Displaced Communities

BALTIC GERMANS (150,000
displaced by Hitler & Stalin; 95%+)

GERMANS OF YUGOSLAVIA
(over 200,000 expelled, imprisoned, displaced, emigrated; 98.5% total)

VOLGA GERMANS (over 400,000 expelled by Soviets to Kazakhstan)

DUTCH GERMANS (3,691 expelled,
15% of German population)

GERMANS OF ALSACE-LORRAINE
(100-200,000 expelled after WWI)

GERMANS OF CZECHOSLOVAKIA
(over 3,000,000 expelled
and displaced; 95% total)

GERMANS OF HUNGARY
(over 100,000 expelled, over
300,000 displaced; 88% of total)

GERMANS OF ROMANIA
(over 700,000 or 91.5% displaced by Hitler, USSR, & emigration)

US Internment of German-Americans, Japanese, & Italians
(10,906+ interned & blacklisted) NEW!

GERMANS OF POLAND, PRUSSIA
(over 5,000,000 expelled and displaced, nearly 100%) COMING SOON

GERMANS OF RUSSIA/UKRAINE
(nearly 1,000,000 to Germany and Kazakhstan) COMING SOON




Other Information

Thorough

OUR YOUTUBE CHANNEL NEW!
(documentaries, interviews, speeches)

Follow us on FACEBOOK NEW!
(for updates, events, announcements)

From Poland, to Czechoslovakia, to Occupied Germany: My Flight from the Red Army to the West
(memoir about wartime flight & Jewish, Polish, & German daily life near Auschwitz) NEW!

Daily Diary of Forced Labor in the Mines of Soviet Ukraine NEW!

The problem of classifying German expellees as a 'genocide'

Why the German, Czech, and Polish governments reject expellee commemoration

Distorted historical memory and ethnic nationalism as a cause for forgetting expellees

Ethnic bias and nationalist revisionism among scholars as a cause for forgetting expellees

The History and Failure of Expellee Politics and Commemoration NEW!

Expellee scholarship on the occupations of Czechoslovakia and the Sudetenland, 1918-1945

Sexual Violence and Gender in Expellee Scholarship and Narratives

Comparative Genocide Table

Suggested Resources & Organisations

The Staff/Contact Us

In Memoriam: Your Expellee
Relatives & Survivors

Submit content and information

How to support German expellees / expellee political lobbies

Bookmark IREG to Favourites!

Donate to the Institute

Affiliates/Partners

Link to Us/Refer a friend

Sitemap

Privacy Policy/Copyright

From poland, to czechoslovakia, to occupied germany: my flight FROM THE RED ARMY TO THE WEST

Print this Article    •    Font Size:   -   +    •     Send this Article to a Friend

HOW TO CITE THIS SCHOLARLY ESSAY: Gaczol, Andrew and Institute for Research of Expelled Germans. "From Poland, to Czechoslovakia, to Occupied Germany: My Flight from the Red Army to the West." http://expelledgermans.org/gaczolsilesiagermanexpulsion.htm (accessed Day-Month-Year).

 

BY ANDREW GACZOL

INTRO: The following article is an excerpt from a book about my father’ experiences growing up as an ethnic German boy in pre-war Poland, occupied Poland, and then as an adult in post-war Germany and post-war Australia. The book, called One Life: Three Countries – The Story of a ‘New Australian’”, describes his experiences as a ‘Volkdeutsche’ in Upper Silesia, a post-war refugee and a ‘New Australian’ providing a personal insight into what was the greatest geo-political upheaval of the 20th century.

Part of my father’s story is his flight from the Red Army during January-June 1945 and his experiences during this time help illuminate the issues which the ‘Institute for Research of Expelled Germans’ is exploring. It is these reminiscences from 1938 until 1946 that I make available to the Institute to assist them. The book is broader, covering the family history from 1906 until my father became an Australian citizen in late 1966.

Like the Institute, I in no way excuse the atrocities of the Nazis or undermine the genocides committed against the European Jews and other ethnic groups by that regime. I strongly reject any revisionist, anti-Semitic, or pro-Nazi perspectives. Hitler and the Nazi regime brought nothing but death and suffering to the peoples of Europe, and destruction and shame to Germany and the German people. The reader should also note that during the Nazi period, my father was a child and as an adult he too fully acknowledges the regime’s criminal nature. Although I have done the background research work and the writing, the story is my father’s and it is written in his voice. I trust it will be of interest.

- ANDREW GACZOL - CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA

CLICK HERE or here to buy "One Life - Three Countries"

 

IREG Commentary: This article offers particular attention to everyday life among Jews, Germans, Poles, and ambiguous Silesians as nationalists in Poland and Germany compete to "claim" the region. It also gives a look into what it was like for each group to live near the horrors and genocides of AUSCHWITZ during operation.

 

 

BACKGROUND

Both my parents, born in the first decade of the 20th century, were citizens of the then Austria-Hungary empire. Although technically a single nation-state, Austria-Hungary was a multi-national country with many nationalities and ethnic groups. The two largest ethnic groups were Germans and Hungarians. There were also Poles, Croats, Bosnians, Serbians, Italians, Czechs, Ruthenes, Slovenes, Slovaks and Romanians and in total some fifteen different languages were spoken in the empire.i

 

My family reflected this ethnic mix. My mother, Maria Hrbacek, was born in Vienna in 1907 while my father, Thaddeus Gaczol, was born in late 1906 in Zakopane in the north eastern region of the empire called Galicia. Although both Austrians, my father almost certainly saw himself as Polish and in the short time that he and my mother lived together as a married couple my schooling was at the local Polish school, partly because he preferred it but also as a small business owner and Polish citizen he was obliged to. He was not, however, anti-German and was happy to have us speak in German at home even though he could speak only Polish himself. My mother, on the other hand, had a Czech family name, spoke German, Polish and Czech and although she considered herself Austrian had no reservations in signing up to the so-called Deutsche Volksliste (German people’s list) during the Second World War through which she acquired German citizenship.

