Interview with Aurelia Bates
Editor's Note: The following content is a transcription of a period document or a collection of period statistics. It may be incomplete, inaccurate, or biased. The reader may not wish to take the content as factual.3 Jul 1994
ww2dbaseInterviewer: Roger C. Adams
Interviewee: Aurelia Bates, a civilian who survived the Bombing of Dresden and fled the Soviet advances in the final months of the European War
Adams: Good evening. This is Roger Adams for the University of Kentucky in Rineyville, Kentucky. I'm here tonight on July 3rd, 1994 with Mrs. Aurelia Ilona Sontag Bates. This evening Mrs. Bates is going to tell us about her experiences in Europe as a child in World War II.
Bates: I was born in Lemberg. At that time, it was Galicia, later Poland, and now it's the Ukraine, on December the 2nd, 1936. As I remember my childhood up until the fifth year was good. I have some very good memories of that time. After that I heard of war, and it first touched us, as I recall, when we had little or no food, but we were fed. We were fed by the German Army and from soup kitchens. I remember, I may have been five years old then, and we walked to the soup kitchen they had set up for us, for the people, and they would feed us soup and black bread and salami, and I'll always remember that. I don't remember much else. But we were fed then. After that we lived somewhere else at that time, and I don't quite remember the name of it. I might have been five then.
Adams: Did you lose your home because the Germans moved in?
Bates: I don't know why we moved. We may have. We moved to Posen, Poznan in Polish. And my father he worked for the Germans, and we had a very good life then after we moved to Posen. We had a home and servants and everything else. At that time it was quite rare because the Polish people were, well, they didn't have it quite as well as we have. My father, as I said, worked for the Germans. Therefore, I think we were an exception. We had everything I could imagine. I remember my father taking me on the train out into the country to buy cherries to make wine. And those memories were good. I remember he was a great stamp collector. And I remember him asking me to help with the stamps, and we would put stamps in books and he would teach me about stamps. So my life was very, very good until then. And that was 1944. So everything was still good for us. And I don't know about anybody else. I was very small then - seven or eight years old probably.
Adams: What kind of work was your father doing for the Germans?
Bates: Well, he was a doctor, a translator. He could speak several languages, and he would translate from the Polish into the German and from the Russian into the German. So, he was very well needed. And we had a very good life as I said before. I also remember that all the things that I'm hearing now, that I heard nothing of when I was small. Eight years, I should have remembered some of it. But, we had a Russians camp not too far from us. I remember mother taking cakes to the Russian prisoners. It was a Russian prison camp. And, I do know that she would bake cakes, or have them baked, and take them to the prisoners. And nothing came of it. I mean, she was allowed to do that, apparently. She was Russian by birth, and she would do that. And, so everything went normal. I just had a good childhood. I heard of a war, and rumors and stuff, but we weren't touched by it, not where we lived. Until early 1945, that's when everything crashed, and even I know something was badly wrong. There was a lot of talk of war, and everybody was extremely worried. And then one day, it was still winter. It was cold. I think my mother was very upset. Everybody was upset. My father, my mother, my two sisters, and my brother. And, all I remember is that she said we had to pick up. We had to leave. I couldn't understand why. We had everything there. I mean, so we just grabbed some things. She said take what you want, what you really want, and all I could hear was that the Russians were coming.
Adams: What sort of things does a child take?
Bates: Toys, maybe a book. I like to read so I usually carried a book around, always. But my mother would grab some pictures. I know because she brought some photographs back with us. And, I don't know, my father - stamps, I guess. Some jewelry. But not much. Maybe a bag for each of us. My sister. I was the youngest. I was 10 years younger than my sister. So, I really don't know. But my mother tried to take what she thought was important, but not much. We each could just carry one bag. My father could come with us. He was past 60. My brother was left behind. Anybody, I'd say between 16 and 60, had to stay to defend the city.
Adams: Was your brother in the German army then?
Bates: No, he was not old enough. He was Hitler Youth, but he was not in the German Army. He was at that time maybe 18 because he was studying. Yes, so he was definitely not a soldier. He was in the Youth. So he had to stay behind, which was terrible for my mother and for all of us, of course we understood that much. My father could come. He was past 60, so the four of us left. We had to catch the last train out. I remember my mother saying that. It was the last train out, she would say. We heard the Russians in the distance. That's what they told me, it was the... what did they call it... Katyusha... or some kind of heavy artillery. We heard that in the distance. We had to flee. We waited until the last minute but then it was time to go. We had to. Father was afraid. My mother was afraid. What would happen to us if the Russians would catch up with us?
