We knew that we would have to leave our homeland

Brigitte Vollert nee Kolberg (*1936), Graeserstraße 7, D-52457 Aldenhoven-Siersdorf,

Memories of the Flight and Expulsion from Groß Tuchen and a New Beginning

- Translated by Leslie Riggle, Wichita / Kansas -

We knew that we would have to leave our homeland. On the 2nd of March 1945 Groß Tuchen was to be evacuated and my father, Otto Kolberg, was postmaster in Groß Tuchen. He had orders from the Post Office in Bütow not to leave his Post Office before it was taken over by the military, because all messages from the front were routed through our center. Many from Groß Tuchen had already departed. Toward evening on the 2nd of March everything was turned over to the military. Money and the last mail was locked into a mail sack and was to be turned over to the next Post Office.

Our wagon was packed. The horse, which my father had bought for our flight, did not even take us out of our farmyard. It was a riding horse and refused to go between the shafts. The soldiers helped us to push our wagon to the farmstead of Wilhelm Gutzmer. It was very cold, the snow crunched. Mother and we two children were able go into Wilhelm Gutzmer's house, which was occupied by soldiers, while father rode to the Jantz family in Wiesenthal. Here were our great-grandparents, Herman Kolberg, because they did not want to flee. The Jantz had two Russian girls whom they treated like their own daughters and who intended to remain with them permanently. These two girls were supposed to protect everyone. But when the first Russians came, they immediately took the girls with them and the old people suffered greatly. (An account by Mr. Biastoch is enclosed).

Father brought another horse from Wiesenthal and we headed that night to the Jantz family. The front was already very near. At night we could see the flashes and hear the detonations. Here we met the Möller family (meat market). We joined together and left early in the morning. Because we knew that it would no longer be possible to reach the Baltic Sea and leave by water, we headed toward Klößen in the County of Stolp where Möllers had relatives.

The roads were clogged with refugees. Again and again low flying aircraft passed over, shooting at the caravans. Here in Klößen there were many refugees who did not get any further. The relatives of Möllers, also named Kolberg, took us and the other refugees in and took care of us. Here we were overtaken by the Russians, thke first of whom were Mongols and they were looking for German soldiers. What came next was terrible. First the horses were taken. We had stretched a carpet over our wagon. They cut it up, searching through everything and taking everything they could carry. Watches, rings, wedding rings . . . everything was pulled off our fingers. Women and young girls experienced terrible cruelty. I do not wish to write anymore about that.

The men were taken to drive the animals away. Many never returned. Since father had an artificial leg and had his discharge papers with him, he was usually let go. One time he did not return. We worried about him and walked in the direction the cattle drive had taken. We found him in a potato pit ('Krubkuhle' in Pomeranian Low German). It was closed from the outside so that he could not free himself. We could only know he was there by his voice.

Among the Russian troops there was a soldier who spoke good German. He told us: "The war is over, go to your village and begin cleaning up." We were able to get two crippled, sick oxen. A wagon was loaded and baggage, old people and children were put on board. We left together with the Möllers. We went through forests and farm lanes so that we could avoid the Russians on the main roads. We spent the nights in the forest and one time in a ruined and plundered farm house. We made very slow progress. We got as far as Tangen with the lame oxen.

On the 19th of March mother, I, Mr. Möller and Alfred Möller went from Tangen to Groß Tuchen. In Groß Tuchen it was insane. Everywhere there were Poles with their little carts, loading up everything they could carry. At Deubles, Genees and (I think) Schiefelbein they carried out sacks full of flour, sugar and so on. We tried to get through to our house. In front of the house there lay a dead and mutilated German soldier. All the doors were open. The rooms were filthy with waste and blood. A human lower leg lay in the hall. We tried to clean up. But we often had to hide because of passing Russian soldiers. In the evenings we went back to Tangen. This went on for several days and we also tried to clean up at Möllers. It was not quite as dirty there as it was at our place, but in the workroom there lay several dead German soldiers.

One time while we were cleaning up at Möllers we heard a loud explosion. A Russian wagon had struck a mine on the bridge. One soldier and the horses were killed. We wanted to see what had happened when we saw a Russian officer coming toward the meat market. We quickly ran away, but the men were locked up in a single room. As we reached about to Trapps we saw that the officer was talking to Conny (a young Polish man who had worked for Deuble), who was very exited. Conny had been employed by the militia and tried to explain that we could not have laid the mine, that it was left over from the German military. We returned but were arrested anyway and were supposed to be shot. Father had said: "When they shoot us they will begin with the children." The Russians looked at us, saying: "Dawaj, dawaj", and we could go.