I was born in the second half of 1930 in Bielsko-Biala (Bielitz in German) in Upper Silesia. My mother had been taken in by her mother’s sister – my great Auntie, Antonina – who couldn’t have children of her own. Auntie Antonina ended up living unmarried with a man whom I called Uncle Erich. Great Auntie Antonina was a professional chef and Uncle Erich was also a chef and a baker who eventually built up a successful bakery business.

 

I don’t know how my father ended up in Bielsko-Biala, but he was Uncle Erich’s apprentice, and it was through Uncle Erich’s business that he learnt to be a pastry chef and presumably that is how he and my mother met.

 

 

UPPER SILESIA

Upper Silesia itself, in a sense, reflects the mixed ethnic make-up of my own family. Part of Imperial Germany’s frontier with Austria-Hungary and Russia prior to World War One, its status was strongly disputed following that war with both Weimar Germany and the newly independent state of Poland claiming the region as their own. Economically, it was quite a prize given its coal mining, zinc mining and other industries. The so-called Upper Silesian ‘industrial triangle’ was second only to the Ruhr valley as an industrial region in Imperial Germany and in 1913 Upper Silesian coal-fields accounted for 21 per cent of all German coal production.ii The dispute was of such importance that its resolution was a clause in the Versailles Treaty of 1919 and ultimately involved the deployment of French and British troops, three Polish uprisings during 1919 – 1921, and a plebiscite. Although the plebiscite resulted in 706,000 votes for the region to remain part of Germany and 479,000 votes to become part of Poland, the region was eventually divided with the south-eastern part being incorporated into Poland.iii This south-eastern region, although geographically relatively small, held three quarters of Silesia’s coal production and nearly two thirds of its steelworks.iv

 

To simply divide inter-war Upper Silesia into two German and Polish ethnic camps does not fully encapsulate the clash of identity that existed, and still exists, in this part of central Europe. The vast majority of Polish-speaking Upper Silesians served loyally in the Imperial German Army during World War One,v and voting patterns in the plebiscite and other elections did not necessarily follow linguistic or ethnic lines.vi It is not unusual in ethnic borderlands, such as Upper Silesia, for many people to show an indifference to ethno-linguistic nationalism as these issues normally take second-place to everyday life.vii There is also an Upper Silesian identity separate and yet combined with the German and Polish communities which still manifests itself within the region.viii This identity also partly explains why after the Second World War that Upper Silesia with its mixed-language, bilingual, Catholic population largely avoided the expulsions that occurred in other areas where the borders were altered – indeed, over 750,000 Upper Silesians remained in their homes after World War II, with up to 90 per cent in some rural areas spared expulsion.ix

 

 

MY HOME TOWN: BIELSKO-BIALA (UPPER SILESIA)

Having been created on 1 January 1951, Bielsko-Biala is today a united city with a population of about 180,000. However, in the 1930s it consisted of two separate cities of Bielsko and Biala separated by the Biala (Bialka in German) River. Bielsko, which for centuries belonged to the Duchy of Cieszyn, was founded in 1312. In 1723, on the opposite bank of the river, the city of Biala came into being. In 1772 Biala was annexed by Austria and included in the crown land of Galicia. In 1918 both cities became part of the new Polish state, though a significant part of the population was ethnic German.x It was then, and remains today, an attractive city with both its Town Hall and main Post Office being built in an impressive late 19th century architectural style and it is occasionally referred to as ‘little Vienna’ for this reason.

 

My own childhood observations were that the separate German and Polish communities didn’t necessarily mix much but the relationship overall was benign – at least until the six months or so before the outbreak of World War II. The apartment building where we lived had both Polish and German/Austrian families and my childhood friends included both Polish and German friends. We spent a good deal of time playing together as children do. There was also the usual childish teasing and fighting which involved ethnic insults such as ‘Polaks’ and ‘you bloody Germans’, but it didn’t last long and we went back to being friends again soon after.

 

 

BIELSKO-BIALA'S JEWISH COMMUNITY

There was, of course, also a Jewish community in Bielsko-Biala, one that ultimately went back many centuries. The first mention of Jews in Bielsko comes from 1653. Jews in Bielsko strove to establish an independent community from the beginning of the nineteenth century, but until 1865 they were formally part of the community of Cieszyn. A synagogue was built in the late 1830s with a cemetery and religious school established in the late 1840s. Over the course of the nineteenth century, the Jews of Bielsko became strongly ‘Germanised’: that is, spoke German and saw themselves as Germans.xi An outstanding scholar, Sha’ul Horowitz, was the rabbi in Bielsko from 1888 to 1896 and another famous Jew from Bielsko, Michael Berkowicz, was Theodor Herzl’s Hebrew secretary.xii

 

In 1869, the Jewish community totalled 1,102 people but by 1930 it had risen to 4,430.xiii I remember quite well seeing them around town. While there were secular Jews, there were also many Orthodox Jews who stood out quite clearly because of their distinctive black outfits, curly beards, kippa skull-caps and large furry hats. Like the ‘interactions’ between the German and Polish communities, they kept mostly to themselves but had amicable enough relationships with both communities from what I could see. My mother and my great Aunt Antonina saw Jewish shop owners as friendly, polite and were willing to provide credit to their customers – unlike others. Given the times and the place there was, however, a degree of anti-Semitism present in both communities mostly driven by jealously about the Jewish community’s perceived wealth. The 1930s were, of course, the time of the Great Depression and there was resentment at those who had wealth during these very tough times and every Jew was thought of as being rich.