Adams: Did you have any preconceived notions of the Russians? Was there propaganda at the time that you saw or heard the Russians would do to you if they caught you?
Bates: Oh yes, with my father working for the Germans the way he was. I mean, I don't think they would have let us... I don't think that we would have lived. I mean... we would have lived. That's what my parents told me. We had no chance. We had to flee. So we left everything behind. We caught the last train out. And we ended up in Dresden. Apparently, my father knew somebody there. They took us in, a family. Right downtown Dresden. Beautiful home. And I was happy again. I had toys, books, a lot of books. If the fleeing on the train, which I don't remember much from that ride.
Adams: When is this? About, January?
Bates: No, it was... it was maybe the last of January. Yes, it had to be January.
Adams: Of 1945.
Bates: Yes, 1945. We got to Dresden, and the family took us in, and everything was great. I remember that I... because we went downtown, everything was quiet. But my father took sick. His legs were bothering him. He had water in his legs. So we went downtown. I remember, the girls, myself, my sisters, and mother. I took a book with me. And I didn't ask to take it with me. And I always thought... and then when the siren started about the attack, I always felt I was being punished for taking the book without asking. It was just something in my childish mind, you know?
Adams: Are you talking about the British attack on Dresden?
Bates: The attack, yes.
Adams: Had there been any warnings prior? So, the attacks started on February 13th. Had you all had drills, and raid warnings, prior to this?
Bates: Well, we had drills, always. I think you grew up with that, with drills, even in, I remember, in Poland. But I don't think there was that much need of it there. We knew how to get to the cellar. And how to conduct yourself. But the attack on Dresden was a monstrous thing. I remember that well. How could anyone forget that?
Adams: The first bombs were supposedly delivered between 10 and 10:30pm by British bombers.
Adams: The second wave came in about 1am, so were you awake...
Bates: So I remember it was night time. When we went to town, and I had the book with me, which I took, and we walked around. We came back. It was night time, I know, because the city was lit up with the fire. It was just... it was like day time. But the alarms sounded, and we went into the basements. And then the bombs came. And we could hear the bombing. Of course, you were frightened, but... not really. I mean, I don't think I really was all that frightened. But you could hear them hit. And it hit our building, the one we were in.
Adams: Do you remember where in the city you were?
Bates: No, I don't know the street anymore. But it was in the center.
Adams: It was close to the center of town.
Bates: It was in the center, close to the river. Yes, it was.
Adams: The only landmark that I can give you was the Altmarkt, which was the town square.
Bates: I couldn't say.
Adams: Do you remember that?
Bates: No. I remember this beautiful big building we lived in, and it was blown away. The bomb hit it, but it didn't bother the basement, so we started crawling out, terrified, you know, through the windows, through the basement windows. If you know the German buildings, they had a good sized window. As you walk along the street there is always a window in the basement. People panicking, screaming, I remember that.
Adams: You crawled out the building right after it was hit?
Bates: Yes, yes. My mother was pushing us out. We didn't know how far it was burning. We had to get out.
Adams: What do you remember seeing when you got out of the basement?
Bates: Well, I don't remember the pain, but I've got phosphorous burns on my knees. They were phosphorous bombs. And other bombs, too. Because I have permanent burns. And I remember my mother pushing us out, the girls, and then herself. My father at that time, as I said, he wasn't feeling well. He was hospitalized, so we never saw him during that attack. Well, we crawled out. We started running, and there was just fire flying everywhere. I mean, you know, the debris from the buildings, I remember that so well. How can... like I said, you can't forget that, really. It was monstrous. And, my mother kept us together. There were people screaming and running everywhere. Buildings just burning. I mean, it was just like instant-; it couldn't have been instantly, but it was. It seemed to be, you know. Everything was ablaze, and we were running. That's when I saw my first body on the streets. My mother shielded my eyes but I saw him anyway. It was a... it was a body of a man, I know. It was burned, charred, black.
After that, my mother shielded my eyes.
Adams: Where did she take you then?
Bates: We kept running. Back to the river. My sisters were tired. It was nighttime. We were exhausted. They didn't want to go any more. We sat on a bench. The river, the bench on the river. They wanted to rest. I wanted to rest, to sleep. My mother kept pushing on. "You can't stay here. They're still bombing. They're still coming." She says, "We got to keep running." And, it was a good thing because the planes would come real low over the river, and they would just shoot.
