My grandparents came to the United States in 1930, leaving behind their families in the Sudetenland. After the end of World War II Ethnic Germans were expelled from the lands that their families had inhabited for many generations. In the following letter to my Grandmother, her sister Heli described her experiences. It is important to note that when she writes of the "Czech Devils", this is not a feeling of long standing and is only as a result of the events that followed the war. Her father was German and her mother was Czech.
I am indebted to Frank for translating this letter. He was also expelled from the Sudetenland with his family, at the age of fourteen. He supplied some commentary and contextual notes which follow the letter.
There are those who have said to me that the Germans deserved anything they got after the war. I urge you to consider that the ethnic Czechs and Germans had lived together for generations before the war. In Frank's words:
"Your comment about the Germans deserving it should be the title of someone's book, if not a Phd dissertation. I lived in the middle of this mess as a kid and there were never any problems between the the Czech boys and the German kids. In fact many czech families had their kids join the youth wing of the Hitler-youth and they marched with us up and down our town with never any problems. A lot of what you hear in the czech press today is propaganda as I know some of it is in the Sudeten press of today. However, one thing is certain. The expulsion was a cowardly act since most of the German men were still POW's or dead.What was left to expulse were the 14 year old kids their mothers and grandmothers and the old men. There was no opposition."
This page is Copyright Steve Conklin (steve at conklinhouse dot com), 2000. Please do not copy or link this page without permission.
At the end of the this page is a list of all other people and families named in the letter. If you find any of your family members in this list, I would love to hear from you.
Continuation: Before I continue with my notes I would like to report on the life of the German population after May 10th, 1945. What the Czech devils perpetrated must be incomprehensible to those who have not experienced it themselves. There existed only theft, robbery, torture and beatings until you could no longer recognize the person. On the ration coupons for Germans there was only 1 Kilogram bread, no fat or butter, no meat. All this while under heavy forced labor and beatings while walking on a paths or sidewalks. For Germans it was forbidden to visit pubs or restaurants, ride on trains or visit movies, or walk in the parks even while going to work. A curfew existed for Germans after 7 PM. Women's dresses were taken from their bodies, men were stripped of shoes and suits and they were left to walk barefoot. They stole and robbed everything that they liked on a German person. From the letters that I still receive from Czechoslovakia it still has not improved. I was never paid for the few weeks of the heaviest labor. My cash of 800 Marks I had was taken away from me by the Russians and I consider myself lucky that I was not raped. This is how it went until July 4th, 1945.
At 7 in the morning on July 4th, 1945 a car with a loudspeaker mounted on it drove through our beloved town of Neutitschein and announced the following: All females between the ages of 10 and 50 and males between 12 and 60 who were of German Nationality were required to present themselves at 10 in the morning, with one blanket, one spoon and their ration cards at the town square. The Czech soldiers (Miliz) ran around crazily and rounded up the Germans and at 11 AM all between the age ranges called, stood on the town square.
The young girls and women were sent to the Casernes in the Bluchenstrasse. The men and boys went to the camp on the Steinberg. Many women were separated from their children and many tears were shed and those that it did not affect, who still had a job, were distressed by this roundup and loss of freedom. No one suspected what was yet to come.
On this 4th of July 45, a Wednesday, I went to work and waited to catch a glimpse of my dear Emil between 17 hrs to 20 hrs. But unfortunately he did not come to the Cillichgasse (Street). Then I had to return home, I stole my way home as the time of the curfew for us Germans had passed. But I managed to go undetected and reached Mrs. Till's home on the Steinberg unmolested and unharmed. I found Mrs. Till and Mrs. Schleser crying as they thought that I had been arrested. For the rest of that evening not much was said. The Russians did their mischief, robbing and raping. We hid our belongings, here a piece of jewelery, there a dress into the dressers which we then turned with the doors to each other so that the Russians would have it more difficult to get at our stuff. The excitement of the morning, and the uncertain future of the poor Neutitscheiners put us at a loss. With tears in our eyes and fear we laid down to bed around 22 hrs. I should mention that between May 4, 1945 and July 4, 1945 we never undressed when going to bed as it was necessary to be ready at any moment to jump from the 1st floor in case the Russians decided to come through the door. The work through the day and the constant grief made us tired and it was easy to fall into a deep sleep.
