Ruth Labuhn, "Haus Abendfrieden", Hildesheimer Strasse 1, D-37581 Bad Gandersheim
Report on Flight, Expulsion and New Start [Former Villagers of Gross Tuchen Reporting]
- Translated by Karl H. Radde, Dresden / Saxony -
At the end of February 1945, the front was advancing rapidly. Russian low-flying fighter aircraft assaulted, fired and were gone. Christa Gatermann was playing with some children in the square of the railway station. She was hit by shell splinters and died. I was deeply shocked, for I often had played with Gertraud and Christa. I could not believe it.
What should we do? Would it make any sense to flee? Our father rejected it. However, the marching by soldiers strongly advised us to flee. Thus, we packed the barest necessities onto our horsedrawn vehicle, harnessed our horse and left our farmstead by six o'clock in the evening of 2 March. Our yard dog was like crazy to come with us. Father sent it back. Mournfully it stayed seated to guard the house whining bitterly. At first we went to the estate of Gutzmann, to set off jointly for the hopeless trek. In the direction of the city of Rummelsburg the sky was red. We were only some miles away from heavy fighting. We did not know exactly where to go. Only the way towards the port of Danzig was still open. We went on very slowly and on top of that it was snowing. The horses had great difficulties to pull the overloaded wagons on the icy roads in our Pomeranian hills. Often we still came across scattered villagers of Grosstuchen.
Soon we also lost touch with the Gutzmann family. Our father wanted to go in the direction of the city of Stolp as far as the village of Hebrondamnitz, where an aunt of ours lived deeply in the forest. However, we never arrived there. In the meantime, in the evening of 7 March, we came to Klein-Massow in the district of Lauenburg. Worn-out we lay down to sleep on many clogs in a kitchen. My brothers were on the lookout and saw the shopkeeper of our home village, Mr Genee, who was moving on again warning that the Russians were only some miles away. We stayed, however, being too exhausted to go on. We were tired to the bone. In the next morning we went on very slowly, because the roads were crowded with retreating soldiers and jammed with refugees. Suddenly there was a sinister quiet in the village streets. My brothers Siegfried and Erwin climbed a hill nearby to have a look around. They warned us that many tanks were advancing. Our nerves were at breaking point. Shortly after, many Russian tanks passed by. When it became quiet again we returned and went to the manor of Ganske. There were lots of refugees. The lord of the manor was hidden in the stable among the refugees. No-one betrayed him. Now, terrible things were being done.
After some fortnight we started together with the Dunse family. We tried to return home where we belonged. Unfortunately, we were halted by the Russians in Neuendorf near the city of Lauenburg. Thus, we returned and went right back to Ganske. Rumors had it already that deportations were impending. So all of us prepared a rucksack. In the beginning of April our turn had come. There was no escape any more. Systematically the Russians evacuated village after village. Again we set off on a trek as far as Klein-Massow. There our family stayed overnight, together for the last time. The next morning we went to Vietzig. Terrified we came to the assembly center.
Kate and Siegfried were detained. Father was ordered to walk a stretch of the road so they could see if he really had a stiff leg. I too was examined. Certainly my long pigtails and small stature were the reason they did not take me away. The separation from my sister and brother was incredibly hard. Wiping the tears from their eyes, our parents, Erwin and I went on. A wife told my mother: "Don't cry, final victory will be ours all the same". That was utter mockery to us in our situation.
Aimlessly we plodded along behind our wagon. Nobody was talking. Then we landed in the village of Zesenow and found accommodation in a farmhouse. Soon after, we got rid of our horse and wagon. Father fell severely ill, so we were in great sorrow for him. When the Russians occupied the village again we hid ourselves on the Leba Moorland for some days. Usually, our refuge was under the roof. Still today I wonder why nothing seriously happened then. In the crossbeam which we stepped on stuck a grenade - a dud. In close proximity of it we had our hiding place.
Our thoughts were with Kate and Siegfried. Would they possibly already have been deported to Siberia? In the meantime May had come. The trees were in blossoms, the meadows gay with flowers, but we were so dreary. The 12th of May approached, our mother's birthday. Our thoughts again were with our two dear ones. There, in the middle of the day two persons appeared in the yard. We could not believe our eyes. Should it be true, really? Yes, they were Kate and Siegfried! We could not grasp it. Our joy and thankfulness were boundless. They also brought with them the news that the war was over and Germany had unconditionally surrendered on May 8. But some of us did not believe it.