Adams: Did you know if it was the British, or the Americans, or the Russians?
Bates: They said it was the British, and it was the Americans. There were no Russians.
Adams: You did know that it was the British...
Bates: The British and the Americans. We knew that. We also knew, I don't know, it might have been a rumor. But, there was talk afterwards, the people, what I heard, that the Russians instigated all of this. For the Americans and to the British to bomb, saying that there were armies in Dresden. There were soldiers. There were no soliders. There were just refugees.
Adams: There were prisoners of war there, captured at the Battle of the Bulge, weren't there?
Bates: I don't know that. I know there were prisoners. There were women and children, refugees that had come the same as we did. And they were in Dresden. There were no armies stationed there. There was no... so anyway, you know we never could understand why they bombed it, other than it was some... I don't know, some ill timed orders or something that somebody was given to bomb the city that had nothing but refugees.
Adams: When the British planes came back at 1am, they bombed again.
Adams: You were still down at the river at that time?
Bates: Yes, we kept pushing on.
Adams: And you spent the night down there?
Bates: No, we couldn't. Mother kept pushing us on, thank goodness, because they came. They started flying low over the river, just shooting, you know, just the people that were running. You could see everything. It was lit up, like, with the fires go on. And, they would fly low and shoot.
Adams: Where did you finally wind up staying that night?
Bates: We ran. We ran outside of the city. How we got there I don't know. I just don't know... I know we ended up on the highway, and then an army truck picked us up. And we rode on the back of it. Mother later told me on boxes of ammunition. I don't know that. It's just what she told me, but she had no reason to tell me if it wasn't so. They took us out of the city, and we ended up above Dresden.
Adams: There was a suburb of Dresden, Gorlitz. Was that where they took you?
Bates: No, we weren't in Gorlitz but I know about Gorlitz. The name escapes me, where we went to, but I remember when they left us off the truck, we walked through woods. It was a wooded street on both sides, beautiful. We looked back and below us, not below us or behind us, I don't know which, we saw the city just burning. It was just aflame. We looked back, and it was burning. And wondered what happened to my father, but we didn't know, we just kept on. And we ended up in a small place, could have been something like Gorlitz, but it wasn't. I know it wasn't. Well, somebody took us in again there, and we spent a night.
Adams: The Americans came in at 12 o'clock noon on February 14th and bombed Dresden once again.
Bates: The next day?
Bates: We were gone then.
Adams: The British flew at night and the Americans were flying at the day time. This would have been the third time Dresden was bombed in under almost 12 hours.
Bates: It was a terrible thing.
Adams: So you were out of the city by then?
Bates: Yes, we left. We were there for the British, if you say it was the British, we were there past 1, I know. Because you just don't run in 5 minutes across a city. It was probably hours. You know we just didn't leap over all this. It took us a long time to get there but, like I said, mother tried to keep me from seeing all that was happening.
Adams: I can understand how tramatic this would be to a child and civilians who have no understanding of why a town with no army there or any military importance would be bombed, but I can't help but wonder what goes through the mind of a child. How does a child comprehend a war...
Bates: I accepted it. I think I grew real... not tough, because I'm not a tough person. In a way, I am, because I... I guess it toughened me in a way. It did. It had to, because I was disgusted more than angry. I didn't have any hate in me, and I still don't. I could blame the Americans. I could blame the British, but that would be stupid. I have no hate in me. I just don't understand it.
Adams: You said that when you got out of the basement of the building, your knees were burned. But at the time you didn't realize...
Bates: I didn't know it.
Adams: When did you finally realize it?
Bates: I didn't feel any pain, until I saw it. The white... it was completely burned out. White spots. No, I didn't feel any pain. The excitement and everything, I mean, you could probably cut a finger off, and I woudn't have felt it, you know. So I didn't feel any pain at all. We just crawled out, my knees on the sidewalk, with all this debris and the burning. It was... I didn't feel a thing. Just kept on running. Mother said run, and we did. She said keep on going. She's the force that pushed us, and I think that's the reason why we're alive.
Adams: Once you were out of the city, and the bombing was over the next day, you said you didn't know where your father was.
Adams: How did you ever...
Bates: We didn't know where my father was until we got to Salzburg. From that place, we just kept on. We couldn't stay there. The Russians were coming. That's all I ever heard. The Russians are coming. Just like that title in that movie, almost. It's ridiculous.
Adams: Did you want to try to get to the German lines? Or to the Americans?
