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Interview with Wolfgang Furstenau,  August 25, 2004 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Wolfgang Furstenau,  August 25, 2004
August 25, 2004
In this interview, notable Oak Island resident Wolfgang Furstenau discusses his childhood and adolescence in Germany, both during and after World War II. He also includes his later escape from Russian-occupied East Germany into West Germany, and eventually to Canada and the United States.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: Furstenau, Wolfgang Interviewer: Hayes, Sherman / Zarbock, Paul Date of Interview: 9/25/2004 Series: SENC Notables Length 1 hour, 39 minutes

Q: We are interviewing...

Wolfgang Furstenau: Wolf Furstenau, also known as Wolfgang Siegfried Georg Furstenau. (laugh)

Q: All of those names came along, huh?

Wolfgang Furstenau: Uh.. it was the custom evidently at the time uh.. to give you plenty of middle names. Uh.. I don't know why. I- I- assume that if you didn't like your first name or your second, you had a third to fall back on.

Q: Did they have some meaning within your family?

Wolfgang Furstenau: Uh.. it- it began uh.. with a scheme from what I understand. My parents had altogether six children, five lived, one died in infancy. And uhm.. the names all began with a "G". First it was Gerhardt. Then there was Günter. Then there was uh.. the- the baby that died, I don't remember what name they gave it. But when it came to uh.. Wolfgang, uh.. the 'George' ended up in the middle of my name. (laugh) And I think after that they- they drifted away from that scheme. Yeah. So--

Q: That's not uncommon either with Germans to have a series of children and the initial of their first name to be the same. For example, my father was born in Germany. It was Ella and Esther.

Wolfgang Furstenau: Oh okay. It's not unique evidently.

Q: We're interviewing you today as a notable citizen of Oak Island, who we're going to concentrate particularly on your early life. And those who may be listening and those of you reading the transcript wouldn't know that you have a slight accent and that's based on your early life. Right?

Wolfgang Furstenau: Right.

Q: So why don't you get us started.

Wolfgang Furstenau: All right.

Q: From early when you remember.

Wolfgang Furstenau: Okay. Okay. Well, I uhm.. I was born in Germany in uh.. December 3, 1934. And uh.. our family lived in the town of Prenzlau, which is a small agricultural city uhm.. north of Berlin, about a hundred kilometers north of Berlin. And uhm.. my father came from an agricultural background, but he broke the mold and worked for first a uh.. uh.. uh.. an aristocrat in a neighboring town as a uhm.. bookkeeper or administrative uh.. assistant. Something like that. And then later uh.. he moved to-- And this was not in Prenzlau but a neighboring village. Uh.. then he moved to Prenzlau and worked for the government, for the county government in Prenzlau. And uh.. he uhm.. I like to think that we were middle class folk. Uh.. we had some conveniences others didn't. There was no car. Uh.. in those days uh.. cars tended to be uh.. mainly the- the property of professionals, doctors, lawyers, government folk and so on, officers. Officers in Germany, military folk, had a higher status relative to uh.. well, for instance what we see today here in the U. S.

Q: Even after World War I that was the case?

Wolfgang Furstenau: Um-hum. Yeah. Uh.. we-- The house uh.. Well first we uh.. we lived right practically next door to the office where my father worked. It was called Landesamt and was county office building. And uhm.. which uh.. survived the war by the way. Uh.. our home town-- I'll come to this later. But it was bombed in the last weeks of the war, World War II. And uhm.. the town was practically flattened, the en- the central part of the town. And I remember coming back after the end of the war and seeing this and uh.. I could stand in town and look clear across to see the lake on the other side. It was flat. But uh.. this office building, evidently survived and it still stands today. Yeah.

Uh.. later uh.. he moved uh.. to the outskirts uh.. uh.. sort of a development in Germany uh.. that was not that common because German cities tended to have definitive borders, the town starts here, ends there, and nothing beyond these points. And this development was oh maybe uh.. one and a half or two kilometers from the city center. And uhm.. it was- the house was owned by an officer so it had good reputation as being kept and so on because, as I say officers, you know, deemed professionals of course. And it was uh.. oh two story- two story building but in the attic, another room was built so a person could live there as well, sleep there. And we had a pigeon uh.. uh.. room for pigeons, which we raised for food. (laugh) Yeah, for food.

Q: Not for messengers?

Wolfgang Furstenau: No. No. Not a hobby. So anyhow, that's uh.. that's about uh.. the- the social standing uh..

Q: What about your mother's background?

Wolfgang Furstenau: My mother came from a family of uh.. innkeepers. Uh.. she came from Pommern, Pomerania, northern Germany. Her father and mother ran an inn where typically you would have uh.. a bar on the first floor and a few tables uh.. where food was served and then up stairs you would have a few rooms that would be rented by the night or by the week or whatever. And so she was uh.. more of a people person I think, you know, dealing with customers and so on, than my dad was. But uh.. all- all of her relatives- all of her uh.. sisters and brothers were professionals. There was a butcher, who did very well in the city of Swinemünde, which is now Polish. Uh.. and in the same city, there was a uh.. a b- uh.. uh.. pastry baker, Konditoreimeister. And uh.. there was some- there were dentists and- and- and uh.. and others. I don't know all of them but--

Q: I am struck by the use of the word professional to include trades. So at that time a trade was a highly respected--

Wolfgang Furstenau: Yeah. Uhm.. Yeah, it was uhm.. I don't know if you would call it bourgeoisie, but uh.. those folks uh.. were uh.. property owners uh.. possibly had a car uh.. certainly had servants. Uh.. we had generally a maid in the house. It- it- it's strange to Americans to- to see where a household had no car, my dad bicycled to work, but we had a maid. And in the States it would be the other way around, of course. Yeah. So that's my mother's side. And we uh.. I tried to research the place of her birth, which is now in Poland. Found it. It's just a tiny speck of village, maybe a dozen houses. Uh.. evidently it was uhm.. a place one time where aristocrats had uh.. uh.. uh.. uh.. uh.. seat, or were the land owners, and leased the land around them to farmers that would tend the land. 'Cause we found a huge building still intact and uh.. large stables and- and other out buildings still standing there today in Poland.

Q: Wolfgang, just as a matter of personal curiosity, your name-- What is the origin of your name and is there a definition?

Wolfgang Furstenau: Uhm.. well, when a German hears the word Furst, as in Furstenau, uh.. that denotes often a person of higher standing. By higher standing I mean possibly an aristocrat who might have had the von in front of his name. Uh.. Furst uh.. was in the ancient sense, a uhm.. uh.. the leader of an army. Furst, who would be in front, who would be leading this host of warriors towards the enemy, towards-- Uhm.. in my family, there is no von or "von und zu," as they say. Von meaning "of the family" and zu, if you hear "von und zu," zu meaning "living at or residing at a certain place of residence." Uhm.. my father's uh.. background, as I say, was farming uh.. uh.. but I only know two generations and I don't know what happened before that. Uh.. Furstenau is not uncommon in Germany.

Uh.. we were climbing the uh.. cathedral in Strasburg in France one time in southern Germany, across from southern Germany, and we were looking for the name Furstenau, which was supposedly chiseled into the masonry way up somewhere in there. And from what we hear, you could easily bribe a mason in those days to do this little uh.. uh.. moonlighting job for you, and he would accommodate you. I didn't find it, but we found Goethe's name chiseled up there. That surprised us. Yeah, the German author.

So anyhow, Furstenau, there is a village or town of Furstenau in northern Germany and I've been there. Uhm.. and they have a website. Of course today everyone has, you know, internet capabilities. Uhm.. and the origin of the name? I don't know. I find reference to Fur- Forstenove, F O R S T E N O V E. It could mean uhm.. a- a meadow. The first meadow or the meadow of a Forst uh.. uh.. uh.. I don't know what a Forst is. A Count or- or- or such a thing. Uhm.. beyond that uh.. I don't have any uhm.. any definitive, you know, description of our name.

