Breslau 1945

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Richard Hargreaves
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Breslau 1945

Post by Richard Hargreaves » Sun Feb 01, 2009 12:42 pm

May I present the very first extract from Hitler's Last Fortress: Breslau 1945. As of yet only the prologue (from which this is taken) is finished; it's the only part of the book which was in a position to be written. Much research (and above all a mountain of translation) remains to be done, so do not expect the book in the shops before 2011. But the path has been taken and I shall follow it to the very end. :[]
On a bitingly cold January morning, Ulrich Frodien stood once more before the Schlossplatz. The city moat was frozen. The sand was hidden beneath a blanket of snow. Military vehicles, guns, a few panzers were mustered on the parade ground – on the exact spot where Hitler’s tribune once stood.

A week before he had been hunting with his father in the village of Germanengrund, two dozen miles north of Breslau. The now eighteen-year-old panzer grenadier was convalescing, recovering from an artillery strike on the Eastern Front the previous autumn which smashed his thigh, and left shrapnel in his head and chest. Frodien still clung to the slight hope that the war might end in Germany’s favour. His father, a doctor, could only scoff at – and feel pity for – Ulrich’s naïve optimism. War had not touched this rural idyll, save for the death notices which filled the papers each day. To the villagers of Germanengrund – until a decade before Domnowitz, a name not Germanic enough for the Nazi overlords – ‘every front had always seemed a world away’. But now there was talk of a new Russian offensive, an attack from the bridgehead on the Vistula at Baranow, a little over 200 miles to the east. The armed forces communiqué mentioned the Soviet spearhead passing the famous monastery of Lysa Gora, near Kielce. The news seemed to galvanise Frodien’s father. He decided to return to Breslau immediately.

Now, this Tuesday, January 23, 1945, the teenager headed for the centre of Breslau. For three days, Breslau’s railway stations had been under siege, ever since an alarming, electrifying broadcast over the 1,000 loudspeakers, erected throughout the Silesian capital shortly before the Sportfest, clarions of Nazi triumphs. ‘Women and children leave the city on foot in the direction of Opperau-Kanth,’ the tinny voice urged, adding comfortingly. ‘There is no reason for alarm and panic.’ Their men would not join them. Breslau had been declared a Festung – fortress, a fortress which would be ‘defended to the last’.

But not by the Frodiens. Ulrich’s mother and younger brother Michael had already fled Breslau. His father had every intention of joining them and sent the young Gefreiter into the city centre to see whether there was a chance of fleeing the city via the Freiburger Bahnhof. He left the family’s comfortable third-floor apartment in Kaiser Wilhelm Strasse – renamed Strasse der SA in honour of Nazi brownshirts. He passed beneath the railway bridge where two elderly militia, Volkssturm – people’s storm – stood guard, shouldering Panzerfaust bazookas. He crossed Tauentzienplatz, past the Ufa Palast, the city’s largest cinema. The hoarding over the entrance still spelled out the title of the last film shown – an Agfacolor melodrama, the story of a Hamburg politician’s son who becomes infatuated with a young woman – Opfergang, The Great Sacrifice. Frodien passed the Wertheim department store, again the city’s largest, now known as AWAG after being appropriated from its Jewish owners. He skirted around the edge of an empty square where once Breslau’s new synagogue had stood and came to the frozen moat, staring across at the Schlossplatz, recalling that Sunday in 1938. ‘I was seized by a profound feeling of sadness and despair at the thought that perhaps it had all been utterly pointless, our belief in Germany, our belief in the ideals of National Socialism, the endless sacrifices and the many fallen comrades,’ he wrote. For a moment he considered reporting to the nearest barracks, joining one of the hastily-formed Festungskompanien – fortress companies – and manning a machine gun, determined to go down with his home. Reality quickly made him change his mind. Pain from his shattered thigh, his bandaged head, his scarred chest, pulsed through his body. Ulrich Frodien, just eighteen years old, was, he realised, ‘a wreck, utterly unsuited to any heroic fantasy of going under’.

