Family stories
Gert Malerius
Interview recorded: by Jakov Malerius

Gert Malerius

Gert Malerius grew up in East Prussia, the town of Pillau. Close to the end of World War II, he had to flee with his mother and brothers. He tells how they fled as well as the living conditions afterward.

After having a relatively untroubled childhood in Königsberg [now Kaliningrad, Russian Federation] and Pillau [now Baltiysk, Russian Federation] with my younger brothers, we had to flee from the approaching Russians. We fled with our mother from Pillau to Gothenhafen [now Gdynia, Poland] and from there with my father’s colleague’s minesweeper (my father’s boat was being repaired at the shipyard). During the dangerous journey across the Baltic Sea, I “celebrated” my 8th birthday without candlelight, cake, or presents – but with air attacks. We reached Kiel in February of 1945, and from there, we were sailed to Brunsbüttelkoog via the Kiel Canal, together with other refugees. We were quartered with a farmer, and already then, we began to experience the locals’ hostility. We stayed in a cowshed on hay, and my mother, being pregnant, was told that she would not give birth at this farm.

So we looked for another accommodation and after several short-time things, we were accommodated in a so-called Behelfswohnung*, an old stable building near some canal in Deichstraße Street in Brunsbüttel.

*Behelfswohnungen, or makeshift apartments, first appeared in 1943. The German organization Deutsches Wohnungshilfswerk started building new houses, so people who lost their homes during airstrikes would have a place to live. The plan didn’t work out, so these houses measured about 4.1 x 5.1m, were built of and in whatever was available.

Everyone was very sad, and my mother was often in despair because nobody wanted to accommodate a woman with three children. In March, the news about my father’s death reached us. He was killed in Gothenhafen by a grenade while leaving his ship. And so my mother stood there, alone with four children – the youngest was born in September.
We had an outhouse at our “apartment”, and rats from the canal visited us frequently. We cooked beet sugar syrup in our “kitchen” and received some food from American care-packages or bought it for ration stamps at the nearby grocery store.
Later that year, we moved to the front house, where we had three small rooms heated by a heating oven, and, of course, there was no bathroom, and we still had to use the outhouse already mentioned above. My and my brother’s bedroom was not heated, and it was freezing cold in winter because of that. But in summer, it was nice because of the swallows breeding on our curtain board.
Living together in such a small accommodation was depressing, especially we had to do our homework for school. We were short of money; our clothes were not fashionable. Pulling carrots and planting cabbage at the nearby farm helped us a bit financially. We also searched for some leftover ears of wheat on the harvested fields, and then we made flour at the mill. We also had some crops so we could grow some vegetables and potatoes.

Despite all the hardships, we had many adventures with other kids who were not biased towards refugees. However, one family, who was dumb and arrogant, forbade their children to play with refugees’ children.

After all these difficulties, we all found our professional paths, and my mother realized her dream: building a small, modest house near our previous apartment.

The interviews are given in the original language or a transliteration of it with preservation of national, regional and individual speech peculiarities.

Spelling error report

The following text will be sent to our editors: