The Winter of 1944/45 was cold in our area

Elli Krug née Kramp (*1925) Lotterburg 6 Fritz Kramp Rosengarten 12 D-34281 Gudensberg

Flight, Expulsion and New Start Written 1994

- Translated by Joel Streich, New York City -

The Winter of 1944/45 was cold in our area. The war, the front drew nearer. Gross Tuchen was always full of soldiers. We could not or didn't want to believe that the Russians would also come to us. But soon the first enemy airplanes appeared and the thunder of gunfire could be heard nearer and nearer. About five in the evening on March 3rd we set out with the Perlick's to the north in the direction of Stolp. We hoped to reach to Baltic there so that we could then travel by ship to the West. But what did we really think? We don't even know ourselves anymore.

What a way to leave! The stalls were full of livestock. The cows were untied, the hog pens opened, chickens and geese were scattered, our dogs leaped up high on us anxiously and wanted to be taken along. Everything had to remain behind. It was bitter cold. We had all put on as much clothing as possible. Each of us had a money pouch around his neck. The snow was frozen hard and the streets had been driven to ice. The horses could only stay on their feet with difficulty and had trouble pulling the heavy wagons.

So we traveled to the north. The highway to the west had already been cut off. From today's viewpoint: What foolishness this escape was! Refugees, soldiers, utter confusion. In the ditches were discarded items, broken vehicles.

We traveled through the night, rested briefly in the morning and traveled further past Stolp to just before Stolpmuende. Here we couldn't go any further. Everything was completely clogged with soldiers, refugees and vehicles. We stayed or had to stay and "wait" for the Russians. Along with many other refugees we sat in a house and at night, about midnight, the first Russians appeared. An officer with some soldiers asked first: "German soldiers?" After we answered no and a thorough check they moved on.

The next day an officer came and ordered: "Everyone return to your home!" So we reharnessed the horses to the wagons and began the way home. The Russians took one horse from us; we caught ourselves another one. Sometimes for hours on end we'd stand on the road and couldn't move forward nor back. We had gotten rid of most of the things on our wagon already. Then a troop of Russians came that took everything from us that we had. We could keep only the clothes on our back and only to the extent that the Russians didn't like it. What luck that that we had put on two and three layers of clothes.

Where should we go, where should we hide? The worry was terrible. On the first night of our trip home we fled to a cemetery and hid between the graves and thuja trees. The women were free game. Spare the details. But just this much: Our sister Gertrud began to suffer epileptic attacks soon after this time that led to her death years later.

The next morning we moved on: in order not to be seen, as often as possible through the woods. Again and again shots fell; Russians caught us. Once we were supposed to be taken away by one of them, but he wanted to get another officer first and we were able to escape to the next forest. We found dead men, Germans and Russians, again and again along our way. One evening we came into a deserted village. No human being was to be seen. Only a man, presumably a farmer, dead with cut eyes was at the local entry in the middle of the street. We remained in the village and hid in a hay barn. The next morning we again snuck through the woods toward Gross Tuchen.

Today we don't know any more how many days we took, but one evening -- it might have been 12 or 14 days since the beginning of our flight from Gross Tuchen -- we arrived at Uncle Paul's in Wiesenthal (a brother-in-law of our mother's). We thought it safer here in the county than in Gross Tuchen itself; moreover, the Biastoch's had remained at home. We then met Uncle Paul and Aunt Luise and several other old people whose names we can't remember any more today. But were we safe here? Next we stayed here two days, then our father and I, Fritz, went along some hidden paths to Gross Tuchen to see how things looked there. What did we find! The barn was totally burned down and the stable burned to the foundation wall, the house was damaged. Not a piece of livestock was there anymore. The yard and the garden hacked up by the ruts of tanks. In the yard there was a quantity of ammunition which was guarded by a Russian. He discovered us, but let us in the house. We didn't stay long, it looked bad and there was nothing there to take back. Everything had been tossed around or removed. We went back again to Wiesenthal. On the way back we saw ten to twelve German soldiers lying in front of Kolberg's house; they apparently had been wounded and it was not hard to recognize that they had been beaten to death.

At Biastoch's, however, we found no comfort. The Russians came again and again by day and even more often at night and looked again and again for women and girls. A few days later a Pole appeared at Uncle Paul's; his name was Conny; we knew him from earlier. He said to us: "You have to go to Gross Tuchen and report to the Command Post. You have to work."

So again we headed home. We made our way with the Perlick's to the Command post and then we had to work. Fritz was able to stay at Uncle Paul's farm, he was supposed to work with the Pole. For the other the work in the town began. Clean up jobs were first and foremost. First of all we had to bury the dead, Germans and Russians. Some of our cows lay in the lake, the others were simply gone. The cows had to be taken from the lake. We buried them in the bomb craters that we had to fill in. In the evenings we went -- better: snuck -- to Wiesenthal to sleep there. For one we first had to make our house fit for living, for another we still thought it safer from the Russians out in Wiesenthal than in the village itself. But where could one be safe?

