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fighting at Utah was much easier for My parents had decided not to run rest of us to be safe. One morning, as the Allies, and German positions were from the Russians and they were some men were walking back from being eliminated rather quickly. Bodo going to stay at their home. She either prayer they were killed by gunfire." ,, c~ joined up with retreating troops and found, or was given, the letter I had So what is the sense of that. I moved back inland, for a distance, to didn't pray, and I was alive; and they take up defensive positions, had prayed, and they were dead. War "For about three weeks, we fought written to them when I was captured, is a crazy thing, I think." back and forth in the hedgerows. The She somehow found where I was,We concluded our interview on Allies would push us back and then maybe it was the Red Cross again, and that note. We shook hands with Bodo occupying armies. This meant that another segment of the population Erna (Mother), Gertrude (sister), Bodo, Otto (Father), Eva (sister). "Wars are started by the Big Shots." would do everything possible to make Bodo Steinke was born Nov. 7, the German Army want to leave; and 1925, in Schonaich, Germany, a small this meant there were Latvians who farming community in East Prussia. engaged in all sorts of sabotage. The worldwide depression of the 30's Bodo would find himself on night pa- didn't have much effect on the farm- trols along railroad lines and roads, ers of East Prussia and Bodo de- both of which were used to transport scribed their rural life there as troops and war materiel to the front. "comfortable." "We farmed 180 acres He would be shot at and he would and we had good machinery. We shoot back. He was 17 years old. " would have been considered to be a After four months of partisan duty family that was well off." in Latvia, Bodo's unit was transferred Bodo's school was three miles from to Byelorussia, and, there, he was as- his farm and he walked to and from signed to be the gunner of a machine school every day. "In the winter I gun team. Their duty was to guard could skate or ski to school. There supply lines against partisan attacks. Byelorussia, like Latvia. had been was a fiver that ran by our farm and subjected to severe rule under Stalin's towards our school, so when it froze Communist rule. The Byelorussians, over I could use that as my road, using skates or skis, depending on how too, wanted their own country and much snow had fallen." they wanted it to be free of occupation "We were an honest, hard-working forces; and Byelorussia, during people. The laws were very clear and WWII, had the largest partisan organ- strict. You could leave a suitcase by ization the German Army would face the side of the road and no one would during the war. "The citizens were ever take it. This was a good thing in nice to us there. They invited us to stay in their homes at night and we ap- the way Germany was before the war. preciated it. There was a lot of de- It was the way it should be for people living together." struction from the war. Buildings In 1937, when Bodo reached the were torn apart, but for those that still age of 12, he joined the Hitler Youth. had homes, they invited us to stay. There was no choice in the matter. They didn't have much in their National law, enacted in December of homes, though. The Russians took 1936, decreed mandatory service in whatever they wanted from the Byelorussians and they didn't leave the organization for all German much behind. Most homes didn't youngsters beginning at age 10. It even have beds left in them." didn't matter if parents objected to their children being forced to join the On one occasion, while providing Hitler Youth. The law said they must defense for a supply train, it was at- join, and so they did. tacked by two Russian aircraft. "The "The youth program filled out Sat- two planes strafed us as we were urday; there was no school on Satur- moving. We shot down one and the day, so we were expected to attend other got away. It didn't make any youth programs. We played games difference because we couldn't move like soccer and tug-of-war with a anyway. They had shot up the loco- rope. There were physical exercises motive and the boilers lost all steam. to keep us fit, and, of course things We weren't going anywhere soon." Fighting partisans was bitter war- like marching and saluting. We didn't fare. "There was this village, I can't know, at first, that we were being pre- remember the name of it, and we sent pared for war, but later on we did. We realized this later when the leaders a company of 50 men in there to see if would organize 'war games', with there were any partisans there. There was a lot of fighting and we could two sides, and we would maneuver hear the shooting. We could tell it against each other. If one side 'cap- was very hard going in there. Later, tured' someone from the other side, after the fighting stopped and there they were 'eliminated'. They had to take their badge off and they were out was no more shooting, we went in to of the game. This continued until one see what had happened. All 50 of our side or the other 'won' the 'battle'." men had been killed. The dead Ger- Real war began in September of roans had been mutilated by the patti- 1939 with the