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Gross Tuchen / Bütow: Village and county in Hinterpommern

Only being five years old

The expulsion from Gross Tuchen * Memories of a five years old boy.

- Translated by Ingrid Sykes, Canada -

My name is Heinz Radde, I am 52 years old. I was the youngest of four children, born 1942 at Gross Tuchen. My father was the farmer Paul Radde from Moddrow, my mother Emma Radde, born Schuetz, from Klein Massowitz. My wife, our two daughters and I now live in Kuettigen (Canton Aargau) in Switzerland.

In the middle of December 1946 we had to leave Gross Tuchen, we were expelled. My father who was of the home guard [Volkssturm] and taken prisoner, was shot by the Russians. Our farm was isolated far away from the village. We were exposed to the arbitrariness by Russians and Poles and lived in continuous fear. Our pregnant neighbor Mrs Pelz was shot dead. There was plundering, rape and attacks, even at night. Sometimes they came in wagons and plundered anything from featherbeds to baby cups and carted it away. Sometimes there was wild shooting. Once, an Ukrainian Pole, who took over our farm later, gave himself a Sunday treat by ordering his big dog to attack our little dog "Pfiffi", he nearly chased him to death and bit him. We had to stand by and watch. My mother used to sneak out at night, making her way through the forest to go to Klein Massowitz to take care of her sick mother until she died. She buried her herself secretly. Grandfather had been shot by the Russians previously.

We felt relieved to leave the farm when the order came.

At the time of the expulsion I was a little more four and a half year old. My memories are sketchy and perhaps not always exact, but some moments are deeply etched in my mind.

On a cold clear winter morning my mother, her four children, grandma, two aunts, and two cousins had to report to the village. We each had a parcel to carry. Since I was to small to carry anything, I dragged a schoolbag on its strap, just like a sleigh over the crunching snow.

For days we were boxed in cattle wagons, it was bitter cold. Many of us froze our hands and toes. My mother hardly slept, she rubbed our hands and toes endlessly.

Sometimes when the train stopped or was routed to an off-line we were plundered by bandits who would take anything of value. We had a few men on board who barricaded the doors from the inside. I was very scared.

All of a sudden there was a cry on the train: "The Oder! The Oder!" I remember a picture in my mind as I saw the wagon doors slightly open in the mist of the morning: the train rattled over a large bridge which was made of steel and covered a flat river valley. We were full of happiness and felt saved.

We were put in camps at Coswig (Anhalt), Stassfurt (restaurant "Salzgraf") and Aken/Elbe (restaurant "Schwarzer Baer"). When I think of Coswig and Stassfurt, I can only remember the hunger and cold. Many died. The taste of frozen carrots in hot water with some barley added will never be forgotten. Of course we did not have any milk. The grownups among themselves said about me: "We will probably not pull this little one through". Remarkably, I can still clearly see a picture of the ceiling of the grand room at the "Salzgraf", as I remember the cracks through which the moon rays shone as we lay at night cold under our thin blankets.

Our mother tried hard to find us accommodation in a private home and was finally successful in 1947 in Aken when she found two tiny rooms under a roof with slanting walls in a nice house on the outskirts of town. The five of us moved in, mother slept in the kitchen, we all slept in the other room. There was no furniture or light fixtures, we used candles but had to be thrifty. A neighbor build us a simple cupboard with four drawers, one for each of us, what luxury.

We were constantly hungry. The older tried to find some potatoes and ears of grain after the harvest. I remember and still shudder at the bitter taste of the potato peelings that were used to cook some meals. Sometimes we only had sorrel, picked from the banks of the river Elbe. On Sundays there would be a dollop of whipped cream added, where it came from we never knew.

Then there was the first package from America! My mother was able to contact her brother in Oklahoma again. At the age of five I saw my first piece of chocolate and refused to eat the dark looking stuff. Mother stayed up night after night sewing and altering the used clothes from the Americans for us, and others to wear.

On Christmas Eve 1947 mother sent us into town to see the Christmas play, in the evening on our long way home we saw through the darkness a radiating bright light shining from where our rooms under the roof were. Our mother had saved all the coffee sent to us in the packages, and traded it for books, toys and a real electric light bulb. Never again in my life did festive lighting appear so bright and magnificent as at that time.

From then on slowly it became better. The years were marked by hard work, especially for our mother. Many good people helped but there were also the stone hearted ones. For some of the locals we were still the fugitives as for so many others in the same situation, only my sister Edith felt at home in Aken and started a family there. Our grandma, aunt, our mother and my brother Ulrich have all since died. My brother Karl and I left the town for good in our youth to further complete our studies.

The colloquial term for us was "expelled" or "fugitive". But the East German authorities at that time used a third, the white-washing official name "resettler". Soon after the reunification I went back to Aken and met my old Geography teacher. We remembered having argued at school about the term "homeland". Dutiful he tried to convince me that Aken now was my homeland because I grew up there. I stubbornly insisted that Pomerania was my homeland because my ancestors had lived there, I was born there and did not leave of my own free will. And all that only being five years old.

Kuettigen (Switzerland) Christmas 1994 signed Heinz Radde