One Lousy Bullet

One day Dad was told to go see the Burgermeister of Leuchtenburg. There he was told that he had 24 hours to leave Bavaria and to return to Austria. Our German citizenship had been canceled and in this instant we were declared refugees. Dad was devastated. All we had was in one room, and most of it was junk.

With winter approaching fast and with Mum pregnant by now, we were afraid she would have a mental breakdown. In those days after the war with thousands of refugees seeking help, very little was obtainable. So with only one day to go, Dad gave notice to his boss. He loaded up our hand-drawn cart for our trip. Our trip home started in December 1945.

Terrible winds started coming from the east accompanied by ice and sleet. The roads were iced up and slippery. In this condition, Dad dragged our little cart with my brother totally covered with bedding towards our first destination, the little town of Vohenstraus, 12 kilometers from Leuchtenburg. Mum and I, covered in heavy winter clothing, helped Dad by pushing the little cart. Initially, the first kilometer out of Leuchtenburg was very steep. However, after leaving the village itself, the road leveled out so the pushing and pulling of the cart became a little easier. Slowly our little village started to fade away in the cold foggy winter’s day; glimpses of the castle tower sticking out of the fog, and then the village was out of sight. This is still embedded in my memory today 60 years later. It took 50 years to come back to visit, only to see a different, modern town. The only things that had not changed were the castle and the woods.

Nevertheless, back to our trip. We entered the dark forest between Leuchtenburg and Vohenstraus. Reminders of the fighting between the American forces and the Germans were everywhere: burned out vehicles, tossed uniforms and hastily made graves indicated a fanatic resistance of the Wehrmacht. Believe me, walking through this was like a nightmare and having seen this since I was four years old, and with nine year olds having experienced fighting, this had not made a major impact on me.


Bruno Ehlich

Dad stopped the cart and reminded me of an incident I had forgotten long ago. He must have had this story told by my uncle who visited us just after he came back from the camp earlier in the year, quite hilarious and it went like this; no wonder we lost the war! Early in 1944 my Uncle Walter, a Stuka pilot, came to visit us in Leuchtenburg. He looked very charming in his officer’s uniform with his cap cheerfully pushed back on his head. On his black army belt hung an army issue Luger in a shiny leather holster. We kids loved Uncle Walter. He was funny and adored us children.

 “Uncle Walter,” I said, “I am now helping in school with the loading of ammunition belts and learning to shoot, and helping with digging trenches and in general helping the SS around the castle.” He was very impressed with my work and admired all the badges I had acquired during the last two years. So I asked Uncle Walter if he would be so kind as to let me have a go with the Luger.  Well, Mum flew up in a rage but Uncle Walter said “Of course, Bruno, let’s go out in the woods and I will let you have a shot.” Toward Vohenstraus we marched. I was so proud of my uncle as all the villagers looked at him in his flashy uniform.

Approaching the Black Forest, we walked straight up to a large pine tree where Uncle Walter drew his Luger out of the holster. He passed it up to me and carefully pointed the weapon toward the tree. Pulling back the slide, he told me to pull the trigger. Well, BANG went the weapon. My hand flew up in the air and the rancid smell of burned cordite floated around in the still morning air. Pointing towards the tree, I noticed the white exposed timber of the pine tree, which reminded me now 50 years later of the bullet which missed my brother in the trench and hit the tree. Anyhow, I was so excited about that I asked Uncle Walter if I could have another go. My request was denied, and I was satisfied and thanked him for this experience.

Now to the conclusion of this story. Weeks later the Gestapo knocked on our door, with half the villagers looking on. They had Uncle Walter between them and he looked very upset. The Gestapo asked me if the story my uncle had told them was correct and told me that I would have to accompany them to that tree in the woods to find the spent cartridge to certify his story about him letting me shoot. Confirming this was true, we walked again out towards Vohenstraus. My uncle did not look well at all. He was pale and sweating, hoping to Jesus Christ we would find the cartridge in that moss-covered ground. Upon reaching the forest it didn’t take me very long to find the tree and after searching for nearly 15 minutes we recovered a nice shining 9-millimeter Luger shell, and we had to dig the lead slug out of the tree on top of it. I today cannot remember much of this but Dad told me that German officers on leave took with them one clip of ammunition with their weapon, in this case a nine-bullet clip, and it had to be used ONLY in self-defense, nothing else. Upon coming back from leave, Uncle Walter of course had only eight bullets and no alibi of any self-defense. In other words a German military command not obeyed. Had we not found this shell and the projectile, Uncle Walter would have had a very severe punishment.

In the last year of the war, millions died fighting the Americans, Russians, English and French on German soil, where thousands upon thousands of tons of ammunition was wasted, towns lay in rubble like my beloved Magdeburg or Vienna just two of many. The bloody GESTAPO worried and spent days chasing one lousy bullet. I always say, “No wonder they lost the war,” ha ha, and Thank, God for that!!!

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