Siegfried Labuhn Neuer Weg 5 D-38704 Liebenburg-Ostharingen
Farewell to Groß Tuchen and a New Beginning in Brandenburg.
- Translated by Leslie Riggle, Kansas -
By the end of February 1945 we in Groß Tuchen could hear the rumbling of the Eastern Front coming ever nearer. During the weeks before refugees from East Prussia had passed through our village in horse-drawn wagons, sometimes singly and sometimes in small caravans. We had never suspected that we, too, would have to flee. But on the evening of the 3rd of March it came to that. My father would rather have remained at home. He asked: "Where would we go?" The Russian Army had broken through the Eastern Front and their tanks had almost reached the Oder River. My mother, my sisters Käte and Ruth and Erwin and I were able to persuade father, and so everything was hurriedly packed together: feather beds, clothing and food were packed into the wagon, to be pulled by our horse. We walked beside the wagon. We were accompanied by the Gustav Gutzmann family (Käte's parents-in-law).
There were no more organized caravans like the ones that had been planned a few days before. We had gone only a few kilometers before we were stalled. Again and again we had to make detours and progress was slow. We spent the nights in haylofts in barns and sheds and one time in a brewery. One day a group of Russian prisoners of war passed us by. Because they did not walk fast enough, one of their number, probably the last one, was shot. We were all shocked and horrified.
On the 8th of March we had progressed only a few kilometers before we had to stop again. All was quiet. And then we heard a sound like chains, ever louder. It was a column of tanks on our road. I thought to myself: "It's all over." We quickly left the road and walked a short distance into the forest.
It was here where I buried my military pass. (At the age of 16 I had been conscripted, but had not had to serve because my basic training barracks in West Prussia had been overrun by the Russians at the beginning of February.) One of the first tanks stopped beside our wagon and two Russian soldiers got out and relieved the men of their pocket watches. We turned around and tried to get as far from the road as possible. That night our family found refuge at the small Ganske estate, six to a room. It was not unusual in the small estate workers quarters for several families to occupy a single room. The Russian rear guard did not keep us waiting long. We were subjected to pillage and rape on almost a daily basis.
After about a week we started home with our horse and wagon. The Dunse family accompanied us. But we did not reach home so easily. Russian soldiers hauled us from the road, brought us to a ruined house, raped the women and vanished. We were afraid to go on so we returned to Ganske. A few days later all refugees were driven out. Than after a few kilometers our wagons were again stopped. Those who appeared young and strong enough to work were sorted out. Ruth (15) and Erwin (13) remained with our parents and were allowed to go on. Käte and I were in the group that had been sorted out.
We did not know what was to become of us. We were closely watched and taken through various counties. We spent the nights in barns and in Schlawe in a prison with 36 persons in one cell. We ended up in Stolp in a huge warehouse. Several hundred people were on each floor. Each day I was able to speak to my sister, who assigned to a floor below. We encouraged each other. It was said that we were to be transported to Russia. In these days I read from my new testament and prayed regularly. We were registered, examined for fitness for work and questioned. After four weeks of imprisonment, I was suddenly set free, why I do not know. Perhaps it was because I looked younger than I really was. But there were younger men and women who were transported to Russia.
I left Stolp, along with a young forest worker from East Prussia, who was let go because of sickness, and headed toward Groß Tuchen. On the way we met up with my sister, Käte, was sitting by the roadside, sick and too weak to go on. She had been released, too. How happy we were at this reunion. I could easily carry both of our packs. On the way we learned that we could meet with our parents in Zezenow. So it was that we arrived on the 12th of May, our mother's birthday.
We made our way to Groß Tuchen on bicycles without tires (by now we had neither horse nor wagon). In Damsdorf the Polish militia stole our simple bicycles. We were able to put a part of our few belongings on a two-wheeled cart that belonged to Herr Winkel from Neuhütten and the rest we carried home on our backs. In our house we found only a few sticks of furniture left, but were glad to be there anyway. We quickly planted potatoes with a spade and they were in the ground by the 20th of May. They brought a good yield, but the Pole Roggenbuk, who in the meantime had taken over our farm, reaped the harvest.
My parents, Käthe, Ruth and Erwin now lived in the two attic rooms. I worked for the Pole Makowski, who lived on the property of Albert Schlutt. When I began working for him he told my parents: "If he works well and does not steal, he will have it good with me."
In the summer I worked from 6:00 in the morning until 10:00 at night with only short breaks for meals. But I had Sundays free. And I could always bring home a big loaf of home-baked bread and a pail of milk for my parents, and sometimes even butter. For Christmas I received a goose. This kind of payment with food was the exception among the Polish employers. My brother and sisters, on the other hand, were often victims of chicanery and deception at the hands of their Polish employers. They had to work on Sundays the same as other days and in winter had to walk through snow in only wooden shoes to get to their work.
In 1946 our employers held up our permission to emigrate. But in September 1947 our wish came true: we received permission to leave. From Bütow we rode by freight car through Pomerania to a camp in Stettin-Scheune, and some days later over the border at Forst to a refugee camp at Saalow in Kreis Teltow. The people of Groß Tuchen who left before had went trough plundering and other offenses at the hands of the Poles, but we suffered none of these. We were settled in the community of Ludwigsfelde near Berlin. The owner of a villa, who lived alone with her housekeeper, refused to let us enter our assigned quarters. But she was forced to accept us and so it came that we had a room and two cellar spaces.
Father and I made some furniture from wood we were permitted to scavange from the destroyed Daimler-Benz airplane motor factory. For an entire year I cleaned bricks. After work I helped father and Erwin to make potato bins, larders and bread baskets from pine branches. Father and Erwin then took these to area farmers to exchange for potatoes, carrots or bread. In this way we were able to supplement our limited rations.
In the fall of 1948 I began a six year course at the Johannisstift hospital in Berlin-Spandau. In the spring of 1954 I was installed as youth deacon in the Evangelical-Lutheran parish of Hasbergen near Delmenhorst. After that I served in a home for the homeless and handicapped in the worker's colony Dauelsberg in Delmenhorst. Afterwards I was warden of the youth welfare office in the diocese of Goslar. In 1980 I received a call by the Braunschweig State Church to to the pastorate in Alsfeld. I have been in retirement since 1991.
In 1955 I married my wife, Ruth, who is from Nürnberg. We have five sons. The two oldest are pastors, one works in Berlin as deacon serving aids victims, one is warden of the youth welfare office in our State Church and one is a watchmaker in Goslar.
My work has always been a source of joy for me. If we had been able to remain in Groß Tuchen, my life would have been much more modest. I can look back upon my life with gratitude.
signed: 1995, Siegfried Labuhn