Marianne Gieraths, Maiden Name: Kriesner aged 14 in March of 1945
Zoppot/Free City of Danzig Frantzius Strasse
Time: Evening on March 23, 1945
Place: World renowned Baltic Sea-side Resort Zoppot/Danzig
For several weeks had we been cooped-up in our Air-raid shelter in our house, several families, about 50 people, a variety of neighbors from across the street, or even those from further afield had kept us company because they did not have any other shelter, any adequate protection, sleeping facilities, electricity, food or water in their own homes.
Life was not easy for the many women, children and young girls in the last few chaotic months, as they had to cope with ever worsening war-situation on their own, with no fit and able men around to help, comfort and assist us.
The cruel war had claimed them and so we felt very vulnerable as we were facing the immediate danger of Soviet-Russian invasion. The daily air raids and ever closer and louder rumble of the Russian war-machine, bombarding us.
Gruesome stories we had heard about the Communists, how they had behaved towards hapless refugees from East-Prussia.
A never ending stream of those hundreds of thousands of panic stricken, unfortunate people had poured into the territory of the Free City of Danzig, now under German military rule.
The Germans had warned us about the cruelty of the Red Army ever since the little village of Nemmersdorf in East-Prussia had changed hands several times in the autumn of 1944. When Nemmersdorf was finally recaptured before Christmas of 1944, there was more than ample evidence of the bestiality of the Soviets. They had nailed, in crucified fashion, innocent children and women to barn-doors and the like, had ripped their guts out and evidently had committed all kinds of other atrocities, had not only raped but had committed bestial acts of sodomy on all of the victims. The peasant male inhabitants of that tiny village in particular had received most cruel, unspeakable treatment from the Soviets, none of them had survived, and as to children and infants, they had their heads smashed in against brick walls, etc.
We’d have liked to believe it was only Nazi film-propaganda by the German authorities, but deep down in our hearts however we knew, by some sixth sense that it was no idle propaganda but very true. We knew then that we might be in for a very hard time if the Soviets would manage to get us alive.
Many people had left our town already, anyone who had the foresight, the connection or a relative, a destination in the west of Germany. They had left, out of fear for the Communist menace!
The feeling was that it would be much better, wise and more prudent to surrender to the mercy of any of the western, more civilized powers, than the communists.
Our grandfather (72) – on my father’s side, was the patriarch, our father somewhere on the Russian front, so he was in charge. Our father, a Pacifist through and through, as well as my 15 year old elder brother, had been forced into war-service by the Germans. He had urged us never to leave the beloved home-soil.
“You cannot replant an old tree,” Grandfather used to say! “And besides, I am too old, have a bad leg and cannot just abandon the family property and the house, just because the Russians are coming! After all, we have done nothing wrong, have therefore nothing to fear, not from the Soviets, or from the Poles. Furthermore we are still citizens of the Free City of Danzig, according to international law, and therefore still under the protection of the Geneva League of Nations.
Russians and Poles are human beings, just like us, they will never harm us. Especially not us; we are Catholics, anti-Fascists and Pacifists.” That was that! The issue was settled!
Grandfather had assured us that nobody was going to harm us! Where could we have gone anyway? Join the desperate refugees clogging all roads to the west? We had relatives or friends in the west, except around Danzig.
As it turned out however, Grandfather was dead wrong with his prediction, his assessment of the situation and his confidence as to the humanity and fairness of the Soviets and Poles! But who was to know the brutal destiny awaiting all of us. Nobody did. The horrors that followed would have been beyond any dreams.
And so it came to pass that we stayed in our hometown, in our houses, looking after our houses and property, Grandfather on his, property and we in our house, miles apart, and no communication! We therefore did not join the mad rush, the panic of the refugee’s from East-Prussia, passing through, nor did we join our own people from Zoppot/Danzig, trying to escape, to save the naked life.
We should have known better, but we loved our homeland, our town, so we stayed, regardless, against better judgement and common sense. With fear in our hearts, but we stayed put! We should have known better, should not have listened to our patriarch, but with no able man to help us, it was just too much for mother, burdened by 3 children. So we stayed, nevertheless. What a mistake that one was. The biggest mistake in our lives! But who was to know? It was a habit in our house to listen to foreign radio broadcast, – listening to enemy propaganda was strictly forbidden by law, was punishable by penalty of death, – we knew, therefore, that the front, the war was coming closer and closer. This was also confirmed by daily German War accounts. We then had to take most seriously a call by the Soviet poet Ilya Ehrenburg, addressed to the Red Army;
“The Soviet Soldier’s duty was to smash and kill all Nazis.
” Tot den Deutschen Okkupaten!” Death to the German Occupants! And the victorious Soviet soldier was under direct order to break the spirit and dignity of all arrogant Germans, the German Woman in particular, only total victory would do, therefore, the German Frau would have to pay the price. ‘Rape’ therefore was the Order of the Day! Rape was the weapon! Rape, Rape, Rape, regardless of age, the arrogant German women was free to be taken, free to be raped. No mercy was to be given!
Death to the German Occupants!”
That’s how the broadcast always ended! We knew what to expect!
On March 23, 1945 then, a gray, but otherwise beautiful day, towards the evening, when the noise of the constant howling of the Stalin Organ and other Artillery barrages had stopped and an eerie silence had descended over our charming town; I ventured out, poked my nose out of the Air-raid-shelter because it had been very stifling under-ground, and as somebody had spread the rumor that somewhere, food and milk was available.
Hungry as I was I had to try, had to check it out.
We all were hungry, very, very hungry, for too long already had we lived on a few calories per day had survived a hand to mouth existence for the last few months, our belts we had tightened to the last notch already.
“Don’t go, child”, my mother was saying, trying to stop me. But not even fear could stop me; I wanted to have something to eat. And I wanted to breathe some fresh air, to escape the claustrophobic conditions in our cellar, full of crying, near hysterical women and children.
We had been cooped-up for far too long in our cellar hideout. Gun fire and daily air-raids had driven us underground
The terrible howl of “Stalin Organs” had demoralized us, had frightened us out of our wits. Low flying enemy aircraft’s also had given us the rest, had terrorized us to such an extent that we did not dare to poke our noses outside as they were shooting indiscriminately at anything.
When I got out and looked around, up to the sky first; there was no Aircraft in sight, no noise of any gun fire, no missiles or any other racket, so off I went, into the unknown, the dangerous outside world, not knowing what to expect.
The outside world was an immediate shock; the street we lived on was under water. Water-hydrants had been opened and in places the water was above my knees. What was coming next?
I was to find out, very soon. Had not gone very far, about 250 meters to the bottom of upper Zoppot, to Haffner Strasse.
That was when I saw them, a group of Soldiers, definitely Soldiers.
The colour of the uniform I could not quite make out, dark-brownish. ‘They must be ours, must be our Volksturm, coming down the hill, nothing to worry anymore,’ so I thought, and started to move towards them.
‘Urrah, Urrah,’ I suddenly heard them shouting; ‘Oh my dear God’ they are the Soviets,’ and then I panicked. Run, run, I did, and how! How fast did I fly? If there was any water, I didn’t feel it, did not feel anything, nothing could slow me down, I only heard the bullets whizzing past my head. How I made my way into our shelter, how fast, I do not know, I was so terrified and shaken.
“The Russians are coming, Ivan, Ivan Ivanovich, is coming, the Soviets, the Communists are here”! I was shouting hysterically to all the frightened people hidden in the Air-raid-shelter, causing panic and consternation. They must have thought me completely out of my mind, crazy, didn’t believe me, I was just too hysterical and would not calm down.
Screaming my head off had scared the daylights out of everybody and that was enough to stupefy, panic and frighten them all.
It didn’t take very long, when it was dark, the face of a devil; an Asian, out of outer Mongolia?, appeared in our dark hideout.
We let out an almighty scream and yell, and did not stop to cry out loud in anguish.
Our cries and screams must have agitated the Victors, they started to shoot at once spraying us with bullets indiscriminately, killing and wounding several of us. If anything our screaming got louder.
The commotion was indescribable, all the noise and screams we gave off must have been loud enough to wake up the dead.
And then they stormed the cellar, hordes and hordes of them.
Dirty, drunk and disorderly they were, the Asians (from Khazakstan as we found out later), looking around, and the very first words they uttered was: “Frau, komm, Frau, komm!” We knew then that the Germans had told us no lies. Knew that we were in for the slaughter, for rape, slaughter and terrible assault by the primitives.
Frau, however put up a struggle, did not want to come, but soon found out what the savages had in mind.
My mother, who could speak Polish adequately, and, therefore, a little Russian, somehow tried to save me from the worst by pointing out that I was only skin and bone, a skinny, frail and undernourished and underdeveloped kid of just 14 years of age.
She was brutally pushed aside, got a rifle butt into her ribs.
Our screaming, now quite hysterical, had reached a high pitch, the stinking Soldiers seemed to get wild, became more and more vicious, brutal and impatient.
” Frau komm, Frau komm” so they were shouting, and as no Frau was willing to come, they shot Frau Mueller, who was yelling loudest, smack between the eyes.
All hell broke loose and that was the signal for the orgy to begin in earnest. The just grabbed us by the hairs, one by one, dragged us out of the cellar, or just fell over us like wild beasts.
Nothing could stop them. Before our eyes they picked on very the young first, picked on toddlers, even, the younger, the better.
