Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Lottie's Story

This is the story written by my Grandma's niece (making her my Mom's cousin... and my first cousin once removed). Most of the spelling and grammar is as she wrote it.

Lottie’s Story

The beginning: First of all I want to say that my family and I are German, born in Poland. We not for a moment thought of ourselves other than German. We had our own churches, all denominations, Lutherans, Baptists, Mennonites, what have you. The government of course was Polish, and Poles held high-ranking offices, like president etc. The main language was Polish of course, but we in the village spoke German all the time. My grandmother understood Polish but never learned the language, and pretty well those in our village that spoke Polish, did so with an accent, at least my relatives. In our nearest little town, Gombin, business was done in both languages, and the business people were mostly Jewish, also Polish or German. To that little town the farmers took their stuff to the market and also that was where you bought larger items like clothing etc. In school we were taught Polish and German and we kids spoke our language among ourselves. We had two Polish families living near us, they were for hire, when some farmer needed help, they were called on.
They spoke German as well as we did. Their kids went to school with us and there never was any trouble between us all. The Polish government was very satisfied with the German farmers. They paid their taxes on time, and the farms were very well looked after. First of all the earth was very rich, and the German people had everything in order, in other words they prospered. We also had many orchards. My family grew all the fruit possible. What we could not use ourselves was sold.
We lived very close to the largest river in Poland, called Vistula. In German Weichsel. Large boats and barges went up and down to larger cities, including the Polish capital Warsaw. There my father would take the fruit, mostly apples and plums for sale. We lived about 80 km from Warsaw. On two occasions my Dad took me along. I remember on the large market you could see all kinds if things that we did not grow. One man was selling something that looked so good, so I asked my Dad to get me some. It was watermelon. I sure did not like it. But with my Dad, you ate it, even if you hated it, so I did. My Dad also took me on a streetcar in Warsaw, we went to a zoo. For a kid seven years old or so, that was really something . None, absolutely none of my friends had ever been to Warsaw, never mind to a zoo. There I remember mostly big beautiful birds that talked. That impressed me the most, of course all the other animals like lions elephants etc. did too. One other thing I remember on that trip was that we got lost, and my dad was worried we’d miss the boat, and I was very very worried, probably cried. However, we made it home safely.
I also remember going on a school trip on the boat to another larger city called Plock, about 30 km from home. My parents gave me one zloty to spend for the day. That was a fortune in my eyes, but I blew the wad. That was were I tasted ice cream for the first time. Imagine that I was probably 8 or 9 years old and had an ice cream cone for the first time. How times have changed.
Our school was a typical country school. One teacher, one room, and the teacher had taught my uncles, so you can see, he was pretty old. But I was his pet. I was asked to do all the neat things, got to sing a solo in school plays, all kinds of neat things that happen in school. When the weather was bad, like snowy or raining, he asked me to stay over. The teacher and his family lived in the same building as the school, and the church was very close, just a few feet away. The teacher was also a very close friend of my grandfather. When we visited Poland in 1991 we stopped by the school, and after not seeing the place for 50 some years, there was hardly any change. It was not a school anymore, a family lived there, the kids were bussed to some other place, but the building had not changed and the church was used for Catholic services. Mind you it was very very run down. It brought tears to my eyes.

In 1941 my parents decided to move to another village, with farmland and a country store. The house was much bigger and nicer. The village was also a little bigger, with a post office restaurant, butcher and a government office nearby. Also a bus station. Then my Dad got the bright idea to send me to boarding school. I did not think the idea was very bright, I was simply terrified. It was a very big city, I had never been there, did not know anybody, it was just terrible. My mother thought so too, but my Dad did not give in. And so he took me to Gostynin, and just left me in that huge, huge building, with 34 other kids that looked just as lost as I did. The school director was an old German army sergeant, and he thought we were his soldiers. Some kids got slapped across the face on the first day because they ran in the hall. We were supposed to tiptoe. You cannot imagine how we all felt, Everybody had one thing on their mind, to get out of there, We were all crying something awful, and from the 34 kids we soon shrunk to 14, some parents gave in, but not my Dad. I must tell you that building was huge, 3 floors, and probably 50 rooms, and just the few of us. The teachers all lived there as well, and also that miserable director. We were about 14 girls and 10 boys all 11 or 12 years old. That number included students that lived in town.
The food was awful, everything was on rations, during the war. Later we found out, or some parents investigated, that Mr Franiel sent the ration coupons to his family in Germany, and we were fed whatever, mind you parcels from home were appreciated. One of my saddest days during my stay in boarding school was when my parents were arrested for killing a pig that was theirs. The law during Hitler’s regime was, that you were allowed to keep so much of what the farm produced, for yourself. That meant if you had so many chickens, cows, pigs crops, etc., you had to give a percentage to the state. They checked that out regularly.
The 4 years I spent at the boarding school, were probably the best years of my life. We had lots of fun, and so much was done for the first time, like going to a play, show, restaurant, picnic, we were all from villages, all this was new to us all. And every year new kids came to start out like we had. The nice part was, that we were the “older” class, and we let them know that on every occasion. The school was closed eventually, the building was made into a war hospital, for wounded soldiers. What a sad day that was. So naturally tears flowed again.
Some more about the boarding school. All 14 girls slept in the same room in bunk beds. We had a small wardrobe for our stuff. School was only in the morning. We had every hour of the afternoon planned out for us. We were allowed to go downtown, and at a certain time we had to do our homework. A music teacher came to the school every day, and those that wanted to take piano lessons could do so, in the evening after supper we either read or wrote letters. We also did a lot of plays, written by us and performed for the teachers, it was fun even though everything was done at a certain time.to the hour .If you came back from downtown just a few minutes late, you were grounded for a few days. It was like an army camp, the director had been in the army, but was now too old.
I want to tell you what and how the Second World War began for me. It was a beautiful sunny day, September 1 1939. My dad had gone to town for some shopping, on his bicycle. He left early in the morning. I often heard my parents and grandparents talk of war, that Hitler was doing this and that, and it sounded scary. Mind you the communication was something else. We had a radio, the kind that you put over your ears and my Dad had only two sets. I never got a turn. My grandfather had a regular radio, battery kind, {we had no electricity} but it was for news only, and as a kid I really did not pay attention to Hitler, war or whatever.
Anyway, that day our maid said she was going to show me how to milk a cow. I will never forget it. Anyway while I was trying to get the milk to squirt into the pail, our neighbour’s daughter came running and said the war has started. I was 9 years old and had no idea what that meant, only that it probably was bad news. When we were done, we went home, and mother said that a great big bus had gone by, and it seemed someone had waved. I don’t remember if a bus had ever come down our road . But not much more was said. My brother Ed, who was 3 and I went to visit our grandparents, who lived right on the next farm. We did this at least once a day. What happened next is a blur, but we found out later, that person waving from the bus had been my father. On his way to town he had been picked up by Polish police, because he was German, was arrested. They threw the bike in the ditch, and put him on the bus. There were several German men on the bus already. The reason that they had gone down our road, was to pick up our German neighbour. In the meantime, when my Dad did not come home we realised, that something awful had happened to him, but we never knew what. Then stories were heard that the Poles turned on the Germans that a lot of them were murdered, arrested and what not all. We also heard that the German army were advancing towards us and you cannot imagine the frustration. Would they come in time before the Poles got to us. We had no fear from the two families that lived in our village, but it was the hoodlums that we feared. Polish soldiers came to the door and wanted the man of the house, horses or whatever .I cannot tell you how afraid we were. We could not leave the house to go to grandpa’s house, for fear we would be picked up. I remember we had a beautiful horse that my Mom thought they would come for. In the dark she took the horse and tied it to a fence at the back of the property, and we my Mom and I went on our knees and prayed. I will never forget that. You know no one came to the door again. Anyway some time later, I do not remember when exactly maybe a few days later, my Uncle and Aunt came rushing over they had two babies in their arms and said they had heard that the Germans were already in the villages across the river. They took me along. They just took somebody’s boat that was just by the water, a very small boat, and we got in. There was only one paddle and we, took off. No motor mind you. My Uncle Willie made us lie flat and he paddled. In the meantime they were shooting at us what turned out to be a bunch of hoodlums, that wanted the boat as well. Sure enough, the Germans were already there on that side of the river, I mean German army.
