Gas Masks

It was another one of those nights we spent in our basement. We heard “die Flack” the German fire aimed at the bombing airplanes. Boom boom, crash crash.. no one could sleep, we carefully listened to where the bombs were falling. It was close, scary close.. but still not in Brachwitz. Our tiny village did not interest the bombers.. they were after Halle, a big industrial city. But.. every time a crash sounded close.. we shivered with fear. Crash boom, oh and then there was this weird sound of a whistling.. This sound was created by the falling bombs.. It was by far the scariest one.. because right after this whistling came the “crash”.. the bomb had hit, somewhere.. but not in Brachwitz, we decided.

Suddenly dad pulled something out of a bag.. he was searching for words, he was definitely upset. Mom said:”What is it?” Then dad went on saying:”They (the enemy) has begun to drop phosphurous gasses. This stuff will burn everything it hits. It’s dropped from the planes. If it touches you, you will burn, and if you jump in the river, then come up for air.. it will start to burn again.

There is nothing we can do about this one, except do what we are doing.. get down into the basement and stay in.. until the “Entwarnungs Sirene” the alarm that sounded when the danger was over!..

“But” he continued “This isn’t the only new problem we have,” and this is, where this is coming in. He was pulling something out of this bag he was holding. It was a terrible looking thing.. something sort of khaki green / grey. A monstrosity of a thing.. a gas mask!

Dad continued saying:”They also are dropping a gas.. that when inhaled, will kill us. This gasmask must be worn.. if the enemy is dropping gas. I shuddered.. what else could they be thinking of to do us in? I realized how precious life must be.. and what was necessary to save just one life.

Dad put the gas mask over his face.. demonstrating to us how to do it.

Suddenly Oma piped up: “I have lived this long, and I refuse to prolong my life with such measures. I refuse to die that way..!” and she flung the mask dad had given her.. way over into the basement corner. Oma had had enough. It was over for her. The rest of us tried on the ones Dad meanwhile had passed out. I thought it was funny how everyone looked, and I imagined mom saying to me: ” Adelheid, hast du heute schon geuebt?” (did you practice your piano yet today?) .. and I could not suppress a giggle that overpowered me.

Mom, under this mask.. giving orders.. hahahaha “What’s funny”? dad asked. I straightened my posture, stopped giggling and said:” Oh, nothing Vati, something tickled my nose, is all!”

This night passed without another incident.. us children looking foreward to the next morning as usual… going on our hunt for the small and big splinters “Die Flack” had been strewing all over the landscape. Some of them could have exploded in our hands.. most of them though were harmless. They were pretty and shiny and we always made it a contest who found the most of them.

Kids.. you know?


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