Resistance was out of the question, they made that abundantly clear, they just shot a mother trying to defend her 10 year old daughter like a tigress, dead.
And they threatened to keep on shooting anyone resisting. There was no escape, such was the naked terror, hell on earth it was, a devilish nightmare.
Frau. komm, Frau, komm, will forever be in our ears. There were just too many of them, and they kept on coming, more and more came, in ever more and greater numbers. The glorious Victors had declared war on us innocents!
‘Frau komm’, was the cry, Frau, and the young child, was dragged into a dark corner, dragged outside, raped on the spot. Wild animals, the scum of the earth, the primitives, had descended onto us, the very devil had his evil pleasure.
A disgusting nightmare it was, a disgraceful slaughter.
It was just too much to witness unfortunate mothers, fighting for the honour of their daughters, getting tied up with their own clothing and being forced to watch in horror, the rape of their daughters. If that was not enough, the mothers got raped afterwards as well, and in one case, because she kept on struggling and crying, the animals killed her.
And, on and on it went, all night, the raping did not stop, did not stop until the early hours of the morning.
It was a scene out of damnation, out of Dante’s inferno.
Nothing did stop them as apparently they had the license to do what ever they wanted to do with us, poor creatures.
Polish mob and militia had joined the Soviets during that night. Whereas the Asians were brutal and murderous, the Poles out did them by far.
They would beat us, rape us, insult us, and then spit on us.
Names they would call us; Nazi Schwein, Nazi Sau, Deutsche Hure.
In the Polish language, the Polish mob would call us Kurwa, Kurwa! If we dared as much to protest, they would beat us, green and blue! And they gave orders that none of us Nazi pigs were to enter our private home anymore! Or else!
The purpose of the inhumane order was to keep us handy and locked up for more rapes.
Sure enough, they all came back, night after night, the Asians. The Poles, to be sure of, would join, in ever greater numbers they came, and as the Russians had to move on eventually, or were restricted by their leadership, the Polish mob then totally took over, and continued to treat us worse than one would treat an animal, not just by night, but by day, after day, after day. Bad enough what happened to us in our air-raid-shelter, but my friends and schoolmates had to tell me afterwards more gruesome stories. How they had suffered humiliation, my very good friend Gisela got raped; up to 30 times in the first night, in the most violent fashion imaginable, not just by one, but by many, by the multitude. And how the mass-orgies continued, day and night. Just as in our experience, the whole of Asia had come to punish and humiliate us, descend on us, with all of their relatives.
Whereas the Soviet Soldier would be primitive, brutal and aggressive in satisfying his sexual appetite, the Pole on the other hand would be devious, bestial, depraved, vicious, corrupt and perverted. And the Pole would show no mercy to his victim, but abuse and insult the poor victim in the most vicious manner after the animal act.
Apart from the animal desire, all of them; Russians and Poles, both unclean, both filthy; brought with them all kinds of illness and diseases, sexual diseases in particular.
And vermin of all kinds, the victors had to give away: Lice, Bedbugs, and fleas!
Plenty of Lice; all kinds of lice, head-lice, body-lice and genital lice, galore! We had never before experienced any lice or flies, but the primitive conquerors had given their culture to us, for free! After the first encounter with our “Liberators,” I had to be hidden. So they hid me, in the darkest corner of the cellar, under the coals, and placed a bathtub over the coals, just to make sure that nobody would detect me.
Claustrophobia gripped me, for hours on end I had to be hidden, in solitary confinement, in prison, in the dark, no light, no food, no water, with precious little or no air.
Even now, more than 50 years thereafter, I cannot go to sleep without the lights on and more often than not do I suffer from ugly nightmares of being discovered in my rat-hole by Soviets and Polish bandits.
Mentally, I am a nervous wreak, have been like this all of my life, very much a disturbed person, suffering from trauma which has left me with the distinct hallmark of a frightened human vegetable.
When I eventually had to come out of my solitary confinement because of hunger, yes hunger drove me out, and thirst, that probably was the worst, I had developed a stutter, a stutter so bad I couldn’t put a sentence together so terrible was my stutter. This condition is still with me, even now, after all those years.
Whenever I feel under stress and times of pressure, I simply cannot speak properly, if ever there is a tight situation, words will fail me, I start to stutter, words will not come out.
“Uri, Uri’ (their version of the German word for watch, which is Uhr) was another cry by the hordes from Khazhakstan.
Any kind of watches they meant and demanded, and most keen they were on any kind of Jewelry or valuables.
If a wedding-ring would not come off the finger quick enough, the Mongols or whatever they were, would not hesitate for a moment to chop off the fingers. Very often it was even the whole of the hand. And as every woman had at least a wedding ring, some had diamonds on their hands, it was a mad tug of war by the greedy animals.
Earrings, they loved, would simply rip them off the ears, could not be bothered to wait for the woman to hand earrings over voluntarily.
The general looting carried out during all the chaos and the rape, was another thing none of us will ever forget, they searched and examined every inch of our bodies.
Among themselves, they displayed a lot of jealousy and envy, would fight each other for every valuable piece found. As to the looting and pilfering that followed, and which went on in our homes and houses, that was more than unbelievable.
They were hungry for virtually everything, valuable or not. When we eventually managed to get into our homes, it looked like a battlefield.
Everything was overturned, everything was thrown about, every wardrobe was empty, they had smashed every drawer, broken and soiled. Soiled by urine and defecation.
It was really no surprise to us to discover that the uncouth and uncivilized victors did not know what an inside toilet with running water was good for. Still, it was a deep and devastating culture shock! To discover that the glorious victors had no dignity at all!
In their ignorance, utter stupidity, or whatever the reason was, they had smashed the toilet bowl.
That explained in part why they had disgustingly urinated onto the walls of every room, and had disseminated feces all over the place, onto the windows and even the ceiling.
But it was the bestial rapes, rapes that forever will be burned into our souls, hearts, and in our conscience.
That we cannot ever forget! Never! From the first moment their demand for females was insatiable.
On and on it went, in front of our eyes, they didn’t bother to hide anything, like beasts they fell over us, over all and every female. In the majority of cases and as the intensity of the Soviet Soldier’s initial sexual assaults, became more and more infrequent, it was the scurrilous Poles carrying on as slave masters. Immediately, and at full blast later, when they had completely taken over full administrative duties over the former Free City of Danzig, and the indigenous Danzig population, the Poles made it clear that nothing short of total subjugation would do. The Poles then set out to prove without any doubt, to be far more bestial than the Soviets could ever be, in every respect.
It was the Polish militia, well aided by the Polish mob, which had much pleasure to add to the weapon of rape, the weapon of terror and humiliation, and that of hunger and starvation, against the defenseless Danzig population. Not only was terror, rape and hunger used to break the spirit and resistance of the females, such terror also affected the rest of the population, the elderly, the sick and the infirmed, everybody. Terror, rape, and hunger are crimes against humanity. That was just what the Poles did, in order to force the Danzig population out of their houses, properties, and eventually out of their homeland.
And to teach them a lesson, a lesson the indigenous people would never forget. That is why they had to be terrorized, to show them that from now on, a different wind was blowing!
Whereas the frontline Soviet Soldier had to move on, was replaced by a more humane type of Russian, and was by order and threat of severe punishment, even by penalty of death; no longer allowed to rape anymore indiscriminately; such order did not apply to any Pole! Polish militia and the Polish mob did not ever care to follow the Russian example. Poland meanwhile had established her own kind of justice and terror in what they called the People’s Republic of Poland. The conquered Danzig civilian population was regarded not only as “fair game,” but also “Outlaws” in their own country, and therefore: “there for the taking without any ransom!” Was there to the pleasure and service of all and every Pole. There to work, slave, to be raped, to be starved, starved to death! There, to be abused, to be punished, spat on, kicked around, kicked by military boots, to be beaten, whipped, exploited, pissed on, and to be robbed, pillaged, intimidated, defrauded, deprived of all necessities of life, by order of Polish Officialdom. And robbing they did, the Poles, on a grand scale, and did not forget to add insult to injury, did not forget to add humiliation by laughing at our helplessness. Worse than slaves that’s how Poles treated us, less than humans. “A different wind was blowing,” that’s how they saw it, and slaves had no rights, no social or human standing whatever.
To completely subjugate us, they used starvation as an additional weapon, denial of food then brought illness and disease, just the right measure to decimate and liquidate us, in line with communist doctrine. The Poles gave us nothing, no food, not even for working, for enforced hard labor, although that was always promised.
We would count ourselves lucky indeed if they gave us a few tablespoons of watery soup or a stone hard crust of bread sometimes! Starvation therefore was the end of all means, no, the Poles did not need any justification, the vermin, the civilian Danzig population, had to be removed from their own and rightful home-soil by any means, by hook or by crook, by any cruel method!
Meanwhile, whilst I was still in hiding, my two brothers, aged eleven and seven were a little luckier with the Soviets.
Indeed the young boys discovered very soon that the Russian had a heart with children and would, more often than not, give food to the children, or protect them against ravages of the more than sadistic Poles.
With a little bit of confidence therefore the boys took the liberty to move around in search of food.
Needless to say; we had no more food in the house, none at all, we had gone without anything for many days.
The boys then did a lot of scavenging and foraging for any scrap of food, anything at all did do, that’s how starved we were.
There is no doubt, the boys, my eleven-year old brother Hans, the adventurer, did save our lives in those days, time and time again, by bringing little bits of eatables, little morsel, from here, there and everywhere! He was an angel, a real wizzard.
