Tragedy at Gross Steinum
April 12, 1945
Please click on long small photo above for fantastic panaroma of Gross Steinum today
On April 12th, the 30th was in its final push to the Elbe. The 2nd Battalion on tanks left Salzdahlum at 0615, and turning right (east) at Rautheim headed toward Cremlingen were at 0630 the 1st Battalion on its Quartermaster trucks joined the column. The excerpt from the 120th history tells the story from the American of the tragedy that day.
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Capt. Murray S. Pulver of Co. B, 120th IR describes this encounter in his book, "The Longest Year". Capt Pulver notes how on the rapid advance east they closely followed the Recon unit. Moving by truck their mission was to be ready to put down any opposition. They disarmed soldiers and civilians by the hundreds passed moving west. When German soldiers were seen running into the town of Gross Steinum, Col. Purdue sent men of Company G to check it out. Shortly they were seen marching a long line of prisoners. When they were about half way to us shoots rang out. Two American soldiers fell dead. Civilians had assured the patrol leader of Co. G that no more German soldiers were left in hiding. White flags had been displayed. When Col. Purdue heard of this treachery he ordered the village to be shelled with an attack to follow. The leaders of the village were warned if this happened again the village would be leveled. We learned not to trust civilians or non armed German soldiers.
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March 30, 2005
Headline: “They wanted to destroy everything!”
As Horst Krenge experienced the end of the war, French prisoners were kept in the village up to the time of the conflict.
Bold print: On April 12, 1945 Gross Steinum (name of the village) surrendered without a fight. When an American soldier was ambushed this small village almost suffered the same fate. The 11th of January was a storybook winter’s day. Horst Krenge recalls, “The sun shine was absolutely wonderful.” He was 13 then and full of confidence. . Horst had been trained in the Hilterjugend exposed to weekly propaganda, so se couldn’t begin to image that the war would reach him in the village of Gross Steinum. He had gotten used to seeing the many uniformed soldiers around. And even the sight of prisoner transports created no sense of fear. ON the way to the east they were regularly quartered in the hallways of his father’s restaurant. “The prisoners were ragged forms, reduced to skin and bones,” explained Krenge, “We did not know where they came from or where they were headed.” The first contact with the horrors of the war came on the 11th of January in the early afternoon. There were silver planes suddenly flying overhead. They appeared to be American flyers returning from Berlin. There are no alarms in Gross Steinem because there is not an air patrol watch. For this reason the sirens from Konigslutter were “also used as warning signals for Gross Steinum”. In the Konigslutter the planes dropped their bombs. The Sugar factory went up in flames and the neighboring gas refinery (?). “Suddenly there was a huge explosion,” said Krenge. As other his age, he had to help with the daily repair of the roof of the gas refinery (?) Krenge saw the American bomber all the time now. First came the scout planes to mark the bombing targets; during the day with smoke bombs and at night with light tracers, called Christmas trees. After that came the bombers. One time Krenge watched as the marking drifted on the west wind from Braunschweig to Lelm. Instead of bombing the city, the planes dropped bombs on the small village. Up to this point Gross Steinum had been spared, but the Americans were getting closer. On the 10 and 11 of April, in the village there was a tank alert. For a long time the sound of canons was heard from all directions. It had been clear for a time that the war was lost. “The old people knew it a long time before, but they didn’t dare say anything, “explained Krenge. On Horst Krenge’s birthday, April 12, the American arrived at his village. In the company of some Polish prisoners, Krenge’s father went to meet them holding a white flag. They had also hung a huge white flag from the church bell tower. Despite these actions, the tanks began to fire upon the church. From his parent’s farm, Krenge could see bits of stone flying everywhere. Then the soldiers marched into the village, and liberated French prisoners of war. They rounded up the German soldiers. At this point it came to a very suspenseful happening. An American guard was shot killed in am Ambush. In retrospect it seemed that the partisan from the village of Gross Steinum drove the Americans to destroy the village. “They wanted to flatten everything in sight. The tanks were already in position.” But in reality it didn’t come to that. The freed, French prisoners put in a good word for Gross Steinum, because, Krenge believes, they were well treated by the residents. “Compared with other regions, we got off Scot free,” said Krenge.
