Place: Stadtoldendorf, Germany
Interview and translation: Lena Dorfschmidt
Original Language: German
We couldn’t find historical evidence for some of the below mentioned.
Marlene: The Americans always distributed chewing gum and the Russians would give us fried potatoes. [That was] on the flight. We didn’t have anything to eat and granny would always tell us, “There are the Russians, go over there.” So we children would go there and they would invite us to eat fried potatoes. The Russians for the children, they always gave us something to eat. Only adults, they couldn’t, especially women.
Heinrich: We were evacuated in Marlum. That was where the Americans were […]. We were in the valley and they were somehow a little up the mountain. And the officiers used to sleep in our house. So our beds… The others, the soldiers were sleeping in tents. I think it was winter, but I don’t remember so well. […]
We used to make syrup at home, in the laundry tub. They were crazy about that, the soldiers. It was something sweet. That is how we would always get something from them, chewing gums and stuff like that. That was great.
We were on a farm in Marlum. That is where we were evacuated. It was a house a little off the main house where my mother and we four children were living downstairs and a couple upstair. I think they were called Meier. And then the Americans quatered in our house. All around the village, Marlum lies in a valley, the soldiers put up their tents. But the officiers – that wasn’t good enough for them. So three or four of them stayed with us, from higher ranks, I think they were officers. The barn was separate from the house [so we stayed there]. When someone needed to use the restroom, he had to walk through the barn to the outhouse.
Marlene: And you fell in there.
Heinrich: Yeah, I did, but I was only four years old.
Gertrud: That was horrible, all those sexual abuses, wasn’t it. My husband used to talk about it. They were on a farm and the neigbours had daughters, they were thirteen, maybe fourteen. They used to hide in the attic when the Russians came. Otherwise they were down there, und when [someone came] they ran up to the attic. Someone would call, “Thirteen!” and they would know what was happening. They had a big dog. One day [the Russians] must have noticed [that they screamed “Thirteen!”] and they asked, “Why thirteen?” So they said, “That is how the dog is called.” And they did like this [slapping the thighs], “Thirteen.” And the dog really came.
And his mother also coloured herself black.
Marlene: Yeah I know that, too. My mum used to do that to, so she would look like an old lady. And she used to wear a headscarf.
Gertrud: Yes, they used to wear headscarfs.
Marlene: …and she would try to make her face look unattractive, so that they wouldn’t see she was a young woman. We [children] were quite young then.
Gertrud: Otherwise they would have sexually abused her.
Marlene: And they would try to hide, when someone came. In the attic or in the cellar.
Gertrud: And when they were children, they wanted to visit an aunt. They had to cross a field and someone shot at them.
Were there shootings in this area?
No, that was in Pommern. My husband was a refugee, he was from Pommern. They had a farm there. [In Pommern] there was one farm here and the next one would be kilometers away from it. They used to have it quite far from school.
Marlene: In Schlesia they were firing like crazy, too. When there were German soldiers, they had to hide. When they came out, the Russians would fire immediately.
Gertrud: My husband talked a lot about the war. He was seven and his brother a little older.
Did you even have food at that time?
Marlene: Not much.
Gertrud: Well, my husband’s family had a farm. They also had a Polish person. He wasn’t allowed to sit at the table. He always had to go to the storeroom. But when noone was there my husband’s mother or father allowed him to eat on the table.
Marlene: That must have been before the war.
Gertrud: Well, I don’t really know.
Before the war your husband hadn’t been born, Gertrud.
Gertrud: Yes, It must have been during the war. I mean, I am talking about Pommer. Sometimes he had to carry his plate to the storeroom very quickly. They treated him well. He was allowed to eat at the table, when noone was there. They had to take care.
Marlene: I hope something like this won’t happen again.
Gertrud: For God’s sake, hopefully.
My husband, how was that again? His father was in the war and they came here to Wickensen. Oh no, my husband was in Wickensen before that. They had been on the island Sylt. And the grandmother had sewed their money into the jackets.
Marlene: Right, in an old coat or something, the jewelry was in the hem, the bit you had left. If you even had anything left. Probably that had been changed on the black market before already – against food.
Gertrud: Yes, against food. That is what my husband said, too.
Didn’t you have enough food?
