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31 Minutes

By Fritz Gluckstein

Berlin fall 1944, the Americans and British are approaching the Rhine, and the Russians are on German soil. Our group of Jewish husbands and sons of mixed marriages was doing its usual work, demolishing ruins and cleaning up after air raids, when suddenly we were “detached to special duty.” The special duty meant laying the foundation of a building complex for a “new Berlin” to be completed after the final victory. Actually this was not an unwelcome change, since for once we were building rather than tearing down. But after two weeks our building experience came to a permanent end -- we were detached again; this time to the southern outskirts of the city to set up antitank obstacles protecting a bridge over the Teltow canal.

At the new work site we were greeted by a large sign; it read “An die Arbeit Schanzer, Tod dem Soviet Panzer,” in English meaning something like, “On to work, no shirking; death to the Soviet Panzers lurking.” We dug trenches and sank iron beams halfway into the ground in a 45-degree angle. About midnight we were loaded into a moving van and transported to a social hall for some soup. An hour later we had the almost nightly air raid warning and marched to a nearby shelter. We did not stay very long; this time the bombs fell into the northern part of the city. At noon the next day we were told that enough had been accomplished to stop the Russian tanks.

Before leaving we looked at our handiwork and wondered how long it would hold up the tanks -- 31 minutes we decided. The tanks would come to the obstacles, stop, their crews would laugh for 30 minutes and then it would take them one minutes to get through. Actually that is probably pretty close to what happened. Marshal Koniev’s forces entered the city so fast that no effective resistance could be mounted, and fanatic Nazis had no time “to get” the remaining Jews. I feel that my fellow-workers and I had a tiny part in the liberation of Berlin -- we did not do a very good job with those antitank obstacles.

©2002, Fritz Gluckstein. The text, images, and audio and video clips on this website are available for limited non-commercial, educational, and personal use only, or for fair use as defined in the United States copyright laws.