Q: When do you have a sense of memory of Germany? In other words, World War II was traumatic. Do you remember even a little before that at all?

Wolfgang Furstenau: Uh.. not very much. Uh.. world-- I was born in '34. World War II for Germans started in '39. Uhm.. I vaguely remember that when the war began with the invasion of Poland, that uh.. Hitler was saying-- And by the way, when Hitler was on the radio, everyone listened. I mean it was, I would say it was universal attention given to what he said. Uh.. and I believe he said that uh.. Germany was getting tired of the difficulties of the Polish border and the hassle and the- uh.. little- little uh.. wars, border wars, and he was going to fix it once and for all, and therefore, the German army was going to straighten this out. Uh.. but this was at, you know, at a very young age and I, you know, memories fade. Uh.. grownups, my parents, might have heard a different version. I'm not sure. Uh.. at the time, I think the German sentiment was pretty much as the American thinking is today of the invasion of Iraq. "Okay, it needs to be done," you know. Uh.. "We've been bothered long enough by these enemies," you know. Who decides who your enemy is? Well, if you read Orwell's book, 1984, he tells you how that works. So-- Uhm.. so uhm.. in general it was an exhilarating time for Germans because we were on the winning side, Germans were.

Q: The unemployment rate was low?

Wolfgang Furstenau: I uh.. I don't remember any mention of it. I believe anyone that wanted to work had a job. Uh.. it uh.. after the uh.. difficulty- difficult '29 years, late '29- late '20s, uhm.. Hitler evidently had a hand-- He came to power in 1933. He had a hand in creating jobs, building the autobahns and infrastructure, and- and uh.. uh.. rebuilding armaments, I imagine, to the extent that uh.. he could follow in the edicts after World War I, you know. So uh.. by the way, that is how rockets came into being. Because Germany wasn't supposed to be building artillery or offensive weapons, okay? Well, this new thing was invented. It was not an artillery piece. It was not a plane. It was not covered by the provisions--

Q: So in the letter of the law, a rocket was permitted.

Wolfgang Furstenau: Well, well, one could- could debate that it was, you know, not disallowed. And 'cause Wernher von Braun and some other generals had uh.. had a hand in developing these. So uhm.. yeah '39, '34, I was five- four going on five years old. Then the war years between '39 and '45, our town being of little military significance, escaped the ravages of the war. Bigger cities like Berlin and Stettin, which was to the east, uh.. really suffered. And we often had people come searching for food or- or, you know, sustenance, maintenance items to continue, because Berlin took a pounding often and uh.. so did a lot of other German towns of course.

Uhm.. so we- I went to school uhm.. uh.. grade school back in Germany at the time uhm.. the- the school system was divided into grades one through four or five. I don't remember. Four I think. And that was a decision point: if you wanted to go to a school of higher education, you would go to high school in grade five, I believe, and start in that direction of the curriculum. Otherwise, if you were to be a trades person, you would continue on in- in the elementary school. And I was uh.. destined to go the branch of, you know, towards university and study. So--

Q: By choice or by--

Wolfgang Furstenau: Certainly choice. Well, at that age you really don't have choices I don't think. It was agreeable to go that way. And uh.. so to high school. My brothers, I had two older brothers and they went to the same route and the grades were numbered in Latin, Quint or Quarter, Septer, or I don't remember. If you know Latin, you know. Primus, Secundus, yeah. So that's how the grades went.

And uhm.. uh.. so uh.. let's see, during the war. Okay. Uhm.. there was very little military activity or- or uh.. there were no incidents that stood out other than perhaps military parades, which was common in Germany anyhow, even before the war where you saw uh.. uh.. artillery pieces and tanks and such being paraded instead of the floats that we have here. Okay? And bands playing of course, the oompah-oompah, you know. Uh.. one time, I believe I saw Hitler. I didn't know it. We were playing out in front of the house and we lived on a- on a street that lead to the city of Stettin, a court of Stettin. And we noticed a long line of cars, a procession of cars coming by, some of them flying the German flags, and we looked at them and said "Well, it must be something very important going by." Well, in the newspaper the next day, we heard that Hitler was passing through the city. So that's as close as I ever came to seeing the proverbial Führer. Yeah.

Q: First of all, let me take you back to something else. As a child up until '45 and in this small village, was there sufficient food for everyone?

Wolfgang Furstenau: Yes.

Q: Shortages were not appearing there?

Wolfgang Furstenau: No. We had no- no shortage. Uhm.. during the war years, there was rationing, of course, but England and I believe the U. S. had it too. And we had ration cards and uh.. uh.. particularly meats, butter, uh.. milk, certain of those items were rationed as well as leather- leather goods, uhm.. I don't know about clothing, uhm.. gasoline would have been rationed. Uhm.. we lived uhm.. in this uh.. officer's home in the uh.. development uh.. where we had a fairly large garden. We had an orchard of about a hundred trees. Mostly apples but pears, and cherries, and walnuts, and plums, and quince, and uh.. such, and berries, uh.. gooseberries, and currents, and strawberries. We were-- We had--

Q: I'm getting hungry already.

Wolfgang Furstenau: 'Cause we had-- And two pieces of land that we swapped every year, one for potatoes and the other for other vegetables. And so our basement, which was a dirt floor basement, always held sufficient food, fruit, and vegetables to last through the year until the next harvest. So in our family, there was no problem other than maybe getting meat. Meat was rationed according to the amount of work you did. Uh.. hard laborers got a larger proportion of meat than, let's say, an office worker would. (laugh) Yeah. So uhm..

Q: You mentioned two older brothers. They were not so old that they had to serve? They were just a few years older?

Wolfgang Furstenau: Well, uh.. the oldest was born in 1925. My parents married in '24. Uhm.. he was born in '25 and the next brother in '26. So they were old enough to be in the army and they both served in the army. They volunteered for the tank core, which they thought was a better way to get by than on foot I imagine. And uh.. both uh.. survived the war and the oldest, Gerhardt, lives in Canada uh.. and he came through the war in one piece. Uh.. my second brother Günter uh.. lost a foot uh.. in the war in the- in the uhm.. Baltic States uh.. Lithuania or Estonia up there during a tank battle, and he was evacuated. Uhm.. first he, from what he tells us, that the battle was going forwards and back and uh.. when he was wounded uh.. the Russians were advancing and he was practically bleeding to death, not quite. And then the Germans advanced again, found him, gave him uh.. uh.. some salt water to replenish his liquids in the veins and then evacuated him to a hospital ship, which took him into Germany proper. And uh.. as he tells the tale, the ship was bombed when it was tied up in some German port even though it was a hospital ship but-- And he had his leg amputated and got a pro- prosthesis made and so uh.. he did all right. He was a sportsman to start with and he uh.. he put his prosthesis to the test. He would swim taking it off of course. He would mountain climb. His wife showed me a picture once of a sheer cliff wall and she pointed to a dot and she says, "That's your brother Günter."

Q: And he stayed in Germany?

Wolfgang Furstenau: He stayed in Germany.

Q: In western Germany?

Wolfgang Furstenau: Yes, western Germany. Initially our town ended up in East Germany. Maybe I oughta go back to the time near the end of the war. Uhm.. we're progressing in that direction. Uhm.. in 1945 uh..