Friends took us in and we were worried what might happen to my mother and Ed, also my grandparents. As it turned out they came the next day, somebody brought them across with a bigger boat. I must tell you, right after we realised that my dad had been arrested, we did not know what to do. We wanted to save some of our possessions, so we buried what we could and covered it with branches and stuff. I will never forget this scene. After my mother and brother arrived, it was getting dark, and the three of us were sitting on the edge of the Vistula, looking across and watching fires spring up here and there, not really knowing if it could be our farm or not. We ended up singing hymns, and I will never in my life forget the ones we sang and cried. I do not remember how long we stayed on that side of the river, it was not very long, because the German Polish war only took 17 days. But for me a nine year old it was for ever. We still did not know where Dad was, if he was alive or not. I do not know how long it took for Dad to finally come home. The Poles had taken them, by now it was a large group, right to the Russian border. They were packed in train boxcars without food or water for days, and when they saw the German army was getting closer they poured gasoline on the train and set it on fire. Just by the grace of God that my dad got out alive, the German soldiers saved the majority of them. It was a wonderful day when he walked in, and he actually walked most of the way from the Russian border. In the meantime we had dug out what we had buried a few days ago. Nothing was taken and all was there. I must say we had left our Polish maid in charge of the animals and the rest of the stuff when we took off, and all was in order. Had things gotten worse before we left, she probably could not have helped us, because the hoodlums were from another part of the country.
So the German soldiers stayed in our village for a while, maybe two weeks or so, do not remember exactly how long. They were billeted out to all the homes. One soldier stayed with our family. When they left all went back to the way it was before, for me at least, only the Government was German, and we no longer had lessons in school in Polish. The Polish people that worked for us before the war, stayed with us.
At the end of 1944 the war was not going well at all for Germany. Everybody was wondering what would happen to us Germans when the Russian army would come in and take over. You heard all kind of horror stories what they would do to us, to the woman in particular. But what to do, flee to Germany before they got there, or just sit and wait. Well on Jan.15 there was a knock on the door and we were told to flee. Woman and children under 10 should get to the nearest train station, and be ready in an hour. The train station was 50 km away. So we packed what could be carried and my mother and my brother Ed, who was 9 were taken to the train station by horse and buggy. Our hired man took them, and he and the horses never came back. He probably went straight to his family who lived several miles away. My sister who was 4 yrs old was visiting my aunt a couple hundred miles away. Of course we could not get her. We had no idea when my Dad and I could or should leave.
As it turned out, our turn came the next day. There was a lot of commotion going on, on the street in front of our houses. My Dad sent me to ask someone what was going on. I was told to be ready in an hour to get out. So my Dad got two wagons and four horses ready, one for each of us, and feed for them and I at 14 yrs. packed and threw it on the wagons. Good thing it was cold so the meat did not spoil. There was homemade sausage, large hams, bacon, all good stuff, and lots of it. I threw other things, like pillows and blankets, clothes etc. on one wagon and the food on the other. My Dad had bought for each of us in the family warm sheeplined leather gloves on the black market. Well as we were ready to pull out, somehow mine were stolen. So there I was. Never in my life had I had the responsibility for a team of horses in the middle of winter, and it was bitter cold and lots of snow on the ground. I also had no gloves. I had to hold on to the lines to guide the two horses. All I could do was wrap some rags around my hands. Russian planes were flying overhead and now and again you could hear machinegun fire coming closer and closer. I need not tell you how frightened this young kid was. We were by no means alone on the road by now. All kinds of German soldiers, German military vehicles joined in. They were on a fast retreat from Warsaw and were also heading away from the Russian military. A German soldier, rifle in hand hopped on my wagon for a ride. Made me feel a little better, at least I was not alone. But all of a sudden there was a lot of yelling, running, my soldier was running as well. As I looked over my shoulder there was this gigantic Russian tank right close behind me and they fired right over my head into a house just a little ahead of us. Of course the horses took for the ditch and the whole thing tipped and I was underneath the whole stuff. One good thing the horses did not keep going, they just stopped. A lot of shooting went on, the Russian soldiers shot at the German soldier, and the Germans shot at them. When I think about it now it seems like a nightmare. There was a German soldier not more than five feet from where I was huddled under. He was wounded and got as far as his knees with his hands up. A Russian came up close and shot him with a pistol at close range. I will never forget that scene. That German soldier, on his knees, blood streaming down his face, begging for his life. But I suppose that is war.
Well there we were, my Dad was a little further down on the field. His horses got frightened from all the noise and kept going. I was so glad to see that he was all right. The Russian tanks and trucks kept going ahead into the direction we had wanted to go. So there was certainly no sense to keep going. By then it was starting to get dark. There was this dead silence around us. Dead German soldiers all around us, nobody knew what to do next. So we loaded everything back on my wagon, my Dads had not tipped over, and decided to go back home. Another scene I will not forget. There we were on some field, dark all around us, and further away we could see fires probably homes, that were hit by gunfire, and if we wanted to head into the direction of our house we had to go that way. It was a hard decision to make, but we made it. We came to a small village about 7km from our house, we knew it well. We all had to get off our wagons and were asked a lot of questions by Polish thugs that by now knew, they could do what they wanted with the Germans. They lined a lot of German civilians up and shot them all. The reason being that they were German, and they could do what they wanted. By the grace of God a Polish man showed up and said do not harm these people, they are my friends, let them go. I had never seen that man, probably my Dad knew him, I really never asked my Dad .Anyhow we got on our wagons and headed for home. We could not believe our eyes, because the soldiers we thought were Russian, actually were German. So we told them not to go toward the village we just escaped with our lives from. Most of the furniture was already stolen. One thing was there, my baby grand piano. I sat down and played, God Be With You Till We Meet Again. I always think of that night whenever I play that hymn. Soldiers were everywhere, and my Dad fed and rested the horses for a while and we left again, this time towards the village were my grandfather and uncle lived. All this happened in one day January 15th 1945
This is certainly a little mixed up story, maybe we can later get it together, but I did not talk enough about the war years. Life was pretty good on the farm. The farmers had to tell the government, German that is, how many chickens you had, because according to that number you had to deliver so many eggs towards the war effort. Also how many cows pigs and what have you, and you had to deliver accordingly. But there was also something left over, in any case we had lots to eat, in comparison to city folks, who had to depend on ration cards only. Everything was rationed, flour, sugar, bread even vegetables, I cannot think of anything, that was not rationed. When you were lucky enough to go to a restaurant for a sandwich for instance, you needed so many grams for bread, butter, meat, vegetables coupons. During the time when we had a cornerstore, on my holidays, I had to help to count all those coupons, what a pain that was. Then my Dad took the whole lot to make the purchases he needed. It was a lot of work, and we had several people helping out. There were always lineups in the store, because it took so long to look after customers. We basically did not want too many. But for me it was fun when I came home on vacation, I loved to stand behind the counter, and talk to people. Something else that was done during the war as far as shopping was concerned. You had to register with your grocer, in other words you could not shop anywhere else, just like with a doctor here in Canada. That system was still in place when we left Germany for Canada. So it was not just during the war years even after the war, not just in Poland, but in Germany as well.