German invasion of sans. It was a terrible thing to see." Poland. Bodo was 14 at the time and "When these things happened, the didn't give much thought to the war SS would retaliate by burning the en- at first. "It would be over soon and tire village down to the ground. This was not good either because the peo- everything would return to normal, pie who lived there were just ordinary But in the next year, 1940, the war spread to the west into France and people; they weren't partisans at all." Even now, 65 years later, Bodo was then I thought to myself that one day reluctant to talk much about such ex- I would be in the Army and perhaps fighting somewhere." periences. Several times during the In 1941 war with Russia broke out interview he fought back tears, his and Bodo knew, for sure, he would be voice thick with emotion. "You S " "" ' know", he atd, it s the big shots that in the Army one day. That day oc- start wars. After a war begins, it's the curred in early 1942, when, at the age little guys who have to do the fight- of 16, he was sent to Lithuania as a draftee in the working Army. "in the ing. If the big shots had to do the working Army we didn't do any fight- fighting, there wouldn't be any wars. ing. I dug emplacements for anti-air- My father told me 'If you put all the craft batteries and we fixed roads by big shots in a bag and hit the bag with filling in bomb and artillery craters, a stick, you would always hit the fight one because all of them are the ones My weapon was a spade." In the fall of 1942, Bodo reached who start wars'." 17 years of age and was transferred "Artillery fire was the worst. It from the working Army to the regular would start, the shells falling, away Army. He was sent to Jelgava, Latvia, from us at first. Then it would slowly creep up to where we were, and, when where his unit was given the assign- they found our range, the shells kept ment of guarding supply lines against falling all around us. We would jump disruption by partisan groups operat- ing in the area. Latvia was a country in a hole and just hope a shell would- of contrasts for members of the Ger- n't find us. I was nervous at first; ac- man Army. Communist rule in tually, scared. An old veteran gave Latvia, previous to the German inva- me a cigarette and said, 'Here, take sion, had been harsh and the Latvian this. You will feel better.' I didn't smoke then, but I learned how in that people despised the Russians. At first, the Germans were greeted as libera- trench. After a few times of artillery tors, and, in some respects, were still shelling it wasn't so bad any more." Bodo was wounded twice in Russia. considered as such by segments of the The second time, in the spring of Latvian population. But, it still re- mained Latvia and Latvians wanted 1943 near Minsk in Byelorussia, he took shrapnel from an artillery shell their native soil to themselves, not to and was sent back to a hospital near we would counter-attack and some- Berlin. He spent several months re- times even gain some ground back. cuperating there and life was more normal for him. "The bombing from But they were too strong for us, and, the Allies had begun, but it wasn't too eventually, we kept retreating to take bad, yet. Our air force, the Luftwaffe, up another defensive position. I was was able to protect Berlin, and, of young. For the first few days, I was course, we had anti-aircraft defenses scared, but after a while, it became everywhere." just daily living and you hoped for the In November-December 1943, the best." bombing of Berlin intensified, and, by At the end of August, Bodo was in mid-December, over a quarter of the vicinity of Falise, where retreating Berlin's living structures were de- German units of the Seventh Army stroyed. Soon, Berlin and other cities were surrounded by the advancing A1- would be subjected to around-the- lies. The carnage at Falise would be clock bombing campaigns, the British Hitler's worst defeat since Stalingrad. bombing at night, and the Americans Ten thousand German soldiers died during the day. Les Kutil, Peter there, and another 50,000 were cap- Hansen, Vince Parker, Victor Carlson, tured. General Eisenhower, after vis- and Dwight Olson would all fly mis- iting the battlefield there, described sions over Berlin, at least once. the scene in these words: ""It was lit- About this time, Bodo was declared " erary impossible to walk for hundreds fit for combat and sent, not back to of yards at a time, stepping on nothing but dead and decaying flesh." Russia, but this time to France. "As it "We had waded across a river to was, I was the only one from my com- pany who was sent to France. I didn't the other side to get some rest," Bodo go back to join my old outfit and I remembered: But then, they gave us never saw anyone from my old com- orders to go back to the other side puny again. The fighting in Russia again to give cover to retreating SS was terrible and I don't know if any units. I thought that would be the end of them survived the war; I never for me because the Allies were very heard from them. I know that if Ger- close now. Besides that, we didn't man soldiers were captured in Russia, think much of the SS. We did all the they were either shot or sent to work fighting and they got all the glory be- camps in Siberia to work. I guess I cause they