A Million Men Sent Into Hellut the Russians were not the only ones to be delivered to the knife. While Prague was already the site of shootings, lynchings and torture, the three armies of Schörner's unit still fought in the east of Czechoslovakia. In the evening of May 8, 1945, the First Armored Unit - bled white, but still fighting valiantly on - halted along the Brünn-Olmütz-Mährisch Schönberg line.
When the divisions learned that an armistice had been ordered, they turned west to try to put distance between themselves and the Soviets.
200 kilometers lay between the German rearguard on the March River and the Bohemian Forest, where the Americans stood; 200 kilometers separated them from the troops which, in their view, were not the enemy. The German soldiers coming from the East hoped that a certain common ground among western civilized peoples would unite them against Bolshevik barbarism, whose horrors they had come to know up close. At the very least, the armies that had thrown themselves as bulwark against the deadly avalanche from the East right to the final hour hoped that the Americans would take them prisoner, which was still to be preferred to Soviet captivity.
Fully a million soldiers clung to this last hope while pouring westward through the chaotic land, pursued by the Soviets and ambushed by Czech snipers. Time and again the rearguard columns were overrun by Soviet tanks advancing from behind. But the others who escaped the tanks of the Red Army ultimately also marched into disaster. Ahead of them in the West, the American lines were closed to them in a hostile wall. Wherever the privates encountered the Americans they were generally given a hostile reception. In fact they were frequently received with open hatred, and with scornful jeering that the Nazis would not manage to escape from the scene of their "crimes". Once again America propaganda had made the Germans seem to be monsters without exception. Generals who tried to make contact with American staffs met with a cold lack of understanding. The commanding officers were under orders to use whatever means it took, even armed force, to prevent any westward march of the German army. And they did so with terrible precision.
In this way the Americans sent almost one million into the hell of Soviet captivity. It is impossible to describe the fate of the young women assistants to the armed forces, the Red Cross nurses, and the Luftwaffe assistants. Many of them were raped to death.
The only privates to escape were those who managed to slip through loopholes alone or in small groups, and fled through the woods into the West. But only a few thousand really got away. Most of them fell into the hands of dehumanized Czechs and were tortured to death. Those who were beaten to death quickly, or even handed over to the Soviets, were the lucky ones. Thousands upon thousands vanished without a trace in those days and weeks. Their murderers still live - they were all young people in those days - but their conscience is dead.
Entire divisions were massacred, and no-one knows of their fate. The end of the heavy mortar division 534 is known only because one single man escaped. Ludwig Breyer: "We were on our way to the Americans. At Melnik Bridge a 'friendly' Czech major promised us safe-conduct if we would lay down our arms. We trusted him, and did so. There were 318 of us, and now we also had to hand over all our valuables and march to the town Liebeznice in rows of five. Once the entire column was on the main street, gunfire burst from all the houses. I got away because I was at the end of the column. The dead had fallen in heaps in the street. I have heard that all the wounded were later murdered, with bullets into the back of the neck.
"This mass murder must have been carefully planned. Our marching column had obviously been announced before we arrived. The major had only had the task of deceiving us and persuading us to give up our weapons."
Jürgen Thorwald wrote: "When the Germans who had been herded into the Ruzyn prison in Prague on May 6 and 7 gathered their children up from the floor where they had collapsed from exhaustion, and were led outside in the morning of May 9, they did not know that they had not yet passed through even the outer reaches of the hell to come.
"Nevertheless many of them were already so exhausted that they wished for their tormentors to simply pull the triggers of those pistols with which they had already been beaten and threatened so often. Now they were supposed to go into the city to tear down barricades.
"But even before they were lined up to be marched off, some of those who happened to stand near the gates got a taste of what lay in store for them. Trucks loaded with wounded German soldiers suddenly drove into the yard. Wretched figures were among the human cargo, pictures of human suffering and forlornness. They still wore blood-soaked bandages. And the faces of the doctors and nurses accompanying them showed such a degree of horror that the Germans in the yard shuddered. They did not know what was happening even then in many hospitals. They did not know that Czech men and women were throwing wounded out of their beds, beating to death and throttling helpless victims, castrating them or drowning them in their wash bowls. Or that they were throwing them into sheds or garages or loading them onto trucks, and in some places were even laying them on the street so that mounted soldiers could ride over them.
"While the wounded were still standing pale and frightened beside the truck they had come in, a group of rioters that had been lurking in the yard pounced on them, snatched away their crutches, canes and bandages, beat them to the ground and proceeded to pound away at them with clubs, rails and hammers until they lay unmoving in their blood.
