|Edith, about age 8,|
I’ve chronicled some of that slog-fest on this blog [i.e., the Bauer Family Blog].
It is only a slight exaggeration to say that the Bauer saga is also, in part, a post-apocalyptic tale, with the apocalypse at issue being WWII (i.e., the European front) followed by the collapse and occupation of Germany. Everything, it seems, points always to that.
[My parents] Edith and Manny were just kids when the war's end enveloped them in the early months of 1945: 12 and 13 years old, respectively. Naturally, they routinely remember and relive much of what happened to them and to those with whom they were close.
This is especially true of my mother, Edith, whose family was forced to flee their ancestral home—not just their house, but their town, their region, their part of Germany. She and her people didn't just leave that home; it died behind them, first occupied, then in stages transformed to something utterly "other."
It is, I think, difficult to appreciate the sense of loss and injury of that forgotten “Flucht” generation, especially the then-young people, who are, of course, all that remain of that experience now. They seem always to yearn to return, and yet they understand, too, that the place they left cannot exist, its population having long been supplanted by people of a different culture and language—people, we must remember, who were themselves for decades suppressed and thwarted in their strange new home. One wonders if they are capable, now, of enjoying their freedom, such as it is. (In my estimation, it seems not.)
Edith is nearly 80 years old now (albeit a very youthful 80), and so are the other remaining Flucht-Kinder. An elderly bunch, and still forlorn too, I think.
* * *
YouTube, of course, is a big, dumb raft of video cargo, and included among its freight—mostly ephemera and detritus—are marvels of history Writ Small, including simple filmed remembrances by ordinary people—video/audio testimony of "what happened to me."
At first, though, I found a documentary there entitled “Pommern Wie es War” (Pomerania as it was). Edith commenced watching bits and pieces of that. She was at times excited, even gleeful. “Look, that’s exactly what we did!”, "I know that place!" she’d exclaim.
On her laptop, I bookmarked Germany's YouTube and also that particular documentary. I wanted to find even better things.
I came across a series of interviews of Flucht-Kinder (my term, probably Germanically illiterate), entitled: “Flucht aus Pommern" (Flight from Pomerania). It seems to be housed at the site for Gedächtnis der Nation (Memories of the Nation)—some sort of massive private German oral history project. (It seems well worth checking out, but only if you know some German.)
This "Flucht aus... " series is pretty damned wonderful. I showed some of it to my mother: one after another, ordinary elderly people—invariably children or teenagers in 1945—describe their experiences in their attempted escape from their homeland before (and sometimes into the hands of) the notorious, and indeed terrible, invading Soviet army. (Unfamiliar with this? See 'They raped every German female from eight to 80', Guardian. See also Antony Beevor and Silence Broken On Red Army Rapes In Germany [NPR]. Upshot: 2 million German women raped, many repeatedly, systematically. My Aunt Frida was among them.)
Me, I could understand maybe a third of what these people were saying. (My German ain't so hot; I understand German the way a dog understands his master.) Edith, of course, understood all of it, though she was amused by the various dialects. She was riveted by the stories, which were often much like her own and the stories of her friends and relatives.
This morning, I surfed Germanic YouTube anew and found more.
* * *
|by Prof. Gordon L. Bowen, Ph.D.|
* * *After lunch today, I got Edith interested in a three-part documentary entitled “Als der Osten noch Heimat war”—I think that translates to “When the east was still home.” I got her started, in particular, on part 3—about West Prussia—when I left her just a few minutes ago. She’s pretty excited.
Teile des heutigen Westpolen waren früher deutsche Regionen: Pommern und Schlesien gehörten bis 1945 zum Deutschen Reich, Westpreußen wurde nach dem Ersten Weltkrieg polnisch, behielt aber eine deutsche Minderheit. -- Der dreiteilige Film berichtet vom Alltag in diesen Regionen zwischen dem Ersten Weltkrieg und dem Beginn von Flucht und Vertreibung.