Oh! I have to tell you something else. We lived near an airport. It was a sod runway, not paved. And it was used for fighter planes mainly. And we children would play, of course, in the vicinity and look over the fence. And sometimes we would count a flight taking off of maybe 12 or 13 planes, and then several hours later they would come back. And back then, communication was done by uhm.. by flare signals. Green for okay to land. Red for.. whatever, don't land or-- So we would watch the flares and then we'd all run up to the airport, which was maybe a quarter-mile, half a mile from our house, and sometimes planes would not all come back. The count was off and we knew then that some probably were shot down. And sometimes a red flare would go up and then a plane would circle and uh.. more than once we saw one do a belly landing. Where it couldn't get its uh.. wheels down and uh.. so that was exciting for us. Around the airport, uh.. the German military put anti-aircraft guns, which they wisely never sh- never fired because they didn't want to give away the fact that this was an airport. It was evidently not evident from, you know, six miles up. But one time, there was a single plane going over on the way towards Stettin, eastward, and they let loose on this poor guy. We could see the puffs of smoke all around the airplane in front and back. And then when the plane was about, oh, maybe 30 degrees from vertical, we could see smoke from one of his engines I guess. And we said, "Oh wow. They- they got him. They got him." But he never- he didn't crash. He just flew on.

And uh.. one time we were out there playing and uh.. there was an uh.. air raid alert and the soldiers said, "Okay, boys. No time to run back home. Get into these holes." And they had foxholes dug. So we uh.. stayed in the foxholes for the duration of the alert. (laugh) And that was the kind of excitement that we had. Around the airport they- they put up dummy aircraft made of wood and cloth so that if somebody should decide that this needed servicing, the allies, they would probably see these planes and then, you know, be diverted from the real target. And we used to play around in those too.

Okay. 1945, uhm.. the uh.. the war was taking a- a bad turn of course. One of my brothers, the oldest, was assigned to the Eastern front after initially fighting in Belgium, and one night he came home on a motorcycle. And uh.. that was very exciting for us. He was dressed in his black uniform and uh.. he had a uh.. a uh.. Luger at his side and he had hand grenades on his belt. And oh well, our parents of course were glad to see him. Turns out that his sp- his tank was uh.. demolished. One of the five times that he lost the tank from under him. And uh.. in those days the crew went with the tank. It was shipped to Berlin for repair. And while he was in Berlin, he decided to visit us. Uh.. he didn't have a pass so he decided, "What the heck. I, you know, I've done my share of fighting. I deserve this." And he took off on a motorcycle in the middle of the night. And he came to stay with us for, I don't know, a couple of hours, but before morning he left again. And he was telling me that when he got back to Berlin, 'cause they had road blocks and check points on the major roads, and he was stopped for passport control and, you know, "let's see your papers." And he tells me this now, you know, many years after the war. He- he looked over and there was this little uhm.. stand uh.. the uhm.. uh.. uh.. guard shack, and there was one guy in there, and there was the other guy who talked to him. And he was saying, "If they had- made any wrong moves, they would have been dead within five seconds." Because it was he or them. He or they. And uh.. they gave him a little bit of a hassle because he had no pass to be away from his uh.. base. But finally he convinced them that well, you know, he's just running around the neighborhood and they waved him through. But he was prepared to lob a hand grenade at this guard shack and-- Uh.. uh.. I tell you this to give you the mindset of the soldier at the time. Uh.. uh.. soldiers are trained to be hard and to be fighters. Right? And it- it does affect your psyche. Uh.. then and later. Even today I- I can tell he still has World War II in his mind, you know. Yeah. It affects you.

So anyhow, uhm.. as the Russian front drew closer to our city, uh.. there was great apprehension. Americans, English soldiers were okay. Russians were not. Uh.. the deeds of how they handled the civilization that they conquered were sp- spoke badly of them. And so uhm.. the office where my father worked, uhm.. county office, decided they would pick up their files and head west to wait out the end of the war in uh.. on the- towards the allies- the western allies. And uh.. they were allowed evidently to take their families because we got about 15 minutes notice to pack up and go. And did, walked over to the uh.. the uh.. building where these semis- these were semi trucks with cloth tops- were assembled, and we jumped in the back of the truck. And by that time, uh.. I don't know if it was Russian air force or American or British but our town was being bombed. It was bombed for three days, and this was the first day. And I remember when this convoy of trucks would go down a street and stop, and then it would back up because buildings were coming down across the street.. burning. And they would try another street and finally they would make it out of town. And when we hit- when we were about maybe two or three kilometers out of town, the convoy stopped and we looked back and we could see the town burning behind us. It was uhm.. a kind of picture that etches itself in your memory, if you know what I mean. Anyhow uhm.. we drove west. Every so often we had to stop because there were air raids and strafing going on. Word was being passed around and everybody jumped out of the truck and into the ditches and lay flat till the planes passed by, and then we would go on again. And we would see uhm.. people going into uhm.. buildings where supplies were being kept for emergency purposes, emergency blankets, food, and stuff like that. And they would carry things away from there, which was somewhat unusual because in Germany, people tended to be fairly close to, you know, staying within the letter of the law. Uh.. anyhow, we saw people loaded with as much weight as they could carry, and they would evidently walk a couple of kilometers and they couldn't manage any more and then the ditches would be filled with all these good things, which were then wasted. So we ended up in a little town of Grevesmuehlen in uh.. northern Germany, Mecklenburg.

Q: Could you spell the name of the town?

Wolfgang Furstenau: Yeah, G R E V E S M U E H L E N. Muehle is mill, German word for mill, and Grevesmuehlen, which was the name uhm.. could be- initially could have been a name of a person. Greve's Mill. Grevesmuehlen. Not far from Lübeck. Just east of Lübeck. And uhm.. we found a family that put us up there and we went back many years later uh.. to visit the area and we found out that the population was actually obliged-- I don't know if that's the right term. But they were asked to put up a percentage of people according to the population, 10% of the population or something like that, of refugees to accommodate refugees. So I, you know, I thought we were welcome there. Maybe there was more to it. Maybe they were obliged to welcome us.

Okay. And we had a good time there. Uhm.. and uh.. uh.. there we waited out the end of the war, which came in, I would say, two weeks or so after we got there. The word was passed out that there was going to be a curfew on a certain day and anyone on the street would be shot, pure and simple. And so okay, and these were, I believe, I don't know if they were British or Americans coming up there. I'd have to look at the maps. I think British perhaps. So on- during this time, uh.. the German army had given up. They discarded the equipment they had, just about anything, trucks, and tanks, and weapons, and uh.. workshops. We came across uh.. a panel truck that was a workshop on wheels. And I was telling Paul that uh.. if- if we were older, a guy could have driven this into some hiding place and made a fortune later on either selling the goods inside or using them.

And we all had uhm.. uh.. weapons of some sort or other. And we were-- Remember I was 10 going on 11. There were younger kids and some older. Uh.. we had flare pistols, which we used. 'Course they would come down on the parachute, we could play with the parachute, silk parachutes, afterwards. And we had hand grenades, the old potato mashers, and what we would do is uhm.. we had a pond behind the house. We'd unscrew the cap and there was a string like a ripcord. We pulled the string and you had your 10 or twelve seconds and we'd count, "One thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three." And then we would lob the hand grenade into the lake and sure enough, after the given number of seconds, a big fountain of water would come up and everybody would cheer and then all the fish would come up belly up because it blew their air bladders. (laugh) Well one of the fellas, an older guy, uh.. he must've been 13, 14 uh.. had several pistols and rifles and such, submachine guns under his mattress. And he was demonstrating a Luger, a favorite pistol in Germany at the time. And a circle of kids were around him, watching him put a clip in the back and uh.. load a round into the chamber, and put the safety off, and pull the trigger, and eject the round, and take the clip out, and that kind of thing. And all of a sudden, "pow," a round went off, and everybody jumped up and scattered because parents were going to surely come down and give us hell. My brother, who was sitting next to me, he's younger, '34, '39, five years younger, got up too, and then he sort of drooped down again and I caught him and I said, "Peter, what's the matter?" He didn't say anything, and I noticed blood on his leg. "Oh, parents are really gonna give it to us." So by that time, my mother and father came down and yup, he'd been shot. It was, as it turned out, a flesh wound. Bullet went into a thigh, came out on top of his knee. The way he was sitting I guess. Okay. On this day of the curfew, they packed this little guy in a baby carriage we had and wheeled him to hospital, the only two people on the street. Made it, and surgeons took care of the- doctors took care of the situation and patched him up. And uh.. word was that uh.. he was lucky because a few millimeters and he was- he might've lost the use of his knee. So anyhow. And then the allies came in and uh.. uh.. there were uh.. there was a lot--

Q: There's a reputation for stern punishment on the part of German families. What did your parents do about this accident?