One time we were cleaning up at our house and did not notice that the Russians had come again. We dropped everything and fled through the back window toward the Lutheran Church. The church door was open and we went carefully inside. Nothing had been destroyed. We walked around and saw no damage, except for a bullet hole. It was in this church that the teacher, Mr. Mauß, held a moving last church service, for which he was made to suffer heavily by the Poles.

The Russian command post was set up in our house. All Germans were required to report and were registered. Germans were selected to bury the German soldiers and to remove the bloated dead animals. (They were buried toegether.) So we could not live in our house. Möllers owned a little house near Perlicks. There had been a fire inside, but we made it livable and lived there with the Möller family - each had our own side of the house. We called it "Schloß Munterbach". When we registered we were required to give our occupations, so my father and the Möllers were sent to do the slaughtering in the butcher shop and to fish in the surrounding lakes. Small hand food choppers were taken out of the houses and all the meat was made into sausage for the Russians. The stocks were closely watched and here we were closely watched, too. Women from Groß Tuchen were able to hide themselves here.

One night my father was brought before the Russian commander by 2 Russian soldiers. He was accused of sabotage because there was no light burning in several of the rooms. The reason was that drunken Russians had shot the bulbs out. It was his good fortune to find replacement bulbs so he could turn the lights back on. He tried to explain to them the reason. The commander lived in my parent's bedroom. He had a canopy bed installed for himself. He spoke Yiddish, so my father could understand him and explain many things.

After a couple of months the Russians left and the Poles took over the command post and our village of Groß Tuchen. A bad time then began for us. Our parents were sent into the fields to work. During the days we children went to our grandparents. They lived again in their own place (in the parent's section of the Kolberg farmstead). The farmstead had been taken over by the Polish commander. Later he moved into Dabel's place. Mother and some other Lutheran women were required to report every morning at 8 AM at the village fountain and they were assigned their field work by the Poles and they received a ration of bread. The bread was baked by a Polish baker and was distributed from Dombrow's bakery. It was of poor quality. The carpet from our church was spread out in front of the bakery. This was the beginning of the degradation and destruction of our church.

One day Mr. and Mrs. Möller were picked up and taken to prison in Bütow. And my father was picked up, too. Our house, now the Polish command post, was the jail for Groß Tuchen. During the war one cellar room had to be made fire-proof. That is why this room was equipped with an iron door and an iron door frame. The prisoners were required to stand in this doorway with their hands on the door frame and then the guards would slam the door. In this way many men had their fingers crushed. Their screams could be heard at night. My father had the good fortune not to have to put his fingers into the door frame. He was never accused. Evidently he had the Pole Conny, who had worked for Deuble, to thank. He had come often to us in the Post Office and father helped him every month to write post cards to his relatives. After a few days father was also taken to the prison in Bütow. Mother met Corny and told him about it. Father was not accused in Bütow, either. Father came into the prison in Bütow and got the plank bed where on the day before Mr. Deuble was beaten to death. First, the blood had to be cleaned off him. Herta Barsch worked in the prison as a civilian. We received news from her and learned as well in which cell father was being kept. Along with Dorchen Reddis (the wife of the wagonmaker Reddis) mother walked the thirteen kilometers to Bütow. She brought father something to eat and a warm blanket.

That fall we received our order to emigrate. With great difficulty and after many attempts mother secured the necessary papers for us and for our Kolberg grandparents. We did not wish to leave without our father. Again we learned through Herta where the prison commander lived. Mother tried to speak to him in order to persuade and captivate him to permit father to come with us. And she did it. She had stared at him as he sat at the table.

She begged him to set father free - he had not committed any crime- and gave him a package of suit material. After awhile he said: "To to the Farbe Bridge". She waited there a long time. Toward evening father came on two canes, totally weakened and infested with lice. They walked the thirteen kilometers to Groß Tuchen. After Damsdorf they met a militiaman on a bicycle with Alfred Möller. They were surprised because Möller had been released from prison that day and had gone immediately to the station in Bütow to leave. My parents reached Groß Tuchen late that evening. I had to tell grandmother the news that father was at home and that Johannes Malottki was to take us to the station in Bütow early the following morning. To our great relief we saw that Möllers were again at home. They had been called back because of Alfred. He was to remain as a worker for the Poles. The next day Alfred was back and we all, including Möllers, went to the station in Bütow in a wagon.