were Hitler's favorites. I was lucky to be wounded and sent to never had any use for them." France instead." It turned out, that crossing the river At first, Bodo was sent to Calais, was the end for Bodo. "We set our France. Calais was considered to be machine gun down and got ready for the logical invasion point by some, another fight. My second gunner, be- but not all, of the German high com- hind me, was shot in the head and fell. mand. The distance across the chan- He was a good man, a boy, actually, nel from England to France was the and it made me sad. Then some shortest route at just 26 miles. Some- Americans came toward me. I was thing new was happening in Calais laying there and I knew it was over. I and the men gradually learned the de- could have done some shooting, but I tails from rumors and sketchy reports, didn't. An American soldier pointed A new weapon, the V-1 buzz bomb, a rifle at my head and said something was being brought into the area and it to me, I didn't know what he said, but would soon be used against the I raised my hands and surrendered. British Isles. Perhaps it would end the He could have shot me right there, but war and they could all go home. he didn't." During the day, Bodo was either "I can still see that place in my on guard duty or sent to work with mind today. There was a dam on the others to build beach defenses or lay river and a low hill that we came mines. "It was easy there at Calais. down to cross the river. There were There was no fighting, and the citi- trees and bushes and it was quite zens were at least somewhat friendly, beautiful there, actually. It would It wasn't like in Russia where you have been a better place to die than so were in danger all of the time." At many other places I was. But my luck night, Bodo could see the English held out and that soldier didn't shoot anti-aircraft batteries firing at German me." aircraft patrolling the English Chan- "They took us back a ways. There nel, making flashes in the night sky were five of us and they took our like lightning in the distance as a watches and rings right away. They storm approaches, put all five of us on the back of a tank, In early June, 1944, Corporalw!~ich then drove towards the rear. I Steinke was sent to the Cotentin stitl had two hand grenades and my Peninsula near a town named St. Ger- pistol under my jacket. The cupola of the tank was open and I could have main. The French called this area Normandy. "I got there just in time dropped the grenades in there, but I for the invasion", Bodo said with a didn't. We were just fed up withit all. hint of irony. "I wasn't there very We were tired of war and what would long and one night it snowed." He it have proved, anyways. Besides paused for effect, while he let the that, I owed my life already to one word 'snow' play with the inter- American who could have shot me viewer's mind, both knowing full well when I was captured." that it was June. He grinned and said, "When we got back to the rear and "Parachutes ! They were like snow got off the tank, I used what English I falling everywhere!" had and gestured to an officer to come "Our officer told us not to shoot over. I showed him the grenades and when they were in the air. It was pistol and he took them off me right against the rules of war. I think in away. Soon after that I thought again some places we did shoot at the para- it was going to be over for me. chutes when they were in the air, but "There was a concrete wall, maybe we didn't. War is crazy and you fight six feet tail, and they lined us up for your life and so maybe that is why against it. They searched us again and some shot at the men in the air, but we took whatever else we had. We could didn't. When they were on the see, off to the side, there was a young ground, finally, then we could shoot; soldier fiddling with a machine gun. I and we did." thought for myself, 'now it was over'. "In all the confusion of the night, I remember thinking, 'At least I won't we didn't believe this was the inva- have to die alone.'" The Americans didn't shoot Bodo sion. But just to be safe, we were pulled off the line and sent to the and the other men, but instead, took coast, which was a few miles away, to them to a prisoner area surrounded by take up defensive positions in bunkers barbed wire. "There, they put us in and trenches." with maybe three or 400 others. It "The next morning, we got up was very cramped and hard to find a early before the sun and waited, place to lie down. Each day, they gave When we could finally see out, the us cans of Spam and some biscuits, second gunner in my machine gunwhich we shared among ourselves. squad said, 'Look! How can they in- We had all the water we wanted. The vade? Look at all our ships!' Well, water was so loaded with chlorine it pretty soon we knew it wasn't our didn't taste good, but we drank it. It ships because they started bombard- was hot that August and we had no ing us. The bombardment was terri- roof for shade, so we needed water. ble beyond belief and it seemed it After two weeks, Bodo and the rest would never stop and we would all be x~,ere transferred to England where killed. But then it stopped, and we they remained prisoners until 1948. could see the landing craft coming to "Some they let go right after the war shore." was over and some, like