Podcast Episode 2

Simon: Episode 2 from the "Up from the Rubble" podcast series that focuses on Manfred Reich, a World War 2 survivor from Berlin. This installment sees Manfred run away from a foster home, avoid deportation by Nazi soldiers. Survive the final Russian onslaught near Hitler's bunker and weather the storm of Joseph Stalin's blockade of Berlin.

Manfred: I couldn't go to my mother in hospital so I was farmed out to a foster family with the three or four kids and that family used to feed their kids but didn't give me anything and so I used to go hungry to bed. The foster family did rake in the money from the government but didn't give me anything so I didn't get any food, I didn't get any water, I didn't get anything so I didn't last very long because I couldn't stand that.

Simon: That's when you ran away but you couldn't go back to hospital?

Manfred: Yeah. I had nowhere to go so, they hung a sign around my neck like Paddington Bear and they trotts us off onto the railway platform to be deported, somewhere! But I didn't want to be deported. Mum and I were inseparable. Mum was in hospital and I was now on the railway station so I crawled through under the wagons and to the end of the train and dashed to the hospital. When I got there I crawled under the bed and the nurses kept me there for the duration of my mum's hospitalisation. One of the nurses took pity on me because she saw me lying under the bed of my mother and she took me home and so I stayed with her and got food and I slept there and then in the morning she used to take me back into the hospital and I used to lie under mum's bed and got more food from the nurses.
At the end of war, that was May '45, we heard the rumours that the Americans were coming. But then they said no, no, the Americans can't come because the Americans were the ones with the planes to clear the way for the Russians. So the Russians were on the ground. The Americans when in the air, the Russians were on the ground so that meant that the Russians were coming into Berlin quicker than the Americans. We hoped that the Americans would take us out of the bunker, but that wasn't to be. The Russian troops were not the trained soldiers. They were the peasants of the Russian land and they were used as cannon fodder right at the start. They were the first runners in the war. The trained soldiers came after that first lot of troups and so we heard that they were killing people right left and centre and raping the women. So we were worried about the Russians. We knew the Americans would look after us, but the Russians we were not so sure?

Simon: The Soviet soldiers had a terrifying reputation during the war and civilians in their path feared looting and violence.

Audio from radio reports announcing the Russian invasion of Berlin.

Manfred: So the last few days, which would have been about a week, we were in the railway bunker underground next to Hitler's bunker, who was in the middle of Berlin and we could hear and see the bombs falling on top of that bunker that Hitler had made, but nothing could penetrate it because it was too much. Food was one cup of rice kernels ,not cooked, a day and a bottle of water and they told to chew the rice so that it sort of worked out like chewing gum in the end and it would give me some nourishment and stop the hunger pains and a little bit of water would help to just digest it. So we spent a whole week before the end of the war in that bunker next to Hitler's, as I said. The Russians came in, opened the door and said out, out you're free now. Hitler is dead! The the ones that came into the bunker to free us, they were quite civil and they even gave us something to eat after all our time in there. We came out of the bunker and there was total disarray from everywhere. The buildings were gone. There was bricks and mortar and girders and dead horses and people lying in the street and it had to be all cleared away so, that's what we found and there was not a house that had a piece of glass in the windows that was all gone and the whole city, as you can see, most likely from the pictures, was just in ruin. The whole lot! There was still shooting because not everything was gone and not all the Germans were giving up because they didn't want to be losing the war, which was evident that they were! So the Russians were running around and the allies were flying overhead still bombing, while we were on the streets and the Russians were shooting right left and centre and where we could we go we were just in between all of that! Where would you go in a city that was bombed 98% and the 2% that was left was cracked. So we hunted around and hunted around and we finally find one room with cardboard on the windows. That sufficed for the next month or so before we found more permanent accommodation. How do you think you will manage in a place that was bombed and nothing was left? So we just had to scout around and when we had potatoes we used to peel them and we dried the potato peels and ate them as bread but we had no butter, we had no bread, we had hardly anything and everything was back on the black market and if you had money you could do something with it. If you had no money you just starved and that's what we did. We starved until we found something to eat.

