The Polzin Family, Bledeln, Lindenallee 15, D-31191 Algermissen
Formerly: Groß Tuchen, Kreis (county) Bütow, Auf der Schidlitz
Flight and expulsion of our family from Groß Tuchen, new beginning in Bledeln, impressions of Groß Tuchen today
- Translated by Martha Riggle, Wichita / Kansas -
In 1937 Fritz Polzin took over the farmstead on the Schidlitz (near the Lutheran cemetery) in Groß Tuchen from his parents, Albert Polzin and Auguste nee Kolberg, and in 1938 married Hilde Spitczok von Brisinski from Zemmen. In 1939 I, the son Hildfried, and in 1943 the daughter, Heidemarie, were born. Albert and Auguste Polzin lived in the same house in their own apartment. The widow of the shoemaker Ludewig lived in the hired hand's apartment in the farm house.
In 1939 Fritz Polzin took part in the campaign in Poland and was then released from military service to return to agriculture. In 1943 he was again inducted into the army to serve on the eastern front.
In January 1945 the front came ever nearer and refugee caravans and military convoys had been part of the picture in Groß Tuchen for weeks. Both refugees and the military were quartered in our farmstead. The origins of the refugees, who were looked after by my mother, reflected the retreat of the German front: Bessarabia, Lithuania, East Prussia and finally West Prussia. We had an up close view of the misery of the refugees.
In February there began the attacks by low flying aircraft, dropping high explosive and incendiary bombs on military and civilian targets alike. Most of the buildings of my grandparent's farmstead in Zemmen were destroyed by incendiary bombs.
Even the wagon that had been prepared for their flight was a victim of the flames, and so my grandparents, Emil Spitczok von Brisinski and Ida nee Trapp, sought refuge with their daughter, Hilde, at the Polzin home in Groß Tuchen.
Two farm wagons were prepared in the barn for the flight, one to be driven by my grandfather, Albert, and my mother, Hilde. The order to evacuate Groß Tuchen came on the 3rd of March (much too late for the area), one day after that for Zemmen. By this time the approaching thunder of the front could be heard, and the flames of the front colored the eastern night sky red. German combat soldiers took up quarters in our farmstead. They were raw skeletons who had taken part in the retreat as frontline soldiers. Their uniforms and equipment were remarkable. They had obviously seen and experienced much misery. Hilde asked the officer if he would see to it that the soldiers took care of the livestock, and she complained that so much that she held dear had to be left behind. He answered in a voice full of resignation: "You will soon be glad to be able to continue with only a backpack." Hilde refused to accept his opinion and left.
The experienced frontline officer saw things realistically, because he knew that his troops were cut off and that the eastern part of Pomerania could not be held without a counter-offensive. The Russians had two columns in a pincers movement toward Kolberg and Stettin, and had cut off two major regions in Hinterpommern (that part of Pomerania to the east of the Oder River).
The way to the street from our barnyard was blocked by military vehicles and was impassable for our farm wagons. Tow trucks pulled the two wagons through to the street. We were greatly relieved that neither of the heavily loaded wagons suffered any visible damage.
That evening our family began the refugee treck with both loaded farm wagons. Our Russian workers, Vladi and Ivan, accompanied us. Vladi drove Hilde's wagon and Ivan helped Albert. And our farm girl, Sophie, was part of Hilde's group and Grandma Ludewig, from the farm hand's apartment, took special care of Heidemarie. The brother of my grandmother Ida, Emil Trapp, also had his farmstead in Groß Tuchen, so that at first Emil and Ida Spitczok rode with him in his wagon, because he had more room. We wanted to stay close together.
On the 1st of March the 7th Tank Division was able to mount an expensive counter-attack that repulsed the Russian armored offensive in the Reinwasser/Adlig Briesen in Kreis Rummelsburg (some 20 kilometers for Groß Tuchen). The Russians needed time to bring up reinforcements. For that reason the front at Flötenstein / Bölzig remained static for three days. In that time German armored forces fought their way through Lonken and Buroschkowo, but lost the initiative and retreated to back Reckow. In front of the Schimmritzberg near Reckow and Franzwalde the remnants of the 7th Armored Division staged their final offensive. There was only courage and bravery to make up for shortages of material, fuel and munitions. After bitter fighting there remained in the Reckow - Franzwalde - Groß Tuchen area some 50 destroyed armored vehicles, mostly Russian Shermans and T34s. The German 7th Armored Division retreated with only 25 vehicles remaining.