Marlene: In Breslau we didn’t. That was completely bombed and you… you would quickly move into the next empty flat and we didn’t have any food. We had no jobs or anything. Then granny started to work for the Polish, I think they were Polish, in the kitchen and cooked. She would always bring a milk can and hide and bring it so we wouldn’t starve.
Gertrud: Yes and cabbage soup every day, cabbage soup, cabbage soup, cabbage soup…
And well… my husband was in Wickensen already and [when the rest of his family arrived] they had to search for each other. And then he fetched them.
And how did they find each other?
Through the Red Cross or whatever. So he brought bread and he talked about this often, how happy they were, that was something special for them.
They had to flee from Pommern to the Island Sylt.
My husband remembered some of it, but his older brother remembers more. The fleed with a trek, or however that was called.
Marlene: With a refugeee trek, with a bollerwagen. There you had your eiderdown or whatever on.
Heinrich: And then they would meet others on the way and become more and more.
Is that how you came here, too?
Heinrich: No, I was from the area around Braunschweig. My father wasn’t in the war, he worked at PDB, the Physical Technical Federal Institute in Braunschweig. And those people, they were exempted. They had to produce for… They were important for the war and therefore they weren’t drafted into the war. On top of that he was the family’s only son.
Marlene: Well, I am sure they didn’t care about that anymore towards the end.
Heinrich: Yes, but then it was too late anyways. I had been born in 1904, he was over forty already. He stayed in Braunschweig during the war. We had a flat from the PGB, that was even an officer’s flat, and then my mother and we children went to Marlum. My father would occasionally come to visit us on the weekends. And the flat in Braunschweig was occupied by the Russians.
Marlene: I thought your grandparents were there?
Heinrich: Yes, the grandparents were in there, too. The had been living in the flat. They were crammed into one room then and the Russians moved in.
Gertrud: Yes, and the Russians they were like this: They put the potatoes in the toilet and flushed it and they were gone, Then they thought someone had stolen them. That is what my husband used to tell.
Heinrich: My grandmother used to talk about that, too. They took everything from the storeroom, and flushed. Then it was gone and didn’t come back.
Gertrud: Watches, they had their whole arm full of watches. And when one of them stopped, they just threw it away.
Heinrich: And not only the potatoes, my grandmother used to tell that they threw a whole lot in there.
Where we were, there were the American occupiers, we didn’t have these experiences. In Brauncshweig, where my grandmother and grandfather were, that’s where the Russians were. But we didn’t get in touch with them. I think we left Braunschweig in ‘43 and stayed [in Marlum] until ‘47. ‘43 to ‘47.
And were the people afraid of the Americans, too?
Gertrud: No, not of the Americans.
Heinrich: On the contrary, when the Americans came… As I said we were in a valley. The street led around Bockenem and then down to the valley. When they were up there we saw them and people started chanting: “The Americans are there!”
Marlene: They were all hoping the war would stop and the liberation come.
Heinrich: So they were received like….
Marlene: Yes, that was “liberation,” when they came. But noone was happy about the Russians…
Why was that different?
Marlene: Probably, because their reputation was different.
Heinrich: The Americans did this in a peaceful amnner. The Americans were… they didn’t treat us like enemies.
Gertrud: They supported us.
Why were the Russians different:
Gertrud: Well, they were dangerous. They were dangerous!
Marlene: I don’t know, but they had such a bad reputation, that you would start running when you saw one.
[…] Because they were poor themselves. And they were… even when everything was broken here we must have been rich for the Russians.
[…] They didn’t care. Not even today do they care.
Gertrud: That was horrible, wasn’t it.
Marlene: Yes, the Russians were horrible.
[To Gertrud] Your father was in the war, right? Do you know where he was?
Gertrud: No, I don’t know. I think he wasn’t gone for long, either. No, he wasn’t. He wouldn’t really… He didn’t really talk about the war.
Heinrich: Well, most of them didn’t come back anyways. My mother’s twin brother stayed in Russia. He died there. He never came back. He broke in the sense that… he had been married and had had a son too. And then later when they got the address of where he was in war prison his wife wrote him, “I will get divorced.” And he broke on that. And in his case… he died there. My father’s sister’s husband got into the same camp. And that is how we know that he broke there. He told us about it, that he got very bad and that he only survived another, I don’t know, four weeks maybe. But he [the father’s sister’s husband] did come back.
