On Remembrance Day, remember both sides

I am of German descent. Both my parents were born there (although my mother moved away when she was 2, so I don't know if that really counts). Both my grandfathers were in the German Army - one as an infantry solider, the other as a messenger. My grandfather (and for that matter, my father) never told me anything about their experiences during World War II. I do know that my father had his house bombed out three times, and he probably still suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Sydrome as a result of it. Anyway, about 10 years ago when I was visiting my uncle (my father's eldest brother) he told me a story about my grandfather.

My grandfather was unlucky enough to have been part of the German army during the Battle of Stalingrad. Once the German army had surrendered, all the remaining soldiers were arrested for crimes both real and imagined (according to my uncle, my grandfather was arrested for stealing a loaf of bread) and sent away to labour camps. My grandfather got sent to Siberia along with a bunch of other prisoners. They were dumped into a forest, given tools and told to build themselves shelters if they expected to survive.

So, while in that prison camp my grandfather learned to speak, read and write Russian. At some point he discovered that once a year, prisoners who had committed certain crimes could apply for clemency and be allowed to go back home. Eventually he was able to get his case accepted and was put on a train headed to Berlin. I believe this was 1953 or 1954, I cannot remember. Every time the train stopped, all the pardoned prisoners were marched out and every tenth man was sent back on a train going the other way to Siberia.

Luckily my grandfather managed to make it all the way back to Berlin and back to his family in Gelsenkirchen. I cannot being to imagine what his experiences were like, and I can understand why he was probably very reluctant to tell his very young grandson (he died when I was 11) what World War II was like.

So on this Remembrance Day I will think about my grandfather, Henry Hartjes, and vow to never forget what happened to him.