Chapter: 4 A Night At The Battlefront

By comparing the descriptions in the Bernd Warschauer diary and the Hans Stern Draft I used the Google maps Earth option to find a barn with a courtyard on the route we would have crossed from the Seine. This was the only farm I found that fit the specs. I copied the street level picture. Since 1940 the buildings have been modernized. Even if it is not where we spent the night, it will serve to present a visual image of the type of farm we were at. The barn would be opposite from the visible buildings. The front gate leads to the highway.  At back another gate leads to a forest.
Previous: We join hordes of refugees and get a lift on a  coal barge as we try to avoid the advancing German army. Select prior chapters from the index at the page bottom.
As we timidly entered the courtyard the kind owners of the farm welcomed what must have looked like a bedraggled group of boys. As there were so many of us the farmers invited us to make ourselves at home in the barn. We were only too happy to have a roof over our heads and friendly farmers who also bought us some food. The barn was huge with mounds of hay covering the back half of the interior. There was a wagon and lots of farm tools.
That afternoon we heard some very close small explosions.  We ran to the barn door.
A German paratrooper had been blown of course and was heading straight down into our courtyard. As he descended he was shooting some kind of rifle grenade launcher as fast as he could reload it. One of the shells landed near a small group of female inhabitants of the farm causing severe damage to the heel of one of the women.  As the paratrooper landed and was trying to disentangle himself from the parachute one of the farmers ran toward him and hit him on the head with a rock. Another joined in and as the groggy German ran out the gate they followed him and killed him.  Although we had been subjected to continuous sounds of battle the last few days this was our first encounter with up close deadly violence.  
We settled into the hay in the barn as darkness began to enclose us. We had a dinner of a slice of bread and two pieces of oily sardines.
There had been no let-up from the sounds of artillery explosions in the distance. Shortly after we dozed off we were awakened by the loud blast of an exploding shell not more than 50 feet from the barn. As if this was an announcement it was immediately followed by dozens of explosions near and far. We were all frozen with fear as the insane cacophony of bursting shells increased. Some of the older boys tried to give us some comfort. They explained as long as we heard the whistling of the shells overhead they would not hit us. Well that was no comfort. The shells would whistle for a while then stop suddenly, a few seconds later there would be an explosion. Each time the whistling ceased we held our breath until we heard the explosion. Periodically there would be a group of explosions that we knew where from bombs which we were all too familiar with.
We found out later that the Germans had advanced very rapidly towards the Seine along the same road we had traveled on earlier that day from the Seine to the town and barn we were in. We actually were on the receiving end of the French artillery and bombers against our new German army occupiers.
With the first faint glow of morning the sounds of battle were receding towards the Seine and we were able to breathe a little easier amazed we were still alive.
6am next morning. We prepared to leave the farm. Breakfast of sardines and bread. We assembled at the front gate and proceeded into the street. In the distance 2 tiny dots began racing toward us. Shortly they turned into German soldier driven motorcycles. We ran back into the farm courtyard. One soldier had his machine gun lowered pointing straight at us. In broken French he shouted ‘are there any French soldiers here’. We were too frightened to reply instead running back into the barn and burying into the hay. Several more German troopers joined the first two and proceeded searching all the buildings. They poked at the hay stack on which we were lying, kicked one of the older kids in the face as he muttered ‘dirty Jew’.  The soldiers were noticeably nervous not knowing if any French soldiers might be hiding and start shooting any second. They left as swiftly as they had arrived.
Again we headed for the front gate. As we stood on the road machine gun fire erupted from the fields on the other side of the road. We saw three French planes attempting to take of from a makeshift airfield. All three were gunned down.
A well dressed German official was walking along the side of the road in our direction. Each time he passed people standing around he stopped to talk to them. When he reached us, speaking fluent French, he asked where we were from and telling us to return to the chateau immediately. We started the trek back to Chateau de Quincy. Hans Stern’s draft describes part of our return as follows:

Along the way every step we took was among the rubble of the prior day’s battles. Houses and farms still burning fiercely, hundreds of maimed and dead horses and cows. Dead and moaning wounded soldiers from both sides. It was too soon after battle for the rescuers to arrive.
Dazed farm families sitting stunned in front of the destroyed barns and homes. We are surrounded by despairing civilians returning to Paris.
As we neared the town of Quincy-sous-Sénart, Mr. Henry the gardener, volunteered to go ahead to see how our town and chateau had fared. Not long after he returned with some surprising news. 15 French soldier POWs had been ordered into the chateau till the Germans had a chance to prepare POW camps. And even more surprising the Germans did not even leave a guard.
Finally we entered our town. It did not look the same. Nothing really bad. All the houses were still standing but not one person was in sight giving the town a surrealistic depressing look. 
4pm We arrive back at Chateau de Quincy after a 48 km hike. What had taken us 3 days to get to the fighting front lines, took us 8 hours to return to our starting point. 

Click this line for Chapter 5 – “Quincy Under Occupation” or select a chapter from the index in the left footer column below.

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