But I can’t remember, that they would talk a lot about the war. Sometimes they would show pictues. I know that as officers, my mother’s brother sometimes was on photos. The family was quite proud about that.
Marlene: But not as a officers and Russian war prison. You weren’t well there as an officer.
Heinrich: Of course. It was like… most would rip off their badges. They would hide them and never say they were officers. It was said that officers were to be treated better, but on contrary.
Because they were responsible.
Marlene: They were the Nazis.
What were they responsible for?
Marlene: Well, for the war. Responsible for the war. They were the Nazis that pushed forward. Not the small man.
They would give the orders to attack the Russians. It wasn’t the small man who said, “Attack.”
Heinrich: They were the Hitler-Germans, if you will. That was [for the Russians] the worst you could be as a German. Because they killed all the Jews.
And did he kill all the Jews? Did you notice some of that?
Heinrich: Then [after the war] we were told about it. We were told then, that he had built camps. And even before the Jews had to wear the mark. That was Hitler’s idea.
Marlene: But we didn’t notice any of that. Silence was kept about that issue. Even the soldiers didn’t know about it.
Heinrich: Even the Soldiers that came back and maybe got a slight idea of it – they didn’t believe it.
Marlene: They said it was propaganda by the Americans and the Russians. A German wouldn’t do something like that. The average German didn’t know about that.
But what did the people think where all the Jews were?
Marlene: Noone really thought about that. Maybe they were caught. Maybe they were outside of Germany…
Heinrich: Everyone had to look after himself. When we arrived in Marlum, we were protected there, to say it like that. So you would look after yourself. The farming went on. So when they would go to the fields, we children would go to and pick up the beet that fell down. Sometimes we would even climb [on the tractor] to get the beet, to make syrup.
And when did you start believing what happened to the Jews?
Marlene: Well we were children, we didn’t think about these things.
Gertrud: First of all from the refugees. […] But then I also saw it on TV. Much later.
Marlene: In school, none of the teachers dared to really talk abou it. Only the very necessary things.
Heinrich: When they did the process in Nuremberg, against all the Nazis and Hitler-People, that is when we really noticed and knew for sure: Yes, there were those dirty things.
But there were camps everywhere… didn’t you notice any of that?
Heinrich: No, the next one was Bergen-Belsen. That was right behind Celle, but we didn’t hear about it.
Marlene: You could be happy you yourself were surviving. If you walk with such a trek, you don’t hear about anything. You might hear that there is a farm close. There were signs everywhere. But the locals woudn’t talk to you.
Gertrud: I don’t think my parents knew that… or maybe they did…?
Didn’t you talk about it in school at all?
Marlene: No, they didn’t really mention that. Hitler was mentioned, as a crazy person – but if possible just quickly. No teacher dared to do that at that time. That was all too fresh still.
Heinrich: Even after the war, [all the Nazis] hadn’t been caught. On the contrary, that was the same as with the GDR and the SED-people, they just continued. Even today people say that they just sneaked into positions. Who was a judge during the war, would be one afterwards again. And maybe he only became a judge, because he was a big Nazi, because Hitler pushed him there. The same applied to the teachers. So then silence was kept about it. If they [talked about it] at all, then just quickly. You couldn’t say that someone in your family had been an officer.
Marlene: No, and noone had been in the party.
Heinrich: They would say… noone knew it and noone participated in it.
But there were also people who couldn’t deal with the end of the war….
Gertrud: Yes there were two in Kirchbrak. One worked in the post office, he was older – noo, it was his wife that killed herself. And the slaughterer’s wife killed herself, too. Yes, they had to do with these people, the SS or the Nazis or however they were called. They had to do with that and poisoned themselves. My mother said that. Because they knew the people, the husbands lived, they became old. The slaughterer’s and the postman’s [wives]… They talked about that in the village, well there weren’t many inhabitants…
Marlene: My father was a war prisoner for the Americans. American Camp. They had enough to eat, he wasn’t so bad. What he did… he laid cables.
Heinrich: He was with the [organization]. He was in France.
Marlene: He came back through France. And he brought grapes. I only know that he was in war prison. That doesn’t have to have been in America.
Heinrich: He became a prisoner of war when there was the attack through the Americans in the Normandy. In a prison of war in France.
