In plane sight

Luftwaffe anti-aircraft crew is manning a Flak 30 2 cm caliber automatic AA gun. “Flak” is an abbreviation of Flugabwehrkanone, anti-aircraft cannon, which became a word for intense criticism after US Airforce personnel had to endure the harrowing experience of getting shot at during the bombing raids on Germany. It also lives on in “flak jacket”, a vest designed to protect against fine caliber fire and shrapnel.

A few years ago, I met an old man, Hans, here in my home town, who had crewed one of those guns. The son of a German father and Swedish mother, he grew up in Hamburg. The city was the target of several air raids, the most severe claiming the lives of 42,600 people in a firestorm that reduced humans to shrivelled puppets. He was transferred from the Flak 30 battery to a battery equipped with the (in)famous “88”. They were later deployed outside a city in occupied Poland known as Auschwitz. Their task was to protect an industrial area, but he told me that they were close enough to the extermination camp to see people moving around inside the barbed wire fences. Hans has hated war ever since, and has talked in schools about his experience.

Whether the three men in the photo survived the war is unknown, but their chances were better than if they had been in the direct frontline. Did they talk about the war after it ended, or did they do like so many veterans and kept silent about it?

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