Monday, May 7, 2018

Interview: Recollections of Nuremberg during WW2

Kurt Geuder and his grandson Blake Johnson, May 2018.
Kurt Geuder interviewed by Blake Johnson, Calgary, March 2018

1. How old were you when the Second World War started, and where were you living in Nuremberg at the time?

I was close to eight years old I lived in the southern portion of Nuremberg. My parents owned a grocery store, milk store (which was separate from groceries), and a deli downtown which was run by my aunt. This is a picture of the store which my parents owned in Downtown Nuremberg”

Kurt Geuder (child on the right beside the child in the dark shorts) in front of the building that his family owned (light coloured building.) The dark coloured building was cut in half by a bomb, and all the people inside of it at the time were killed. Photo taken in 1936 (Kurt was four years-old at the time).

"You can see me in front of the window of the store. We owned the entire light-coloured building. The building was cut in half by the time I came back from Slovakia. The dark building in the photo was also cut in half, and the people who lived inside were all killed when the bombs exploded on our buildings.”

2. What was your life like during the war until you left Germany for Slovakia?

Plakat: Kinderlandverschickung, ab 1935
Poster for KLV, ca 1935? Lebendiges Museum
“I went to Slovakia with a bunch of kids who had lost their parents. It was a program called “Kinderlund Verschickung” (KLV) for short. We were supposed to be in Slovakia for half a year, but the air raids were getting worse, so we were forced to stay there longer. I left Slovakia on February 1, 1944. We went back by train through Czechoslovakia into Prague, and then back to Germany. We arrived back in Nuremberg on February 3, 1944. We were not allowed to stay there, but we were not allowed to leave the train. We were not allowed to stay there because of the air raids. My aunt and uncle were there to meet me, but we could only speak to them through the train window. My friend Krist was talking to his parents, and they told him to come out, he said he couldn’t so they reached in through the window and pulled him out. We went through Kipfenperg, about 70KM south of Nuremberg approximately. I was lucky enough to have relatives living in the countryside of Nuremberg in Windsheim, about 40 miles West. After about two weeks in Kipfenperg I went to Windsheim where I stayed until the end of the War.”

3. What did you hear about the war when you were in Slovakia?

“Not too much. We could not read the newspaper, and we couldn’t understand the Slovakian people. They spoke German quite well, but they did not speak about the war. We were only 11, and I turned 12 in October of that year. I had some idea what was going on because my teacher told us we could not go home because of the air raids. The Russian Front came closer (a few hundred miles away), and this was when the German’s started to retreat. The Russians had so many soldiers that it was almost impossible to imagine.”

4. Did you ever experience any warfare yourself?

“When I was in Windsheim, in the spring of 1945 – probably beginning of April:
My grandfather was planting potatoes in his potato field for the next harvest. My aunt, cousin, and I were helping him. At lunch, we went home. My aunt and Grandfather had bikes, and my cousin and I were walking home for lunch. Planes flew in bunches of four. They flew quite low over Windsheim for a couple of weeks, but never did anything. When we were walking home, I noticed that the planes were quite low, and I pointed at them and mentioned this to my cousin. While I was pointing, I heard a big noise on my left side of a machine gun, and as I look, I see a P-47 Thunderbolt shooting directly towards us on the road. I remember laying down, but I couldn’t hear anything anymore because I was deaf from the noise. As I looked up, I could see the plane trying to drop a bomb on the nearby railway station, but missed it by about 50 feet. There were 8 planes in total shooting along the road, and after each plane passed, I ran towards the houses nearest me, which were around 300 feet away. Each time a plane came, I jumped into the field beside the road. The problem was, the corn was less than a foot high, so I couldn’t really hide in it.”

5. When you arrived back to Nuremberg, what did you see? What had changed about the city?

“I went to Nuremberg twice after Slovakia. Once when I got back from Slovakia, and then when I visited my relatives after the war. I went back to see if they were still alive. We had to be registered by the government if you went 20km past your local rail station. It was me, two women, and one girl. You were not allowed on the streets till 8am, and then had to be back inside by 6pm. Since there was a curfew, it was against the law, be we still walked 40 miles to get there from Windsheim. All the cars, and buildings were in shambles. I went inside the front door of the building my parents had lived in (Kurt’s parents died before the war), and it was completely bombed out. Inside the building was a note that said the people inside had moved into a different part of town. I went to the police station with the note, and the police station was still there! I showed him the note and he pointed across the street, and I rang the bell. My aunt answered the door and she was surprised. I only had a backpack on and a loaf of bread. We walked the main railway line in Nuremberg, and I couldn’t believe the destruction. I saw the palace of justice on that walk – not realizing it would soon be the place where all the Nuremberg trials would be held. My home, family’s business, and school were all destroyed.”
Image result for nuremberg bombing
A part of Nuremberg, devastated by Allied bombing, 28 May 1945. IWM CL3414.

