Tuesday, 28 August 2007
The First Time I Ever Rode a Horse
By Eva Craw (age 80) as told to her daughter, Candace Craw-Goldman who blogs at In Repose
The first time I ever rode a horse was in early April 1945, in Budwies, Czechloslovakia. I was only 17, but employed by the German Army.
Earlier that year, the government had closed all of the high schools to support the war effort. All of the teachers were pressed into military service. All of the other girls my age were made to work for the German Army or “Arbeitdienst” to help run the farms or the hospitals which had lost workers to the war as well.
The boys my age were all drafted too. They received three months of marching training, and then were showed how to hold a gun. Then they were sent to the Russian front.
Our former headquarters had been bombed the week before. Of course it was not allowed to listen to the BBC, but we knew that the war had nearly been lost. The Russian air raids happened almost every day. But increasingly the pilots used machine guns rather than bombs. That meant the day of occupation was coming soon. They wanted the soldiers dead and the buildings standing for future use.
For many weeks we had prayed for the Americans to come and to take the place of the Russians whom we were so fearful of, but our prayers had not been answered.
The officers for whom I worked were some of the most infirm of the German Army. They had spent time on the front and been wounded or were ill and not fit to serve as fighting soldiers.
The commander of the garrison had only one eye. His name was Hartnack; he was a Colonel. The man I took dictation for was named Captain Astfalk. He had only one arm.
I spent my working days taking dictation and then typing orders for the company commanders that were full of half truths and lies about how well the Germans were resisting. Even at 17, I knew I participated in a daily farce.
Sometimes, during a break in my work I would look out the window at the long lines of parked military vehicles and wonder how many weeks it had been since any of them had seen a drop of gasoline. Here at the Feirhof, we were using old parade and draft horses to pull carts of people and supplies.
I had just finished handing Captain Astfalk a stack of briefing papers when the air raid siren sounded. “Go go go!” yelled Captain Astfalk. About 30 people from our building poured outside and most of them ran toward the woods nearby. I came out running with my high heel shoes and saw that some people were climbing into a small horse drawn cart. By the time I reached the cart, it was already overflowing with people, most of whom were not physically able to run to the woods.
A sergeant helping with the evacuation took one look at the overfilled cart and then decided to pick me up, and while he was setting me on the horse I heard the old kitchen woman yell, “Take off those shoes and RUN!” But I was already astride the horse. I remember that there was nothing for me to hold onto but a handful of his long brown mane as the horse trotted toward the woods and the other people.
That’s when I heard the machine gun fire. The horse heard it too and began to run madly out of control down the dirt road with the people in the cart screaming and holding on for dear life. I managed to stay on for only a few minutes before I finally lost my grip. I slid off and landed in a ditch. The horse kept running as I laid there terrified.
I glanced in the direction of the cart and saw the horse stumble and fall during another burst of machine gun fire. The cart turned over and the people jumped off and ran as fast as they could. Even the old kitchen woman started to run.
I was one of the last ones to make it to the woods. As I reached the others I realized that I had wet myself when I was in the ditch. I hoped that no one would notice.
When the airplanes finally left we all looked at each other in silence. Then we started to walk back to the buildings. As we walked, I stopped and turned and looked for the horse and saw that it was still lying on his side, its back bloody with bullet holes. The sergeant was looking at the horse too. With a sigh he told me to turn around, follow the others and not look back.
I will never forget the sound I heard next: The single shot from the sergeant’s gun.