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Potato Skins

by epsomandewelllhc

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Auntie Helga
Location of story: 
Germany and Poland
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
08 July 2005

This story has been taken from a letter written by Auntie Helga to her nephew. The family have given their permission for it to be entered on the People’s War web site.

I was a child in Berlin and have loads of memories; some are happy and adventurous and some are very painful and sad.

I was a little girl aged six when we were first evacuated from Berlin to a lovely town by the Baltic Sea in 1940. We had lovely time swimming and eating loads of shellfish! One of my brothers learned to walk on the beautiful white sands on the beach. After five months we returned to Berlin, it was safe to do so at the time.

In 1943 we had to leave our home once again. My four brothers, my Mum and Grandma; this time we were all evacuated to Poland. My Dad was called up even having had major surgery and being very unfit. All men had to go.
We liked living in Poland very much. It was great fun; we had a lovely big house on a large private estate. The food was lovely, all country goodies, game and loads of fresh vegetables, and fresh fruits out of the woods; all new to us.
At school we had to learn Polish to be able to understand the teachers. The people who owned the land had to leave and live in sheds and barns — the Nazis made them.
After nearly two years, it all ended very quickly one night. With no notice we had to flee with hardly any belongings. Just us in a cart drawn by four horses. My Mum and Gran took on a Polish farmhand, promising him the cart and horse as a present, if he helped us to drive towards Berlin. We were followed by the Russian and bombs going towards Berlin also. Many refugees died on the way in ice cold weather — no food and often nowhere to stay. We were so lucky because my Mum and Gran spoke fluent Polish and were able to get some food and milk from farmers on the way.

We reached the outskirts of Berlin after a 16 (day) trek. Some German soldiers picked us up in a big army lorry and drove us and some more families into Berlin under fire and bombs.
We were in our home, it was the end of February 1945. Then it was straight to the Bunker with loads of other children and Mums - all our Dads were in the army. We had little to eat or drink. Our Mums made us lie down and sang to us to keep us happy and not get too weak.
The bombs fell all around us and everyone was very frightened and wondering how long it would last. Then one day some soldiers came in, they looked very odd and not too friendly — they were Mongolian Russians. We did not know if we could come out of the bunker or if we were going to be killed. After a few more days we could go home. The daylight was lovely after the dark and candle light. The streets, all bombed, dead people and no one to move them.
Then another shock - the Russian soldiers wanted our street for their Headquarters. Once again we had to move — this time to a School Hall for Shelter. The children all played together, we had games and sing-a-longs, but our Mums had a sad time. Russian soldiers would come in the evening and rape them, but of course, we children did not understand why our Mums cried a lot.
Food was very little or not at all. We children would sometimes go the Soldiers’ Canteen and wait under the window by the kitchen for them to throw the scraps out. We would collect all the potato and vegetable peeling and take them back in a sack. My Mum then washed them and fried them, so you see “potato skins” aren’t that new a dish, we had them long ago!

We eventually returned to our house in a street we hardly recognised. The Russian soldiers damaged and ruined everything. They used the baths as toilets (not ever having had any) and washed food and themselves in the Loos. When the chain was pulled and the potatoes and vegetables flushed away, they shot all the basins in the belief that someone was stealing them.
The biggest and saddest thing happened on the 4th May. My Gran, who was so brave and helped all to stay alive and egged on my Mum, her daughter, to be strong for her children, took her own life; she hung herself on our children’s swing hook in the bedroom. She could not cope anymore. We all had to go the park and pick spring flowers and she was buried under a tree by some of Mums who helped my Mum

After a few months and lots of cleaning up by prisoners under guard, life returned and things opened up; schools and shops, still very little food. The reason my brother and I did not become too under nourished was that we had such a good lifestyle and plenty of food in Poland and were strong and fit for our age.
My Dad, who was still in the Army, was missing. Would he ever return; was he killed, all this worry for my Mum. One day a letter arrived from a Military Hospital! He was wounded, he had lost a leg, but he was alive, and returned to us a few months later. How happy for us, great joy!
Slowly, slowly, things returned to a more normal time. I hope deep in my heart that war will never happen again. It is all too painful and still and I still remember it today, especially when I see a menu in a restaurant and it says “Potato Skins”, healthy for you, yes memories.

Auntie Helga

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