 

 


Bielsko-Biala Town Hall

 

 

An event from that time that has stayed in my memory. There was an incident where a Pole had supposedly been killed by a Jew but the facts were hard to establish. Some in the Polish community responded with revenge beatings on the city’s Jewish residents and the Polish police were conspicuously slow to respond. Also, graffiti was painted on Jewish shops and Jewish owned buildings saying “Don’t shop at Jewish shops.” Strangely, a few days later, someone scratched out the word ‘”Don’t” on all the graffiti leaving the message as “Shop at Jewish shops” in an almost comic parody of the original message. This edited graffiti remained on the walls for quite some time.

 

 

THE GREAT DEPRESSION: HARD TIMES FOR OUR FAMILY AND POLAND

The mid-1930s were a difficult time for our family. My mother had inherited Uncle Erich’s bakery after he died in 1932 from stomach cancer but my father, who ran the business, went broke partly because of the economic downturn but also partly because he lent money which was never re-paid. He lost the family bakery business and despite the birth of their second child, my mother kicked my father out and they separated in mid-1935. Along with my great Aunt Antonina, my sister and I stayed with our mother but a single mother, and elderly Aunt and two children was not an appealing proposition to many landlords. Our family found it difficult to find an apartment and we ended up moving a number of times.

 

My mother also withdrew me from the Polish school and had my education continue at a German Kindergarten. It was quite a different experience at the German schools. My Polish school was run by Nuns. Although they certainly punished you if you did something wrong, the school was a little chaotic. The German school was much better disciplined and organised and we were even required to wear uniforms with a blue dust-coat. Despite it being a German school we were also taught to write and speak Polish and it did not teach any political propaganda.

 

 

THE MARCH TOWARD WAR

The serious tensions that developed between the Polish and German communities began six months before the start of World War II. In violation of the September 1938 ‘Munich Agreement’,xiv Nazi Germany occupied Czechoslovakia in March 1939. Almost immediately afterwards, the Nazi regime began to make territorial demands on Poland for the return of Danzig to the German Reich – then a League of Nations free city –and the Pomorcze/Posen region: the so called ‘Polish corridor’. In April, the British and French signed a mutual assistance pact with the Polish government, promising to come to Poland’s military aid should Poland be attacked. By August, plans had been finalised between the Nazi regime in Germany and the Soviet Union under Stalin to invade Poland and partition it once more.xv

 

The situation grew more intense as the outbreak of war drew closer. My mother was on the receiving end of an outburst by a Polish soldier for having bought German magazines. He was quite severe on her, even though he eventually walked away and nothing came of it. More seriously, I remember that one of our neighbours who lived in the building across the street was apparently a Polish nationalist who belonged to a group of agitators who called themselves, if I remember correctly, ‘the Underground Fighters’. The 13 year-old boy of the family, the son of the nationalist, would regularly come to our home and taunt my mother on behalf of his father. As tensions increased politically between Nazi Germany and Poland during 1939, the taunting increased from “what are you doing here – why don’t you go back to Germany?” to the point where death threats were being made. These included my mother being asked: “my father would like to know how you would like to die – hanged or shot?” Eventually my mother got fed up and lost her temper at the boy telling him to go back to his father and challenging him to come and make these threats himself rather than be a coward and send his young son. Three days before the war broke out, I saw him and his family leaving Bielsko-Biala in the direction of Krakow. We never saw him again, but about two weeks later the rest of the family returned to their flat in their building without him. They did not, however, stay long and eventually left permanently. In those final months before the war, I also got teased and taunted with anti-German insults by boys who I thought were Polish but who eventually presented themselves as Germans once the war had broken out and Poland was occupied. Some of them even ended up joining the Hitler Youth. Perhaps, like me, they were of a mixed German/Polish family and just saw me as a target for some ‘fun’, or they were trying to cover up their own nationality.

 

Just a few weeks before war’s outbreak my great Auntie Antonina left Poland. She still held an Austrian passport and, given that Austria was now a province of an expanded Nazi Germany, she and some of the other Germans left the city for fear of internment. State propaganda was also ramped up by both sides. There was Nazi propaganda that Polish nationals were conducting organised beatings of ethnic Germans, though I must say that I never witnessed this or heard of it in Bielsko-Biala. There was also muscular Polish propaganda about how strong Poland and its armed forces were. I particularly remember the slogan “We’ll be in Berlin in three days” which could be heard on the streets and seen on posters around the city.

It didn’t quite work out that way.