Remnants of the 32nd Infantry Division had built a defensive line through Reckow - Franzwald - Groß Tuchen to allow the refugees time to escape. These positions were maintained until the 7th of March. Groß Tuchen was finally vacated by German infantry in the night until the 8th in the direction of the county seat of Bütow. Bütow was almost deserted and was left to the Russians undestroyed. The remnants of the 32nd Infantry Division retreated in the direction of Karthaus / Danzig toward the peninsula of Hela. Members of the Red Army occupied Bütow on the 9th of March and after that the town was burned and the inner part completely destroyed.
The wagons from Groß Tuchen were supposed to stay together. But during the nightly chaos on the roads and the rapid movements of military convoys the parts of the caravan were separated and we lost contact with our second wagon, the one with our grandparents, Albert and Auguste Polzin, for good. After this terrible event Hilde took her parents with her on her wagon at the first opportunity. This was a clever and timely decision that would decide the later fate of the family. For the next few days our small group of wagons rolled through the counties of Bütow and Stolp with countless detours.
In the meantime the Russians broke through to the Baltic Sea from the south again, this time by way of Köslin and our way of flight to the west was cut off. Groups of Russians and Poles were going from Stolp in the direction toward Lauenburg / Danzig. For that reason the refugees were directed from Leba toward Danzig for evacuation by way of the Baltic Sea.
On Friday the 9th of March we had passed Stojentin on the way toward Leba. It was a sunny early spring day in the small village of Poblotz. We were in our wagon on the main street. The German military were leaving without a fight. Finally a motorcycle clattered by with two German soldiers on it. They cried: "The Russians are coming!" and hurried away. And then for an hour everything was ominously quiet. Then at about 10 o'clock the Russian tank spearhead came from the direction of Stolp with soldiers in smart uniforms and shining weapons, and quickly drove past. It was our good fortune that there was no fighting between the fronts. The Russians appeared to be friendly and they all waved and called out: "Go home, go home!" We stood around our wagons, not knowing what to do.
But terrible events followed when, after a little while, the Russian infantry descended on us. Drunken, plundering, marauding hordes fell up on us: "Uri, Uri - dawai, dawai - Woman, come!", and in between there were shots, pillaging, rape and cries of fear. Men and women who tried to defend their family members were beaten up, shot or taken away. Wagons were confiscated and our baggage was thrown out. Woe to the vanquished! Slowly we returned with horse and wagon back to Bütow. Plundering, shooting, rape and arrests occurred daily. Vladi, our Ukrainian, was able to protect us from attacks by the soldiers for a short time. Then he was identified by Soviet special forces and taken into custody. He had the choice: to go along or be shot. There was only time for a brief farewell, and then we never heard for our loyal Vladi again. Foreign workers were thought by the Red Army to be collaborators. If they survived their return to the Soviet Union, they usually went into a prison for criminals and then were banished for years.
It was at about this time that the family of teacher Nemitz, from Radenfelde, joined our small group. To avoid falling into the hands of the Russians, my mother, Hilde, and the Nemitz daughter left the wagons and the caravan and made their way they best they could by forest paths. Only under cover of darkness did they dare to return to our wagons. Hilde gave thanks to God that her parents were with her in these terrible times. Emil drove the wagon. Ida and Grandma Ludewig took care of the children and our meals. Old people and children were in less danger from the Russians. Our best team of horses was soon taken from us by the Russians and as a substitute we received two old nags. One of them limped and the other was sick. Whatever the Russians wanted they simply took from our wagon and much was simply destroyed.
Our progress then was much slower. On steep places in the road the wagon had to be lightened and much that was irreplaceable was left by the side of the road. In Strussow we stopped stayed with relatives for a couple of days rest, to gather information and food and to orient ourselves. >From here the Nemitz family took a different route than our family.
By this time it was the middle of March and we returned home by way of Moddrow. The railroad bridge before Groß Tuchen had been blown up so we had to go around the Großen See with our farm wagons to get into the village. The road was in terrible condition, but we made it to Knitter's deserted farmhouse. We remained there overnight and there Hilde found in the barn pieces of baggage that Albert and Auguste Polzin had unloaded to lighten their wagon when they returned. So her parents-in-law had already come back.
>From over the lake we could see that our farmstead was still standing. Happily we went home and found Albert and Auguste in good health. Almost all members of our family, even including Mrs. Ludewig, who had helped Hilde to care for the children during the entire flight, had safely returned. Only the farm worker, Sophie (Fiechen) had not found her way back. But she also returned a little later. Our residence had been plundered and partly demolished. Animal carcasses lay around. But several cows and pigs had survived in the barn. In the pig sty there was even a new litter. In Groß Tuchen the stock had been given at least minimal care.