Suddenly there was a huge explosion. Close by Horst Krenge (74) watched as the church tower was hit by American bombs.
That was the reason for my book, all legends and lies. I have been upset about this for a long time. With this strong anger, I could write well.
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October 18, 2006
Headline: In the Schunter (Name of a river) while the tanks came
The end of the war in Gross Steinum – Homeland Official Rolf Owczarski invites newspapers to a discussion
Bold print: The happenings at the end of the war and the reports about it are still a point of discussion in the Helmstedt region. Rolf Owczarski wants to find out more and for this purpose has started a discussion group, in order to compile the stories of the end of the war in Gross Steinum.
Along with the area’s mayor, Karin Schunke, Owczarski was invited to the Gross Steinum village town hall on October 27, at 7 o’clock in the evening. Eye witnesses were asked to reconstruct the happening as best they could. Certain things are already known, but there is still conflict about how other events happened. Even today is not clear who carried the white flag out to meet the advancing American troops. Numerous residents of the village profess to be related to the one who was responsible for this act. It is for sure that prior to the Americans arrival, the village had been shot at before. They didn’t hold back. Many times there was gunfire during the advance of troops through various villages, in order to provoke a reaction from hostile parties. There were indeed shoots fired from Gross Steinum. Bernhard Glaer attests to this fact. As an earlier Air Force aid, he later took part in the fighting. He shot at the American tanks with a Tank gun. Then he hid in the ice cold waters under the Schunter Bridge. The American tanks rolled across the bridge and he was afraid the weight of the tanks would cause the bridge to collapse. The tanks were followed by a group of soldiers. They did not see the young German soldier hiding under the bridge. In the April 12th battle there were some casualties. Most of them are buried in the local cemetery in the village. The graves are still in use; while others were destroyed. Margarete Niemann (maiden name, Hensel) tells how she tried to get help for a German soldier who was shot severely in the leg. During the discussion meeting on October 27th, other witnesses from that time will tell their stories of the experience. The Homeland official Rolf Owczarski will give an introduction on the topic.
CAPTION: Bernhard Glaseser on the bridge under which he hid in 1945 after shooting at an American tank.
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Headline: Witnesses were not always in agreement
Public discussion about the happenings at the end of the war in Gross Steinum on April 12, 1945
Picture caption: Professor Bodo Schrader (left) and Friedrich Nessig (right) report about April 12, 1945. Among those in attendance were Heino Hennecke, Manfred Weber, Herta-Luise Buchheister and Ilsemarie Didszus
??????Even though the occurrence at Gross Steinum in which toward the wars end the Americans moved from the west to the east with tanks and areas already in their possession, the happenings seem to still be of great public interest. The citizens’ interest in helping to reconstruct the happenings of April 12 was sparked by a newspaper item. Last Friday Gross Steinum’s Major Karin Schunke had invited the Homeland official Rolf Owczarski to a meeting of local citizens in the town hall. Because of the great interest there were almost 60 people in attendance. In addition Archivists and local historians from neighboring communities were also present. THIS PARAGRAPH I AM UNSURE ABOUT.
To begin with Karin Schunke introduced to those attending the who were outsiders a short history. The Village was founded in 1226 and had about 500 inhabitants. She reported about a lively association and spoke about the first Prize of a contest “Our village should be made more beautiful.”.
Rolf Owczarski began his discussion of the topic by sharing the Armed Forces report from April 12. At that time the Americans had some interest in the village of Gross Steinum and the bordering regions. Armed enemies were believed to still be in the area and in the woods. “Why did the shoot-out only occur in Gross Steinum?” the Homeland official asked. There had been escaped soldiers hiding in the hallows around the village and other hiding places, who were sick and tired of the war. Six American tanks fired from the nearby and hitting among other places the Weber machine factory (??), the homes of the Mesecke, Krenge, and Guenter families as well as the church, while Berhard Gläser shot at the tanks with a tank gun (so it is reported) The death of an American soldier was to blame for all this. A anti-aircraft tech, named Werner Franke, 16 years old (from Braunschweig or Thüringen) born on November 17, 1928, was killed from a Querschläger (Some type of weapon?), , from the reaction of the Americans. He is buried in Gross Steinum.