"Were they still human, those beings on Wenzel and Karls Square and in the Rittergasse who on May 9 doused Germans with gasoline, hung them by their feet from poles and lamp posts and set them on fire, and then laughed and howled and cheered to their agony, which lasted all the longer because the victims had been deliberately hung head-down so the rising smoke could not suffocate them? Were they still human, those beings who took German soldiers, but also civilians and women, tied them together with barbed wire, shot them and then threw the bundles of people into the Moldau River? Were they still human, those beings who drowned German children in the tubs of water intended for putting out fires, and who pitched women and children out the windows into the streets? They had human faces. But they were no longer human.
"They were not human, those beings who indiscriminately bludgeoned any and every German they got hold of until he or she collapsed. They were not human, those beings who forced naked German women to clear out rocks, who cut their Achilles tendons and reveled in their helplessness. No, they were no longer human, those beings who dragged the Germans out of the underground sewers of Wenzel Square, clubbed them to the ground and literally trampled them to death, and they were not humans who took the German girls, the Wehrmacht assistants who had fallen into their hands, stripped them of their clothes, and herded them through Fachoba Street towards the Wolschaner cemetery, where they machine-gunned them, or clubbed and stabbed others so that they sought refuge in piles of hay, which the howling torturers promptly set on fire.
"And these were only a few high points in the sea of inhumanity in which a simple shooting - even if it was the shooting of hundreds of students in Prague's Adolf Hitler School - seemed merciful."
Hilde Hurtinger (Prague): "On May 5, 1945 a Czech mob took me from my home and, beating and clubbing me all the while, dragged me by the hair some 500 meters into the Scharnhorst School, where I was grossly abused.
"The following night all the prisoners there were repeatedly called into the yard. After that, random groups of ten women, men and children each were assembled and shot. I watched my two brothers and one of their children die like that. The child was only five months old.
"Then we had to dig graves, undress the bodies and bury them. Random shots were taken at the prisoners at other times as well, day and night. One such time a bullet grazed my neck. I stayed where I lay under the corpses for a whole day and night because I did not dare get up. Then Revolutionary Guardsmen stepped over the bodies and blindly stabbed any who still lived with their bayonets. My left hand was impaled in the process.
"In separation we got nothing at all to eat. Children were given spittoons as 'meals'.
"Armed Czech women dragged pregnant prisoners from the cells and out into the yard, where they stripped and beat them, then stuffed them into latrines and beat them until their bellies burst. I myself had to help carry off the bodies of the women who had died that way. During the day groups of six to eight women were taken to work in St. Gotthard Church. There we had to kiss the dead bodies that were already rotting, pile them up, and clean the church floor of the blood that ran there by getting down on our knees and licking it up by mouth. A Czech mob supervised this work and beat us. On May 20 we were led into Wenzel Square where German boys and girls, and soldiers too, were hung alive by their feet from lamp posts and trees and, in front of our very eyes, were doused with petroleum and set on fire."
Physicist Dr. K. F., who was beaten half to death and imprisoned in a basement, recalls: "The afternoon of May 10 brought me what was perhaps the most gruesome experience of all those days. A troop of armed men came in and selected the six youngest and strongest of us. I was one of them. After they had promised our guard that they would bring us back alive if possible, they led us to Wenzel Square. It was packed with a roaring, howling crowd and they had to clear a way for us first.
"Thus we arrived at the junction of Wassergasse street, where we saw the job that awaited us: from the large advertising billboard at this corner hung three naked corpses, suspended from the feet and burned with gasoline. The faces were mutilated beyond recognition, all the teeth knocked out, the mouths just bloody holes. The roasted skin stuck to our hands. We had to carry them into Stefansgasse street, and drag them when we could no longer carry. A passer-by tried to photograph our procession, but he was seen and beaten half to death.
"When we had put the bodies down we were forced to kiss them on the mouth. We were told, 'To jsou prece vasi bratri, ted' je polibejte!' ('They're your brothers, now kiss them!') I still hear these words as though they had been said today. No matter how revolting it was, staying alive was more important, and so we squeezed our lips together and pressed them into the bloody ooze that represented their mouths. To this day I can feel the ice-cold heads in my hands.
"The following night, the five men who had been on Wenzel Square with me were shot. Only
men could tell no tales. I owe my life to one Czech who let me get away."