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Dance on the Volcano
My Fears and Challenges

A Young Anti-Nazi German
Woman in Hitler's Germany

A Memoir
Renata Zerner

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Berlin, March 1, 1943

Sirens shattered my sleep. Half awake, I got up and stumbled into my mother’s bedroom. I had heard the sirens go off many times, but I had been in such a deep sleep that I was confused and asked, “What’s this noise?”

“It’s the alarm, get dressed,” my mother called back.

The reality slowly came into focus. Back in my room, I pulled on my old clothes reserved for nights in the shelter, and together with my sister, I followed my parents to the basement. It was certainly not the best place for protection – a direct hit on the five-story apartment building made of brick and plaster could be fatal, but there were no fortified shelters in the area, and the subway station at the Bayerische Platz where we lived was not deep enough. Not like in the London tube.

So far, the air raids on Berlin had not caused much damage. In all of 1940, Berlin had about thirty air raids; in 1941, the number dropped to seventeen without damages in our area. And in 1942, there were only two raids on Berlin, one by a single British plane and another by the Soviet Air Force, both ineffectual. Generally, the air raids on Germany concentrated on the industrial areas in the west, the Ruhrland, and on Hamburg and Lübeck, where the warships were built.

Although the Berliners did expect that the attacks on their city would increase, they still believed, as they had all along, that only specific sites would be bombed: railroad stations, the government buildings in the center, and perhaps some factories in the east of town. Never the residential areas, they thought, except for an occasional stray bomb that had missed its target. Then, in January 1943, Berlin experienced its first daylight attack, and nearly two hundred people were killed, although not near us. Yet we still thought it an anomaly, or a terrible show of force that would probably not be repeated. We were wrong.

It was still quiet outside as we crossed the backyard to the entrance of the basement. Contrary to their access to the coastal cities, the British planes had to cover well over one hundred and fifty miles of German territory to reach Berlin and were picked up by the early warning system soon enough to give us time to reach our shelters.

On the way down, doors slammed as the families from the other apartments started their trek into the basement. Most of the tenants took the servants’ stairway that led directly to the basement door. No one used the elevator in the front entry; it was much slow. My parents, my sister Jutta, and I joined them. Soon the basement rooms filled and the tenants began to chat.

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