Elfriede, N


Elfriede, N


Mrs Elfriede N's account of the events at Friedrichsplatz 3, Obere Karlstraße 17/19 (Bürgersäle).



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Record 10


Translated from the original in German: Present is Mrs Elfriede N., née M., born 11 April 1901 and gives the following statement:
How I lost my child:
You see, Herr Doktor, she was my only child, little Ruth, and we did everything for our child. She had always been delicate and a bit sickly but luckily I have brought her so far. People used to say: “Mrs N., what have you done with the child?” In school, she was top of her class. Her teacher said: “She’s peerless in every subject.” When I was her age, I preferred milking cows to learning. But my mother had been educated in the convent in Fritzlar and was very good with languages. The little girl was as wild as ten boys, very spoilt as she was an only child. The teacher also said she was a good companion. A little cheeky but that’s like all bright children. Ruth often said: “You’re too good to be my mother.”
But then came that night. When the alarm went, we ran into the cellar. We were about twenty people in our coal cellar, including my 77-year old mother. I had the child on my lap. Imagine the noise when the house collapsed and then everything was on fire. Then smoke entered the cellar. We had to get out of the cellar for fear of suffocating. We wanted to save ourselves by making our way through the breakthroughs in the direction of Obere Karlstraße. The children were sent first because it was said: First you have to save the children. First, this Polish girl went through the breakthrough. Then she lifted the two children Erika Böttger (11 years old) and my Ruth (9 years old) through the breakthrough. Then followed Mrs Jung (from the confectionary shop) and then my mother. As my mother had passed through, air raid warden Kuhlemann shouted: “Nobody can get through here anymore; everything’s blocked.” I shouted after my Ruth but did not get a reply.
I absolutely wanted to follow her. I was told I should stop making people panic, I was just winding everyone up with my whining. I should follow them; the others would bring the children with them. We made our way back, in direction of Königstraße through the other breakthroughs and from the house of hairdresser Metzger’s, we ran to the Friedrichsplatz. I fell on the stairs. The house was on fire, everything was ablaze, I’m still surprised, even now, that I got up and out. Then I ran across to the regional military command. There was a firestorm, gale force strength 11 was reported, my handbag with valuables and papers and money was torn off my arm. It’s all gone. I also lost my mother from sight. She had been pulled back. If the little girl had not gone with Mrs Jung, she would be with me now. So I went to the command centre to General Schäfer, and implored him again and again to give me some people who would help me to fetch the girl from the Bürgersäle, as I guessed right away that the children had gone to the Bürgersäle. No one listened to me. No one wanted to help.
I stayed there until onein the morning and begged. From time to time I went out and called for my child, on Spohrplatz and on Friedrichsplatz. But I always had to return. Before, when we were still sitting in Metzger’s cellar, the boiler of the central heating was above us, glowing with heat, it was a very small room, we had splashed water over us. The regional leader of the Nazi women’s organisation was with us, she explored where we could get out. The men were completely useless. She said: “We have to try and get out through the entrance hall.” We risked it and succeeded. But we weren’t really in control of our mental faculties. At that moment, the overhead lines of the tram came down. It was horrific. We lurched against the storm; you couldn’t call it walking. My coat caught fire; I tore it out with my hand.
Then I searched the whole night, for my mother, for my child. But I always had to return to the regional command as this was where the injured and burnt were brought. I thought: maybe my child is among them. The regional command was on fire. But the soldiers only helped there; they did not want to think about my child and the people. Then an officer was brought in who had distinguished himself in the rescue effort and who was now half suffocated and he told me: I found an old women in Wolfsschlucht and helped her into a house which was not on fire. She said; “I’m Mrs M., I want to die here, let me go.” It was tank lieutenant Rode from Holländische Straße. I met him again later. A few weeks ago, he came from Russia with a brain injury.
This Mr Kulemann, our air raid warden, had the children standing by him in the Bürgersäle. When he started feeling uneasy, he ran out alone and abandoned the children. He does not have any himself.
The following morning I saw a waggon with people on it. I thought maybe it is my mother and Ruth. But when they turned round, it wasn’t them, and the shock made me fall over. Then I made my way to the theatre where the people were who suffered from smoke poisoning and who had white foam coming from their mouths. They were treated by doctors but my two were not among them. Then on Friedrichsplatz the first dead bodies, then in Karlstraße many more dead bodies, but my two were not there. I found Ruth’s jacket lying in the street, the rubber cape, the jumper, her pillow even which she had dragged through all the cellars, it was lying there on the street, the things were taken out of the Bürgersäle and put there on the street.
By accident, I met Mrs Melato today who had also been rescued from the Bürgersäle. She found her child again after six weeks. She said it had been horrific. When she tried to get out, she fell on the stair. That saved her. Because the soldiers had to get the woman out first. Her child had been rescued by the same SS-man Mendlikowski (from Wöhlerstraße 8) who also rescued mine. He had been searching for his wife and because he did not find her at first, had helped to carry out the people there. I only met him on Christmas Eve, it took me that long to find him. I asked the whole of Kassel after him. He told me the following story: “I went down the cellar to look for my wife. A Frenchman was with me. I saw the child lying there and brought her out immediately and made resuscitation attempts which were successful inasmuch as the child resisted them energetically with her arms and when I splashed water in her face, she lifted her head and the paramedic said: “She’ll be alright, just put her on the waggon –“ that’s what he told me.
