73 years ago Bonn lay in ruins on October 18, 1944

Bonn · Heinz Schmitz and Ilse Feix lived through a major bombing attack on Bonn in 1944. They tell the story of how their families were taken by surprise and how they survived the attack. GA shows pictures from then and now.

"On October 18, 1944, I saw people burning in Bonn," says Heinz Schmitz. It was at the current Bertha von Suttner Platz where the nine-year-old fled with his father from a wall of flames on Wilhelmstrasse. The 82-year-old Bonn resident quietly added: "This image of people dying in pain haunts me in my dreams - to this day."

Today, we speak of "post traumatic stress disorder" when it comes to Syrian refugees or soldiers returning from tours of duty. Back then, the trauma had been equally experienced by residents of Bonn who lived through the inferno in the inner city on October 18, but there was no label yet attached to their trauma. Schmitz explains that everyone who survived was traumatized. And then he falls silent. Just as a number of witnesses do when speaking with the GA editorial team about the events of that day.

Suddenly came the air raid alarm

The conversations are often short. Because they don’t want to talk a lot about the events of that time. “I can already feel how this is coming back to me all over again,” says a Bonn resident who survived the attack as a twelve-year-old in his parents’ home near the train station. Or the elderly woman from Viktoriastraße (today Heerstraße) who says she took the hands of her two little sisters and ran ahead of their parents into the bomb shelter during another attack. The children survived - as orphans. The parents were never found.

Heinz Schmidt starts to talk about it again. He recalls that suddenly, the air raid alarm shrieked. He was with his father, a fire protection police officer, on his way from Poppelsdorf to the finance bureau on a wonderfully sunny morning, October 18, 1944. British bombers had been on their way to Rhineland-Palatinate when they came back unexpectedly to Bonn airspace.

“I was holding my father’s hand as we ran to a nearby house on the street,” he recalls without any emotion. In the last meters, we were both caught by the air pressure of the detonation and whirled down a cellar staircase. “120 people were packed in the air raid shelter under the house. My father pushed me in.” As a fire expert, his father went out to have a look and came back in horror.

“The roof of the house is burning. We’ll all die if we stay down here,” he told those gathered in the bunker. “My father grabbed me (to get out) and saved our lives,” said Schmitz. Many of the others died in misery in the cellar when it caught fire.

Stepping over corpses

Young Heinz Schmidt had to step over corpses as he and his father made their way to Venusbergweg, “because we wanted to know if my mother had survived.” The then 13-year-old Ilse Feix sat in a bunker at the train station. At the sound of the first siren on the sunny autumn morning, the girl had packed her backpack with a change of clothing and had gone to the bunker like so many days and nights before. “We already had our normal places,” she says.

But at 11:03 on this morning, they felt the bunker sway and everyone screamed. Her and her little brother hung onto their mother. Later, they saw the bunker had received a dent. She prayed many years later every evening that she would never have to hear an alarm again. There should never be war again.

Heinz Schmitz and his father found the boy's mother on the Venusberg; she had survived the attack. “She sat in a bunker and could only cry when she saw us.”

Bonn then and now

Here, you can see photos of modern Bonn in comparison to how it looked during the war. The colored photos are from 2015 and the black and white photos from wartime.

Reuterstraße 120

Back view of the university, Am Hof

Koblenz Gate

Maximilianstraße, corner of Gangolfstraße with a view of the Münster

Wesselstraße, corner of Am Neutor with a view of the university

Erste Fährgasse with a view of the Rhine

Kennedy Bridge

The entrance of the Beethovenhaus

Friedensplatz with a view of Friedrichstraße

Friedensplatz with a view of Sterntorbrücke

(Original text: Ebba Hagenberg-Miliu and Rüdiger Franz / Translation: Carol Kloeppel)

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