THE HELMUT RUGE STORY
PART SIX -- GERMANY, 1946 - 1948
I finally returned to Germany when the 'Sea Nymph' arrived in Bremen in April 1946, six years and eight months
since I had sailed from Bremerhaven in the 'Graf Spee' on the 3rd of August 1939.
On my arrival I was interned, yet again, this time in a camp in a school in Lettow Forbeck Schule with the 25
criminals who were on the 'Sea Nymph'. In this camp were also detained high ranking Nazis awaiting their fate.
Conditions in the camp were very bad, the food being no more than bread, water and soup.
I had been repatriated to Germany so that I could return home and did not believe that I should still be detained in
yet another camp. I therefore approached the American Lieutenant in command and asked him to check my
records to see if I could be released to go home. I explained to him that I was not a criminal like the murderers and
war criminals being detained at the camp, but that I had been sent back to Germany to return home. He agreed to
investigate and the next morning he came back and said. "You are quite right, I have spoken to the Commanding
Officer and you can go home." He then took me in an open Jeep to the offices of the German authorities in Bremen
who issued me with an identity card (I had to get a register with the German Authorities in Cuxhaven when I got
there who issued me with another identity card), a ration book and a train ticket to Nordholz which was about 18
kms from Cuxhaven. He then took me to Bremen Railway station, which was half destroyed as a result of allied
bombing, with my rucksack on my back and a well fed stomach in contrast to all the starving German people around me.
NORDHOLZ (APRIL 1946 TO JUNE 1947)
When I got off the train at Nordholz, I noticed a long queue of about 150 people who I found out were there
looking for employment with the Americans at the old Luftwaffe base, now taken over by the USAF. I joined the
queue and when a jeep came along I stopped it and asked the American sergeant driving it, in English, whether he
needed an interpreter, because if not I could not see any point staying in the queue. "Yes I am looking for one" he
said, "come with me." I went with this man, Sergeant Totten, through the main gate to the Registry offices where the
sergeant said, "I want this man to start with me tomorrow in the motor pool." They listened to him and it was agreed
that I could start the next day. They took my name and all details and told me to report the next day at the motor
pool at 8 a.m. When I asked how I got from Cuxhaven to the Base, they told me there was a truck that picked up the
workers every morning at the main post office in Cuxhaven and returned them in the evening.
That evening Sergeant Totten took me back to Cuxhaven in his jeep and left me at the main post office. I phoned
old friends of my family, whose son I was sadly to learn later had been starved to death during the War in Russia,
and told them I was back in the town and to please tell my Parents. After leaving the truck at the Post Office, as
instructed, I set off on foot for my home and met my Mother and Sister in the street as they had also set off to meet
me. My Father was at work and when he arrived home in the evening, chain smoked the Lucky Strike cigarettes I
had brought with me.
My parents had survived the War, despite having the roof blown off their house by a bomb, but the people of
Germany in 1946 were suffering terrible hardships from lack of housing, food, water, electricity and the basic
commodities, conditions ideal for a flourishing "Black Market" economy. For example, in order to get food my father
had begun making spinning wheels which he took on his bicycle around to the local villages where he swapped them
for bacon, butter and eggs with the farmers.
The next day I got the truck to the Base and reported to the motor pool where I started work as a clerk keeping
records of the vehicles and the spares. My work there was obviously satisfactory as I received several letters of
recommendation from the officer which I still have to this day. As an interpreter I had to translate the vehicle repair
work sheets then instruct the mechanics, who were Germans, on what they had to do. During my time at
Nordholz, Sergeant Totten and I were to become good friends and to have many good times together.
Being a German citizen working for the Americans, I had the means, the opportunity and access to the contacts and
goods necessary to for dealing on the Black Market, i.e. cigarettes. One of my first ventures was to get coal for my
parents who, because of the fuel shortages in Germany had nothing with which to heat the house. Because I made
out the 'trip' tickets for the American trucks at the Base, I arranged, when one of the regular coal deliveries of 10
trucks was being made from the Ruhr to the Base, for one truck to be re-directed to deliver it's whole load of coal to
Occasionally I made a fortune on the Black Market. I would smuggle the cartons of cigarettes, etc. in an Army
raincoat which had plenty of pockets to put things in. I also knew the timetables for the vehicles leaving the Base
and if a vehicle was going at a time suitable to me I would ask for a lift which meant that as I was with an American
we would not be stopped and searched. Further it was my job to obtain from the Commander a Trip Ticket to
permit the designated driver to take the vehicle. After a while the Commander gave me a "facsimile" stamp so that I
could issue the Trip Tickets without having to bother him,
The 'black market' rates in Germany 1946 were:
1 packet of cigarette bought 1 pound of butter.