We were again at home and had our own roof over our heads. Because theirs in Zemmen had been severely damaged in air raids, my grandparents stayed with us in Groß Tuchen at Polzin's.
There was no electricity and light had to come from kerosene lamps, candles and flash lights. Matches were in short supply and the last ones were protected like treasures. Lighters had been among the first things taken from Germans, along with gold rings and watches. A fire was kept over from one day to the next by wrapping coal briquettes to preserve a spark. A little powder, from leftover ammunition that lay everywhere, could be used to bring a spark back to life as a new fire. Magnifying glasses or spectacles could be used to make fire at least when there was sunshine.
My grandfathers, Albert and Emil, ran the farm as best they could. What was left of our animal herd was soon driven off by the Russians. But Albert was able to rescue his favorite cow, Rike, from the Russians. He called Rike out of the herd and she followed him. The Russians were impressed and let them both go. Little by little we added a few cows to our stock from passing herds. Most suffered from hoof and mouth disease, but still gave a little milk. After it was boiled the milk was an important part of our diet. With great difficulty we were able to plant a couple of fields and later to harvest them. One could tell that the following winter was going to be a hard one. But things happened differently.
By this time the German population had been cut off from all news and information. There was no newspaper, no radio and no mail. On the 9th of May (a day late because of delays) the Russians celebrated with great pomp the capitulation, the end of Hitler's Germany and the end of the war. After that only rumors passed. Horror stories about hunger and misery in Berlin and the other great cities bothered and made uncertain those who remained behind. Only now and again would a returnee bring dependable information about the rest of Germany.
Many women and men were taken by the Russians to Graudenz to a collection point. Before being transported to Russia for forced labor many of them died on the march and in the camp from hunger and from sickness. A number of the very sick was freed by the Russians as part of their victory celebration and these made their way by foot with comrades through Rummelsburg to Bütow. They arrived in Groß Tuchen exhausted, undernourished, infested with lice and worn down.
In the course of the following months the Russians passed their power to the Poles. There were still attacks on the German population and we were victimized by the Polish militia (attacks, robbery, nightly inspections to intimidate us, marches for disinfecting and delousing in neighboring villages, unwarranted arrests with torture and so on.)
The organist in Groß Tuchen, Mr. Mauß, organized a service in the Lutheran Church to honor the dead and missing. The church was full and as the names were read the relatives and friends of the victims wept. Mr. Mauß was charged with arousing the people, was arrested, taken to prison in Bütow and was there severely mistreated. He returned a broken and sick man.
The Polish leadership in the village had no special hate or resentment against our family and we were never denounced. So we were left relatively undisturbed at our farmstead on the Schidlitz. Partly it might have been that the Poles did not like to go so near to the Lutheran cemetery.
In the middle of September 1945 a Polish family found our farmstead to their liking. Grandfather Albert's complete fishing gear (boat, baskets, nets and so on) and Hilde's bee hives, which she had put back into order, were reasons for their choice. (These had kept us well supplied with fish and honey thus far). We were put out and had to move in with Grandma Ludewig in the worker's apartment, leaving behind our furniture and other things. For my mother this was a bitter step on the way to complete ruin. We were, for all practical purposes, slaves of the owner of the farmstead. (The fact that our farmstead brought nothing good to the Polish family is another story. The following year, while fishing in the lake, both men of the family were killed. Their net had brought up live ordinance that had been there since the war.)
The expropriation of property of returning Germans in Groß Tuchen and Zemmen continued sporadically in 1945. Polish workers or members of the Kashubian minority, who were now considered to be Poles, took over the farmsteads, businesses or shops of their former employers and neighbors. They took over the best farms and homes in the village and so dispossessed the German owners. It was only later that families from Poland arrived and joined the takeover.
This expropriation was supported by the local Polish authorities and the Germans had no rights. German Lutheran families were not allowed to assume Polish citizenship, and their children were not permitted to attend Polish schools. For them it had already been decided by the Allies that they would be banished and resettled in the rest of Germany. The Germans in Groß Tuchen did not know any of this and they could not have imagined it. Only those Germans who possessed needed skills were permitted / forced to remain as forced laborers. Some of them still had not been released years later.
