Trigger Factor — How It All Began
When I was fifteen and in the middle of class on an ordinary school day, I was unexpectedly called to our school director’s office. Upon entering the large room, I saw a huge army general who was decorated with many colorful medals and seated next to our benevolent director. He asked if I could imagine joining the army for three years and studying medicine there. They both knew of my wish to become a doctor and I was one of the best students in my class, a good kid up until then. What they did not know is that, for me, the army was a red flag. I associated it with war and killing, rather than patriotism or serving my country. In the history of Germany, patriotism was so well advertised through the propaganda machine of the Third Reich that it ultimately led to war against everyone else. Hitler tried to play God in his madness for superiority (and amphetamines). The Nazis killed a lot of people and created much misery around the world. As a result of WWll, the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan. Israel was also created and continues to smolder like an old wound that has never managed to heal. Of course, from the perspective of the patriotic soldiers who fought to ultimately “liberate” the German people, I should have been psyched to join the army! But I replied honestly that I could not imagine that. The dreadful story of my grandparents’ lucky survival of the potential war crimes committed in Dresden1 during a cold night of February 1945, when British and American bombers attacked the Saxon capital, had even traumatized me as a young child.
My grandfather was physically disabled as a war veteran and at home with my grandmother in Dresden during this horrific air raid. He quickly realized a life-threatening emergency was taking place when the door was blocked by rubble as they hid in the cellar of the house that also served as their bunker. They were trapped in this dark space below the earth together with other inhabitants fearing for their lives. Only with the help of a hammer was my grandfather able to dig a hole in the wall sufficient to get them out. He had realized that they would suffocate if they did not escape in time. After he dug a hole into the wall big enough to serve as an emergency exit, he asked if any of the others also wanted to escape with them together into the streets, but none dared to. They were never seen again. When my grandparents crawled out of this hole, my granny described the situation as follows.
Napalm bombs had set the streets ablaze and burning people were running around screaming with their bodies burning from inextinguishable fires. Rivers of knee-deep water from blown water pipes and corpses filled the streets, along with too many drowning babies my grandmother wanted to pick up, but just couldn’t. They had to run for their lives while bombs fell from the sky like raindrops with the squeaking sounds of terror. Pain, fear and death were part of the hellish theme in Dresden that night, as firestorms raged ferociously. According to my grandmother, it was extremely difficult to walk against these scorching winds as they tried to make their way to the River Elbe, where they thought they would be safe from the town that was under siege and on fire. When they reached the riverbanks with its ice-cold water, airplanes with machine guns were shooting people there as well! Thankfully, my grandfather had experienced surviving the front in Russia. He knew and even taught me how to fall towards these flying death-machines, which minimizes the chance of being hit by a bullet. Luckily, they survived, or my mother and I would never have been born.
Upon the defeat of Nazi Germany, the victorious allied powers asserted their joint authority and sovereignty over the formerly German Reich as a whole. According to the Potsdam Conference of August 1945 that was also called the Berlin Conference of the Three Heads of Government of the USSR, USA and UK, Allied-Occupied Germany was collectively administered by these countries and ultimately divided into two main sectors that became East and West Germany. Constructed by the German Democratic Republic in 1961, The Berlin Wall was built as a guarded concrete barrier that physically and ideologically divided first Berlin, and then all of Germany! I was born and grew up in East Germany, which belonged to the Russian sector.
To this day, the United States of America and Great Britain deny the use of phosphorus bombs2 in Dresden and the fact that low flying airplanes were shooting civilians at the riverbanks. Dresden did not have many strategic military targets, although the Americans claimed that the bombing was justified. The official reason for the devastating attack on Dresden and many other German cities was to deplete the morale of the German people. Both of my grandparents had only one wish for me in life; that I would never have to experience war!
I was already a pacifist, and I did not fancy a hierarchical system, like the military, nor having to obey orders enforced by the command to be shot or imprisoned if I did not do what my superior says. Also, being exposed to a radical social environment, like the army, would leave little space for common sense. Tolerating the mandatory 1.5 years military service was hard enough for me to swallow, so I absolutely did not want to study medicine in the army as well.
When I told my mom what happened in school, she got very upset. I should have said yes, she said, so that I can study medicine, but I was young and naive, so I argued with her, not knowing that she had a good point. I learned the hard way later on that the Eastern German regime gave free higher education to only 3-5% of what they labeled as “intelligent” people. This term apparently meant to them, people who do not question authority and blindly accept communist idealism.
Shortly after this incident, I received a letter to appear at a pre-military medical checkup, to determine if I was physically able to attend the army. I traveled to the local city for my medical appointment where many youngsters were ordered to make an appearance that day. My appointment was at 9:30 am, and the medical tests took 30 minutes. Afterwards, people were released to go home, but not me! I had to wait from 10 am until 5:30 pm, and I was the only one left by then.
It was already dark outside when I finally heard my name over the loudspeakers giving me instructions to enter Room Six that was located at the end of a dim hallway. The room was divided into two segments by a bar-like elongated podium. I saw five men dressed in a businesslike manner in dark suits sitting in an elevated position on the left. Behind them were three pictures of the head communists of the country. On the right side of the room, about a meter and a half below them, was a little chair. “Please sit down, Mr. Klimmer,” said one of the men, pointing at that chair.