I would then trade the jewelery, etc. for more cigarettes with the American servicemen.
10 cartons of cigarettes would buy a car, which I did, an Auto Union.
8 to 15 cartons of cigarettes bought a diamond ring.
If I needed cash for any reason, I would sell the cigarettes to dealers who then sold them to restaurants, hotels, etc.
at the rate of 300 Marks per 1 packet of cigarettes. At one stage my mother found a suitcase of mine containing
1,500,000 Marks. She had never seen so much money and was upset that I had obtained such a quantity of money
and that it was left in her house. I hid the money from then on above the ceiling in the house.
I would take the goods to Hamburg to sell or exchange. For example, I had a girl friend who had lots of contacts in
Hamburg, one of whom was a lawyer who had connections with people who had money and needed to trade their
watches and jewelery for cash, so she and I would go on the train to visit him in Hamburg, or he would visit me in
Cuxhaven and I would exchange my cartons of cigarettes for his items of jewelery. The train journey to Hamburg
was dreadful, the trains having hardly any windows and being very over crowded. Also Hamburg was in the British
Zone and carrying cartons of American cigarettes into Hamburg was always risky as you never knew whether you
would run into a British patrol and be searched.
We became after a while quite the experts on jewelery, being able to detect imperfections in the stones and what
type they were and where they came from.
Another deal I arranged was for the brother of one of my girlfriends at that time. The brother owned a flour mill that
had got badly damaged in the war and needed rebuilding ; a difficult thing to do as there was a shortage of building
material, the same as for all other goods in German in 1947. My father had a friend who worked on the railways as
an engine driver, so when I knew a train load of cement was being delivered to Nordholz for construction work
there, I arranged with the engine driver for him to leave one wagon of cement in a siding, accessible for my friend to
load into his truck.
An example of the unscrupulous people taking advantage of the difficulties created by the shortages of food and
goods in Germany at the time day, involved an American USAF catholic priest, Captain Devers, asked me to see if I
could get for him through the 'black market' any Leica cameras which he collected. I arranged through my lawyer
contact in Hamburg for him to organise us to meet three people who he knew wanted to trade cameras. Devers and
I duly turned up in Hamburg and met the three people who showed the priest their cameras, He took them
and walked off saying that he was going to get the cigarettes to trade for the cameras and would be right back.
Instead he had returned with the British security police who arrested the people for dealing in the "black market",
confiscated the cameras and put the people in jail, while Devers took the cameras.
I was disgusted, firstly at his deceit, secondly that he could take advantage of desperate, hungry people in this way
and, thirdly it put me in a very bad light because it would probably assumed by the people involved that I had
deliberately set them up. I told Devers that I would not drive back to Nordholz with him as I had to do some other
business and would take the train. I expect this crook made a confession the next day and was then absolved of his
crime and ready to swindle some other poor person who was trying to get money to feed his family.
With access to the cigarettes made available to me the equivalent of considerable wealth as the cigarettes enabled
me to buy, within reason, whatever I wanted : food, goods or girls. As a result my family ate well and I lived well. The
wealth I accumulated was, according to my mother, "bad money" and would therefore only bring bad luck. I never
therefore saved any, spending all of It on wine, women and song. She was right, all the people I knew who used
the wealth they made this way to start a business or to keep it were eventually checked by the Authorities and being
unable to say where the money came from were sent to jail for up to four years.
The availability of girls in the days after the end of the War for a handsome young man with money, a member of
the local football team, and local known personality was, sadly, almost unlimited and I had many girlfriends and after
four years of being interned I had a lot of time to make up, indeed it took me about six months to cope sexually
with women without disastrous premature results to my embarrassment and their frustration.
As an example of how available women were at that period, Sergeant Totter and I had a bet that we could
pick up every second girl we approached on the main street of Cuxhaven. We won the bet.
I also had an embarrassing experience when I met an American lady in Hamburg
in 1947. She had come on a visit to Germany to see her family, which she was able to do as she had an American
passport, and took the opportunity to also visit me and my family in Cuxhaven. She invited me back to Hamburg
with her, where she would arrange accommodation for me at her hotel. We took a taxi from Cuxhaven to Hamburg
and went to the Atlantic Hotel where she was staying. We walked around Hamburg for the afternoon, then she said
that we should go back to the hotel to eat. She said I could clean up before we ate by having a bath in the hotel and
took me up to her room. She went into the bathroom to have her bath, while I waited in the living room of the suite.