Now back to January 16th 1945.
I do not even remember if it was day or nigh time when we started in the direction of Wiontschemin, where my grandfather and Uncle Willie and family lived. Anyway, when we got there, they had just left a couple of hours ago, their hired man told us. My dad thought the best thing to do was to head toward Danzig. That was a city near the North Sea, where ships from all over the world stopped to drop off their wares, sort of an international place. I have no idea why my Dad chose to go there, rather head towards Germany. We knew years later that’s where Uncle Willie headed, and eventually after about a month arrived in northern Germany. They were also travelling with horse and wagon.
At the end of the war, the German army started to build a bridge over the river Vistula. It was right in Wiontschemin. I remember a whole little army camp was built on my grandparent’s property to house all these workers. Among them were Russian prisoners of war. They were free to go, my grandfather spoke Russian and they visited after work. They were free to stay on the farm, they were not allowed off the property. Anyway, this bridge was being built mostly out of wood, I mean the top part of it was wood. Well early that morning we headed for that bridge. In the meantime, all the soldiers that had once worked on it were gone. We found that out when we were arrived at grandpa’s farm. The camp was still there, but no soldiers or prisoners.
It was one of the scariest moments of my life.{There were many}The bridge was not finished by far. There were no sides at all, and when I think of it there were holes all over. The planks across were not solid. There was a large sign that said not to cross, it was too dangerous. Had there been anyone with authority still there, I am sure nobody would have been allowed to cross. However we did, and we were not alone. I never prayed so hard that my horses would not get caught in a hole. And we had to go fast, because we had no idea how far the Russian army was behind us. Overhead planes were shooting at each other, German and Russian. You cannot imagine what I felt like. All the time I was in charge of a team of horses, and the chaos was something else. Well we made it, and followed all the other wagons in the direction of Germany. Everybody was scared to death, and you always looked over you shoulder, if the Russian army was behind us. It was so bitter cold, the horses were getting tired. At one point my dad’s one horse just would not go any further, so we had to stop at a farm for a day to rest the horses. We slept in the barn as well, and the people allowed us to do a little cooking. My Dad was not impressed what I produced I remember. There were people like us everywhere. All were terrified and did not know what lay ahead, and where to go. And the shooting we could hear all around us. After about a week of no real sleep, cold and just simply being terrified my nerves gave way. Apparently my Dad said one night when we were somewhat settled for the night, I have no idea where we were, I jumped up and started screaming and running in circles, yelling they are coming, the Russians are coming, they are going to kill us all. My Dad said it took a couple of people to wake me up and get me calmed down. He said he was terrified, he thought that I had lost it completely. After, I do not know exactly how long, he decided not to head towards Germany. Instead stay in Poland and go into the direction of Danzig.
I am not sure how far it is from our home to Danzig, but I am sure you could very easy get there in a day by boat and train, but it took us six weeks. I will try to describe the trip. One thing that was so awful for me, I was so terrified the Russians would catch up with us. The stories we heard were frightening to say the least. First of all they raped the women and shot the men, we were told. So one always looked over ones shoulder, if danger was around the corner. Most of the time we were a mixture of refugees and German soldiers. They were on the run from direction Warsaw, and that made it more dangerous for us civilians. If the Russian army caught up with us, they would shoot, and anybody other than a German soldiers would get caught in the fire. That happened on our first try to get away, on Jan 15th when the Russians overtook us, when my wagon tipped over, and I thought this was the end. A lot of civilians lost their lives that day, including my room mate from boarding school.
One other thing that made the trip so difficult was it was so bitter cold. After all it was January. And another thing that frightened me half to death was that the horses were slipping all over the place. The slightest little hill and they would literally fall on their knees, just could not make it. The reason was the road was so slippery like a mirror, and their “shoes” needed attention, which was impossible to look after. I was just terrified, we would get stuck just because of the road and the tired horses. Of course I had no one to share my fears with, my Dad was some distance ahead. When we would stop for the night, you thought it was impossible to go on. To stop to feed the horses and maybe have something to eat went like this. You just simply pulled into a farmer’s lane, you needed no permission, the turmoil was such that nobody cared. In most cases the people had already left themselves. So you looked for some feed for the horses, and if you were lucky, found somewhere a place on the floor to lie down. We still had some food that I could prepare, like a piece of bread and sausage. And early in the morning the day started the same as the one before, frightened to death.
On one such stop we came across a Polish family, it happened to be my 15th birthday. They were so very nice. It was still German government, but they knew, their” liberation “ was close at hand. They had a small farm, and begged us not to go any farther, they would protect us, nothing would happen to us. They had us sleep in their beds, they fed us cooked meals and the lady even baked a cake for me. We stayed with them for a few days. You could see fires in the distance and cannons could be heard in the distance. However my Dad thought best to keep going, so we left.
On another overnight stop there were a lot of people and a lot of German soldiers all over the place. Somebody told my Dad not to lie down, people were stealing like crazy, he should watch so they would not steal horses and wagons and all. One high-ranking German soldier promptly announced, anyone caught stealing would be shot on the spot. And believe me life did not mean much to them or anyone else for that matter. Well, someone stole one or our horses reigns. When my Dad told me he was going to try to either find it or steal somebody else’s, because you could not go on without it, I was terrified. I sat there numb, afraid he would get caught. He got caught, and a German soldier took hold of him, and I thought this was it. I begged and pleaded and told him I would be left alone if he killed my father. I did not know even where we were. I guess he had a heart after all and even let my Dad keep the reigns he had stolen. So off we went again.
On another stop we could see the fires were getting closer and the cannons louder. I cannot tell anyone how terrified I was. I actually thought this would be the place where the Russians would catch up with us. I begged my Dad to promise me one thing. If a Russian soldier should try to rape me, he should shoot me, because he had a handgun I knew that. Well he would not promise me that, but he said he would show me how to use it. I could shoot myself and him too.
We knew we had to move fast, so the night stop was somehow delayed, and we kept going. The fourway highway was very very crowded. There was a mixture of wagons, German cars, German trucks, people walking, and everybody was going the same direction. All of a sudden we were fired on by bullets that light up in the dark. It was dark and these bullets overhead. People screaming, horses frightened, mine stood on their hind legs, unreal, a frightened unbelievable sight. I screamed for my Dad who was a couple of trucks and wagons ahead. He thought I had been hit, and left his wagon and jumped on mine. His horses headed for the ditch, we did not know what became of them, probably somebody took over. I have no idea how long this shooting went on, but a lot of soldiers and civilians were dead in the end. I will never forget that night. At least my father took over the horses. But all the stuff we had on his abandoned wagon was lost, mostly food and bedding.