Bates: We wanted to get away from the Russians. We were extremely... not afraid, I don't think. We were past being afraid. Nothing mattered when you go through all this, you know. You just knew that you wanted to get way, you wanted to live, and you would do anything to survive. You just don't give up. It was human nature. And I think I grew up like that, just a survivor.
Adams: So when did you get to Salzburg?
Bates: Well, it didn't happen all that quickly. We just kept catching rides, trains, trucks, anybody that would pick us up off the highway. We finally got to Prague. I remember that to be a beautiful city. And I don't remember anything about the war there. I mean it seemed quiet, no bombings or anything, not that I remember. Of course we didn't stay there very long. We spent the night there. I remember being at the train station. A nice man gave me some post cards, which I still have today. That's about the only thing I have. From Dresden, two small wooden bears, and the postcards from Prague, that's all I have from the war, so to speak, that I took with me as a child. But I remember Prague. Golden Prague, they said. Beautiful city on the top of a hill. And well we caught a train there, and we went on, and ended up in Vienna, Austria. Well, Vienna was pretty well bombed, also. I mean it was very, very, very much destroyed. We stayed there, close to the Prater, the big carnival, because I remember seeing those rides and things. And that's when I took sick. Mother, carrying me to the doctor, and I remember her telling me that the doctor told her that I wouldn't live, but she was determined to bring me through. I had typhoid fever, I think, but she got me out of it. So, we stayed in Vienna there.
Adams: I'm just a little curious, before you go on. How did you live day to day, getting food or getting places to stay? Were there people that took you in just because you were a refugee?
Bates: Yes, the way I can think back, to think about it, people taking us in, or we just slept on, I remember sleeping in a train station once, and I was crying because I wanted to stretch out, but there were so many refugees there, and the benches were full. My sister sitting on the floor, and mother had one place on the bench, and she was holding me, and I wanted to stretch out and go to sleep, and I was crying then. I think that was the only time I cried. I had lost my nerve, because I was sleepy. So we were just sleeping in train stations. We were sleeping almost in the street as we were running. People taking us in. It was chaos. Nobody knew what was going on.
Adams: Was your brother still...
Bates: No, he was left behind. He was left in Posen.
Adams: He was left behind, and you had not heard anything from him?
Bates: No, not a thing. We assumed he was dead or got killed. He had to defend the city. And, he was about 18 years old. Never really held a rifle or knew what to do with one. So little chance he was alive, you know. I know if the Russian had gotten hold of those young Germans, I'm sure they wouldn't have let him live. So, Vienna, to go back to that, we left Vienna. The Russians were coming again. And, we left Veinna and pushed on to Salzburg. And that's where I saw the Americans march in and take over, in Salzburg, and that's when we stopped running. I think we were, mother was tired, and we had it. That was it. We found a bombed out hotel. I still go back there sometimes when we go overseas to look at it. It's not bombed out any longer but it was a mess. So we just took over. We slept in the kitchen. There was a little storage room off the big kitchen, restaurant kitchen, and I remember we lived in that in the back room. The top was bombed. And we stayed there. We went through a lot of bombings before the Americans came in, of course. There were those sirens, those horrible sirens that I still can't listen to. Sometimes you hear them here, at noon time they blow those sirens. It gives you the creeps. That's what we heard. There were certain types of sirens. One may have said, you know, be alerted, get ready, and the other ones just you don't have any time, run for cover. Different tones like whining, rapid whining noise, and maybe a slower noise. So we would run. Where we were, we had, in Salzburg. It's a beautiful city. Built on two sides of a river. So in order to get to the shelter, they were built in to the mountains. There were two mountains on each side of the river, they were rock mountain and there were shelters built in to the rock. That's where people would run to hide and sit it out. And so we had to run, I would say about two miles, maybe, to get to it. Maybe a little less. So when the first siren sounded, we would take off. Cross a bridge, passenger bridge. There were several bridges. But we would run. One time it was a close call. The planes were coming, you could hear them, you could hear the bomb dropping, and the roar of the planes. They weren't jets. You could hear the, I mean, old fashion planes I would say, bombers, the heavy roar, I mean real deep. I could still hear it if I set my mind to it. I don't want to. They would come, and they would drop bombs, and they would also shoot along the river. Whip up the water. I"m not sure they wanted to hit the people. Because they could have.
Adams: They were dropping the bombs in the river?
Bates: No, they were shooting. No, the bombs were on the buildings. I don't think they meant to hit the people, really. I really don't. Because they could have. Those bridges, I mean, I know they could have blown those bridges up, and they knew people were... I assume they could tell from up there. They could see the poeple running, couldn't they?