 

 

NAZI-OCCUPIED POLAND

The dawn of 1 September 1939 saw Nazi Germany’s Wehrmacht roll over the German-Polish frontier in what is now recognised the start of the Second World War. The ‘justified reason’, according to Hitler, was the so-called ‘attack’ by Polish military officers on the radio station in the Silesian city of Gleiwitz (today Gliwice) on 31 August.xvi History shows that was was a Nazi provocation as the ‘Polish officers’ weren’t Poles at all, rather they were Nazi operatives furnishing an excuse for the invasion.xvii There was also a similar but separate incident on 3 September 1939, known as the ‘Bromberg Bloody Sunday’. The apparent massacre of Germans there was given as the reason by the Nazis to conduct ‘reprisals’ against the Poles. The killings and reprisals remain controversial and much debated by historians,xviii but later by chance I met a former Wehrmacht soldier who was one of the first members of the then German army to arrive on the scene. In 1953 he was one of my work-mates and about to retire, but we spoke about the outbreak of the war and he told me about the incident. He was convinced that, like the Gleiwitz attack, this was a faked killing done by the Nazi regime as an excuse to initiate a reign of terror against the Poles. The impression he got from the situation as he arrived was that the ‘German’ victims were in fact Polish intellectuals and professionals from a concentration camp who had been killed by the Gestapoxix, or other Nazi organisation. I have never been able to confirm this myself, but given what we now know it is certainly believable.

 

 

THE WAR REACHES BIELSKO-BIALA AND UPPER SILESIA

In response to the invasion, France and Great Britain pledged their assistance and on the morning of Sunday 3 September 1939 the then British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, made his now famous speech declaring that as the British Government had received no undertaking by 11am (London time) that the Wehrmacht was withdrawing from Poland, Britain was at war with Nazi Germany.xx Only an hour or two earlier on the same day, I had seen the first signs of war in Bielsko-Biala. At about 10am (Polish time) I saw three German soldiers walking up our street as I looked out the window. The one in the middle was carrying a machine gun, and all three looked quite cheery.

 

During the previous evening of 2 September, I had heard some small arms and rifle fire for about half an hour and I had also seen some tracer bullets fly through the sky. My mother had warned to me to stay down and seek cover under the window. The local Polish forces had also blown-up a train tunnel in the city in an effort to hamper the Wehrmacht’s advance. Nonetheless, the sight of the German soldiers from my window on the morning of 3 September was the first I knew that war had broken out. I don’t remember an announcement or seeing any reporting in the newspapers. The German community was, needless to say, quite happy as they felt that they were now safe from harassment by the Polish.

 

The Wehrmacht had entered the city unopposed by the Polish army and the Polish population were quite surprised and shocked at what they saw: the German army driving through the city with trucks pulling weapons, such as the famous 88mm ‘Flak’ anti-aircraft gun, was more powerful than they had expected. Some said openly: “How on earth were we supposed to be able to fight all that?” For Poland, its elite forces remained its cavalry which had fought so effectively in the Polish-Russian war of 1919-21. Military historians show clearly that the Wehrmacht in 1939 was much more modern and better equipped than Poland’s armed forces and that – along with the Soviet Union’s invasion from the east on 17 September – explains Poland’s rapid defeat.

 

 

OUR DAY-TO-DAY LIVES

To provide some context for our lives under the occupation, our citizenship status probably needs to be explained, particularly given Upper Silesia’s ethnic diversity, and the ideological and racial criteria that the Nazi regime applied. Upper Silesia and other regions such as Danzig were incorporated into the Third Reich itself, while the so-called ‘General Government’ (including the cities of Warsaw, Krakow, Radom, and Lublin) was organised under a civilian governor-general, the Nazi Party lawyer Hans Frank.xxi The Deutsche Volksliste was created to categorise the population as to who could or could not be assimilated into the Third Reich. It had four categories:

 

    1. Volksdeutsche: those persons who had actively demonstrated their Germaness culturally or politically before the war, such as through participation through German organisations;


    2. Deutschstämmige: person of German descent who had not openly expressed their German identity during the interwar era;

    3. Eingedeutschte: persons suitable for ‘Germanisation’, meaning those persons of at least partial German decent or married to persons of German descent; and

    4. Rückgedeutschte: persons of German descent who had been assimilated into Polish culture, but may be capable of ‘re-Germanisation’.xxii



The Gauleiter (District Chief) of Upper Silesia, Josef Wagner, appears to have taken a more inclusive approach to the granting of ‘German’ status through the Deutsche Volksliste than other parts of occupied Poland.xxiii Indeed, in eastern Upper Silesia, unlike most other parts of those regions annexed into the Third Reich, the authorities sought include on the list as many residents as possible to avoid disrupting the region's crucial coal and steel industry. The Nazi authorities therefore applied enormous pressure on Upper Silesians to register for the list. By autumn 1943 they had classed 95 per cent of the region's population as ‘Germans’ by placing them on the list, although 73 per cent were assigned to the low-ranked third category of Eingedeutschte.xxiv

 

The first two categories allowed for acceptance as German citizens,xxv and we still have my mother’s Deutsche Volksliste identification card which states clearly that acceptance. So, from our perspective it was not an occupation. We saw it as a ‘return to the Reich’. The Polish, of course, saw it as an occupation by a foreign power.

 

My mother also joined the Nazi Party in 1940. Although she had sympathies in that direction, the reason she joined was to get work in a local winery. My mother didn’t ‘have to’ join the party as such, but not doing so meant she would not have landed that job. Being in the party meant that life was easier as jobs, accommodation and making a living generally were all much easier to come by. I, myself, joined the Hitler Youth (HJ) that same year but, as a 10 year-old, it was not a political decision. I did so because I liked the various activities like camping and hiking. Had Poland not been invaded, I would have joined the Polish version of ‘The Scouts’ as I always found their hats and uniforms to be very impressive.