Wolfgang Furstenau: To us, nothing. I think they were more concerned about the little boy, you know, getting-- Uh.. the fellow with the gun took off, and I learned this later when we visited again over there. And he went into the woods and his mother was very worried about him. And he stayed away for a day or so. And then came back. And I don't know what happened to him. I suspect not much. Uh.. it was common in those days to see children in hospitals uh.. from all kinds of injuries, you know, playing. As I say, the German army abandoned everything they had. They wanted- matter of fact, they wanted to get rid of it, including the uniform sometimes. Uh.. and so for children, this was, depending on your point of view, paradise or purgatory. Uhm.. and some, many- I'm sure many died as a result of these accidents. When you play with hand grenades and you're- you're, you know, seven, eight years old, it's- it's a bad combination. So uhm.. my memories of uh.. of uh.. the early days after World War II were good. Uhm.. the military that moved in were friendly toward us uh.. and I think the genere- the population as a whole. Uh.. they handed candy and chewing gum and things that we normally wouldn't get. Uh.. there were parades uh.. for the first time we saw peop- men in skirts and bagpipes giving concerts or marching in a parade. That was new. We saw colored people, which we had never seen before. Uh.. and uhm.. uh.. so peace- peace was finally there.

Q: And again, what was __________ like?

Wolfgang Furstenau: From here on, it was much worse for us than during the war. Uhm.. infrastructure was destroyed. Uhm.. transportation was in ruin. Uh.. farmers- farmers were okay because they could fend for themselves, but people in cities were destitute. Uhm.. uh..

Q: So you didn't have your garden or your (inaudible)?

Wolfgang Furstenau: No. We uh.. my father decided along with the rest of the uh.. the- the crew from the office that they would now go back and carry on, and take all these vital documents back, and restore order, and so on. And I was telling Paul it was a fatal mistake, as he was to find out later. So we uh.. all trucked back to Prenzlau, and our house was filled with refugees. There were five families living in there, all claiming to be Communists. And because we were not Communists now, okay, the tables were turned so to speak. And we went into a school, which was- had opened up as a refugee camp, and stayed there. And uh.. the second day after our return there, my father was called to the office for a conference of all the uh.. county employees. And never came back.

The Russians evidently collected the staff and shipped them off to a camp somewhere. And my mother never found out where he was, uh.. or what happened to him, or that he died, which we now know he did uh.. not long after that. And uhm.. I uh.. a couple of years ago, after Russia had its problems, the KGB files were made available to western agencies. And among them were files of German prisoners of war and German prisoners. My father was a civilian. And I contacted an agency in Berlin and a young lady helped me research uh.. the fate of my father and the records. And it took a while, because everything was in Russian and had to be translated and so on. But she did find uh.. an entry with his name and birth date and that he died in a camp in uh.. in Neugrandenburg [ph?] in Germany the same year. And the reason for his arrest was "active party member." And I have to say in those days, now Germany had a number of parties, unlike the U. S. with two-party system, or England. Germany and France and other countries had multiple parties. And the party my father belonged to, which we now call the Nazi party-- By the way, I ought to for the record tell folks of the future that what- what it stands for. Nazi- the Nazi party was actually the Nationalsozialistischer Deutscher Arbeiterpartei. The National Socialist German Labor Party. And from the word National, national, came the word Nazi. So and it was used in Germany in those days as well. That's where the word Nazi comes from. It's one- it's one of many parties, but it was Hitler's base of power. And so anyone associated with it, like today the Bath party in Iraq, okay, those are the bad parties--

Q: So your father was a member of that party?

Wolfgang Furstenau: Yeah. I believe that if you worked in the government office uhm.. without party membership, I don't think you- you- you wouldn't have a job. I- that's my guess. I uh.. you know, I was a child then. So anyhow uhm.. uh.. we moved into the country near uhm.. where in the village my father was born, not far from Quinslau [ph?]. And there was subsistence living. Uhm.. my mother worked in lumbering, unusual for women, but they did. And uh.. the wages--

Q: When you say lumbering, what--

Wolfgang Furstenau: Cutting trees for lumber with cross-cut saws and that kind of thing, along with some other women and some men.

Q: How many of your brothers and sisters remain together in a nucleus?

Wolfgang Furstenau: Uhm.. my older brother Gerhardt took off towards the west. He was smart. Günter uh.. who lost a leg uh.. stayed with us, with the family, and he got a job in the little village to bring in some revenue.

Q: The Russians didn't bother him?

Wolfgang Furstenau: No. Uhm.. and then I had a younger brother, Peter, and a sister, Krista [ph?]. So four of us and my mother stayed in this little village. And we rented a little house and I have a picture of it here. Uh.. it was a two-room house with a kitchen. Uh.. yes, that's it. If- if you can see-- (crew talking) Yeah. And uh.. we--

Q: What town again was that in?

Wolfgang Furstenau: Oh, it was in a little village called Wichmannsdorf, W I C H M A N N S D O R F. Uhm.. and there we stayed for a number of years after World War II. Uhm.. we went into the fields to help farmers harvest, picking potatoes. And the wages, just as my mother earned firewood as wages, we earned potatoes, sack of potatoes. And we went harvesting uhm.. hay, and wheat, worked in wheat fields, and again uh.. we brought home some wheat or whatever. We also went scrounging through farmers' yards, and potatoes that they threw out, the very little potatoes, which they might have fed to the pigs, we gathered those, cleaned them up, and that was what we ate. We went into the wheat fields after harvest and picked the ears of, broken ears of wheat, put them in a sack, thrashed them, separated the chaff, let the wind blow the chaff aside, and took the wheat, and I did this primarily on my back, to a mill. There was a water-driven mill not far from us. And I would carry maybe 60 pounds of wheat to the mill and I'd bring back 40 pounds of flour. And that's how we got flour.

Q: So your education had stopped at this point.

Wolfgang Furstenau: No. Uh.. schools continued on. There was a short break while we were waiting the end of the war but-- In this little village there was a one-room schoolhouse. Uh.. and uh.. a female teacher, and she carried on. Looking back at it, it was remarkable. Uh.. eight- eight grades in one room, and she would give an assignment to one grade and then work with the second group and so on. Uh.. I went there. After the war uh.. the Russians began to uh.. bring Russian culture to the Germans. They were the victors and they were going to make us like them, whether we wanted to or not. And so we had a Russian teacher who spoke some German. And I almost got into trouble with him. We were a little bit- little rebels, almost like in the movies, the little rebels. And he was going to send me to the Commandanturer [ph?], to the Command Post, to answer to the uh.. whomever, the Colonel for my misbehavior in school. Didn't do that but-- So anyhow. Russian soldiers were civilized to an extent. Uh.. they had a bad reputation and this- now we were in a Russian zone, Russian-occupied zone of Germany.