They went to the nearby Racecourse (3 km away) and got a few kilos of stinking fish-meal, animal feed to be sure, but mother managed to make fish-patties for us. We didn’t care for the taste, we cared more for a rumbling stomach.
The boys made the pilgrimage to Neufahrwasser, the entrance to the Harbour of Danzig.
There was a sugar-warehouse burnt down. Many others had been there before them, but the dirty syrup that there was, backed to the floor was scrapped off, that was most welcome and had added a few more calories to our meagre and scanty diet.
The trip to Neufahrwasser, some 12 km away all along the beach was not without danger.
The Russians, later, were not too bad anymore in their behavior towards the Danziger, the Poles however became a real menace. They would stop our people at every opportunity, to search them. And if they found any food, anything eatable, anything of value or anything fanciful, anything they liked, anything that could be confiscated, they would do just that, take it and would beat and abuse us in the bargain, jail us or send us to Siberia.
The beach, too, was a very dangerous place. A lot of war material was scattered there, still alive-munitions, hand-grenades and mines, and dead Soldiers and Civilians.
My brothers would play with hand-grenades and munitions more often than not, would even bring them home to show us. Mother would be horrified, that kind of joke she had no time for, but she could not be too hard on the boys, after all they kept us alive with food they found and brought home also.
There on the beach my brother Hans would rescue a broken down bicycle.
He repaired it, and then proudly rode the bicycle down the street, perfectly balanced, free-handed.
A Russian Soldier, much intrigued and much impressed, stopped him and offered my brother a horse in exchange, if he could teach him the same trick, riding the bike without using his hands. The deal was done, and at long last we had something really to eat, had some real meat to feed on at last. A lot of delicious stakes and hamburgers mother cooked, for the rest of us, and all of the neighborhood, everybody came running, and we were just too happy to share our good fortune.
More luck came our way, we found some very old and dried-out cheese, some canned milk, and some rancid margarine in the cellar of a house which was once a dairy-shop and outlet.
Then, somebody had the bright idea to get the bakery going at the other side of our house.
The Baker was still around, Mr. Heidemann, a Gentleman already over 70 years old, but he was sharply watched by Poles because of suspicion of Nazi past. (A Nazi he was not)
With the help of the Russians and Mr. Heidemann we got the Bakery going. Coal there was aplenty, some flour too. The Russians loved it, (the Poles did not) and they would allow my brothers to take away a loaf of bread home every now and then, about twice a week.
Hans came back one day with 2 rabbits. What a joy that was, and it did not spoil our appetite when we had to discover that one of the rabbits was a doe, it was pregnant, we were just too hungry to indulge in any kind of sentimentality.
In our search for food we ventured out further and further afield.
I had come out of my dark prison in the cellar, now that the sexual assaults by the Russians had more or less stopped.
I discovered how lucky we had been in living in the lower part of our Town Zoppot, which had in peace-time a population of some 36,000 Inhabitants.
Looking around, I saw people hanging from branches of trees, a lot of them. That was the job of Poles, of Communists, I was told. Poles had taken revenge on the hapless Danzig population.
Not all of the hanged people were males; females were hanging there too. All Nazis, we were told. How could that be?
What had they done? How did the Poles dare to convict and execute civilians, women at that, without due process of law, without any proof of guilt? By asking the question, it came to our mind, it was the fascistic Polish Republic which had harassed and frightened us Danzigers ever since 1919, and had from 1934 onwards threatened on many occasion to take Danzig by force.
Poland was the Aggressor then.
The Danzig population was only some 408,000 strong in numbers, unarmed, demilitarized and peaceful, whereas Poland had a population of some 35 million and bullying us poor people all the time. In terms of population the Pole outnumbered the Danziger to the tune of 70 to 1.
How treacherous, nasty and perfidious the pious, Catholic Poles could be we learned from experience.
According to eyewitnesses, it was perverted Polish militia, Polish spies and pimps, who had urged the Russians to have an orgy in the Catholic church, the Meeressternkirche.
It was the Poles who had rounded up all the Nurses from the Hospitals, all the Nuns from the local Nunnery, all the “Grey Sisters and other females belonging to various religious Orders and Organizations. They drove them to the church and had some fun! Some blasphemous fun!
In the aisles, on the benches, on the floor, in the pulpit, on the altar, the tabernacle, in every corner of the church, and everywhere else they had some fun. The screams of the victims, the virgins, could be heard throughout the whole Town. The Grey Sisters in particular suffered unbelievable humiliation and abuse, the blasphemous, Catholic Poles leading the way.
For many nights the orgies and subsequent murders continued. The number of corpses carted away by innocents, nobody counted, but there were many, not too many Nuns lived afterwards to tell the gruesome tale.
The sanctuary of the Church, a Catholic Church meant nothing to the Poles, and as far as the Virgin Nuns were concerned; Nitsherwo!
And what they did to the wounded German Soldier in all the Hospitals in Town, Zoppot as a Spa and Sea-side Resort had been chosen as a place for recuperation, had all the posh Hotels converted into Hospitals, where more than 10,000 wounded Germans had a bed, is another story, a sordid story if ever there was one. Fact is that not one wounded German Soldier did survive.
And as to the wanton destruction of the beautiful and medieval City of Danzig, which was deliberately burnt down after war-hostilities had come to an end;
Soviet Air-planes had dumped propaganda leaflets onto the City of Danzig on March 24, 1945, one day after Zoppot, our Town fell into the hand of the Soviets. In the propaganda, Marshal Rokossovski had been asking for total and unconditional surrender of the Garrison.
Lives and property of the Soldiers and that of the civilian population was to be spared and guaranteed by the Soviet Marshal.
This did not happen, the Soviets never did keep their word, and although the City of Danzig fell into Russian hand on Good Friday, March 30, after a short struggle, damaged but more or less intact, the civilian population suffered immediately under the brutal assault by the Red Army.
After the capture of the city, apparently in an attempt to drive the civilian population out in the open, to deprive them of any kind of shelter and protection they set the city on fire deliberately!
Drunken Soviet Soldiers, supported by Polish militia and other Polish Bandits, systematically started to set fire to the ancient City, from every corner, burning the City down! The fire raged for many days and consumed 95% of the City of Danzig.
The burning down of Danzig was witnessed by my brothers, witnessed also by other people as well, from the roof of our house, which is only 8 km away in a straight line, using binoculars! We still had binoculars then, Poles stole them afterwards!
The witnesses, still alive today, will swear to the date in history and that there were no war-related noises coming out of Danzig anymore at that time.
Polish Administration forced us to work.
Orders went out to every citizen of age 14 to 80 years of age for slave labour, to clear up the war damage and other dirty work.
Already from the beginning of April of 1945 was a Polish Administration in charge and this Administration created laws.
Laws to subjugate and humiliate us, the indigenous Danzig population.
They were asking us to opt for Polish nationality, or else we would not get any food.
This we refused, in spite of our state of starvation, there were not many of our people prepared to kow-tow before the Polish bastards.
The Poles reacted immediately, turned their newly created laws against us, they did let us know, that from now on, no mercy would be given. From the Poles therefore, we got nothing and did not expect anything but violence and chicanery! Indeed, the Polish Administrators had made it their policy from the start not to give any food-rations. This did apply to any German speaking person, working or not, who had not signed up to belong to the communist Polish State. Food was from thereafter only to be had for money, not for Reichsmark but for the Zloty, the new Polish currency. And Zloty’s one could only get for working, but did the bastards pay us for our slavery? Not at all! Not even for a14 -16hr day of back-breaking pick & shovel job, was rewarded with any Polish Zloty!
Consequently there was widespread starvation affecting every one, the old and infirm, and the very young, the babies, in particular.
In this more than miserable situation more and more people resorted to taking their own lives!
There was no way out, starve to death or seek redemption by way of self-mutilation.
Whilst I was still sweating it out in my dark prison, ever so fearful of betrayal, to be caught and fearfully punished, mother was first to be called up for hard labour.
And what a job she had to do. Stealing and robbing, recovering the Poles called it; of property in houses belonging to our compatriots whom the Poles had thrown out of their houses.
Everything of value was to be recovered; meaning all the contents of the houses.
Such items then found their way onto the black market or finished up deep into Russia or into the hands of Russian and Polish Apparatschiks. By the truck-load it went, never to be seen again.
Valuable items like Antiques, Piano’s, Grandfather clocks, Silver Cutlery and other Jewelry, Furniture, Carpets, you name it, they made us steal it, cleaned out the Villas, Mansions, Houses, Hotels, Apartments, out of every nook and cranny.
For the participation in this disgusting, un-holy robbery, mother received a kind of watery soup daily, and a small piece of bread.
That piece of bread however was often taken away, on many occasions by Polish guards, almost as soon as it was given to her.
This kind of sadistic trick was played on others too by the Poles, such was their wickedness, their perversion, they did that on purpose and had pleasure even watching the people go hungry.
When mother returned from her hard and long hours work then, late in the evening, she was most depressed and crying. Depressed about the thieving she was forced to do, and down-hearted, because she had nothing to give us in way of food.
Clearly if it would not have been for our two boys providing us with a few little morsels, we would have gone the way of the others, to a mass-grave, very quickly.
In this situation I had to gather up enough courage to face the cruel outside world, had to come out of my prison.
By now we were allowed to go back to our domicile, to clear up the horrendous mess the victors had left behind.