When she came back into the bedroom from the bathroom she was wearing nothing but a flimsy see-through
nightie. To my shame I was unable to rise to the occasion and meekly went into the bathroom, had a bath and
returned to her fully dressed again. My father asked why had I not done my duty, "there are so many ships going
down the Elbe River", he said.
Sergeant Totten and myself became good friends and I would go with him to parties held by the Americans. I was
really fluent in English in those days and I was known as the American with the "Limey" accent and I was also known
as "Whitey" because of the colour of my hair. When I went to these parties I would go with my fingers covered with
gold rings and diamonds and with jewelery in my pockets for selling to the people at the party.
Although my mother found out eventually about my activities with all the girls, but at the time she did not really know
and, for example, I remember coming home one night after the curfew time and being asked by mother what I had
been doing. "Just playing cards", I told her, "Oh", she said, "I see your sweater is on back to front, do you take it off to
Involved with me in the "black market" were two friends from Cuxhaven who also worked at Nordholz. They were
Hans who had been a cadet on the 'Priwall' when it had been in Valparaiso at the time I was there trying to
escape from Chile, who worked on the switchboard at the Base and therefore had access to what was happening,
and Alfred who had been in Japan during the war as a cadet on German ships supplying submarines in
Indonesia, who worked in the "PX" on the Base with access to food, cigarettes, etc.
Hans had a fortuitous experience when one evening he finished work to late to catch the truck that took us back to
Cuxhaven every day. It was in the winter, cold and with a foot of snow on the ground. He set off to walk the 18
kilometers to Cuxhaven when on the way a British truck that was passing him had to slow down because of the
slippery conditions. Hans took the chance to jump on the back of the truck and to climb inside. As he fell into the
back of the truck he landed on a pile of sacks which he discovered, by happy chance, to be full of cartons of
cigarettes in their flat tin boxes. When the truck got close to Cuxhaven, he threw out one of the sacks of cigarettes
and jumped out after it. The American and British authorities had imposed a curfew between dusk and dawn, so Hans
could not walk openly through Cuxhaven to his home, especially with a bag over his shoulder covered in British
markings. He therefore set off across the fields, arriving home soaked and frozen, but with a free supply of cartons
of cigarettes. We celebrated his good fortune with yet another party.
Hans had no papers permitting him to leave from Germany. He eventually escaped on a fishing boat to Sweden,
where he got a job as first officer on a Swedish merchant vessel. The boat would sail around the ports of Europe,
including the Mediterranean, and as a result he met a French girl who he married, He lived with her in France where
he became fluent in French, to go with his fluent Swedish and basic Spanish that he learnt when on the 'Priwall. He
then got an opportunity to be a captain on a Canadian ship, so he brought his French wife to stay, temporarily, with
his sister in Cuxhaven, while he went to Canada. He never came back for her and she was to stay with the sister
until the sister died in 1996 leaving her to live in the house to in Cuxhaven. She still lives there to this day.
Hans got the job as captain of a Canadian vessel, divorced his French wife and married the daughter of an
inspector of a Canadian shipping company, with whom he had four children. Because he was fluent in French and
English, he later became a lecturer at the Canadian Navigation School in St John, Quebec, where he taught until
they sent him on a programme to Algeria to open a navigation school in Algiers. He took his wife and four children
with him and spent two years there. After returning to Canada, he was offered another two year contract in Algeria.
However his wife wanted to stay in Canada with the children so that they could continue their schooling there. Hans
therefore returned to Algiers alone, where he met and fell in love with an 18 year old Algerian girl. The girl's' brother,
knowing that Hans had taken his sister's virginity, told Hans that if he did not marry his sister, he would kill Hans. He
was very much in love with the girl, so he got a divorce from his Canadian wife and married her. He took her back to
Canada where he found her a job on a cruise ship working in the ship's beauty parlour. The girl, who was very
beautiful, got on well in the job on the ship, made a lot of money and was happy with her new life. The marriage,
however, did not last and they got a divorce. Hans was unable to go back to his former Canadian wife as the
children would no longer accept him for leaving their mother. He is now 72, fat, still living in Canada, but now with
another Canadian lady, the fourth love in his life.
Alfred went on to attend the navigation school at Brake where he got his captain's certificate, where he also
met his wife. After getting his certificate he saw an advertisement in the newspaper for the big American tanker
shipping company, Hermann Ludwig, who were looking for captains and navigators for their large tankers. He
applied for and got the job as a captain and left for New York without his wife, ending up as a captain of one of the
monster 300,000 tonne tankers. He would ride around the deck on a bicycle because the deck would get so hot
during the day in the sun it would burn your shoes. Eventually he retired with a good pension and returned with his
family to live once again in Germany. He did not know what to do when he got back and in order to avoid boredom
ended up as a watchman in the shipyards of Cuxhaven. We still meet every time I visit Cuxhaven.