We were deported on the 15th of November 1945. Seven of us began the great journey into the unknown: My mother, Hilde, with me and my younger sister, Heidemarie; my grandparents, Albert and Auguste Polzin and also Emil and Ida Spitczok von Brisinski. With a heavy heart Grandma Ludewig remained behind, to care for her pregnant daughter, Grete, and her family. Otherwise, she would have certainly gone with us. The combat officer with whom Hilde had spoken before our first flight was right, unfortunately. For baggage each had only a home-made blue backpack containing the barest necessities and a little food. We had been made homeless and did not know what the future had in store for us.
Together with many other families from Groß Tuchen and Kreis Bütow we were loaded into cattle cars at the freight station in Bütow. For that time of year it was cold. Some 30-40 persons came with their baggage into an empty cattle car without any straw. There was no light, no heat, no water and no toilet. One sat or lay on his own baggage. There began a difficult train journey that lasted for several days through Rummelsburg, Schneidemühl, Landsberg to the west. Plundering by the Poles and attacks by the Russians were commonplace at times when we had to wait on sidings. Hygienic conditions were catastrophic. By some accident we were spared the transit camp at Küstrin. We heard that a drunken Russian had hijacked the train to Berlin(?). After a three day ride we reached our destination in East Berlin. Our first reception camp was a barracks of mass quarters in the edge of Berlin-Lichterfelde in the Soviet Zone of Occupation. The next day the families from our transport were taken further to Mecklenburg and sorted out to various locations. Our relatives in Berlin (Albert Polzin's brother, Otto) had received the first mail from my father from a hospital near Hannover and then the news that he was to be released and had found work in a farm village there.
Hilde learned from her countless relatives in Berlin what had become of relatives, friends and acquaintances. As a rule, the people in Berlin were doing poorly because there was little to eat and there had been many losses. Hilde took me, the six year old son, Hildfried, with her as "personal protector" from attacks and arrests on her missions of discovery. The trips in the over-loaded and patched-together transportation were not without danger. Sometimes we had to hold on to the outside running boards of the trains. I was always afraid when we crossed on bridges over the rivers and canals and I could see the water below between the iron carriers where I was standing. And then sometimes there were endless hikes through destroyed streets and rubble landscape until we had found the right address. Sometimes we did not find the ones we were looking for or the house had been destroyed or occupied by the victors.
There was neither food nor drink to buy because we had no ration cards. Unboiled water was too dangerous to drink. So we depended on what we could bring with us or what the people we visited had to offer.
In Berlin at the end of 1946 there were shortages of everything. Those who had been bombed out or evacuated now returned, discharged soldiers and refugees populated the city. Whole districts of the city had been destroyed. Public transportation only slowly began again and the S-Bahn trains ran irregularly. Streetcars and buses were few. Greater Berlin had been divided into four sectors. These were ruled by the occupying powers. Because of war damage there was a shortage of places to live and homelessness, misery and need were to be seen everywhere.
My grandparents, Albert and Auguste Polzin, separated from us and moved to the farmstead of a cousin (Otto Both) in Mecklenburg. There was no room there for the entire family and in Berlin there was no future. Hilde decided that the rest of the family should try to make it through to Fritz in Hannover. This was a brave plan, but at that time hard to implement. Hannover was in the British Zone of Occupation. We were faced with another journey into the unknown.
After many unsuccessful attempts the family succeeded in getting a place on a transport to the west. But that morning we were released too late from our camp and we missed the train. In spite of that disappointment, we were soon overjoyed to find once again our blue backpacks, which we had sent ahead, untouched at the train station. Other refugees had lost all their luggage, or at least a part it. Because of this bad experience we did not return to the camp, but stayed in the station area. In the next days a new transport was organized and soon we were rolling toward the west. At the zone border the train ride was over. We again came into a temporary camp (Grasleben/ near Helmstedt). In every camp there was the obligatory treatment with DDT powder against lice. It was unpleasant, but it did help and we were spared the effects of these painful guests.
>From here we had to walk with our baggage over the border from the Soviet to the British Zone of Occupation. That took a couple of days because one had first to position oneself at the barrier in the morning and at noon only a certain contingent was allowed to pass. The majority then had to walk back to the camp. In order to improve our chances we simply spent the night in the forest near the crossing, in spite of the snow. It was wet cold and the following morning my sister Heidemarie had frozen socks in her boots. On this morning there were again thousands and this time the Russian guards let everyone pass without any control.