Safe, however, we were not anymore and thereafter were under obligation to leave all doors unlocked, for Poles and Soviets to walk in unannounced, at any time and opportunity.
I had a new hideout assigned to me; behind the massive Kitchen Cupboard which had been arranged to form a triangle space for me.
There I had to spend the nights, a hell of an improvement it was compared to the dark solitary and claustrophobic cellar confinement where I had dwelled the last few weeks, it was heaven!
But now the time had come for me to go to work for the Poles had been snooping around, had become very suspicious.
Slave labour had become compulsory for every one under Polish law, there was no exception; only the boys had still some freedom to move and roam around. But people like my grandfather, had to slave under Polish tyranny for a handful of calories per day, and had to fight for that little bit if they wanted to keep it. To keep that little bit of hard earned food however, was not always possible as the Poles had their own devious ways to steal the last little breadcrumb out of the mouth of the hungry Danzig population.
At 7 o’clock sharp, every morning, we had to be at work, wherever the location, whatever the job, whatever the weather.
Everyone had a number, and there was a roll call every morning, midday and evening, military style.
Failure to report was immediately punished by flogging or worse. They had their own way to humiliate us at every opportunity, the bastards.
The tools of trade we had to supply ourselves and often we had to guess what the tool of the day would be.
If we made a mistake, if we guessed wrongly or if we could or would not turn up with tools because we did not have any, they would hit us, would abuse us in the most profane manner, for breaking the Polish law.
But we were lucky in comparison to our more unfortunate counterparts from the City of Danzig, they had no shelter at all.
Most of them had to vegetate in the infamous Concentation Camp Narvik, or being deported to Poland or behind the Ural Mountains, deep in Russia or somewhere in Khazakstan. We heard gruesome tales of hunger, diseases, and dying daily.
People from Danzig came to Zoppot in search of a little scrap of food. The unfortunate (or fortunate?) would sometimes expire before our eyes, but not before telling us about the fate of their friends and relatives dying or had died already like flies, by the thousands.
Yet the Poles would make those people, those skeletons, work, and would punish them, for every imaginable little trespass, provoked!
A typical example of Polish brutality is the case of my elder brother’s friend. Franz Plenert, was his name. Franz, just16 years of age had deserted from the Germans, to be with his family in time of need, in difficult times.
His Sister, Gisela, (15) my very good friend and school mate, a most beautiful girl, was awfully raped by the Russians, and by the Poles so many times that the poor kid was out of her mind.
Franz then ran foul of the Poles, he disobeyed orders. Therefore, in his own backyard, the Poles forced him to dig his own grave, by kicking him constantly, and then they executed him, in the neck. Then, his sister had to bury him in the grave he dug!
For all her trouble, Gisela, was to suffer further humiliation of rape by several perverted Poles, after her ordeal of having to cover her brother in the backyard grave. She was marked for the rest of her life after that experience. The Poles then used his fate as a warning to anyone disobeying Polish Orders.
To make our misery complete, the appalling hunger and the widespread starvation, and as people were weakened by hunger and depravation; diseases broke out and spread like wild-fire. The diseases, like dysentery, Typhoid, typhus, and even cholera, could be traced to the general weak physical condition of the people; to the many lice, bed bugs fleas and other vermin the noble conquerors had passed on to us as a gift.
All around us people dropped dead like flies; that’s how they died, the great reaper had a great harvest.
The dead however could not be buried, the Polish clergy and the Polish authorities would not allow any decent burial of any German speaking person, our countrymen, women and children.
With temperatures rising, we had to bury them in make shift graves, without any coffins.
Unbelievable as it might sound, but the attitude of communists, but Catholic authorities after all, and the pious, Catholic Polish clergy was something else. They just did not care about hygiene, let alone humanity, could not, or would not give a damn. Would not allow any sacraments, any burial rituals, to the fellow Danzig Catholic. Nor would they allow the burial of any Danziger on proper cemeteries. That was ” Holy Polish soil,” reserved for Poles only!
That kind of attitude was nothing short of criminal neglect, appalling to the extreme, it was quite shocking to experience the Polish clergy to be so cruel, and spineless (the Danzig population was mixed, half Protestant, half Catholic).
Yet they (the Polish clergy, emerging from nowhere) had taken possession of all the Churches, of all the religious facilities, the Protestant Churches, as well as the Catholic institutions, had expelled even the Bishops and Priests because of the Danzig origin and their German culture. Ruthlessly the Polish clergy had converted the Protestant churches and other institutions including cemeteries immediately for their own purposes, the Danzig congregation thus, had no more God to worship to! Not that they wanted to, but cursing the Polish God in Church would have been a good relief.
During this time there was a dramatic incident involving our baker, Mr. Heidemann. The Poles had denounced him to the Russian military.
They called my mother in the evening for investigation and to interpret on behalf of that old Gentleman.
Njemjez or Polacki ?, the Russian was asking my mother.
So, mother, very frightened, pretended not to understand German, only Danzig dialect and a bit of Polish and Russian.
Njet Polacki, was the answer.
Somehow he then was satisfied with her German origin but he wanted to know if the Master-Baker, Mr. Heidemann was a Nazi.
When Mother stated that Mr. Heidemann was a good man, never a Nazi, the Russian Officer got angry, got out his Nagan Revolver and poked it into Mother’s chest.
“Tell the truth, Pravda, in Russian. You are a Capitalist! All of you are Capitalists.”
It was a dramatic moment, poor Mother, the Russian did not believe her word spoken in defense of Mr. Heidemann, but he let her go without expressing his anger furthermore. As to old Mr. Heidemann, they took him away!
We never heard of him anymore, in all probability, they might have taken him to Siberia. We often wondered why the Poles had denounced the poor baker, but it was typical of the paranoia, Poles and the Soviets alike; it needed only some kind of provocation to declare any one of us as subversive and as Capitalist.
Every one of us was a Capitalist and therefore an enemy of the people, and Capitalists had to be liquidated!
That was what Tovarich Stalin had told them, that all Germans are Capitalists.
There was another typical act of craziness and paranoia we had to witness; for their red flags, Poland; red and white, the Soviet Union; red with hammer and sickle; they were looking for suitable material.
So, they hit upon the idea of collecting all the feather-bed inlets. Although not quite the right red colour, but deemed near enough!
But was to be done with all the feathers? And so it happened that in the middle of summer our part of Zoppot, our part of town, was suddenly transformed into a winter wonderland. Feathers were flying everywhere, it was a scene out of a fairy tale. We stood there in wonderment, marveled at the absolute madness, the insanity of the Communist.
It was quite a non-violent show, weird as it was, crazy as it was, we had lost our warm bed-covers, but it was summer and it was the first non violent experience we had encountered for a long time.
All of our other experiences were nothing to laugh about, were less funny, less peculiar!
And then, in all that madness, in all of our despair, a little luck came along. Mother had managed to get a job! A job as a kitchen hand in a Russian hospital, nearby! Within walking distance!
This hospital, a former place for secondary education for girls, and had existed as a hospital for German Soldier before the Russians took it over; had its own story of war-atrocities to tell.
It had been home to some 2,000 wounded German Soldiers since 1943, but the wounded Germans had to make room for the wounded Russians and Poles. None of the wounded seems to have survived when the Soviets came. They were shot in the wounded state, in their beds, or thrown out of the windows.
By order of Stalin, no Prisoners were taken! Such orders were applied to all the hospitals in Danzig, Langfuhr, Oliva, and elsewhere.
It must have been quite a bloodbath as there were at least 15,000 wounded Germans in all the hospitals within the territory of the former Free City of Danzig.
According to Polish sources; in the “Technische Hochschule” of Langfuhr, (Academy, converted into a hospital) 800 corpses were recovered. The Poles blame the Russians and are now eager to wash their hands of all the blood spilled, but, it is undeniable that the Poles had a hand in it, too.
Mother’s kitchen job in that hospital was directly supervised by a Russian Sargent, an elderly, very kind and good man. This Russian allowed mother to take home some soup every day. Enough; for the four of us to have at least one warm and decent meal. The wolf was kept from the door, for a while, at least.
It would not have been for the Poles harassing me with by trying to get their pound of flesh out of me, now that I had come out of hiding.
That I had eluded them for so long, for that they wanted to punish me; and they beat me! Severely! And they abused me!
Mother tried her best to pacify them the best she could but the Poles called my mother a German slut, a German pig, and swore that they would transport me to Siberia, just to teach me a lesson and to drum arrogance out of my body.
“Kurwa, Kurwa” they called me, only very hard labour would cure me, the beautiful “Zurka”, and they made it clear that they would take pleasure in shoving their big pricks up my “piesdra mockra.”
Now, I had worked for the bloody Poles already for the last few days but this was a different mob, a mob meaning business, dirty business.
I had to go with them, there was no way out! So, off we went the next morning, on foot, a column of haggard people. Old people and young people, some as old as eighty and above. Some couldn’t walk properly and indeed did not make it to the Railway Station in Langfuhr, some 11 km away.
But the Polish guards drove us on, drove us on to Langfuhr. There we stopped, at the Station, and there we heard the rumour that we would have to walk another 5 km to be transported to farms in the fertile plains of the Danzig Lowlands, some 50 km away, too far to walk. And so it turned out to be, as we later found out, much later, from people, the very few people, who did come back.
And the people who actually did come back had a tale to tell! A tale; of hardship, privation, dirty working conditions, hunger, lice, fleas and bugs, of illness, punishment and No Pay!
