As a 15-year-old boy in the capital of Nazi Germany during the final days of the Battle of Berlin in 1945, Guenter Boehm recalls the relief when he realised German soldiers had disappeared and the sound of gunfire had stopped.
“Above all, this feeling that the war was over was wonderful,” Boehm, now 90 years old, told Reuters Television.
On May 8, Germany commemorates the 75th anniversary of what is now officially called the “Day of Liberation” – Nazi Germany’s defeat and the end of World War II in Europe.
“The soldiers, our German soldiers disappeared and no more shots were fired,” said Boehm, remembering the frightening noise of battle, which had included the deafening sound of Red Army multiple rocket launchers and the sight of artillery.
“We knew it would soon be over. Another indication was that the so-called gold pheasants, the [Nazi party] elite dressed in brown, disappeared,” he said. “Either they changed their clothes or their homes. They did not want to be seen.”
The end came fast, he said.
“Between the disappearance of the German soldiers and the appearance of the Soviet soldiers there was maybe half an hour,” said Boehm.
He grew up in eastern Berlin, but moved to the western side of the city before the Berlin Wall, the front line of the Cold War in Europe for nearly three decades, was built in 1961.
Like his parents, Boehm said he never wanted to live through something as terrible as World War II again.
The bloody Battle of Berlin, in which Red Army tanks, artillery and infantry fought forward street by street in April and May 1945, reduced the Nazi capital to rubble.
Despite relief that the fighting and destruction was over, many Germans realised their country was destroyed and feared the arrival of the Soviet Red Army.
“The looting and the rioting was terrible,” said Boehm, adding that his aunt was raped, an uncle had an eye knocked out and their remaining belongings were stolen.
“All that was not nice, but we were so busy surviving we had no time to feel hate,” he said.
“No one expected that we would see 75 years without war, and in fact that’s a gift,” said Boehm.