HAND WRITTEN NOTE: He ( I assume Werner Franke) was from Berlin. There were also 3 other young soldiers wounded badly, because the German????? (Can’t read the handwriting) didn’t help.
Hans-Hermann Krenge, 6 at the time, and his brother, Horst, 15 years old, knew enough to report to the information office, that his father Hermann Krenge and Oskar Mesecke walked up the attackers holding a white flag. As the events of the day unfolded this information was lost and later reported only as “2 brave men.” There were other issues that have been disputed by those present. Two anti-aircraft tech from that time, whom Bernhard Gläser knew by name, were invited to come to the meeting. Prof. Bodo Schrader from Braunschweig and Friedrich Nessig from Wolfenbüttel described the events as they remembered them. They had hidden themselves and exchanged their uniforms for civilian clothing.
Ilsemarie Didszus (maiden name Warnecke) described a meeting with a young, German officer whom she met in the forest. He was asking for civilian clothing. He survived the war and later retrieved his military metals and awards from the pieces of clothing he left behind.
Herta-Luise Buchheister (maiden name Mesecke) has written a book of memories from these events entitled, “Does anyone know where Gross Steinum is?” Her father, Oskar Mesecke, had been in danger. A member of the SS wanted to shoot him, because the citizens of the village had surrendered.
Herta-Luise asked me, to translate and sent you her following lines.
kind greetings from here to there
Right, I cannot have EngIish well. But Karl-Heinz
translate these lines for me. I agree, that you publish 27 sides of my book in your website on the Internet. It honors me and I am pleased about it.
But I had still enjoyed writing something to this and to be more precise to page 10: there you can read:... it was our father, who took with our French prisoners of war a sheet which he pulled out of bed, fastened it to a beanpole and ran through our garden contrary to the tanks shooting around himself wildly (please complete): At the same time his friend Robert Schulze climbed the church steeple and hang a white sheet from the church steeple window. The church was nevertheless shot at. Not only a young soldier was shot. At the marl hollow three died because the doctor didn't help. He helped only when an American officer asked him. It was too late there.
In Schickelsheim also was shot one soldier because he didn't stop his motorcycle. In Langeleben the children's home was bombarded. 35 children and 4 nurses died because there were suspected a German general, but this one wasn’t there.
However war is terrible, we see this every evening on television and we can change nothing to this.
Do you know where Gross Steinum is?
CAPTION ACROSS FROM TITLE PAGE: Oskar Mesecke (sitting on the horse) was a messenger rider in WWII in Flanders.
TITLE PAGE: Herta-Luise Buchheister
Do you know where Gross Steinum is?
To keep from being forgotten
This book is not meant to be a chronicle about Gross Steinum.
Its intentions are as a reminder of one of the darkest times in Germany. If it is not written down, it will soon be forgotten.
With most cities bombed, only the villages remained untouched by the bombs; for this reason evacuees, refugees, and all others who were driven from their homes, stayed in cramped quarters. The war was lost and people slept through the air raid sirens without fear.
We did not know anything about the “KZ”??? And the slaughter of the Jews, granted there was some knowledge of to KZ mainly because one of the citizens of Gross Steinum was taken there.. People whispered that the woman that turned him in received a hefty reward.
In school as we looked as pictures of starving Jews, it did not impact to a great deal, because it was also a kind of war. We saw half starving children every day right before our eyes. Children would tell us how their mothers were raped by the Russian solders. One young girl from Berlin, who survived the bombing attacks, lived with us and told of recovering from the horrors of war”. She was skin and bones and hyperactive, as they call it today.