[My translation: Parts of today's western Poland were formerly German regions: from after WW I until 1945, Pomerania and Silesia belonged to the German Empire; West Prussia was Polish, but retained a German minority. –This three-part documentary presents the stress of everyday life in these regions between WW I and the beginning of flight and expulsion at the end of WW II.]
[When the east was still home, Pomeranian part (1/3)]
|Pre-war map; in case you are unfamiliar with this bit of history: much of what had been eastern Germany became Poland (and even Russia) at the end of the war (e.g., consider the fate of Königsberg)|
• Als der Osten noch Heimat war - Schlesien Teil 2/3
[When the east was still home, Silesian part (2/3)]
[When the east was still home, Silesian part (2/3)]
• Als der Osten noch Heimat war - Westpreußen Teil 3/3
[When the east was still home, West Prussian part (3/3)]
[When the east was still home, West Prussian part (3/3)]
…Edith’s mother stubbornly refused to abandon her home, protesting, repeatedly, that she had worked too long and hard on it simply to abandon it. The soldiers tried to tell her what the Russian troops would do to women, even to little girls, but she wouldn’t listen. Finally, the soldiers commanded: “Take the two girls and leave here, now!” And so, on the 28th of February 1945—Edith recites the date without hesitation—Edith, her “mother,” and her sister, along with several relatives, abandoned their fine home….
• Ghost Ship Found (National Geographic)
[During their flight west, at one point, Edith and her group had to choose between train or ship. As it turns out, it was a good thing they chose the train:]
The three largest marine disasters in history were the 1945 Baltic losses of Wilhelm Gustloff, Goya, and Steuben [all ships carrying German & Polish refugees from the Soviet advance, all sunk by Russian submarines]. But how many people were on these ships? Approximately 5,200 people were on Steuben when it set sail on February 9, according to our article, and 4,500 people died when the ship sank….
Counterbalance that with historian Heinz Schön, who claims that a smaller total is accurate. … Since 659 survivors were counted after Steuben sank, according to Schön, 3,608 died when the ship went down.
Let's compare that to the sinking of Wilhelm Gustloff on January 30, 1945. The Gustloff's records cite 918 naval officers and men, 173 crew, 373 women's naval auxiliary, 162 wounded, and 4,424 refugees, for a total of 6,050 people. In 1980 a trio of British journalists studied the tragedy and reported an estimated 7,000 to 8,000 deaths on board Gustloff. But Schön, a survivor of the Gustloff tragedy, has revised the Gustloff numbers in his more recent works, based on an analysis of the movement of people conducted by a documentary film company. "When it sank," Schön wrote to me, "there were 10,582 passengers on board. 8,956 were refugees, mainly women and children. 9,343 died when the ship sank (it took 62 minutes after the torpedo attack) and 1,239 survived."
And Goya? One of the more reliable reports says 7,000 refugees and wounded soldiers were on board when it departed Hela, near Danzig. When Goya was hit by Soviet torpedoes and sank in four minutes, all except 183 survivors went down with the ship…. —David W. Wooddell
Manny: “I remember when my grandfather Karl Bauer was talking loosely with his friends. He’d always be saying terrible things about the Nazis, about Hitler. He turned to me and said, “You’d better not repeat any of this, or I’ll be dead and you’ll regret it.”....
. . . How was school? Manny: “I had very little schooling because of the constant bombing and strafing, etc. Also, I volunteered to work a hoist, part of the effort to dig out the side of the sandstone hills to create shelters. We built those things ourselves.”
There’d be bombing and even fighters coming down to shoot at us. The first bombing was in the nighttime, the British. Later, the Americans bombed in daylight. At night, the “black angel” would come. Parachutes with burning magnesium or something. Those things would allow the bombers to see their targets.”
The fighters would accompany the bombers? “Yes. They’d sometimes come in and strafe people. The French ‘redtails’—American fighter planes painted red in back, flown by the French—they came separately just to strafe and bomb civilians.
