“With every airplane I prayed that our small village would be spared from the attacks”

Elisabeth Epple was born on 25th January 1932 in Steinbronnen, a small village near Bad Saulgau in the southwest of Germany. Born into a farming family, she was the youngest of six children. Just one year after her birth, the Nazis took over Germany under Hitler’s leadership. In 1938, when she was only six years old, World War II started, and she experienced seven years full of loss, fear and terror.

“Even before the war started, my father said that we had already lost it. From the beginning, he was not a supporter of Hitler’s government and at first, he made his opinion known publicly. However, when the Nazi supporters kept on growing, one day they came to our house and told him that if he continued to speak so negatively about Hitler, he would end up in a concentration camp next. Then he never said anything again and even when the war was over, he kept his opinion to himself.

The war years were really a terrible time. I still remember it as if it was yesterday when my brother Georg received a letter in 1941 saying he had to report immediately for duty. He was a paramedic and was forced to help wounded soldiers at the front in Hungary. I vividly remember that my mother cried for hours and kept saying ‘No, not my Georg, no,’ even though at the beginning nobody thought that it was possible that he could die.

The last time we heard from him was on January 1st, 1945. He was in Budapest at that time and wrote in a letter that they were trapped by the Soviet troops and joked that his only way out would be to swim home on the Danube. He said that without outside help it would not be long before things would end for him and that he already saw his death ahead of him.

After that we never heard anything from him again and today, he is still considered missing in action. But I am pretty sure that January 12th, 1945 was the day he died. We were all together in our kitchen at the time, and the little stool that was next to the stove suddenly toppled over. There was no breeze in the room, no dog, no cat that knocked it over. At that moment my mother cried out loudly, ‘Oh good Lord no, our Georg!’ and I will always remember that moment. It was one of the darkest moments in my life. I cried for days, and yet there was never a complete certainty that he really passed away that day. We never really talked about it in our family, because no letter ever came to confirm it and until today I don’t know where he fell or how.

But he was not the only one who lost his life. From our little village Steinbronnen so many young men were killed, you wouldn’t believe it. The worst thing was that in 1945, Hitler even called up 15- and 16-year-olds. He knew that the war was lost and did not capitulate. On the contrary, he sent even more men and even children to their deaths: He really was a very cruel man.

Today, however, a lot of things are blurred for me, since I was still a child and didn’t really understand it all. But I remember one thing very clearly: I was always scared to death when airplanes flew over Steinbronnen. Once, that must have been at the end of April 1944, hundreds of planes flew in the direction of Friedrichshafen on Lake Constance during the night and bombed the city to the ground. With every bomb that hit there, the flash was always very brightly visible in our bedroom and with every airplane I prayed once again that our small village would be spared from the attacks. Every town with industry was laid in ruins, it was devastating. So many innocent men, women and children had to die there, that was such a terrible time. I do not want to experience that ever again.

I think the war also affected how I live today. I am thankful for my freedom of speech and that I don’t have to fear to starve since there are more than enough foods available. Also, I would never throw away groceries or take foods like bananas or chocolate as granted, and I think the younger generations should follow this example.”