30 o’clock reached -- 5000 feet high -- the English Channel to cross it. When they arrived 3 hours later the German controlled air they were in 20000 feet high because of the German flak. No German fighters around. Some time before the bombers had to cross dangerous territory 259 P-51 fighters came to assist the bombers. Altogether now the task force over Bavaria includes 518 airplanes.

The main target was Tabor/Budweis.

Secondary target was Pilsen. Both targets were in Czech Republic.

But short before the bombers took off they brought another secondary target on the map for briefing. This was Straubing.

Half an hour after midday the scout planes came from Czech Republic back to the task force. They reported deep clouds over Tabor/Budweis and Pilsen. But over Straubing there were only a partly and less cloudy sky.

Now 174 B-17 Bombers and 99 P-51 Fighters started their run to Straubing. The 93rd Squadron keeps on flying to Tabor/Budweis. Which was really luck for Straubing because 352000 kg of bombs were not falling on the town.

The 93rd Squadron bombed Kolin. They got flak fire and German Me 262 fighters came up to fight against them. They had been too fast for the P-51 because of their jet engine.

Over the Bavarian Forest around the mountains Arber and Lusen the bomb targeting run started.

With the target picture the pathfinder planes showed the bombers the way. After a while: “Bombs away.”

2000 detonations let the town Straubing tremble.

The bombing started at 1.07 pm and ended at 1.49 pm. 480800 kg of blasting bombs and 33800 kg of firebombs came down on Strabing. 2 planes -- one of the 390 BG and one of the 388 BG -- through down notes for the people. For the helping people in the town it took nearly 2 days to fight the fires and save people in the bury cellars. More than 300 death people. A lot more people died as a follow of their injuries.

In 1952 they digged out the last broken down cellar. They found 30 more bodies.

Now in the book are following stories about what happened to people and how they died. I don’t want to translate this.

30% of Straubing was damaged.

The bombers flight back to England took more time then the pilots thought. The fuel got less. But all the planes made it home. From the 1650 crew members nobody had to die at this raid. No plane was shot down. Only one plane had damage at his propellers and it made an emergency landing in Brüssel.

In my last story I told you about my mother’s side of the family. Here is a little story about my father’s side.

My father was the youngest of four brothers. He was lucky because he was too young to fight as a soldier at WW 2. He is born in 1932. But his brothers had been old enough. One was at the Uboats, one was infantry in Russia and the oldest was Sergeant at the German Luftwaffe. He was a mechanic at the German Bomber HE 111. He had to share the Battle over Britain. Some years ago, maybe in the late 80s when my Grandfather died, I talked to him.

He said:

During the war we were flying our bomb raids. Nobody thought about the people living down under us. We wanted to hit our targets and that was the success we had to have. So we were glad if we hit our targets and didn’t even think about the evil we cause at the ground.

I think that makes war a lot easier to accept: Fighting the targets by not seeing how people die. It was the same at the Uboats.

The uncle of me who was at the infantry in Russia had to fight against other men. He had to do and see really bad things at war. He is the one who has problems to sleep at night because of these experiences. And to say that: He was a only conventional soldier, not SS or things like that. But he to recognize war as that what it is.

I did my military service because I had to do it. I am so glad that I never had to fight in a war. I am really thankful for the chance to grown up and live in peace.

And what I want to say also:

The Americans did a lot to make Germany free from the Nazis and help people to come on their feet after the war again. So when older people tell from their experiences with war and the Americans they do it with a respect and gratitude.

Greetings from Bavaria



By the way: Unbelievable, but all the brothers of my father survived the war more or less healthy.

As the brother at home my father had to pray with his mother every day for his brothers. He had to do it near a cross with Jesus on it in his kitchen. Seems that it helped. As a man later he moved from his hometown Landshut to Straubing. He does not believe very much in God but this cross is still hanging in his office.

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