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15 October 2014
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The People's War: A German Family's Storyicon for Recommended story

by Christoph Bull

Contributed by 
Christoph Bull
People in story: 
Ilse Schultz
Location of story: 
Gollnow in Pommerania & Kent
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
14 November 2003

A German Family's Story

By Christoph Bull

My mother was Ilse Schultz, born in 1920. She had two brothers (Ernst and Walter) and an elder sister Dora. They all lived in the small Pomeranian town of Gollnow where their father, Hermann Carl Ferdinand Schultz, worked as a county meat inspector in which role he was constantly checking the local abattoirs, farms and slaughterhouses for diseased meat and poor hygiene practices.

The 1930s were a terrible time in Germany with mass unemployment and the loss of people's savings, homes, families and self-respect. My family were lucky enough to have a small holding where pigs, chickens and a cow or two were kept and the animals produced food to eat and to sell or barter.

When Hitler came to power in 1933, my uncle Ernst joined them with the promise of work after having been unemployed for about two years. Ernst also wanted to marry and had had no real opportunity of being able earn any money to set up a home - the Nazis provided him with a stationmaster's job at Rühnow in Pommerania.

My other uncle, Walter, committed suicide in 1937 after falling foul of the Nazis and my mother and aunt were drafted into the BDM (Bund der Deutschen Mädchen - a Nazi controlled youth movement for girls). My grandfather, Hermann, was a supporter of President Hindenburg and wanted a return of the Hohenzollern monarchy - he refused to have the Nazi banner flying outside his house - and was sent to see the local Nazi Party officials who warned him against resistance.

In 1935 Dora married Christian Bock and Ernst married Elfreda Leu - the rift between Hermann and Ernst was never healed and Ernst was banned from coming back to the family home for several years thereafter.

Everyone was terrified at Kristallnacht in 1938 when Gollnow's Jewish synagogue was burnt out and Jewish property destroyed. My mother lost a school friend on that day - Ruth Bonfich - whom she never saw again and never discovered what had happened to her. The Nazis forbade the listening of foreign radio stations and an atmosphere of mistrust and fear was propagated, no one dared say anything against the Nazis in case they were heard and reported.

When the Second World War broke out Christian (Dora's husband) was called up from his job in the dairy at the nearby small town of Massow and in 1942 was sent to fight at Leningrad where he was badly wounded in 1944. Christian's comrades were all killed and he buried in the rubble - but he was rescued and taken to Bavaria to recuperate.

On 3 March 1945 Dora and her children aged 9 and 5 (she also lost two children to cot deaths) were forced to flee in open wagons in the freezing Pomeranian winter to Gollnow. Christian, who had been transferred from Bavaria to the hospital in Massow, had to stay and defend the town from a brutal blood lusting Russian army whose catalogue of unspeakable cruelty to innocent civilians was very well known. The Russians were advancing almost unchecked from the east with millions of desperate refugees preceding them, clogging up the roads and filling empty houses and barns in attempt to avoid the dreadful cold winter.

Dora fled eventually to Schleswig Holstein (Northern part of West Germany) where Christian had family - but they were separated and did not know if the family had even survived the Russians or the endless British and American air raids, despite the war having clearly been lost by Germany and her allies by March 1945.

My mother, Ilse, had been travelling around Germany during the war. She had her youth taken from her as there were no dances or other forms of light entertainment - Hitler did not think it proper for people at home to be joyous while the country's men were being slaughtered on the battlefields. My mother saw mass air raids in Berlin and Magdeburg, and she saw the misery that the war brought to little people in Germany, those who were innocent of any crime and just wanted to live.

In 1944 she returned to her parents' house in Gollnow - any spare rooms were occupied by refugees from the Baltic states - and as the war drew to a terrible close the Russian guns could be heard booming their bloody and pitiless path ever closer. The Christmas of 1944 was the last my family spent in their ancestral homeland - Ernst was allowed to spend time at the house at last - he was serving in Norway by this time. Every weekend civilians, POWs & German troops were digging defence trenches around the villages and outskirts of Gollnow - and the stream of refugees became a flood. My mother related that the church bells of St Katherina Kirche (St Catherine's Church - where my mother and her siblings were baptised and Aunt Dora was married) rang continuously as a warning to abandon the town - the Russians were already in the outlying farms and villages - the bringers of death were at the gates!

My family had to leave immediately taking only what they could carry. The whole town was in utter chaos with huge crowds of civilians and wounded trying to get onto the trains going west. The Allied bombers and fighters had complete control of the skies and shot up civilians and sank ships loaded with refugees fleeing the Russian onslaught, death was all around. Many people committed suicide, often poisoning their children so that the Russians would not capture them alive - the Russians were not at all worried about the age of females whom they gang raped. My mother was completely split up from her family - as it turned out all fled west into Vorpommern (western Pommerania) to Stettin and then further into the countryside.

Aunt Dora fled with her two children and she was pregnant with twins. The winter was very cruel with very heavy snow and biting winds - everyone was without shelter. Initially they went to Pasewalk and then managed to get to Stralsund where they stayed in a school on bunk beds with hundreds of other terrified refugees. An air raid caused Manfred, Dora's youngest child then 5 years old, to fall off the top bunk and he bit half his tongue off - this amongst all the chaos and desperation for food and shelter.