When I think of that wagon trip it is still like a nightmare, and of course one does not remember all.
All this time we had no idea where my mother and brother Ed were, or Ella my sister. Your only thought was to survive another day.
My Dad had a distant cousin near Danzig who had a small farm. We went there and they took us in with open arms. Our two remaining horses had a barn and feed, we had a bed to sleep in and they fed us with what they had, good food. The man of the house was a city policeman, there was a wife and two spinster daughters. They could not do enough for us. They had a son who had died in the war. I did not even know these people existed as our relatives, I had never met them before. But they were so very very friendly and good to us, I will never forget them. In my mind the war was quite a distance away, things were relatively quiet, compared with what we had been through.
My Dad also had a friend, he was from our village, who had bought an apartment building in Danzig, in Polish called Gdansk, just to rent out to people. One apartment he kept for himself and his family, so they had a place to stay, whenever they wanted to visit that city.
That friend, his name was Daniel Rinas, had a daughter, her name was Frieda. She was older than I, maybe four years older than I. My Dad was wondering if his friend Daniel had also fled to Danzig, so he went to the apartment to find out. Where we stayed was on the outskirts of Danzig, you could get there by streetcar in about an hour. Well his friend was not there but his daughter Frieda was, waiting for any member of her family to arrive. Well, they never did, nor her father as we later found out. They simply did not get away in time. Her father had been taken by the Poles to some work camp where he died, the family found out years later.
Back to my story. Frieda asked my Dad if I wanted to come and stay with her. Of course I jumped at the chance, she was young and it was a lot more fun to be with her than with a lot of older people. And of course Danzig was a big city. Everything was pretty quiet for a month or so. There were a lot of German soldiers throughout the city. I was 15, and my friend Frieda was 19 or 20 years old. Life was pretty dull even in the city. You could not buy anything, everything was rationed, but we went on long streetcar rides went for walks and spent the time with her friends. For one fare you could ride from one end of the city to the other side, hoping that you were not caught in an air raid. The house Frieda’s Dad owned was made into an air raid shelter for the public. There were huge double doors leading into the shelter from the street, and of course it was always open. We could get there through doors from the second floor without going outside. That was a comfort.
We often went by streetcar to visit the people my Dad stayed with, since Frieda had no phone. In all it was quiet as far as the war was concerned. We could hear at times cannon fire from the distance, but that seemed nothing to what we went through just weeks ago. Of course we had no idea where my Mom was and Ed, had she made it to Germany or were they caught by the Russian army.
After a few weeks the loud noise of cannon fire could be heard louder and it seemed not so far away. We also had a number of air raids, but the Germans shot back at them. Many places were hit, but we were still lucky and safe in the house. We would sometimes sit on the window sill and watch the puffs of smoke near a Russian plane, watching how close the German guns were from hitting the plane. Of course the siren had sounded and people were rushing for the shelter, but not us. We thought it was fun watching. We had been down so many times and nothing near us had happened in days, so we thought why bother.
Well, something did. As we were sitting there, watching the planes, suddenly there was this horrible loud whistle and very loud bang. We just made it to the middle of the room. The windows shattered, plaster came off the walls dust and dirt everywhere. We just stood there for a moment. But we made it to the shelter in record time.
We had hung laundry in the attic the day before, so went to see what had happened, what had been hit. To my surprise there was a bomb just laying there, it had not exploded. Our laundry had millions of splinters in it, most of the roof was gone, bright daylight in the otherwise dark attic. Talk about luck, had that bomb exploded, I would not be writing this. There was only one floor above us and then the attic. After that, once we heard the siren, we went down as fast as we could, and no more streetcar rides, we stuck close to the house. But there was an eerie feeling in the city. It was very clear, that the end was near. The German army was leaving in haste, shooting back at the enemy, in this case the Russian army, and the Russians were after them shooting trying to kill as many as they could. And that left us in the middle. We got it from everywhere, from the sky, from cannons and other guns. It was just awful. At one point it was a bit quiet, so we went out of the shelter and stood on either side of the steps leading into the shelter. We were hit, whatever it was hit the double doors, put a great big hole in the door. We went flying. Thank God the doors were closed. Our ears were plugged for a couple of hours, and thank God we were only shook up, after we picked ourselves up off the floor. Two close, very close calls for Frieda and me.
I could not tell you how long this was going on. It was just hysteria. Children were crying, woman were screaming, just total mayhem, and the bombing went on and on. Finally the house was hit and it was burning. Since it was mostly out of wood, I think so anyway, we had to get out fast, into that hell outside. You could not tell if it was day or night, the smoke and stuff was so heavy out there. All you could do was run, get off the street as fast as you could, somewhere under roof. We sure had absolutely no baggage, and everybody was for himself. I ran into a bombed out church, there was a bit of a roof still hanging in one corner. The main part was all gone, still burning in some sections. The church was a Catholic church, called Marien Kirche, one of the largest churches in Poland. It just lay there in ruin. I could not tell you how long I huddled there. I remember crawling as far as I could into the corner ruin, so no Russian soldier would find me.
Eventually I met Frieda, and a family that had lived in her father’s apartment by the name of Feibel. They had found two rooms that were not destroyed and moved in. They asked us to join the family. Of course other people had found this place as well and also moved in. We all slept on the floor and basically were strangers, but we were off the street and no stray bullets would hit us. The bombing still went on, but somehow I never thought at that time that perhaps this building could be hit as well. You go numb.
Eventually the shooting stopped and the Russian solders started with their own horror: Raping. I will never forget the screams of woman during the night. I came close, very close twice. Once a Russian soldier stopped me and wanted my watch. After I gave him what he wanted I quickly ran inside. By the time he came in I was well hidden under a large chair. A large woman was sitting on it and she wore a big skirt, so I was safe, she saved me. He pretended he wanted to give me back my watch, anyways he waved the watch and motioned it was no good.
The second time I probably would have lost the battle, but an excited soldier came in and shouted something in Russian, anyhow they both fled very fast. I will never lose faith in prayer, and my faith was very strong in those troubled days and weeks, and still is.
Now the struggle for survival began. There was absolutely no food and chaos reigned. Women were afraid to go out for fear of being raped. Mr. and Mrs. Feibel had three children. He was a Jew and she was German, because of that he was not taken to a death camp during the war. He and his son went looking for food and we woman stayed behind hoping and praying they would find some. What people did they went through houses and apartments that were not totally bombed out and took what they could find that was fit to eat. He came home with some grain that we ground down with bottles, we added water and made patties. There was a wood stove in this apartment and he found whatever is needed to make a fire. Once the fire burned down he put those patties on the hot ashes, and oh what a feast. So that was one day. Then he found some potatoes and a whole bottle of vinegar and mustard. Another feast. And then there were garbage piles, food that the Russian soldiers had thrown out. Somehow the fear of food poisoning did not exist. Anything that was eatable saved another day. Then there was a horse that got hit on the street. I will never forget the sight of all the people trying to get a piece of the food. Even the intestines people fought over. We managed to get some too. I do not remember how Mr Feibel prepared the feast. Water was another thing. There city was three quarters in ruins and everything was gone. No water and no electricity. Good thing it was in the month of May, so it was warm outside. News came that there was a waterline open blocks and blocks from us. That was my job to find some drinking water. The line-up was unbelievably long and the water was just a trickle, so you can imagine how long the wait was. And always you had to watch for Russian soldiers, because the rapes were still going on. Many times you could see a soldier eyeing you up and you better start moving. Yelling and screaming helped too, to catch the attention of another Russian officer or soldier. They were not supposed to do this. One day Mr Feibel found a whole bunch of potatoes, and since we had the vinegar and the mustard, he found some pepper too, we were safe for a while. Water for other than cooking I got from a canal that flowed through Danzig called the Motlau.
