Friday, November 12, 2021

May, 1940: The Roadblock

This is one of my favorites of Grandpa's stories, one that I heard many times growing up.  My grandfather didn't speak German (he could read it a little), but my great-grandfather did speak the language. A few names you need to know: 

  • Arthur is my grandfather
  • Roma is my grandmother
  • Liliane is their newborn daughter (my aunt was about 12 days old when this story takes place)
  • Herman is my great-grandfather (my grandfather's dad) 
  • Masia is my great-grandmother (Herman's wife) 
  • Felicie is a family friend
  • Marc is the driver of the car (real person, but made up name)
  • Violet is Marc's wife (real person, but made up name)
  • Robert is their young son (real person, but made up name)


We were surrounded, so we were stopped on the highway, and a German read our identification papers, and told us in German to go straight and then turn to the right. When I heard this, I said to the taxi cab driver, “go straight and then turn to the left.” This was my attitude. And to the right I would have encountered some German officials, I presume. I don’t know, I never went.  --Arthur Lubinski to his granddaughter, May 1988.

The got on their way, Marc easing through the crowds of refugees, heading back out of Gravelines, and pulled onto a main road, heading west toward Calais, intending to turn south at the first opportunity.  

For the first time, the road was nearly clear. As they crested a rise, they saw that the road toward Calais had been blockaded by soldiers and military vehicles.  They were too far away to see which military it was, and Marc drove cautiously forward.

They pulled up to the roadblock and as Marc drifted to a stop, leaving plenty of room between the taxicab and the road block to make a U-turn if needed, they saw a Panzer partially hidden by the other vehicles. The man who walked toward them was tall and young and wore a helmet that was shorter over the forehead and longer in the back, and flared slightly.  German.

Marc started to put the taxicab in reverse, but more Germans had appeared behind them, holding rifles. Roma and Violet both gasped in fear, cradling their children close.

“Where’s the pistol?” Arthur whispered.

“Under the seat,” Marc said quietly. 

“Good.”

Everyone sat facing stiffly forward, silent. Arthur was grateful that Lili still slept.

The soldier reached the driver’s window and tapped the window frame to get their attention. Marc reluctantly turned and looked into the soldier’s blue eyes. “Identifikation,” the man said, and nodded to Marc, Herman, and Arthur.  Herman and Arthur instantly reached into their pockets to retrieve their papers, but Marc slowly removed his hands from the steering wheel and held them up, making a questioning gesture with his head. The German soldier nodded. It was then that Arthur saw that the German was holding an ugly-looking handgun, and it was pointed at Marc.

Marc slowly reached into his pocket and pulled out his own papers, then took the ones that Herman and Arthur handed forward.  Marc passed the identity cards to the waiting soldier.

The man nodded at another soldier who raised his rifle and pointed it at the car. Masia gave a tiny whimper and Arthur wanted to comfort his mother, but he didn’t move.

The first soldier holstered his pistol and looked over the the identity cards, reading them carefully.  “Geh geradeaus und biege nach rechts ab,” he finally said, and handed the the identity cards back through the window. 

“He said something about forward,” Arthur said. “I didn’t catch the rest.”

“He said, ‘Go forward and turn to the right,’” Herman translated.

Marc took the papers and handed them to Violet, and gave the officer a stiff nod.

Two soldiers who were standing and blocking the road, stood aside, and Marc slowly drove through the blockade and continued down the road.

“Go forward, and then turn to the left,” Arthur said.  Everyone but Marc turned to look at him.

“But, he said…”

“I said, turn left!” Arthur nearly shouted. He struggled to keep his voice quiet - they might not yet be out of earshot.  His mother and Roma cringed on either side of them. Liliane began to cry, startled from her nap. He managed to calm his voice. “He was directing us into Calais. Who knows who was going to meet us there? Probably some German officials. They might arrest us.”

“He wants the car,” Marc interjected. He met Arthur’s eyes in the rearview mirror.  “We’re going left,” he said, giving a tiny jerk of his head to the south.

They crested a hill, and the soldiers were hidden from view.  Marc ignored the right-hand turn he passed, and continued forward.   Violet handed Herman and Arthur’s identity cards back to Arthur. Arthur took them, relaxed into his seat, feeling suddenly weak.  His hand shook as he handed his father’s card to Herman.

Marc took the first left turn he found, and headed south, toward the interior of France.


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