Uh.. I remember one time a Russian soldier coming into the house and evidently asking my mother to go in the back room with him, and she- she wisely hung a picture of Lenin on the wall, and she pointed to it and she said, "He wouldn't like that, would he now." (laugh) And she got away, you know. He- he left. He ate a meal with us and left. Uh.. another time uh.. Russian trucks would go to past the house and street and they would throw smoke gre- grenades out and smoke up the neighborhood. Another time they came and we had chickens. We raised chickens. We had to raise our own food. And they would go in the chicken coop and just help themselves and take after the chickens. Uh.. so you never knew what would come next with them, but I think by that time their officers kept them under reasonably st- strict discipline uh.. and- and I think that saved a lot of women folk from- from uh.. a worse fate then.

Uhm.. I went to uhm.. what they call a "simple school" in a neighboring village, grade seven and eight and uh.. did well there. Uh.. during those times uhm.. foreign languages were being taught from grade five on. So we learned Russian of course. Was mandatory. And uh.. when I reached grade seven, uh.. I picked English as well. So we had an early exposure to foreign languages. During the war, uh.. you were not allowed to listen to the BBC, for instance. And I remember my father coming home and my brothers had the radio tuned to London and he blew his top. 'Cause he said, "If there was a Spitzel outside, an informer, outside the window, I would be in the KZ- Ka-Tzet- concentration camp the next day if somebody heard you- heard English spoken in this house." So during the war it was very touchy. After the war, then we were taught these languages. It was good. English we all liked. Russian no one liked, 'cause it was forced on us. I had four years of Russian and- and my competency in Russian was about 10% of what it was in English because we fought it, you know.

So uhm.. uh.. the brother who stayed in the west uh.. decided that with the cold war going on in the years following World War II, perhaps the best place for us would not be in Europe at all. We were sitting on the proverbial powderkeg. Uh.. animosity with Russia could erupt any time, we felt, and we would be in another war. Not having recovered- recovered from the last one. And so he looked at uhm.. at the globe and decided well, Australia paid very good wages, Canada also, and decided perhaps we should go to Canada. So he asked me was I interested. By that time I was going to high school in Prenzlau, a boarding school. And I, of course I wanted to go. Uhm.. we had, when I began high school, several grade nines. There were so many students, I think there were two or three ninth grade classes. And my class consisted mainly of city boys, and we were known as troublemakers. We didn't like Russian occupation, anything Russian, and so on. I was active in passing out leaflets and stuff like that. And one day the secretary to the principal called me and said, "Wolf, uh.. there is uh.. there's a meeting of the uh.. staff going on in the next week and you're on- on the agenda." What does it mean? Okay. I thought I was in trouble with the Communists. And by that time uhm.. you were expected to join the uhm.. Communist youth organizations uh.. Young Pioneers for the younger set and then uhm.. I forget what they called the older ones. Anyhow.. (crew talking) No, that was Russian word. Uh.. It was called something else in German. Anyhow, and I was one of the stand-outs. I didn't want to join anything. And so that was about the time when my brother made his plans and I said okay. And I went to my homeroom teacher and said, "Uh.. I want to quit. I want to take up a profession, a trade." He looked at me and he said, "Are you sure?" And I said, "Yes." "Okay. I'll give you uh.. uh.. grade, a final grade for this grade." I was in tenth grade. And he did and uhm.. and within a couple of days, uh.. my mother, I think she gave me all the money she had probably, and I was on my way to Berlin on the train to head for West Germany. Uh.. I had a school bag with me. We all had passports. Even kids my age then. I was uhm.. 15, 16. Sixteen I was. Uhm.. first time on my own my whole life. So I took the train to Berlin and I was gonna act very nonchalant going past all these passport controls and so on. And of course right away they picked me up, because I looked too nonchalant I guess, and they checked my passport and (crew talking).

(Tape Change)

Q: Your name is Wolfgang Furstenau?

Wolfgang Furstenau: Yes. Wolfgang Furstenau.

Q: And you're in Berlin after the war, perhaps escaping?

Wolfgang Furstenau: We are escaping to the West.

Q: And what year is this?

Wolfgang Furstenau: Uh.. 1951.

Q: And when you say we, it's just you?

Wolfgang Furstenau: No, I am single, solo. Um-hmm. Um-hmm. Yep. Uh.. so I made it through the uh.. railroad station in uh.. in Berlin. Uh.. next I was to meet with a friend of my brother's, who was studying architecture, and met them alright. And they helped me turn my East German money into West German money. (clears throat) In those days, we- we were not allowed to carry West German money beyond a certain amount, and if you did have some, you were supposed to be able to show uh.. a uh.. slip of paper saying that it was legally exchanged. So the black market in money exchange was booming over there. What we did is, we walked down a street in Berlin, and evidently the street was uh.. known for this activity, because a guy would pass us, and he would say, "Nine to one." And another guy would come, and he'd say, "eleven to one" or "ten to one" or some number. And when the number was right uh.. this friend of ours would say, "Okay, we'll do it." And the other fellow would say, just stopping on the street, he would say, "Number 49 Horschtannerstrasse" [ph?]. Okay, we'd walk. He would go one way, we the other, and we would meet in the hallway of this address. And money would change hands, East German for West German. And then one would leave first, and then after awhile the other would leave, and we went our own way, no names exchanged, no paper showing anything. And then this poor guy's wife sat down and-- in those days, everyone wore jackets; that was German dress more or less. Not like I'm dressed today in a T-shirt, that really wouldn't go. And she took the seams apart on my collar and sewed this West German money, stuffed it into the collar and into the lapels (equipment noise) to hide it, made it hard to find. And then uh.. they helped me get into a train towards-- that was headed west towards West Germany.

Uhm.. the train took off, everything was fine. I still have my little school bag with some clothing and not much else. And uhm.. uh.. all of a sudden the train stopped in the middle of a field. We looked out. It was not a railroad station, it was not a town-- just stopped. And we saw, I don't know if they were Russian or East German, probably East German police lined up on both sides of the train. They'd give a signal, the train would take off again, and they would all come aboard. Passport check. And across from me there was a lady, I remember this, and they opened her passport and said, "Oh, fine. You're from so and so." "Yeah, um-hmm." And he says, "Hmm." Says, "The last page of your passport is uh.. is missing. How did that happen?" She says, "I don't know. It was okay last time I looked." "Well, we'll fix it up if you come with us at the next station. We'll fix it." They got her. The last page of the passport showed your address, your home address and some other notes like that. And in Germany at the time, if you were to move from uh.. say Southport to Wilmington, you had to go to the Southport police and tell them, "Folks, we're leaving, and we're going to Wilmington." And you got to Wilmington, you had to go to the police station and say, "Folks, here we are. We just came from Southport, and here's the stamp from Southport, and we're now going to live in Wilmington." So it was tight control of your movement.

Q: What about your passport? What did it say?

Wolfgang Furstenau: It said nothing. Uh.. I was going to visit an aunt in this little old village, which happened to be at the border between East and West Germany (laughs). That was the cover story. And I didn't want the policeman to look at my passport, because even for a visit I'm not sure if something had to be noted or not. But when he came my-- I opened-- came to me, I opened my little school bag, and I told him, "Oh, all I have is a sandwich and uh.. socks, and I'm visiting my aunt," and so on and so on. And he looked at me, you know, and, "Oh. Okay." Of course, age probably played a role, because I was only, you know, 16. So then when the train got to near the border, I'd say about 20 kilometers from the border, I got off and walked the rest on foot. The train, by the way, went, I think across the border into West Germany, for those who had proper documentation.

