Valentine's Day, 1945byPhilLanderer©
For me, Valentines Day holds neither goodwill nor romantic sentiment. The Hallmark Holiday will always be the anniversary of the loss of my first and only love: the city of Dresden, which I once called home. All these years later, I still remember the traumatic event with crystal clarity.
The year was 1945, the month February, late in the Second World War. The European conflict was so advanced that the real soldiers were already dead and buried: only old men and young boys like myself remained. As a newly minted sixteen-year-old soldier, I had recently taken up arms to defend my hometown, Dresden, located on the western border of Germany. However, there was absolutely no defense that could guard against the coming assault.
This year, the Eve of Valentine's Day fell on Fat Tuesday, which gave everyone in Dresden a much-needed excuse to celebrate. You see, the war had not been going well for Germany. Near the end of 1944, we had been forced into a steady retreat from both the eastern and the western fronts. My family, like many others, had scraped together their meager wartime rations to prepare the traditional pre-Lent feast of pancakes, which would be potato by necessity, since they were the only staple left at this stage of the conflict. I was disappointed that I would be unable to sup with them, since I had been scheduled for guard duty that day. Had I known it would be my last chance to share a meal with my family, I would have hastily left my post, but as things were, my small guard unit and I ate a celebratory early meal: passing around a rare summer sausage that had come with our rations to help us celebrate this special day. As British bombers winged their way toward us, the old men unknowingly swapped stories amicably as the boys listened with eager, young ears. One sixty something soldier told us, rather graphically, exactly how he planned to distract himself from the coming fast by partaking of his new wife instead, a woman who'd already lost her first husband to the war. Once the sausage came around to him again, he punctuated his story with some bawdy choreography to drive home his point. Another overly seasoned veteran told us the details of his plan to celebrate with a local brothel woman. Becoming a soldier had thus far been an education in worldliness: before being drafted, I had been a sheltered Catholic schoolboy, but now, according to the Third Reich, I was a man.
Stimulated by their tales of the coming conquests, I had both the knowledge and desire to follow-through on what would be my first time with a woman. As a Catholic, I thought I understood the arrangement I had with God: I'd screw up and apologize later. At least that was how it had always worked before. With the day of absolution to follow, tonight seemed the perfect time to first taste the forbidden fruit of a woman's touch. Just after dusk but before the blackout rendered sight impossible, I weaved my way through the silent streets to seek out the company of a woman of the night, sucking down the cold February air in anticipation.
The bar turned whorehouse was located in the no-man's-land between town and the suburbs. It was quite a trek, but I was thankful it was so far from my home that there was little or no chance that I'd bump into any neighborhood acquaintances. I'd actually been to this place several times with my soldier mates, though I only drank timidly as I watched my friends pair-up with foreigner women and disappeared upstairs. According to Nazi sentiment, Jewish women were unfit for breeding stock, yet paradoxically sufficient to meet the carnal needs of lonely soldiers. Brainwashed by propaganda, I believed that these Jewish women existed for my enjoyment, and were no better than loose gypsy women.
Upon entering the bar, the stale smell of body odor and alcohol washed over me, enveloping me in a net that I couldn't escape, even if I'd wanted to. Further entangling myself, I took a vacant table and signaled the serving girl for a drink. I quickly drained the first beer to fortify my failing courage and scanned the room for the particular woman I had in mind. I caught sight of her just she descended the stairs; she was saying her goodbyes to her last paramour. My heart pounded within my chest, so I continued to sit alone, drinking more and more to help screw up the courage to talk to her. The enterprising owner of this establishment named her Hedy, due to her striking resemblance of Hedy Lamarr, the Austrian born actress and pin-up model. However, the boys in my unit just called her "the Jewess." With wavy raven locks and pouty lips it didn't much matter that she Jewish, nor that she was twenty years older than the rest of the women in this establishment. In fact, her experience was somewhat of a conversation point, being famously good for first-timers like myself.