Ulrich Frodien and his father would escape the besieged Silesian capital. Thousands more would die trying. And thousands more still would die fulfilling the promise to defend the city ‘to the last’. They were as good as their word. Festung Breslau would hold out longer than Königsberg, longer than Danzig, longer than Vienna, longer even than the capital of the Reich itself. But Breslau and Breslauers would pay a terrible price for their obstinacy. At least 6,000 soldiers were killed and another 23,000 wounded defending the fortress on the Oder. The toll among civilians was far graver. Perhaps as many as 80,000 died. The city they knew, the city they had grown up with, the city where they had fêted Hitler and his cabal, the city which had been virtually untouched by war before 1945, would be no more. Two thirds of all industry destroyed. Seven out of ten high schools in ruins. Four out of five homes uninhabitable. Nearly 200 miles of roadway were impassable – more than 600 million cubic feet of ash and rubble were lying in them. Eighty per cent of the railway and tram network was wrecked. All electricity lines and seventy per cent of the telephone lines were down.

The end of war would offer no salvation. Breslau’s German inhabitants would be driven out of their homes, driven out of their city, driven westwards. Their city would rise again, rebuilt not by Germans but by Poles, rebuilt not as Breslau but as Wroclaw.

Such was the price demanded of Hitler’s last fortress.
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Re: Breslau 1945

Post by Marc Rikmenspoel » Sun Feb 01, 2009 9:10 pm

Powerful stuff, thanks for sharing it!

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Re: Breslau 1945

Post by Uncle Joe » Mon Feb 02, 2009 12:36 am

Far too poetic and "novelized" to me. And I wouldn´t expect to hear terms like "Panzerfaust bazookas" in texts attempting to be serious. Let alone by a British author.

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Re: Breslau 1945

Post by Richard Hargreaves » Mon Feb 02, 2009 1:11 am

There's no dramatisation, no poetism Jukka. It's all there in the source material. I could, of course, simply post the sources and link them with a very loose narrative. But then the book would be five times thicker and never be published.

To be sure, a Panzerschreck is more accurately a bazooka and a Panzerfaust is what today we'd call an RPG - but that designation wasn't around at the time.
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Re: Breslau 1945

Post by Uncle Joe » Mon Feb 02, 2009 3:41 am

Yes, you should first set the general scene and then use the personal accounts in their first person format, preferably using e.g. italics or smaller font so anyone wishing to concetrate on the personal accounts could do so easier. As it is now, I won´t touch it with a long pole. Or are you saying that the person referred to in the sample himself wrote "On a bitingly cold January..."?

And why not use simply "Panzerfausts/Panzerfäuste", especially as the term "bazooka" is so purely an American one and very alien to describe something German.

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Re: Breslau 1945

Post by Richard Hargreaves » Mon Feb 02, 2009 4:14 am

No, he doesn't say 'bitingly cold'; he says it's -20˚C... which is bitingly cold. As for Panzerfaust, it will remain in German for the rest of the book, but for a scene setter, the reader needs to know what it is. As a rule, I keep German terms, ranks, units and equipment in their native tongue, not least because they are extremely difficult to translate. :[]
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Re: Breslau 1945

Post by Jan-Hendrik » Mon Feb 02, 2009 5:03 am

As a rule, I keep German terms, ranks, units and equipment in their native tongue, not least because they are extremely difficult to translate.
Bravo :up:

At lest no tank batallions and Hunter regiments anymore :D :D

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Re: Breslau 1945

Post by panzermahn » Mon Feb 02, 2009 7:11 am

Hi Richard

Does your upcoming back had the stories on how 2 companies of Fallschirmjaeger were sent to reinforce Breslau in April 1945? Correct me if I am wrong, but they were flown there by gliders piloted by Hitler Youth daredevil pilots (I am not sure if this apocrypha story is true or not)


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Re: Breslau 1945

Post by Richard Hargreaves » Mon Feb 02, 2009 7:29 am

It will feature the Fallschirmjager - I have a handful of accounts (although frustratingly the official history of the Fallschirmjager doesn't include Breslau. :() I've not come across the glider story yet, but I still have a good 40 books to plough through and translate. :shock:
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Re: Breslau 1945

Post by David N » Mon Feb 02, 2009 8:10 am

I just bought your book, "The Germans in Normandy." I am looking forward to the book on Breslau.

