My brother Rudi is 3 years and 1 day younger than I am. My mother always joked that he was my birthday present – the only one I will ever need! He was born in 1944, in the middle of the war, and although I lived with my aunt in Leoben (my mother had enough on her plate) I occasionally visited them and I was often asked by my mother to ‘look out for your brother’. He survived my well intentioned ministrations, at least physically, but there were a few near misses along the way. Like the time when we were going out together, my mother, myself and Rudi in his pram. Someone called to my mother just as we were leaving and she told me to watch the pram until she got back. I had often seen my mother ‘walk’ the pram down the stairs, so I thought; how hard can it be??? I took the first step and the pram got away from me and came to a crash landing at the bottom of the fairly steep stairs. Incredibly, my brother was fine, just a little startled. I was in shock, and so was my mother.
My brother was one of these fidgety children, who was always finding things to play with, which were not really safe and that often tried my mother’s patience. When he was two or so, he became fascinated by scissors and knives. He came close to harming himself a couple of times, so my mother asked me to take knives and scissors away from him, if I should see him playing with them. Sure enough, the day came when there he was, with a rather sharp looking knife in his hands. As instructed, I pulled it out of his hand, but he was holding it by the blade and the inevitable outcome was that he had a rather nasty cut with copious amounts of bleeding and had to be treated by a doctor. By then, I would have thought my mother would have realized that it is not sensible to ask children to watch children. But worse was to come.
The war had already ended although we were still under occupation and my mother and Rudi came to visit us in Leoben. Again, it was May time, around our birthdays. Rudi was 4 years old by then and I was 7. We were in the Glacis, the large park just outside our row of houses. My mother and my aunt were sitting on a shady bench, talking. I was playing with my friends and Rudi seemed at a loss as to what to do. He started to be a bit silly and annoying, so my mother asked me to keep an eye on him.
At the end of the Glacis, about 200m from where we were playing, there is a fast road, which takes the traffic through the town and out onto the main highway, which would then take you further towards Salzburg, or Linz or Munich etc. That road was often busy with through traffic and we were told to stay well away from it. While playing with my friends I noticed out of the corner of my eye, that my brother was running towards that road. I left my friends and started to run after him. I had recently had an operation on my left foot to correct a problem, and consequently he was a lot faster than me. I shouted for him to stop, but that only made him run faster. When we got near that road, to my absolute horror, I saw that there was a long convoy of huge British army lorries making their way slowly down that road and out of the town. I shouted for Rudi to stop, but he did not. He ran across the road between the lorries with me in hot pursuit. I was hoping to catch him on the other side, but he had already turned round and was running back across the road, between the lorries, somehow managing to avoid being hit by one of them. I seemed to have no other option than to follow. We both managed not to get killed, (a minor miracle, I think) and my brother reached the opposite pavement unscathed. I was not quite so lucky. A motorcycle, coming from the other direction, caught me and we both went down. The lorries kept rolling on, seemingly unaware of the drama we had created. In the mean-time my mother and my aunt had reached the road and my mother was relieved to see that Rudi was alright. It was only then, that they realized I was actually hit by the motorcycle and was lying injured in the road. The motorcyclist, thank goodness was ok. It could have been a lot worse. His bike was a bit battered and my main injury was a huge burn from the engine which had landed on my thigh. I was then taken to my aunt’s doctor, who was nearby. He sent me to hospital, where they treated the burn.
I learned later that it was part of the British Army leaving our Province forever. A contingent of the British Army went on to Vienna, where they remained with the other Allied Forces for quite a few years after the war. Each of the Allies (Russia, America, France and the UK) were given a sector to administer. We finally saw off the last of them in 1956.
The main memory from that day, which I must admit still bothers me a lot, is that my mother blamed me for the whole debacle. Apparently, I should have known that the best course of action would have been NOT to run after my brother. Apparently he would have stopped and come back of his own volition. Well, excuse me (this is how I still feel), I felt he was in mortal danger and I was only trying to save his life!!! Clearly, I was thinking like a 6year old!
I have never forgotten how that felt, and how very young children can get into trouble for doing what is the right thing in their eyes. I think this has made me a very forgiving and understanding parent. And I don’t want to hear any contrary argument from any of my kids, thank you.
Montan Universität, Leoben, Steiermark, where my father studied to become an engineer.