One day when I went for my pail of water I counted 13 bodies floating nearby. So in a very short time all kinds of diseases started to spread throughout the city, mostly typhoid fever. People were dying like flies. Bodies everywhere, they just died on the streets. If not from hunger than from diseases. My friends, the Feibels were struck too. The only one spared was their one son and I. The sickness leaves you with a very high fever and diarrhoea, the bloody kind. To this day I don’t know how they survived. They were hysterical with fever, they forever wanted to go home, they wanted their beds, yelling, crying all four of them, it was unbelievable. We had absolutely no medication, only water to drink and for compresses, and we still had some potatoes. Of course they could not eat. Somehow a Russian lady doctor who was Jewish came up to the apartment. She had no pills but she told me to give them water for three days and nothing else, and then potatoes for three days and nothing else. After about three weeks they got better, very slowly they could get back on their feet. They never forgot and thanked me for saving their lives. With that sickness you get so weak, they could not stand up on their own. Of course we still all slept together on the floor. One day the Russian doctor had a soldier bring some ground horsemeat and bread to us, and sometimes other foods as well. That sure was good medicine for my sick and weak friends, so things started to get better for us, thanks in part for Mr Feibel being a Jew.
He never stopped scrounging for food once he got stronger, and that is how we survived those horrible months.
Talk about coincidence. I told you when we had to leave home that terribly cold morning in January, as a 14 year old I did the packing, by throwing what I thought was important into two wagons, within about one or two hours of time. Well some important papers made it. Well, a couple of weeks later ,when the bombings, shootings raping had stopped, I ventured out to the place where we first arrived with our horses, a little outside of Danzig to see if any of the people were there, also if anybody knew where my father was. All was quiet, all doors open, all cupboards empty of course, furniture gone, but the house was intact. On the floor in the kitchen I picked up a piece of paper that had been stepped on many times. I could not believe my eyes, it was a school certificate from my country public school I had received some six years ago. All else was gone right along with the people. I still have that piece of paper my school certificate.
Also all this story happened when I was 15 plus 3 months. You had to grow up fast to survive.
When I was talking about scrounging it went like this. The houses and apartments were pretty well all open, because the people had fled. So you just simply went in and helped yourself. Mostly there was very little to take. People had been on ration for so long, there was not much left, or somebody else beat you to it. Of course you did not go in, if the people were there. Once I was walking down the street and saw a woman was wearing my dress. I asked her if I could have it back, and she obliged, no trouble. A Russian soldier had given it to her along with other things. That’s what they did, they just came in and helped themselves, after all they had the guns. One time the soldiers took some of Mr Feibels last things that meant something to him, he cried and begged to let him keep it, but no way, they did not listen. Being a Jew didn’t help that time. We just survived from day to day. And the women always had to look out for Russian soldiers, who raped without mercy. The empty apartment consisted of a kitchen, one bedroom and living room, and it was empty really. Across an alley was a very large church, it was completely bombed out, just some walls were still standing. The Russian soldiers were on a rampage, I remember spending a night there huddled in a corner, blue sky above. Today I don’t remember, if I was afraid of anything other than Russian soldiers then.
It happened that people were stopped and told to work for a couple of hours, doing some cleaning or sweeping for the soldiers. I worked in a kitchen for Russian soldiers on many occasions, but things had simmered down and the raping had stopped. You got fed and I could take some home for my Jewish friends. The officers oversaw such work, and there was no fear, of being assaulted.
In the meantime I met up with my friend Frieda, who was taken in by some people whose house was outside the city and not destroyed. Her aim was to get out of Poland and go to Germany. Her Dad’s apartment was completely bombed out, just a large pile of rubble, where a three storey apartment building once stood. There was no future no jobs, no housing, no food, absolutely nothing. On top of all we were German who had lost the war, hated by the Poles, and the Russian army, no family, nothing. Don’t forget the Poles were the rulers now, they could do whatever they wanted with us. But to get out was not easy. The Russian army organized trainloads of German civilians and shipped them out to Germany. But the organizing was not easy, you had to have papers. We had nothing, all was lost. And then they said, those trainloads of Germans were shipped to Siberia or they made soap from them, no one ever wrote, to say they actually got to Germany. Well the prospect for safety was not the greatest, no matter what we did. Anyway Frieda had luck and lied her way to get her and me on such a train, in other words she had the papers for us to leave. Well I heard some more horror stories and backed out. So she did not go either. She tried again a few weeks later, and was successful for the second time. Don’t forget I had no idea where my Dad was, if he was alive, where my mother and Ed, if they got through to Germany that cold January day. No wonder I was afraid to leave the Jewish family, at least I was with people. Who knew where that train would take us, but my mind was made up, thanks to Friedas begging, I would go along with her to Germany.
On the very day we were to leave, out of the blue, a letter arrived to the Feibel family. It was from my Dad. I have no idea how it got there, there was no postal delivery, but people who knew the Feibels brought it over. It is a mystery to this day. Anyway he asked if they knew where I was, if alive, and he had a return address. He never said for me to come there, or not to come, or to write, nothing. So I told Frieda again, my mind was made up, I was not going to Germany or wherever the train was going. I had an address where my Dad was, I had something sure. But what a terrible mistake this 15year old made. I went by train to the nearest city, because I had a faint idea where this village was where my father was staying. I had no idea if he was living with friends or even why he was in Andzejow and not in our own village, I had absolutely no idea what was going on. I had money for only one way, no return. Most of all I did not know in what circumstances the Germans were in, what was going on. In Danzig all the people we knew were German.
Anyhow I started out for Plock, that was as far as I could get by train. The rest of the way was by foot, I knew that. When I got on the train, Polish soldiers were asking for ID, which I did not have. No ID, you simply did not get on that train. As the soldier was approaching, I asked him for the time of day{God was with me},He gave me the time, saluted and let me get on. And once on the train, which was packed solid, I spent most of the time in the bathroom, because they checked passports in case they missed somebody. It was a very nervous trip. I could not tell you how far it was or how long it took to get to Plock, but I was glad I was there. When I think back now you took chances with things in your life, that I would find horrifying now. But that was war and so far I was alone at 15 in this scary world.
