That you should flee, is out of the question

Erika Wenzlaff, nee Pecker (born 1935), Ravelin Street 14, D-17389 Anklam

Report - Flight 1945

- Translated by Hans-Friedrich Heese, Cape Town / South Africa -

This is of course an incomplete report; after so many years the sequence of events and place names have been forgotten and one can, unfortunately, not recall them al.

The winter of 1944/5 changed the picture of the landscape and quiet roads around Gross Tuchen. Long treks from East Prussia moved past our house. I still see my mother serving hot drinks among the people. Often people stayed with us for the night. We probably wished that we would be spared the fate of having to flee as well.

I still have bad memories of the terrible bombings and the dead and maimed bodies. A soldier was killed in front of the shop of Jordan; another was wounded and nursed by Frau Maroske in my father=s study. A number of soldiers had been quartered in our home. What made an impression on me at the time was the fact that they were - like us - afraid when the bombs started falling. The soldiers often advised us to flee but my mother resisted the idea. My father, who was a soldier, wrote in one of his letters: "That you should flee, is out of the question."

Dr Harthun from Bütow, our house doctor, told my mother that he would supply her with poison when the Russians came as life under them would be intolerable. On the agreed date, when she had to fetch the poison, no trains ran. Dr Harthun took poison that day; his son, Eckhardt, escape the Russians when he drove off in his father's car.

When the order came to evacuate, an open wagon was covered with a large carpet and loaded with the most essential goods. Pickle barrels and fodder for the horses were also taken with. Herr Otto Haus, who worked for us, steered the wagon. His family was transported in army trucks.

Hedwig (I forgot her surname), our house servant, Anna, a Ukrainian with her young son Anton, also joined the trek. At the beginning of March (1, 2 March) the journey into the unknown started. Before we left the farm, all the animals were untied and the stable doors opened.

In which direction we trekked, I do not know. We wanted to reach a harbour from where we could leave by ship. When we found a place to sleep on the first night - a house filled with refugees - we met with pastor von Beer from Bütow. He managed to escape on bicycle (He later on worked as pastor in West Germany and died near Munich at an age of over ninety). Pastor von Beer also served the Gross Tuchen congregation when my father was a soldier. He was a Baltic German and had to flee before.

The next morning Gisela née Barske, (Obermühle) buried her baby under a tree in a park on an estate.* The trek went on over overcrowded roads and through the fields as the roads had been reserved for use by the military. It was an endless caravan which regularly came under fire from low-flying fighter aircraft. I have forgotten how long we were underway. We arrived at Zackenzin, Kreis Lauenburg. Here we found white sheets hung from the windows. We found a temporary home in the school with the family of Max Schlutt. Then the Russians arrived with machine pistols demanding "Uhri, Uhri" [watches]. This was a terrible scene. The room was filled with terrified people. One of the wheels of our wagon was broken and the Russians took all our horses. A military ambulance was abandoned. Food was distributed among the people. Our room received two bags of sweets which we hid under a bed before we shared it.

It became bad afterwards. The next wave of Red Army soldiers were Mongolians who plundered and raped the women. There was no more peace, not by day or by night. I still see and hear the women crying and shouting. I do not recall who long we stayed there. Then we returned to Gross Tuchen by following a difficult route. Herr Schlutt still had a horse and a wagon and took us with. Some other people of Gross Tuchen must have gone with us. The young children and aged took turns to ride on the wagon; the rest followed on foot behind or next to the wagon. Seeing the destruction and corpses skirting the road was terrible.

Once our mother was on a wagon. A soldier galloped past with his sable and struck at the side of the wagon. Fortunately he hit one of the wooden beams and she was not hurt. We often stayed in deserted villages. This was an eerie experience. Unexpected hardships became routine.

On the return journey it was sad to see the people driven together like herds of sheep or cattle. On approaching them, one recognised many of the captured men who were force-marched under the guard of soldiers.

We must have returned over Moddrow or Klein Tuchen. On a farm the owner took pity on us and cared for us. I will always remember the special honey from that area. After some investigated the situation in Gross Tuchen, we all returned. Our house was wrecked, there was no furniture left and hay was scattered all over the place. The butcher Möller took us in. Möller had to act as butcher for the Russians. He also cooked for all the inhabitants and everybody helped. Here life was tolerable, also because his house was guarded and we could sleep without fear of being attacked. At night the women of the town would also sleep here. We children assembled a coffee grinder in a small shed and ground wheat. In this way we could also cook soup on a regular basis.

During this period there were two huge fires, one in the place where the Russian prisoners of war had been quartered (Meinkes / Holz), the other at the pharmacy. After this, the Germans were ordered to go to the commander´s office ( post office Kolberg), armed with spades, to dig their graves before being shot. Somebody notified pastor Hinz about this. He negotiated with the soldiers and we were allowed to return.

