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For the week of Apr. 19 through Apr. 25, 2000

Surviving the Soviet front

A Picabo ranch hand’s book recounts the horrors of serving in Hitler’s army

I’d been a death candidate and nobody had cared a damn about me. Goose pimples went down my back. This was part of the war you didn’t see in the newsreels or magazines.

Rudi Klein of Picabo, on almost dying in a Nazi hospital during World War II.

Express Staff Writer

Rudi Klein in WWIIDuring his 75 years, Rudi Klein has seen the good and bad of the world.

The green fields and rising Picabo Hills remind Klein of the sweet life in his homeland of German East Prussia, a place that no longer exists, before the madness of Adolf Hitler sent millions to their deaths.

"Hitler had it in his head to conquer all of Europe," Klein said in a recent interview at his Picabo home. "He made a treaty with Russia and then attacked Russia."

And then the American soldiers came.

When World War II was over and Germany was defeated, East Prussia was cut in two. The southern half was awarded to Poland and the northern half became Soviet soil with the line of division cutting through Klein’s hometown of Schonbruch, a place erased from the map.

Klein became officially recognized as a "displaced person."

After losing his family to the war and being seriously wounded and left for dead in a Nazi field hospital, Klein was taken prisoner by the American forces occupying Germany at the end of the war. He then took a huge step in his life’s journey and immigrated to the United States five years after the war, becoming a citizen in 1958.

Today, the German flag is flown beneath the stars and stripes at Klein