When I got off the train I had to ask in which direction Andzejow was. So off I went with my small suitcase. I don’t remember how far it was or how long it took to get there, but I was told there were three villages by that name. Like small Andzejow, Large Andzejow, and Polish Andzejow, now where was my Dad. I could not say that I was looking for my Dad, because I found out that Germans were arrested and put into prison or to work. My Dad did not speak Polish very well, so they knew he was German. So I said he was a friend of the family and probably knew where my “Polish” family was, I gave them and me a Polish name{don’t remember what it was}I pretty well went from farm to farm asking for Henry Jadischke. I right out asked for food I was so hungry. Most people gave me some, thinking I was some Polish orphan looking for family. At one point where they gave me lunch, I asked if I could leave my suitcase with them, I would be back to pick it up later, maybe they would even let me stay the night, they were very friendly. I kept up my search. I knocked on a door and the lady told me to go away, she was a German lady. She said the police are after you, they know you are German, I don’t want them to find you here with me, and she closed the door in my face, Then I remembered the suitcase. I had a German Bible with me, and that “friendly” couple had a look inside and figured it out that I was lying, and called police. Obviously, I was just a step ahead of them, they did not get me.
After that I gave up looking for my Dad, it was too dangerous, I also did not bother picking up my suitcase. The only thing I could do now, was get back to Danzig and my Jewish friends. They had told me if I could not find my Dad, I was welcome to come back. There was only one problem. I had not a penny to my name, and whatever was in the suitcase, that I could have sold door to door to get enough money for the train fare, I could not pick up. So I went door to door and asked for a meal and asked for money. The lies I told why I needed to get back to Danzig, and the reason I had lost all my possessions I don’t even remember. But anyway, I had enough for my ticket.
I just thought of another little horror story while trying to find my father. My Polish was not that good, at least I had a slight accent. So I told the people that my Mother was Jewish and my father was Polish, and that we often spoke German, that was why my Polish was not that good. I also could not tell them that the man I was looking for was my Dad. I told them that he was a family friend, that maybe knew of my “family” that was somewhere lost in the war. I took on a Polish name, which I don’t remember.
Anyway, I came to this place, a gigantic farm, they had Germans working there somebody had told me, maybe Dad was one of them. He wasn’t. But when I told the lady of the house my “story”, and asked if they could spare some food, she offered to keep me overnight. Remember, my story was that my Mom was Jewish. Well, she said, you are in luck. We have a Jewish couple staying here, they are doing some tailoring for us. He went away for a couple of days, but you can share the room with his young wife. I cannot tell you how nervous I was, because she really hated the Germans. She said she could cut them to pieces, and here I was, lying, every word was a lie. I got out of there in the morning pretty fast, before the husband got back, He might catch on to my “stories”.
Anyway, back to my story. I was walking along the highway to the big city where I would pick up the train back to Danzig. A man was going with a team of horses in that direction, so I asked for a lift. No problem, he gave me a lift, but wondered where I was going. So there I went with my “story”, that I was looking for family. All of a sudden I saw a horse and wagon coming towards us. The man was alone and that man was my Dad. I jumped off that wagon so fast that guy did not know what was happening. So there was my Dad, he was returning from the feed mill in the middle of a highway. Now what? As it turned out, he had been caught, he told me, when he tried to get to some Polish friends. He never made it. You must understand, being German was enough to be arrested, killed, jailed, whatever. The police had stopped him and asked where he was going. That was enough for them to know that he was German, by the poor polish language he spoke. He was arrested and taken to work for a bunch of Polish policemen, that had taken over a German farm. They needed people to work for them for nothing, and he was one. There were more Germans working there, also a Polish couple, that sort of ran things. They were very friendly towards my Dad. So my Dad told me their name and said to come to that farm and ask for the lady of the house. In the meantime he hurried back with the grain he had on the wagon, and told the lady of his plan, so he could at least see me for a while. It worked. That lady gave me supper and offered to keep me overnight. She knew that this German worker was my Dad, but she did not give us away. I could not stay there, for fear I would be found out, and we all would be in deep trouble, including the Polish lady. So Dad gave me an address of some Polish friends of his, so I went there for a couple of days. My aim was to get to some really old friends, Polish people that lived in another city, across the Vistula. Actually they lived in the same city where I went to boarding school, a year or so ago.
I made it to their place, do not remember how, because it was miles away, walked and walked. But this was a different world. When I was in school the government was German, all was German, but now all was Polish and the German people were the people with absolutely no rights what so ever. They could shoot you and nobody was responsible, and no one would ask any questions. During the German regime these people were wined and dined at my folks many times, and my parents helped, so they could keep their bakery, even though they were Polish. They were party people and many parties were at our house. So it was a smart move to ask if I could stay with them, even though as a maid. At least I would be safe. (They had in the meantime moved to the big city, Gostynin, to open a large bakery). Well in the beginning it was not too bad. I could never eat with them, or the same food, but I was safe. They had a grocery store and also a cow and a couple of pigs, that I had to look after. In other words they had a big business. I had nothing to wear, my shoes were two men’s slippers that were far too big for me, I had no underwear, no gloves. The only thing that was warm was a winter coat. There was no running water. Every drop had to be carried from a pump in the marketplace. It was quite a distance, and that was water for the animals our own use, washing and what have you. Oh, how I cried, I was so cold, and alone, and they were so mean and I was only 15. Their bakery baked bread especially for Germans, that was so bitter and doughy. I had to wait until he came home and brought me that specially baked bitter bread. No butter, nothing on it. I did all the cooking for them, and she watched that I would not snitch something for myself. I was in such a state I would have never taken anything that was forbidden. I was simply afraid of the consequences and the beating. My hands were so swollen and bleeding from the cold and wet, they hurt so much. There was a Jewish man that came to them often, he lived just down the street. He knew that I was German, and had a good reason to hate Germans, because he lost his entire family in Dachau. He took me by the hand in front of my boss lady and told her, she should take me to the doctor to heal my hands, and get me shoes and clothes. Of course she thought it was funny for him to say that. I do not remember how long I stayed with them. I also remember the part of the house I slept in. It was so very cold, no heat and hardly any covers. I slept in my coat, and nearly froze. My Dad came once for a visit, I had no way of letting him know how they were treating me, he probably thought of old times, they would be friendly. They did not even talk to him, did not give him a meal or asked him to stay over. All I know I left secretly at night to some other people, some 50 km away. My Dad told me where it was safe to stay on the way there, and I did. People that had known my family during the war, when the shoe was on the other foot, were helpful. My Dad was helpful to them when it was hard for the Polish people to get by. Of course the first bunch had a short memory.
Anyways the next people were an old couple, that needed help with small chores, and lived in a small village. They did not know my Dad personally, but had heard he had helped out when the Germans were in power, and polish folks needed help. They were just like grandparents to me. They were very poor and did not pay me anything of course, but they gave me some clothes that we fixed to fit me, and we ate what was there. I do not remember how long I stayed with them. One day a policeman came and said you have a German working for you. You do not need her, she is need somewhere else. All their crying and my crying did not help. He took me on his bicycle and away we went, about 20 km away. No idea where he was taking me, as it happened it was to his in-laws. They had taken over a German people’s farm, and needed a worker. Some of the land was about 7km from the house and the rest of the farm, so it was a long walk to work the fields. They also had a German son and mother working for them. The son was in his seventies and the mother 90 plus. I remember it was harvest time. The grain was cut by this old man and I tied it in bundles, all by hand. The worst of it was there were so many thistles mixed with the wheat, I had no gloves, and my hands were swollen with the skin full of infection from the thistle. Did my hands hurt. We also had to get up at 3 in the morning, feed the animals, milk the cows, and walk the 7 km to the field and start working. For dinner all we had was dry rye bread and a dill pickle, and a pitcher with water. When we got home, that lazy lady of the house did not even have supper for us. There we were again with bread and a pickle, and the chores had to be done. How often I cried myself to sleep, I could have slept standing up that’s how tired I was. And the worst of it all was, I was alone, I knew where my Dad was, but I could go to him or talk to him, or write him, he was miles away. And there was no way out, I often wondered if this was where I would spend the rest of my life. We got not one penny in wages, the German people had absolutely no rights, anyone could come and give you a beating even kill you, and nobody would care. Talk about hopelessness. One lucky thing was that it was summer, I had no winter clothes, and in all this I was only 16 years old.
