Saturday, September 9, 2023

The Past

Baujahr 1779¹

Sauer and Schwertfeger found Ziegler, stuffing his face with food the other companies had brought up. Both men stopped and looked on with amused grins.

"Diese Jugendlichen,² I swear Manfred, they can eat their own weight in a day." Schwertfeger said, looking at Sauer.

Ziegler had stopped eating long enough to swallow and reply, "What? I was hungry."

"Do you have siblings, Oskar?" Sauer asked, he did not. Though his father and mother both came from large families, he had many cousins, he had no siblings of his own.

"Two brothers, three sisters, how about you Horst?" Schwertfeger snatched a heel of army bread from Ziegler as he asked that.

"Three brothers, one sister, all younger than me."

"Sauer, have you no siblings?" Ziegler asked.


The men settled in for the night, though it was snowing on and off, the temperature had risen some. Not quite above freezing, but enough so that they were relatively comfortable. Sauer had moved off on his own, closer to the Soviet lines. He had told the others that he would take the first watch.

In reality the talk of family had depressed him more than he cared to think about.

Manfred Sauer was born in July of 1918. His father and his mother had managed to produce their sole offspring when Sauer the Elder was home on leave from the Saxon Army. Young Manfred grew up with his father's father, Wolfgang Sauer, and his mother, Hilda.

He had no siblings as his father had gone missing in action before Manfred had been born. His mother had never remarried, though she had many suitors. Which would cause problems for the family in later years.

Manfred's childhood was one of hard work and study. His father had wanted to go to university as a young man, his grandfather had told him that as soon as they could find someone to work the farm with them, then young Oswald could go off to school.

"Maybe then we can move to town and not raise pigs anymore! Live the soft life in the city!" old Wolfgang had said.

But the war had come along and ended all such dreams.

Though Manfred spent much of his day tending to the pigs with his grandfather, his mother had insisted he hit the books at night. The boy became a voracious reader.

Then in 1933, the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, the Nazis, had come to power and things went to hell, as Manfred remembered.

He had been almost 15 years of age at the time. Though he considered himself well educated, he had had very little formal schooling. He kept to himself, worked the farm with his grandfather and mother and read at night. History and philosophy were his favorites.

When the "New Order" had started to assert its power in Saxony, one local family, the Gottschalls, had risen to power in local politics, one of the sons, Wolf Gottschall, became Kreisleiter³.

Gottschall was single, his wife had died of influenza in 1919, and he was well known for being something of a womanizer. One thing he was also known for was being a coward. Somehow he had managed to stay out of the army during World War I. His family had always had connections, now those connections went all the way to Berlin.

The Sauer farm was very prosperous by 1936. Old Wolfgang had the means to hire men to work the farm, now he mostly managed the business side of things. He had help from his daughter-in-law who had a good eye for figures. She often lamented Manfred's lack of interest in mathematics.

The Kreisleiter had suggested to the Sauer's that it would be in their best interests to make certain payments to the Gottschall family in order to make things run "smoother."

Old Wolfgang had been incensed, "The bastards want our money without having to earn it!" he had said to Hilda.

"Opa, we can afford it, why make trouble?"

"Because they won't be content with this, it seems reasonable now, doesn't it? But it won't stop there, will it?"

"But Wolf told me that he can keep Manfred out of the army as well. He has connections."

"Mutti, I don't mind going into the Reichsarbeitsdienst,⁴ I'll meet other boys my age, maybe travel ..." Manfred had protested.

"And maybe go off to war and never come home once Hitler gets his war!" old Wolfgang said as he stormed from the room. "I swear boy, you are as stubborn as our pigs!"

Manfred had noticed that his mother's eyes were very wet, that was when he understood. He kept quiet and did as his grandfather and mother wished.

War had broken out in 1939, while other men his age were in the Wehrmacht, fighting and dying in Poland, Manfred was still raising pigs. He was now running the farm but things were getting tougher as many of their laborers were now in the military. The farm's profits were getting smaller.

And of course, the Gottschall's demands for payments had increased, as old Wolfgang had predicted. Which the Sauers were still managing to pay, somehow.

After the war with France, Hitler sought to deal with the Soviet Union which, of course, required a further expansion of the German armed forces, which Manfred had been exempt from, thanks to the manipulations of the Kreisleiter's family.

The day had come when old Wolfgang had decided that enough was enough and he had reported the Gottschalls to the police for "war profiteering." That had backfired however.

The payments to the Gottschalls were ended, as Wolf Gottschall was sent to prison and his family no longer held the office of Kreisleiter. Which was good, it was also bad as not long after Wolf Gottschall was hauled off by the Kripo, Manfred's draft notice had arrived in the post.

So at the age of 22, Manfred Sauer became a soldier. While the farm was still in business, the Wehrmacht consumed a lot of pork, Manfred was sitting in a hole near Leningrad, watching the horizon as it was lit by artillery.

Sauer heard footsteps behind him, he turned, it was Schwertfeger and Ziegler.

"Manfred, ready to go back and get some sleep?" Schwertfeger murmured.

"Ja, it's quiet out there, I think the Ivans are licking their wounds. They're getting pounded by artillery as well. I almost pity them. Why did you bring Ziegler?" Sauer whispered.

"Boy's gotta learn sometime, yes?"

Sauer nodded then slid out of the hole and made his way back to the lines. He realized then, that if the Russians had been active this night, he'd probably be dead by now. Daydreaming about the past wasn't a good idea while on sentry duty.

