Chapter: 3 Two Days On The Coal Barge

The German blitzkrieg of Paris. Each red arrow depicts the route of a German Panzer Divison. The large green dot shows our approximate location before we could go no further. Select prior chapters from the index at the page bottom.
Bernd Warschauer was one of the older kids. Immediately upon our return to Quincy-sous-Sénart he typed out a time stamped diary of our journey.   Thanks to Bernd’s thoughtful recap I am able to reconstruct our attempt to evade the Germans with accurate time stamps. Sadly Bernd was deported to Auschwitz in 1942 where he perished.  
We kids that went to France on the kindertransport were divided into 3 groups based on age.   Approximately up to 9 were the youngest, 10 to 12 the middle ages, over 12 the elders.   Hans Stern was one of the elders.    Shortly after our arrival in the US he decided he was going to write a book about his life.   He did manage to make a draft copy of the 4 or so days we spent in trying to escape from the oncoming German army as they took over Paris.   Fortunately his draft was so close to the actual events that it is a historical treasure.   I will devote several posts to this time based mostly on the Hans Stern draft.   The day we left Chateau De Quincy for our escape attempt, the following excerpt from the Hans Stern draft describes that solemn moment.   
Thank you Hans Stern for expressing the same sentiments I have held even now in the year 2015. A moment deeply engraved in my memory.  All my life whenever I heard La Marseillese that moment immediately comes to my mind.

Although I cannot find a version of the Marseillese played in the funeral tempo we heard that day, here is a version I like because of it’s power.  
That day all of us were crying as we realized the seriousness of the disaster for France and our own dire situation.  As I listen to this remarkably emotional rendition for the n’th time I see with increasing clarity myself and Wolfgang, fearful 8 year old boys, becoming aware that in a moment we will be leaving Chateau de Quincy, our refuge for the last year, to walk down a road without a destination into the midst of an enormous battle.  
At 4PM, June 13, 1940 we left Chateau de Quincy for Limoge about which we knew nothing and no one there was waiting for us. We had no maps to guide us. We only knew we had to go South. We were 42 boys and our caretaker teachers and gardener. Our teachers had waited too long to begin our attempt to escape the oncoming German army to acquire any form of transportation. Consequently we loaded one large oxcart with essential food and water and a small oxcart with very limited changes of clothes. The oldest boys were assigned to push/pull the oxcarts. To prevent hysteria among the youngest boys we had not been included in the farewell speech and instructions by M. de Mobrison (the owner of Chateau de Quincy) to the older boys. That did not keep us from becoming very fearful of the unknown journey ahead of us.  All around us in the gardens of the chateau hundreds of French soldiers, tanks, artillery and stacks of supplies on French army trucks made us aware we were very close to the fighting front.  For days we had heard the thunder of distant guns that replaced the daily bomber attacks on the suburbs of Paris and our town Quincy-sous-Sénart.
After walking no more than 10 minutes we became part of an endless bustling crowd of refugees jostling against the French soldiers and equipment attempting to go North to defend Paris. And not long after we dove into the ditches along the road sides to avoid the first of several German fighter attacks against the French army.  
A sample of the kind of road we followed. News from France, again heavily censored, told of the French government relocating to the city of Tours and that refugees were streaming out of Paris by the thousands.

3 hours later we arrived at Corbeil a town on the Seine. Our teachers had wisely decided to leave the impassable road south to try to board a boat or train at Corbeil. Along the quay in Corbeil several barges were tied up and taking refugees aboard. The boarding line was too long for us to have a chance to find room on any barge. Mademoiselle Howard walked over to a policeman, chatted with him and presumably passed some bills. Instantly we were escorted to the nearest barge and loaded on board together with our carts.
We joined possibly a thousand other refugees in a coal hold. Almost all were females, young children and babies. There were no toilet facilities. The barge crew had stationed large round containers for toilet needs all around the walls. The thin layer of coal dust on the floor and walls began floating around us irritating our noses adding to our mounting discomfort.
It was getting dark and there was nothing for us to do but sleep. We were crowded in like sardines. Our food supply was rationed and we had no food until the middle of the next day.
We had heard that German advance patrols were surveying the countryside. Yet it was a shock when the entrance cover of our hold was lifted by 3 German soldiers to look down with their guns pointed straight at us shouting “just a bunch of Jews” which we thought would be their signal to unload their guns. Instead they slammed the hatch back down their boots sounding on the ceiling as they stomped away.  
In the morning we sat on the deck, the heat in the hold had become unbearable. For lunch we had a slice of bread with something resembling salami and water. Our barge moved about 1 km per hour. In addition we went through 3 locks. At each lock we had to wait our turn for over an hour. In a day and a half we had gone no more than 30 km from Chateau de Quincy. The guns had become louder with each passing hour. We heard several very loud explosions. The barge captain told us that the French army was blowing up all the bridges over the Seine to slow down the German invasion.
At 2 pm on June 14 we heard the approaching drone of planes. Anti air craft puffs of smoke could be seen against the summer clouds. One by one 12 German Stukas appeared out of the clouds. They were heading straight for us.  Many of the women became hysterical and begged the captain to pull over to the bank and let them off. The captain also thought we had a better chance on land. 3 empty barges were lined up at one bank and 6 empty barges at another spot. The captain pulled up next to the 6 barges. Three of the Stukas dove down at us. But they actually bombed the other 3 barges. Instantly one of the 3 barges exploded in a huge thunderous fireball. It must have been filled with ammunition. By now we too wanted to be ashore as fast as possible. Some of the barge crew carried our carts from the deck to the shore.
The group of youngest boys, of which Wolfgang and I were a part, took off without waiting easily climbing the shallow hill from the river bank to the farmlands beyond. We were so fast we soon lost sight of the rest of the boys far behind us. As before we had no idea where we were heading.  It was getting late and dark.  All around us on the horizon were fires from bombings and bridges and train tracks being blown up to obstruct the oncoming German army.  The sounds of battle were getting louder every hour.  We had also taken some bicycles when we left Quincy-sous-Sénart.  One of the boys rode a bicycle back to the ox carts and bought us back some food and water. The boys pushing the ox carts had settled down for the night at the side of the road. 
Wolfgang, myself and the other little kids entered a barn in which there already was a large group of heavily armed French troops sleeping. There was still plenty of room for us to find sleeping berths also.  We woke up during the night when the entire French troop left for the battle field.  It was a little frightening to see them leave. We had felt very secure while they were  there.  
June 15, 1940, 10:30am we arrived at Chailly-en-Bière.  We would go no further. In 2 1/2 days we had covered 31km.  We entered a farm courtyard with a row of houses on one side and a barn opposite the houses.  At each end of the courtyard were one gate leading to the country lane and the opposite gate leading to a forest beyond.
At 2pm the news circulated, Paris had fallen.
The German’s 1st Panzer division had circled around Paris from the North and were now directly South from us heading for the Seine. The 2nd Panzer division had invaded Paris and were now heading directly for us from the North.  See the map above.
Suddenly that night we were between the French and German armies caught up in their deadly combat.  

Click this line for Chapter 4 – “At The Battlefront” or select a chapter from the index in the left footer column below.


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