Pauline Schnitzer - A Little of My Experiences at Stuttgart - World War II

As some of our brothers have asked us, I'll give some details of my experiences during the war, when I was imprisoned. The day when we were standing at the ruins and broken walls of the Gestapo prison in Stuttgart all those horrible experiences were again so real in my mind. We knew very well when our brother, Fritz Schwille, was called to arms and refused to become a soldier and had to appear before a war tribunal that it would bring trouble and suffering to all of us. He was sentenced to death.

His sister, Frieda, and I visited him twice in Berlin, and it was a touching experience when we passed the Iron Gate, which closed behind us. Twice we got permission to talk with him for 10 minutes, in the presence of 3 officials. Fritz talked with trembling lips, but in spite of the sad circumstances, he tried to comfort and encourage us to keep faithful and our hearts were deeply moved and touched. The officials watched and listened and were astonished by the words and spirit of Fritz and overlooked that the 10 minutes had passed long ago and so both times, we had 20 minutes with him. Fritz was considered a dangerous criminal and spent 3 months in the cell of the death candidates. During this time, he wrote some heart moving and helpful letters to us. Later on, he was released and sent to the Russian front and disappeared and we never heard again from him and we do not know what happened. This was in the summer of 1942 and then in the fall of '42, our whole church was prohibited any more meetings, no coming together, no letter writing, no visits and the workers were forced to work in factories, etc.

In June 1944, the Gestapo arrested Frieda Schwille, sister of Fritz, and a week later, the Laderer girls and myself. The 72-year-old aunt of Fritz and his cousin and some others were also arrested and put into prison. We were taken to Stuttgart into a cell full of box beds, with a crowd of other people. We didn't know why we were there. Many innocent people were there and we saw misery, sorrow, tears and suffering and hunger too.

After about 10 days, we were taken to another place for trial and questioning. In the prison car, we met Frieda, but weren't allowed to talk together. Frieda fearfully showed me her bandaged arms caused by handcuffs and ill treatment. Later on, during the trial, we were brought face to face with Frieda and we saw her suffering. It was the last time we saw her. She was killed by the Gestapo on 30th Nov. 1944. A few days previously, Luise Laderer had said 'good-bye' to her, as they were together all the time in prison.

Luise and her sister, Sofie, who was in another prison, were freed. (Myself and the relatives of Frieda got free some time earlier.) After the trial, we were brought back to our cell in the Gestapo prison, which was an old convent in the center of Stuttgart. During the night, we often heard cries of men and women who were beaten, and ill treated and often we heard shots too, so we knew what was going on. It was in a small measure, the same experience as our brother Werner Gebhard had during his 2 years in a concentration camp. Werner was the last companion of Fritz, and I was Frieda's companion during the first two years in the Work.

During the two weeks in prison, we had to spend almost every night in the cellar. The air raids became stronger, especially on the last two nights there; we thought we would be buried alive.

There were hundreds of people in that cellar, lying on the floor with no light. We heard the explosions of the bombs and our building was badly damaged. A big air-mine was lying in the court and we didn't know when it would go off. The following night was even more dangerous. For over an hour, we heard the howling of the bombs and the horrible crashes, that we thought our last hour had come.

Suddenly, the door opened and the fire and smoke entered our cellar and two of our fellow prisoners, who were always kind to us having distributed the food and had sympathy for us and shown interest in our welfare, shouted to us and helped us to get out of that place. The guards were all gone, so we could get out, but there was fire everywhere in the houses around and all the district was burning, so it was difficult to get away, for there were ruins and rubble and flames everywhere. There was no road, just heaps of rubble and burning beams, until we reached the broad King Street. All around, we felt a horrible draft like a storm and intolerable heat, so that we were almost suffocated.

We then reached the big square, so called "Kings Palace Square," where the new and old palaces were burning and all the big houses around in different colored flames. We were stumbling over rubble and trees and from time to time mines exploded. Finally, we reached a place with ruins of houses that had burned some time earlier. Hundreds of people were there, crying and shouting and seeking their relatives. It was like a miracle that we got through and saved our lives, but it had often been in my mind, "The Lord still lives," and I felt comforted, but where to go now? We realized that we could not escape the Gestapo, so in the morning, we voluntarily went to the next Police station, where they were surprised to find out that we were prisoners. One man was kind to us and offered us a drink, as we were almost dying of thirst. The air was full of smoke, so that we could hardly breathe. The day was dark and not until late afternoon did the sun appear like a fiery ball. We had to stay in that place and experienced some more dreadful nights. Because there were no more prisons to keep us in, we were released and sent home, still being considered as in custody until January 1945.

All through these dark and hard days, I was quite convinced and confident our God will overrule in everything. Even when the Gestapo was shouting aloud and seemed so powerful, I felt in my heart, there is a greater One than they, who will speak the last word and I felt a deep gratitude that the Lord has spared my life. After all these experiences, we could sing with more understanding the hymn, "We thank thee Lord for weary days," and Psalms 71:20-24 and also Psalm 66:8-15. I'll always be grateful for your interest in our welfare and what you have done for us in the secret place. As well as in the days and years past, when our needs were varied and you helped to save our lives, which was so much appreciated and will never be forgotten.

Sincerely yours in His service,

Pauline Schnitzer