One of the ways people tried to get food was when they were travelling in the train, it would stop, for example,
between Cuxhaven and Hamburg, around ten times. At each stop the passengers who had brought goods to trade
or money would get off the train and try and buy or trade for food with the local farmers. A story is told of a lady who
was travelling on the train carrying in a bag the dead body of her pet dachshund. She had been very attached to the
dog and when it died while she was visiting Hamburg one day. she decided to take the dog back to Cuxhaven to
bury. When she got home, after travelling in the dark in the unlit train, she found that the bag she had picked up
when she got off the train was full of ham and bacon. In the darkness of the unlit train she had picked up the wrong
bag. What must have been the reaction of the person, who bad traded their precious goods for the wonderful bag
full of ham and bacon, when they found they had a dead dachshund instead!
CUXHAVEN (JUNE 1947 TO DECEMBER 1948)
When the American 8th Army Air Corps at Nordholz were moved to an airfield in South Germany, I had to look for
another job in the Cuxhaven area, although the Americans did offer me the opportunity of going with them. Instead,
I went to the port in Cuxhaven and approached the Ship Brokers with whom I had served as an apprentice between
1933 and 1936 and the owner, Herr Trulsen, agreed they would employ me and said that I could start with them at once.
As I was working again in Cuxhaven, I also re-joined the local football team. As the team was composed mainly of
the owners of fish trading companies, controlling the economy of Cuxhaven, it ensured that the members of the
team had a plentiful supply of fresh fish and wouldn't go hungry.
I started work for the Ship Brokers and made a connection with British Authorities under whose jurisdiction came
Cuxhaven. The Brokers became the main source of liaison between the British and Germans on matters concerning
shipping movements in the port. As a result during this time I became very friendly with Commander Graves, the
British Naval officer in charge of Cuxhaven.
While I was working for the Brokers, a shabby old Belgian coastal steamer was towed in to Cuxhaven with its
engine broken down. Because I had many different contacts in the port, I went to the docks on behalf of the Ship
Brokers and went aboard the steamer to see how we could help them by putting them in contact with people to
carry out the necessary repairs for them. While I was on the ship, someone touched me on the shoulder and said,
"Hello Helmut". I looked around to see an old man who looked like a tramp, He was old, thin, his face haggard and
with grey hair. I did not recognise him for a moment, then realised that the man standing in front of me was my
friend from Fort Stanton, Fritz Metener, the friend who, between us, had thrown the homosexual German officer out
of the steam room. After our preliminary greetings, we both left the ship and I took him my home for the night.
His story of what had happened to him since I had last seen him the day I was suddenly transferred from Fort
Stanton, because of the demonstration by some of the internees against those who were members of work parties,
was harrowing. Some time after had left the camp, a deal was done between the American and German
governments to exchange some of the older internees at Fort Stanton with the same number of American internees
held in Germany.
For some reason his name was on the list, although he was a young man. This was probably an error, similar to
me being transferred to the 'Spee', but he had always wondered how his name could be on the list. Unfortunately,
unknown to him, when the homosexual officer learnt that Fritz was to be exchanged he wrote a
letter to the Gestapo in Germany which said that Fritz had been a traitor. He gave the letter to one of the older
internees, the ship's carpenter from the 'Oldenwald', being exchanged and told him to give it to the Gestapo as
soon as he got back to Germany. This man, not knowing what was in the letter, did as he was told and as a result
Fritz was picked up when he arrived at Hamburg station by the Gestapo and taken and imprisoned and interrogated
and tortured by them.
He was then sent to a prisoner of war camp near Hamburg where his fellow prisoners were Russians. He managed
to survive the concentration camp, despite horrific hardship, suffering and starvation which resulted in the Russian
prisoners eating the prisoners who had died.
When the British army reached the camp and set free the prisoners, he escaped and made his way to his home to
find his parents. When he got to his home it was to find it destroyed and he was told by the neighbours that all his
family had been placed against a wall and shot by the Russians. He had survived a concentration camp and the
War only to find that he no longer had any family. As a victim of Nazi persecution he got permission to get a job on
the Belgian Steamer where he became an alcoholic, being drunk all day, and where I met him again in 1947, I told
him I would arrange, through my contacts, a much better job for him, but he refused my help and returned to the old
broken down Belgian steamer and I was never to see him again or learn what finally happened to him, If it had been
me who had been exchanged in error, I would have been shot by the Gestapo, not imprisoned, because I was a
non-commissioned officer in the German Navy, not a civilian in the Merchant Navy.
