My name is Günter Knura, I was born on December 13th, 1932 in Rüstringen, today Wilhelmshaven. First, I attended the elementary school, later grammar school and left it with the so-called “Mittlere Reife” and started to work at the Stadt Wilhelmshaven as apprentice and later I was assumed into the civil servant status and in total I worked nearly 45 years at the city council.
How did you create your spare time that days? What did you do after school?
Yes, primary homework of course, because we were blessed abundantly with homework, back then. They set a lot of homework, indeed. Apart of that we were outside, there was not much else instead.
You have been in the “Jungvolk” or “Hitler youth”, can you tell about it?
Yes, yes I can. It was like that, because too many bombs were thrown on the city, we decided to move to Lingen for one year, to our grandparents. And with the age of 10 you had to join the Hitler youth. For the 10-year-old boys it was the “Jungvolk”. We were so called “Pimpfe”, nice expression, “Pimpfe”, sounds like “Schlümpfe”. So we were “Pimpfe” and because I reached the age of 10 in Lingen, I went to the Jungvolk there. And than my mother had to go to buy a uniform for me, I can show you a picture later, it’s me on it. It was rescued, the picture, the photo. Yes and we did, I myself liked it very much. What have we done there? We met on Sunday mornings at 10 o’clock marched through the town of Lingen with singing and kept the poor Catholics, who actual had to go to church at 10, they had to join the Jungvolk as well. So they could not join the worship, it was another chicanery of the Nazis, who wanted them to march. And then, we did scouting games, two groups were build, went into the forest and had to find each other and such stories. Quite harmless and it was amusing, at least for me. And back in Wilhelmshaven, it went on. Later, it got more political, with political education. You had to know by heart even when waking up in the middle of the night when the Führer was born and when he did this and that and such a hocus pocus.
But, like I said before, at the age of 10, 11, 12, you cannot understand what is behind this all. No one of us did. And I even got ahead, they had real service grades, like in the army. In the Jungvolk they had the so-called horde leader, and the upper horde leader and the “Jungenschaftsführer”, and as far I reached. Then you got a nice cord, I think it was red and white. And then the war was over and that was it with the Jungvolk.
How did you experience the war in total?
Yes, you had anywhere the question of the first bomb attack. So, the first bomb attack in Wilhelmshaven, as Wilhelmshaven was one of the largest naval bases, so it was to expect that it would be bombarded. It was clear for everyone and so they installed so-called air raid-shelters even before the war began. It looked like this: there were placed thick timbers so the ceiling could not break down. It was covered with wooden blockings on the top. And later, the bunkers were built but then very fast. And the first attacks only were flown by the British air force, because the Americans did not join the war at that time. Yes and when they joined it got really terrible. Much worse than before but worse enough it was even before.
So the first unions, that attacked Wilhelmshaven, were very small ones, maybe 7-8 bombers, quite lame ducks I would say, they could not fly very fast and not very high as well. And many of those had been fired off even before they reached Wilhelmshaven. All around stood lots of anti-aircraft guns and mainly we had in Wittmundhafen an excellent fighter pilot squadron.
And this reached so far that they stopped this kind of attacks anytime, as it did not make sense; “we lose our pilots and machines and do not reach anything”. Later it was different, when larger squadrons came and we got quite a lot of it.
Most terrible was the October 1944. It was horrific. But then the Americans already had joined in and the British were leading. I already noticed, it has been this Lancaster-bomber, they were really good. Four-engined, thick machines, I inspected such a thing near London but this was later. And yes, they did a lot mischief. However, Wilhelmshaven had, if I remember right, during the whole bomb war, it had been over 100 attacks, only 400, just tight around 400 death, while other cities had 40.000, in Hamburg, Dresden. Hamburg was really horrible. And as I said, after these attacks Wilhelmshaven was destroyed nearly completely. The city centre, everything was missing. Our schools as well, of course, it was destroyed again, the next one. In total, it was a scary happening.
I remember that we went to school one day, another school again, later it was called “Helene-Lange-Schule” and seemed there was an empty class room that time, and this time they have drawn corps out of a completely destroyed house at Peterstraße. Of course, they were charred, charred, became very small. Shit. You can’t forget it.
Yes and later there were bunkers and that meant you had to start running and get into your bunker if so-called pre-alarm was given. First, our allocated bunker was really far away, at Banter Weg, we sometimes just reached this thing in time, just before it cracked. Later, in the Hamburger Straße it was better as it was very close to our home.