Suddenly we all awoke at the same time to shouting and banging at the front door. I ran to the window and thinking it was the Russians again I shouted: "What is it? What do you want?" The answer came from an animal on a Czech patrol : "Open the door immediately". I ran down the steps and opened the door and was given a shove so I ran up the steps again, cursing behind me. Several Czech soldiers, better described as armed civilian hordes, broke into all residences and with guns at the ready, whipping people, shouted: "fast, faster: You should have been at the town square, it is already 1:30 AM and you should have been there at 12 o'clock. Did you not hear the message on the loudspeaker?" We said no. They cracked their whip and with their guns pointed at us they stuck to us. In ten minutes we had to be ready to leave. I asked one of the SOBs what was going to happen to us? "You will find that out quickly. There will be a roll call because still many (....) women and men are (needed ?). Don't take much with you only a piece of bread"!
You can imagine dear reader how we poor souls could take much with us. I grabbed a few photos of dear Wolfgang and dear Erika, Emil and stuffed them into my Rucksack (Backpack) that luckily lay on the table. I also stuffed in a small pillow, a blanket, one set of clothing, (I have to add, that I wanted to change my clothes later as I packed 3 brasieres instead of a shirt) one knitted dress, one pair of shoes and the worst coat and as I left, better said driven out, I quickly grabbed the leather handbag containing documents from Emil's Pension Plan, the inheritance documents of the house and the "Ahnenpaesse" ancestral pass. That was the only thought that flashed in my mind. Everything else had to remain behind. The good things were all well hidden before the Russians. The savages then drove us out of the home into the street and then on to the town square. The streets were already empty but on the town square they already had people standing in rows of 5 and we were the last ones to join them under a barrage of cursing, whipping and pushes with gun butts.
What did we see there? Our dear citizens, young and old, the sick in wheelchairs, the old and weak, some with knapsacks over their shoulders or suitcases. Most were like us, without anything, in underclothes and as some had nothing left had to appear wrapped in a linen cloth. Then happened unto such robbers two Germans, they took away our last possessions, bankbooks, house keys and jewelry! What has my savior suffered? I thought that I would die from it. The other brave, honorable citizens suffered no less. We were totally confused, everyone looked like a (Faser ?).
By then the first rays of the rising sun appeared on the horizon, 4 in the morning, the wretched column of people was set in motion with lashes of dog whips, gun butts and curses. We proceeded down Schwarz street. When passing Cillich strasse I gave a furtive glance at the dear Emil and prayed to god he would protect him. The poor man did not know that his poor Helli and many of his dear friends and fellow citizens were being deported or did they hear our lamentations and cries. I did not shed a tear, I only felt hate in my heart for this Czech brood. I did not even turn back to say "God will pay you back" . . . . . So moved this suffering train of humanity, 5000 people left, within ten minutes, as beggars, thrown out, without a home, our beloved Neutitschein, our jewel box.
At this point I would like mention that the picture in the title of the book "Ost-deutsche Passion" reflects the condition of our column of 5000 miserable creatures from one town who carried on our backs the cross of Christ. As we arrived at the railroad station, there were the men and the boys who had been taken to the camp on Wednesday, with their backs turned to us (on order of the Robbers) and as the last of us had passed them they joined our column.
So our column proceeded on the Kunerwaelder Strasse towards Zauchtel. When we arrived on the Kunerwaelder hill I turned back one more time and saw the church steeple and my beloved home town for the last time. In front of us walked the women, girls and children they had rounded up the day before and questions were whispered from mouth to mouth and row to row: Have you seen my mother? have you seen my children, my husband, my brother, father, sister. Where are they?!
Those who carried many belongings dropped the full suitcases as they walked, or took out pieces they decided they would not need to empty and lighten the load, because the lashing of the whip and the shots were directed at those who could no longer carry on. Many lay down, the sick and the weak, they mostly found death under the beatings! No tears anymore, only curses for the Czech hordes. This wretched procession will stay in the hearts of those that had to live and endure it.