6.  Did you lose any close friends due to the bombing raids on Nuremberg?

“I had a very good friend who was also named Kurt Trauntner. He was a half a year younger than me. It was just before his 13th birthday probably. He was with his mother and relatives while the fight for Nuremberg was taking place. There was a lull in the fighting, so him and his friend became nosy. Without telling their mother, they snuck upstairs and moved the curtain to look outside. He looked out and got shot through the head by a sniper. His friend got shot in the belly. Kurt was killed instantly, and his friend died on the way to the hospital. I knew Kurt since I was three years old. If I had any money when I was a kid, I would give it to him to go to the swimming pool, or to a movie with me, and he would do the same. I did not learn about this till a few months later when I asked his grandmother how he was doing and she told me. I had another friend in Windsheim who died just last year. He had a younger brother – Herman Lunz. I can’t remember the day that this happened, but I believe it was in late April 1945. He had polio a year before, and could not walk too well. When the P-47s attacked, he could not run, so he ran towards the railway. Him and his friend Hanzi were hiding underneath a rail car when a bomb exploded nearby. The railway car flipped on top of them. Both kids were buried underneath a burning rail car, and the only way you could tell it was them was because they found a stuffed animal and a few bones. They were only six years old. I went to the funeral a couple of weeks later. I remember searching for them, and thinking that they were still playing around that day, and learned the news a few days later. Another man I knew was shot in the hip area, but he wasn’t killed – just wounded. I knew other people, young men, who were pulled into the army and never came back. My neighbour which was 17 fought on the Eastern Front, and I never saw him again. Another man I knew was killed in Monte Cassino in Italy.”

7. How were you able to move on from the things that you saw, and how has it impacted your life?

“I heard from people that I may have problems getting over what we saw. I never had any problems and I never knew many people who had problems. Like I said, I was 13 years old, and I will never forget it in all my life, but it never impacted my ability to go outside on a daily basis and do the things that needed to be done. A friend of mine’s father had a nervous breakdown on the Eastern Front, and he was a truck driver trying to get away from the Russians. He had orders to keep on driving away from the front, and not stop for anyone. There were wounded soldiers all through the ditches and he just left them because of his orders, and that was hard for him. He got put in an institution. I knew a lot of women whose husbands never came home. Sometimes I don’t think about it for years, but then I remember and it’s hard to stop. The biggest raid on Nuremberg was on January 2nd, 1945 – and I was there by accident at the time. I was visiting my Aunt and Uncle in Nuremberg for Christmas and was planning on going back the next day. They still have a Memorial Day for it. They usually have sirens which announced the end of the bombing, which gave the ‘all-clear.’ After the raid, the house I lived in was no longer livable. A bomb exploded about 50 feet away, which sucked in the walls of the house. Luckily, I was in the cellar. I could see the third floor from the main floor. The next day, I had enough of the bombing, so I walked 7km to the nearest train station and took the first train out of Nuremberg. I went back to my grandfather’s house in Windsheim. My uncle remembered that the raid lasted over two hours. They had about 900 bombers, and 94% of the downtown area was destroyed. We were not downtown, but South of it. I did not go downtown because we had enough damage in our area. There was a POW camp right across the street from our house in Nuremberg, and I remember seeing Russian prisoners being led to the factories. I went to a cemetery in 1943 where a mass grave was with over 100 people in it, and we had a memorial for those people. It was not a fun time, and I said to my wife, I hope that my kids or anyone I know never has to experience war or air raids in their lifetime. Luckily, in Windsheim we did not have to worry that much about the air raids, so we just stayed in bed since it was mostly countryside.” 
Bad Windsheim, as seen in 2007. Photo:
Dr. Volkmar Rudolf/Tilman2007
Extra Comment:

“I went through Dresden on my way to Slovakia, and I was able to see the entire city of Dresden before the bombing. These magnificent buildings were seen from the train because the train tracks were on a higher platform than the street, so I could see almost everything. That was on May 2nd, 1943. I know this because we left Nuremberg on May 1st, 1943 and traveled overnight, coming through Dresden the next day. They called it ‘the Florence North of the Alps’ because of the city’s beauty. I remember talking to my group teacher about this as we passed through the city.”

No comments:

Post a Comment