Vintage radio clip explaining Russian blockade and Berlin Airlift.

Manfred: The blockade of Berlin was a way of the Russians trying to starve us out and they wanted Berlin because we were a thorn in their side. Berlin was cut into four, the three Western ones France, England and America had one half and the Russian had the other half. But not forgetting that all around Berlin was Russian Territory for roughly about 300 km's and then the Americans took over after that. The American's, the English and the French let the Russians go far too far and that's why Berlin was part of the deal and they wanted us. So they wanted to starve us out, so they blockaded the three ways into Berlin with their tanks. The Russians did. And so the American's had to fly in everything and they called it the Berlin Blockade and that was between '48, 1948, which is three years after the war until '49. One whole year that the American's brought everything in. Coal, briquettes, potatoes, everything, water, everything and so that's how we survived.

Vintage radio clip explaining about "Operation little vittles", candy dropping to Berlin children near the airport from US planes.

Manfred: We as kids, used to stay in the corner of our street and the Americans used to come past to go to the airport and they used to throw out chocolates and doughnuts and everything edible and some of their iron rations that had chocolate and chewing gum in it. They threw it to the kids and they loved it. And the other thing was, as children we went to the airport to chase the planes because the American's would throw out handkerchiefs tied down as parachutes with chocolate and goodies tied in and we caught those, which was terrific.
After the ah the war there was not much infrastructure. For every job there was going, there were 400 people applying so what chance is there? So the, ah, the recruitment office told us to do something and I made a little radio and I wired it all up but it never, it never went but the thing was that I was too scared to put batteries in it or anything like that, but the recruitment officer said it was well done and he saw my intentions and said you might be better doing some handiwork. So, I got 2 job offers, an optician, or an upholsterer and I thought no, optician there’s glass, I don't want to do anything with glass, I like something to do with sewing and that sort of stuff because I used to at Grandma's place used to always sew with her sewing machine. So I went to the upholsterer and he said can you sew and I said yes I can, he said show me. I showed him. He said yeah, you’re on. So I was on, as an upholsterer and that was 1952 and I stayed there until 4 years later. I finished my apprenticeship and then I went into allied services, ah like curtains, wallpaper and all this sort of stuff that you, in Germany you learn your trade 100% whatever is in the room. If you were a painter, you learn upholstery and wallpaper, painting and cladding and all that sort of stuff and I was an upholsterer and so I learnt the painting side of it, the wallpaper and everything. So, I went ‘till, from 1952 to 1958 and then I thought that's enough!

Simon: In the year 2000, Manfred was interviewed for a collection of Australian migrant stories.

Cassette recording year 2000:

Interviewer: Right, it’s the 16th February (2000) and I’d like to introduce four people that I’m interviewing today. I might start from my left. Can you tell me your name and where you were born and what the date of your birth was?

Manfred: Manfred Herbert Reich. Born on the 21st of the 11th of 1937 in Berlin. Germany.

Interviewer: And what was it that actually decided you to come to Australia?

Manfred: Well I was living at home with my mum and it was actually a very cushy sort of a nest. Because she did everything for me. But, to me it was a humdrum of a life. Because I used to go to work, bring home the money and get cooked for, get washed for and that was all and I thought “if that was all life is about, I think I need to do something?” And going away from there was the idea.

End of cassette interview

Manfred: I was living with my mother and she was doing everything for me and I thought that doesn't seem like my life. I wanted to have something more exciting, so I said where do I go from here? So it’s 13 years after the war and I needed some outlet. So, 6 of us wanted to go around Germany but it whittled down to me in the end because one got married, one had a car, one had a girlfriend, one got sick so I was left to look after my own self. So I didn't wanna hang around any longer and I said, I go to America.