One time, a bomb went off. I could see the plane as a profile from the front. The wing was just a line.... There was this attack, and I managed not to get hurt, but there was someone on a bike just four feet from me. He was just pulp smashed against a wall. The bomb must have gone off just above ground, hitting a steel pole. This guy on the bike must have been on emergency leave. He was just about to get off the bike. Then he was just mush. The two ladies from the store came out with newspapers and covered him.” . . .
“This stuff—the bombing and strafing—was nearly daily near the end. You could hear the hum before they arrived. So, often, there was no school. . . .
“When [the Allied soldiers] first came, we were in the bunkers in the dark. A Frenchman came over, looked down. Saw all these dirty, unwashed civilians. They pretty much left us alone. Then the Americans came in. They were the ones who went house to house, looking for something to steal. They loved to take radios or firearms. Anything they could send home. We’d take tubes out of our radios so the Americans wouldn’t steal them”….
On [the ship] Anna Salen, sailing to Canada, from Bremerhaven, October 7, 1951.
Edith turned 18 on the boat, on the 13th.
Manny: “When we were off the coast of Labrador, we saw beautiful northern lights. Amazing, colorful. Then Newfoundland. We landed in Quebec City on the 17th. We were supposed to land in Halifax, but because the bow on our ship was cracking open, we had to reroute to Quebec City. We were processed as new immigrants. We were taken on a train way west to Ajax in Ontario (it's on the north coast of the lake)."
“They didn’t give me my money [in Ajax, during processing?],” says Edith. “They were supposed to give you $25. You had to buy the $25 in Germany. Then they’d convert it to Canadian money and give it back when you got to Canada. They didn’t give me my money. Happened to some other people too. Some screw-up. Luckily, I had some of my own money.
“But then some German fellow took that….”
[My grandfather, Otto Bauer, served with Rommel in North Africa. Later, he was stationed in Italy, fighting the British. There, he was eventually captured by the British, who put him to a POW camp in North Africa, where he remained for years, until 1947.]
...These are photographs of Otto and his colleagues at a British POW camp (for German GIs) in Egypt. The war (with Germany) ended in May of 1945. Otto was not released from the POW camp until two years later: May of 1947. (See documents below.)
I did some checking, it was not uncommon for German POWs to be released from Egyptian camps as late as 1948. Why so late? That's not clear.
The story I have always been told is that prisoners in the camp were subjected to very bad conditions that killed many of them and that Otto was only released (as early as he was) because he was gravely ill….
…This document suggests that Otto suffered from a stomach ailment, for which he was treated. The story is that, in Egypt, he suffered from dysentery, which caused permanent damage. Further, the policy at the camp was that, when POWs appeared to be dying, they were immediately sent home, and that is why Otto was sent home.
In fact, for the rest of his life, Otto received benefits based on his being disabled, as documents attest....
...When the time came, young Edith [Hänfler] went to the nearby town of Neustettin, which had a hospital. Meanwhile, Frederic was a [French] POW in Berlin, but he was determined to be with his love. When Edith gave birth to the child—she insisted that she didn’t know who the father was—Frederic declared that he would steal himself to Neustettin by train.
Naturally, this was a lunatic notion, but Frederic would not be dissuaded, and so brother Hänfler (reluctantly, I hope) helped Frederic with operation Loony Lover: smuggling this non-German-speaking Frenchman from Berlin all the way to Bärwalde and back without alerting the authorities. Edith [my mom] remembers that a great effort was made to dress Frederic properly for the trip. The plan involved his saying nothing, dressing well, and hiding in the train’s restroom. It was all very French….
So, on the 28th of February, 1944, Peter was born and was handed over to Else, who was thrilled. The arrangement was decidedly unofficial, off the books.
The great German flight to the west—in response to the dreaded Soviet invasion—occurred exactly one year later. Martha, Edith [my mom], Else (Georg had died), and little Peter managed to escape by train, ending up in the Munster area south of Hamburg.
