Gunther’s father was called for service in the German Army. On the day he left he gathered his little family. He kissed each of them in turn and said, “I will come back. Whatever happens, stay together.” Gunther’s mother, Giesla, clung to her husband in tears. He held her and kissed her, and from the door, Giesla and the children watched him until with a wave, he turned into the main street and was gone.
Years of starvation and fear followed; at first under the Germans, and then under Russian occupation when the war ended. Gunther’s village was just a few kilometres from the little village of Lidice where all of the men had been shot by the Germans and the women and children sent to the death camps in reprisal for the assassination of a German officer. The Germans suspected that the assassins were sheltering in the village and they razed it to the ground and cleared it to the bare earth so that no trace of it would remain. They even dug up the bodies from the cemetery and disposed of them.
Gunther’s father did not come back. They heard that he had been killed. The family did not stay together. The girls left one by one, and by the end of the war Gunther was out every day looking for food for his mother. One day he found a half rotten turnip to supplement the awful, mouldy, emental cheese they were surviving on. A Russian soldier hit Gunther in the face with a rifle butt when he caught him near the rubbish tins at the barracks.
That night Giesla bathed Gunther’s bruise by candle light. “We will die if we stay here,” She said. He winced a she dried the abraded skin, “I have a sister in west Germany; your aunt Magda. Life there is better under the British occupation and they have food. I think we must try to get to her.
Gunther felt the bruise tenderly, “But we cannot travel! The Russians guard the roads and we have no way of getting out. We will be shot if they catch us.”
His mother whispered, “One of the ladies at Church told me that there is a way. It would mean waiting for a moonless night. She knows a man who lives in the forest near Lidice,” she hesitated, “At least where Lidice used to be. She will arrange for him to leave a candle in a window. We are to knock there and he will give us directions for a safe route to a railway station. It will be a long walk, particularly at night, but we will be safe and we will have food if we can get to Magda’s”