"After this exhausting day we returned to our accommodation, ate from the heart and then fell into a night's sleep. The next day the Russians came back and told us that they were looking for volunteers to fight against the Nazis. After all we had known about this army ... none of us volunteered. This was certainly the reason why the Soviets decided to prepare our departure. During the day, guards were posted at all exits. Our departure for the Soviet Union was about to happen, but no one was aware of it. Had we known what to expect, many of us would certainly have made our way into the fields at night."
(Memories of the French forced labourer Marcel Elola)
Marcel Elola is 21 years old when he is captured by the French police in Paris in March 1943 and handed over to the German occupying forces. As a forced labourer, he is first brought to Oranienburg, but he is lucky: as a trained butcher, he finds accommodation in a private business in Berlin-Schöneberg. Later he is assigned to an SS supply company, where he barely survives a bomb attack. Due to his work in the food supply, Elola has access to important food, which ensures his survival. Other forced labourers accuse him of collaboration with the Germans. After heavy bomb attacks, which destroy the camp, Elola can move into an apartment in the city together with other internees.
In mid-April 1945, Marcel Elola experiences the continuous bombardment of Berlin by the Allies at the Alexander Platz underground station. Hundreds of people seek protection on the platforms of the Berlin tunnel system. Here Elola observes how units of the SS and the field gendarmerie continuously check papers and lead deserters into the underground tunnel to be shot. Shortly thereafter, all "foreigners" have to leave the station and are led by armed SS units as a marching column through the city centre towards the west. Only when the guards run away the next morning does Elola realize that the Red Army is not far away. In a village just before Nauen he experiences the liberation: "Around 6 pm in the evening the Soviet flag with hammer and sickle is hoisted in the middle of the courtyard. With what is at hand, we make a French flag. The soldiers agree after a long back and forth to hoist it next to the Russian flag. A Pole must translate."
The Red Army soldiers now use Elola and the others to level an airfield in a nearby field. The work is hard and exhausting. A few days later, they're put on trucks. Bumper to bumper they drive in a long train towards the east. On the loading platforms sit Italians, Dutchmen, Serbs, Poles and some Frenchmen. Also former Soviet prisoners of war are among them. When after 1,200 km the convoy reaches a camp just before Odessa, Elola decides to flee. Together with two Dutchmen and two Germans he manages to bypass the guards. They can persuade the German driver of a supply truck to take the group westwards. On the morning of 19 May 1945 they reach Fürstenwalde. Elola returns to Berlin to find a way back to his home from there. On June 6, 1945, he reaches the Gare de l'Est station in Paris. "Later," Elola recalls, "we learned that the other French who did not flee the Odessa camp did not return from the USSR until many years later."
(Marcel Elola: "I was in Berlin". A French forced labourer in Germany 1943-1945, Berlin: Divers Gens/Edition Berliner Unterwelten, 2005, p. 96)