When the Poles arrived, Möller´s were evicted from their house. We then moved into a small room in the house of Frau Gramit. Our mother was forced to work at the three bridges where she had to fetch collect and carry stones from the river bed. We managed to get hold of a lame cow which we looked after. In this way we had a regular supply of milk and also made butter by shaking the milk in a milk can. We also managed to sell butter to a business in Deuble´s shop. From the money we managed to buy salt and save some money for our journey to the West. We children also had our daily jobs; we had to collect firewood (near the station we collected bark), collected berries and fetched potatoes from our cellar. From old clothes we made bags and rucksacks for the next flight. We also knitted pullovers and socks.

At night people often knocked on the windows. Once there was a woman with her daughter who wanted to spend the night with us. During the flight she had to leave her son in a hospital and was now looking for him. Some time later we heard that she had indeed found him and that she managed to take him with her. We were also awakened by mentally disturbed people.

The teacher Mauss preached in the evangelical church and I recollect how the services were well attended and that the church was always full. Also that Polish soldiers watched from the entrance. Mauss had to submit his sermon before the service to the Polish commandant. After a sermon, Herr Mauss was detained and kept in the prison in Bütow. Later on he had to work as a labourer for a Polish farmer (in the direction of Radensfelde).

There were many cases of typhus and many deaths. Herr Mauss officiated at the burials, later on my mother - who found this task a difficult one.

At the beginning of December we left Gross Tuchen a second time - after many other have left before. We had to wait for the release of Herr Mauss - who had asked my mother not to leave without him. We were driven to Bütow on pastor Hinz=s carriage. (I suppose it was Herr Metel who drove us). The railway station was crowded with people. As we were four children, we were taken with the transport and had to travel in a cattle truck. The truck was overcrowded and one sat on his bag or rucksack. It was terribly cold and we travelled for days. We often waited on side tracks and my mother used the opportunity to get hot water from the locomotive; that was our only warm meals. A lot of looting took place. A number of people died on the train and the corpses were left next to the railroad track.

I have bad memories of the Arnswald water tower and the Scheune sugar factory. The feet of Birgit Mauss, at that stage about 15 months old, were frostbitten. Scheune was a notorious town; here one lost his last possessions and the railway platform was covered with dead bodies.

We then travelled by train from Löcknitz to Scheiben. Here we found a temporary home in a kitchen. Herr Mauss made contact with the local school board and was appointed as teacher at Grünz near Penkun. We spent Christmas in Penkun with friends of the Mauss family. In the mean time we all had lice and were covered with sores and scratch marks. When all efforts to get rid of the lice failed, our heads were shaven. This I found very embarrassing and wore a cap for quite some time. In the school it was also hard. Over Christmas we received a wheat loaf of bread as a gift. Every Christmas since then I recollect this precious present.

Herr Mauss was then appointed as teacher in Grünz and we all attended his school. We wrote on newspapers and book margins. There was no electricity and at night we would sit in front of the open fire place. On Sundays religious services were held in the school. Here we met pastor Tetzlaff, previously the vicar of Gross Tuchen and got the postal address of the Lutheran Church Council of Greifswald. We then wrote and then received the news that our father and my brother Heini was still alive. Our father was at that time the vicar of a village in the close vicinity. When he learnt about our letter, he travelled to us on foot.

My father was appointed as the new vicar of Sommershof and came to fetch us. After the recovery of Frau Mauss from typhus, the family travelled on to Wurtemberg. The start was of course difficult. Three families shared the kitchen. Yet, I cannot recollect once that harmony did not reign or that someone took something from somebody else. When our clothes had to be washed, we had to wait until everything was dry before we could go to school.

The new conditions were difficult, especially for our parents. Everything was lacking. We had to borrow a broom from the neighbours. Money was tight. My father received only part of his salary and my mother had to go without money. Food was rationed and one had to stand in long queues. Because the rations had been calculated so precisely, we often went hungry. We collected everything edible. It is a pity that we do not know the recipes anymore. Potato powder, with salt added, was baked on the stove top. Soup was made from water, baking powder and majoran; cakes were baked from coffee grounds (residue).

City dwellers often came to us to barter their often valuable belongings for food. When they returned to the station, the food was often confiscated as this type of trade was strictly forbidden.

It was a terrible time we had to go through. Yet I think that we all had the experience that we had been cared for, and for this we are grateful.

Written by Siegfried, Martin, Erika and Margarete Pecker.

* The burial of the baby took place in the early morning of 3 March 1945 in the park of the Puttkammer estate of the village Nippoglense in the district of Stolp. Herr Barske, our neighbour from Obermühle, Gross Tuchen, asked me to help him dig the grave as the ground was frozen. He said: AUnder this fir tree, close to the wall, it will be easier to find again later.@ It is one of the first fir trees to the right of the park when one enters it from the direction of Bütow. [Remark of Karl H. Radde].