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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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I always felt safe when he was there. He had gone through it before and survived. I thought of the story he told us when he was in Bulgaria during the First World War. A grenade hit the mess hall where he was having lunch with his fellow officers, and they were all splattered and soaked with food, but no one was hurt.

Finally, someone said, “That was a close one.” It broke the silence. People started to talk frantically, “Where did it hit?” “What do you think it was?” “One of those large explosives…someone really got it.” Then they quieted down again to listen. It was not over yet. The flak was still going strong. I had heard that bombs never fall twice in the same spot, and I mumbled the thought to calm myself, wondering at the same time if it were true, and where I had first heard it.

Eventually the sounds moved farther away, then it became quiet and soon the all-clear siren sounded.

“Let’s go,” my father said as we rose and brushed ourselves off. Everyone lined up, and one by one we filed down the narrow corridor and into the street.

What a sight! The rooftops of most of the houses around us had been hit by incendiaries, and the unchecked fires burnt like giant torches. A firestorm blazed in the sky that blew the sparks into the air from rooftop to rooftop and covered the black sky with a pink cloud.

An explosive bomb had indeed hit a house behind ours. People were rushing around, shouting or standing in small groups looking at the fiery spectacle. “Fireworks,” someone murmured, “this is the real thing.” But mostly they did not say much.

The men organized to take turns standing guard in the attic so that any fires caused by sparks could immediately be doused. I was glad that my father was not chosen. He was already in his sixties. As a physician, he had to be on call anyway. Besides, I thought that my father would be pretty useless should a fire break out. He was not good in practical matters.

I did not hear or see any fire engines – too many fires. They burned unchecked for a long time.


“Take the dog for a walk. He needs to go outside,” my mother said after we came upstairs. We could not take Tommy, a Welsh terrier, to the basement. No pets were allowed there.

I wondered how he felt when the bomb hit. I loved that little dog. Suddenly, I was filled with such pity for him that my chest ached. I saw him shaking underneath a couch looking at me for help. At least now he seemed glad to have us all safely home again.

With Tommy on his leash, I crossed the street and went into the little park. The view was horrifyingly spectacular. Huge flames reached into the sky everywhere and caused such a storm as I had never experienced, never could imagine. It roared and howled. The fire wind tore through my hair, my eyes began to burn, and the smell of smoke penetrated my clothes and skin.

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