We arrived in Zauchtel completely drenched, even the heavens cried over us unfortunate wretches. We were loaded onto open coal railroad cars, 70 to 75 people to each car, baby carriages and the remaining belongings. Some families who were separated in the camp were reunited here, but most remained alone as I did as we looked for our dear ones without success. Children cried, looking for their parents many of whom languished in prison. In the coal car with me I found several acquaintances: Mrs. Kathy Preisenhammer (born Pirschle?) with her mother (born Rosmanith). Mrs. Weiss and her daughters (Geppert and Greta), Mrs. Till, Mrs. Schleser, Mrs. Hanig, Mrs. Koenig, and many others. Schwab Dolfi sat next to me in the car and cried for her mother who probably remained at home and, as I have now found out, committed suicide. It rained continuously; the doors of the railroad cars were then closed and before long we were drenched to the skin as nobody carried an umbrella and the cars were not covered. At 8 o'clock everything was ready for the transport and how rushed were the rascals. In a fast ride we went through Prerau, Olmuetz, Truebau and at midnight we arrived at Kolin. Without food the children cried out from hunger and cold. Everything was soaking wet. To relieve yourself you had to do it in the cars, and the cars were not opened throughout the entire trip.
Each car had two guards who always cursed us: "You German swine". In Kolin the train stopped and messages were whispered from car to car. In some cars partisans and robbers had entered. Our guards were nice enough to tell us "Lie down flat on the floor and don't move the partisans are coming". It became eerily silent and we lay in the rainwater and shook inside. The sky opened up in a cloud burst. Then I perceived voices, the railroaders shouted to each other in Czech: "What are you carrying here? Ha, ha, ha, for soap" [bones for soap ed.] shouted the dog in return. Laughter and applause from across the tracks. Then one of the partisans in railroad uniform appeared in the car next to our guard, he shouts at us in a sympathetic tone: Terrible weather, perhaps an umbrella would be helpful. I thought at that moment that this man had a soft heart for us wretches but I was mistaken. He then turned cynical and added: You German swine, this does you good, not enough, you beasts, and so on. I clenched my teeth, our guard relented, tried to calm us down and ordered this dog off our car. Those of us who understood Czech knew what was coming.
When one reads the book "Ostdeutsche Passion" the urgency of the departure becomes clear because the deportations were to start only on the 10th of August 45! We were expelled in the so-called: Terror nights (Bartholomew nights) and totally cleaned out (robbed). In addition, these hordes had no right to do that. We were completely convinced that we would end up in the Concentration Camp Tabor or Theresienstadt.
On the morning of July 6, 1945 we continued our journey from Kolin, it still rained. Those of us in the coal cars . . . . . . wetness and perspiration, stench from the human excrement. Soon the train turned westerly then northerly then again towards the east and then westerly so that you did not have a clear picture where they were taking us. In the evening we arrived at the river Elbe, rode through Aussig, Then I asked the guard what they were going to do with us he then replied: "You wanted to go home into the Reich and you shouted "Heim ins Reich" now you are going to the Reich. Soon you are going to be there but you won't see "mother" Neutitschen again". Now we knew it all!
We neared Tetschen-Bodenbach. A few Kilometers before Bodenbach a few Czech soldiers (officers) searched us once again for gold and took earrings, rings and wedding rings from anyone who still had them. They threatened us that anyone hiding things from them would be shot by the Russian Controls that would come later ! We started to hide things and complained! I still had my wedding ring and Wolfgangs' Aircraft Pilots badge that I treasured. The Czech Militia looked at my hands and the one scoundrel wanted to pull my ring from my finger. "No sir" I said "25 years I had this ring, I won't give it to you". I took off my ring off my finger and threw it and the pilots badge into the Elbe River. There it rests in good care, and the bandits did not get it . . . The Soldier threatened to shoot me. I told him: "go ahead I have nothing else left in this world" but the scoundrel threw me an angry look and left looking for other misdeeds and other victims!
Once we reached Bodenbach we were taken off the cars and sat down onto a large meadow. After half an hour rest we were lined up in rows of five and our march continued for 5 hours uphill. The old people who could no longer continue were loaded onto a truck and taken away. Where to? To this day many of the wonderful, brave old people remain missing. One knows almost nothing of the fate that befell these people.
Since we left Neutitschein we had nothing to eat and many were close to fainting during this march. If you wanted to rest a bit on the side of the road the shooting started and the whips rarely missed their target. and so we struggled on with backs bent toward the ground! I have to once again remind you that the picture in the title of the book "Ostdeutsche Passion" represents us in our plight.
