Manfred: The kids across the road used to call our kids Nazis, because we were German and we had a German name like Reich, like the German Reich and the neighbours would call us Nazis and the kids would ask what that was all about, so then, at times I had to to tell them all about the war and it wasn't all the best to talk about, especially whatever happened you know in the bombings and the killings and all that stuff and I wasn't too pleased to talk about that so we just sort of cut this sort of thing short.
Simon: The subject of this podcast, "Up from the rubble", is Manfred Reich. A survivor from World War 2 Berlin and he just happens to be my dad. The children he just talked about were my brother Henry, sister Wendy and myself Simon Reich. We didn't know what a Nazi was and in fact, we didn't know anything about our father's childhood in Germany. This podcast will take you on a journey through Manfred's life, with some of the stories only just coming to light.
What is your name, birth year and where you were born?
Manfred: Manfred Reich.1937. Berlin.
I was born when Hitler was in power it was just the start of his regime. Through the depression in 1933, Germany was bereft of nearly everything and the long queues and no money no jobs and Hitler was the man that put the butter on the table as well as the bread and he promised every German an oil lamp with their own oil from Arabia within a very short time and the Germans fell for it, because they had no jobs and he was supplying it.
Radio announcing commencement of World War 2.
Manfred: I went to school during the wartime. Sparse as it was, because most of the teachers were in the war front and so we just made do with what we could get. At school we were not taught anything about the Jews, nothing. Hitler promoted that more towards the middle of the war, when the sentiment against the Jews was created because of him wanting to find a scapegoat for his troubles.
I used to travel to my grandmothers place near the Polish border and she had a sewing machine with a sharpening stone on the side and I used to sharpen my knives on it and she used to ask me "do you want to sew?" and I said "oh yeah, I'd love to sew" but I had never sewn up till then so she said "go for it!" and she gave me some material and I went for it. It was unusual for a boy to sew then. It's just like like ballet for a boy. You know you get ribbed that you sew or you dance.
Manfred: Simon, when you were a child we used to record cassettes and send them home to my mother your grandma and we called her Omi.
Manfred: This cassette is recorded in Wangaratta on the 17th of July 1974
Simon: Simon Reich, 10 years old is playing Mayfly on the piano.
Cassette recording:Audio of Simon playing piano piece Mayfly from 1974.
Simon: Here I was. At 10 year old playing the piano to send a recording to my grandma in Germany. At this age, I didn't have to think about aeroplanes dropping bombs out of the sky, or being shot by fighter aircraft, but my dad's childhood had a constant theme of ducking and weaving to avoid being killed.
Manfred: When I saw a wave of the air planes flying over dropping bombs and I could see the bombs falling then I would just look for shelter.
Simon: But were you frightened, were you screaming and running?
Simon: So to you was it more like cops and robbers?
Simon: Yes, because even on that tape you played me, of the other guy from Germany, he said, during the war he would actually play war games with his friends. So you're in the war but youre still playing war games with little models and so on, or just bits of rock?
Manfred: That's right.
In 1943 we were in a flat in Berlin and the alarm was raised through the sirens and we went down into the cellar because the bombs were already falling.
Simon: Were you scared?
Manfred: No, as a child you're never scared it! We never made it to the original bunker under the house because that was fortified iron, with big iron doors like the ships have, those with the big handles. We stood just under the staircase, under a concrete staircase. A bomb came through the roof of the flats. It exploded! 200 pound bomb. Blew out the walls. The brick walls were pulling away from the middle. The roof came down, over the top and then the bricks came down on top of the roof. The dust. The bomb exploding. Not that you hear anything? When you're in the middle of an explosion you hear nothing. But we had the pressure, the enormous pressure of the bomb exploding. No noise, but it pushed us against the wall under the staircase and we were entombed, with bricks all around and fire and smoke and about 25 people with us at the same place. I was only 6 years old and because I was the smallest they said you climb up through the bricks and you get to the top, because we were down the bottom. "How can I do that?" And they said "Well the fire is behind us and the smoke drifts up, as you can see, in small curls, so there must be a hole up on the top" and so with the pushing of my mother behind me, we slowly chambered up, through and under bricks and iron and girders and wood and I kept saying "I can't do it! I can't do it!" My mum behind was pushing me on and so were the others. "You've got to get up there, we have to get out of here, before the fire catches us!" And after 12 hours of digging and scrambling, we finally stood on top. Free, and in the air! The other people that were rescued already on the other side, they were standing waving and cheering wondering where we had come from? By then the rescuers knew where we were and they dug out the others that couldn't get out.
Cassette recording from 1974. Wendy Reich singing Winter Hello introduced by 10 year old Simon Reich.
Wendy: My name is Wendy. I am Manfred's daughter and youngest child. You could say I was the third Reich! When I sang on this tape, I was just 6 years old. I drew my strength from dad, as he was the rock of the family. So it's no surprise to me that he said he didn't feel scared during the war.
