- Contributed by
- Audrey Lewis - WW2 Site Helper
- People in story:
- Barbara, her mother von-Thadden, family and friends.
- Location of story:
- Pomeriania, formerly Prussia, now Poland.The von-Thadden family in Pomerania (Part seven)
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 20 January 2006
Herr und Frau Ernst Wiechert with Gerhard, Baba, Klaus Meinhardt, Atti, Maria, Doris Meinhardt, probably 1934
By Barbara von-Thadden
Members of the family now lived in the old part of the house in Trieglaff. Reinold had been taken prisoner. He had put on his army uniform which meant that he would be treated as a PoW rather than a civilian. Other men had done the same. Not many men ever came back. I cried and cried and said to my mother that I did not want to live any more. I asked if she had got anything in her medicine cupboard so that we could end our lives? She told me that she had enough poison for one not both of us. We would just have to go on for the sake of Vahnerow and for her children.”
“In our village the days full of fear went on. I spent hours behind the coke under the stairs and behind large pieces of furniture. We had very little sleep and the looting went on almost all the time.”
“One entry in my diary on April 20th notes that a Polish company of soldiers came. My mother was pleased with a Jewish soldier who spoke good German and showed great interest in the books that were in the library. I was hiding and did not see him, but my mother told me about the incident because he actually asked if he could keep the book he had found on the floor. It was a first edition of Goethe’s poetry and she was pleased to give it to him. They were the only regular Polish soldiers we saw. They said that they would not molest women (but they did), and my mother had said sarcastically, ‘Oh no, of course not, they are all infected by the Russians anyway!’ They did not stay long but they talked to my mother about their entire families been killed by the Germans, or they told her of terrible atrocities committed by the Germans in Poland and that she could not believe half of it. But when we later came to the west and leant that most of what the Poles had said was indeed true, it came as a great shock.”
“One day my mother found two Russians in the dining room as they were piling the Meissen china together. She was very angry at their carelessness and she stopped them until some baskets and boxes and hay had been found and then she helped them to pack it properly. All the blue Meissen went, and also the beautiful, precious pink Meissen dinner service. I was sad and angry and was amazed that my mother was so calm. Then pieces of furniture went and the linen chests and wardrobes were emptied. Cupboards and shelves were bare, and after a while we noticed that pictures began to disappear. They came with carts and lorries to take it away. But we still had our rooms upstairs, and kept saving bits and pieces and hid them in the soft sand in the greenhouse and shed, where they were marginally safer than in the house.”
House of refuge -
“Others came to stay in our house. Unfortunately they brought lice with them, which were a real plague and a big problem for our fastidious Mama! Another elderly, gaunt lady came to us, she was Fraulein Noack. She had been a Parlamentarian during the time of the Weimar Republic and she stayed with us until December. Her only valuable possession was a stamp collection which she kept in a battered old case under her bed!”
“My nerves cracked altogether when some Russians came in a horse drawn carriage and saw Adda, our lovely white bitch. They lifted her into the carriage although my mother started to cry and pleaded with them. I was so angry that I started to shout at them, had they not taken enough and could they not leave our dog with us? Then one of them lashed out with his whip across my face, and that’s when I could not cope any more and somebody went with me to Trieglaff where I stayed for a few days to rest and sleep in peace and come to my senses again.”
“The spring of 1945 was so beautiful. For the first time the wisteria at the front of the house was in full bloom and filled the air with a wonderful scent. The trees were having leaves again, the birds were singing as in every spring every year. But our lives were now completely different.
“Somebody came to tell us that a lot of private papers in the Sellin, there was a big heap of them, shouldn’t we better go and look? I took a box of matches and went to see. There were the entire contents of my father’s desk. I recognised my father’s handwriting on the letters that were scattered around the edge of the heap. I realised they were letters he had written to my mother, so I picked up as many as I could and gathered up some of the papers as well which I thought might be important. I then set fire to the heap and waited until everything was burnt. A few letter and papers we saved, and my mother had them until she died in South Africa.”
“People were always whispering stories about liberation, that the Germans were on the defensive again, or that a new miracle weapon was being used and that our liberation was only a question of time. There was no money. Nobody paid for our garden produce.”