Somehow we finally succeeded in getting our house in order enough so that we could stay there. Household goods, eating utensils, everything that we found, we salvaged. Papa brought shoes along for Fritz which he had removed from a dead German soldier whom he ha to bury. Again and again herds of cattle came through driven on by the Russians. Germans, men and women, whoever the Russians could collect, had to go with them. Fritz, too, was collected for such a horse drive. Somehow along the way he found the chance to skedaddle.

First we had to work for the Russians and then later for the Poles. Bridges had to be repaired. Dirt for embankments or for filling in the bomb craters we had to bring by hand in buckets. We had to dismantle the track of the railway to Buetow and load it for transportation. And always: "Dawaj, Dawaj!" How we were able to perform this hard work, I don't know anymore today; after all we didn't have anything to eat. We couldn't buy anything. Each week for each head a loaf of bread was apportioned. Once we received horse meat. We boiled syrup form mangel-wurzels. We spiced our food with phosphate that we found. Somewhere our father had turned up a cow, or had a Pole for whom he had to work given it to him? Unfortunately she only gave two quarts of milk.

In the meantime our cousins Irmgard, Helga and Jutta Kowalke also came back from their flight. The three girls then moved in with us. Their own house -- they were our neighbors -- had already been taken over by Poles as were all the other houses that were still in order.

Although nothing was to be had at our house, the Poles in addition to the Russians also came to see if there was anything. Whatever they liked, they took. Our father, along with several other Germans, was carried off from a "construction area" by the Russians. The "construction area" was a bomb crater in back of our bake house in which they had to bury men and livestock. There was no saying goodbye. Our mother could just barely bring him a jacket and a piece of dry bread. Fritz had the fortune of not being there, otherwise he too would had to have gone. Our father was able to march along until Graudenz. Due to a hernia he was no longer able and the Russians let him go. A Pole collected him again for whom he had to work. After the end of the fall field work (agricultural) he was allowed to go home again. We only found out about all that after he arrived home again.

In Gross Tuchen the Pole had taken over the administration. Now we also had to work for the Poles in farming. Fritz remembers that one day a troop of German soldiers under the leadership of a German officer marched through Gross Tuchen singing. They had ran over to and had joined the Russians.

Elli also remembers a troop of Russian soldiers that came into the kitchen one day. One of them spoke German perfectly. To our astonished question: "Wieso?" (How is that?) he answered: "I am a German, but switched sides at the right time."

One day Fritz injured himself on the leg very seriously with a scythe as he was gathering fodder for our cow. Elli got seriously swollen feet and legs; one said that it was scabies. A wonder that everything healed again without medical help -- such a thing was not available to us. Fritz now worked for the Pole Pallach who had appropriated the Restaurant and Store "Deuble" for himself. One of his jobs consisted of driving a horse drawn wagon together with Poles to Konitz to get wares there for the store. So the summer passed and autumn came. It became now somewhat calmer. Most of all the Russians became calmer; but it was still a worry filled life for us.

Now the first deportations began. One could also say that the first ones were allowed to leave. On one hand the Poles wanted to get rid of us and on the other hand they also still wanted to keep us as unpaid workers. We had to "apply" for our "departure" after the harvest. We, that is the Biastoch's, the Kowalke girls and us. For us the worries about our father became greater. Would he come back? We received the exit papers, if we remember correctly, the beginning of November with a date of November 16, 1945. How happy we were as our father walked in again eight days before our deportation. On foot from Graudenz! The Pole wanted unconditionally to keep Fritz as a worker, but finally let him go.

So then we had to -- thank God at least all together -- we had to leave our homeland on November 16, 1845. Along with the Kowalke girls Pallach drove us to Buetow to the train station. We were only allowed to take what we could carry. But we also had nothing for taking along. Only that which we had on our person and a purse or a sack full! When we think back today we have to say that taking leave of home was hard but we were happy after all to get away from there. The life that we had to lead in that three quarters of a year, it was to hard, it was too terrible. So we drove to Buetow to the train station and met besides Uncle Paul and Aunt Luise other "emigrants" there. Here we were first thoroughly "deloused" once again, one might have still been able to find something. Our train began to roll about 7 pm through Lippusch towards Konitz. Arriving in Konitz, the men were led individually with their baggage about midnight by the police into an interrogation room. Each was asked about his earlier party membership and similar things. Fortunately that didn't apply to us. Before we could travel further we were searched once again thoroughly. Whatever they liked, they kept. The little bit of children's clothing that we had gathered together for Jutta, the Poles took away from us again.

We went from Konitz to Schneidemuehl and further to Kuestrin where we arrived after a half hour ride. In Kuestrin we stayed for nine days in a concentration camp. We had to find shelter on our own so to speak. With ten persons (five Kramp's, two Biastoch's and three Kowalke's) we moved into one room. After being confirmed on the "List of Persons Present" by the camp police, we could receive something to eat -- if there was anything. About 25,000 to 30,000 people were in the camp. The Poles made their black market deals. A small loaf of bread cost 120,- DM. On the 26th or 27th of November we boarded the next transport and drove over the Oder Bridge and further to the West. Our trip lasted almost one week until we reached our next goal, Feldberg, Kreis Stargard in Mecklenburg.