Five days after leaving Berlin we had emergency quarters in a bunker in the train station in Hannover. Hilde took it on herself from here to search for Fritz. She found him again after a difficult streetcar ride and a long march with the farmer Voges in Wehmingen near Sehnde. Mr. Voges was very unfriendly and put out by the unexpected threatened coming invasion of our large family with 5 persons. Hilde said: "I will not stay here!" and my father searched for and found quarters for his family in Bledeln (northern part of Kreis Hildesheim) with the farmer Adolf Hahne. He had helped this farmer make hay in the meadows as a wounded soldier in the hospital at Hohenfels. We were among the first refugees in in thie village. On the other hand, there were enough evacuees. On the 11th of December 1945 we registered with the mayor of Bledeln. Our residence consisted of two small rooms and a hall and was over the farmstead washroom. Our first furniture was donated by the farmer's family, and they provided our food for the first days. Our chinaware was provided by Fritz, who scrounged it from the trash cans in the English garrison in Hohenfels. He brought sturdy munitions boxes from the former munitions factory from which small pieces of furniture were buillt. With doormats from woven straw and baskets from willow switches, all made by grandfather Emil, my father began an intensive barter business. That helped, too. It was a time of the black market and the Reichsmark money we had saved was not worth very much.
We celebrated Christmas of 1945 in our own residence, without hunger and were in modest tranquility. There were small presents for the children from the neighborhood, and the family was happy that we had lived through war, flight and expulsion and were now ready for a new beginning. But we believed in a return to Groß Tuchen in Pomerania.
My father worked in Bledeln at the Hahne family's farmstead and that was how we were well nourished and had known no need in Bledeln. But fate struck again. My sister, Heidemarie, died in March 1946 from meningitis. This result of the war (many children suffered from this sickness) was, for us, a painful and irreplaceable loss.
We moved out of our small apartment at the Karterschen Hof and moved into house number 8 on Breiten Straße. Here we had enough room and even barn space for some stock (pigs, goats, rabbits and chickens). In 1951/52 we began construction of our own home on Lindenallee in Rahmen in a new addition for landowners who had been expelled. Hilde's parents were a great help in this time and her brother, Emil, helped with the building, inside and out. The following years were filled with hard work, but on the whole were good and happy years for the family.
Grandparents Emil and Ida Spitczok lived with us in Bledeln until their deaths in 1963/64.
Grandparents Albert and Auguste Polzin were brought by their daughter, Marie, from Mecklenburg in the Soviet Zone to West Berlin some years after the war. Their lives had a peaceful end there in Wilmersdorf with their sister-in-law, Amanda. Albert died in 1954 and his wife, Auguste, in 1956.
I married in 1956 and my wife, Helga, and I moved in with Fritz in the house on Lindenallee. Our daughter, Christina, was born on the 25th of April 1968. In 1975 we built or own house on a neighboring lot. Fritz and Hilde both were of great help in the construction.
My father, Fritz Polzin, died on the 25th of January 1994 at the age of almost 89 years.
I have returned to Groß Tuchen several times, first at the Posen Fair in 1969, in which I was involved. It seemed to me to be smaller by half now that I was a grown man and my short legs in those days had to take more steps. And how I missed our lake scenery! The Groß Tuchener See, through which the Kamenz flows, had been drained by the Poles years after our expulsion in an effort to gain more land. Nothing grows there now but scrub and now they are thinking of letting the lake fill up again. And my parents both were able to see Groß Tuchen again. The ruin of the Polzin farmstead, which was begun under the Russians, has continued. Owners have changed frequently. Repairs that were made too late resulted in the destruction of parts of it. The present owner, who has a nice house on the main street and is involved in a business in Groß Tuchen, and appears to be a good business woman, seems to have lost interest in our farmstead. My personal decision, made after my last visit in the summer of 1995, is never again to see my parent's home unless there is some good reason.
The large Lutheran Church, which suffered damage to the steeple and roof in the fighting in 1945, was plundered in the years following. Even the altar tiles were broken out. All that is left is a red brick ruin. How is it possible to desecrate a house of God in a Christian land? And should not the respected Catholic priest Hinz, who was born in Stüdnitz in Kreis Bütow, and who had been installed in German times, have decided to do something? Now, after too many years, this man wants to use this church instead of his own Catholic church, which has become too small. The church received a new roof and the doors were installed again, but it will take many, many donations to bring the it back to the condition it was in at the end of the war in 1945.
When I think of Groß Tuchen and the expulsion I feel sadness in my heart, but there is neither anger nor hatred. Reconciliation in a free and united Europe is, after 50 years, on the way to completion and I am optimistic.
Algermissen-Bledeln, in April/May 1995 (50 years after the end of the war), Christmas 1995