Henry Zehr







  How I borrowed a couple of cats lives

To keep occupying this planet, physically, with our bodies, we often rely on our good fortune. I sometimes “borrow” a mythical life or two from a cat. After all, they are supposed to have many lives – nine – I think


I am sure that I need these special lives all the time and I certainly did need them at a particular stage of my life, the last week of World War II. The first one was about a very small part of a bomb or shrapnel. The bomb was quite tiny and it landed on the metal part of a railway line close to our house. I heard later that it was no more than a 5 kg bomb. Just before it came down I heard the sound of an aeroplane and at that sound the whole family slid down to the cellar. The sound of the bomb, as small as it was made a frightening sound as it rushed down to meet the earth.


 I realised later how much more frightening the sound of bombs of a greater weight would have been. It would have scared the daylight out of people in the area where heavy bombing took place.


 That little splinter flew straight through the window and embedded itself about one meter high in the wall right behind my bed. Just as well I wasn’t there or even sitting up in bed. I never thought much about it then but it scares me now just remembering it. How foolish of me to be scared now when I know that I could easily come to grief just by slipping on a proverbial banana skin.


The war ended on 8th May 1945 and a week before there was an unreal quiet. The Nazis had lost the war. The Russians advanced carefully making sure that they did not outrun their supplies. Our town was right in the middle of Europe and most of the heavy concentration of the front was either north – towards Berlin - or south around Vienna. The traffic was moving westward, and it was totally jammed by German troops desperately trying to dash over to that part of Germany occupied by Western Allied forces. It was an amazing spectacle with three columns trying to jam into a two lane roadway. The Germans had a good reason to try to escape the Russians. When Stalin managed to hold Stalingrad in 1942/43, eventually encircling the Germans and forcing their surrender, more than 110.000 soldiers were taken prisoner and only 6.000 eventually returned. Some of them had to wait 8-10 years to get home. Western allies repatriated their POW’s within days or weeks of the end of the war.


The Russians had very well organised front soldiers. They methodically cleared every street and were well aware that they were dealing with friendly allies - the Czechs (having just crossed the border from Germany, the enemy). The supply troops, whom we referred to as the “train” were something else again – a real shambles. Tanks, Bren gun carriers, bikes, cars, horse and cart and all.


It was the Bren gun carrier which made it necessary for me to borrow that second life. My family spent the last days of the war sheltering with our good friends close to the city, as our house nestled in between industrial estates in the suburbia. My father and I and about three other people were cycling abreast on the road (to see if our house was still standing) when a Bren gun carrier drove towards us, hit a rut in the road and dislodged the gun which released the trigger and fired a round. That shot hit the cyclist riding beside me, not a meter away. It hit him in the middle of his forehead and that was the end for that poor man. We were able to get to our house and found it to be in order, although it was obviously used by both the retreating and advancing armies.


In the following days I was able to clear my mind of the mist hanging around me and looked forward to a peaceful future without the assistance of another feline life.