Finally around midnight we had arrived at Herrnsgretschen! The Czech gentlemen, our guards, said their goodbyes, once again with selected expletives and left us to our fate. We collapsed on the ground out of sheer exhaustion in total apathy. We stayed on the ground listening to the sounds of distant shots and curses and from our immediate surroundings the moaning of the deathly tired. The poor angelic children cried pitifully, since they had no food. Not even bread and water was available! Where would we look for it in the middle of the night in thick fog and rain? Exhaustion got the better of most of them and they fell asleep until about 4 in the morning when some of them awoke as the stones they lay on were uncomfortable and the cold kept them awake. The poor mothers, themselves looking like corpses, came searching and asking for bread crumbs. Here and there a piece of hard bread was found and having no other water the Elbe river water was sprinkled over the bread and given to the small worms (the children) which resulted in the death of some of them. But at least the crying of the children abated somewhat. Many made their bed in the Elbe to put an end to their ordeal.
When it became light and the fog lifted we saw that the area we were deposited in was nothing but sheer and craggy rocks. Suddenly the Czechs reappeared and we had to line up in rows of five and were put once more through a baggage and body search where once again any remaining money and anything they liked was taken away. They got nothing from me as I had nothing to take. Anyone having two dresses or overcoats had to give up one. Once again it started to rain in a downpour. Children rested on the shoulders of the exhausted mothers who contracted pneumonia and dysentery accompanied by a high fever. A terrible picture that I will never forget. Following the search we find ourselves in no mans land and have to continue as there is no hope for us here, no houses nor people.
After 2 kilometers we come to the first village in Germany, Schmilta. There they have small steamboats ready to carry the people to an encampment Pirna near Dresden. Most of our people depart almost immediately as we we can not linger here, either. The police are forcing everyone to leave. We steal away and hide in the forest; Mr. and Mrs. Kònig, Mrs. Schleser and Ms. Hilde, a young lady and I. We look for caves to hide from the rain and where we can stay overnight. We are hoping that with the next transports will come relatives like the children of the Kònigs, our dear husbands Schleser and Emil and Hildes' mother. But we wait 5 days in vain. During the day we wait on the shore of the Elbe River, go scrounging for raw field potatoes to eat. Here and there we found mushrooms which we were able to boil in water at the house of a good woman. She also gave us a small portion of other refreshment because they did not have much themselves. How close we came here, on the shores of the Elbe, to end our lives, due to our desperation and hunger dear reader, you can imagine. Only Mr. Kònig shook us out of our lethargy and reminded us to remain strong. This is how we spent our time and since waiting 5 days our dearest still did not show up and our daily rations invariably consisted of 1-2 raw potatoes we had to move on with strict encouragement by the police. But where to go?
To the camp at Pirna? Under no circumstances! There they had an outbreak of Hunger typhus (sic). Prissel Mizzi died of it in this camp. The camp was overcrowded. These camps were too small and new refugees were added hourly. In the meadows and ditches there were none but the poor wretched creatures, we beggars made homeless by the Germans in Germany, treated as lepers. Not even a glass of water was given to us without being asked the question: "Why did you come here? Why did you not stay there with the Czechs?" Our explanation that we were evacuated and robbed by the Czechs only provoked replies like: "Why did you shout "Heim ins Reich" (home to Germany)"?. That was always a slap in the face and we would walk away sadly. We then went to Dresden by steamer. The view of it we could have done without. Dresden! You beautiful city! Only a sea of stones and terrible decay because the 300,000 dead bodies from the last attack had not yet been removed. A million flies. I shudder when I think of this picture.
It becomes a pilgrimage, from Dresden to Mecklenburg and then back, for those that don't know that Mecklenburg no longer accepts any refugees. The other borders have been closed by the Russians and the Russians rob and rape just like the Czech. We are desperate and in addition Mr and Mrs. Kònig leave us since Mrs. Kònig wants to move to her brother in Bärenfels in the Erzgebirge. That leaves us three women by ourselves. The young lady Hilde says we should go to Zwickau, where she has an aunt Mrs. Braschoss and she would advise us what we should be doing. But Zwickau is far. What would we have to go through to go there? Dresden is terrible and our road would take us to Chemnitz. Crossing the river Mulde would be a problem as the Russians open and close the area frequently. We spend three nights on railway stations, meadows and hard pavement. The never-ending fear of the Russians causes us sleepless nights, in spite of our exhaustion. Chemnitz, Plauen - all these once beautiful cities razed to the ground, a terrible view. The thousands of homeless refugees and deportees walking about among the stones offering a picture of destitution.