Audio clip: immigration to America

Manfred: So I went to the American consulate and said I want to go to America and they said, yeah and so I do a 1000 others! Well I said I want to get out of Berlin so what can I do and he said, well Australia's looking for somebody so go over to the Australian consulate because we had the consulates all in Berlin, so, I went to the Australian consulate and I said I want to go to America but they don’t want to take me so what about you guys? And they said yeah we'll take you! But second chance do you want to go to New Zealand? And I said I don’t know where it is and I don't even know where Australia is and so they said well, here is the map have a look! Oh No!! I said Australia is far enough, New Zealand is too far for me. Alright, Australia it is. Sign up! So I signed up. Within 3 weeks I was on the ship to Australia. Ah to the detriment of my mother because she didn't want to lose me I was the only one child. My mum didn't believe that I would sign anything against her will and so I had to really beg and scrimp and save to get her signature, which I did. I had to promise her that I would come back and look after her.It took us 3 weeks to get here. So, it was almost like an old-fashioned ship transport with the sailing ships.

Simon: So once again we hear from the interview dad did in the year 2000.

Cassette Interview year 2000 audio:

Interviewer: Manfred was on the same boat. So Manfred?

Manfred: Yeah, there were quite a few Hungarians on board, because of the uprising in Hungary and they fled to England and then they came out. So, the Castelle Felice (ship name) actually started in England, coming across to Bremer Hafen picking up the German’s but there were a lot of Hungarian’s.

Interviewer: Did you have much to do with the Hungarian’s?

Manfred: Yes, we used to go to English classes together and then practice the English on each other. Which was very good.

Interviewer: With the Hungarian’s?

Manfred: Yes.

Interviewer: Any other memories you’ve got about the trip out you’d like to share?

Manfred: Well there was lot’s of water for starters! And we thought we’ll never get anywhere. We went through Bremer Hafen and then around the Mediterranean and even in the Mediterranean we couldn’t see any land, because they always go outside the three mile limit and so we thought we’ll never get anywhere and then we went through the Suez, which was good, the Suez canal and then coming out on the other side in Aden, we hit wind 12. There were only about three people eating that day! (laughter from all around the interview table) It was fantastic! The boat used to go right up and right down and when you slept in the bed, you were standing up in the bed virtually, that’s how high the waves were.

Interviewer: So who did you travel with?

Manfred: By myself.

Interviewer: Just by yourself?

Female voice: How old were you?

Manfred: 21

Interviewer: Did you have family that you left behind?

Manfred: Yes all. The whole lot! Yeah, mum from Berlin, but all my uncles and aunts and cousins, everybody!

Interviewer: Was that difficult the farewells?

Manfred: Well mum was sort of in denial over me going, but when I finally packed up she knew I was going. And that was hard. But, it was more harder on her than on me, because I looked forward to adventure you see?

End of cassette interview

Manfred: So, within a very short time I was in Australia. We landed in Fremantle and it was 45゚c and we walked around the town and thought it was fabulous because the cars were only 300 pounds and in Germany there were no cars because of the war, so, we thought ah, we’ve come to heaven! Wonderful! So we walked around in 45゚c heat had ice creams and drinks and all that sort of stuff, which was good. Back on the ship going along The Bight and Australia was burning from one end to the other.

Simon: The crew members of the ship, Castille Felice, loved to put the fear into the new immigrants and they easily achieved that by pointing out the bushfires raging across the great Australian Bight.

Manfred: So then in 3 days we were in Melbourne. Guess what? In Melbourne it was snowing and sleeting and we couldn't believe it, 45c in Fremantle and 0c and snowing in Melbourne. So then we had to board the train, going towards Bonegilla. Bonegilla was an American army camp, right here on the border of New South Wales Albury and Victoria. The American’s had gone by anyway that was empty and so they said it was alright for the migrants to come in.

Vintage radio clip explaining to Australians the Bonegilla camp and new migrants.

Manfred: And it took us eight hours from Melbourne o get to Bonegila. Coming back to Bonegilla after the snow and ice in Melbourne, it was back to 45c and we thought it was marvelous because there was a big lake and we could go swimming and it was freedom! There was grass and everything, but they told us not to walk through the grass because there were snakes and spiders and not to dive into the lake because there was barbed wire there and we could get tangled up. Within the first two days, we had three people dead! Two tangled up in the wire in the lake and one person had a BMW on the ship, motorbike and he went on to Melbourne to pick it up and he had a heat stroke, there was no helmets at that time. He had a heat stroke and he died on the way up to Bonegilla. So we had three dead people in the first ten days.