Then one day a polish man came on a bicycle, handed these people some kind of document where it said he was taking me away. I did not know him, but I went with him. After a while he told me he knew my Dad and where he was. Also that Dad had permission from the government that he and I could leave Poland and go to Germany. So it was that we walked to the train station on this certain day a train would take us and a lot of other German people to the German-Polish border, where we could enter into Germany. The train was a boxcar so full of people, almost standing room only, but we were glad to get out of this hellhole. But before we got going a bunch of hoodlums got on and were asking for gold and jewellery. Good heavens nobody had anything, just the clothes on your body. Well they did not believe us, with great big long sticks they beat us, however they got nothing. They hit my Dad on the head and broke a lens from his glasses, but finally we got going. When we were unloaded at the border in Stettin, they put us in some makeshift camp. The food was grey water with a piece of potato here and there. I do not remember how long they kept us there, but one day we were told the trains to Germany were full and there was no room in Germany for us either, so we were loaded on that horrible boxcar and taken back where we came from. One thing in my favour, I was with my Dad.
I had one horrible fear to be beaten to the point where you ended up a cripple. There was absolutely nobody that would stand up for you, you had no right at all. I was beaten once by a completely strange person, that only knew that I was German. She had lost her husband in a work camp so she took it out on a 15 year old girl. She did not break any bones, but I was black and blue all over, and sure was sore. So I had a good reason to be afraid.
So we arrived again at the same station in Gostynin were we had left only 2 weeks ago. But there were people waiting for us, employers, that looked you over if you were fit to do the job. I reminded me of the slave trade when you were looked over if you were strong enough, you literally had to turn around so they could look you over .Well,nobody wanted my Dad, he was quite the sight, his glasses bent and one lens gone, his head still bruised, so he was free to go. but somebody picked me for a maid. The couple had three children and they both worked for the government. My Dad whispered where he was going, to some old polish friends, and that he would wait for me there. All I had to do wait for an opportunity to run away from there.
It was in Gosynin where I had gone to boarding school, so I knew the city very well. My Dad also knew a polish couple in town, he went to tell them ,that sooner or later I would come knocking at their door, probably at night, to let me stay. I knew very well, that as soon these people came home and saw me gone, would start looking for me. Well these polish friends were waiting for me( I only worked for this couple for three days, that how long it took for a chance to run). They kept me over night and very early woke me up and I was on the run again. I had to stick to the main highway, which was dangerous, because I knew they would be out looking for me. But thank goodness, cars were few and far between. As soon as I heard one coming I went behind bushes. Sure enough, there was a truck coming, my boss standing on the back of it leaning on the cab, and looking. Thank God I was well hidden. After that I did not have to worry so much, he was gone.
When we visited Poland in 1991 I showed Walter the highway I was on that horrible day.
I met my Dad someplace ,do not remember, and he found us a job on a farm with some polish people, that had heard of my Dad and my family. We had many polish friends that would have loved to help us, because we helped them when the government was German and the shoe was on the other foot. But you had to go where they took you, no questions asked. Anyway they had two farms, and we stayed with them till 1947.They could not pay us a wage, because they had nothing much either, but they were so good to us. They shared everything they had. The Lady bought fabric and had a brand new dress made for me, she gave me her clothes to wear, which were much too big, but they were warm, they were good to my Dad too. Every now and again he slipped dad a couple of Zlotys. In the meantime we found Ella, and also found out that my Mom and Ed had made it safely to Germany. They were safe. But we knew, somehow we had to try again to get to Germany. There was a border city called Stettin. It was from there, that German people were shipped to Germany. But the trouble was Stettin was a world away, and you had to get there on your own. When I think about it now it was a strange situation. The Poles needed us Germans to work for them, of course without a penny, yet it was possible to be shipped to Germany from Stettin. Maybe they had to let them go. Anyway, now the three of us, my Dad, my sister Ella and I were Stettin bound. The nice polish farmer even drove us to a bus station via horse and buggy. We had decided to split up. Ella and I would travel together, and my dad would go on his own. His polish was not perfect, he spoke with a German accent. So if he was found out, all three of us would be in trouble. The polish farmer gave us enough money to get to Stettin. By the way, my father pretended he could not speak, that was the plan. Do not ask me how, but my Dad had an address from a polish family living in Stettin, and we were to meet there. Somehow we got there, I do not remember how and how long it took for Ella and me to get there. We had one thing in our favour. Our polish was perfect and my Dad had polish friends that that were willing to help us get away. I do not remember how long it took my Dad to meet up with us, I almost gave up, and certainly did not know what to do next. But finally he arrived.
There was a large compound, with barracks and large buildings. It was there, that the German people were “housed”, and kept until they were questioned, deloused, and put on a train for Germany. But to get to that point was something else. We were questioned over and over again, the Poles did not want their free labour to leave the country. My Dad had less trouble, he was older ,was very thin, had only one lens in his glasses, spoke poor Polish. But they thought I should stay in Poland and work even though I was only 16. I don’t know just how many beatings my poor Dad got, mostly because he did not speak a perfect Polish, they knew he was German, and they were free to do that.
I do not remember how long we stayed in that compound. Once you were in there, there was no way out. The food we were given once a day was just awful, and not enough by far. Just some thin soup and a piece of bread. We almost starved. Thank God it was in the summer. We were not alone by any means. I think there were a hundred Germans in that camp, and all were hungry and worried.
Well the Poles decided to send us back to work on farms somewhere. It was just unbelievable, after all that we had gone through, after weeks of starving and now back again, to some unknown place. Suddenly, one morning we were told to line up for delousing, and that we would be sent away. One soldier said they will make soap out of us. When one is hungry and hopeless long enough, you don’t care anymore what happens.
Anyway we ended up on a train, bound for East Germany. We ended up in the Russian zone of Germany after days and days in boxcars, starved, dirty and very tired, but the three of us were together, my Dad my sister and I.
Something I may have forgotten to mention. On that cold January 15th day in 1945,when my brother and mother were driven to the railroad station in Gostynin, we made out, how to connect again. We would write to these polish friends, and that way we would find each other. It took almost two years til that happened. Was it the postal service, I do not know.
I said earlier that my Mom and Ed went by horse and buggy to Gosynin to the train station, and that my sister was visiting with my aunt about 100 km away. We had no idea if my Mom got away in time and we certainly had no way to get Ella. How we found Ella is another story.
As I said she was visiting with my aunt whose husband was in the German army. They had no children of their own, had a large farm, and lived far away from the rest of the family, so she wanted company. But in January when the Russian army got there they took all Germans that could possibly work to the train station, miles and miles away, to ship them to Siberia. Our aunt was very sickly and she apparently died on the side of the road, actually froze to death. That left Ella alone on the yard, when she tried to run after my Aunt. The russian soldiers pointed their rifle at her. She was 5 years old. My Aunt had a polish woman working for her, she took Ella to her house. The woman was good to her most of the time, it was the other kids that were mean. Since she was a German kid, they took it out on her.