Manfred: The bombing in 1943 made us redundant of everything. We had nothing we lost the whole lot. Our furniture. Our house. Our flat. Our friends. Everything and so my mum was an au pair in Switzerland and then in Bavaria and she knew a lady that could put us up. The only time the war came to Bavaria was when a plane came over the alps and got shot down by the Germans and the pilot and the co-pilot came down with a parachute and then they got rounded up by the Militia and taken into prison.
I had a sister Evelyn and she was younger. Evelyn was in Berlin the same as I, when we got bombed she was already in hospital because she had whopping cough and nobody could do anything for her at that time in Germany it was a very bad situation having whopping cough. So we went to Bavaria and had to leave Evelyn in the hospital so mum had to travel often the train trip from Berlin to Bavaria would be about 4 hours so mum had to travel the other way reverse from Bavaria to Berlin and then come back to me. 4 hours trip each way so that's 8 hours. I was never asked to go to the hospital because I was too young. I was just starting school and my mum didn't want me involved in that and on top of it, it was an infectious disease and they didn't want any children in the hospital anyway, so I couldn't come. I'd rather play with the 5 kids that were in the house that we were living in. So mum had to travel to be by her side until she died which was probably 6 months later. I didn't go to the funeral of Evelyn because people at that time didn't take any children to funerals. It was too sad. That's where it left me, at least my mother didn't. I hardly knew my sister.
Cassette recording from 1974. Henry Reich playing drums introduced by 10 year old Simon Reich.
Henry: My name is Henry Reich. I'm Manfred's second son. I was 8 years old when I was playing drums on this tape. When I think about it, dad was 8 years old and had to cope with his sister dying. I just can't imagine what that would have felt like if Wendy had died, because, I mean, I love my sister we've had such great times growing up watching her get married and have a child. She's a great friend and just to not have a sister would just be missing part in my life.
Manfred: That lady with five kids was in a quite a large house because they were quite wealthy and so my first school year was down there in Bavaria. But the husband was involved in Hitler's army and because he was a rechsanwalt a lawyer and he was involved with what we call the putsch where they put that briefcase next to the table and blew it up and Hitler just got schrapnel, that was all. They thought they would blow him up but they didn't.
Audio of Phillip Von Schultuss, grandson of Claus Von Stauffenberg:
Well the Nazi's had a firm grip on Germany and later on much of Europe. Not all German's were Nazi's, nor did they all support Hitler. In fact there was a very real resistance to him within Germany. Hello, I'm Phillip Von Schultuss and my grandfather Claus Von Stauffenberg was the military leader of the resistance group that attempted to assassinate Adolf Hitler and take charge of Government on 20th July 1944. In a plot known as Operation Valkerie.
Manfred: When Hitler found out that this rechsanwalt, the lawyer was involved in the assassination attempt they rounded him up and took him to Berlin and that was the end that we ever heard of him. He got shot! So then we had to flee.
Simon: When the Hollywood movie Valkyrie, starring Tom Cruise was released, dad shared this secret he'd kept all these years. Claus von Stauffenberg had amassed a team of co-conspirators to kill Hitler and my dad just happened to be living in one of their houses, eventually becoming great friends with their five children. So dad's flippant "We had to flee again", was actually much more serious than he portrayed. Hitler, in his bloodthirsty revenge, wanted everyone connected with the plot against him killed. More than 7000 people were arrested and 4980 were executed.
Manfred: The next time we had an incident,. that was my mum decided to go back to Berlin. We went with a train from the Polish border straight through trying to get to Berlin and halfway through we were in Chemnitz, which is the middle of Germany trying to board the train and did eventually get into the train, which was about a kilometre long and lots of people lots of lots of lots of people trying to get out of the city and the train was not allowed to stay in the station because that was the law when the alarm was raised the train had to be vacated. So the train moved out of the station and it wasn't very long and my mum and I were standing at the door of the carriage and then the next minute we felt and heard the splintering of glass and everything and the train started tilt downwards to the embankment. So what happened, which we found out later, the German had mined the sides of the railway tracks to blow it up whenever the time came. The Americans were overhead bombing us but they didn't want to bomb the train so they bombed the sides of the railway naturally hitting the mines. The mines exploded, lifted the train up and rolled the train down the hill. The door opened, mum and I went out and rolled down the hill. But then I looked at my mum who was lying next to me virtually and she had two broken legs and there were ambulances and people running forwards and backwards with stretchers and in the end we heard there were about 1000 people dead on that one very 1 day. But the strange thing was I had a rucksack. There was a cuckoo clock in it and 12 eggs. When we looked at it, at the bottom of the hill, 12 eggs, not one broken and the cuckoo clock today is hanging at Simon's.