Chapter: 2 Air Raids

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We lived at Chateau de Quincy from July 4th, 1939 until around October or November, 1940. For the first few months life was idyllic. We attended school. We played in the huge gardens of the chateau. We had lots of food. When we arrived at the chateau a large group of Russian refugee girls already lived there. Their ages were in the same range as ours. They occupied the actual chateau and we lived in an annex to the chateau. When the war began the girls left for the South of France for a safer area. Then we moved into the actual chateau itself. While the girls lived there they were friendly with us, the older boys played basketball with them while us younger kids played different ball tossing games typical for our age brackets.

Wolfgang and I were selected to spend a 3 day weekend in Paris.  This was an attempt to place us with foster families.  We each went to a different family.  I had a great time with my hosts.  They took me all over Paris to look at it’s magnificent wonders.  The Champs Elysee, the Eiffel Tower, exquisite gardens, sidewalk cafes.  Any food of my choosing from the restaurants.  The joy and gayness of the Paris population was unimaginable to the hostile drabness of my former home in Berlin.  When our time was up I was disappointed the family had chosen not to foster me.   Wolfgang and I compared notes and his reaction was much the same as mine as were his experiences with his Paris family.  

One day for the first time I heard an air raid siren wailing.  I asked Mr. Henry, the gardener what that siren meant. He explained a war had begun and that German planes might be coming over us. I still did not understand what that meant.  A few minutes later the sirens wailed again in two blasts. Once more Mr. Henry explained that the German planes would not come over us. I asked Mr. Henry if that meant the war was over. He sadly replied that this would be a  very long war.

Almost unnoticed food became scarcer, the people living around us in the village became less communicative.

From that day onward the sirens began to sound at least once each day but still nothing happened and we ignored them until one day after the siren sounded we heard the drones of airplane engines and looking up saw a group of big planes.  Mr. Henry told us they were German bombers.  A few minutes later we heard a huge explosion in the distance quickly followed by several other huge explosions.  Mr. Henry made us get under the trees.  

The same day several workmen appeared and dug a deep zigzag trench in the front garden of the chateau.  There were steps at each end.   As soon as the trenches were dug the teachers made us practice running from the chateau into the trenches.  We were to enter the trenches from then on each time the sirens wailed.   That night it rained heavily.  In the morning the trenches had at least a foot of water at the bottom with slimy creatures all around.   So much for the trenches.  

When our daily air raids began, the teachers had us run into the cellar of the chateau as fast as we could since the trenches were useless. That became our routine. We were instructed that when ever we heard or saw a plane over us, we were to find the nearest cover of any kind, crawl under the cover and lie down in a fetal position with our hands over our ears and our mouths wide open.   (To prevent our ear drums from bursting from the bomb explosions.  This procedure was so deeply ingrained in us that when I first went to school in New York each time a plane took off from La Guardia airport I instantly dove under the nearest bench and was rewarded with brutal laughter from the children around me.   No doubt Bill suffered  the same taunting).

As the German army got closer and closer to Paris the tempo of the air raids increased to around 3 or 4 during the day and a few at night.

The Germans did not want to bomb Paris. However, our village, Quincy sous Senart, was overrun with French soldiers, tanks, artillery and supplies as it was directly in the path of the advancing German army.  So we were a natural target.   Bombs began dropping as close as 400 yards from the chateau.   Workmen bought in truckloads of bags filled with sand. They were placed all around the inside of the chateau.   Sand bags were loaded at each landing of the main central staircase.  Each room had a pile of sand bags.

Small fires were started in the garden and we all practiced pouring sand from the bags on the fires.   If we endured a direct hit from the bombs we would immediately try to put out the fire,   It would be foolish to deny that we were not scared…. we were terrified each time the bombs began to explode around us.   Even going to the bathroom was an ordeal as we had to run for the cellar so often. Many times as I looked out a window I would see fights between the German and the French fighters with one or more planes suddenly spouting trails of fire and diving to the ground. The air raid sirens only came on if bombers were on the way.  

That was our daily life until our caretakers decided we would try to evade the German army.

  Click this line for Chapter 3 – “The Coal Barge” or select a chapter from the index in the left footer column below.

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