For four weeks I travelled round the region, from Witzen-hausen to Eschwege, Göttingen, Eisenach, Hersfeld, Bebra, and then I telephoned from Eisenach to Erfurt, Weimar, Gotha, Waltershausen and then I travelled to Meininingen, to see a sergeant who also took part in the rescue action. This sergeant, a pharmacist from Frankfurt/Main, had rescued a child from the Bürgersäle but she died in his arms. I showed him a picture of my girl and he said: “No, it wasn’t her. It was a blond girl with a pointed nose and yours is dark and chubby.” The child died after having been given an injection into the heart. He had cried, he had put the child on the boards in front of the theatre at the Friedrichsplatz. I also visited the rescue units in Hofgeismar and Wetzlar, the police station in Oberzwehren which had all been involved in the operation.
This was my Christmas Eve:
On Christmas Eve, I felt as if my girl had been calling me. I went to borrow a torch from the office where I worked to search the Bürgersäle. On my way there a man said to me: “I know someone who rescued two children from the Bürgersäle.” I wrote down the address (Krassert, Sülheim, Harz). When I left the man, I went to our photographic section where I had the pictures of my child made for the detective force. One of the employees said: “I can tell you already who the two children were, I know them. The little Herzing girl and Brunhilde Melato.” I asked her for the address of Brunhilde Melato but could not get it. Then I went with Mrs Kleber and Mr Dötenbier to the Bürgersäle. There, Mrs Kleber showed me where my girl had sat. Her needlework was still lying there. Then I went to Friedrichs-platz to read on the ruin of number 8 the new address of the bombed-out Melantos. Someone had written with chalk: Landaustraße 11. I made my way down to Landaustraße to be told that they had moved to Fritzlar. I should come back in the afternoon when I would be able to talk to Mrs Melanto’s sister-in-law. That afternoon the woman told me that her sister, who lived on Fiedlerstraße, knew the address of a man who had carried the children out of the cellar. I therefore went to Fiedlerstraße where I found out that the sister now lived in Silesia. From her landlord whom I asked whether he didn’t at least know the man’s name, I learnt the street where he lived but not the house number. I went to Wöhlerstraße where I found the man in the first house. Only the Frenchman was there and the wife. He came later. I showed him Ruth’s picture and he said he’d write to me, he first had to reflect on the events of the night. He then wrote that he hadn’t been able to sleep all night but he’d remembered all the details of that night. He was sure that he’d rescued my child. The Frenchman had also recognised my child. I went back to them to get a description of my child and it was correct. He then told what had happened, as described above. He later repeated his statement to the police.
How fate fooled me thrice:
Four weeks after the air raid, I was just about to leave for Melsungen, a miss from the missing persons department brought news that my girl had been registered in Bad Sooden-Allendorf. I travelled there with the next train and phoned all the villages from the town hall. And then fate duped me cruelly. I was shown a list and told: “See, here it says Ruth N.” I replied: “Yes, she was in the home Auguste and I came on 26 September to fetch her.” The whole misunderstanding had happened because the registration with the police had not been changed. I returned to Kassel.
Beginning of January. In order to find another trace, I placed a notice in the paper: “Which trucks have transported injured people from Friedrichsplatz/Obere Karlstraße?” – Elfriede N., Kurhausstraße 4. Two soldiers replied to this. I was not at home. They spoke to the landlady and promised to come back but they did not despite several notices I put in the paper. They said they had come in response to the notice I had placed and wanted to talk to me. They would come back.
1 March. Mrs Lindae from the missing persons department found a reply from the police. It had a girl’s name and the family name Niemeier on it. I thought N. and Niemeier is confused so often. I therefore travelled to Neumorschen near Melsungen and am told: They could not remember what Niemeier meant. But an Ute N. had been collected by her mother Olga, née Leopold, of Oberzwehren. The girl had been born on 16 November 33. That was the birth date of my Ruth. And I’d always called her Ut or Uti. Should that be my child? A new hope and a new disappointment. When I went to local residents’ registration office to find out whether Mrs N. exists and whether she has a little girl at all, I’m informed that this Ute N. was born on the same day as my missing child. Three times fate has duped me and I’m despairing.
During that storm night, as I was standing outside of the regional military command, a soldier ran by and threw a heavy fur coat at me. It was my mother’s coat. I recognised it immediately. And my mother – who’s now died with grief over everything that’s happened – had really lost it on the way through Wolfsschlucht. And so I’m wearing the nice old fur coat which my mother lost in that night of terror and which the firestorm and the soldier threw at me. My mother I found after six days. The anguish over the lost child broke her completely. She lost the will to live. The grief killed her.


Vermisstensuchstelle des Oberbürgermeisters der Stadt Kassel, “Elfriede, N,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 21, 2024, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/7357.

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