 

It might sound odd, but our lives as a family during the war were actually quite good. During October 1939, my great Auntie Antonina returned to Bielsko-Biala. On 9 November, my family moved into a new flat which had been given to my great Auntie Antonina. The flat was, by the standards of the time, modern and spacious with a kitchen and built in toilet. I don’t know what happened or why, but for some reason my great Auntie Antonina was in some way favoured by the Nazi authorities and this flat was some form of reward or perhaps compensation. We later found out that the flat had been expropriated from one of the city’s Jews. He was terminally ill, perhaps with cancer, and the local Nazi occupation authorities had allowed him to stay in the building until he died, despite having expropriated him of the property.

 

At the winery, my mother worked in the sales department and every month she received three bottles of wine and a bonus bottle of brandy. My mother would barter the alcohol on the so-called ‘black-market’ for other items to help make ends meet. I ended up getting a bicycle through one of these ‘black-market’ deals. My great Auntie Antonina looked after my sister and I while my mother was at work and it was, for the most part, a good arrangement for all of us.

 

Our schooling essentially went on as before. Although we were given ‘history’ lessons about Hitler, his life and his coming to power we didn’t really get any political indoctrination as such. In the mornings we were required to stand up to attention when the teacher entered and say ‘Heil Hitler!’ but school was as normal as one could expect with the usual lessons such as mathematics and language. There was also a strong emphasis on sport. The teachers themselves were of different ethnic backgrounds. Only two had German names while the others had either Polish or Czech names which, again, reflects the multi-ethnic nature of Upper Silesia.

 

 

POLISH LIFE IN OCCUPIED BIELSKO-BIALA

The Poles themselves seemed to pragmatically accept the occupation and went about their business as best as they could. Initially at least some of the Poles in my town even went as far as to say: “We now have law and order here!” On a day-to-day level, there was no discrimination amongst people the Polish communities and German communities themselves from what I could see. For example, my mother was at one stage in charge of the canteen at the Anker-Werke AG factory during Christmas 1944. According to her, all the staff got 1kg of venison as a Christmas gift and both the Poles and the Germans were treated equally when they ate at that canteen. The Poles also received extra ration coupons when doing heavy physical work. On our street, I can remember there were both Poles and Germans and on a day-to-day level everything was quite normal. They spoke German, but at times also spoke Polish and no-one really cared.

 

Despite what seemed to me at the time to be a relatively benign environment for the Poles in my town, the historic reality must be acknowledged. Occupied Poland suffered terribly during the occupation by Nazi Germany – more than any other country except, perhaps, the Soviet Union.xxvi Many studies have showed that about six million Polish died at the hands of the Nazi regime, and many more were deported into the Third Reich to work as slave labourers. Further, there were many forced deportations and re-settlements – what today is called ‘ethnic cleansing’ – throughout occupied Poland including Upper Silesia.xxvii The Soviets, too, were quite brutal. Most notoriously, they murdered approximately 22,000 officers of the Polish armed forces in the Katyn forest region. Incidentally, there was an ‘Adolf Jozef Gaczol’ listed amongst the Katyn victims but as far as we know there is no relationship to my family.xxviii

 

Even in Bielsko-Biala, if there were any issues with the Poles, they were dealt with swiftly and sometimes ruthlessly by the Nazi authorities. One of my Polish friends, Frank, was employed at the Anker-Werke AG plant where my mother worked. We played together a lot before the war. One day I came home to see my mother and Frank’s mother on the street talking in front of our home. Having not seen Frank for some time I asked how he was. I was shocked to find that he was dead. Even worse, he had been killed by the Nazi authorities for having taken three days off work because he was sick. As he didn’t have permission and hadn’t phoned to let the factory know, he was arrested and sent to Auschwitz where he was killed. I was stunned as he had been a great friend, and I was also deeply sad and embarrassed.

 

There was also, of course, the reality that many of the worst Nazi death camps, such as Auschwitz, were located within occupied Poland and many Poles –both Jewish and non-Jewish – met their fates there. Auschwitz itself was about 30kms north-west from Bielsko-Biala and I certainly have memories of that.

 

 

THE JEWS OF BIELITZ AND AUSCHWITZ

The Nazi regime had slowly but surely established its persecution of Jews and other minorities in the Third Reich before invading Poland in 1939.xxix So when the Wehrmacht arrived in Bielsko-Biala on 3 September 1939, the Nazi regime was already well-practiced at identifying the Jewish and other minority populations for arrest, persecution and deportation. On 4 September 1939, the Nazis burned down the two Synagogues in Bielsko and the .N. Bialik Jewish cultural home. A few days later they then burned down the two Synagogues in the then separate town of Biala, and its Orthodox Jews were forced to throw the Holy Books into the fire. The summer of 1940 saw a ghetto established but it was then liquidated in June 1942 when the town's remaining Jewish population was deported to Auschwitz.xxx

 

I was not a witness to the more dramatic aspects of the persecution such as the burning of the Synagogues though I did see their burnt out shells afterwards. I, however, did see that prior to their removal to the ghettos and then to Auschwitz and other concentration camps, the Jewish population were already being exploited and abused by doing the city’s ‘dirty-work’ such as garbage removal and street-cleaning. Initially, the Jews we required to wear thin white armbands showing they were Jews, but they would roll their sleeves up so you couldn’t see them. Then, they were required to wear the yellow Star of David with the word ‘Jude’ (Jew) written on it. This continued until they slowly disappeared from the city. After 1943, I didn’t see any more Jews in Bielsko-Biala.

