PAINFUL MEMORIES: Ballina's Kurt Schrofler, who was a young boy in Austria during the Second World War, with one of the few photos he has of his family, including his father, Boris, who served in the German Army.
PAINFUL MEMORIES: Ballina's Kurt Schrofler, who was a young boy in Austria during the Second World War, with one of the few photos he has of his family, including his father, Boris, who served in the German Army. Graham Broadhead

Ballina man's painful memories of life under Nazis

WAR is a terrible thing.

But it's easy for the victors to forget the hardships of those on the other side of the battlefield.

Ballina's Kurt Schrofler grew up in Austria, and spent his childhood under the Nazi regime in the city of Graz during the Second World War.

He had not long been born when the Nazis in 1938 annexed their neighbouring state -- the birthplace of Adolf Hitler.

Though he was very young, Kurt has a clear memory of a visit by Hitler to the city.

He said there were people everywhere crowding to see Hitler as he passed by in his convoy.

Kurt said he didn't really understand what was going on, but as years went by, he did learn there were many people in Austria who were not happy with the Nazis, while there were many who welcomed them -- a sentiment played out in the famous movie, The Sound of Music.

For Kurt, now aged 81, his most powerful memory of those years as a young boy living under the Nazi regime, and then under the Russians as the Red Army moved through on their way to Germany, was being hungry.

"There was no food," he recalls.

"When you're hungry, it's very painful.

"War is no good for anyone. I never want to see it happen again."

He remembers hearing the sirens going off to signal an air raid, and running to the underground shelters.

"It was so frightening," he said.

Damaged shops in the city provided an opportunity for Kurt to steal food for his mother and sister at home.

The arrival of the Russian troops brought with it a new fear, and he recalls hearing screams of women whom he later found out were being raped by the liberating Russian soldiers.

His father, Bruno, joined the German army and fought on the infamous Russian front.

Kurt understands the young men in Austria really had no choice but to enlist.

Kurt's family were informed by the Red Cross that Bruno was missing in action, presumed dead.

After hearing that news, Kurt's mother later remarried.

However, Bruno was not dead, and returned home after the war was over.

He had been captured by the Russians and spent much of the war in a prisoner of war camp where he lost the fingers on one of his hands due to frostbite.

In 1956 at the age of 19, Kurt decided to leave post-war Austria and head to Australia.

He said that was the first time he truly felt peace in the world.


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