Adams: Were there soldiers in Salzburg?
Bates: No, Salzburg was just a beautiful city, historic city. But they would bomb anything. I mean Salzurg, the smaller towns, anything. Vienna. I'm sure there were soldiers here and there but no much. Germany was mostly, you know, I would imagine Munich, Berlin and all those places.
Adams: When about were you were in Salzburg?
Bates: '45. Just at the end of the war.
Adams: So near April or May?
Bates: Yes, it was April.
Adams: Had you heard rumors that Germany was losing, or were you still being told that Germany was winning the war?
Bates: Oh we felt, of what I could tell, that Germany would never lose. I mean, you know, everybody was for Germany. Of course, we were pro-Germany. We didn't know any different. I was. I was a little child. I know my mother never was, she was... never pretended to be. But we, my sisters I don't know, but we were German. We consider ourselves German, you know. In other words, we were maybe on the German side. I don't know. I never thought about it much. But we just didn't think they would lose. It was just the war, bombing. It would be over.
Adams: You had a sister in the Luftwaffe?
Bates: No, she was just a Hitler Youth.
Adams: Your sister was also a Hitler Youth.
Adams: What was she doing at this time?
Bates: She was with us.
Adams: There was no organization? No... she had to stay anywhere...
Bates: Oh no, no. At that time it was just chaos. I mean it was just war, war, war. Bombing, nearly every day, every other day. It was just, we should have known it was getting close to the end or something. Nobody could have stood that forever. But as far as news go, I don't remember hearing any news. Not much of it. But I remember a lot of bombings, in Salzburg too. A lot of destruction while we stayed there.
Adams: How did you get food from a day to day basis?
Bates: How did we get food? It was April and then May, and they had, I don't know, we had scrunged for bread. There was black market. Mother would sell her rings to get a loaf of bread. There was black market, I know there was. Because I remember somebody coming to us in the bombed out hotel we stayed in. And she would get a loaf of bread, and she would give up her jewelry for it. Also, we would rob the burned out storage houses. You know, you would get what you could. I remember that. But, going to the shelter was just an every day thing. We just would hide, and as soon as the alarm sounded for us to, it's over and they're gone, we'd come out and go back. And we lived in that bombed out hotel until the Americans marched into the city. I don't know the dates. I wouldn't want to say something that I'm not sure of. But I remember them coming into the city and everybbody was talking about the Americans were coming. We didn't know what to think of them, because we were past being afraid, because we went out in the streets. We stood out along the streets, and we waited for them. And they came. They came in their jeeps. And they came in their vehicles. And I remember standing there at the side of the street with my sisters, and they would throw out candy to us, and I thought, well, they can't be all that bad. They would just pitch out candies, and we would just try to catch them. And, bubble gum or what have you, I don't know. But it was good. Nobody was afraid of them then. And, after that, it was still... then it was really a terrible time after they marched in because things were still very upset. Nothing was organized. No food. No place to stay. And then later on, they started taking over buildings. I remember not too far from where we were, there was a storage house, food storage, for the stores helping with supply. Maybe a supply area. And there was food there, and people would find out about it, and they would try to break in, and steal the food, and take it. And so they posted some soldiers in front of it to keep the people from it. I know. I remember those soldiers. And we would break in, and I remember people shoving and acting like animals trying to get the food, and being pushed and tossed over, and a woman falling and nobody cared. They just wanted food.
Adams: The Americans did not feed you at all?
Bates: Not at first, I mean it took time. They set up later on, but I remember we were starving for a long time after they marched in, because it had to be May then, or early May maybe, because I remember going to a house that had peach tree, and the peaches were green. They were still very small and green. And I would climb those trees, I would pick them and take them to mother and she would boil them and we would eat those. So we had nothing to eat there for a quite a while even after the Americans got there, other than what we can get out of bombed out buildings and things. And I used to climb up into an old school house, and libraries, they were bombed out, and I'd carry books home. Books of all things. I can't believe it. And I'd carry bags of books home. Home. To the place where we holed out.
Adams: I want to go back one second before we go any further. You mentioned you had gotten tyhpoid fever. Do you mremember if that was before the Americans came in?
Bates: Yes that was Vienna.
Adams: Do you recollect how long you had the disease?
Adams: You just remember...
