At the very time that Hitler had decided to commit suicide, he ordered the formation of a whole division of sixteen-year-olds and threw them as cannon fodder under the name SS Division Nibelungen in the way of the American Army at the River Danube. One of the youngsters, one amongst thousands, was Söhnker's go-between. Because of the military training he had been given at Sonthofen, he was put in charge of a group of Bavarian farm boys who had hardly held a rifle in their lives. One early morning their leader was given word about an American reconnaissance patrol walking by a clearing in the forest, approaching Kruger and his group. The order was to eliminate them. No prisoner was to be taken.

The Sonthofener ordered his soldiers to hide in the undergrowth, to train their rifles at the unsuspecting, but nobody was to fire a shot until the burst from the gun of their leader could be heard.

The Americans walked into the trap, and Kruger had them in his sight. One by one they made their way close by. One by one Kruger saw their faces. And one by one he let them go. The days before, when the Americans had shot at him, they had been far away, figures in a landscape, and he had fired back, not thinking twice.

But that was then. And this was now. This was seeing faces. Seeing eyes. Seeing lips. His finger was on the trigger. But he could not shoot. And… because he didn’t, no one did. The patrol went by, made their way behind the German lines, got into a firefight, causing casualties on both sides.

The disobedient soldier was brought into a dusty barn for court marshal. The judge did not ask many questions. His verdict was "failure to execute an order for military action" He found the soldier guilty of “cowardice in the face of the enemy”, and sentenced him to death by firing squad.

An SS officer, highly decorated and in rank above the judge, stopped the execution. He ordered the condemned youth to a fox hole next to his, making him his messenger of dangerous runs, thus giving "the Führer's son of the Ordensburg the chance to die an honorable death at the front."

Desperate, not thinking clearly, the runner carried out the order, taking a written message to an SS unit of Bulgarians, but facing the long way back, under sniper fire, he walked away from the frontline, making his way into the mountains and spent the last weeks of the war hiding in alpine huts or abandoned farms. One day, way up above a town called Lofer he said to himself, “Listen! The guns have fallen silent”, and when he heard church bells ringing, it seemed to him the war was over and he set out on foot for the long way from Tyrol – through a desolate, beaten, ruined country – to his home on the River Spree.

He walked only in the cover of darkness, because he was afraid of the victors. By daytime he slept in the woods. If farmers refused to give him something to eat, he stole bread from bakers.

It took him 46 days from Lofer to Berlin. His mother would not stop crying. Soviet soldiers had taken his father to a camp. His sister was missing in Bohemia. Riding on the roof of an overcrowded passenger train, mother was taken by her son to relatives in a village by the name of Wrexen. Life on a small farm made him restless. Listening to a radio broadcast by the American Forces Network, he learned that the people of Hamburg had reopened their theatre, he climbed aboard a coal train, heading north.

His clothes covered with black dust and his head looking like a blond Sudanese, he auditioned for an acting job at the Schauspielhaus.

He was reciting poems.

Was given a job.

As an extra.


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