Uhm.. I came to this farming village, and the first building was occupied by a Russian post, border post. And having had some Russian, I waved at them, and I said uh.. (speaks Russian) or something like that, or uh.. yeah, which meant hello, and they waved back at me, "Here is a nice German boy who knows Russian," you know. I walked into a farmyard. And these were names that had been passed through the grapevine, you know, from people that had been there before. And I told them, "Well, I'm here to go across the border, and would you mind if I stayed here for a couple of hours?" And they didn't like it. They said, "If somebody finds out, we could lose the farm over this." It was serious to them. I said, "I won't make any trouble for you. Uh.. and I'll be gone before you know it." "(grunts) Okay, okay." They were stuck with me. We didn't know these folks.

Q: Oh, you didn't know them.

Wolfgang Furstenau: And they didn't know me. So I sat behind a cur- curtain and watched the street, and there were the guards, two guys with rifles walking up and down. They would go so far, and they'd meet two other guys. They'd talk a little bit, light a cigarette, and they'd come back. And those two guys would go the other way. And I got the routine going, uhm.. memorized pretty much. And then, at uh.. dusk, and from- from my playing Indian in Germany, cowboy and Indian, I knew that the worst visibility was just before dark, before the floodlights went on.

Q: Oh, they had floodlights?

Wolfgang Furstenau: Oh yeah, they had lights there, too. But when it started to get dark and you couldn't, you know, details, couldn't make out maybe details as well as you would in daytime. So that's the time I picked. And uhm.. the guys went past us, and they went back going the other way; and when they were a certain piece away from me, with their backs toward me, I walked across the road, ducked behind a barn, came to a little road that led to the border, and I had been briefed on this. And there was a ditch. I flattened out in the ditch, and I crawled on my belly for a distance-- didn't dare raise my head. And then, after a while I got on my knees, did some more crawling, and I made my way to a little creek that was the border. And uh.. someone had conveniently felled a tree across it. (laughs) So I didn't even get my feet wet. I jumped up and ran across this tree, and I was home free.

Q: Wow!

Wolfgang Furstenau: Yeah. And later people were telling me that at the time I crossed they-- uh.. the border situation changed in time in severity, how tight the border was kept. And at the time I heard that they had orders to shoot at anything that moved in the no-man's-land where I was crawling. So either they didn't see me or they saw me and chose to ignore me. I don't know. You never know. So then I was in West Germany. First thing I did is go and buy an orange. (laughter) Priorities. I-- after living through a war and, you know, oranges and chocolates were very hard to come by. And we couldn't get them, period. So that was important to me. And then I made my way to relatives in uh.. Northern Germany and, "Oh, here comes the refugee from the east. How are you?" And this was my mother's sister. "What would you like to eat?" "Meat. Lots of meat." "Oh." Well, meat was scarce there too. (laughs) And, guess what they did? They bought X number of pounds of whale meet, which they could get, and evidently there is a cut in the animal that is edible if it's cooked long enough and properly. And so, that was my first big meal in West Germany. Whale meat.

Then, I made my way south and rendezvoused with my brother, who was living in uh.. in Luxembourg at the time. He had worked, after the war, with a family in the Moselle region, where the Moselle wines come from. And I met him there in Germany, and uh.. we decide the next day we would go across the border to Luxembourg where he had a job and uh.. it was part of the plan. So we walked towards the border, in West Germany, towards Luxembourg, and about a kilometer short of the border-- oh, there came a border patrol for- or guy, and he wanted to look at our passports, and we- well, we told him we wanted to talk to a relative of ours on the other side, just across the border, shouting across the line. He looked at us, and he says, "Okay. That's okay." And he walked on. So when he was gone, we went up a hill and down the other side, and we were in Luxembourg. (microphone noise, laughter) And again, the minute we were on a street, here comes a gendarme, "May I see your papers please?" And he looked at them, and he says, "Oh, okay, Germans." He says, "I apologize." He says, "We have so many vagrants here. We have to keep a close watch on our streets because they will steal and, you know, cause havoc here among the population." And uh.. he says, "You have no problem. Thank you very much. Goodbye."

Q: Wow!

Wolfgang Furstenau: Yeah. So then I worked on a farm in Luxembourg to earn the fare for a trip to Canada with my brother. And in about nine months we had the money saved up. I think uh.. our ship's fare was about 400 and some dollars.

Q: And you could just go to Canada as an emigrant or-?

Wolfgang Furstenau: Yeah. You had to go-- you had to get a visa uh.. and we did that. I had a bit of difficulty. I had a cough, and I had to go to a doctor to certify that I didn't have any serious health problems. And that cleared up and-

Q: They were very accepting of emigrating there?

Wolfgang Furstenau: Yes. Um-hmm. Very good to us. Uhm.. and as it turns out uhm.. each country, just as with the United States, Canada had a number of, a quota, of emigrants. So many from Germany, so many from France, so many from Poland, so many from Italy, so many from Luxembourg. Not too many people came from Luxembourg. So it was a shoo-in for us to get our visa.

Q: It didn't matter that your passport was German?

Wolfgang Furstenau: No. They didn't care about that.

Q: (inaudible)

Wolfgang Furstenau: Uhm.. matter of fact, I- I got a West German passport. We went to uh.. I think an embassy in Luxembourg and told him, the ambassador, our tale. And he looked at my East German passport, "Oh boy," he says, "I collect passports. Would you mind if I kept this?" I said, "No. I won't have any more use for it." And he gave me a West German passport then. Looking back, I know why he kept it.

Q: Why?

Wolfgang Furstenau: Well, if you wanted to send an agent into East Germany, you need East German passports, right? Here was an authentic passport. All they had to do is change the picture and a few things. Yeah. 'Course at the time I didn't realize this.

Q: So for all you know you've been working in East Germany for quite some time?

Wolfgang Furstenau: Who knows? (laughter) So then I took a ship to Canada, a Cunard ship, and uh.. had a good time on board. Uhm.. there were a lot of East Europeans. Uh.. the crew was English. In those days uh.. they still had English crews. Today, crews are a mixture of all nationalities on the Cunard ships. And uhm.. I remember the crew commenting on some of the- the other nationali- nationalities that didn't behave as civil as they should. And under their breath they'd say, "Bastards. Bastards." 'Cause they would order everything on the menu and then order again beca- You know, this was big time for them, as it was for us, but we could understand English at the time so.

Q: (laughter) So your brother had learned English as well?

Wolfgang Furstenau: He had better English uh.. than I. I had two years of English, and the way things were organized, uhm.. when I went to high school there was another English 1 given, and they didn't make allowance for people like me who already had English. So I took another two years of the same subject. By the time I got through, I had the grammar down pat, and uhm.. at the time reasonable vocabulary for a person not living in an English-speaking country. And we read-- I read excerpts from British newspapers and so on, and- and I started to read books in English with difficulty. So in Canada it was miserable, it was December. We landed there-- it was the middle of the-- it was evening, black, snow was flying, it was cold as hell. And we were taking a train into the interior of Canada, and my brother was saying later that he had second thoughts at that moment about what we were getting into. But everything worked out, and- and we made out all right.

Q: You spent most of your adult life, then, in Canada? Or did you come to the United States?

Wolfgang Furstenau: No. I stayed there for five years, uhm.. I was going through the period in life when you turn 21. And uh.. you are restless to start with and uh.. I was still looking for my niche in life uh.. Canada, we started working on a farm, because I had no trade, obviously. Uhm.. then we moved to the west coast, British Columbia, near Victoria. Uh.. in Victoria, we lived for a while, and then bought a house outside. And we got a job in a uhm.. uh.. in a-- with a firm that manufactured high explosives. And that sounds exciting from the outside, but uh.. it was just a job uh.. with chemicals. It was a chemical factory, and uh.. dangerous as it sounds, it was not really if you followed the rules, it was not dangerous. And I uh.. I worked for a while in a- a building. Each building had a uh.. a mound of dirt along its four sides so that the blast, if it should go up, would go up and not sideways and damage other buildings. And one building, a few years before we came there, blew up, and it- it's instant heaven for the folks that are in the building; because they would go around afterwards with a bucket and pick up pieces and divide it into three and say, "Okay. Here are the remains of your son or your husband."