Meanwhile, Frederic somehow ended up back in France. He and his family made great efforts to locate Edith and Peter, and, pretty soon, Edith and Frederic were reunited, in France, where they married. They wanted to retrieve their son, Peter, who, of course, was being raised by Else.
. . .
… Then, suddenly, it became clear that Else was suicidal. Over a period of days, she attempted suicide, unsuccessfully.
It was during these tense “suicidal” days that Sierra, riding her bike to work one morning, stopped by Else’s place to check in on her. (Peter was in the care of others.) Sierra, who would have been sixteen or seventeen, called out to Else, but there was no answer. Sierra used her key to open the door. Everything was still; the place was immaculate, as always. There was a bedroom to the left. The door was closed. She entered it. Else was hanging, motionless, from the curtain rod, her face draped.
It was obvious what had happened.
Sierra was horrified. She does not recall what she did then. After a time, she realized that she had to get help, but there was no phone. Sierra managed to ride her bike to the office, which was perhaps a quarter mile away. From there, she called her boyfriend, a cop. He said he would get right over there (evidently, all relevant personnel were elsewhere than Bärwalde). Sierra then returned to Else’s. She stayed downstairs, in the basement. Finally, after a half hour or so, her cop boyfriend arrived, but he “brought everyone”: the usual officials and workers for such circumstances. It was overwhelming.
Until just a few days earlier, no one had thought of Else as someone who might commit suicide. But she had kept the fact of Peter’s imminent departure from everyone. Even during the few days after Else’s death, no one understood what had motivated Else’s action....
As I explained previously, Edith remembers that Rosengarten, the Stettin street where she lived each summer from about 1937 until perhaps 1945, had a significant Jewish population. Indeed, many shops revealed in old photographs of Rosengarten Strasse appear to be Jewish.
I've done some reading about the plight of Jews in Stettin, and, as it turns out, the events of Kristallnacht occurred very near Rosengarten….
My late grandfather, Otto, was a friend of an aircraft designer and manufacturer named Hanns Klemm (See Wikipedia.) Opa, a wood worker, was with the R&D unit (Klemm was a great believer in wood construction and made significant contributions to wood construction and glue for aircraft). Like my grandfather, who was a communist, Herr Klemm badmouthed the Nazis, and that finally got him into trouble. I do believe he was arrested toward the end of the war. I seem to recall coming across an article about Herr Klemm's fate. I'll try to dig it up….
. . .
In june 1943 Hanns Klemm dared the unimaginable, he resigned from the NSDAP [the Nazi Party]. The reason he gave on 26th May 1943 was: "I consider my membership of the NSDAP to be no longer compatible with my belonging to the Christian community". [Note: this was about the time that my grandfather was secreted to the Wehrmacht, keeping him out of the reach of the authorities.]….
…Edith reminded me that many Jews were among the powerful and important people of their town [Bärwalde]. This elite—Nazis, Jews—comprised a network of friends.
For some reason, the fate of Jews was quite different in Bärwalde than in other places. There still were Jews living and working in Bärwalde into 1944, though there was increasing reason to worry, and by late 1944, all local Jews had left to Switzerland and perhaps other places for their own safety.
Edith recalled one Jewish store closing. She was there for the going away party. She was all dressed up and people fussed over her. This would have been in 1943 or even 1944. (You’ll recall that a Jewish friend gave Edith [well, Martha] a beautifully crafted piece of cloth in the form of a Star of David for Edith’s baptism.)
Edith says that she cannot recall a case in which Jews were actually rounded up and taken away in Bärwalde. They all left, but they did so on their own accord, though anticipated worsening conditions were the reason for their departure.
Otto [Hänfler, Edith’s beloved step-father] made no effort to hide or disguise his political views, which were harsh toward the Nazis and otherwise unacceptable. His friends—including Nazis—would tell him, “Otto, dial it back. We won’t be able to protect you forever!” But he never did that. He was loudly opinionated to the very end (in 1941)….