Marlene: I only know that when he came home he brought grapes from a farmer. The French were really nice. He also worked for a farmer before he came home. I remember that, he worked with animals.
Heinrich: But he didn’t talk much about that.
Marlene: I think they wanted to forget about all that. Forget what they had been through. That can’t have been pleasant. War is never pleasant.
Gertrud: They repressed all that.
Marlene: I think so, too. Especially those that came back from being Russian prisoners of war. They were very, very late. Do you remember, Ulrich’s dad. He came… he was the last to come back. They didn’t get any food there and came back and looked all well-fed. They looked as if they had been eating a lot. They fed them with yeast, so they would become fat. In the very end.
Heinrich: The first ones that came back, they looked quite thin, but when the masses came… they were really fed by the Russians. Just so we couldn’t say, “Oh see, they didn’t even get food.”
Marlene: They hungered, but then they got yeast so they would become fat.
Heinrich: That was known afterwards, but not much talked about.
Marlene: They were really exploited. He came back long after my father.
Heinrich: That was because of Adenauer. Adenauer started that. Didn’t he even go to Moskow himself to negotiate that? When the first train [of prisoners of war from Russia] came, that was a big celebration. After ten, fifteen years the first train returned with people from war prison. Maybe some had returned before, because they were ill, but the masses, that was in ‘55 or so I think.
And when did your father come back?
That was like… I was in school already. Must have been in ‘48 or so. I don’t know how long he was [a prisoner of war]. He also worked as a farmer afterward. And then he had to look for us still.
Heinrich: The refugees came much earlier. In ‘43, ‘44 maybe.
Marlene: You had to make stops in between. From Breslau we went to stay with a farmer first. Then it was said, that it would only get worse. [So we went on.] Then you would stay over somewhere. Then you might hear that there is a trek somewhere close and you would join and travel in an animal cart. We reached a camp, the refugees. First we were deloused. You had vermins, at least that is what they said. And it smelled so badly, as you had lice and so on.
I thought that was in Friedland, but probably it wasn’t.
So you were there first, until you got sent to villages somewhere nearby. We went to such a village, I think somewhere close to Hondelage. We had a room there.
And the people had to host you or did they want that?
Gertrud: They had to, if they wanted or not.
Heinrich: They were quartered in.
Marlene: Yes they had to.
Did you also host someone, Gertrud?
Gertrud: No, we didn’t own the house we lived in. But from baker Meier they just took a room and put people in there. They didn’t like that at all, because they also had the store.
Heinrich: That didn’t matter, Russian, American or whatever. We in Marlum lived with strangers, too. That was a farmer’s house. And when the Americans came and the officers wanted to sleep there we couldn’t do anything against it either. I remember it took quite a while until people accepted us in Marlum. Later it was a little easier, because my mom was a tailor and she started tailoring for the whole village. People learned about it and we got more and more accepted. […] But for a year at least…
Marlene: Yes, refugees weren’t welcome. But as a child you didn’t notice that. I mean in the end we started stealing potatoes from the fields. You would leave in the evening. We had a stroller, that my mom would put me in and then she would go with the other women. You went where you knew potatoes were and would steal potatoes. You didn’t have any food at home. We didn’t have anything there in the village. We didn’t have anything. Stealing is what we did.
Gertrud: Yes, they all did that.
Marlene: They all did that. It was obious that we wouldn’t be welcome if they knew the refugees would go out at night to steal potatoes. That was logical. In front of our window there was a pear tree. My mom used to help me out there and I would go and pick up pears. You would take anything that wasn’t fixed.
Gertrud: And my sister in law, they were living with a baker. They weren’t allowed to leave through the front door. In the back there was another door. They had to walk all around [the house] and through the garden.
Heinrich: For us it was still okay, more or less, because technically we weren’t refugees. We were evacuated. We went voluntarily. My father worked for the PGB and had contacts to the soldiers, because he had to do some work for them. And when there was the first attack, the first airraid on Braunschweig. [In that first attack]… our house was here and there a house was bombed. It blew up. I remember that I looked out of the window with my mother and someone was running on the street. He was from the PGB, too, so of course they knew each other. “No hurries, you can still reach it,” or something like this [was what my mom said]. And then we went into the cellar. And when we came back the other house was gone and with it the whole family…. That was when my father said, “Let’s leave as soon as possible.”