They opened a folder with “my life” in front of them, from where they could read information about me. They also had my passport. I remember the conversation going something like this, “Mr. Klimmer, we see you have a great life ahead of you. You are one of the best in school, and you want to study medicine. We endorse this great choice of yours very much. It is such a wonderful profession, and we invite you to study in the army and become a medical doctor for our troops.” There was a little moment of silence, and I thought to myself, “Are they offering me what the army general in school already did but this time assuming I wanted to take the deal? Perhaps this is a misunderstanding?” So, I clarified and gave them the same answer, but this time I elaborated on the reasons why I could not accept their invitation, but they did not take “no” for an answer.
The conversation continued as they first spoke kindly and offered me a life one could only dream of in East Germany. They painted a picture of a future with me becoming a successful communist doctor in the army, having a lovely family with wife and kids living in a nice house, driving a car with a real 2-stroke engine that would normally take twenty years for delivery, and using a telephone that took ten years to acquire — basically anything one would need to be happy in order to live in that grey country under Russian oppression. In spite of that, I could not allow my living soul to compromise and accept this tainted offer. I felt drawn from my heart to make love, not war, and I had a burning desire for freedom that was and remains a driving force within me until this day.
During the course of the tough hour and a half conversation in that room, the pressure started to slowly build towards psychological torture, as these obscurely evil-looking characters began to act out a scene that felt just like a horror movie. With nasty faces and aggressive tones, they yelled at that innocent little boy — me — who was forced to sit on a lowered chair. They said they could draw me into the military three months out of every year, as they are legally entitled to, and that my wife would cheat on me during this time, and so forth. It just went on and on, deep into the ugly. Towards the end they tried to threaten me and suggested that if I did not sign the document they presented me with that would commit me to go to the army for a minimum of 3 years, they would make sure that me and my parents’ lives would become a living hell. They shouted at me, saying that my parents would lose their jobs, and I would never get one. Nor would I be able to go to university and study anything, unless, of course, I signed that paper!
Although, their lips were still moving and their grimaces were agitated, their voices had gone silent to me. I was somehow looking at this traumatizing scene from an aloof perspective. Their angry words bypassed me somehow on conscious levels and their staged emotions had no immediate effect on my psyche. My ears were shut and my heart was closed. When they finished with what had become a monologue, the big guy in the middle threw my passport on the table saying that I should be very careful what my answer was going to be, because it would determine the future of my life!
With a calm and firm voice, I replied that I was sorry they had wasted their time with me and that my decision about going to the army was made long before I entered this room. “One and a half years” I said, but not one day longer. With distorted angry faces, these growling communist prostitutes that were paid to pressure innocent kids into signing these binding contracts to be brainwashed concluded, “Just wait, Mr. Klimmer, and see what will happen to you!” At this moment, my decision to escape East Germany was made, since the country did not offer me a future I could lovingly embrace.
1 The King of Saxony, polish Augustus II, also called “the Strong” for his bear-like physical strength and for his numerous offspring, began his royal reign of Polish Saxony in 1697. Contemporary sources claimed that King Augustus had as many as 365, or even 382 children! Legend had it that he was seen carrying his horse out of battle on his back when it was wounded.
The Royal-Polish and Saxon king was very fond of art and gathered many of the best musicians, architects and painters from all over Europe to the newly named City of Royal Residence. Dresden began to emerge as a leading European city for technology and art! Most of the city’s baroque landmarks were constructed during his and his son’s reign. These include the Zwinger Royal Palace, the Japanese Palace, the Taschenbergpalais, the Pillnitz Castle and the two landmark churches: the Catholic Hofkirche and the Lutheran Frauenkirche. In addition, significant art collections and museums were founded. Notable examples include the Dresden Porcelain Collection, the Collection of Prints, Drawings and Photographs, Das Grünes Gewölbe, the Mathematisch-Physikalischer Salon, and outstanding painting collections.
During the final months of the Second World War, Dresden harbored a total population of 1.2 million (mostly) refugees, war-veterans, woman and children. The bombing of Dresden by the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) between 13 and 15 February 1945 remains controversial. On the night of February 13–14, 1945 773 RAF Lancaster bombers dropped 1,181.6 tons of incendiary bombs and 1,477.7 tons of high explosive bombs on the city. The inner city of Dresden was largely destroyed.
Widely quoted Nazi propaganda reports claimed 200,000 deaths, but the German Dresden Historians’ Commission, made up of 13 prominent German historians, in an official 2010 report published after five years of research concluded that casualties numbered between 18,000 and 25,000. The Allies described the operation as the legitimate bombing of a military and industrial target. Several researchers have argued that the February attacks were disproportionate. Sadly, women and children were the casualties, not soldiers! In remembrance of the victims of all wars, the anniversaries of the bombing of Dresden are marked as a memorandum, with peace-demonstrations and marches ever since.
2 Napalm = phosphorus bombs
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