Berlin’s Hollow Homes

On the 1st of November 1941 Max, Judith and their remaining son Manfred were notified by letter of their imminent evacuation to the east. Even though they had been given notice of their departure date, they made no attempt to go into hiding. Two weeks later after being robbed of their home and all assets and belongings they found themselves crammed in the Große Hamburger Straße reception centre with countless others, all in the same predicament, awaiting deportation to the unknown.

Manfred was desperate to say goodbye to his new girlfriend, Helene Lohse. Ever the romantic, he found new love in an older woman. Helene, a Jew was eighteen years his senior who lived with her sixty one year old mother in nearby Mommsenstraße. 

Manfred pleaded with the head SS man at Große Hamburger Straße for permission to leave for a short time. He promised on his Prussian honour to return and re-join his parents; remarkably the SS man let him go. Manfred found Helene and her mother Lucie who had been evicted from their home and found refuge with their neighbours, the Swiss family Stückgold. After bidding Helene and Lucie farewell he returned to Große Hamburger Straße as promised.

On the 14th of November 1941 a four-day odyssey began with being crammed with over 1,000 others into old third class railway carriages as part of Welle Vthe fifth wave.Many died in transit, and their bodies were thrown from the train at each stop all the way to their final destination, the Minsk Ghetto.

The Wehrmacht took the Russian city of Minsk in June 1941 as they invaded Russia during Operation Barbarossa. The city had a population of around 140,000, half of whom were Jews. Within a couple of months the Nazis had murdered 20,000 Jews, and the remainder were forced into the Minsk Ghetto.

In November that year a second ghetto was created for Jews deported from the west. This became known as the Hamburg Ghetto, as its first inhabitants were Jews deported from Hamburg. Those from Welle V who survived the harrowing journey from Berlin were marched into the Hamburg Ghettoto begin a live of slavery and inhumanity. Of those 1,000 Jews on the Welle V list, just four were known to have survived. Manfred was one of them.

The ghetto was a walled off section of the city with its inhabitants imprisoned in extremely poor conditions, living on top of one another with very little food and virtually no medical supplies. The Jews worked in German run factories and working parties where mass murder was an everyday occurrence. One example happened on the 2nd of March 1942. Members of the SS lured the children from the ghetto nursery with sweets into in a large pit, which became their final resting place.

The Alexander family suffered heavily with the extreme cold and a lack of food, barely subsisting on bread and water and sometimes a few morsels of potato peel, which at the time was like caviar to them. The inhabitants were compelled to build large fires to warm the frozen ground enough for graves to be dug for the dead.

Max was put to work in the ghetto as a tailor making Wehrmacht uniforms, a little different from the work he performed for the Emperor, just a few years earlier. Manfred’s trade skills saw him working outside the ghetto’s walls repairing the war damaged railway station and tracks. In this role a German gentile railway overseer, Arnold Ortmann, supervised him. Arnold supplemented Manfred’s starvation rations with additional food and took him under his wing.

After three to four months Arnold took Manfred aside to warn him that he had heard that there was to be a mass killing of the ghetto’s Jews and that he should save his own life. With much trepidation Manfred took advantage of Arnold’s advice and assistance and began his story of chutzpah and a lesson in survival against all odds. As this story begins, the story of his parents, Max and Judith ends in Minsk.

The Cops, not just a job

That month of June, 1999 was busy, not just the demands from the DPP for a half a dozen of my cases sitting in the court list, but also from new jobs which continued to waltz through the door. One bloke was charged with a sexual assault while another wore seven charges relating to a different sexual assault. A third bloke was charged with Break Enter and Steal and yet another for abduction and assault. My plate was full, but there was always space for more.

During this busy period, on a warm June day I returned to the station in the afternoon to witness a distressed woman excitedly and rapidly talking to the station officer, Constable Kleermaker.

“There is a very drunk man across the road at the bottle shop. He is about to drive his car to the school to pick up a child,” she exclaimed.

“Thank you, I’ll pass that on,” replied the bored constable.

“It’s happening now, he is going to drive now,” she implored.

“It’s OK, somebody will look after it,” said the Constable as he walked away.

It looked to me that Kleermaker was about to place the job into the system, a delay of a couple of minutes before being broadcast to our car crew. That car crew was actually sitting in the next room listening to the exchange at the counter. It was getting close to knock off time and interest was minimal.

In a minute this bloke would be long gone: pissed or not he needed to be looked at. The woman left the station with me right behind her.  She stopped to watch the man across the street drive out of the bottle shop. I hopped into my unmarked car parked out the front and after a U-turn, I was soon behind the suspected drunken driver. With my sirens wailing, I had him stopped within half a block.

As I approached the suspect car, the driver slid out and advanced towards me. I ran my eyes over him, taking in his demeanour and leering smile, I quickly came to the conclusion that I was on the money. He was in the pissed as a lizard category.

“Gidday, I’m Trevor Carroll from the cops, I’ve been told that you might be driving while a bit under the weather,” I said.

A much younger woman with her head pivoted around looking towards me sat in the front passenger seat; it didn’t take Einstein to work out that she also fell into the pissed as a lizard category.

“Hello, I’m Saul Goodman. I’m a solicitor from Newcastle,” said the drunk.

My day suddenly got better, I get to lock up a bottom-feeding solicitor. I asked for his driver’s licence and found that he was indeed Saul Goodman from Newcastle. Before I can get my jollies off by locking up this solicitor, there was a need for him to undergo a roadside breath test. Seeing that I was a detective in a detective’s car and not equipped for PCA’s I got onto my radio and called for a car for a roadside-breath-test.