In Feldberg the wagons stood ready that brought us along with 130 people to the four kilometer distant manor village of Schlicht. First we were given shelter in a large sheep stall. For the most part the old dung still lay there. Fortunately there was enough straw. One could see the stars through the roof. In the next days we moved into a room in the manor with eleven people. To the ten of us came a loner -- Aschenroth. We had to take care of ourselves -- there were food ration cards. Papa and Uncle Paul made an oven out of clay in the room. Even though there wasn't much to buy with out ration cards, we were to some extent satisfied. In the night we sometimes got ourselves potatoes from a bi. We huddled at one end of it and the wild pigs on the other.

The men had to work again. Lumber was made and loaded up for Russia. For the last we had to load up a dismantled grist mill on the railroad that was likewise bound for Russia. We celebrated Christmas very simply. We decorated a Christmas tree with darning yarn. The lice celebrated along with us. How they tortured us. Often one sat before the hearth fire and let them pop. Our mother got a very bad open sore on her back. We always feared that she would die.

After a while many of the refugees began to leave the estate. It was so: Whoever could state an address in the West, or in general anywhere, where he could go, was allow to leave. Then one day we received a letter from our Aunt Emmy; she was a sister-in-law of our mother. She had somehow already landed happily in the West and wrote us they we too could come to Haddamar near Fritzlar. So on January 28, 1946 we drove to Heiligenstadt over the Russian-English Zone border into the Friedland Transit Camp. After an examination, registration and delousing, we received papers in Goettingen for the purpose of settlement in the American Occupation Zone. We then traveled further to Kassel in order to be examined there by the Americans and then we continued on to Fritzlar. From Fritzlar we made our way on foot to Haddamar to the mayor. He had probably already expected us after we had previously been at Aunt Emmy's. Our new landlord and property manager came to greet us. Or had he just looked us over? Herr Arend, so the family was named, with whom we were to live and work, invited us to come along. Kowalke's girls likewise were assigned to their dwelling.

Well, what were our first impression of our new home? Let's leave this to Uncle Paul, who arrived one day later in Haddamar, describe this in his own words. He wrote: "We found work, a place to live, and bread. Our feelings? While we until then had only known the horror of war, we found everything here as in peace. No fear of the Russians or the Poles. Everything undamaged. All the grain and livestock were there, the fields were cared for as in peacetime. Electric light shined from all the houses. There had been no war here. We came to know the land and the people, but it is not yet our true home, our only home is the church. Our only wish and most fervent prayer at this Christmas celebration is: Give us our home again, send the prisoners home!"

We Kramp's found a place to live, bread and work with the farmer Arend. Here we'd like to add that to us Kramp's also belonged our oldest brother, Kurt, who had already fallen in Russia in 1942. At Arend's we were happy from the first to have food and a bed in which we could sleep without fear. The work, which wasn't really foreign to us, seemed hard at first. We were worn out and had hunger. We also didn't have anything to wear. In the evening the clothes were washed and put on in the morning again. First we came gradually to ourselves again. Our father's hernia was soon operated upon. He didn't recover again properly and died already in the year 1950. He overcame least the change, the separation from his own farm and the labor on another's ground. Gerda soon could no longer do the hard work due to her illness. She died in the year 1957.

I, Elli, turned my back on Haddamar and went to Deute (about 20 KM south of Kassel), to work in the household of a larger farming operation. Also Fritz left there and worked in Fritzlar for the occupation troops of that time. He met his wife in Haddamar, married and moved with his family to Dinslaken to earn his bread as a bus driver there. Here his sons Erwin and Juergen were born.

I, Elli, met my husband in Deute. We married in 1953; in 1954 our son Klaus was born. In 1958 we built our house. Our mother moved in with us and spent her twilight years here and died in 1982.

Fritz didn't like it in Dinslaken so much; this drew him to mother (or did she draw him?), and he too moved to Deute. Here he built a house too with his family. Sadly his son Erwin died already in 1971. Fritz lives today with his family -- his son Juergen is married -- in his house and enjoys his grandson.

We are now at home here in Deute even though we are unable to forget our old homeland. In the meantime we've all been able to visit Gross Tuchen. Meeting again with the old homeland was painful, but it too has already become a little foreign to us. Much was other than we remembered it. Where was our pretty lake where we so gleefully played with the boot in the summer and skated in the winter? Scarcely anything had been built up; certainly foreign people greeted us friendly, but we had become a little foreign.

Our home, as said already, is now here in Deute. Here I, Elli, live with my husband in our house. Our son Klaus is married and lives with his wife in her home of Wolbrechtshausen near Goettingen with their two sons Stefan and Christian in their newly built house. We especially enjoy our grandsons.