I had a feeling, a very bad feeling, sensed the ill-fate awaiting me, and I was looking for an opportunity to sneak away, to escape.
With the guard standing next to me, I pleaded, in my best Polish:
“Please let me go to the Toilet”, he was contemplating, I could see, so I kept on begging, and finally he relented.
A Public toilet it was, many people waiting, it took time, I took my time also. And when I came out, the column was just about to move on.
How lucky! Time to disappear! High time to buzz off!
There was only one thing to do; to run, run, run! Not too soon!
And run I did, did run for my life, crouched down, always looking for cover!
Zigzag, zigzag, zigzag, not ever in a straight line. They discovered me, and started to fire shots in my direction, I heard the awful noise of the bullets whizzing by.
I did not stop for any moment, didn’t catch my breath, my heart was pounding, but with the Polish terror breathing down my neck, I ran myself to exhaustion, but what the heck, my heart was pounding, I was still alive.
Along the railway line I ran, luckily it was elevated a little and provided cover, and then I ran across the fields, direction home, to mother, to safety!
The Poles never caught up with me, and on I went towards the Horse-race track, past the race track and then, home.
But now the game of hide and seek had started in earnest again. Again I had to hide, but to the dark cellar I couldn’t go anymore because the Poles had confiscated all the coal, that cover was blown for good, no more to my bathtub either.
The mighty kitchen-cabinet, 3.5 meters wide, 2.7 meters high, and very heavy, was from now on my prison, just the right place to hide behind.
Neighbors had helped us to set this monster of a cabinet; they had set it across two walls at an angle.
The space behind was big enough to hide me, to settle down and to store a few essentials.
The Poles came looking for me alright, but could not ever find me. For three weeks they came, every day, it was all too easy for the Poles to walk in and out as all the doors had to be kept unlocked at all times, that was the order!
The came to steal, the bastards, steal that little that was left and which we needed desperately to get a few Zloty’s on the Black Market.
The Poles also came to harass us, constantly, to beat us, clobber us, and to abuse us. The situation became more and more dangerous.
Time and time again was my mother prompted, urged to take on Polish nationality. For her own good, for the sake of the children, or so they said!
She refused! Every time she refused! Better be dead than Red!
She had seen the real face of Poland and that was enough for eternity.
Never to be a slave of Poland, that was not to be under any false promises, was not a life she had envisaged for herself and her children.
Time and time again did mother explain to us that we were citizens of the Free City of Danzig, and surely the time would come that the rightful international status of the Free City of Danzig would be restored.
Around that time mother started to write urgent letters of petition to the Vatican, explaining to the Holy Father, the Pope, our plight and the desperate plight of our compatriots.
In her letters to foreign authorities did mother also complain about UNRRA, C.A.R.E. and Caritas Food parcels been given to the Poles, but not one scrap of food to the starving Danziger.
Those Food parcels found their way onto the Polish Black Market. Poles then taunted us to have a sniff at it, or to buy, at much inflated prices.
That, however, was not to be as we did not ever have enough Zlotys to by any goodies, although we had to sell even our last shirts off our backs in order to get a little food into our stomachs.
Mother’s hopes to receive an answer, any kind of answer, or any kind of acknowledgement was always dashed. Nothing came, no reply ever came, least of all from the Vatican!
And as we had seen, Caritas, the Catholic organization was looking after the Black Market very well, but had no heart for us Catholic Danziger.
As for the Americans, mother called them hypocrites and monsters, sadistic people with too much money, people who find pleasure in siding with a communistic Poland, rubbing it into us.
I know that my mother never gave up hope that the outside world would have some sympathy for us innocent people, this in spite of having lost her faith. I also know that she kept on writing letters to the authorities and the Pope, even from East Germany, in 1946, but it was all in vain.
To escape the now daily harassment and open pilfering by the greedy Poles coming into the house at will to take away everything they fancied, – who had almost cleaned us out of everything of value, – and as such my hiding place came more and more dangerous, we then decided to go to my grandfathers place, at least for a while.
There, in Schmierau, 4 km away, things were not quite so hectic, but equally grim, just the same. Grandfather had opted to stay, had taken on Polish citizenship.
A naturalized Pole that he was now, that, however, did not help him in any way! For his living, his existence, he had to work, the Poles made sure of that!
His land-holding, his farm and other property was not his anymore; that belonged to the Polish State, the People’s Republic of Poland. He was also not allowed to work his own land, to seed it or harvest any crop from it. The result was that nothing was sown, nothing was harvested.
In his physical state, suffering from a bad leg, a crooked back and neck, half paralyzed; that was not a good prospect for a man over seventy.
The old man, sick and frail that he was, could not do much physical work, that was not to the liking of Poland. They forced him to work, nevertheless!
The same did apply to his daughters, my aunts. They too, had experienced the whole fury of the Russian and Polish liberation. They too, had suffered humilities and rape, and the rape of their young daughters, by the multitudes. But now they were starving, just like us.
How much grandfather regretted the kind of advice he had given to us to stay on.
He was even sorry for himself, how wrong he had been in thinking that the Soviets and the Poles, the Communists, would behave like any other decent human beings. But it was all too late to cry about mistakes, which had been made, and for having been so naïve!
In Schmierau, my brother Hans found a job milking cows. The very cows belonging to grandfather. No pay for this job, and very little food.
Smart Hans however would find ways and means to divert the milk into his own mouth, sometimes. And he got caught. The Pole then bashed Hans so hard, so blue and green, that Hans would hear the Angles sing for 2 months afterwards. So ended the non-paying job of milking.
Hans, however, was carved out of harder wood, in spite of his injuries this eleven year old boy volunteered to accompany mother to Kokoschken, a place in the former Polish Corridor, about 25 km to walk to, a very long way to go.
Transportation for the expedition, foraging for potatoes, was an old and broken down cart which had to be pushed by hand.
This was quickly repaired, and with our blessing and hopes, mother and brother went, hoping to bring home something to eat!
We were all in a bad way, had resorted to eating weeds of all kinds although the nutritional value of what we gathered from fields and sides of roads was doubtful.
Among the weeds we ate was dandelion. Dandelion as a salad, cooked as a vegetable or have it as tea or coffee. Dandelion roots, (toasted) leaves and All. Awful to taste but hunger would not ask any such sentimental question.
My younger brother Klaus and myself had stayed behind, to keep my aunts and grandfather company.
For seven days we waited, waited and waited, we worried and prayed. No sign and we almost gave up hope.
Early morning of the eighth day they arrived, very tired, very weak but very happy, with a cart full of potatoes.
300 kg of beautiful life-saving potatoes. What a joy that one was!
They had a lot of mishaps, a broken axle, among other trouble.
And had the misfortune of having twice before a load of potatoes, confiscated by merciless Poles, had to try again and again, turn around again in order not to come back empty handed.
As it had turned out, another Pole, this time a kind hearted Pole, this kind man had helped them in their distress, had fixed the axle and had accompanied my mother part of the way until he felt they were safe.
We all thanked God for this charitable Polish Gentleman. For weeks to come, we had something with which to fill our bellies.
How wonderful it was to have some food. It is the most satisfying feeling in the world, to have a satisfied stomach.
Our life, however, became more and more difficult, more hopeless, more desperate, by the minute.
May 8, Soviets and Poles wildly celebrated the end of the war. “Wojna kaput, Hitler kaput” so they were shouting!
There was also a lot of shooting that day, shooting in anger! This time it was between the Russians and the Poles. By tradition, and going back in history, Poles and Russians hate each other’s guts, had a go at each other. As it happened, on occasion they would fight each other to the death! And the hatred between the Poles and Russians, continues, has not come to an end, to this very day.
Middle of May, the entire Danzig population lined the Main-road from Zoppot to Danzig. Word had spread around that our Soldiers, – who had so valiantly fought until the end on the Hela Peninsula, who had not surrendered, but had capitulated only on the day, when Germany was forced to give up, – would come marching down the street.
It was a very emotional time for us, and for our Soldiers. For several days we watched and cheered the disciplined columns of German Soldiers marching by, destiny unknown.
But they were in good spirits, and singing, although they knew, as well as we did, that they were on the way to Siberia, where indeed most finished up, most of them never to return!
Indeed, only 20% of all the POW’s, in the hands of the Soviets, ever came back. The rest found an icy grave in Mother Russia’s soil!
We marched with them for a while, did not care for riffle-butts, machine-guns and Nagaika’s, nor did the curses of the guards seem to hurt us!
Touched by the plight of us, the civilian Danzig population, by our misery, the German Soldiers would gladly part with their food and other essentials.
What ever they had they gave to us. They were hungry themselves but parted with their food rations, their valuables, even clothing they gave to us because they knew only too well that the Russians would take it otherwise, and in any case we were starving and, therefore, much more in need.
The treasures thus received, we would take to the Black-market to get some Zloty’s, to be able to buy some food.
The clever and greedy Poles however exploited the situation we were in to the full, did not ever give us much for anything of value.
And they knew how to bargain, knew that we could not eat watches, gold rings or diamonds, or other valuables. They also knew that they could play it tough, that they just could take anything away from us without having to pay for it. And that they could report us to the authorities. To have us flogged in the bargain, for being in possession of things of value belonging to the Polish State.
After all, this was a class-less society, and we were after all Pigs, capitalistic pigs.
