Heinrich O


Heinrich O


Heinrich O's account of the events at Ständeplatz 16 ½ (Department for Economic Affairs), Brüderstraße 14.



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Record 87


Translated from the original in German: Present is Mr Heinrich O., principal air raid warden, born 8 September 1895, in Heven, Hattingen District, formerly of Brüderstraße 14, and makes the following statement:
It all happened very fast. I was notified of the pre-alarm. I got a move on and made my way up to the Dept. for Economic Affairs. And I got to where the art gallery is two minutes after the alarm. And then, as is my wont, I made sure that everything was in order. The people (we were seven altogether), the caretaker Bornemann and his wife, furthermore Lucke and Leck, and two of the staff were present. We carried the machinery into the cellar – they were the most important. We put them in the designated spaces in the cellar. Then I went up again. As I got upstairs, I rang the warning service to find out what the situation was. Then I went outside and watched the searchlights move and catch an enemy plane in their cross; there were several shot at by the ack-ack. This was towards Waldau. After a minute or so I was called to the telephone to speak with the senior civil servant Mr Willy Schmidt. He asked how things were. I said to him: If anything happens, I’ll ring you immediately.
I had just put down the handset when the first bombs dropped in the closer neighbourhood. They were coming from the direction of the train station. So I gave the order to wait out the attack in the cellar. We had hardly got there when the building took a direct hit on the wing with the glass roof. The bomb dropped all the way into the cellar. We could see the sky from the cellar. It was a light explosive bomb. And then, a little later, there was a heavy explosion from the direction of the side street and the gate on the exit was so heavily barred and bent that we could not open it anymore. Then the bombing died down for a bit. I had already seen that the Landeskreditkasse Bank was on fire. So I gave the order: Everyone up to the attic to see whether it is on fire. From the first floor upwards we did not need lights because the fire lit up everything. So I had the hoses connected. As I wanted to get into the attic I was met with so much smoke and such a wall of fire that it was impossible to enter, not even with the gasmask on. So I gave the order to start the water but the hose remained empty. So I went back and told everyone to go back down.
And as I crossed the corridor, a new attack came and the airplanes were so low above us that I ordered everyone to get back into the cellar. I did not want to put people’s lives at risk. So I tended first to the air raid shelter in the cellar. Because there was so much smoke and fumes down there that people could no longer breathe. In order to get fresh air in, I had all the iron hatches on the chimneys opened and had the soot scraped out. That worked because better air came in. At the same time, some others opened the breakthrough to Bröckelmanns. A few people from Hohenzollernstraße had already sought shelter there because in their street the first buildings were burning fiercely already. We were joined by some more people from there, some women and children came to us. And the women shuttled between the cellars. We still had a bit of light. The lights stayed on until the end but were very weak. I felt very uneasy and I gave the order that three or four men should carry water up. And as we came up, the office of Chief Inspector Stützer on the third floor was already on fire and the beams from the ceiling were coming down. And as I entered the office, I saw that one of the beams in the ceiling had burnt through. And then the hand pump refused to work. So I just poured two buckets of water on the fire. This was about as useful as spitting into a furnace. The others too came with water but it was not enough.
And then the bombing started again and we had barely returned to the cellar when there were such explosions that the air pulled us from one side to the other. I kept an eye on Bornemann and thought: if only he bears up. And his wife had such an expression on her face – I won’t forget that face. And then I went up again but had to turn back already on the first floor because rubble and beams blocked the stairs. Door frames, doors, bannisters were all over the shop. And as I got to the entrance, people from the neighbouring buildings came and were seeking refuge with us. But I told them they would have to go somewhere else because we too would have to evacuate shortly. In the meantime some of the men had come up into the entrance hall, among them Leck, the night guard. And because I saw a woman and child, I told him to take the child and to make sure that he brought the two to safety. No matter where. And so Leck left, followed by other people. I knew that Leck had turned into the fire, towards the train station because the Ständeplatz was one sea of fire.
So I gave the order to bring Bornemann’s linen and bedding down to the cellar. So we all mucked in and carried the things down. Then I went back up into the house to satisfy myself that the house could not be saved. In the cellar, some walls had already caved in through the explosions. So I gathered everyone together in the big room where the breakthrough was and explained to those who did not belong to us that they could not stay. And because blankets were in the water in a bath tub, I said that people should try and get through the fire, wrapped in these blankets, and make their way towards Jordanstraße. The women screamed when they saw the flames shooting out of the bank and towards us. But I was clear in my mind: We had to leave and everyone had to see for themselves where they could go. So I closed the door again and got people to prepare themselves by drenching themselves and then I soaked my coat in water and put it over me and a child of six months and left with the woman after I had made sure that everyone had wet blankets. Then it was everyone for themselves; I could not take responsibility for those who remained.
