HILDEGARD AUGUSTE JOSEPH nee LACKMANN – German civilian, born in 1928 in Recklinghausen, Westphalia, Germany.
In accordance with Hitler’s decree all young people had to work for the Reich for 1 year. In July 1943, 15 year old Joseph went by train to a hotel to work in Hamburg.
En route to Hamburg, Allied planes strafed Joseph’s train such that it caught fire forcing her to hide in the forest. A second train would later arrive to continue onto the destination.
Air sirens went off the first night she arrived and everyone in the hotel took shelter in the basement. Joseph’s father had given her strict instructions not lose her sole possession; a suitcase. Realizing she had left it upstairs, she left the basement to retrieve it. At that moment a bomb destroyed most of the hotel including the stairs leading to the basement forcing her into the street. She recalls everything around her ablaze, including the asphalt, and having to jump repeatedly over flames and dead bodies.
She watched sailors running from the harbor attempting to rescue persons in burning buildings. One building collapsed in front of her in a heap of fire with many inside. By 5 am the authorities jammed Joseph and many of the survivors into cattle cars for the 970KM (600M) journey to Vienna.
“The attack during the last week of July 1943, Operation Gomorrah, created one of the largest firestorms raised by the Royal Air Force and United States Army Air Forces in World War II, killing 42,600 civilians and wounding 37,000 in Hamburg and virtually destroying most of the city”According to Wikipedia
It would take Joseph many weeks to get back to her parents in Recklinghausen . Her overjoyed parents had been previously informed that her hotel in Hamburg had taken a direct hit in the bombing with no survivors. It was then she learned that her brother had been lost at sea in August. Joseph would eventually migrate to the UK becoming the first post war German to marry a British soldier of Jewish origin: Mr. Joseph Joseph.
Ross Stewart journeyed with the Logbook back to the UK from Washington DC, in order for the next scheduled signatory, Victor Gregg. Stewart informed me of his friend Hilde Joseph who experienced the firebombing of Hamburg as a teenage civilian. I am extremely grateful for her insight and perspective. Gregg’s experience as a POW in the firebombing of Dresden, parallels Joseph’s experiences in Hamburg – both describe running amidst buildings collapsing in a shower of flames and dust – the fear and chaos is difficult to comprehend.
Every veteran and witness has had to deal with the demons of their own memories and experiences. Each is on an individual journey, at different paces and stages. Ultimately, all the signatories speak to the abject horror and terrible waste of life involved and the profound wish never to see it repeated.