We were also told of the bombings in Japan and read letters from Japanese children, who saw the explosion and survived it, but for how long?
In my eyes the (Amis) Americans were not much better. There were many terrible faces of war, still today.
If we can’t have the welfare program, today, as we have gotten used to this past decade, then we need to work harder, but never, never should there be war again.
Bornum, Sept. 28, 2005
Herta-Luise Buchheister, born Mesecke
P. 7 Memories of a 7 year old farm girl and the last days of the war in Gross Steinum
Because of the war, our small village along the Dorm river (?) was full of evacuated men, women, and children. It was a warm, early spring. Our father had already opened the season for planting potatoes, to let the women and children the plant potatoes. Before the Amis arrived, the potatoes were already planted in the fields. My father said that that which is in the ground cannot be taken away from us. My mother still believed we could win and listened to Göbbels on the radio who would say to the French prisoners of war, “We will yet win! Hitler has a miracle weapon, the final victory is ours!” My father, who had fought in WWI, did not believe it.
A troop of children soldiers (Kindersoldaten) with their elderly Officer camped in the hall of our restaurant, “Prince Albert from Prussia.” They had a lot of candy that they threw like pennies at a wedding, we children ran after them which was a lot of fun. On the pieces of candy was a sign that said, “The Americans will make it this far but no further, this is where we will beat them back.” In front of our farm and the school house were hand bombs and tanks guns.
Our father warned us to not play with these things; they were not toys.
We were not in school a lot. There was an elderly teacher who rode his bike from Süpplingenburg. We began the day by singing, “The blue dragons go riding,” then he corrected the homework assignments and gave us new homework, but it never failed the sirens would begin to blare and run to Niemann’s basement and our teacher went back home. (p. 8) every night the air raid sirens sounded, every night we were torn from our sleep. Every one had a suitcase or backpack packed and ready to go into the bunkers. Because our father worked in the Beienrode (a town) in the potash mine, he and some other men dug a tunnel in the Church hill, which was our bunker. On side was the entrance and directly across was the air vent, so in case of attack the bad air could be drawn out of the bunker. The never did happen. The evacuees who had experienced a bombing attack would never go into the bunkers because it was not safe. If a bomb landed on the entrance, one would be trapped and could not escape because there was not way out. Even our grandmother stayed in bed. She was already older and if her time was up, she would be ready to go. But she was with us for a long time.
Once when we children were in the pasture picking Gänseblümchen (type of flower) on a beautiful spring day, we saw above us in the blue sky a lot of white parachute floated down in the direction of Beienrode; they looked like Pustenblumen (flower). In our house it was very hectic everything that had to do with the 1000 realm was gathered up and burned. The only thing saved by mother was a flag. She cut out the swastika and made dresses out of the rest of the fabric for my sister. Then they called “Raise the flag high.” I received a dress from the parachute fabric. I didn’t really want one. Because so many running around wearing that green and white stripped fabric.
My father had loaded the big amount of ammunition on our farm wagon and sank it in the Dorm River. The young soldiers had traded their provisions and our mother had gotten a bag of rice. I never knew anything about bananas, rice and oranges. My older sisters had always longed for milk rice, it was supposed to be delicious.
(p. 9)As a result I had also decided that milk rice was my favorite dish and that when my mother would come and visit me when I grew up I would only want to cook Grießbrei ( some kind of soup)and milk rice.
So on this eventful day our mother cooked up a big batch of the long anticipated milk rice. We sat at the large table and the French prisoners were sitting at a smaller table. There was enough milk rice for everyone although it was without cinnamon and sugar, and just a small amount of brown butter to pour over it. The entire day I had awaited this feast, I had even eaten a smaller amount in the morning in order to be good and hungry. I was so excited as I sat at the table and before sat a large bowl of milk rice. The first bite in my mouth! I tasted it, and turned the Happen in my mouth three times. No, this cannot be possible! It was as if I was chewing on cotton, it tasted like an old shoe, it was awful! The bite seemed to grow larger and finally I looked closely at what I was eating. It tasted like big whit mice! The brown ones I could put on the coal in the oven could have been laid on the plate. But where could I put all this white mice? My father was very strict. What was on the plate must be eaten. (I don’t require that from my children today.) That much rice would never fit into my apron pocket, as I had done with the hated chicken skin. Our dog, Bobbie, was overjoyed. Just as I said a silent prayer, the tank alert sirens went off.
