In November 2020, I called my great-aunt Ursula and my great-uncle Achim to talk to them about their experiences during World War II and the post-war period. He was born in 1940; she was born in 1941. Ursula is the daughter of Else and Hermann. Else and Hermann had seven children, one of them was Ruth, my maternal grandmother.
How are you?
Oh, Pauline, we’re doing so-so. We are happy about every day we wake up in the morning [laughs] and spend the day together. You want to interview me!
Yes! Where did you grow up?
I am a war child; I grew up in Breslau [Wrocław] and saw the whole Schlamassel in Breslau. I still remember how the Russians attacked and bombed Breslau. I don’t know if you can imagine that. It was said that during their attacks, it was as if they were planting light trees. Anyways, mom picked me up, so I could look out the window and see it. That was actually forbidden; we should have been in the cellar long ago. She was disobedient too, she wanted to see something too.
When the first bombings in Breslau took place, there were three duds in our yard one morning. We avoided them and made sure that they were removed soon. Those were pretty big chunks. If they had gone up again, it wouldn’t have turned out so well.
Were your parents never afraid?
I was alone with mum. My father was drafted into the army in 1937. He had to do the two-year service for World War II. The two years were up, then he came home in 1939, and then [laughs], let’s say, he laid the foundation for me [laughs]. And then he ran away again.
One day, it must have been in the summer of 1945; at least it was very, very hot. I can’t tell you how that is related, Pauline. Anyways, an underground fighter or someone similar, a Pole or a Russian – Poles had been there too, had been naturalized. He was shot. And something went wrong; I think they didn’t correctly identify him.
Anyways, on this hot summer day, mum had to go and dig up this dead man again. And she took me with her. I wasn’t right at the grave, I was about ten meters away. She sat me down on the lawn there and said: “Stay here!” They then dug up this decomposed or partially decomposed body for an autopsy.
When the Russians got very close to Breslau, there were these gauleiters, who were like: “To the last man, nobody leaves Breslau!” To the last man, you must toil and defend and what-do-I-know – everything that was proclaimed then. Later, this gauleiter was the first to flee when things got really ugly. Taking the last plane that could take off from Breslau.
The Danziger Straße (city center) was severely bombed. Women had to clear the remnants of the bombing, and then an airstrip was built for these gentlemen to escape. For these bastards, really.
The first time we fled in November or in December, I don’t remember exactly. I don’t know how far we’d got – as far as you can get in a day when there is already snow. Anyways, we didn’t get any further. We stayed in a village; the people were very hospitable. We stayed in a farmhouse with several refugees. The next morning, Russians suddenly stood in the yard; they made us go back to Breslau. “Nobody leaves Breslau!” Well. We stayed there until May 1946, when the Russians forced us to leave.
I don’t know much about the trip itself. Most of the time we took the train. When we arrived at the train station here in Hoya, there were already a few carts from different villages to pick us up. Mum and I and another woman slept in a stable. There was a stable hand’s room. There were three of us in there. A bed, a straw mattress, and a blanket. We lived there, and then there was also this severe winter: January, February. The river Weser left its bed. We woke up one morning and in the stable – there was just a stone wall; it was mainly intended for farmhands and cattle. When we woke up that one morning, we immediately got a feet washing – involuntarily, because the water ran in from one side and ran out again on the other [laughs]. Well, that was nice, Pauline!
We lived there until June or July, and then we got an apartment here in Altenbücken. We were lucky enough to find accommodation at Krügers’. Mum and I, we only got one room up there. We were able to set up a stove there, which was supplied by the commune.
As I said, my father came out of captivity in 1948 or 1949. It was a few days before their wedding day. It was in November. I can still remember that. We woke up. There was someone whistling downstairs, and mum suddenly became very, very excited, she threw something on, opened the window, looked out: Yes! Her husband Herbert was standing downstairs and whistling. It was five or six in the morning when he arrived here from Eystrup.
He had been in Siberia and then in captivity after the war. He had to work in a lead mine. When he got home, he was like a stick figure, weighed 94 or 96 pounds. Father didn’t talk much about what he experienced during the war. If he ever spoke of his war experiences, it happened extremely rarely, and when he did, the mood was always the same…
What interests me: What was it like when you arrived in Hoya? Was it difficult for your parents to start over?
Yes, that was very difficult.
How did people react to refugees being in town then?
It wasn’t easy. We had already met a half-Jewish woman on the run, who also came with us to Altenbücken. In Altenbücken, everyone was a farmer. There were those servants’ houses. Frau Kretschmer, as she was called, got a room in such a house. Then, a Belarusian came along; with my mum, Frau Kretschmer, and Frau Hirsch – these were the three who met on the run – they did a lot together, organized food, etc.
And this Jewish woman, she smoked a pipe. She also smoked other things when she could get something. Mum and I once went to the local pastor. There was a kind of clothing bank where you could get things. The pastor, I don’t remember his name, said: “Yes, Frau Fischer, you will get everything from us. But avoid this Frau Kretschmer, this Jewish woman.” “No”, said mum, “we have been through so much together from Breslau to this point, I won’t avoid her.” – ” Well, I’m sorry, then you can’t get anything.” And they called that a Christian attitude!
They insulted us as “Rucksackpolen” [“backpack poles” – Ed.] and “Polaken” [bad German word for the poles, cf. “Polen” – Ed.]. And my school friend Wilhelm’s father… There was a little stream behind his house, and once, we were playing there. Wilhelm’s father came home and said: “Wilhelm! You mustn’t play with these Russians!” With me. Well, he stopped playing with me. That was the attitude back then…
And in Stendern, where mum and I lived. We had to move because of the water running through the stable… Many said that the farmer just wanted to brag. But from my point of view: I cannot agree with that!
There were seven or eight of us. Everyone had an apartment, and every day we got at least half a liter of milk, everybody. Everyone got potatoes. Everyone got a piece of bacon or some meat for soups during the week to have some fat. Or lard for cooking or to smear on bread. They also made syrup themselves. The families got sugar beets to cook it. Big kettle, fire under it, then the beets were chopped up, and the syrup was made. Everyone got a little piece of land for crops.
Neither my mum nor I couldn’t complain! It was a way for the farmer to help. Perhaps that was also uncomfortable for him. But he did it. In my opinion, as far as I can judge from today’s perspective, he behaved in an exemplary manner.
People insulted us… That was a long, long time ago, Pauline. I had worked in Nienburg for several years by then, and I visited different villages to see our customers. And once, there was a customer who had recently moved to that village, and I was looking for his house.
There came a little farmer with his horse towards the main road. So I asked him if he knew the person and if he could tell me where he lived. The first answer I got was: “Is he a refugee?” And I said: “I don’t know.” – “Then I don’t know him.” That was about 15, 20 years after the end of the war – he still had this hatred in him, saying “refugee”. That was so depressing.
It got me thinking then: how you can have so much hatred and preserve it for 20 years – towards people who lost their homes.
The interviews are given in the original language or a transliteration of it with preservation of national, regional and individual speech peculiarities.