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Boarding School to Battalion 16

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Wearing only their prep school uniforms and carrying the few provisions that fit into their knapsacks, Walter Ullram and his two classmates, Bernard and Erwin, fled the city of Langdenfeld, Austria one snowy afternoon in March of 1938. They headed east; knowing that their only chance for freedom laid over the Alps mountain range, over 200 kilometers away. It would be a hard journey, they knew, but their resolution to evade the Nazi army which ravaged their homeland, far outweighed their fear of what lay ahead. No one had anticipated the German invasion of Vienna, but once it occurred, everyone knew Austria would never be the same. German soldiers were stationed in cities all over the country, reminding the homelanders that this land was no longer their own.
The boys had escaped from a bathroom window of their boarding school in order to avoid the watchful eyes of German soldiers who were patrolling the streets. Now, their thoughts rested on the task ahead. Walter gingerly fingered the small, ivory crucifix that his mother had given him before he left his home in Vienna. She had said, “Walter. I know it will be hard. But if you are faithful, the Lord will protect you in all things. Never forget where you came from.” “I’ll never forget, Mother.” Walter whispered it again to himself as he watched the last rays of snow-fogged sun disappear behind the mountain.
After three days of cautiously marching during the day, being sure to avoid the occasional Nazi patrol, and depending on the hospitality of villagers for a place to sleep each night, the boys finally stood at the foot of an ominous mountain. Standing at the base, all three boys heaved heavy sighs, “We’ll never make it over this mountain,” said Erwin. “Maybe we should just turn back while we still have our lives”, continued Bernard. “No,” declared Walter emphatically, “We’ve come this far and there is no turning back. Better to die in the wilderness than fight for the Nazis”. Walter’s intrepid spirit buoyed the others. “Well,” said Erwin, after a slight pause, “If we’re really doing the right thing, then there will be a way.”
With hope anew, the boys began the next leg of their journey, up the mountain. They had been hiking for hours when the sun began to set and the chill set in. They knew it would be a long, cold night in the mountain and they needed to find shelter—soon.
“Let’s just go a bit farther. I think there is a clearing ahead,” said Walter, as he spoke, he suddenly saw a utility vehicle just ahead on the path, painted with the motto of the German army: “Kraft durch Freude”. “Strength through Joy,” Walter read aloud. Frightened by the impending danger, all three of the boys had the instinctively retreated. They watched from a distance for some time, until completely sure that there was no one in the utility vehicle. Walter eventually worked up his courage to approach the vehicle, and found in the back of the vehicle, a rifle, some rope and three pairs of skis. Footprints in the snow headed north, up the ridge of the mountain, but it was clear that they were several hours old. “The soldiers must be out hunting or patrolling,” said Walter to his friends. “It’s safe – don’t worry!” The other boys approached the vehicle and peered inside the windows.
“Hey!” said Erwin, “The key! There – it’s still in the ignition!” “Hop in!” said Walter, “Looks like we’ve got ourselves a ride up the mountain.” Without another word, Walter jumped in the driver’s seat, turned the key, and off they went. Erwin and Bernard looked cautiously out the window for any sign of the owners.
The utility vehicle trudged up the icy dirt pathway unimpeded. It wasn’t until the boys had reached the very top of the mountain that they finally ran out of gas. “Well, I guess this is our stop,” said Bernard as he opened the door and hopped out, ready to begin the steep descent down the west side of the mountain. “Wait a second,” said Walter, “Weren’t their some skis in the back of this truck?” Erwin hopped out and raced around the back. Sure enough, three pairs of skis sat in the back of the vehicle. “Thank God. It’s a miracle,” said Erwin. The boys strapped on the skis, and took off down the west side of the mountain, eager and determined, now ready to enter into France, where they would finally be free from danger, or so they thought.





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