Near me lay a very young woman whose head was shorn almost to the skin and whose face was all covered with ugly sores. She looked terrible. Once when she got up I saw that she walked with a cane. The East Prussian told us that she had been a woman auxiliary; the Russians had caught her in Roumania in the autumn of 1944 and had taken her to a labour camp. She had escaped somehow and trekked up here. He said she was only eighteen or nineteen. I tried not to, but I couldn’t help looking at her. A few hours later we couldn’t stand the barracks any more and ran away. We preferred the cold.
Some of these troops with Mausers on their shoulders must have been at least sixty or seventy-five, to judge by their curved spines, bowed legs, and abundant wrinkles. But the young boys were even more astonishing. For us, who had saved our eighteen, nineteen, and twenty-year-old lives through a thousand perils, the idea of youth meant childhood and not adolescence, which was still our phase of life, despite our disillusion. But now we were looking literally at children, marching beside these feeble old men.