Just as I started to raise my hand to call her over, the air raid siren blared loudly outside, barely audible over din of the bar. The barkeep quieted the patrons down and then turned up the radio. Everyone listened in earnest, intent on the coming message. The announcer revealed that the recently sighted Allied planes were projected to attack Leipzig, a city of more strategic importance than Dresden. We all breathed a sigh of relief and told ourselves that there was no reason the Allies would bomb Dresden: it was a civilian town, with no refineries or military factories of any kind. We couldn't have been more wrong.
This feeling in the pit of my stomach told me it was now or never, so I caught Hedy's eye and motioned her over. She looked me up and down, somewhat skeptically, clearly wondering about my age. After a time, when it was clear I was completely tongue-tied, she finally spoke the first words in practiced German.
"Boy, aren't you a little young for this? Shouldn't you hurry home to your mother?" the woman who was old enough to fill that position chidingly asked.
"I'm old enough to be a soldier and go where I please," I boasted a little too loudly, after I finally found my voice.
"I stand corrected, officer. Then what's your pleasure this evening?" She said upon sitting down. As a lowly private, I blushed at the promotion she had given me.
"You," I said pointedly, blushing even more. Hedy was experienced enough to know when the conversation was over; she took my hand silently and led me upstairs, like a bull to the slaughter.
Once behind closed doors, I curiously looked around her sparsely decorated space. It contained the basic accouterments that a woman of her profession would need: a large bed and dresser, along with mirrors, jewelry, makeup, a hairbrush, and several pictures of men that must have taken a particular shine to her. She began to disrobe and commanded me to do likewise. Used to taking orders, I took off my clothes absent-mindedly and gave up examining the room in favor of admiring her glorious body.
"First time with a woman?" She asked, reading the answer in the wonder on my face. "Well, take it all in, sweetheart." Her breasts hung perfectly from her chest, in ideal proportion with her curvaceous hips. As she turned a slow pirouette, I admired her backside: ample buttocks perfectly connected the small of her back to a set of shapely legs. The only flaw I noticed was a numbered tattoo on her arm, indicating that she had spent some time in the German concentration camps. However, some fat is too good for the fire, which is likely what spared this woman from death. It struck me that had she not been so stunning, she would already be free since Auschwitz had been captured by Allied forces only weeks before.
Once I finished admiring her, my small soldier stood at full attention. As if this was what she was waiting for, she helped me into one of the tough prophylactics that came standard issue with my rifle and uniform. Sitting down on the bed, she pulled my hips toward her. While I stood, she guided my hands across the rolling landscape of her flesh, showing this teenage boy how a man should touch a woman. I swelled even more, as if with pride, at being with such beauty. In a matter of minutes that felt like eternity, she lay backwards, pulling me on top of her, guiding me inside. Though I was painfully aroused, the thick prophylactic spared me from immediate release. As a teenage boy with raging hormones, I felt the reproductive urge to push at a furious rate against her yielding crevice. Even with the oppressor astride her, she was in control, pressing back against my hips to allow only a slow, grinding assault. To slow myself in this war of attrition, I counted how many times I plumbed the depths of her womanhood.
At twenty-five, her breath started to quicken, but I purposefully continued to draw mine in a measured fashion. As if matching the change in her, the mood downstairs could be heard to shift with the sound of moving chairs and shuffling feet. I wondered what new information had just come about the path of the Allied planes. She only seemed to notice my distraction. Pulling my pelvis higher, she bent what had been iron fast only moments before. Churning against her at a nearly ninety-degree angle, I continued to count. Around fifty repetitions, she began to moan. These were not the shallow moans of an accomplished actress, but rather the resonating, lusty lowing that welled up from deep inside her. Now filling her completely, she changed the direction of her force, pulling me toward her, helping me fight the audible friction that resisted, yet paradoxically enabled, our mutual desire. I was so engrossed in the sights and sounds of this symphony of sex that I lost count completely. In due course, there were fireworks: more accurately, explosions. When they sounded again, I recognized the booming tone of Dresden's anti-aircraft guns. I stopped for a moment, the fear and uncertainty of the moment undoing the arousal of nearly a quarter of an hour.