Thinking about the past at all was a bad idea.

"Live in the moment, in war it's the only safe thing." Sauer thought.

As he went to sleep, he saw his mother's face as he had boarded the train taking him away to the army. It startled him that he couldn't clearly picture her face any more.

His dreams were very troubled that night.

¹ Low Saxony House, built in 1779, (Photo taken in 1895)
² These young people
³ A Kreis in Germany is roughly equivalent to a county, a Kreisleiter was a district leader, responsible for running one of these counties.
⁴ Reich Labor Service, 18 years old boys were conscripted into this at 18, then went into the Army at 19 for a two year period. (Prewar, of course.)


  1. Thanks for the background on Sauer. Somehow I had expected him to be a little older and to have been the owner of the pig farm. You do have me puzzled at how this bookish, go along to get along, young man became the somewhat cynical pragmatist so quickly. And how he manages to become an officer in spite of his reluctance and lack of formal education. Well done.

    1. Sauer may seem bookish, but he spent his youth doing back-breaking work on the farm. I think seeing what his mother and grandfather went through with that "go along to get along" attitude made him see the world for what it really is, a cold heartless place for the most part.

      A formal education has never really been a mark of intelligence.

    2. The "formal education" remark is as true as they come!

  2. Reading this post makes me wonder how many other Sauers there were. Enough time goes by and those pictures in the mind fade, especially so I imagine if you're in combat. An interesting photo there Sarge.

    1. I searched a bit for that photo. Enter "German farm" in Gargle and you get a lot of Pennsylvania. I remember when this platform actually had a superb search engine, those days are long gone.

    2. When I need better search results I use search engine (Larry Lambart's).

    3. I'll have to try that. I visit LL's place every day.

    4. I have it bookmarked for when I want to check for better (or honest) results.

  3. "It startled him that he couldn't clearly picture her face any more." I have all of the voice messages from TB the Elder on my phone for the very reason Sauer is fearful of.

    There are people like Gottschall in every time, seeking to profit off the misery of others, minor dictators that glory in the display of their ability to be in power over someone.

    1. And some not so minor...
      Boat Guy

    2. TB - Memory fades over time. The picture is no longer sharp but gets blurry over time.

  4. My father in law and his cousin were they only two from his farming community that served in WWII. They were the equivalent of white trash and both joined before being drafted. The local draft board gave deferrals to the big farm families if the right people were compensated. I never heard anything like that at the time, but I guess it was far more common than one would like.

    1. It makes sense in a way, armies need to eat. If all the farmers are in the army, who grows the food?

    2. Later when we had numbers of POW's many of the enlisted who wanted to do so, worked on farms around the camps. Some were befriended by farm families who later sent gifts of food to Germany after the men were repatriated at war's end.
      Boat Guy

    3. My father told me of a former Afrika Korps soldier who had been captured early on. When repatriated he found a job in the supply room with my Dad, who spoke fondly of him. His nickname was Red, no doubt a ginger.

    4. A friend at work told about a farmer he knew that had German POWs working for him harvesting potatoes in the ND Red River Valley. Friday nights, he would load them in his truck and take them into the local small town to have some beers.

  5. That type of architecture is in Castroville, TX. It's an Alsatian community just west of San Antonio. I used to marvel at it when I was working at a jobsite there. Very neat and tidy with the beams and I'm guessing daub and wattle in between. Here I go down the rabbit hole to learn something new.... "lower Saxony home construction from the 18th Century for $100".

    1. That's pretty awesome that you can still see such things.

  6. I, too, was startled at how young Sauer is. But life on a farm ages people, mentally and physically, especially dealing with animals.

    As to corruption and graft, they are everywhere. There was lots related to the US draft boards when they were operating.

    1. Corruption? Graft? In politics?

      I am shocked, shocked I say.

  7. Being smart, being social, learning to learn, becoming numerate, literate, musical, being educated, aquiring power, ... very different things, that many confuse.

  8. With his demonstrated skills and wit, I suspect he will do pretty well in the grim post war Germany.

  9. Since Saxony is in the east, did Sauer go home after the war and stay in the DDR, escape to West Germany or emigrate to the West? Somehow, I can't see him tolerating life in the DDR. I can see him eventually buying a feed store and tractor dealership in the Great Plains.

    1. Those very thoughts have crossed my mind on more than one occasion!

    2. Well, some day... Lord willing and the creek don't rise. Which reminds me of a semi-funy story, but I'll save it for my own place.

    3. I do have some trouble picturing Sauer selling tractors.

  10. Great reading! Two minor quibbles:

    (1) It should be "Diese Jugendlichen", with "n" at the end. Trust me, I'm one of Sauer's compatriots.

    (2) The house pictured is not in Saxony but in Lower Saxony, the former Kingdom of Hanover. There are some 230 miles between the capital of Saxony, Dresden, and the capital of Lower Saxony, Hanover (or Hannover, as the natives put it).

    1. Part (1) - Yup, I dropped the finial "n" - my written German is damned near as sloppy as my spoken German.

      Part (2) - I knew that. Though the post sort of implies that it's in Sachsen and not Niedersachsen, I simply wanted a photo of an old German farm. FWIW, a lot of pigs are raised in Niedersachsen as well.

      For various reasons I still think of Niedersachsen as Hannover.


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