While we waited the drunken young lady got out of the car and complained that she had to pick up her kids from school. It didn’t take a detective to work out that these two had been doing the horizontal tango all afternoon and the chore with the kids had interrupted the party.

“Love, this car isn’t going anywhere and I won’t be picking up any kids. Saul will be coming with me. You will have to hoof it and collect the kids yourself,” I said.

The young woman came around the side of the car revealing that she was shoeless as well as clueless. The bumps and valleys of her body revealed that she only wore a thin dress, obviously dressing in a hurry. Soon enough she was afoot in the direction of the town’s school, some five hundred metres distant.

She had only just left us when the police truck turned up, driven by Kleermaker who handed me a roadside breath test device.

“Don’t you want to do it?” I said.

“You want to be a hero, he’s all yours,” he responded.

After my new mate Saul Goodman blew, I gave him the good news (for me) that he was well into the high range of PCA. He was put into the back of the truck for the short ride to the station. The last thing I wanted was for him to chunder in my car.

On my way back to the station I spotted the excited woman seated behind the wheel of a parked car, closely monitoring the results of her handiwork.

At the station, the car crew was still uninterested. However Senior Constable Wheelbarrow had little choice. As the BAS operator he had to put Saul through his breath analysis.

“If he wants to catch them, he’s gonna have to skin them as well.” I heard one of the GDs say to another. I fully understood that they had their noses out of joint and I would have to do their job for them.

Saul underwent his breath analysis and was found to be five times the legal limit. I processed him for the offence of driving with a high range PCA before releasing him on bail.

Saul was dealt with quietly at Forster on a hearing day, a day that was not reported by the local press.

Crossing Continents with Top Deck

After a couple of days living the life of riley in the ancient Persian capital, with the buses serviced and fresh stocks of food and water, we started the 1,200 kilometre trek to Zahedan. Without good road maps or trip notes from predecessors, we had no inkling of what lay ahead. A low bridge, tunnel or any other obstacle that impeded our 4.1 metre height would thwart our plans in a big way. The first stretch to the Pakistani border was on an immaculate sealed road surrounded by a bleak, semi-arid desert. Iran’s border facility was but a few buildings scattered on either side of the road, each housing a different department – the customs office, passport control, security section and the boss’s office and home. Scattered around them about were a graveyard of dead vehicles, trucks, cars, campervans and buses, abandoned due to the arrest of their occupants, breakdowns or inadequate papers.

The three buses arrived together, this large group could either antagonise them or they could see the benefit  of a bulk processing. Our challenge was to find the relevant office, get our documents approved and stamped and onto the next and so on in the correct order and without upsetting the little corporals. We started badly. Accompanied by Ian, I waltzed in with a big smile and an armload of passports, only to have the bloke turn his back and wave us away. By trial and error, we finally got things done, armed with passport stamps, inspection approvals and other documentation we drove to the barrier leading to Pakistan. The guard at the boom-gate checked our documents. It was obvious that he had no idea what he was looking at, but appeared very important by taking as long as possible.

We congratulated ourselves on making it through without giving into baksheesh, although the hints had come thick and fast. The rule was to hold out as long as possible and if all else failed – drop a little baksheesh. Give it too early and they’ll bleed you dry.

The Pakistani side was also primitive but more organised with remnants of their British heritage. We breezed through in under an hour and headed east over a road surface that was so rough it forced us to stop just on dark at the metropolis of Nokundi.

The town was in pitch darkness – no streetlights, only dim lanterns emitting minuscule light from some of the mud huts. In comparison, our inside lights stood out like downtown Las Vegas. We positioned ourselves together next to the highway and close to some mud buildings that turned out to be shops – downtown Nokundi. Camping here was a worry, however to camp in the open desert would have been more of a worry and driving on this, the roughest of roads was not an option.

The Afghan border and its rebel tribesmen were less than a 100 kilometres to our north, a people who didn’t recognise national borders anyway. Loxley wandered off to a café of sorts and was joined by a few of the more eager punters, keen to sample some of the local culture. The remainder kept to the buses, a little fearful of the spooky town.

As dawn broke the buses fired up. While they ticked over, Loxley dragged me over to his favourite café for a look – to me – just a mud-brick hole in the ground. The early morning light revealed what the night had hidden… a collection of low roofed mud huts with open drains that stunk, quite obviously raw sewage. The streets, lanes or more appropriately alleys, were a maze that meandered aimlessly around the mud buildings and their compounds. I was glad we were on our way and thankfully everybody was accounted for.

The next 500 kilometres was a nightmare. At times, the desert surface provided a smoother run than the patched, potholed and sometimes non-existent highway.

“Trevor, what are all the neat piles of rocks for?” A happier Lyn asked, as she pointed at little rock pyramids stacked neatly on both sides of the road every 20 metres or so. “This is a new tourist route, the Pakistanis are making the desert tidy for us,” I replied.

Of course I had no idea what they were for, but it was the best that came to mind at that moment. In hindsight, I guess they were makeshift guideposts to assist drivers to keep track of the road itself. We were lucky to average 30 kilometres an hour and after six hours of bone-rattling progress we stopped in the middle of nowhere for lunch. It was impossible to boil water or prepare meals while on the move, as was our usual practice. Although we were isolated in the desert, with the heat bearing down on us, the brief lunch stop was a pleasant respite from the constant juddering.