Now, we again were together and took heart. My brothers repaired some old tireless bicycles on which we packed up our belongings and off we went. Going home! Together with us also were the Winkel family from Eulenkaten near Neuhütten. We avoided the main roads as far as possible. All went well up to the village of Damsdorf. There in the meantime Polish militia had settled. They robbed us of our old bicycles. Thus, we loaded our belongings on Winkels` two-wheeled cart as far as possible, the rest we carried piggy-back. It was a wonderful sight to see our beloved home village Grosstuchen stretching along the lakes. The village looked so peacefully as if nothing had happened, the red spire of our church and the lakes greeting us. In the village, we were welcomed by many old friends. Our house had not been shelled or burned. How happy we were and thankful being home again! There were unthreshed corn in the barn, potatoes and turnips in the pit. We at once set about planting potatoes.
The time was uncertain; there were no communications, and rumors went round. More and more Poles emerged in the village. Gierszewski, an old Kashubian villager, had a red-white band on his arm and a rifle on his back. His big time had come serving as an auxiliary policeman for the Russians. He told our father: "In former times, I only lived on charity, but now all things have changed for the better." Indeed, we were surprised at how many German Catholics had opted and subscribed for Poland already in 1945. Surely, they feared to lose their possessions; furthermore, they shared the same faith with the Poles. There were increasingly encroachments committed by the Poles. We Germans were without rights.
A highlight in the summer of 1945 was a church service in our beloved evangelical church. The church was overcrowded as never before. The former German teacher, a Nazi victim, Mr. Mauss held the service. The common listening, singing and praying encouraged us. Of course, all of us were very much agitated, though, we had no idea then that this was to be the last church service for us in our home village. Mr Mauss was arrested, put in jail and had to suffer very much.
Fear was spreading more and more. Many started to go behind the River Oder. Often old gentleman Mr Skierka dropped in encouraging us and raising fresh hopes by his belief that all this is just a temporary matter and conditions will soon return to normal.
In August a Pole with the high-sounding German name Roggenbug took possession of our farmstead. He brought with him his wife, a son Kasimir and a goat. Indeed, they were poor people. We did not possess many things any more, but this Polish family was by far poorer. Mrs. Roggenbug had only two frocks, both already mended. In winter time, when she was shivering with cold she used to say: "Oh body, do not tremble, you have had a good time in summer!" At first, all went well, but soon we came into inescapable conflicts with them.
Now we tried to get exit permits, but our request was turned down. Some days after we were assigned to Polish families to work for them. I was ordered to work for Kulas, the frightening Polish village commander. A severe time began for me. I always was terrified. I had to work very hard all the day. There was no end of work for me. I did not have shoes any more, so I walked in clogs in the cold winter through the deep snow. Often I lost my clogs. Kulas had taken possession of the house of doctor Maroske and Dabels. Still today I wonder at how I was able walking every evening the path in darkness all alone across the rubble of the destroyed great Three-Bridges, but the fear of being punished by the commander Kulas was more dreadful than the fear of the spooky lonely path. Once I became ill and I stayed at home. It was a Sunday. When I had got up already, Siegfried suddenly shouted: "Ruth, Kulas is coming through the bridge!" As quick as a lightning I undressed and went down beneath the bed-clothes. Shortly after Kulas was in the room. He scrutinized me lifting the blanket to see whether I had my clothes on and said: "Oh, I see".
In the spring things became even much harder. Day by day I had to shovel the muck from the outside lavatories and carry it in buckets to the garden on the sloping side. Sometimes Kulas and some other Poles stood near watching me and saying "Well, German maid, a fine job, isn't it?" On Sundays I had to keep watch over the cows in the meadow. Then former acquaintances passed by riding on bicycles to the Catholic church service. One told me once: "Well, Ruth, now you have got a fine job!" How deeply hurt I was! I had loved to go to church service, too. Yearningly, I looked at the church spire remembering the time when the bells of our evangelical church could be heard far beyond the village. Now, even the small bell was silent. Mrs. Hoffmann, our sexton, was still in the village, too. How much she must have suffered not being allowed to look after the church and ring the bells any more. All of us have known her running always at a trot to the church, three times a day, to ring out the bells to us. She also was not allowed to go to church, which remained closed to us forever. However, some Poles began to destroy it already at that time.
To me the situation became more and more unbearable. For my hard work I was not paid a penny; all for nothing. Sometimes I dropped in at the Skierka family. They cheered me up. Finally, I looked for an other employer and dared simply to change my job. From the beginning I was comfortable with the Rebakowski family on the Wank farmstead. Nobody roared around any more. There was no need to fear any longer. However, the joy was not to last long. One day the frightening commander Kulas appeared in the yard. A fierce row broke out between Kulas and Rebakowski while I remained in the kitchen. Suddenly a Pole stepped into the room, a rifle at trail, saying: "If you do not come immediately with me, I`ll shoot you!" It was all the same to me, I did not want to go on anymore. Kulas raged in the yard and was beside himself. Mr Rebakowski was no match for this wicked man, so I had to go again.
