Marianne Clemens in Hitler Youth uniform, 1940 (Karl Clemens)
Marianne Clemens was born in East Germany. When she was ten she became a member of the Hitler Youth. Eventually she was drafted into Hitler's war effort. She tells her story in her book A Childhood Lost in War - Growing up Under Nazi Rule.
Marianne Clemens immigrated to Manitoba in 1957. Since then she has written three books. SCENE asked Marianne Clemens to provide an excerpt from A Childhood Lost in War.
(From Chapter 13)
Since being drafted to the RAD two years previous, I had no idea where my father was or my mother with my two younger sisters, and I had lost all contact with my Aunt Daisy and Uncle Werner not long after the war started. I was AWOL from my RAD unit and living with my stepmother in the home of a local Forest Ranger in the occupied Bohemian village Muellerschlag. We simply took each day such as it came.
It was a sunny, late spring day and I was enjoying my freedom and the chance to get away from the boredom of Muellerschlag. After pedalling nearly four kilometres, I began to hear strange sounds echoing across the countryside. These noises sounded familiar, but I did not all together recognize them at first.
The whistling noise I was now hearing overhead was created by artillery fire. But what I couldn't hear was the deep rumble of distant explosions confirming for all that the mortars had reached their intended destination. Without the rumble, I was confident the fighting was far, far away and there was no need to panic.
As I continued pedalling down the peaceful country trail, I began to wonder where the artillery was coming from and what its intended target was. Was it German troops firing on our enemies or were our enemies now close enough to fire on us?
By now, I considered myself a veteran of the war, having seen so much and contributing my share to the war effort. I had witnessed first hand the senselessness of the killing and randomness of the bombing. But even still, there was almost always some logic to the fighting. However, the realization of nearby artillery fire confused me. There were no military bases or troops in the vicinity, not even a city large enough to warrant an attack. So who was shooting at who and why?
As I rode on mostly undeterred, the intensity of the firing increased and the whistling turned to screams half muffled by a deep, thunderous roar which I felt more in my chest than I heard in my ears. After one especially deafening mortar shook me to the bone, I jumped off my bike, hurting my knee as I fell hard to the ground. Struggling to maintain my composure, I thought back to some of the other equally dangerous situations I had encountered over the last five years and reassured myself that panicking would do no good at all. I had been taught basic precautionary measures and despite my racing thoughts, was able to clearly recall my instruction. Since there were neither bushes nor trees nearby, I dragged my bike into the dried up ditch and lay flat on the ground beside it. I stayed in this position for nearly two hours.
As I lay quietly listening to the war taking place all around me, my uneasiness slowly turned to fear as I realized that the artillery fire was coming from enemy lines in the east and that it was rapidly advancing on my position.
Even though I was growing increasingly scared and could only think of the safety and security of home, I never panicked. I was all alone with my thoughts which, surprisingly, continued to calm me to the point where I resigned myself to whatever fate held in store for me - an attitude no doubt widely adopted by most who live through years of war.
After what seemed like an eternity, the shooting suddenly stopped. I waited motionless, face down in the ditch. The silence became near deafening and when I thought my heart would pound right through my chest, I jumped up, grabbed my bike and raced as fast as I could back home. I never once looked behind me.
I had a hard time falling asleep that night.
The next morning, I awoke before 6:00 am, to the sight of two American soldiers passing by our window. Before I could rouse my stepmother, there was a loud bang as the soldiers charged into our room. We sat bolt-upright in bed, my stepmother's one arm around me while the other clutched helplessly at the blanket...
Marianne Clemens (Kim MacAulay)
This content is provided by Marianne Clemens. The views expressed do not express the views of CBC. CBC is not responsible for this content.
Hear an interview with Marianne Clemens with Keran Sanders of the Weekend Morning Show from Sunday November 6:
1. Marianne with friend Hilde Siewert in front of baracks in their RAD uniforms, 1943
2. Marianne's father Karl Herman Clemens wearing his WW32 uniform, 1942
(Courtesy Marianne Clemens)