I was so happy because this time I did not have to clean my plate. Milk rice was no longer my favorite, it was now my least favorite!
My father left all the windows in the house open because of the air pressure from explosions. We could see the brown shapes of the tanks from our yard. Quickly to Niemann’s cellar. It was completely full. What ever was going to happen, we waited for on straw sacks with pillows and blankets. (p. 10) It was unbearable not knowing. Our mother said there was still a large pot of milk rice on the stove. “What?” Asked a woman who had been evacuated from Aachen with her two children? “I’ll go get it.” Along with my sister Käte she climbed out the window, the door was locked (I’m not sure why!!) and climbed through our kitchen window and grabbed the pot. Just then they heard the sound of someone walking. With the pot in our cellar she quickly grabbed them and thought it must be the Amis. However it was my father along with our prisoners of war had taken a bed sheet, stuck it on a bean pole and marched toward the tank as they were shooting wildly., As my father spoke with the officer, my cousin ran up to them, also waving a white flag. He had waited to see what would happen, before he came out. (***She wrote out to the side the name Hermann Krenge, I don’t know is that is this man’s name) HE later had better opportunities as bartender, instead of a small farmer. With a little schnapps, it could be read in the newspaper that he was the rescuer of the Gross Steinem village. Our father had no witnesses, the French and the Germans were gone.
Just an hour before the tanks arrived, my father had been in great danger. A crazy SS man wanted to shoot him. As we later found out, in Schickelsheim (town) he had shot an 18 year old Pole because of a dog.
My father wanted to convince the major to come with him and the two Frenchman to surrender. But the major sat in the cellar and was too afraid to do his duty. So my father life with arm in are the SS man in the arms. Without a white flag he would have been shot.
(p11)”Where are the troops, the anti-tank barriers, the weapons?” The officer asked my father. “Not here,” he said, “they are all in Dorm.”
He had made sure that the elderly officer negotiated that the young men should not fight here anymore, because the Amis would only be held up here for a few hours, and it wasn’t worth the cost of so many possible casualties. The elderly officer agreed and stayed hidden with half the children in the restaurant and it was here that they surrendered to the Amis. They spent the night in Schickelsheim in a barn, there they could escape at night. (Handwritten, this was not true)
In the meantime, my sister and the women with the pot of milk rice returned to the cellar. I could not understand how they could still eat during all the shooting. , but they seemed to really enjoy the milk rice. I can still see them, each one with a spoon, eating the rice right out of the pot!
My aunt Weber, whose house was a small distance from ours, ran into the cellar crying, “They are shooting up our roof even though we have a white flag hanging and in our barn there is a big hole.”
During this terrible event, the mayor’s16 year old daughter came running in, she was braver than her father, (he had hidden himself in the cellar). She knew that there was a doctor in the cellar from Braunscheig. “Dr., please come, there is a young soldier who has been shot. He is bleeding.”
Sadly, the coward would not go with her, he had no instruments, and couldn’t help. Suddenly there was a real feeling of fear in the cellar.
“It’s a shame that our father isn’t here,” I thought. There were only women and children. There was no man who could force this coward out.
There were more released soldiers in the village. My father gave on of them a jacket and pants, and a bike so that he could go home to Berlin. He was going to bring the bike back, but we never saw him or the bike again. My father hid the uniform under a canal bridge.
I am not sure how long all this lasted, but finally we were allowed to leave the cellar. Then I saw that our beautiful church tower, that stood on the hill and was visible from all over, had big holes in it. I could not understand how someone could shoot at a church. How could they shoot at God, who dwelt within its walls?