After a long time, we had already found out, that Mom and Ed had made it to Germany, Mom sent a letter to some Polish people, telling them where Ella was, they in turn told Dad. By special permission Dad got a document allowing him to travel to the place where Ella was, and brought her to where we stayed with those nice people.
Back to the story. When we arrived in the Russian Zone of Germany, after days on the train ,hungry and dirty, they put us up in barracks, with barbed wire around everywhere. Actually the barbed wire was not necessary, we had nowhere to go anyway. The food was just terrible and not enough. I remember there was a hole in the fence, and Ella and I thought maybe we could go begging for food. After all the people were German, spoke our language, maybe they would have compassion, and give us something, anything that we could eat. But the doors never opened when we knocked, and there was nothing to steal either. After weeks in that camp, our Dad got sick with typhoid fever. They took him away to another camp about four miles away. It was some sort of place where all you saw were barracks and more barracks, and all the people were sick with some dreadful disease. They probably brought all the sick refugees to this place. After all typhoid Fever is catchy. So the first thing Ella and I decided was go see if we can find our father. So through the hole in the fence we went and got to the place. We did not even try to go to the office, instead we went from window to window, knocked and asked if anyone knew him. No luck, but finally somebody said he was in the other room, next window. Was he surprised to see us. What a sight, he was so very thin, just skin and bone. So we went to see him every day. Sometimes we had a little something to take to him. A piece of bread maybe a little honey, to help him stay alive. Of course we could not go in, we handed it to him through the window. That was so very sad, because he could not help himself, he was so weak. I still get teary eyed when I think of those days and weeks. Finally we got word that the camp we were in had to be cleared, everybody was asked if they had relatives in Germany they could go to. We by now had the address of our mother and Ed. But they were in the English zone of Germany and we were in the Russian zone. How will we get there, Ella and I? We had no money, we did not want to leave our very sick Dad. So the government gave us enough money for the trip to a small place near Hanover to get there. I will never forget when we went to the window to see our Dad and had to tell him, that we had to get out of the camp, and were planning to go Hannover. I was certain we would never see him again. He was just skin and bones, too weak to come to the window. So Ella and I left through the hole in the fence back to our barracks.
The next day we started our trip to west Germany. The borders were by no means open, you had to sneak across. The borders were guarded by Russian soldiers on one side and German on the other. You were ok if caught by the German border police, but the Russian police was another story. They could shoot you, arrest you or send you back. But for Ella and me where was “back”. We had nowhere to go.
Somebody at the camp told us how far to take the train, and start walking towards the border. I am sure we had our guardian angel with us that day. The day was cloudy, looked like rain and it was getting dark. We had no idea where the border was, we just kept walking. All of a sudden we heard German voices, so we knew we must have crossed the border. The German border patrol stopped us and asked us where we were going. After we told them our story, they could hardly believe it. First they gave us a loaf of bread and a liver sausage, and left us by a bonfire. They told us to go to an abandoned railway stop, and wait for them. They would drive us to the nearest station when they were off duty. I must tell you first of all how good that bread and sausage tasted. We had no knife,w e did not need one. Well we went to the railway stop, that’s all it was, like a bus shelter. We were actually scared. It was pitch dark, nothing around, in a bush, even though it was June, it was cool. We had only the clothes on our body and wondered if those friendly soldiers would remember us, and come for us.
We waited a long time and got tired. We huddled in a corner under some seats, and fell asleep. Finally I heard voices and with flashlights they came for us. They took us to a train station, no idea where, and gave us money for the ticket. The train master gave us his warm bed, gave us something warm to drink. Our train would not come through till the next morning. He was also told by the soldiers to wake us in time, and be sure we got on that train. In those days it was hard travel, the waiting was long. The trains were used for other more important things, and when one came through, there were hundreds of people wanting to get on it. By no means did everybody get on. One chap got in through the window, but once he was in he had no shoes. While struggling to get in, somebody took his shoes. When the train arrived, he as the “boss” got us on with no trouble, so we were headed for our destination, Hanover. We had to change trains someplace, and got all mixed up.
Anyhow we needed another train ticket, but had no money, and had no idea what to do next. Our sob story did not move the man behind the counter. To this day I cannot figure out what happened next. There were quite a few people in that station and heard our story I am sure. All of a sudden a man in a beige overcoat and hat, briefcase, went to the teller and told the man to give us the ticket we needed. Talk about a miracle. So we were on our way again. Our mother knew we were in the Russian zone somewhere, but had no idea we were pretty close to seeing her. It was a long way from the train station where she was staying and we got off too early.
Anyway we walked and walked. One good thing we had absolutely no baggage. For my shoes I had on a pair of high boots, with no soles, but finally we found the place. I sent Ealla in to look for Mom. My Mom did not know her, she had not seen her in three years. What a wonderful reunion. The farmer that taken my Mom and Ed in when they arrived by train in West Germany from Poland had a very big place. Absolutely a very large place and beautiful. Their name was Michaelis. A Christian family with five children. They had a very large house and shared it with thirty seven refugees. They kept only one room for themselves where they slept with the five children. They also shared the food and made sure everybody was looked after. Of course they took Ella and me in and gave us a bed to sleep in. I will never forget the feeling to be in a soft bed, warm and comfortable. It had been a long time since I felt so comfortable.
Of course our thoughts and prayers were with my Dad. We had no idea if he was still alive, but we knew where he was. Still very sick, in the Russian zone of Germany. The two Germanys were like two different countries the East zone and the West zone. The East was occupied by Russia and the West by England .It was very dangerous to cross without permission, and permission was hard to come by. Anyway, my Uncle Ed, dads brother took it upon himself to try and see if dad was still alive and if he could get him over the border to where we were. He took some food to get him on his feet, that is if he was still alive. Well Dad was still in that hospital with typhoid fever were Ella and I seen him last. And somehow, it took some time, they got across the border, and we were reunited again at Mr. and Mrs. Michaelis’s farm. It took some time for him to get his strength back, but he made it.
The trouble in the years after the was, there was no room in Germany for all the refugees. The German people came from Poland, Romania, Yugoslavia, the Ukraine, and other places to Germany. They were kicked out of those countries because they were German, just like us. They lost everything just like we did, and all had horror stories to tell just like we did. So Germany was overrun by refugees, and they had to take them in. The worst of all was that the big cities were destroyed by Allied bombs and they too were left homeless. Up to three families would share one room. It was a very desperate situation. And jobs were not to be found, everybody was on food stamps, it was a trying time, but one thing was sure. No more beatings, no more hiding no more nightmares. Some of us were lucky. We had relatives in Canada and US and received food parcels and clothing. Churches and the Red Cross also helped. Every little bit was a blessing. You learned to make something out of nothing. The year we arrived in Germany was June 1947.

1 comment:

Howard said...

Hi Joell. I found your article from doing a web search on Gostynin and "boarding school". My father was a German Mennonite from Deutsch Wymyschle, whose parents sent him to a boarding school in Gostynin. He was probably there the same time as your relative Lottie. Could you ask her if she remembers a "Franz Bartel", who had an artificial leg?

Howard Bartel