Q: What year was this when you started with the industry stuff?

Wolfgang Furstenau: Uhm.. I got to Canada in '51, worked on a farm for maybe two, it's couple of years, '53.. '54. '53, '54, in that neighborhood. Yeah, 1954. And uhm.. uh.. later I got a job trucking, what they called trucking nitroglycerin. That's the main ingredient they use. It's manufactured in a building, a separate building with big vats and climate-controlled because the-- it's touch-- it's temperature sensitive, has to be kept within a certain number of degrees. And they had chutes uh.. on the upper floors that, if they had a runaway reaction where the temperature got too high, they could just jump on the chute and it would take them beyond the berm, away from the building in- in a matter of two seconds. So I got to trucking-- there were two lead tanks on a rubber-wheeled.. like a rickshaw. Two handles, rubber wheels, lead tanks, and filler cap on the top. And I believe each tank held 800 pounds of liquid. And you had to go into this building where they manufactured this uh.. nitroglycerin uhm.. I forget the chemical name, toluene, trinitrotoluene, I think it was. Uhm.. there was no metal, other than lead, non-sparking metals, okay? We filled the tanks with a rubber hose, which had, like a giant clothespin to shut it off, and uh.. you would back the cart onto a scale, wood and whatever it was made of, and you would fill the tank, watching the scale, to a certain level. When you had your 800 pounds you'd pinch the hose and clamped it back up, put the cap on, and then you'd fill the other tank. Well, one time-- and I shouldn't brag about it, but, I stopped the factory, the whole factory.

I was finishing filling the second tank, and I flipped the hose, which was about two inches in diameter. I took it-- I was going to clamp it up again against some, a wooden clamp on-- a fixture on the side of the wall, when out of the corner of my eye I saw a drip flying off. And the rule was: nitroglycerin on the floor, everything stops. So I told the guys that were keeping an eye on things then, that uh.. I believe I'd spilled a drop. "Okay," he says, "Don't move." And they came down, and they had a neutralizing solution all set, and they washed down the floor. And then they took the boards up off the scale and washed uh.. the boards and the scale and finally said, "Okay, you can move your cart now." And I could go outside, after maybe 30 minutes or so. And then they washed the rest of the scale and the sidewalls and everything. And without the nitroglycerin to feed the factory, they were out of work. So, (laughs) and no one talked to me seriously about it, you know, like-

Q: Yeah, you're in trouble.

Wolfgang Furstenau: You're in trouble. No, because I did all the right things. Yeah. That was-- that's the only excitement I had. (laughter) So uh.. when I was uh.. I guess 21 or thereabouts, 22, I decided that I would immigrate to the United States, because the future over there, to me, looked like you could work in lumbering, the fishing industry, retail. That was about it. I had studied radio and television repair, but that was not a big future for me either, the way I saw it at the time. So I said goodbye to my brother, and I went to the U.S.

Q: So he stayed in Canada?

Wolfgang Furstenau: He stayed in Canada. And later-- or no, while I was still there, my second brother, Peter, came over there as well.

Q: Well good.

Wolfgang Furstenau: Yeah. So uhm.. I think I oughta take a break and rethink what I haven't told you. All right?

Q: Okay. You want to just shut off for a second?

Wolfgang Furstenau: Yeah.

(break in tape)

Wolfgang Furstenau: Okay. Are we on the air?

Q: Yeah. We were kind of trying to get a little bit more flavor of what you-

Wolfgang Furstenau: The war years?

Q: -as a child, that you still remember those days?

Wolfgang Furstenau: Yeah. Uhm.. uh.. during the war uhm.. of course uh.. we found out what happened on the dif- on the various fronts through the newspapers primarily, and the radio. Radio and newspapers were the main means of communication. Uh.. movies-- if you went to a movie, there would be a newsreel header, and you could see some of the action, but there, of course, was no television. And uh.. so whatever you saw was already uh.. probably a week old or so. Uhm.. we- we had a lot of uhm.. air raid warnings in our town. The wailing sirens-- first was early warning, three long signals, and then the, uh, (imitates siren sound) the up and down signal that was imminent danger, and everyone had to go into a shelter if you heard that. And uh.. you were supposed to go into a shelter when you heard that, but practically, during the whole war, the planes that passed over us were headed somewhere else. And because we lived just west of the city of Stettin, which is a port city now in Poland, uhm.. these uh.. these air raid uh.. these planes flew directly over our city. And at night sometimes we would hear the droning of- of planes for a period of 15, 20 minutes or longer. There must have been hundreds and hundreds of planes uh.. passing over. Uh.. there was no anti-aircraft fire because our airport wanted to keep a low profile. And uh.. then uhm.. if it was still nighttime uh.. we could see the glow on the horizon from the fires in the city of Stetin. It was an important city for Germany, port city, and so the Allies had this as a prime target.

Uh.. the Berlin raids uhm.. didn't uh.. didn't go over us. We knew they were happening, and we heard stories, and I uh.. I have met folks of my age that experienced it first-hand. One uh.. young man told me that when he came out of the air raid shelter, he found a woman in one place and her head in another. And to a young person that had to be fairly traumatic. Uh.. and I believe uh.. we heard of the bombing of the city of Dresden. Uh.. very controversial at the time, because Dresden was known as a city of art, china, and art and, to our thinking, not a military target. But I think the theory of the Allies at the time was to uh.. keep pounding on Germany and the German population and- and to try to weaken their resolve to carry on the war. Only after the war, it was found that that theory had no basis at all. It was found faulty. Uh.. the bombing uh.. and I speak for myself, was to us an act of fate. It was fate. If a bomb came down on your house, that was fate. And if it missed you, that was good. It was fate also. We-- there was nothing a person on the street could do to end the war. Just as today there's nothing you or I can do to end the Iraq debacle-- I call it a debacle. And uh.. there a- there's- there's a uh.. principle of common uh.. fault or uh.. what is the word? Uhm.. that every German was guilty of all the acts that took place during World War II. That the, the uh.. the common guilt-- I forget the name exactly. Uhm.. I think uh.. that's- that's a propaganda term. Uhm.. I think it was invented, probably, by the Jewish folks that suffered the most in Germany. Jewish population. Not just Germany, but Poland and all the Balkan states and so on. Uh.. because the person on the street did not start World War II. Just as I didn't start the Iraq war, and I had no say in it. And frankly, there's nothing I can do to stop it and I could not prevent it. And it was the same in Germany. Uh.. you, certainly you cheer on your soldiers, because they're your boys. Uhm..

Q: And your brothers.

Wolfgang Furstenau: ..and the soldiers couldn't say very much, because if they talked in negative terms, it could be construed as treason. And they could be put against a wall and shot, in Germany certainly. Uh.. so really uh.. it's debatable, you know, this common guilt uh.. idea that that has any meaning at all.

Q: You had mentioned earlier that your father implied that you could go to a labor camp if you heard English. So you all knew there were camps like this?