Emaciated, completely exhausted, legs, feet swollen to the size of cans (sic) we arrive on July 16, 1945, on a Sunday at 8 in the morning in Zwickau. As we leave the railroad station, churchbells ring and beautiful sunshine accompanies us. We three women drag ourselves, almost on our hands and feet, the long way to Mrs. Braschoss on Werdaner street 86. The Zwickau citizens are in their Sunday best and give us homeless people a hard, dispassionate, look. We cry, our tears roll down our cheeks, and at the door of Mrs. Braschoss we collapse. Someone carries us up the stairs! Mrs. Braschoss welcomes us heartily and says to rest up for now and the rest we will discuss later. We lie down on the floor, we can't stand up any more. We are given good coffee, sauerkraut for lunch, and the first hot meal since the 4th of July 45.
In the evening Mrs Braschoss suggested that on Monday, the very next day, we all go for mushrooms and go scrounging potatoes. We went on the first train, Hilde, Mrs. Braschoss, (Aunt Berta) and I, to Werdau and went on a 4 hr. hunt for mushrooms and potatoes. My feet are still swollen right up to my knees. The shoes / sandals won't close! Oh how tired I was, even the young Hilde. Mrs. Schleser waited for us in the evening and had become concerned. We brought enough home to last us a week of warm meals. [Note 1]
On July 19th, 1945 we registered with the local police to meet the deadline of July 21, and since we could show that we had a place to live we were allowed to stay and that entitled us to ration cards. Mrs. Braschoss immediately recognized an opportunity when I told her that I was a dressmaker. She put her sewing machine at my disposal, which I had to repair first. I started to work right away on July 19th, 1945 as I suspected that Mrs. Braschoss appeared to have a greed for money. I completed the first dress and word of mouth spread quickly that here was a good dressmaker and right away I had a pile of orders. Hilde became my assistant and so we worked like bees from 8 in the morning until 9 at night. We made quite a bit of money and at the end of every month we were able to pay our rent. We bought our groceries on the ration cards and we found that sympathetic women who paid me for the work brought along potatoes, flour and fruit, as well. Mrs Schleser cooked for the three of us. The earnings each month were split into three equal parts and so we remained until October 15th, 1945 in the sublet quarters at Mrs. Braschoss.
But I will never forget the contrast, how nice it was working for ourselves in the lovely Zwickau and the bitter atmosphere that existed in the house of Mrs. Braschoss. She wanted us to go a different path and since we did not agree she started cursing us day and night. A pack of beggars and no pity should be given to us and where she could she collected the goods given to us by the women only to take a part for herself. So we saw to it that there was an opportunity, with my, until this day, dear Mrs. Barth, to move out. Mrs. Barschoss wept as we left, but I am, to this day, thankful to this woman for all the good help she had given to us. But it was high time to leave her so as to preserve the good understanding we had originally had. Our presence had been beneficial to Mrs. Barschoss.
Hilde and I lived together at Mrs. Barths. Mrs. Schleser lived with a Mrs. Keil but in the same house as ours. There we worked harder and at Christmas 1945 all three had saved a nice sum of money. Mrs. Schleser then decided to strike out on her own because it seemed to her to cook for us was too much work. So the two of us stayed alone and I can only say that with Hilde I spent the nicest days in Zwickau, she helped me to overcome all difficulties.
Hilde soon found her dear husband Heini. She was so sympathetic in my grief that I had not heard from Wolfgang nor my dear Emil for so long or Erika and the dear people from the USA.
On January 13th, 1946 at 4 in the morning, like a flash, it came to me I remembered Wolfgang's friend and I wrote to him immediately. Within 14 days I had Wolfgang's address. Wolfgang was in a British prisoner of War camp. Since being released he turned to an old Neutitschein friend Ernst Brossmann who now resided in Munich - Ottobrunn. Ernest sent Wolfgang a telegram to meet him in Munich. During that time I received news from Erika, who was in the transit camp at Furth im Walde. Erika was expelled from Karlsbad on February 4th, 1946! On March 18th my dear children were found, through my telegrams and letters. On March 28th, 1946 Wolfgang went to get the dears from Furth im Walde and moved to Munich Ottobrunn Feldstrasse 8. Through the efforts of my dear Wolfgang, on April 18, 1946 I had already had in my possession the permission to move to Munich. On April 18th 1946 I received, to my greatest joy, the first lines, through Mr. Bier, from my dearest sister and dearest Karl.
On May 12th, 1946 I arrived in Munich! You already know the rest.
1. Her story about the potato gathering was commonplace in 1945 and continued until 1948 when the German "Währungsreform" devaluation of the Reichsmark into the Deutsche Mark (DM). Overnight the shops were filled with foodstuffs previously only available on the black market.