The Boy Who Lost the War
By Rosina T. Schmidt
Edited by Cornelia Brandt
Alfred R. Zimmermann was born on 18th of August 1929 in the pretty
village of Wiechs in Wiesenthal on the northern slopes of the Dinkelberg
Mountain. Therefore by 1941 he was 15 and just at the right age to be enrolled
into the Hitler Youth Work Camp in his area. Two years later, at 17, he was
already drafted into the German army.
division was fighting the Russians in Caucasus and ended up in the High Tatra
Mountains by 1944, where they had been fiercely defending their front line
against the swarming Russians. However, it was a losing battle. First one
flank fell silent, than the other, and at last only Alfred and another German
soldier were defending the center all by themselves. Having seen a bomb
heading their way, the comrade bolted out of the hole from where they were
throwing the grenades and ran like lightening over the grassy knoll of the
mountain crest to the thickly wooded area. Zimmermann was not far behind.
Unlucky for young Alfred a shrapnel hit him in the right foot, blew not only
half of his heavy boot away, but half of his foot too and prevented the
18-year-old Wiechser warrior of escaping. He had been taken prisoner by the
Russians and with other five heavily wounded German soldiers imprisoned in a
close-by mountain hut, guarded by a lone Russian youthful combatant armed to
the teeth. Zimmermann’s comrades were all in worse shape though. Somehow they
managed to bandage themselves with their own shirts and belts, to reduce the
life threatening bleeding.
the second night Alfred heard the lone guard snoring in front of the wooden
hut doors so he decided to try to escape. He managed to hobble down the steep
mountain side for some 200 meters, where he hid under the low, thick green
branches of a bunch of spruce trees, between which he found two saplings firm
enough to make two crutches with the help of his knife. It was a blessing that
he managed to hide the knife in his undamaged shoe when the Russians searched
him. There, under those branches, covered with leaves, his heart beating
wildly, he spent the next day, his 18th birthday.
took young Alfred quite a few nights, exactly nine, to make his way through
the Russian front lines hobbling on his crutches to reach the retreating
German lines some distance of 230 km as the crow flies. His main staple food
was the green leaves of the stinging nettles, which he chewed upon by balling
the leaves together in order to prevent too many stings. Did his mother not
make a stinging nettle soup in the spring and had it not tasted delicious? He
tried to gather other weeds while under way, dandelions, wild leeks, all kind
of roots and berries still hanging on the bushes. Having made it to the German
lines, he was immediately taken to the field hospital set up into that town’s
only hotel. Finally he received the badly needed first aid and surgery. Of
course his wound was by now turning from bad to worse.
May 8th 1945 the end of that ghastly WWII finally arrived. Two days
later the Russian Army arrived as well, and threw every last German soldiers,
no matter how wounded, out of the military makeshift hospital, as they needed
those very same rooms for their own injured combatants. Even though the
Russians kept all of the medical supplies, they decided not to keep the German
doctors for fear that they might poison them.
the German patients were stuffed, 20-25 per car, in some hastily collected
freight train wagons and left standing on the railway trucks. There were over
one thousand critically ill Germans laying on the wagon bare floors with no
medical supplies of any kind. The doctors managed to lessen the suffering
somehow by organizing for each patient one can of a weak soup per day as their
only nourishment. Four days later, the train still stood there.
Somebody had a great idea to kidnap the train and bring them all home to
Germany. Perhaps just said in jest, but the idea caught on with lightning
speed. Unfortunately, a locomotive was missing, the engineer and the stoker as
well. Just as the luck would have it, an engineer was found between the
wounded, who just recently lost both of his legs during a bombing attack on
the train he was driving. No problem. He was bound to a board and the board
kept upright, so he was able to “stand”. His stocker was one of the patients
also, having been wounded in the upper arm and shoulder, which were tied with
diverse shirt strips to stall the bleeding.
who had the brilliant idea to kidnap the train, young Zimmermann could not
recall, but as the night fell on the fourth day, the few able-bodied men, the
male nurses and the doctors, went in both directions of the train trucks to
see if they could find a locomotive. Luck was with them again. Only five
kilometers away stood an engine that looked big enough to pull the long train.
While some men stayed back to steal the coal for the engine and fill it with
water, one run all the way back to the hospital train, as now they had to
bring the engineer on his stretcher and the stoker back to the locomotive,
drive the engine to the train and leave the train station before the snoring
Russian guards would wake up. It was done as planned. Lo and behold, they
managed to kidnap the train, creeping slowly in the westerly direction, as it
was soon found out that the brakes of the locomotive were not working.
was quite an odyssey. Each time they reached a broken bridge, they had to
backtrack the train to the first switching station behind them and try another
direction. At the switching places new problems occurred. No one was found who
knew what to do. Many tries and misses were necessary. Food was the major
problem, as there was none. So the ration of one can of weak soup per day was
reduced by half. Yet there was abundance of hope that maybe, just maybe, some
of them might make it home.