At grandfather’s place we could not stay any longer. Grandfather, the Polish citizen was under pressure to throw us out! The old and pathetic man was crying! What was he to do?
As a Pole he was under obligation not to fraternize with any German speaking person. That was the law! Polish law! And he as a Pole, had to obey!
And the law had to be obeyed! Or Else! To hell with relatives! What that ‘Or Else meant’ in a communist State, everybody knew only too well! Anyone bucking the system was liquidated!
So, he had to throw us out! It was all so confusing! We had to go! Had to go quickly! We would rather be: “DEAD THAN RED’, never ‘bloody Polish!’ Better to die today than tomorrow, or vegetate under Communism!
That was our decision! But where else to go? To our house, as dangerous as it was; that’s where we went. But how it looked there? We could not believe our eyes!
Every thing was a mess, a stinking mess. Every thing was broken.
Like Vandals of old, Poles had wrecked the place, wrecked beyond any recognition. Nothing was intact anymore!
Most of the window glass was broken, all the light bulbs were broken or had disappeared. No Gas, no Electricity, no running water! Almost all of the furniture was smashed to bits and pieces. Had they used the wood to make a fire, to warm themselves, or for cooking? The insane destruction witnessed, it boggled our mind! The books, collection of classic German books, more than 2,000 books, bound in leather most of them, pride and joy of the family, we found destroyed, ripped to shreds. Obviously the books had finished up as toilet paper, quite awful. And for the rest of our once proud possessions ? The massive kitchen cabinet was damaged too, all the glass was broken, the crockery was broken or stolen, and so was the cutlery. Nothing, but nothing, of value had survived.
But, the dirty Poles had not moved the heavy kitchen cabinet away from the wall, it was still in the same place, how very lucky!
Lucky, because behind the cabinet, in the space, which was once my hideout, ‘there was our emergency survival kit and rations.’
All Documents and photos we had also stored there, and clothing, besides other odds and ends, also some warm bedding.
We had prepared ourselves for the worst scenario. Had not forgotten to think and plan for all eventualities; neither had we forgotten our to think of; ‘precious emergency rations,’ that in particular was our priority! 2 loaves of bread, dried out and toasted, (very important) cut up in to cubes, in little bags for everyone.
Just as well, and as mother had predicted and anticipated, because of our stubborn refusal to be Polish: on September 21, 1945, Polish militia paid us a visit.
At 4 o’clock in the morning they came. The yellow bastards came armed to the teeth! They came with bayonet and hand-grenades!
Njemetszki out! Schnell, schnell! That was the Order! They read us the riot act in no uncertain manner! The Polish animals gave us 10 minutes, ten minutes only, very little time. That’s what they gave us! No more! How lucky that we had prepared ourselves, we just rubbed sleep out of our eyes, and we were ready. Not so our friend and neighbours, they took much longer. The cowardly Polish militia then went to work, with ruthless efficiency, with bayonets, curses and abuses, that’s how the Poles drove the rest of our friends and compatriots out. Friendly persuasion, for our own good, that’s what they called it. We should be grateful for their mercy to German swine and whores!
Down on the street we were waiting for things to come, in the darkness! Already lots and lots of people, still sleepy and unsure of things to come, had assembled down below.
Mrs. Romschick, from the house opposite of ours was virtually dragged down by her hair. She had 2 little children in tow, 2 young boys in a pram, to get them out of bed and ready took time.
A Polish Bayonet taught her to hurry up. No time was given to take away any real luggage, she had to go without. Light clothing; that was all she had!
Compared to her and others, our little outfit looked well organized, a nap-sack on our backs, our dried and toasted food-rations around our necks, a container with water and something to carry in our hands.
To carry any more was not allowed. The heavily armed, armed to the teeth and oh so nervous Polacki’s, seemed to be prepared to shoot at us any minute.
Mrs. Romschick turned to my mother, showed her a piece of cake which she had baked out of maize flour:
“You’ll see, they will not harm us, this is only an exercise, they’ll let us go back. Look at the children, they are just too small, and see what we got, surely they will let me get my luggage.”
Mother however knew better and she openly said so: ” This is the end, we shall never return, shall never see our homes again.”
How right she was! And then the Poles herded us together, like animals. They drew the bayonets, shouted at us, kicked us, swore at us to make us move.
Everyone not quick enough got the butt of a riffle in the back or in the ribs, if that did not help, they then used the Bayonet to good effect.
For the very last time they gave us the chance to sign the papers, to became Polish citizens immediately:
“No, thank you,” we said and so said all the others. Two, very frightened women, however, signed up. But only after having been promised; return of the private property and all the privileges the Polish State could give.
That however was a damn bloody lie! To finalize formalities however they had to report to the Kommandantura the next day.
Poor things, falling for such a lousy propaganda trick; The Poles never kept their word, never intended to keep the word, and never returned any private property!
For good measure then: ” The People’s Republic of Poland simply outlawed the German language, custom and culture altogether.
This awful and diabolical crime against humanity, remained in force until the beginning of 1990, the year of collapse of Communism in Poland!, and elsewhere within the Communist Block!
Down in the street, we had to register and sign papers too, but for a different reason:
We had to declare that we had volunteered to leave our homes, properties and country, of our own free will. Failure to do so would be punished!
What that meant was abundantly clear: death by starvation!
All the grown-ups signed; we were in no position to argue; had to give in to sheer weight of blackmail and political subterfuge! There was no other way to escape the Polish tyranny, as none of us would have survived otherwise!
After an appeal for the very last time (again!) to change our minds in favour of Poland. As they failed to get any more takers, the Poles then got nasty, herded us together, like cattle.
Panic broke out when the Polish militia drew heavy bayonets in manners befitting the storming of the Bastille! It was utter bedlam and chaos, everybody was screaming.
Children, who had been seeking protection under mother’s skirts had to feel the full force of riffle butts, that made matters worse and resulted in families getting separated.
That didn’t bother the Poles at all, they went to work even harder, hitting anyone who was to slow to move.
To the train they took us, not to the Railway Station proper, but to the Goods-train terminal, distance of 1.5 km.
Nearly two hours it took to get there, and when we got there, there was no train. Only people, hordes and hordes of them; ‘all volunteers’ according to the Poles! That is their version!
Indeed the Poles have managed to fool the whole world in believing: “that there never had been, a people of German culture, custom and language within the territory of the Free City of Danzig!”
I had never seen so many people before, they would have filled a whole football stadium. A giant ant-heap it was!
And more and more kept on coming, and still no train. The Poles then utilized the time for a final search! For security reason; so they said and relived the people of their last little essentials. They didn’t get anything from us but stole plenty from other unfortunate victims.
Money they wanted, Zloty’s for the train ride, that was not meant to be for free! Nazi Schweins could not reasonably expect to get a free ride, or be treated like a tourist!
Finally, at around midday, a train did arrive. Not a goods-train as we had expected but passenger-train with some 25 carriages.
From now on it was a matter of ‘Free for All.” Fight for it! The Ants started to move!
Fighting broke out to get into the train because it was apparent to anyone that even the unusually long train with 25 carriages could not ever accommodate all the people congregated.
And next to no time they filled all the carriages, all the cavities within the carriages, none of them had seats.
The clever Poles had ripped all the seats out to provide more space, still, there was never enough room for all the people.
To get into the carriages people did not just use doors, but open windows as well. That’s how we got into the train, somehow we got one in, through a window, the others followed.
Amazing it was, even n their desperation, people did not forget to help each other. Always was a helping hand extended, even if it meant more discomfort for oneself.
They filled the train to the brim; in the end they were sitting on top of each other, on the roof, or hanging like grapes on the running boards or anywhere else.
Eventually the train started to move, but towards the east, towards Danzig.
That frightened the daylight out of us; ‘ not to Siberia, oh dear God, don’t let us go to Siberia!’
From the ” Heinrich Bridge ” they fired shots at us. Perverted and ill-tempered Polish militia had some morbid fun and target practice. Then word went around afterwards, the shots fired had found some victims.
In Danzig however the train got shunted. Back we went, this time on a journey west-wards, until we reached Koeslin, in Pommerania, in now Polish occupied territory.
Destination Koeslin however was the end of our trip “in relative comfort!” I will not dwell on or complain about how we had coped without any sanitary facilities for more than 24 hours. Nor will I say much about the dead people we counted among us, they were only discovered dead after we got out of the crowded compartments, “our sardine-tins,” at the end of the line.
We did not know it then that more was in store for us! That we were in for yet another extreme and rough experience, “EXPERIENCE OF A LIFETIME,” only schizoid Poles could have dreamt such up. An experience so evil and diabolical, only sick and perverted minds could have concocted such incredible sadistic inhumanity.
The Poles would not let us bury our dead! We had to leave the dead in the carriages, so we never found out how many had died!
They would not allow us to relieve ourselves. Nor would they give us any food or water!
For our further transportation they had a goods-train provided, open carriages, open platforms, laden with goods already. Laden with logs of timber and all kinds of other solid material.
We had to fit on top of it! This train was very long. We could not see the head or the tail. Perhaps it was about 2 km long, or even longer, we could not tell.
Again it was a case of everybody for himself, meaning we had to fight for it to get on. That was most difficult with the logs on. And with more and more people coming, appearing out of nowhere, like ghosts, it became more difficult, by the minute. All of the people that came looked gray and dirty, old and young alike, haggard and sick, some with a little baggage, others without.
The Poles had taken it all, had relieved them already of all of their meager belongings, so they told us.
