June 21/22 1941
It was a weekend in 1941. I was 9 years old and my parents decided to climb the Uri-Rotstock. Uncle Alfred, who is really not my uncle, but a 60 year old friend of our family and an enthusiastic mountain climber and engineer who quit his office in Leningrad after Stalin made his life unsecure. It was war and Switzerland was completely surrounded by Nazis. Practically all people hated them, we adored Churchill.
On Saturday, June 21st, we left the boat in Isleten and walked to the Musenalp hut. Although most food was scarce and rationed, there was no sign of lack of milk and cheese at Musenalp. Up there we could eat as much as we wanted, no ration coupons. But I had to pay a price for the milk: I hardly could sleep that night, the cowbells kept me awake.
All climbers started early. We followed them on a small and exposed path. I do not remember many details, but I recall that we had to cross steep and icy avalanche snow and that the route included an almost vertical wall of about 30 feet. When my mother saw how other alpinists had problems climbing it, she protested and refused to climb it. Uncle Alfred then decided to evade the wall and led us to a time consuming snow field which we would not leave before we reached the foot and rocks of the final part of Uri-Rotstock.
When we reached the saddle (2798m) it was already late. The last climbers came down from the summit and greeted us. One with a nasty remark to my parents: "Why the hell must this this young boy climb this last piece of the mountain?". My mother replied, that he should better address me. She would love to end the ascent, but I would be just too stubborn not to go to the top. And so we reached finally the top and I was proud.
I don't remember many details from this tour, but the walk down to the Grosstal and to the lake at Isleten seemed to be endless. But we made it, reached the boat that led us to Flüelen where we would change for the train that would us bring home. But there was an extraordinary mood at Flüelen. I remember the other people waiting there, neither happy nor unhappy, neither silent nor loud, neither smiling nor shedding tears. Everything was different, unusual. What happened? What's wrong? Blue sky, an evening full of sunshine, actually a happy Sunday.
The newspaper man finally solved the problem. He wore a hat with the three letters NZZ (Neue Zürcher Zeitung). In order to sell as many papers as possible he walked around quickly, stopped suddenly, accepted money, distributed the latest edition and repeated loudly what was written on the front page:
Germany Attacked the Soviet Unions Early this Morning!
As a young boy of 9 I did not know what to think. I did not have an opinion of my own. Sure I was afraid of war. Some years ago my mother thought about emigrating to Warsaw. I heard about the bombing of the Polish capital and saw pictures of the fires and ruins. Most people expected a similar attack for Switzerland. I was glad I did no more live in Zurich, but far away in the Alps. But the fear of an attack was permanent.
My parents started to smile. The Nazis will be busy for a while, no time and no soldiers for a Swiss attack. Uncle Alfred who lived in the Soviet Unions for several years began to give his personal judgment. It was too difficult for me to understand everything he said. But he gave us hope. And when the train came nearer and stopped with much noise, uncle Alfred raised his voice and said the unforgettible words, which I understood and gave me hope for the following years: It is easy to enter the Soviet Unions, but very difficult to leave it alive!