me, they kept. It was June 6, 1944. Bodo was 18 I didn't know why we couldn't go years old and he was on the heights home until later. The reason was, I above a beach the Allies calledhad no home. The Russians had in- 'Utah'. Charlie Jones was with the vaded East Prussia and took it all 29th Division on the next beach over, for themselves as a price for the war the one called 'Omaha'. Germany started with them. Now my " "I could watch the Americans home place was owned by Poland; it come ashore in their landing craft and wasn't Germany anymore." see the ramp drop and the men rush "In England, we weren't really prisoners, but yet we were. They had out onto the beach. They were brave us do farm work and some fix-up proj- men to do that, but I think they were as scared as I was." ects. They didn't pay us anything, but The German defenses at Utah were it wasn't all bad. The farmers would not as formidable as they were at feed us well and they were nice to us. Omaha and there were fewer soldiers, We even stayed at their homes over as well. In comparison to Omaha, the nigh~ to work early the next day." wrote a letter home to my par- ents to tell them where I was, but I never got an answer. This, the Inter- national Red Cross arranged for me after I was captured, but I never heard back." "Then one day in England, it was 1946, I got a letter from a neighbor of ours in East Prussia. Her name was Gertrude Wolff. She wasn't in Prus- sia anymore; she had fled before the Russians got there. But before she left, she went to my parents' house to tell them her family was going to leave before the Russians got there. wrote me this letter I was now hold- by the entrance to his home in the ing." kitchen. Just over his shoulder, stuck "In that letter, she told me that my to the side of the refrigerator was a mother, my father, my sister Eva, and 4X6 placard. It displayed an Ameri- my sister Gertrude's nine year-old son can flag waving in the" wind and on it were all gone. The Russians came to were written the words, Schonaich and took everything. They PRAY FOR OUR TROOPS took my family out in the yard and Bodo was in his new country. The shot them all. My sister, Gertrude, small sign on his refrigerator says all maybe she was not home right then, that needs to be said about Bodo. This so she got away. Mrs. Wolff also said writer can add no more. that the farm, which once belonged to We can, however, add one more my family, now belonged to Poland." thought to Bodo's story. In the mid- The second part of Bodo Steinke's dle of all the fighting and killing, an odyssey begins on December 5, 1948, American soldier put a rifle to Bodo's when he was released from contain- head and told him to surrender. The ment in England and repatriated to his American could have pulled the trig- home country. He was sent to Ams- ger and gone on with the rest of his terdam where he was officially dis- day, perhaps not giving it another charged from the German Army. thought. But he didn't pull the trigger. "They gave me $20 and sent me on It was an act of kindness in the midst my way. That was it. I made my way of a crazy war. The name of that sol- to Wilhemshaven, where I found my dier remains unknown, but what he friend, Felix Rangosch, who I met in did, or didn't do that day, made a pro- prison in England. I had been sleep- found difference to at least one fam- ing in the streets for two weeks until I fly. And Bodo doesn't have to wonder found him. He took me in and gave how it would have been different if he me a bed in his home and food to eat." had been killed. "To earn money, I did odd jobs for Bodo lost Elfriede to cancer in anyone who would hire me. For a 1989. A few years later, he met Beat- time, I worked with some other fel- rice at a dance in Montevideo. They lows scavenging steel from military were married in 1995. In 2002, Bodo concrete bunkers that were built dur- and Beatrice returned to Germany. ing the war. We would hammer con- They spent time with Felix Rangosch, crete away and pull out the steel from his old friend in Wilhelmshaven, and the walls which were sometimes six then went to East Prussia to see his old feet thick." home. "Then one night, I went to a dance, "I knew my family had been buried and, there, I met my first wife. Her in a mass grave, so I wouldn't be able name was Elfriede Koziot. Then, in to find them there, but I wanted to see the middle of everything, we got mar- my grandparents' grave again and ried." Bodo laughed at his insider knew they were buried in the ceme- joke. "You see, we were married June tery in Schonaich. When we got there, 15, 1950. This was the middle of the the farm was gone. There wasn't even month in the middle of the year in the a fence post left. The school, where I middle of the century!" My sister, went, was still there and our church Gertrude, came from East Germany to was, too. When we got to my grand- be with us when we got married, parents' gravesite, it was all weeds When it was time for her to go back, I now and not cared for. The stones asked her not to go, but she had a new were tipped over and some were bro- life there and a family, so she went ken. I suppose that is because it is back. I never saw her again." now Poland and the people buried "But now, I was married and I there are Germans. "We were told the location of