My mother helped a neighbour whose husband was in the German army - she had two young daughters - my mother helped with them - and the women were lucky as German soldiers in retreat would sometimes give them lifts on the lorries heading west. Eventually my mother managed to get on a train to Kiel in Schleswig-Holstein, which saved her from going into a huge refugee camp in Denmark. The starvation, the lack of clean water, the effects of sleeping in the freezing winter all led to my mother getting Scarlet Fever and diphtheria which nearly killed her. The illnesses she suffered in later life could often be seen as results of the terrible times of 1945 and 1946.

My mother spent time working on a farm and living in a hay loft before meeting my father - he was a cook in the British Army. Their relationship seemed doomed to failure in the face of my father being stationed in various locations in northern Germany and that there was a policy of no fraternisation between Allied troops and Germans. My father managed to secretly feed many fellow refugees by using left-overs and being 'flexible' with the army's accounting, so that my mother was able to begin eating properly again. In 1947 my parents married in Celle near Hannover and then left for a life in Kent. My parents' wedding had no photographs and my mother only discovered that her family had survived a few days previously. Aunt Dora, now reunited with her husband Christian, were able to attend the wedding although they remained desperately poor, Christian was unemployed for 8 long years after the war.

My grandparents had also fled to Vorpommern and stayed in Stralsund, but bravely returned to Gollnow once the Russians had captured and then razed the town's centre. My grandfather had a car as part of his job as a county meat inspector - he also had an artificial right leg as he was badly wounded in World War One. The Russians had despoiled the house - they had even defecated in every Kilner jar that my grandmother had used for preserves. The Russians sent him away and stole the car so that he had to hobble on his artificial leg until the blood flowed down his trousers. On one visit Hermann Schultz saw the body of the SS chief of Gollnow, Herr Pusch, literally crucified outside the church.

My grandparents managed to live in a leaky cottage at Schmedshagen, a tiny hamlet in the rural hinterland of Stralsund, until my grandfather had permission to build his own tiny house there. The loss of everything was a devastating blow - even worse was the inability to ever visit Gollnow again - the house did survive the war - because the new Polish masters of Pommerania ethnically cleansed any Germans who had not already fled the Russians. In 1953 my grandparents escaped from the new East German communist state and went to live with my aunt Dora and her family in the crowded flat in their new home of Radolfzell on Bodensee (lake Constance) where Christian eventually got a job in the dairy there.

My mother left Germany with my father in May 1948 after he was demobbed - taking newly born son Peter (my elder brother) with them to an uncertain future in Kent. My mother never wanted to leave her beloved homeland - and she never forgot her German or her friends and relatives - we had annual visits to Germany from the 1950s, and my grandparents even stayed for 6 weeks in Kent in 1958.

My mother's arrival at Harwich after a long train and ferry journey was very upsetting. My father had already gone to Kent to try and prepare accommodation for his family. He met my mother and infant brother at Liverpool Street Station and took them to Gravesend.

My mother was amazed that the English hung their washing out all over the place, she was also amazed how dreary all the houses were - no colours other than dark green or brown. My parents' lives were very difficult as everyone hated Germans - my father's parents were staying in Northfleet with a family who had lost a son and would not allow my mother, with her infant, to set foot on their soil. My father's brother Frederick ignored requests to help find accommodation and would cut my father dead in the street, as his wife would have nothing to do with Germans.

My mother could speak very little English and she did not expect a great welcome in the country which had sent bombers and fighters to shoot up refugees and sink ships full of innocent civilians in her own country, or had indulged in air raids which caused firestorms melting hundreds of thousands of people and this from the so called defenders of Christian civilisation, but she knew ordinary people were not responsible or even aware of these things and she could not understand why people would not even give her a chance - especially some relatives.

A flat in Gravesend was found with the only person who did not seem to hate my mother or her nationality - and that was a retired Irish nurse. My parents ate a diet of endless kippers at this flat, as Mrs House (the Irish lady) could get these without ration cards. Later in 1948 my parents moved to their first house in a Gravesend slum known as Gladstone Place. The house had serious structural problems and my father had never bought a property before and so had no experience of what to look out for. The family stayed there two years - my mother made some good friends there as she had excellent abilities in repairing socks and garments. However there were also thugs who wanted to beat up my father for marrying a German and they would urinate on the front door and pick a fight with my father when there was group of them. My mother was terrified that my father would go out and give them what they deserved, because if they killed him or knocked him unconscious they would be after her and her toddler. In 1950 my parents moved to Chalk, a village just outside Gravesend and that is another story.

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These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - German refugees

Posted on: 25 November 2003 by Christoph Bull

I am pleased that I've been able to post the story of my family on this web site. For most of my lifetime most British people had no idea what had happened in Germany beyond the beastly Nazis. Now it is time for the British to know about the millions of innocents caught up in a war not of their making and not of their wanting.
I hope it helps put the record straight that Germans were not all bad - as my English grandfather used to say to my mother (his daughter in law)"The only good German is a dead one" and that despite her having given him a grandson.

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