The Author - Rudi Stiebritz
Soldier, prisoner of war, building
works supervisor, bricklayer, architectural draughtsman, farmer, restorer of old
houses, folk artist, painter, writer − Rudi Stiebritz has led a varied and
Born in Jena, Germany in 1923 and
trained as a structural engineer, he fought against the Russians in World War 2,
subsequently surviving four rugged but character-building years in Siberia as a
prisoner of war before repatriation. After a short spell in his (then)
communist-controlled homeland, he migrated to Australia in 1956.
A car accident in 1963 left him
practically blind. Undeterred, he set about devising an ingenious system of
double magnifiers for his one good eye to enable him to read, do useful
community work as a sheltered workshop volunteer, take up art, and learn
computer techniques so that he could write this memoir.
Likewise, multiple heart bypass
surgery at the editing stage of the first edition of this book became just
another obstacle to negotiate on his journey to publication.
Over the past three years Rudi
undertook tertiary studies in Religion, to achieve a Graduate Certificate in
He has also been nominated twice, in 2004 and in 2005, for the Australian of the Year Award.
Read a sample:
I understand well why old soldiers are reluctant to talk about their war experiences. Until the late sixties I felt the same way. The memories were too painful to broach, and if on odd occasions someone did manage to break through my protective mental shell with carefully placed questions, I found it painful as I relived those events when relating them. I also found myself becoming passionate or maudlin, depending on which events I had recalled. Worst of all were the recurring nightmares that plagued me. One in particular revisited my sleep at least weekly for several years after the war ended. I was sitting in a shallow hole, detonator by my right hand and watching a bridge.
The enemy began to cross the bridge and with their tank approaching the middle of the span I depressed the detonator plunger. I could see the tank falling into the little stream, after which I bolted (on a motorbike with sidecar) over the hill, retaliatory shots raining about me. Just below the brow of the hill I would stop and examine myself for bullet wounds, at which stage I invariably woke up startled and in a lather of sweat. On several of those occasions my wife had elbowed me awake, unable to sleep with my moaning. Although I can still remember every ﬁne detail of that accursed nightmare, I cannot recall ever living the exact situation. I had migrated to Australia in 1956 and settled in Adelaide.
Soon after I met my second wife and the ﬁrst ten years of our relationship were blissfully happy. That period of relaxation and contentment led to fewer and fewer nightmares. Eventually I realised that they had stopped altogether. Towards the end of the seventies, whenever people asked about the war, I was myself able to relate many war episodes dispassionately at last. Some people seemed to enjoy hearing my stories and a few even encouraged me to write a book. Eventually, just to provide a record for my family and friends, I began to chronicle war events as they occurred to me. I even started carrying a notebook to jot down incidents triggered during random conversations.
Of course, as memories of the past have a habit of doing, they tumbled out of my subconscious in random order. In early 1995 I travelled to India for a retreat in the Buddhist Monastery at Sera near Mysore. There I began to put my jotted memories into some semblance of order. The monks, when they became aware of my project, arranged for me to use the ofﬁce and the typewriter of the health committee. As I wrote, more incidents and details came ﬂooding back until the catalogue became an unwieldy compendium in rough typescript. Despite my forty years as a sociable Aussie, and an ability to always make myself understood, I became aware that my reportage was in a cumbersome sort of Engleutsch that created mirth and confusion for my earliest readers. Obviously I had to do something about that.
In Brisbane there is an organisation called Access Arts. Their mandate is to provide educational, social and creative arts activities for the disabled. Being partially blind I had become a member and had done several painting classes over the years. In 1996 I noticed that they were offering creative writing classes as well so I took advantage of that course to improve my narrative skills. Unfortunately, due to insufﬁcient numbers, the creative writing option was abandoned after only two semesters. But the essential contact had been established.