the mass grave where my mother, father, sister, and nephew were buried, and we went there. Only a depression in the ground marked the place where all those people had been buried." Neal and Leandra to be in Dawson (Prison friends: Bodo seated far Dawson-Boyd Arts Association right) presents singers/songwriters Neal Hag- berg and Leandra Peak on Saturday, couldn't earn enough money scaveng- Oct. 2 at Memorial Auditorium in ing to support a wife, so I had to do Dawson at 7:30 p.m. Neal and Leandra something. When I was young, I al- will perform as part of the Upper Min- ways wanted to go to America. I don't nesota River Art Crawl Weekend which takes place in five counties of know for sure why, but that was some- western Minnesota. thing I wanted to do early on. So I ap- plied for immigration for Elfriede and Neal and Leandra are no strangers myself and they accepted us right to Minnesota music lovers. Hagberg is away. I think this was because I had a native of Montevideo; they met while an uncle in Twin Brooks, South attending aMinnesotacollegeandtheir popularity with Minnesota public radio Dakota, and he said he would sponsor audiences made them frequent "Morn- me. He was my mother's brother and ing Show" performers. Their remark- his name was Max Goeke. He had come to America in 1928. He paid for able vocal blend and "between songs" everything for Elfrieda and me to stories connect with audiences in a way come to America. This was in 1952." that keeps people returning to their "I worked on Uncle Max's farm concerts again and again. and then moved to Bellingham where Hagberg was recently awarded a my other uncle, Art Goeke, lived. I McKnight Composition Fellowship, worked for George Wentland on his acknowledging artistic excellence in farm there in Bellingham. In 1960, I the field of composition. Neal and Le- rented a farm for me and Elfrieda to andra were awarded a McKnight Per- live and work on. Then I was able to forming Artists Fellowship in 2003, so borrow enough money to pay down this award makes Neal one of only a on thefarm and we bought it. We had few people who have received McK- a good life there and raised seven chil- night awards in two different cate- dren together." gories. Leandra will soon release a solo lullaby CD and the duo will release At first, in Bellingham, there was some resentment towards Bodo by the their 14th CD of original material this veterans there who served in the winter. Prior to the concert, the Arts Asso- American Army. "It was because I ciation will hold a silent auction was in the German Army and maybe fundraiser in the lobby with donations because of my accent. I could speak English okay, but there were words I of artwork, handmade items and didn't know, so that may be part of it, unique experiences. For a complete too. As years passed, the resentment listing of donations, visit the website at went away. In talking with the The concert is sponsored by Peggy Bellingham veterans later on, we Crosby and David Pederson and is also found out that we were in the same area at the same time in France. When possible in part by a grant from the we would talk to each other we would Southwest Minnesota Arts and Hu- manities Council (SMAHC) with say that we were doing what we had funds appropriated by the Minnesota to do to serve our country. It wasn't easy to say, but I told them, that at the Arts and Cultural Heritage fund as ap- propriated by the Minnesota State Leg- time, I would have shot at them. They islature with money from the vote of said they would have done the same the people of Minnesota on Nov. 4, to me. That's just the way it was 2008. then." In 1986, the farm crisis in America For more information or to order reached the Steinke home and Bodo tickets, contact the box office at and Elfrieda lost their farm to credi- 320.769-2955 Ext. 246. tors. "So now I have lost two farms, one in each of my home countries, MEEL thoughts Germany and America. This is the way it is and I can't change it." fOil" life Bodo didn't complain. It was what had happened, and that was that. He By Carol Karels couldn't change it, and, he would go Have you wondered how important on with his life as he had always done is it to vote pro-life and after doing so before, has it made a difference? On Thurs- At the end of the interview, Bodo day, Oct. 7 at 7 p.m. at the Community asked himself, more than the inter- Center a speaker will be here from MN viewer, "I wonder what would have Citizen's Concerned for Life and will happened if I had been killed in the give insight to their work with the Leg- war. I mean, how things would be dif- islature. ferent now? Well, certainly we How do we convince young people wouldn't be sitting here talking about that sex is for marriage but if they do my war years," he laughed, get pregnant they can get help during He continued, "You know, in the pregnancy and if they are too France, the battles would always start young to raise a child there are so in the morning. So the men who were many couples out there trying to adopt religious would go back, maybe 200 and the mother is able to choose who yards, and pray with the chaplain, will raise her baby? See you on Thurs- They prayed for themselves and the day at the Community Center. i i !i Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2010 INDEPENDENT Page 7