 

Auschwitz was, of course, the largest Nazi death camp and has since become a byword for the Holocaust itself. Initially a Polish army barracks, ‘Auschwitz’ ultimately became a large complex that encompassed a series of camps and took its name after the village (Oswiecim in Polish) outside of which it was built.xxxi

 

The first stories we heard about Auschwitz was that political prisoners were being taken their as part of their ‘re-education’ to be ‘good Nazis’. Curious, I suggested to some of my friends that we grab our bicycles and ride the 30kms or so to take a look. My friends were keen, but we thought it would probably be a good idea if we checked with the local Hitler Youth authorities if this was alright. We were told very directly and menacingly that this was not going to happen and that we were to stay away from Auschwitz otherwise we would find ourselves in huge trouble. So, we didn’t go and we never spoke about it again. It had become a ‘taboo’ subject.

 

Slowly we heard through word-of-mouth that Auschwitz was going to become a concentration camp. Stories about the Jews and their fate came later on and only slowly – piece by piece. The stories we heard were accepted as facts and as the war progressed we knew about what was going on there. This includes the stories of torture, removal of hair, removal of jewellery and gold teeth, the gas chambers and the other ‘activities’ – it was common knowledge. Strangely enough, it was my school friend Edmund who spread the stories about the murder of the Jews. He would come to school saying things like: “Do you know what they are doing to the Jews at Auschwitz? They are killing the Jews and making soap out of them!” Indeed, part of our rations included soap and for a time we received some poor quality soap that floated on water. Eventually stories began to circulate that this soap was indeed made from Jews and people very quickly stopped buying it. After a short while, the soap disappeared from the markets. This has been a controversial debate over recent years and while the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum eventually concluded that a small experimental amount of soap – between 10kg and 100kg – were produced in Gdansk/Danzig,xxxii it also appears that none was manufactured in Auschwitz itself, nor was it ever produced on an industrial scale for general use by the population.xxxiii

 

Although I heard these rumours and stories through Edmund, the adults seldom if ever talked about Auschwitz and what was happening there. The impression I had was that people didn’t like what was happening but were too afraid to say anything out of fear of persecution and possibly ending up there themselves. Indeed, on my trip to Australia, one of my fellow German passengers called Gerhardt told me that his brother had worked in Auschwitz in the camp office and had made a complaint about what was occurring. Gerhardt’s brother was told very quickly by his boss to keep his views to himself otherwise he would find himself as an in-mate. In the scraps of conversation I overheard between my great Auntie Antonina and my mother, they didn’t approve either even though my mother was a member of the Nazi Party. Having experienced good business relationships with the Jewish community during the time my family owned the bakery, they couldn’t understand why the Jews were being persecuted and killed the way they were.

 

 

MY FATHER AND HIS FATE (AND OF VOLKSDEUTSCHE)

After my parents’ separation my father remained distant from us. The last time I saw him was during the summer of 1944. At that stage he lived and worked in a nearby city not far from Gleiwitz/Gliwice called Beuthen/Bytom which was about 70km away from Bielsko-Biala. My mother had asked him to make a large birthday cake – what in German is called a ‘Torte’ – and she gave me one or two bottles of wine as payment and sent me by myself on the train to Beuthen/Bytom to pick it up. It was during this last visit that my father told me what he thought of the war. Although he was not really a political person he did, on that occasion, say to me: “Hitler is not going to win this war. He’s made too many enemies.”

 

Like my mother, my father probably signed up to the Deutsche Volksliste but unlike my mother it is likely that he signed up purely out of pragmatism as not signing possibly meant being sent to a concentration camp.xxxiv Also, being on the list made getting employment easier. His alimony payments book has his name spelt as ‘Thaddäus Gatschol’: that is, in a ‘Germanised’ way, rather than with a Polish ‘cz’, which again probably indicates his inclusion on the Deutsche Volksliste. The downside of this was that as a member of the Deutsche Volksliste he was eligible to be conscripted into the Wehrmacht. These are the logical conclusions I have come to as he was drafted, at the age of 37, just after I last saw him.

 

Our information about him is very patchy as it relies on family word-of-mouth and distant memories of long-ago conversations. Most of what I know comes from what I overheard in conversations between my mother and my great Auntie Antonina. But as best as we know he was, apparently, initially stationed in Denmark in an artillery regiment and was then transferred to the Grenadiers (infantry). In November 1944 we received an official letter saying that he was missing in action in the vicinity of Krakow which is about 120km from Bielsko-Biala. I only found out many years later through a family friend that my father was killed in action – possibly as late as January 1945. Later, we went to the various German authorities such as the German Red Cross, the Federal Archives (Bundesarchiv), the German Service Personnel Records Organisation (Deutsche Dienststelle) and the German Wargraves Commission (Volksbund) requesting whatever information they had. They found nothing – not even his draft papers. So, sadly, the alimony payments booklet and a few photos are the only pieces of evidence we have of him.