Also a cow that was quietly grazing in the pasture was shot. We later divided it up among the villagers and sang, “Pastor sine Kau” Those of us who looked after ourselves, never give up. In fact while my aunt from Braunschweig lived with us, we had beef soup.
The Amis explained the attack on Gross Steinum in this way: Supposedly someone from Heckenschütze in the pasture had shot and killed a high ranking US officer. They had intended to completely destroy the village. We should be thankful that we are all still alive. This is the “fairytale” that was told everywhere, this was psychological warfare! In Goslar 2001 three other women said it was the same for them.
The 17 year old soldier who was shot was from Berlin and was buried with great sympathy. Everyone cried, including me.
The doctor from Braunsteig took off quickly. The Restaurant and the larger farm houses were taken over by the Amis; the residents had to leave and the Americans moved in. American officers even moved into our best room, reserved for special occasions, All weapons, cameras, and Kyffhäuserfahn (No idea what this is) had to be turned in. Many of the children were give chewing gum by the Amis. I would have gladly tried some to the chewing gum. “You have to give an egg, in order to get some gum,” Kurtchen told me. He also did that. I begged my mother for an egg. When an Ami came to the restaurant, I gave him my egg, but he did not give me a piece of gum. I was disappointed. When Kurtchen offered me a piece of gum, I didn’t want it. How good could this gum chewing be anyway, I liked the cream candies my uncle gave me much better.
At the surrender of the village, my father went to his friend, the mayor who had hidden himself in the cellar. “You need to come with me to surrender, it is your duty.” The mayor shook with fear and would not go with him. Therefore our father took a crazy SS man arm in arm. “Where are the anti-tank barriers, the troops, the Munitions, I’ll shoot you!” “Go ahead!” Answered my father. “Everything is in Dorm, we are not going to fight here, think about all the women and children.” Then the SS man ran of toward Dorm, where he stayed hidden almost 6 months and was taken care of by a young BDM-young woman from Gross Steinum.
If the SS Man had discovered the prisoners of war in the bunker, who knows what might have happened. My father brought them out of the bunker as asked them to come with him to surrender to the Americans. One of the Frenchman was from Elsaß area and could speak German, in 1940 he was allowed to return because he was a farmer, that’s why my father, Oskar Mesecke, took care of him (account by Käte Mesecke).
SO my father ran into the house and scared my sister and the women from Aachen, who had hidden herself in the cellar along with the pot of rice, took a sheet from the bed, put it on a bean pole, and ran out through our yard into the shooting with the French, heading toward the Americans. They thought it was the mayor. As my father spoke with the Americans, the bartender came out with a white flag; however the Americans didn’t pay much attention to him. My father must have taken the American officer to the mayor; they forced him out of the bunker and threatened to shoot him. It was only because his daughter could speak English well enough to beg for his life and explained that he was sick; she told them that was why he couldn’t be there to surrender. All this kept him from being shot. Although five year later a relative of the bartender reported to the newspaper that Mr. Kreuger was the one who rescued Groß Steinum and now sixty years later it is still in the newspaper reports. When I read that, I crossed out that part of the article. The fact that my father because of his courage took the ammunition , that could have exploded, on a farmwagen and drove to the Dorm river on a bumpy old country road and threw them in the Dorm river, or the fact that he convinced the elder officer not to make the children soldiers fight anymore, (P 15)(he could have received the death penalty for that) has never been acknowledged in Groß Steinum. All this required bravery!
Our French prisoners received packages. They gave my mother a piece of soap and they the children candy. They enjoyed being at our house, but the young Pole, who was staying at the Schulz’s house, kept hidden in the corn crib and cried and didn’t want to go back, however he was taken out of there.
Another Pole, who worked with Ernst Krenge, was disappeared without a trace. During the harvest, the crops were packed a wagon , that where they found him. HE had hung himself in the hen house. He looked really dark.
The good thing about the war getting over was that we could now sleep without fear. However, even then when I heard an airplane overhead, I would hide under the covers.