Bates: I had high fever and they told mother I wouldn't live. But that was in Vienna, I know. I can't tell you dates. It's hard for me to remember dates. Things happen so fast, and yet I knew it doesn't make sense. It had to be slow. It had to have happened over a long period of time. Days, weeks, even months. But to me, I just... what I remember, it was just points. You know, a little here, a little there. A lot of things I don't want to remember. Sometimes even now, I'd be just sitting or walking, and something pops into my head that I recall, and I say you must have seen a movie. That's not so. You don't remember a hanging, do you? It must be a bad movie you saw as a child, but where would I have seen a movie about young boys being hung? I don't know. To this day I don't know. I don't try to understand it. I try to put it out in my mind. And that was back in Poland somehwere, I remember, because I was a small girl.
Adams: Germans hanging Polish citizens?
Bates: Probably. I don't know, see, and I don't want to know. I think I push it back and... what makes me remember that? Once in a while it pops in my mind. I could almost see it. But I can't tell you who did it. But I can see those young boys.
Adams: Okay, let's go back to Ssalzburg. The Americans were in Salzburg, and you're getting by day to day before they started to feed you. How did the American soldiers treat the German people there?
Adams: Well, they were good. I've seen good, and I've seen bad. Like those soldiers stationed in front of the warehouse, food warehouse. I would go up to them, and they would talk to me and joke with me. And, I would tell them I have two older sisters.
Adams: You spoke English?
Bates: I spoke German.
Adams: And they understood you?
Bates: Apparently. Becuase they would say "ah". You know they would like that. They would give me food, and they told me to bring them by, my older sisters, and they would give me food. And things like that, I mean, and that was good. Later on, they set up a Red Cross in Caritas. I don't know why the name sticks to my mind, but it was a form of Red Cross maybe? They would feed us and give us packages. I remember the big chunks of American cheese, pork and beans, that was good. Dry milk. Dry eggs, powdered eggs. But it was slow. It didn't happen then because a lot of times how hungry we were, didn't have anything. I would go out to the garbage piles, and I would see a potato. I knew what a potato plant looked like, and dig it and pull it out, and if there were potatoes on it we'd be happy. We'd scrounge for food. We stayed in that one building. Later on we moved upstairs, there was one room. Later on, before that we would burn doors, break our doors to burn for heat. That was earlier. And use anything we could to burn and keep warm. Then, of course I also remember American soliders trying to break in.
Adams: Break in to where you were staying?
Bates: Yes. Drunks. I remember my mother defending my sisters and threatening to kill them. I remember that.
Adams: Did you have any authorities you could go to, to try to stop this?
Bates: No, not that I know of. If we did, we just didn't, you know. We were frightened. There were three women and a child.
Adams: When did you finally find out about your father?
Bates: After things calmed down we found out that about my father about the same year. we started looking through the Red Cross. They located him. He was still alive, but in pretty bad shape. The Russians weren't giving him permission to leave to come to Salzburg. They wouldn't let him, you know, leave Dresden. He was still there. And he was in pretty bad shape. Eventually he died there in '47. We never saw him.
Adams: So you were in Salzburg until 1947?
Bates: No, we stayed in Salzburg. I stayed in Salzburg until I met my husband.
Adams: What was the recovery like after the war was over?
Bates: Slow. But things got better. Of course, there again I'm talking about time lapses. To me, it was like a jump when I talk about things getting better, but it took some time for them to get better. For them to set up, you know, places for people to go to. Medical care, food. I didn't go to school for, oh goodness, for a good year before the schools got back to normal. And then things started happening fast. The Americans took care of things such as that. I mean, the city was building up, was getting normal almost, of course not overnight as you know. But we heard terrible things about the Russians so we were thankful we were in the American zone. I don't know if we ever were afraid of the Americans or not. I know we were afraid of the Russians, but we were glad the Americans took over Salzburg where we were.
Adams: What were your feelings like when you finally heard that Germany had lost?
Bates: Well, in a way relieved because it was over. I know my mother was glad. We were so tired of it. It's just hard for people to imagine. You can't imagine, it was just such chaos putting a lot of people in one city, a lot of refugees and things, and everybody not knowing where to go, no place to stay, not knowing anything. It was a terrible mess. It was. But I learned to get around. Later on I learned to collect cans and sell them, collect wrappers from the candy, the aluminum foil. They were sold. I don't know, I rather not have gone through it, really, but same as everybody else. But I have no ill feelings toward anybody really. All I know is that we never heard of the atrocities that the Germans did. You know the what Germany did upon the Jews and others.
Adams: You never heard of it?
