|Poland, near Leśna, Golice, Masovian Voivodeship|
"Where are all the people?" Schütze Hans Warstadt had asked. They had seen German-manned checkpoints but hadn't seen hide nor hair of the local population.
"Perhaps they're in hiding," offered Oberschütze Leon Schwarz, "I mean, there is a war on you know."
"But that was over a year ago!" Warstadt protested.
Fahnenjunker-Unterfeldwebel Jürgen von Lüttwitz stood at the side of the dirt track watching his men pass. As it got darker he didn't want the squad behind them to get lost. "It might be smart not to ask those kinds of questions, Hans."
Von Lüttwitz had seen how the Poles were treated by both the SS and the police, even Army units were guilty of atrocities against the Poles. His battalion commander had passed down the word to all of his officers and officer cadets, stay focused on the mission, don't concern yourselves with the Poles. The Party wants them gone, especially in the border regions adjacent to the Soviet-occupied zone.
Jürgen suspected that the people were being moved to places beyond the eyes of the world, and then killed. He had heard rumors and he had actually seen a "special action group" in Siedlce grabbing civilians off the streets and marching them away. One man had protested, he had been beaten to the ground.
Apparently there was no room in Poland for actual Poles.
He had not slept all night, getting the men in place. Oberleutnant Ferdinand Busch, his company commander, and Leutnant Fritz Acker, his platoon commander - recently returned to the unit from hospital - had come by early in the morning and the three men had discussed what they were supposed to be doing and how they were supposed to do it.
Busch assumed that they would be moving further east when the sun came up, they were some sixty kilometers from the border with the Soviet zone. Division wanted them no closer than twenty kilometers from that border. Once there, they were to dig in, and wait. Jürgen had remarked that life in the army required a lot of waiting.
"And digging, don't forget digging." Busch had said with a chuckle.
Unlike many officers, Busch carried an entrenching tool of his own. He dug his own protection out of the earth rather than require the men to do it.
Schütze Bodo Hermann was the first man in the squad to awaken. He sat up and looked around and muttered, "Mein Gott, wir sind am Arsch der Welt¹."
He shoved his buddy, Schütze Michael Offenbach, who was just starting to stir. Offenbach threw off his blanket and looked around himself.
A dirt road stretched to the horizon, there were small stands of woods everywhere the eye could see. There was a lone peasant hut not too far away, but other than the road and the hut, it looked like a place humans had never been.
"Scheiße, wo sich Fuchs und Hase gute Nacht sagen!²" he groaned aloud.
Both men saw their squad leader approaching, von Lüttwitz looked like death warmed over.
"Rough night, Herr Unterfeldwebel?" Offenbach quipped.
"Very. Now get up and get your gear together, we're marching as soon as everyone is ready."
The men grumbled, as soldiers always do, but they were up and about in no time. Good thing too, the battalion commander came up and was bellowing at the laggards in the other platoons and companies.
"Ah, good work von Lüttwitz, at least two of my officers have their heads out of their asses this morning! Let's go lads, lets go!"
In Berlin, the Führer was holding another planning session. He insisted that first thing in the spring, the Wehrmacht must be ready to invade Russia and destroy Soviet Communism.
It was October 1940. The nights were getting cold, winter wasn't far off. It was the last winter many of the men in Busch's company would see.
¹ "My God, we're in the middle of nowhere. (German) Literally, in the asshole of the world.
² Another colorful German expression for the "middle of nowhere" - Where the fox and the hare say good night.