“ I think the hardest thing for me to comprehend was the complete collapse of law and order. I began to understand that order and civilisation are very thin veneers, which crack and break quickly once the authorities that impose order are no longer there. People stole and lied, and suddenly pretended never to have believed in Hitler and his plans and aims. There were all sorts of hangers-on who had come with the Russians. They were mostly women who had become lovers of the victors and many of them spoke a little Russian or Polish. They now used their new powers over us, the vanquished. They would come with their looters and point out things they wanted for themselves and took them. It often made me angry and cynical.”
“My 20th birthday came in May, and my mother proudly presented me with a cake! She had steamed it in a pudding form, and it was quite wonderful, she had saved the last bit of sugar for it. My mother had a book for me, ‘Letters from Metternich to Countess Lieven’ which I read as a great escape from our present life.”
“Once my mother’s stores were exhausted, the lack of medicines meant she was no longer able to help the many sick people in the village. Penicillin and antibiotics were still unknown to us.”
Polish annexation —
“In June the first Poles arrived. They told us that they were going to stay and that all the land to the east of Oder now belonged to them. Some weeks later one Polish signpost after another appeared between the villages.”
A Polish commandant and his staff and their women moved into our house downstairs. A Young fair-haired Polish soldier moved into my old room. He was ‘secretary’ to the commandant who never spoke to us. They had a cook who soon got the big kitchen going again. They did not interfere with the women and girls, but when Russian soldiers came, there were loud shouts and angry exchanges and threatening gestures between them and the Poles. I thought that was funny, they were allies, weren’t they?”
“Tante Kathe von Normann from Barkow came to us to recover from typhoid fever. She had been home when the Russians came, together with her mother, her husband and their three young children. Tante Kathe’s son had been taken away by the Russians. The hospital in Greifenberg was overflowing with typhoid patients. The eternal diarrhoea was treated with black bread, which was toasted until it was like charcoal; this was the only ‘medicine’ they had. Many people died. Mother had to break the news to her that Onkel Phillip had died from dysentery in a camp. He was one of many men who died there.”
“I am finding it extremely difficult to describe to you the events that happened ‘under the Poles’ or to give you a feeling of the growing unease and the undercurrent of fear combined with our helpless anger in which we lived from the arrival of the Poles in June until December. They were so unpredictable. Suddenly all the apples on the trees had been ‘confiscated’ by order of the commandant. Next came the vegetables we had grown. We were not supposed to gather any for ourselves. But we did.”
“They also had some really vicious, cruel soldiers among the men in the village. One used a whip and would strike out at old men and women or anybody who happened to be near. The children were terrified of him. What I thought was a big pale mushroom at the edge of the wood and which turned out to be a skull, and a part of the boots sticking up a short distance away, is what I remember most of that walk. Another soldier? Who?
“ More and more people died. Leni had taken on the job of parson in addition to being a tireless messenger, a nurse and a doctor. She buried more than 200 people in the cemeteries in Batzwitz and Trieglaff during the two years following the arrival of the Russians. Many were young mothers who had gone hungry to give food to their children. Just once we were given meat by the Russians. It was green and shimmery and not even the dogs would touch it. Another time they gave us bread which was black and very wet.”
There were no cows, so there was no milk. Now, in the late summer, very little of the food we had hidden was left and only occasionally could I take something, concealed under my jacket, to some ill person in the village. Most of the produce from the garden and from the apple trees along the lanes between the villages either disappeared or was collected for the commandant’s table.”
“Admittedly, there was some order in our house. The kitchen was working, the women cleaned and washed. But the rooms looked so bare, since all the pictures, curtains, carpets, lamps and even the old door handles had gone. The dining room cupboards were empty, silver, bedding and nearly all our clothes had gone with the Russians, except the furniture and some books and other things we had in our three rooms upstairs. I had also buried odd pieces of china and silver in the soft sand in the greenhouse under the staging, and the dungeon was half full of good things like my mother’s eiderdown and her fur coat and other things.”
“My mother had no intention to give up our rights to the place, though at the moment those rights were an idea rather than a fact. We hoped for changes which would better our situation.”
To follow in part eight - A letter from Ado.
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