Germany: Habichtswald forest west of Kassel during WWII

Necessity knows no law. Early memories go back to the Habichtswald
forest west of Kassel, to moonlit nights, when the forest was
populated by dark shapes and mothers and children dragged bundles of
spruce wood over icy paths out of the thicket. It must have been the
brutal winter of 1945-46. Then children, most of whom had lost their
fathers, grew up quickly. What was known in the Rhineland as
‘fringsen’—after the Archbishop of Cologne Frings, who had said it was
an acceptable sin for mothers to take a few coals from the trains of
the occupying powers for their freezing children—this was sadly
impossible where there was no coal to be found. The forest thus had to
become again what it had been over many previous centuries: a place of
refuge for the poor and a giver of warmth.

The wood that lay in piles
there was thought by the freezing survivors of the war to be only for
the occupiers and black marketers. Some foresters, in any case
possessing little authority, must have closed eyes and ears before
what would in normal times have been disgraceful and public theft. But
these were not normal times: There was no money worthy of the name, a
carton of Camels or Lucky Strikes could get you anything, or nylons or
Meißner porcelain. Those who spent nights in the forest dragging a few
logs home over crunching snow; they had neither Camels nor feelings of
wrongdoing. The forest was their survival rations, their friend, their
protector. During the day, perhaps, they thought of a modified
romantic ditty: “O German forest, who cut your timbers and then pushed
you away?” In such forests lay still the burned out frames of U.S.
Army jeeps, in the shallow ponds steel helmets, rifles, epaulets,
medals, even an officer’s sword, and everything called to mind death
or its narrow escape. It was an anti-romantic forest, a means of
survival, a rescue for the freezing. In the final months of the war,
the forests had become more than just battlefields as in the Belgian
Ardennen and the Huertgen Forest. They were also used as hiding places
by those German soldiers who hoped for a soon end to hostilities.
Some, who had access to marshal orders, knew of various huts where
provisions were to be had and where they hoped to be discharged when
it was all over. Only very few ever managed to do this.

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