 

 

OUR LAST DAYS IN BIELSKO-BIALA

The second half of 1944 was a triumph for the Allies and disastrous for the Wehrmacht. We kept up to date with the general news and the Red Army’s advance through radio broadcasts. At first, with the Red Army 100km from Bielsko-Biala, I wasn’t too alarmed until Edmund said: “Are you kidding? – they could be here in two hours!” At that moment, a wave of terror hit me. Through Nazi propaganda we had heard that the Red Army was brutal in its advance and I began to ask my mother serious questions about what we were going to do.

 

My father’s prophecy about ‘Hitler having made too many enemies’ had come true.

 

 

FLIGHT OF GERMANS FROM THE RED ARMY

On 12 January 1945, the Red Army’s offensive against the Wehrmacht opened in southern Poland, starting from their bridgehead over the Vistula River near Sandomierz only 240km from Bielsko-Biala.xxxv

 

With news of the Red Army’s success filtering through, people were already trying to leave Upper Silesia in late 1944 and early January 1945. Reality struck when one day just before school, a German army Sergeant and the school janitor came to our classroom and declared the school closed until the end of the war as it was being taken over by the Wehrmacht for use as barracks. At first I was thrilled at the idea of no more school but then the gravity of the situation hit me: the war had again reached Bielsko-Biala, but this time through the advance of a hostile Red Army. I was terrified and wanted to leave as soon as possible. When my mother arrived home, she also realised the seriousness of the situation and said she would start to organise our departure immediately.

 

Although Nazi propaganda stories were exaggerated, the Red Army also had little compassion for German prisoners-of-war (POWs)xxxvi and German teenagers who they saw as either a potential threat, or as a labour resource for the Soviet Union. I heard later that when the Red Army arrived in Bielsko-Biala, the local Polish authorities gave them a list of all the German school children, and any boy over the age of 14 was arrested and taken back to Siberia.xxxvii One of my schoolmates, Günter, was taken away and died in the Soviet Union. Edmund was also one of those arrested and taken away. Although he returned after two years, he died shortly afterward due to the poor conditions under which he was held. A third school friend, Stanislaw, also returned. In 1988, I met him again and although he was only one year older than me, he was physically shattered – he could hardly walk and couldn’t eat any solid food.xxxviii So, it was with good reason that we feared the Red Army’s advance and made our plans to go west and try to meet up with the armies of the western Allies as they advanced into Nazi occupied Europe from France and the other liberated western European countries.

 

 

DIVIDED WE FLED

On 22 January 1945, my mother told us that we were all going to leave Bielsko-Biala, but that she would be evacuating with her company to Bielefeld and that my sister and I would be travelling separately with my great Auntie Antonina. The idea was that we would eventually meet up in the German speaking region of the now Czech Republic called the Sudetenland which had been annexed by Nazi Germany in September/October 1938 following the so-called ‘Munich Conference’.

 

The plan was very simple: the three of us would go to the station and catch a train to wherever it was going as long as it allowed us to avoid any Soviet entanglements. I was a little stunned to hear that we were going to separate. My mother explained that Anker-Werke AG had a train with which the company would transport its machinery back to Bielefeld and that she had gotten herself a place on that train. So, the three of us left on 22 January and my mother left two days later on 24 January.

 

At the main train station in Bielsko-Biala, we went to the main goods terminal rather than the passenger platforms. Our first travel leg lasted for 48 hours and on the first day it was reasonably comfortable with a warm carriage and some food we had brought with us. But after the first day the heating system on the train failed so it got cold and uncomfortable and gave us little chance to get some proper sleep. The windows were frozen closed and covered with a thin layer of ice. Apart from the frigid conditions, my other concern was the Allied air forces. By this stage, the Luftwaffe had all but ceased to be an effective fighting force and the western Allies particularly were able to roam into German airspace at will. In order to hinder the operations of the German army, they were attacking trains and other forms of ground transport regardless of what their purpose was.xxxix

 

 

MY 'MARVELLOUS' TIME IN HERRLICH

After those two days we arrived in the Sudetenland at a small but pleasant town called Duchcov (Dux in German) about 80km directly south of Dresden. We were unloaded from the train and carried our things to a school we were to be accommodated. We had arrived at about 7am or 8am. We were cold, tired and hungry but were given something to eat, a chance to wash and the opportunity to sleep on straw that had been spread on the floor. In the evening we were taken by bus to a small village called Hrdlovkaxl – which ironically in German (Herrlich) means ‘gorgeous’ or ‘marvellous’ – a very short distance west of Duchcov/Dux. There, we spent four or five days in another school but this one had proper beds and good food.

 

In the evening, the three of us were split up and allocated to some foster families. My great Auntie Antonina went with a family who lived above a huge hall – possibly an old cinema – where she was given a small room with a bed, set of draws and basic cooking facilities with which to look after herself. My sister ended up with a family who owned a small haberdashery business.

 

 


My mother, centre in the light coloured blouse, on the Anker Werke AG evacuation train from Bielsko-Biala to Bielefeld in late January 1945.

 

My foster family in Hrdlovka/Herrlich, the Eckerts, were also friendly and welcoming, particularly my foster mother. Herr Eckert was in the Nazi Sturmabteilung (‘SA’ or more commonly known as ‘Stormtroopers’). They had been Hitler’s street-fighters in the 1930s when the Nazis were seeking power, regularly getting into brawls with the German communists and other Nazi Party opponents.xli His SA membership was, however, almost comical as he was very quiet and looked like he couldn’t hurt a fly. Like my mother, he probably joined the Nazi Party in order to get or keep his job as foreman in the local coal mines. I hardly spoke with him for the three months I was there. Frau Eckert, on the other hand, was wonderful despite also being a committed Nazi. Whereas my great Auntie and even my mother treated me still as a child and were quick to criticise, Frau Eckert treated me as an adult and let me do as I pleased as long as I obeyed a few simple rules such as being home for dinner and obeying a 9pm curfew. The rest of the family consisted of two children: a son and daughter.

