Robert Poensgen, war correspondent with Panzer-Regiment 35
That took place during those hot July days of 1944, when the combat elements of our 4. Panzer-Division were employed to block the Russian breakthrough from the area of Minsk-Baranowitschi. I had participated in the operations of the Panther battalion and was on the way to the division command post with a vehicle that had weapons problems to write down what I had heard and seen for German newspapers.
It was a truly hot day. Although we did not have a thermometer on board, it must have been 30 in the shade [86 Fahrenheit] and you could have cooked an egg on the armor plating of our tank. If we had only had some . . . eggs that is.
We did have cognac, however, the real French stuff. Schoka-Cola,1 cigarettes all types of magnificent things that we had taken as we passed by from a large rations dump that was being prepared for demolition, since Ivan was rolling and rolling. When we entered the town of Slonim, we made an interesting discovery. Initially, we saw a Landser running along with a mess tin full of eggs. Then another . . . and then yet another. Two approached us with an entire bathtub full of them. Eggs, eggs, eggs . . . the things we had just been dreaming about. There must have been a considerable source somewhere in the town. But where? We stopped, asked and discovered that there was a large storehouse of eggs in the middle of the town, which had been cleared for free issue. We needed to hurry up, however, since there were not too many left of the original large amount.
And so we hurried up, and not just because of the eggs. We wanted and needed to get to the armaments facility to get the main gun of our Panther repaired. We were soon in front of the building, from which civilian and soldiers were taking egg after egg . . . in bags, in crates, in cans, and in tubs.
It was pleasantly cool in the building. Bewildered, we stood in front of gigantic concrete vats, which were halfway filled with a cloudy brew. Bent far over the edge we egg fishermen, who were looking for the fragile oval things. God knows how many—eggs, of course—had already suffered as a result of those coarse fishing methods. The original solution—no doubt, clean—had become practically saturated with slippery egg white and creamy egg yolks. The pails, which were pulled up from the bottom, were barely a quarter full with eggs. Of those, nearly half were broken due to the brutal evacuation method and, as a result, flew back in the brew.
It would have been a tiresome and prolonged operation to fill up the two water buckets we had brought along by using that method. We couldn’t allow ourselves that much time. We thought about an alternate way.
I had been treated in such a comradely way by the crew the many days I had been with it and had been taken care of in every which way that I was practically happy to show my appreciation in some way. Therefore, I volunteered for a frogman operation. I pulled off my denims, slid off the underwear and slipped over the thick concrete edge, the way nature had created me, held by the outstretched arms of my comrades.
Brrrr! The water was cold. After the heat outside, it was a shock. My legs went deeper and deeper, and then my stomach in the horrible, slimy brew. In desperation, I fished for the bottom with my toes, but the only thing I felt with my toes was eggs and eggshells.
It was not until the “water” was around my throat that I felt the concrete basin under me. There were only a few eggs still hopping around on the bottom. All of the rest had already been fished out. There wasn’t a whole lot to be had with the pails that were handed down to me. There was only one way to get to my objective quickly and with certainty. I had to get over the nausea rising in me and dive.
With one hand holding a pail and the other pressing my mouth and nose, I disappeared into the depths. I moved the pail flat along the bottom and quickly rose again. A great success! The pail was more than half full, although it also had a lot of “defects.” I passed up the quick selection, before going back down in the scary depths. Then a third time followed by a fourth time. I was halfway blue from cold and covered from head to foot with solution, egg whites, yolks and eggshells when my comrades pulled me back up “on land.” The cleaning bucket of water might have been cold, but compared to the polar temperature in the egg container, it seemed luke warm to me.
We didn’t count how good our catch was. Two water buckets full of eggs—no doubt a couple of hundred. That would mean a feast for the entire maintenance facility.
I sat on the back deck of the tank and shivered with cold in the blazing heat. It was only after I had taken a couple of cognacs—without egg—that I started to feel better again. Dinner was magnificent: scrambled eggs with tinned meat and an egg liquor as dessert.
I then got on to the division command post. My mess tin was full of eggs, as well as my gasmask container. My bread bag was full of chocolate.
I had rarely been greeted so well by my comrades. No one could understand why I was so generous: “Here are some eggs . . . eggs . . . take all of them.”
I no longer wanted to see eggs or to smell them, let alone talk about eating them.