There was little or nothing to hang onto on the open platforms. Nothing to grip on the logs. Hard enough when the train was stationary, dangerous when in full flight!
And then the train started to move. Where? We wondered? To the East and not to the West! Hell was awaiting us! So began a trip to Hell which lasted an Eternity! A train ride we will never forget. Visions of Siberia came before our eyes as the train gathered more and more speed, then started to race, faster and faster it went!
Cold it was, the draft from the speeding train, very soon the cold was biting into our bones. What was the purpose? What was the purpose of the speeding train, to blow us all off?
Although more and more sign posts appeared which bore Polish names, we had no idea where the journey was going to end.
The faster the train went, the more people fell off! In bunches they fell off, the speed was just too much! We could not help but notice that, in spite of having our own problems, problems of hanging onto the slippery logs.
Like leeches we hung onto our mother, she was holding us together with super-human strength. She was the anchor in this sea of utter madness. Her strength, more spiritual and mental than physical, her fortitude and courage did time and time again, save us from the very worse. We did not pray, our salvation was our mother!
All in all, this most hellish, bizarre , idiotic, absurd, lunatic, and insane train ride, did last for 8 bitter cold nights and eight days.
We have estimated that the train must have covered a total of some 4,500 km, (four-thousand-five-hundred) when in fact it should have taken us only about 400 km to the end of the ride.
In circles we must have traveled. What was the purpose? Was it to get rid of us? To decimate and demoralize us further?
In the drastic reduction of our number the Poles succeeded just too well. That must have been the purpose then, no other conclusion is possible. Our spirits, however weakened, they could not ever break.
The first night was very, very cold and the wind was biting into every one of us. Our warmer clothing did help a little, and we had a blanket to cover us. Nevertheless it was cold, just the same. How the others, less protected people coped with the inhumane conditions was anyones guess.
The fact that we had some pieces of bread to nibble on and some water, did help too, but the cold did bite unmercifully and made us feel miserable and shivering, just like all the others.
On the open carriage there was nothing to look after bodily functions. What were people to do? Even though they had nothing in their stomachs, they had upset bowels, some had dysentery!
Mercifully the train stopped in the morning, in the middle of nowhere. We became aware of the carnage so far of this trip to Hell.
We looked around. What a sight! Where had all the people gone? Only half of the previous day passengers we counted. Had they all fallen off?
That must have been the case, and then we saw people removing many dead bodies from the train, for burial to the fields.
We too then jumped off, and whilst other were pre-occupied in burying their loved one’s, in a fashion, they had no shovels or spades, had to use their bare hands, we looked around for anything eatable. There was little or nothing in the way of food. Some rotten piece of turnip perhaps, or less than a handful of grain.
For water we went to the front, to the stream-locomotives, to catch the condensation from the steam. Four engines the train had, what extravagance. It dawned on us that this must be the explanation, the reason why the train was able to speed.
To drive fast, so people would freeze, would weaken, would die of exposure, and would fall off! How horrible! How devious!
For water we had to fight for, others had the same smart idea. We, however, had a water-container, able to catch some water sometimes, and we would not be deterred by hostile Polish guards, or hostile Polish train-drivers.
But we had to be very careful, because the train, without any warning, would suddenly start to move. Would leave anyone behind not quick enough to jump on again.
This little silly, sadistic game the train drivers played over and over again, and would not ever care if anyone was left behind. And why had they stopped in the first place? We were to find out very soon.
Not for humanitarian reason, not for the sake of burying the dead, or to give the people a chance to stretch legs!
No, the reason was more diabolical than we could ever imagine:
All pre-determined and pre-arranged!:
Out of nowhere Polish bandits would appear to rob unlucky passengers on the train of anything they still had! Obviously the train-drivers had made it their business to be in connivance with the bandits.
Our suspicion became confirmed; every time the train stopped, bandits appeared, like clockwork, with regularity they would appear; bandits would be there, wherever the train stopped.
The bandits would pick on us too, but we would stick together, would not fear being cut by their knives, we would not fear their guns either, would put up such a scream and fight every time, quickly they left us alone, to concentrate on much easier pickings.
On two occasions the train had to stop for repairs, there was always something wrong with either engine or rail-tracks.
This gave us the opportunity to stretch our legs, get our circulation going and look around for anything to eat. Without little or no success, many people had been there before us, as we discovered.
Many dead bodies we found instead, bodies, mutilated and often stripped of all their clothing, of their shoes, or had their teeth knocked out.
Whenever we stopped for a period of time, more and more burials had to be carried out, as people were dying everyday. By the hundreds they were dying, but the Poles would not ever give a damn. Burial meant just to cover the dead bodies up in a fashion, people had no tools, only their bare hands.
On one of our longer stoppages, my brother Hans had disappeared. We could not find him. Only after long hours of search did we finally discover that the poor kid had gone to sleep before an open fire. He was just too exhausted.
On the ninth day we pulled into Frankfurt/Oder. Frankfurt/Oder was Russian partly occupied territory on one side of the River, the other side was under Polish administration.
We had at last escaped the horrors of the Poles, or had the Poles gotten rid of us? We did not feel any sense of elation. Our ordeal, however, our hellish Odyssey, was not over yet, not by any stretch of the imagination.
Yes, we had escaped from the clutches of the Devil, of Satan re-incarnated, had saved our bare skins from the Poles.
But we were still under the Communists, and Communism reigned supreme in the eastern part of Germany, as well as in the Eastern Block Countries.
For the first time however we found a little bit of humanity. Humanity did not come from the Russians, but from the Germans. Although the Germans themselves did starve, they shared the little that they had with us, and that was not much, but for their humanity, their expressed friendliness we were ever so grateful.
In Frankfurt/Oder, we did not stay for long, we had to be moved as more and more people from the former German Provinces east of Oder/Neisse Rivers kept on pouring in.
Poland had thrown them all out, had thrown them out under much the same brutal condition as we had experienced. Our fate and destiny was not unique, the fate and the horrendous suffering we shared with at least 10 Million of other people from the Eastern Provinces of the former Third German Reich.
Unique in our case was only that we are born citizens of the Free City of Danzig, and therefore come under protection and terms of international law. The world, however, had let us down, had thrown us to the barbaric communist hordes. That we are the most innocent people, a small indigenous ethnic people, that the citizens of Danzig never had the means to be Aggressor, – something Poland gets never tired to accuse us of, being the Aggressors – that was the propaganda, and the world was made to truly believe in our wickedness, that all of us were incorrigible, died in the wool Nazis.
At the outbreak of the War, on September 1, 1939, the Free City of Danzig had a population of 408,000 people, was unarmed, was demilitarized, a neutral, independent State, under the protection of the Geneva League of Nations.
Poland on the other hand had a total population of some 35 Million people, all armed to the teeth, had surrounded Danzig on all sides, and had, since 1934, threatened on many occasions to take the Free City of Danzig by force, whenever necessary!
And the intention of Poland was always clear, she had her greedy, beady eyes on our properties, our Industries, our beautiful ancient City, our territory, our private belongings.
Our next stop was Halle/an der Saale, a Camp for Refugee’s. There we had our first decent meal and got de-loused! They drowned us in DDT. We hated it, but it was the only way to rid us of the many lice the Poles and the Russians had given us.
How we must have looked like coming into this camp in Halle. Not very human like, looked like more of a lower form of life, unkempt we looked, dirty, weak and hungry, haggard, stinky, and down-trodden.
Our heath was not the best, in deed there was not anyone among us “voluntary refugees!” who had a clean bill of health.
Legacy of Poland, the legacy of our hellish trip into Hades, and far beyond. Legacy of the times, when we could not wash simply because there was no water, no soap and never a toothbrush. When we could not look after ourselves properly, when bare survival from the Communist menace was paramount, was more important than anything else.
We, the fastidious and pedantically obsessed clean people, obsessed with hygiene and cleanliness, had all varieties of lice on our bodies, body-lice, head-lice, and the other type, boring into the soft tissues of the body, given to us by Russians and Poles.
Before the Russians and the Poles came along, both equally dirty and filthy, in mind and in body, we had never known vermin, never any lice, in all of our memories.
We had not known diseases or hunger, nor had we known the kind of violence, the Communists, the Soviets and the Poles had subjected us to.
Cleanliness is next to godliness; that’s what our ancestors had taught us, and we had followed that religion.
But now we had gotten rid of all the vermin on our bodies, but how to escape the Communists? That was the next question on our mind?
Halle, was only a temporary stop, Refugee camp Dessau, in Saxony was the next station of our troubled lives. Again they carted us around in cattle-trains, closed up, this time but not very comfortable. Again, they de-loused us, but for crying out loud, failed to give us a bath.
So, on and on it went, from one camp to another, Wittenberg, the Town where Martin Luther had posted his 95 Thesis, was next, and then it was Bernburg, that’s were we stayed for a while.
As always, there was little to eat, always Camp condition and always depressing Camp-Psychosis. Too many people too crowded, too cramped together, on top of each other, too much human misery there was, and NO PRIVACY!
The various Camps, where everybody had the same or similar a fate, the same depressing problem and the same sorrows existed. Where everybody was stricken with mourning, the same pain, the same grief, sadness and misfortune. To make the misery full; winter time was on the march.
In Bamberg, mother was always on the go, always on the lookout to get out of the vicious depressing cycle of camp-psychosis. After much exhaustive searching she found a small room. A room, two single beds, one table only and three chairs.