engineer drove this route before and he recalled that there were ethnic German
villages on that route, where they hoped to be able to find some help. It did
take them a few days to reach that place and were overwhelmed with gratitude
when all the villagers turned up, generously bringing baskets and baskets of
food. They spent a whole day there, so the engineer and the stoker could catch
up on some sleep. The journey continued with stops between the inhabited
places, to burry all those comrades in the hastily dug up graves who did not
make it since the last stop. Did any one count them? Was it dozen today or
more? Over 200 never made it.
one occasion they passed an abandoned German train on a sideline, so they
investigated it. The train was completely full, wagon-by-wagon, floor to
ceiling with soldier boots. In the first car, however, there stood six sacks
of confectionary sugar. What a godsend! It was divided immediately between all
train cars, as once again they had a few days of fasting behind them. Alas,
the water was missing to rinse all that sweetness down.
train continued creeping along the back rail lines, hoping to find the bridges
intact. After the longest 12 days they reached their first destination goal:
The city of Pilsen on the Czech side of the German border, which was under
American occupation. Sadly they were not given the permission to cross the
border into Germany, but had to report back to the city of Carlsbad on the
Czech side. A field hospital was available to them there. What a
disappointment it must have been to those sick and starving boys. It was said
that the negotiations were still ongoing between the Allies regarding what was
to be done with the returning German soldiers.
the grand hotels in the former spa city of Carlsbad were turned into the field
hospital, and Alfred with two other comrades shared a room in the Maria Hof
Hotel. After waking up the next morning he wanted to see out of the hotel
window just where they ended up, but the comrade closer to the window beat him
to the first view. Or almost. The moment his head appeared in the window he
was shot from the garden below by a Czech soldier.
Finally, it was Zimmermann’s turn for a medical checkup. One of the doctors
was sure that the only way to save his life would be to cut off his right
foot. The other wanted to try to heal it with medication first. Much of the
gangrened muscle was cut off and Alfred was advised to put his hopes in
weeks later all the patients whose homes were in either the American or
English occupied Zones of Germany could return home. The others had to stay.
The French occupying force took all the returning German soldiers to their
French Foreign Legion and the Russians sent them as slave laborers to their
Alfred's hometown was in the French zone it would have been best for him to
stay in Carlsbad, but with all of his 18 years he knew that unless he returned
home to his mother’s cooking and care without delay he would never make it to
celebrate his next birthday. To Alfred’s delight, his roommate offered that
Alfred assume his own address in Stuttgart, which was part of the American
zone, as his first step homeward. For this Alfred is forever grateful.
was still dark the next morning when 40-45 German-soldier-patients were
crammed on each truck. The large truck colony left Carlsbad in a hurry, as the
journey to Stuttgart would take a whole day with no stops in between. By the
time they reached Bavaria, it was already noon and all of them were craving
for water; even some food would have been nice. Alas, the Bavarians started
throwing stones at the “boys who refused to fight and lost the war” to the
horror of the returning wounded Fatherland fighters. By the time they reached
Swabia they were pelted while the trucks raced on. This time not only with
warm greetings but also with whole loaves of bread and other kinds of food.
Manna to the starving boys.
Although the trucks drove non-stop they reached Stuttgart’s destroyed main
train station and their final destination by 22h. Even though the curfew had
started an hour earlier, by special permission it was extended and the news
about their arrival spread like a wild fire. In no time family members,
friends, sweethearts and ambulances picked everybody up but young Zimmermann
and another soldier. So the two returning Native soil fighters hid in the
train stations ruins until the end of the curfew of the next morning.
Meanwhile Zimmermann found out that the French would let wounded soldiers go
home without taking them into the French Foreign Legion, so he and hundreds of
others stood a whole day in a line up in front of the French Army office. The
line did not budge. Next morning our hobbling Zimmermann on his two crutches
was in the line much earlier. So were hundreds of others. Just then a French
soldier saw him and inquired about his destination goal. Zimmermann ended
being one of only three German soldiers per day who received the permission to
return home to the German French Zone. Lady Luck was on his side.
has been put on a train and another odyssey began, this time all over Baden-
Württemberg. From a train to truck to another train and to trucks again.
Sometimes even having to cross the creeks and rivers on foot, as the bridges
were bombed out, and climb again with his crutches on to the train waiting on
the other side. After all that zigzagging, walking and riding in various
trains, trucks and busses young Alfred reached his hometown’s train station of
Schopfheim via Konstanz.
in Schopfheim too he received many hostile greetings “as the boy who lost the
war”, specifically by young chaps who managed to keep themselves out of the
war obligations altogether. Eventually the returning Wiechser warrior hobbled
his way up the Dinkelberg hill past the Sanatorium, past the cemetery where
his ancestors lay buried, past the little chapel where he was christened and
confirmed and to his mother’s kitchen on the Zimmermann’s homestead.
Zimmermann to this day did not set his healthy or even his damaged foot on the
Bavarian soil. He has also not been compensated in any way or form for his war
much for fighting for Fatherland!
*** Alfred Zimmermann died November 2006
on the very same Zimmermann homestead. ***
Interview with Mr. Zimmermann in Wiechs, April, 2000 by Rosina T. Schmidt .
daughter-in-law is of Danube Swabian descent.