"Don't stop," she commanded between moans, gasping before she attempted a grasping explanation: "it's just drilling." Even as she was losing control of herself, she hadn't lost her hold on me.
With the regular discharge of anti-aircraft guns acting as my metronome, I worked with military precision. In short time, the heat of our encounter reached a level that only spontaneous combustion could follow. Just as her chorus of moans reached an unprecedented level, I exploded inside her. The instant afterward, an even more powerful explosion rocked the room. The trinkets and picture frames on her dresser rattled loudly. We both paused, petrified, waiting for another explosion that might as well be the judgment of God. Miraculously, it never came. Wrapped in our sinful embrace at the edge of the city, we had somehow been spared. Now looking out the window, the afterglow of our coupling was overshadowed by the burning brightness of downtown Dresden. The Allies had bombed Dresden. Utter destruction and ubiquitous flame assured me that I was the last surviving member of my family. For the moment, however, my survival instincts held back a grief to deep for words.
We hurriedly dressed and ran downstairs. The bar had already cleared out, with people seeking shelter should more bombing follow the initial onslaught. When we stepped outside to do likewise, I expected the cold February air to be a shock after the heat of our encounter, but the temperature was measurably higher due to the radiant energy blazing at the center of our once fair city.
If I was uncertain who was in charge before, there was no doubt now. I was barely able to hold it together, but Hedy took control, along with my hand, and led me to the shelter of a well-stocked cellar in a darkened house nearby. She informed me that this was a safe house arranged by Jewish sympathizers, the owners of which were known to be vacationing in Switzerland.
Once we were safe, I collapsed completely, both physically and emotionally. I sobbed uncontrollably at the loss of my family while Hedy cooed consolations, sharing how she too had lost her entire family to the war. I drifted off to sleep listening to the sound of her reassuring voice that kept repeating the same message over and over: I was not alone.
A few hours later, however, I awoke to the sound of distant bombing to find myself cold and alone. Hedy had disappeared, which I couldn't hold against her; it seemed only natural for a Jewish whore to have no love lost over a Nazi soldier such as myself. However, much to my surprise, she soon reappeared at the cellar door.
"When I thought it was safe, I went back for my papers," she explained the purpose of her absence, "but the has bombing started again. Don't worry though; it's on the other side of the city," she reassured me, lying down next to me. Her elevated body temperature warmed me against the cool of the cellar floor. Now trusting her completely, I closed my eyes while she sang a Yiddish lullaby softly in my ear. Exhausted by the day's events, I soon dropped off to sleep again.
The following day, I woke up in her arms, grateful to be alive. The feeling evaporated as quickly as the water that firefighters were pouring on the inferno that was still raging in Dresden. This giant pyre that darkened the skies burned in the city from morning to night, sustained by another round of bombing at midday. Restricted to our shelter, I had the entire day to embrace my grief as the city of Dresden was transformed from wood and stone to soot and ash on February 14th, the Ash Wednesday of 1945. Valentine's Day would never be the same for me.
The last round of bombing came around noon on the 15th, a day that Hedy and I passed by finishing off most of the canned goods in the cellar. My grief was less palpable and the loss that had been so deep I could taste it was soon replaced by the flavor of canned biscuits and orange marmalade. Encouraged by my improvement, Hedy shared her life story to help distract me from my loss.
Her husband had been an Austrian watchmaker, drafted into Hitler's army after the acquisition of Austria due to Allied acquiescence. They had two children together, both of whom were considered Jewish by the Germans due to the matrilineal nature of Judaism. When her husband had died in the Blitzkrieg of Poland, she sold her skill as a seamstress to nearby families to help make ends meet. Without the protection of her Austrian husband, she and her two children were eventually rounded up along with other such families and shipped away to labor camps. Since the camps were divided by gender, she soon lost contact with her son. She and her daughter, both of age and beautiful, were forced to serve in the so-called "Joy Divisions": brothels of sex-slaves that would service the guards and other cooperative non-Jewish inmates as a reward for good behavior. After a few months, her daughter was brutalized at the hands of a sadistic German guard after refusing to participate in the dirtiest of sexual acts. However, after beating her into submission, the man merely took what he wanted by force, inflicting terrible wounds in the process. After that, the poor girl contracted blood poisoning and died in the prison infirmary. As if being responsible for the death of her daughter wasn't enough for the man, the same guard began to pay Hedy regular visits. After enduring a particularly brutal beating herself, a young officer, motivated by pathos for Hedy and her daughter, arranged a transfer to the small brothel on the edge of Dresden. This act, small consolation as it may seem, ultimately spared her life: several months later, the inmates of the camp were executed when the camp was forced to move with the retreat from Allied Forces.