Bates: Never, never. I'm sure I wouldn't have.
Adams: When did you finally hear about that?
Bates: When did I hear about it?
Adams: Was the war over?
Bates: Oh yes. It was over, and I was in the states before I ever heard about it. I got married in '55. So not to my attention... And it all started coming out, books, and all of this. I never, I never heard anything...
Adams: So you didn't hear about it during the war crimes trials?
Bates: No... well, yes, yes.
Adams: That'd have been the first time you heard of it?
Bates: Yes, sure, I should have thought about that. But even though then I don't think it really hit home. You know, you said, well, it can't be, we were there. Because, see as I said before, as I mentioned earlier when I spoke with you about my mother being able to go and visit the Russian prisoners. I mean, that's not at all what you would imagine the Germans to be. For them to allow her to do that.
Adams: You never saw any Jewish citizens being rounded up.
Bates: No, never.
Adams: Never heard of that?
Bates: Never. You know it's in the movies where they depict little children screaming and yelling. I mean we were right there.
Adams: That's perfectly conceivable. There are many Germans who say, just like you, they never knew anything about it, and that's...
Bates: No, my family didn't. Maybe...
[lost audio briefly 48:00]
... as I mentioned, when we were in Poland, of course people might say, well, you were so young you wouldn't have known. I would have known because I was always there when people were talking. Something wouldn't have escaped me. I went to shcool there, and kids in school would talk. Somebody would have talked. And my mother would have mentioned it. My sister never mentioned it. I really don't think we knew. And if it happened right next door, well it would have to be a little further than next door, but I don't think we would have known if nobody wanted us to know it. Same as anywhere else, here or there. There are things here that people don't know what goes on, and in other countries. It can be kept secret. No, I didn't know any of this. And it's still hard to believe. No that... I can't say I don't believe it. Of course I believe it, I mean it happened, no doubt it happened. It's a terrible thing, but it's still hard to believe. Because we had no hardship during the German time, when the Germans occupied Poland. We were fortunate. I shouldn't compared myself to anybody, anybody else you know. We were fortunate. We didn't know any hardships. Not in Poland or in German occupation. There again, I think it was because of my father.
Adams: Did you know that Poland had been invaded by the Germans and the Russians and split up between the two?
Adams: Early in the war.
Bates: During the war? No. No. I just know we were occiped by the Germans. I knew that because I went to the German schools, my first two years. I would be catching the bus from where we lived and taken the bus to school, and I don't know. I didn't know then it was split up. All I know was that the Russians were coming, and that's why we had to flee.
Adams: What became of your brother?
Bates: My brother, we didn't hear anything. We searched the Red Cross, and they couldn't find any sign of him, so they declared him dead. Later on, we found out he was alive in Austria. But I did get together with him for a short time, but he was not well, apparently he suffered some. He's much older than I am, of course. He might have Alzheimer or anyting but he does not remember or doesn't recall.
Adams: But somehow he got from Poland to Austria just as you did.
Bates: Yes. Yes, he got away. He was a Russian prisoner but he did get away. They took him prisoner. That's all I know.
Adams: Did you have any other family that was in the army?
Bates: No. My dad was too old. He was 60 when I was born, so... there was no one in our family.
Adams: After the war you told me that the rebuilding came pretty quickly?
Bates: Quickly to me in my mind because you don't think of day by day. When I talk I don't think day by day or week by week basis.
Adams: Right. You heard about the war crimes trials. Was there an overwhelming sense of defeat at the time?
Adame: Was there guilt for the war? Did the peace that came after the war have a guilt almost as if, almost like the peace that came after World War I, where such heavy restrictions were placed on the Germans after World War I, that many historians say that's exctly what led to World War II, that many of the issues were never resolved. Was there the same feeling after the second war?
Bates: For us, feeling of defeat, that the Germans lost, yes. Because it uprooted me. Uprooted my fmaily. Destroyed us. I think at that time I much rather the Germans had won, you know, because I had a secure home and everything a child could ask for. So that my mother and I were together. And then the war came in order to free the others. In order to defeat the Germans, we lost everything.
Adams: Did your mother want to return to Poland?
Bates: Yes, yes she did. Not I. Not now. I'm at home here now. This is my home. But my mother never felt... my mother was never quite happy. She went through so much.
Adams: Your mother was Russian-born, correct?
Bates: Yes, she was born in Petersburg.
Adams: Okay, so how did you get to the United States?