Here we were loaded into cattle cars and rode for days, not knowing where we were headed. Along the way we were robbed by Poles. They entered the boxcar and threw our baggage out the windows. Outside there were more to gather our things. We read a sign: "Schneidemühl". At Kreuz we had to leave the train. Those who could walk were supposed to go to a camp. The camp was a tank hall and far away. Our grandparents remained at the station, because grandfather was so unsteady. We intended to go and get them. Because we did not come soon enough, grandma came to us alone the next day. My parents then went to the station to get grandfather. In the meantime the Poles had robbed him and taken his clothes. He had wandered away and it was hard to find him again.

After remaining there for days, we were again loaded and were supposed to be taken toward the Oder River. The train was slow and it stopped often. Many people were sick and had diarrhea. When the train stopped they hurried off to take care of their business. When the train then suddenly started up again, some were not able to make it back. In this way several families were separated. We crossed the Oder at Küstrin.

In the car the people sang: "So nimm denn meine Hände". I thought that everyone was happy to cross the Oder. But our grandfather had died and that was the reason for the singing. The dead were not allowed to remain in a compartment and at the next stop a couple of men helped my father to take grandfather out. They had wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a trench between Wriezen and Freienwalde. A couple handfuls of sand were strewn over him and then, without warning, the train departed. Everyone had to see to it that he got back on board. But my father was not among them. He could not run fast enough because of his artificial leg. We were in great sorrow, even panic. After awhile he returned to our car. He had been able to catch the last car and to pull himself aboard. Also, Alfred Möller also died on this flight from appendicitis. I no longer remember where it was.

After a long journey we stopped in Klein Bünzow in Vorpommern (that part of Pomerania to the west of the Oder River), together with the Kautzens from Wiesenthal. We were sent to a farm. Here we lived, together with the Kautz family, in a hallway. Each family received a bundle of straw so we could make beds for ourselves on the floor. It was in December and already very cold. Days we looked for something to eat. The most we could hope to find in the fields would be a couple of turnips, so we went to the station and there potatoes and carrots were being unloaded. Mother and Mrs. Kautz were able to crawl under the boxcars and could gather up something, but they were in terrible fear. When we wanted to cook something the men had to look for sticks in the forest. For five weeks no bread was given out.

Grandma Kolberg spun sheep's wool that she got from the farmer's wife and for that she received a piece of bread every day, but she gave most of it to us children. Then she tried going begging with us to other farmers. That was a terrible experience. For Christmas there was supposed to be a ration of bread. On Christmas Eve we were invited in by the farmer's wife. A plate of cookies stood on the table, but no one dared to eat. We received as a present a neatly wrapped loaf of black bread. I will never forget this Christmas of 1945. On the following day mother tried to watch out, when the fodder for the pigs was ready, to pick out a scoop of potatoes. We peeled them while they were still hot and ate them greedily. The warm soup that we had to go to get consisted only of grated potatoes and was very salty.

We could see no future here. In January father and I went to Berlin. We found his sisters, Meta and Ida. Neither had been bombed out and were able to keep their apartments. From them we learned the address of a second cousin of my father. I stayed with our aunts and father went alone by train to Saxony-Anhalt to see if there was a place to stay there. We had good fortune and found an apartment. My father could work with his cousin for a wagon maker and mother for a farmer who had offered the apartment.

Through the hard work of our parents, tending animals, three gardens, basket-making and so on, as well as through the contacts with our neighbors, we felt at ease in Dobritz in Kreis (county) Zerbst. I went back to school and Margot started school. I finished school in 1950. An uncle in East Berlin helped me to secure an apprenticeship. Because I was not allowed to move to Berlin, I reported instead to Babelsberg. I remained in a business there until 1956. After a visit to some relatives with Margot in the summer of 1956 to Siersdorf in West Germany, I never returned. I found work here and met my husband. We have been married since 1957 and we have two children.

My parents lived in Dobritz for 7 years. Then they moved to Stahnsdorf near Berlin, where my father could find work as a butcher again with my Uncle. My sister finished school in Stahnsdorf in 1954. After her apprenticeship she fled to the "golden" west. She went by way of the refugee camp in Berlin-Marienfelde and then to Gießen. In October 1958 she came to us in Siersdorf. She found work here, married in 1962, and moved to Jülich. Today she lives in Titz (about 25 kilometers from us).

My parents fled from the DDR (German Democratic Republic) in 1960. They also located in Siersdorf. Later they moved to Jülich, where father died in 1972. Since 1986 mother has lived again in Siersdorf, not far from us. We are happy to have found a home here.

s/Brigitte Vollert nee Kolberg in December 1995