This story is not my own. It has been told in several places, but… I happen to know the man that it happened to, and heard the story directly from him. His summer house, the one in the story, is located near my own. I will relate the story as it was told to me, with as little interruption as possible. I will not mention full names, as Chris is a member of a “respected” profession, and is bit sensitive about this.
Two years ago, Chris and his wife went to their country house in his wife’s village, near Smolensk. This area saw some of the heaviest fighting of the Second World war, and the landscape is still, some sixty years later, littered with the refuse of war, from both sides. Not a day passes that someone wandering through the forrest fails to find the rusting hulk of an old tank or some other vehiche, and everyone in the area has a literal collection of belt buckles, knives, bayonets, rusting old guns and helmets, from both sides in the conflict. Several times a year, some farmer will dig up the remains of one of the thousands of unclaimed dead who lie in the area. This is what happened to Chris…
All Russians are, at heart, farmers. We all have our Dachas (country houses) and we all have our gardens. Chris was working in his, laying in a potato trench, when he found human remains. The body was, of course, nothing but bones, but along with the bones he found a German belt buckle, canteen, two hand grenades, a pistol and other items that had not rotted away with time. He also found the soldier’s Identification Disk still hanging from a rusted steel chain around the skeleton’s neck. It identified the man as Oberfeldwebel (Senior Sargent) Otto Moritz, gave his blood type, O, and stated that he was a Protestant.
Chris gathered the remains, took the bones and ID disk to the German Embassy in Moscow to the “Graves Registration” Section, and the two old, rusting grenades to the local police for disposal. He had hopes that the German Embassy could locate any living relatives that Otto Moritz might have had, and at least let them know that his body had been found and recovered.
Now, Chris, at that time, was a “drinking man”. That night, after returning from Moscow, he sat at his table with a bottle of Cognac and a glass, thinking over what he had found. When he looked up, there was a tall, heavy set man sitting across the table from him. The man had sandy red hair, clear blue eyes, and a big smile on his face. Chris didn’t think anything about it. Neighbors drop by all the time here in Russia. His only real thought was that “if he wants a drink, he’ll have to buy the next bottle for himself”. Chris was having troubles with his wife at the moment. She had also taken to drinking heavily, and the two of them were definately on the way out. He was depressed, and the finding of a body on his property had depressed him even more. He was crying, silently to himself as he drank.
Chris looked up at his guest, and offered him the bottle and a second glass.
The man, who was dressed in a grey-green colored jacket, buttoned all the way to the collar supported about a weeks growth of beard, and had the smell of stale sweat and leather about him. He waved away the bottle, but did take one of Chris’ cigars, which were lying on the table. He then leaned over the table toward Chris and said, in broken, accented English that had a musical lilt to it, “I am here to help you but, you realize, of course, you must be helping of yourself. You must leaff alone ti trink. Be away with it. Do not be sitting here, crying like ti voman. Be a mon are you not ti mensch?” Chris was somewhat miffed that this man would talk to him like this, but didn’t say anything. He looked up, and was about to reply, and noticed that the visitor was gone. Chris didn’t think any more about it until the next day. It was stange, but no stranger than a lot of things that he had seen in Russia. He figured the man had just come, put his two cents in, and gone home.
The next day, he was back in his garden, working away on his potato trench, when he looked up to see a man standing at the end of his plot, about 20 feet from where he was working. The man was wearing the uniform of a German Panzergrenadier, a steel helmet, a camoflage smock, feld grey trousers and high- topped boots, with grenades tucked into the boot-tops. He had on full field gear, and was carrying a machinepistol. The collar tabs of his smock bore the twin ligntning bolts of the Waffen SS. As Chris looked closer, he saw the man’s face. It was the same man who had visited him the night before… Oberfeldwebel Otto Moritz. The Sargent smiled broadly at Chris, saluted, then slowly began to fade as he turned and walked away. Chris never saw him again.
As a postlude, I will say that Chris did, in fact, stop drinking and get into AA, as did his wife. They are now living a happy, quiet life, divided between their home in Moscow and their Dacha in Smolensk.
The next summer, Chris put a small stone in the corner of his garden. It says:
12th Waffen SS Panzergrenadiers
“Ich Hatt Einne Kamraden”
(Once, I had a friend)
© 2001/10111 by Dr. J. Lee Choron all rights reserved unless granted specifically by the author in writing.