The writing tutor, Jay McKee, had looked at sections of my manuscript and set me tasks involving revision and redrafting. He became interested in the project, and when the classes were disbanded we continued to meet twice a week to complete the manuscript rewrite. He did not warn me however that this could lead to repeated redrafts over a two and a half-year period. In September 1963, while working for the architectural ﬁrm of Whitehead and Payne, I had been involved in a car accident, as a result of which I had lost the sight my good left eye leaving me with less than ten percent vision of my right eye. Consequently typing and retyping those changes became tedious and difﬁ cult, even when wearing one pair of strong magnifying glasses over another as I must for this sort of work. Word processing seemed the practical solution, so I enrolled in a computer course at the local TAFE college, actually situated in my street. Now, by choosing larger font sizes, I was able to rework sections quicker, then reduce the ﬁnal versions again for Jay to proofread and edit. If this sounds like a tenacious and prolonged commitment, it has not been an onerous one. In contrast to the pain of my immediate post-war memories, it has been a stimulating few years of reﬂections and a celebration of the events and inﬂuences that made me who I am today: a gregarious old bastard, partially blind, but with a lust for life, indomitably optimistic and with a strong spiritual conviction.
European history records some tremendous invasions that threatened the destruction of the culture of the Occident over the centuries. The ﬁrst of these came from the Huns who appeared in the Russian territory in the third century AD. They overran and destroyed the Gothic Empire, which had existed there for over two thousand years. The Huns advanced westward until they reached the Rhine where they overthrew the kingdom of the Burgundians at Worms (from this the Siegfried saga was developed).
Then they spread as far north and west as Paris, where they were defeated near Chalons in 451 AD by a combined army of Franks, West-Goths, Burgundians and Romans. After that battle the Huns disappeared as a separate tribal entity. The next onslaught against Europe came from the Arabs who had, in one great sweep shortly after the death of the Prophet Mohammed, united the whole of the Arabian Peninsula and conquered Egypt, North-Africa and most of the Iberian peninsula except Portugal and the kingdom of the West-Goths. After having established the Caliphate at Toledo they pushed over the Pyrenees into France reaching the vicinity of Paris, where in 732 AD, they were decisively defeated between Tours and Poitiers by an army of Franks under Karl Martell.
It’s interesting to conjecture how civilisation of the Occident might have changed had the Arabs been victorious in that battle near Paris. Even if the Arabs were at the zenith of their power and knowledge in the eleventh century, their whole civilisation collapsed into a period of stagnation in the centuries that followed. The next wave of aggression came again out of Asia about 895 BC from the Magyars or Hungarians, who belong to the Finno-Ugric race. Where they came from is not known exactly but they settled in what has become Hungary around the river Theiss, which is the main tributary of the Danube River. From here they undertook continuous raids into Germany. They were ﬁnally beaten by the German Kaiser Otto the Great on the so-called ‘Lechfeld’ which is situated on the Lech, a river coming from the Alps and ﬂ owing into the Danube in modern Upper-Bavaria. After that defeat the Hungarians paid tribute to Germany by becoming a part of the German Empire. The fourth major invasion came again from Asia, this time direct from Inner Asia. This was the Horde as the Mongols called themselves. They used southern Russia as a base for their raids westward.
The Duke of Selesia, with a small army of knights, opposed the twenty-fold superior Mongols in the year 1241 AD near Liegnitz and was slaughtered, but the Mongols did not advance further. The death of the Overlord of the Mongols, Kublai-Khan, proved a turning point in history. The Horde turned back to Russia where, after much bickering, they selected a new Overlord. They never moved westward again, but ruled in southern Russia for several hundred years. The next invasion into Europe came from the Turks after they had secured their empire in Asia.
They arrived in their ﬁnal assault on Vienna in the year 1683 AD and besieged the city for a year or so until they were beaten back by the relief army, which arrived just in time to intercept the Turkish capture of Vienna. This army consisted of Austrians, Bavarians and a small contingent of Poles, totalling only about one-tenth the might of the Turks. The devastating ‘Thirty Year War’ from 1618-48 in which the population of Germany was reduced from 15 million to 5 million inhabitants was not caused by foreign invaders but by the neighbouring states carving off provinces from the then powerless German Empire.
Actually it was a religious war where the Protestants and the Catholics ravaged each other. Every time other tribes and races invaded Europe it was always the Germanic tribes in the main who defended the Occident and spared it losing its identity.
Click on the cart below to purchase this book:
Prices in Australian Dollars CURRENCY
(c)2005 Zeus Publications All rights reserved.