From Beneath the Bombs

Herr Klaus Schwerk was sixteen in February 1945. Before the war his father was a doctor in Bautzen, 50 km east of Dresden, and had been conscripted to be a medical officer in the Wehrmacht. In February 1945 he was serving in Italy and his wife and five sons (of which Klaus was the eldest) were still in Bautzen. As the Russian Army approached, and the guns could be heard, the family decided to move westward towards Dresden.

Mother and the four younger boys were there staying with friends when the firebombs started dropping. Klaus had cycled further westward that day, before the attack started, to find the next stopping point for the family, as they wanted to continue their journey. The fires could be seen from where he was, some 20 km to the west of Dresden, and he returned to find his family still alive at around 10am the next day. Then the high explosive attacks by the Americans started and they all repaired to the basement of the house where they were staying. Soon smoke became a problem for them, and Klaus ventured into the street above to see whether he could find a way out.

In the event, he did, and the whole family were lucky enough to be led by him to comparative safety outside the bombing zone and eventually they were able to walk away to the west.

Having left his bicycle behind, two days later he returned to Dresden to look for it and found it in exactly the same place as he had left it. He then saw the full effects of the devastation.

He kept a diary and has written down his experiences, a copy of which he gave me. All the family survived the war, and the father went back to his medical practice in Bautzen. There was not a sign of recrimination against the British or Americans, and at least two of the brothers have lived for many years in the US. Klaus himself studied architecture, but has been an aid worker for some time in India, which is where he learned to speak English. He is now retired in Berlin, and uses his architectural skills to design, for instance, an organ which he plays in his house, and he does other DIY work.