Jolanta Janavicius

Overload #30

The Bombing of Freiburg in Breisgau 1945

On February 18th, 1945 my mother, my brother and myself were seated in the restaurant “Die Alte Bursa”. We were celebrating. After many days of asking the council to give us permission to stay in this beautiful, old city of universities and hospitals the permit of residence was granted. My mother got our ration cards ready to order, while I was looking around. Then the alarm signal sounded. Nobody took any notice. Then four more alarm signals. People were chatting, enjoying the evening. Suddenly an explosion shook the restaurant, glass shattered, more explosions. I remember as if it was yesterday. Everybody froze in action, whatever they were doing; they became like statues frozen in the moment. Stacks of plates on the long counter were swaying, swaying and crashing to the floor. Then all hell broke loose. People were running, screaming, bombs crashing. The lights went out. We all rushed to the cellar. A woman could not stop screaming.

The sound of exploding bombs was so loud it was painful to the ears. Somebody lit a candle. The solid beams of the cellar would flex with every explosion and settle to our great relief. The dust was suffocating. The bombardment lasted 20 minutes. We were still alive. The exit had collapsed, there was no way out. To my own amazement I knew exactly where the exit was. I have never been in that cellar before but I knew.

We were standing by the wall; there was a niche close by. I asked my mother to hoist me up the ledge of the niche so I could find the exit. Nobody believed me. I jumped onto my brother’s shoulders and onto the ledge, the niche was one metre deep, I turned left and there it was; the exit! Everybody scrambled up the ledge and got out of the cellar, over 100 souls. The devastation from the bombardment, which lasted 20 minutes, was devastating. The entire centre of the city from Martin’s Tor to Schwaben Tor was razed to the ground. When we climbed out of the collapsed building all we could see was mountains of rubble, twisted beams, wires and huge sheets of roaring flames 20 metres high, the noise was ear splitting. We were trying to reach the cathedral, which by a miracle remained intact. Everywhere you looked there were no buildings, no streets, just mountains of rubble, roaring flames. At last we reached the cathedral. Half the presbytery was destroyed. On the first floor balcony stood a monk in a dark brown and white habit and played the violin like a virtuoso.

We could not believe our eyes, we stopped and listened to this heavenly music for a while, and then we ran past burning tall buildings, swaying, and crashing down as soon as we ran past. At last we reached Schlossberg, the park on the hill. Hundreds of survivors were escaping the inferno like us. The next day was dark; it was raining ashes all day long.

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