Rainer Kohler

Written By Sam Teplin
                                                           Mr. Kohler

My neighbor, Mr. Kohler, lived in Krefeld, Germany during WWII. Even though he was only a child during the war he still had many fascinating stories about his family and him living during the war. The town of Krefeld is in the Rhineland, which is in the western part of Germany. 
Why Krefeld Was Being Bombed?
Before World War II there had never been the mass bombing of civilian populated areas, but in World War II the Allies decided that the quickest way to end the war was to make the German economy collapse and the German people lose faith in Hitler and the war. To do this the Allies heavily bombed factories and military production facilities. The Allied forces knew that their bombs were not going to be very accurate, and that many civilians would die as a direct result of these bombings, but the killing of civilians was also a tactic used to shorten the war. According to the US bombing survey, the target area was 1000 feet around the aiming point of the attack and throughout the war only about 20% of the bombs hit the target they were aimed for. Lord Trenchard, a British officer, believed the rationale for these horrific bombings was, “If we decide to use it (bombing) in concentration and with determination we can not only save millions of lives but we can shorten the war perhaps by years.”


The RAF bombing Germany Daylight Bombing
                                                                                                                   Krefeld Germany June 22, 1943      

Living in Krefeld During the Bombing

Even though Mr. Kohler was only seven years old at the end of the war in 1945, he still remembers a couple of incidents when his town was bombed. First he has many vague memories of being woken up by the sounds of bombs. This is because at first all of the bombings of Krefeld were during the night so that the Allies fighter planes could be less visible to German anti-air guns. Later, he remembers bombings during daylight and gazing at what appeared to be silver birds flying overhead.

A memory that Mr. Kohler remembers vividly was on January 21, 1943 when his mother and he had to take shelter in the basement of their house because their town was being bombed. He remembers exiting from the cellar and looking across the street. There he gasped in awe at the dark red sky. He recalls whispering, “I’m afraid,” to his mother.

Mr. Kohler’s own house was struck by a bomb three different times, and all three times his father and older brother had to save the house from being burnt to the ground. To help, the German government made sure that each house had sandbags and water. Also the German government built communal bunkers, which could house hundreds of people if need be. Mr. Kohler went to these communal bunkers on occasion if there were warnings of larger scale bombings. The first incident where Mr. Kohler’s house was bombed was when a bomb exploded on his porch. The porch was set on fire and his father had to put the fire out with sandbags and water. The second and third time a bomb hit his house the bomb hit the roof. One of the times the bomb hit near an insulated heater, and his father had to quickly extinguish the fire in the insulation or else the fire would have destroyed the roof and perhaps the house.

Affect of Incediary Bombs

Even though the German government tried to provide protection and supplies for the German civilians, Mr. Kohler's parents often did not know how to feed and clothe their family. Also they had to worry about the ever present Nazi spy system and they had to be very careful about what they said and to whom

Morale of the Germans

By constantly putting the German population in a state of fright, the Allies hoped to spark some kind of anti-Hitler sentiment. People began to lose faith in the prospect of victory, in their leaders, and in the promises of propaganda, to which they were subjected. Most of all, the people wanted the war to end. According to the US bombing survey, the civilians “resorted increasingly to “black radio” listening, to circulation of rumor and fact in opposition to the Regime; and there were some increase in active political dissidence – in 1944 one German in every thousand was arrested for political offense.”

On the other hand, the constant bombings also had an opposite effect on the German population. With the massive amount of propaganda and more importantly the fact that Germany was doing very well in the war until later stages, the majority of Germans remained extremely loyal to Hitler. The bombings of German civilians caused German hatred of the Allies, which lead to more nationalism for Hitler and the war against the Allies.

When I asked Mr. Kohler about the morale of the German population and the mood toward the Allies he explained to me that many of his neighbors appeared to be loyalists of Hitler, but his family seemed different. Throughout his entire life Mr. Kohler’s parents never talked to him about anything having to do with the war. He does know that his father, a teacher, would listen to the BBC at night to acquire the truth about the proceedings of the war and not just what the German government let the population know. His father also made sure that Mr. Kohler’s older brother never went into the Hitler’s Youth Corps. When the recruiters would come by, his father would always say that Mr. Kohler’s brother was away. As for his mother, also a teacher, he recalls asking his mother about the war and her responding, “When the war ends I will be happy, I just want it to end.”

Getting out of Danger

In October 1944 Mr. Kohler and his mother and brother traveled east by train to escape from the oncoming allied forces pushing through the Rhineland. They went to the small town of Vogelsdorf, where they stayed for about seven months. A memory Mr. Kohler has when he was in Vogelsdorf is on April 11, 1945 when American tanks rolled through Vogelsdorf on their way east.  He remembers cheering and watching the soldiers throw candy and chocolates to the children.

On May 30th, they went back to the train station. The problem was that the Allies had destroyed most of the railroad lines so the Germans would not be able to transport goods back and forth. So Mr. Kohler and his family waited until they found a train traveling west. Along with hundreds of others, in position similar to theirs, they crowded into storage cars. Mr. Kohler does not remember much about the journey except that they often had to stop and men would get out and rebuild the railroad tracks. Later he learned that these men were Dutch Allied soldiers who wanted to get home, and that is why they worked so feverishly to rebuild the tracks. In the end, it took them four days to get home, when it regularly would have taken them around four hours.
Present Day Germany

-The dotted line represents the approximate train route Mr. Kohler took to get from Krefeld to Vogelsdorf


Getting Back to Krefeld

After finally returning back to Krefeld, Mr. Kohler and his family returned to a decimated and destroyed town. Krefeld had been bombed multiple times during the war and during the time period when Mr. Kohler and his family had fled. Their house was severely damaged along with their neighbors’ houses and many public buildings. Mr. Kohler’s father rebuilt the house and eventually the town was reconstructed to what it was before the war.
A few years after the war, when British soldiers occupied the Rhineland and Krefeld, Mr. Kohler remembers British soldiers playing soccer on a soccer field near his house. When the soldiers scored they yelled, “goal.” This was the first English word Mr. Kohler ever learned.

Looking Back

Looking back on the events of his childhood, Mr. Kohler thinks that they certainly changed his perspective on life. His life during the war was one of fear and terror. He never knew whether he would have a house to live in the next day or whether we would even be alive. Because of this Mr. Kohler is strongly against war and autocratic regimes.


In 1957 Mr. Kohler came to America to study as a college student and then returned to Germany. Later he returned to America permanently to be a lawyer, but eventually became a psychologist.  Currently he lives with his wife Paula in the house next door to me, and it has been an honor and a fascinating experience learning about his life in the war.

Primary Sources

Elizabeth Kremers. Die Nacht in der Krefeld unterging. Wartberg Verlag, 2003.

Kopchuk, John. “Bomber Command’s Summary of the raid on Krefeld Germany 21/22 June 1943.”
   Ex Air Gunners March 2001.

Kohler, Rainer. Personal Interview. November 28 2004

Secondary Sources

History Central. “World War II.” January 1943 Daylight Bombing of Germany November 18 2004

History Learning. “World War II.” Bombing of Germany. 17 November 2004

Spartacus School. “World War II.” Bombing of Dresden 17 November 2004

United States Strategic Bombing Survey. “European War September 30, 1945.”
    17 November 2004 http://www.anesi.com/ussbs02.htm