The last weeks we had been brought to the countryside. They had, as Wilhelmshaven was declared as fort, so they wanted to defence the city until the last, until the extreme. And hereupon they sent the women and children, or better to say the women with children, who had children, to the countryside. And so we came anywhere near Bensersiel, I cannot remember how it was called. … village. And there we were separated. Mum and Karl-Heinz to one farm and me a bit further on a second farm. It was a lot of fun. Well, not that we have been separated, I did not like that at all but that I have been at a farm I liked. Clearing the cowshed, planting potatoes, things like that I did. Cut turnips for the cows. It was nice. And for lunch we had to walk from the farms to Bensersiel. That was quite far, it took us around one hour to get there. Then we ate there and afterwards we had to walk the whole way back, because they [the farmers] couldn’t feed us. Even if they had a variety of things, as they were farmers of course, but it was provided different, communal feeding in church. There I said at this time, I would like to become a farming assistant, I am happy that I did not do it, because it was so nice. The best thing was that I got a proper breakfast, which was not intended like this, if I helped cleaning the cowshed, then they did it. Yes, you have worked hard, then you get an egg or something like that. It was a scarcity value, an egg at this time at home in the city! And they had chicken and so. Yes, like this it had been.
And when we came back, luckily Wilhelmshaven had not been defended and it would not have made sense to defend the city, they would have destroyed the city completely and rational people like our party-boss’s and the Lord Mayor, who of course was a party-member as well… Müller, that were really rational people and as well the marine management, they said: “We capitulate”.
And the next morning, at Café Hillmers, it does not exist anymore, it had been at the corner Schaarreihe/Bismarckstraße, the two groups confronted and decided the capitulation. And the opposition was a Polish panzer army, a panzer battalion. But in British uniform and with British weapons and they had an unbelievable adventurous way behind them. They fled from Poland when Germany occupied Poland, more or less, and then they wanted to fight against Germany and became part of the British Army. And they came on a very adventurous way via Iraq, Egypt and I do not know where else to Great Britain. So they really had an adventurous journey, the whole troop. And there they had been integrated into the army, the British and on the uniform stood up here: “Poland”. They had been armed and uniformed and had there panzer, British panzer they had and invaded here. But they did not do anything to anyone as long as I know. And then they removed and then came the British troops. But no, just a few marines but land teams. And the high commanding officer of the whole story was a Captain Condor.
Have you ever experienced any hostilities against Jews?
No never. But you have to say, in Wilhelmshaven just lived a few Jews. Very few. It could be related that Wilhelmshaven has been a pure marine foundation and I could imagine that Jews who had been merchants or something like that did not fit in here that well. My mom told we had a few Jewish department stores but I did not get much of that, of course, shops. There had been a department store Margoliner, I myself did not know them, I did not live to see it, and a part of Wilhelmshaven’s Jews left the city before. Even 1933 or 34 or anyhow before war started. And family Margoliner as well, they immigrated to Israel or Palestine like it was called at that time and to other places. But I never got to know a Jew. I only heard from my mom that there have been shops back to the 20’s. I do not know; nothing with Jews.
What has been with the Night of Broken Glass? Has anything happened here? How did you experience it?
Yes, indeed I experienced it. At that time my father had holidays, a few days of holidays, and anytime, yes we already lived… when has it been, 1939?
Yes, ‘38, that time we lived in the Otto-Mentz-Straße. And I remember as it has been today that my father was really nervous and said to me: “Come with me, we will go to Börsenstraße, the synagogue burns.” And I can remember it very good that we have been quite close to it. The WZ had been there forever, the building WZ and we stood anywhere there, I remember it as today, I monitored very fascinated how up there came flames out of the cupola and so. I found it very exciting, because I did not know at all what was behind this all and just thought “It is burning there” like it sometimes burned on different places. And I remember that a plane flew atop, very high. That did not have to do anything with the burning. And so I looked at it, oh, there flies something. And I can remember that my dad was really excited and always said: “It will be war now, it will be war” or something like that, so he had a misgiving. And I experienced this indeed. I can remember quite well how everything was ablaze and it smelled unpleasant. So the fire brigade was not allowed to intervene. They were sent away or they could not get there at all. But I do not know if any shops had been demolished at that time, I did not notice…but I do not think so. I think the few Jews who had been here were already gone. There were the Levy family, they had an electrical business, they even went on after the war but that was all. Night of Broken Glasses, yes. Kristallnacht.
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