The sparks were flying as in a wave, about a half a metre above ground. So I waited for about half a minute and went out first with the child and the mother followed us. We went in the direction of Jordanstraße. We were about half way when Weißenburgstraße started to burn too. So I turned round with the woman and we went towards Ständeplatz and as we got to Friedrichstraße, I saw the others running down there because there was a way through the fire, about half a metre across, where the flames did not yet meet. So we got the Garde du Corps Square. This was still alright. The trees still had their leaves but the garages were already on fire. So we gathered under the Luther Oak where quite a number of refugees were already standing. So I counted my people and found that they were all there.
Bornemann was there too and was gasping for air because he had had a heart condition for years. And I asked him: “Did it work and did everyone get out?” And he says: “Yes, all the people followed you and got out!” And then he said: “I don’t feel so good” and keeled over. I caught him and laid him down. People tried to give him spirit of ether. But he showed no sign of life. It was clear to me that he had breathed his last. And then a lorry came with an army officer. I begged him to take all the women and children with him on the lorry. He said: “I don’t have an order but I will do so on my own responsibility.” So they took off in the direction of Wilhelmshöher Allee. I also begged him to send a second lorry so that the other women would also be taken away. Shortly after, a second lorry came and took the remaining women and men with them. Only Mrs Bornemann, Lucke and little old me stayed on the square. In the meantime, a police sergeant came and took down the details of the deceased. He promised that they would take the body to the morgue as soon as possible. So we put a piece of paper with his details on his chest and covered him with a blanket and then we asked where Mrs Bornemann wanted to go. She wanted to go to her parents. Lucke and I wanted to look for our own families. That was the end of that sorry story.
So we went on in the direction of Wilhelmshöher Allee and Adolf-Hitler-Platz. There were thousands of people. Friedrich-straße was not yet on fire. And then Lucke and I went down to the town hall. Once there, we realised that there was no way to get through to Friedrichsplatz. The town hall was already on fire as far as councillor Moog’s office. I can’t tell you what time that was. It may have been an hour after the attack. Towards midnight, I arrived at the Rondell. I walked down from Schöne Aussicht, the Department for Agriculture was already on fire down to the first floor. The health insurance building was on fire down to the ground floor. I did not see much of the theatre because I had damaged my specs when I was rubbing my eyes near the town hall. Near the theatre, I stumbled into the first big crater. In Du-Ry-Straße incendiaries were everywhere. And when I got to the Auetor, the ammunition of the ack-ack position on the roof there went up. Then I made my way over rubble and debris to the Rondell. On the lawn in front of the court house there were many small and medium-sized explosive bombs and canisters with phosphorous. I tried to get into Brüderstraße but that was not possible because the gables of the Deichmann building and the Leist building had collapsed on it. In Wildemannsgasse, three quarters of the buildings had already burnt down, Renthof, Marstall…
From there I went to Fulda Bridge via the Schlagd to get to Brüderstraße via the emergency footbridge. As I got up there, I realised that from this side, too, my way was barred by fire. And then I asked everyone I met after my wife and daughter. Amongst them was the block leader and he said that he had made his rounds and my wife and daughter had wanted to salvage all sorts of things from the house. But she said that they still had time. So I made my way back into the Aue. Amongst others I met my sister-in-law there who was looking for her sister, my wife. There is no need to describe the misery I saw there. That will be written about enough. And I met many people I knew who were also looking for members of their families. Someone I knew claimed to have seen [my wife] as she was talking with people from his building and those people wanted to go to Frankfurter Straße where they had relatives. So I tried to get to Frankfurter Straße. I could not get through though because Albrechtstraße was blocked off at the tennis courts in the Aue because there were still heavy explosive bombs with timers.
So I went back to the Wire Bridge and said to my sister-in-law that I would be in the Fürstengärten at eight in the morning if I found anything. On Friedrichsplatz, they were already dragging the bodies out of the Bürgersäle. I wanted to make my way to Ständeplatz because I thought they had gone there to look for me and as I was walking past, two workers came with an empty stretcher. And an officer came who needed people to help rescue the wounded. So I went with them to Königsplatz where I met a group of soldiers who were rescuing people from the cellar in Wiedersich’s building. I joined them and helped by putting gags into the mouths of those who were still showing signs of life. So it got to six o’clock. By then we had rescued all those who were still alive, about 20 people. All the others were dead. On Königsplatz, we saw a wounded German who was on the arm of a French PoW. And he told us that the Frenchman had saved him. And I then made sure that they were both evacuated.
Then I made my way to the big air raid shelter in the Weinberg and looked everywhere for my wife and daughter. And then I went to the art gallery and there I met neighbours and they told me that they met my wife in town where she was looking for me. And I told them too that I would be in the Fürstengärten where city employees were supposed to meet. But not one of the employees came. So I went to the Party district offices. Amongst others I met the Mayor there who told me the Department for Economic Affairs was now in the civic hall. So I made my way there. On Sunday, I found my wife and daughter with relatives in Schiffelborn.


Vermisstensuchstelle des Oberbürgermeisters der Stadt Kassel, “Heinrich O,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed March 30, 2023, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/8940.

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