We moved in, happy. But horrors of horrors, the roof was leaking. It rained often during that winter, the beds got soaking wet and the Landlord had no material to repair the roof.
The next problem was to keep the room warm, there was no fuel of any kind to maintain a warm fire. A kind soul, a local woman, came to our help, she tailored some warm clothing for us, out of a horse-blanket. Very rough it was, not very pretty, but beggars can’t be choosers, it had to do, kept us a little warmer.
Somehow we survived the grim, cold winter, in spite of the monumental difficulties, although life was nigh impossible, we emerged bitter but still in one piece. But the price we paid in the end for the stress on our bodies, our souls, was sickness, to all of us, we all finished up sick, very, very sick indeed.
The rigors of the past had caught up with us, with a vengeance. Our weakened bodies just rebelled, we all came down with high fever and much vomiting, and for many weeks we were down, almost out, a misery to ourselves. No help from anyone! No Doctor, no Medicine. Medicine we did not have. Such was either not available or we did not have money to buy expensive medicine on the Black market, the only place to get it, that was the condition in East-Germany.
When Spring came finally, by miracle, the boys acquired a pair of shoes; this enabled them to go to school for the first time since 1944.
In communist Germany however we had to study Russian, a main requisite of the curriculum, without it, no pass in any grade.
Study of the Russian language was hated by everyone but both Hans and myself managed to complete German compulsory primary School Certificate, a big deal in all of Germany. Without such a paper one has no chance to advance in life on any level.
Myself, I was forced to join the F.D.J. (Free German Youth). Joining the F.D.J. was much against all of our grain. Even under the Nazis was I never bothered to join the B. D. M., but had no choice, the political pressure was just too much.
‘ Free ‘ was quite a joke. Nothing was free about it. The alternative however was simply Concentration Camp, not just for me but all of the family. And that would have surly been the end of everything, I had to go!
As for Food, a little was available, but on ration-cards, and it had to be paid for. Because of our prolonged illness we had no money. Even if one had the Money, the chance of buying food was always slim, more often or not there was no food in the shops. One had to fall in line, sometimes for hours. And often there was only one of two food items available in the shops, most of the time however there was nothing at all.
It would happen that people had to turn back empty-handed, in frustration, after a long wait, lasting after many an hour.
There was only one thing to do in such a situation, go begging. And begging we did, more and more, very frequently. We would go anywhere, to-out-of-the-way places we went, to small villages, to farms.
The farmers would get sick of us, they did not want to see our faces, did not accept our money, money was absolutely worthless.
From day to day, we just vegetated, had no hope, no prospects, no expectation anymore, we had nothing.
At the end of summer then, at harvest time, we would try to get a job harvesting. Potatoes we dug out, beets and turnips. We would scour the fields for any grain of corn left, for any scrap, for beans and peas.
Farmers set their dogs free
Apples, Pears and any stone fruit growing at the edge of road-ways we targeted, but in Germany that is ” Verboten ” and everything “Verboten” does involve the letter of the law.
German law is very strict, the strictest in the world, they will punish you for the slightest misdemeanor!
In this more than hopeless situation we certainly did not want to suffer yet another grim winter.
Mother was at the end of her tether and her endurance. I had watched her with a great deal of concern. I knew that she was worried but had put it down to the fact that we had failed to establish the whereabouts of our father and of my elder brother.
To the Red Cross we had gone, to all the Authorities, to anyone there was.
Communication in Germany-East however was still very primitive. And although we had tried everything, we had no success in locating our loved one’s.
I knew that mother needed someone to take all the load off her shoulders, someone to lean on in troubled times. It had been all too much for her, the massive disaster which had befallen us had gotten her down, was just too much, too great for one person to bear.
What I did not know at that time was; mother had more worries than I could imagine. She never told us what was on her mind. Later on she revealed that she could not have ever breathed a word to us about her secret thoughts, about her plans. Out of fear of spies, for fear of informers.
Many Germans, out of desperation and because the communist regime had manipulated their brains had turned traitor on their compatriots and had started to inform on their own kind to the Soviets.
Mother was also afraid that we might get too excited unnecessarily and spill the beans by dropping a wrong word here and there. Too many spies around, too many disturbed and disorientated Germans.
Mid-October then, and mother gave us a signal, to be ready.
To pack our miserable bundles, to be ready by darkness. To the rail-way-station we would go. As we found out to our dismay, many, many other people had the same idea, the Station was crowded.
We had to wait, wait for hours, and when the train finally pulled into the Station we got packed in like sardines, again.
We did not complain, the mass of people kept us warm. To the Harz Mountain we traveled, to a place called Werningerode. From there, and under cover of darkness we wanted to sneak across the border, through the woods, into West-Germany.
We got caught! Germans had betrayed us! Before the Soviet Commissar they brought us: “Try that again, and I will shoot you personally, or cut your throat! Which do you prefer?
But this grim faced Russian gave us something to eat, and for us children there was even a piece of chocolate. He had seen it all before, this Russian, had seen all the desperados trying to make it over the other side.
They had fortified all the border-crossings with barbed wires and had booby-trapped everything with personal mines, mines of all descriptions.
All to no avail! In spite of all the danger, of being caught, people kept on trying. They did not mind getting killed or maimed, the people, all people were just too eager to gain real freedom, nothing could stop them, nothing could stop us.
Again, we tried! Got caught again! But as we had gone to a different place altogether, we came before a different Commissar.
Same problem for the Ruskies! He had to let us go, but not without another warning, though!
Same story! Could they shoot all of the people trying to cross the border? They could not, that’s how we figured it, we had to try again! We had nothing to loose, our lives we did not value much.
Third time lucky? We had to try again. And paid a terrible price for our freedom. In our haste, panic and desperation, crossing a mine-field and a deep ravine, Klaus, my our youngest got caught on barbed wire.
In a desperate attempt to free him, to cut him free, mother must have panicked, and in her haste, the bundle with all of our documents got lost.
Documents, photos, identity papers, Birth certificates, Bank books, Free City of Danzig Passport! Everything got lost! We did not even notice or realize our loss, that hit us much later but by then it was impossible to go back and search for it.
We had saved our miserable skins, had escaped the moronic world of the communist mad-house, but had become ” Non-entities!
Date of our freedom: November 28, 1946
The end of: Slavery, Evil, Trauma, Privations, Torments, Hunger, Suffering, Anguish, Misery, etc.
We were free, free at last, had left the devils behind us, had escaped from the Soviets, and from Satan itself, from the pious, more holier than thou, Catholic Poles.
We would never be the same however without our rightful and legitimate Home Land, the Free City of Danzig! Without our father and our brother, we would never again enjoy a proper family life.
Grandfather (at age 84) we would see again, twelve years later! Together with my aunts, he joined us in West-Germany in 1957.
The Poles had managed to up-root him in the end with their evil methods. So miserable and unbearable had his life become that in the end, the old man, who wanted so much to die on his home-soil, could not bear Polish chicanery any longer.
His properties he left behind, in the same way as we had to, leave our properties and private possessions behind.
Under much duress, by way of force, by way of violence, chicanery and compulsion.
May the world now about the truth, the truth about the Free City of Danzig and the suffering of all the people of the Danzig Free State.
According to true and reliable Statistics compiled by the West-German Bundesamt for Refugees:
The indigenous population of the Free City of Danzig has lost some
27% or 105,000 inhabitants. That many did perish, out of an original population of 408,000. Not even the Jews have suffered proportionally more. On their behalf must I, raise my voice!
For the loss of our loved ones we blame the over-zealous Polish Nationalist! The Poles never had any right or justification to do what they did, no justifiable reason at all!
Indeed Poland has a lot to answer for all the crimes committed against the defenseless Danzig population!
Therefore, let the Truth prevail!
Before Truth can prevail, Truth must be spoken!
In Order that the world may know!
Thus, I, Marianne J. Gieraths, maiden name: Kriesner
Born in Zoppot, in the Free City of Danzig on May 26, 1930, 14 years old, in March of 1945. At the time when Soviets, and the more than vicious Poles, violated our bodies, our integrity, our basic human rights, and subjected us innocent people to all kinds of indignities and bestialities, with great intent. As both, the Soviets and the Poles, raped us by a force so brutal, so inhumanly, again and again; by force, showing no mercy at all, not even to the infants.
That it was the Pole, under instruction from the Polish Administration, starving us to death, to near death, with intent; to break our resolve, resistance, and our human spirit; so that we could finally be removed more easily; again by force as it was; from our homes, properties and all of our other private possessions, including our rightful and legal home-soil and State, the Free City of Danzig!
That we shall hold responsible all those; who killed our loved ones as if they were wild animals; responsible for all the brutal killing and chicanery, which have taken place during and under their military occupation, – still ongoing- from the very date of war-occupation or administration.
We also accuse the Polish administration for the hunger terror they in particular, imposed on the indigenous Danzig population consisting mainly of innocent women, children and the elderly, the infirm.
And that the Polish Administration had outlawed German language, custom and culture from 1945 right up to 1990.
Another crime against humanity!
I, Marianne J. Gieraths , do now reside at: # 9 Friedrich Naumann Strasse LEVERKUSEN D-51373 Federal Republic of Germany,
I wish to testify to the above. Wish to testify to the truth of the matter. So help me God!
Given this day of January 25, 1999, in the year of our Lord, nineteen-hundred-and-ninety-nine.