In 1948 the British were trying to reduce the cost of canal charges for fertiliser shipments through the Panama and
Suez canals where cargoes classified as explosive were charged much more than cargoes classified as
inflammable. The British wished to test fertiliser to get a certificate stating that it was inflammable, not explosive.
The British Authorities decided that the tests should be carried out in air raid shelters in the dunes of the Island of
Helgoland and asked the Brokers to charter a ship to carry the fertiliser to the Island of Helgoland and to arrange for
dock labourers to accompany the shipment in order to unload the cargo. As a result of my friendship with
Commander Graves, it was suggested that I also accompany the shipment to act as interpreter with the British
Navy, who were responsible for organising and supervising the tests. In 1948 the ship. the 'Penguin' was loaded with
fertiliser in Cuxhaven and I and 50 dock labourers accommodated in bunks in the hold accompanied the British
Naval party to Helgoland.
Every evening I would sit with Admiral Bath, the senior British officer in charge of the tests, and share a bottle of gin
with him. After learning the story of my internment in the USA during the War, and my return to Germany, he
asked what were my plans for the future. I told him that I had been offered a job in Costa Rica by friends there and
that I wanted to take up this offer, He asked why I didn't take up the offer and I explained that no German could
legally leave Germany and I would not, therefore, be able to get an exit permit from the British Authorities to enable
the German Authorities to give me the necessary papers to leave Germany, nor even a passport. Admiral Bath told
me that he was a very good friend of General Robinson, the commander for the British Occupation, and would
speak to him. He asked me to give him my name and address and he would see how he could get me the papers I needed.
After I had returned from Helgoland, I was greeted by a German policeman, which nearly gave me heart failure as I
was visiting me in connection with my black market activities. However, much to my relief, the policeman had come
to tell me to report to the office of the Cuxhaven police authority to collect the necessary papers for me to leave
Germany. Admiral Bath had kept his word. With this "exit permit" I was now able to cross the German border.
While working at the Brokers I had been offered a partnership by the owners, at no cost to myself. However, I had
made all the necessary arrangements to leave Germany to start a new life in Costa Rica and therefore rejected this
offer. If I had taken it, I would have been much wealthier than I am now as this company has done very well over the years
and the owners well off. I would also now be receiving a good pension and dividends from the Ship Brokers firm and
from the State.
Originally my travel documents were for me to fly from Hamburg to Amsterdam, then to fly to Lisbon, then to the
Canary Islands, then to Aruba in the Caribbean, then to Panama, and finally to San Jose.
Two days before Christmas 1948 I left Cuxhaven and took the train to Hamburg where I stayed the night with the ex-commandant from the camp at St Juan, Herbert Brugman, who on his return to Germany had studied to become a
teacher and who was now teaching in Hamburg.
However my flight from Hamburg to Amsterdam was abandoned because of fog and I had to take a train for Allied
personnel to Amsterdam. My 'exit permit' would get me into Holland where they would stamp my papers at the
border to allow me to continue on to Amsterdam. By another surprising coincidence the officer in charge at the
German/Dutch border control was a school friend from Cuxhaven which meant that I had no problems trying to
When I got to Amsterdam, I reported to the Costan Rican Consul, an Englishman called Falconer, who had lived in
Costa Rica since 1923 and had been Consul at Hamburg when the War broke out, but returned to Europe, to
Amsterdam, after the War ended.
He was confined to a wheelchair, being paralysed from the waist down by some tropical disease which in those
days was incurable, He issued me with a Costa Rican passport that said under Nationality, "Displaced Person".
Sadly I have thrown away this fairly unique passport. He also helped many Costa Ricans of German origin who had
been sent to Germany during the War to get passports and papers so that they could return to Costa Rica. He finally died in Hamburg after he had returned to Hamburg as Consul there.
Falconer also gave me my tickets to Costa Rica, sent to him by Peters, and which had been paid for, plus $100 I
had had sent to me in Germany, through my US friend's P.O. Box number, by my Russian fellow internee, who had
stayed in the U.S.A. after he was released. This man had been born in Hamburg of Russia and Austrian parents
and had been interned as a German. I had met him in Ellis Island on Long Island, New York. After he had been
released from the internee camp, his parents not being German, he had worked for a successful company in
Minnieapolis manufacturing floor polishing machines. This man was an artist and I still have a number of the
paintings and sketches that he had done and which he gave to me.
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