Wolfgang Furstenau: Yeah. It was common knowledge, I would say, that KZ-- Ka Tzet, it was called. Ka is the German letter k, and Tzet is zed-- KZ concentration camps existed. Uhm.. who went to the camps? Uhm.. ordinary Germans. Uhm.. Jews-- I was thinking before you came down with your camera. Uh.. the word Jew, I don't believe, ever was spoken in our house. I can't remember it. We had no connection with Jews uh.. and possibly my parents talked about it. I don't know. Uh.. generally we children were cautioned that whatever was said in the house was not to leave the house. Uh.. so they were a little bit apprehensive about their opinion versus, you know, what other people might think of it. Uh.. but uh.. gypsies uhm.. had a reputation different from Jews. Jews were considered a low caste, if you will, although there were no castes in Germany. Uhm.. gypsies were more associated with thievery and- and uhm.. street uh.. ladies of the night and those kind of things. And if a gypsy camp came to town, and they would travel uh.. in their wagons, horse-drawn wagons, everybody would shutter their doors, lock their doors. 'Cause they knew that, for the duration of the gypsy visit, they had to be careful. And uh.. I don't remember hearing that Hitler had- had uh.. pursued gypsies as he did the Jews. I-- it was not talked about. Uh.. communists, the third- third group on Hitler's list, uhm.. again we had, they were not overt. They were not to be seen. If you were a communist uh.. I think, evidently, you kept a low profile. And they ended up in concentration camps. But I found out not long ago uhm.. that a cousin or nephew, a relative of mine, died in a German concentration camp. He was not Jewish and he was not Communist. He was just doing something wrong, and he ended up there as well.

Q: What role, if any, did organized religion, priests, ministries and so forth, play in everyday life and in the world of politics?

Wolfgang Furstenau: Uh.. during that time, church and school were still taught uh.. side by side. It was part of the curriculum uh.. catechism, and uh.. we grew up being taught the Bible and so on and so forth. And uh.. church-- uh.. in politics, I don't believe the church played a big role. I've not- I've not come across it. And uhm.. the uh.. the uh.. combined church and school teaching ended af- at the end of World War II. And during the communist regime where I was, and I believe in the West as well uh.. church and state were separated and uh.. it was no longer taught in the same classroom, if you will. Uhm.. religion was important uh.. to Germans at the time. My mother was not overly religious, but I remember her saying one time that she would never want to fly in a plane, because that was His territory. She didn't want to interfere with God. And uh.. we grew up sort of nonchalant in our view of religion. And uh.. as it turned out, personally, when I was 10 or 11, I philosophized my way into thinking that God was an invention of man, and there was no such thing. It was invented, and a lot of writing was done, and uh.. things were being justified. And the idea was used to-- as an end towards-- as a mean towards ends, like the Crusades and other things. Yeah. And so I uh.. from that day on uh.. I was what you would call an unbeliever. And I-- after reading-- I did a lot of reading when I was young. And uh.. after reading about other religions, Roman, the new Greeks and the Nordic religions, I thought well, maybe I could believe in Zeus, thunder, uh.. or Thor. Uh.. we see thunder, and sure it's-- no man can stand up to it. But it's hard. You can't-- I couldn't do it. And, you know, Venus and Athena and uh.. I just-- Loki, the Nordic god of mischief. Yeah, I liked him, but, you know, couldn't do it.

Q: Were going to be finishing shortly here. I just need to help our folks who may listen to this get a sense of-- Oak Island and North Carolina, that's still a long ways from Canada. So did you retire here, or did you spend much of your life here?

Wolfgang Furstenau: No, I did-- I uh.. when I came to the States, I first joined the Air Force, 'cause I wanted to get solid footing and maybe see the country a little bit. And I did. I ended up in uhm.. Lexington with the Air Force Research and Development Command.

Q: Lexington?

Wolfgang Furstenau: Uh.. Massachusetts. Um-hmm. Hanscom Air Force Base. And later I worked uh.. on Cape Cod on experimental radar sites, uh.. developing the early warning, airborne early warning systems, and came in touch with IBM machinery. Back in-- I worked in Lincoln Lab, MIT's Lincoln Lab down there uh.. where IBM had a Big Blue, and it took up a whole floor and was air-conditioned. It was great. And I worked there, and uh.. that began my career in computers and electronics. So I later joined IBM and uh.. worked in Owego, New York, in New York State uh.. with a uh.. with the uhm.. federal sys- systems division of IBM. Uh.. where uhm.. electronics for the uh.. space vehicles was built uh.. the fancy torpedoes, the Mark IV with the wires, and sonar systems that Clancy talks about in his book. And uh.. navigation systems for the B52s. All that was done there. And I had found it very stimulating. It was an-- I was a uh.. engineering environment, and that suited me quite well. And uh.. spent my career there, 22 1/2 years, and then I retired uhm.. and finding that the new liberties of retirement said that you could live anywhere you like now. You didn't have to follow the job. So I uh.. chose Long Beach, North Carolina and now Oak Island, and uh.. I'm quite happy here.

Q: How many years have you been here?

Wolfgang Furstenau: Since 1989. Yeah.

Q: You've gotten very involved in local history, is there not much German history locally, (overlapping conversation)

Wolfgang Furstenau: I uh.. speaking to people here on Oak Island, uh.. neighbors and others uhm.. I found that no one had ever recorded the history of Oak Island. And coming from a city that was founded in the 14th century-

Q: And the city we're speaking of is?

Wolfgang Furstenau: The city is Prenzlau, and one of the landmarks is a church that was built in 1234-- begun in 1234. Marienkirche. It bombed during World War II uh.. with firebombs. Um-hmm. And uh.. it burned out the innards, but the walls uh.. remained, and it has since been reconstructed to the way it was before.

Q: And these were some of the other- ?

Wolfgang Furstenau: And some of the scenes-- where my father used to work, his first job was for this aristocrat. We went there and took a shot of some of the buildings, and that's a detail of the- the roof. Yeah. I- I found it very interesting. Uhm.. uh.. let's see what else I have here. This the house where I grew up. The officer's house, so-called, in- in a development outside of Prenzlau.

Q: It still exists?

Wolfgang Furstenau: It still exists. It's since been subdivided into three lots. One has a new house on it. The other one-- the house itself has a driving school, and then a trucking company has the rest of the property. Yeah. And that's the house again, yeah, where I grew up. I spent my childhood there. During the war uh.. one interesting thing that uh.. for us children was when a German army uh.. division or whatever, came and requisitioned our house as headquarters, 'cause it was at the road, it had good access, and it was large. And they had-- they took over the lower floors and they set up communications equipment, running lines in the backyard. A tank was parked where our trees were, our- our fruit trees. And another tank was parked on the side street at that house. And uh.. I remember one uh.. German soldier evidently did what he wasn't supposed to, and he was put uh.. in confinement, and we ended up putting him- him on the third floor next to the pigeons. There was a little room, and he was in the clink up there, and we used to sneak him magazines to read and food, yeah. Huh. That was exciting.

Q: Well, listen, thank you very much.

Wolfgang Furstenau: My pleasure.

Q: Perhaps we ought to mention in conclusion. You do have a wife and two children? Don't forget the young people.

Wolfgang Furstenau: Yes. Yeah.

Q: We're going to get videotapes of your children. How old are they and where do they live?

Wolfgang Furstenau: Uh.. two children. We have a boy and a girl. They both live in New Hampshire. They're around uh.. they're 40, in their '40s. Uh..

Q: And your wife's name?

Wolfgang Furstenau: My wife's name is Mary. And she was born in Detroit. She's a Detroiter of Hungarian descent. Yeah.

Q: And your children's names?

Wolfgang Furstenau: Arthur is the boy, and Susan the girl. Susan's a little older. Um-hmm.

Q: So you go visit them in the summer?

Wolfgang Furstenau: Seldom actually. Uh.. New Hampshire is a long way from here, and uh.. they've come and visited us once I think since we came here. And we've been up there once. We write each other sporadically. Yeah.

Q: Thank you.

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