Bates: I met my husband. It was in Linz. I went to school. I was taking Russian in school. I stayed in Linz. My sister lived in Linz with her husband so I used to stay with her a lot. I babysit for an American family and go to school. And, that evening the American family, it was for a Christmas party. They had to go out. They wanted me to babysit but I had school that night, so they asked my husband to fill in until I got in because he was a non-drinker and non-party-goer, so they said, "Would he come over and just sit until the babysitter would come home and take over", so that's how we met. When I came after school, he was there. And after that, he just kept coming back. And, we got married in Salzburg in '55, August '55. We met just before Christmas, got engaged New Year's, and then waited for the paperwork. In those days, you had to wait for paperwork. You couldn't just up and get married. You had to be approved by the chaplain. You had to be approved by a lot of people in the army, and I was also very young.
Adams: And when did you learn to speak English?
Bates: Oh, I spoke English when I met him. I took it in school. English was mandatory, well for me, it was in upper school. So, I had to have it. I spoke English when I met him. And so in '55. Then, I came to the states in '57. And then back to Germany one more time when he was stationed in Germany. And then after that we just stayed here. He retired... we moved up here to Rineyville in 1968. One month later he got orders for Vietnam.
Adams: What was it like going back to Germany the second time?
Bates: Oh, I don't know. It was exciting to go back, but I didn't feel at home anymore. I was a stranger there. Especially after marrying an American, I mean we weren't looked upon very well.
Adams: Were you ever treated poorly here in the United States?
Bates: No, I was always welcome here. When I first got to the states, I came to Mississippi and Alabama, and they were extremely friendly people. I still feel at home in the South. They took me in, and I had no problems. I had my problems from the Austrians. I don't have good memories from them. They looked down on you. We didn't have... I mean the Austrians weren't very good to us then, right after the way. You must remember, we were refugees, coming in, taking over, taking their food. They put us in barracks. We stayed in barracks after things got settled down, and we had to move out of that hotel beause they wanted to renovate it. They put us in the barracks. We had a room in the barracks. They must have been there, I don't know, maybe they were for the German Army or what have you, I don't know, but that's where we stayed for a long time. In fact, that's where we stayed until I got married. So, I don't have fond memories of the Austrians, really. No, but, like I said, I don't dislike. I don't hate anyone. Becasue I can see their point. They didn't want us any more than we want the Haitians or the Vietnamese coming over. People are the same way all over. Taking space, taking food, taking work nobody else wants. It's the same all over. You can't hate people. You can't hate nations. You're not guilty for what somebody else did. I'm not guilty for what the Germans did to the Jews. I don't feel guilty and never will. I had nothing to do with it. I'm a different generation. I wasn't involved. And I just don't understand that kind of feeling that the people express, all of the Germans. You know, they killed Jews and so and so killed so and so. It's war. It's a terrible thing, and there is no need to hate. We're not responsible for what our fore fathers did. My family wasn't involved such as because they were, like you asked me before, they were not in military. But had they been involved, I wouldn't have felt guilty. So I had nothing to do with them, with what they did, you see what I'm saying? People shouldn't feel like that.
Adams: I know some of the things you talked about tonight had been very emotional for you, and I appreciate your honesty.
Bates: I try not to remember it, I mean I wouldn't have. But sometimes it just comes back to me at odd times.
Adams: I was going to ask you, we're coming up now on the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Dresden next year. How do you mark that day? When it comes up on the calendar?
Bates: I wish I could go back. I wish I could afford to go back. Just walk the streets where I've been.
Adams: So you would like to be there, for the 50th annivesary?
Bates: Yes, I would.
Adams: Would that bring... Would that bring peace?
Every year does it bother you when you reach that date?
Adams: I certainly understand why it would.
Bates: It was a nightmare, but yet I never remember crying.
I cry now, but as an eight year old girl, I never cried.
I would like to go back, yes. It would be different now.
I would like to see where my dad is buried.
Adams: This is the end of the interview, and I just want to thank you tonight for talking to us, and I really appreciate the things that you've told us. It will be very well used by historians. Thank you again.
Bates: You're welcome.
Interviewer's Note, 19 Mar 2018:
I vividly recall the first "[long pause]". Aurelia had started to cry and it intensified. I moved to turn off the recorder and she waved my hand away from the button. When she composed herself, she nodded to me that she would continue.
WW2DB received this audio recording from the family of Aurelia Bates. This interview is currently housed at the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries.
Direct Link to Work: https://kentuckyoralhistory.org/catalog/xt78gt5ff46g ww2dbase
C. Peter Chen
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