Monday, 16 April 1945

"Battle of Berlin"

Start of the large-scale offensive on Berlin. At the Seelower Heights, 1 million Red Army men stand at the gates of the "Reich Capital". While the Nazi leadership still propagates the "Final Victory" and drags young and old Berliners to the "Volkssturm", German and foreign civilians have to dig trenches and erect barricades. For many forced labourers in the city there is growing hope that the war will end soon. The former French forced labourer Marcel Elola remembers:

"At a certain moment we knew that the Russians would come. Their hunters fired low level shots into the streets in places... Needless to say, the fear of the Berliners has reached its peak. Everything that the Wehrmacht, the SS and the Gestapo put up with during the last five years came back to them like a boomerang. The surviving Germans believed that they would all be shot, tortured or sent to Siberia. All in all, they were not entirely wrong about this foreboding. When the Russians came, some of them respected the laws of war as little as the Germans had respected yours a few years earlier."

"In early April, 1945, explosions occur all over the city. It is the Russian shells that ravage the capital of the Third Reich. No German will admit it to himself. That's not what they're told on the radio. But for better or worse, one has to face the facts at some point. The Red Army is at the gates of Berlin."

"Many people are killed in the streets on their way to work. "Work" is exaggerated. Let's say that they move like robots to the place where they work, if it still exists. The power supply is cut off at ever shorter intervals. One can no longer work."

(Source: Marcel Elola: "I was in Berlin". A French forced labourer in Germany 1943-1945, Berlin: Divers Gens/Edition Berliner Unterwelten, 2005, p. 88f)