Kulas riding the bicycle and the other person holding his rifle behind me, so we marched through the village. Later on, I managed to go to the police and to the Wójt, the Polish mayor of the village, and eventually I was allowed to return to the Rebakowski family after all. This Polish family just treated me as a human being, and that was what mattered and did me good.
At home the situation with the Roggenbug family had become quite unbearable, too. They were angry at us being still in the house. They wished even to have us deported. So we moved on from our home to live with the Schutza family in the house of the old brickwork. Mr Rebakowski conveyed our few belongings to our new place to stay. The Polish Schutza family granted us full freedom. On Sunday mornings we used to have our family divine worship and on Sunday afternoons we were sitting in the garden singing German folk songs.
In the summer of 1946 a train with Germans expelled from our region crossed the border, the River Oder, unfortunately without us. Then, the next followed in the winter of 1946/47. It was terribly cold. Nevertheless, we would have liked it to go with it, too. Even our good and faithful old sexton, Mrs. Hoffmann, went with the expelees. Now, we were still much more lonely and feared the Poles will retain us for ever to work for them. Mr. Rebakowski, however, promised me that I will be allowed to go with the next transport. So we were waiting. On September 1, 1947, the last train with expellees was dispatched. This time we were in it. With us there were also Max Kowalke, our former postman, and the Warschkow family from Alexanderhof. I remember still Friedchen Winkel from Alexanderhof bitterly crying that she must stay. It was not until 1956 that she was allowed to leave.
Now all Germans who did not subscribe for Poland were away. We were glad when we at least were in the cattle wagon crammed with 30 persons. Slowly the train moved on in Bütow, chief town of the district. We did not find our departure hard. Dispossessed of our farms there was nothing to keep us there. Our beloved homeland had become so strange to us. The journey was exciting. Max Kowalke often stood at the door of the wagon saying: "Surely, they are bringing us to other sites of forced labor." The terror persisted with us. Very slowly we went on. In the end we arrived at Stettin-Scheune. Here, a big camp had been set up. After a few days we were entrained again. Again fear was present: Would we really come to Germany? Eventually, we landed in Posen, then the train went west again and in the end we crossed the border at Forst in Lusatia, the territory of the Sorbs in Central Germany. We had left Poland.
On our way we had to look for food ourselves. Together with us there was also the Schulz family from Radensfelde [Tschebiatkow]. In lack of a basin they used always two chamber pots. It looked so funny when they used them to fetch water and to wash. That often made us laugh out loud.
Our train went now in the direction of Berlin. We were astonished to see for the first time the famous S-Bahn, the city and suburban train of Berlin, to see how the doors opened and closed automatically. This all went so quickly. The Schulz family included also a very old grandma who rather helplessly looked about. Mrs. Schulz used to say in Low German: "O, wie schal dat ware mit Oma, dei kimmt da doch nich so schnell rinn..." [Oh dear, what shall we do with our granny, she will not manage to come into the wagon at such a speed].
Eventually we landed in the refugee camp of Saalow near Berlin. There we stayed a fortnight. It was a wonderful feeling to hear our mother tongue everywhere.
On September 19, I celebrated my eighteenth birthday. I was given a beautiful bunch of flowers. It was a wonderful day for me. With all my heart I could sing the old Christian hymn: "In how many needs God the merciful has spread the wings over you....". Now that I was eighteen I had the opportunity to choose an occupation and to stand on my own feet.
On September 30, we were provided our quarters in Ludwigsfelde near Berlin. With every train Berliners came to our region for food. They suffered dreadfully. Thus, the fields and forests all were scoured for food. Our father made clogs and baskets and in exchange for them he got food from the the country folk, thus keeping us from starving.
We liked Ludwigsfelde. You could go to Berlin quickly and by no cost. Father used to say: "For 50 pennies I can see the whole of Berlin". We accustomed swiftly to all things. In Berlin there often were organized large cultural events, too, in which we took part. Thus, we were thankful that all things had eventually come just in time. The worst was over.
I looked about for a training opportunity. I always had wished to become a nurse to help people in needs. My wish had still strengthened in the hard years gone by. On August 2, 1948, I joined the sisterhood of the Deaconesses` School of Nursing Salem at Berlin-Lichtenrade. Since that time I have been living in this community of faith, life and service. It is with genuine thankfulness that I look back on the years of my life. For me it has been a rich and full life.
o o o