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Re: Breslau 1945

Post by Nicolai » Mon Feb 02, 2009 8:27 am

Interesting stuff, just started reading your book on Poland. Nice to know that I have something similar to look forward to. I've always preferred my military history peppered with first hand accounts. (Speaking of first hand accounts, does the book focus on the accounts of people involved in the actual fighting, or do you also draw heavily from the accounts of civilians who were caught up in the mess?)

The mention of 'Panzerfaust bazookas' made me raise an eyebrow, but I suppose that it's not so bad if they're referred to as plain 'old Panzerfausts for the rest of the book. The sentence To the villagers of Germanengrund – until a decade before Domnowitz, a name not Germanic enough for the Nazi overlords – ‘every front had always seemed a world away’. is a bit clunky, you might want to clubber it around a little, maybe try something like: "~~~ until a decade before known as Domnowitz, a name not ~~~~".

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Re: Breslau 1945

Post by Richard Hargreaves » Mon Feb 02, 2009 8:41 am

Hi Nicolai,

There's a fair bit of tweaking (to say nothing of writing) before it goes into print. 'Panzerfaust bazookas' is likely to go, not least as I don't like the word bazooka... :D There's ample space given to the fate of civilians both in the Festung and also during the flight in the face of the Red Army. I'm trying to gather what Red Army accounts I can (in English or German), although they're far less numerous than accounts of East Prussia and Berlin.
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Re: Breslau 1945

Post by Uncle Joe » Mon Feb 02, 2009 10:29 am

Richard Hargreaves wrote:No, he doesn't say 'bitingly cold'; he says it's -20˚C... which is bitingly cold.
Then why not keep the original statement as "bitingly cold" is far too poetic and unprecise definition because "bitingly cold" means totally different for say Finns and Spaniards, or Alaskans and Texans?

Novelizations clearly include spelling out numbers instead of using numerals ("seventy per cent" vs "70%") which again is unacceptable for British text (Yanks have tendency for that idiocy*) attempting to be serious military history.

*I have seen one American book according to which US PT Boats had "thirteen hundred fifty horsepower engines"...

Does Frodien say that his apartment was "comfortable"?

And numerous mentions of things that do not offer really anything valuable info like the name of the Agfacolor movie.

Overall, very Kurowskian to me.

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Re: Breslau 1945

Post by Richard Hargreaves » Mon Feb 02, 2009 10:49 am

Actually, he calls it a "große schöne Wohnung" - a large, attractive apartment, so I was probably doing it an injustice calling it "comfortable".

Opfergang features in Frodien's book too...

Ich ging in Richtung Innenstadt unter der Eisenbahnüberführung durch, die hier die Kaiser-Wilhelmstraße kreuzte. Zwei alte Volkssturmmänner mit geschulterter Panzerfaust patroullierten dort. Rechts an der Ecke der UFA-Palast, das größte Breslauer Kino, in dem der letzte Film, der jemals in ihm gespielt werden sollte, schon abgelaufen war. Der Titel prangte noch in Riesenbuchstaben über dem seit Tagen geschlossenen Eingang. Es war makaber genug. "Opfergang" hieß er.

He obviously couldn't help but observe the irony of the film's title... Then again, maybe he was zu dramatisch...

I shall now head off to worship at the temple of Kurowski. :roll: :roll: :roll:
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Re: Breslau 1945

Post by John P. Moore » Mon Feb 02, 2009 2:52 pm

Richard- I thought that your introductiion was exceptionally well written.

John

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