After the treatment that Hedy had received at the hands of soldiers, I couldn't believe she was talking to me, much less comforting and caring for me. When I asked her about this, she revealed that after losing her son, she had developed a soft spot for boys around his age, regardless of their race or ethnicity. On some level, she hoped that another woman might be helping her own boy escape the terrors of war at the same time. As we talked late into the evening, I began to understand the paradoxical behavior of this complex and intriguing Jewish woman.
On the 16th of February, we emerged from our shelter, taking our chances that the bombing had abated. We had little choice in the matter since today was the day of deportation for Hedy and scores of other Jewish folk from Dresden. For her to stay any longer would risk a compulsory trip to an undisclosed "Labor Effort" which was a thinly veiled journey to an out-of-the-way execution site. Among the papers she'd retrieved from her room was a temporary ID that had been procured a month ago by the owner of the house that had sheltered us. She planned to use the chaos surrounding the bombing as cover to escape the country, so perhaps some good might come from the Allied attack. I prepared to say my goodbyes, but she surprised me by pressing a similar ID into my hand and handing over a newly stitched change of clothes.
"These were meant for my son. I held onto them in the hope that he might have found his way to me, but now they would serve you better than him."
This gift was my salvation; I only had to accept it. Still, I thought twice about what she offered. I was so undeserving of the gift that would deliver me from the coming Soviets, who would no doubt imprison or execute anyone wearing the same Nazi uniform as I did. In light of this, despite being unfit for grace, I chose to accept it. I shed the clothes of Hedy's captors, now finding myself oddly embarrassed to be naked in front of her. I donned the warm, clean garments and suddenly felt like a new man.
Only hope can so change a person.
The soldier-sinner I'd been was gone: I was reborn as the adopted child of a Jewish emigrant, redeemed, in a manner of speaking, by the death of her own son. Hedy worked a similar transformation, stripping the "J" and the Star of David from her overcoat to look every bit the Austrian that her papers claimed she was. Taking no chances, she fashioned a bandage to cover the numbered tattoo on her arm and we set off together to flee the country.
Through a combination of carts, trucks, and trains, we eventually reached Bavaria, where we lived modestly as mother and son until the end of the European conflict in May of 1945. During reconstruction, I made it back to Dresden to pick through the remains of my family's estate. I found some financial papers in my father's safe along with some petty cash and my mother's diamond engagement ring. The cash was enough to get me to Switzerland where I put myself through university on the funds generated by liquidating my families' assets. Hedy found a handsome British officer to marry that moved them both to London. I sent her letters during University and to this day consider Graham and Hedy Rooper the only family I have left in the world.
When the war resulted in the reinstatement of the Jewish nation, I was among those cheering the nation of Israel. But all my good-natured feelings were for the sake of one kind, Jewish woman who changed my narrow view of her people. Though they missed the Messiah, the Jews weren't responsible for His death. Rather, it was the people in power who mislead the commoners, killing the Christ in the interest of protecting their own power. This sad tale is much like the crimes perpetrated by my own government. If I should hate anyone, it shouldn't be the chosen nation of God, but rather the regime that committed these terrible crimes against humanity under the guise of the Church. So, while the last Valentines Day of the Second War to End All Wars cost Germany a grand city and a great many lives, it gave one German a heart for God's chosen people. The cost was indeed high, but this new life and change of heart was undoubtedly the greatest Valentine's Day gift a man could receive.