 

The son, Rolf, was only 16 years old and he was in the army and was essentially a radar operator in an anti-aircraft unit equipped with 88mm ‘Flak’ guns. Through good luck, he was stationed near his home village and would come home periodically to see his family.

 

The daughter, Margrit, was 20 years old and had been engaged to an officer who had been killed on the eastern front. Magrit was supposed to be coming to visit us and my foster mother was very excited and looking forward to introducing me to her. But the visit never happened. Margit lived in Dresden and became a victim of the controversial bombing of 1314 February 1945 when Britain’s Royal Air Force (RAF) destroyed almost the entire city in a single air-raid with a death-toll of 25,000 people.xlii Margit was missing after the raid and was almost certainly killed.

 

Despite being a German evacuee, I did make friends with some of the local Czech boys. There were a couple of Czechs who used to play marbles under the kitchen window of our flat. One day I went downstairs and they called over to me in German and asked if I wanted to join in. I had no idea how to play their game, but I went over to them and we became good friends. One of them, Pepik, lived on my building. Eventually we spent a fair bit of time together going to the movies, playing football and generally, what one would call today, ‘hanging out’.

 

Without question there were tensions between the Czechs and the Germans with prejudices on both sides. On one occasion, I was with my Czech friends who had made a small boat and wanted to test it in the local lake. They introduced me to some other Czech boys but nothing was said. At that moment, another Czech boy came along with two young German guys who I knew from Silesia – Hans and Manfred – who had just arrived as evacuees. The Czech called out to their compatriot: “Why are you bringing those bloody Germans here?!” A little embarrassed, my Czech friends said: “But Otto is German…” to which they replied: “Yeah, but Otto is alright.” Similarly, when I later caught up with the two German boys, they asked me: “Why are you hanging out with Czechs?” It didn’t bother me in the slightest as the Czech guys and I got on fine and, being a stranger, I was grateful for the company.

 

In about mid to late April 1945, we received a new HJ leader. A 20 year-old former Panzer crew member, he had lost a leg below the knee when his tank ran over a mine. He was very pleasant, and we all very much liked him.

 

 

ESCAPE TO THE WEST

On 8 May we heard of Nazi Germany’s surrender to the Allied forces. Although no-one panicked as such, there were many nervous people, including me. The uncertainty as to what was going to happen to us all generated a lot of anxiety. I certainly wasn’t courageous enough to travel west-wards by myself but as it happened our HJ leader took the initiative. He told us that the following morning –9 May – he was going to head west-wards towards the American lines. His offer was clear: “I don’t want to see any of you fall into Russian hands, and while I can’t take responsibility for you, I will lead you towards the Americans. This is strictly voluntary. You don’t have to come but you can if you want to.”

 

I decided to go with your new HJ leader, but in order to convince my foster mother to let me go I told her a lie that, as a ‘Werewolf’,xliii I had been called-up for action. I was worried that if I told her the truth she may not have let me go as she felt a sense of responsibility to my mother and family to keep me safe. However, being a committed Nazi she was supportive of my impending fictional service to the Vaterland and helped me get ready to leave. Frau Eckert made a so-called ‘Iron Ration’ (eiserne Portionen), or military ration, for me that consisted of a dozen slices of toasted white bread, a small candle, matches and a small bag of salt which by that point in the war had been very hard to get. I got my rucksack and put most of the clothes I still had into it. I also took a blanket and a spare pair of shoes. I did not take any money as I had no idea if it still had any worth given that the Nazi state has just ceased to exist. Rather foolishly given the circumstances, I wore my HJ uniform. Luckily, I got away with it as no-one stopped me or arrested me for wearing that uniform. In any case, I had removed all the emblems, epaulettes and other HJ markings.

 

So, at 6:30am on 9 May 1945, the HJ members – including my friend Manfred and our HJ leader – left Hrdlovka/Herrlich. Many years later I found out from Frau Eckert that the road we used to leave was the very road that the Red Army used to enter the village four hours later. It would have been a disaster if we had run into them and I have no idea how we didn’t cross paths.

 

We walked all of that first day together as a group, but the following day we were picked up by two army trucks which meant the group had to split into two. I ended up on the second truck and before too long the first truck had sped away. We never saw it again. Even before we were split up, we had already lost our HJ leader. Along the way we heard a fighter aircraft and threw ourselves under cover. After the aircraft left and we picked ourselves up, our leader told us all that we should get rid of what weapons we were carrying: I had been carrying a .22 rifle, and he had a rifle and a ‘Panzerfaust’ anti-tank weapon. He then told us that he was going to go forward by himself to reconnoitre the upcoming territory on his bicycle to see if the Red Army was already there. We never saw him again, though I did hear later from Frau Eckert that he had eventually managed to escape to the west.

 

So, by the second day my group had already been reduced to eight boys on a truck without a leader. Of the eight, only Manfred and I were from Silesia as the rest were Sudeten Germans. We eventually found ourselves in Karlovy Varyxliv (Karlsbad in German) and I got into an argument with one of the Sudeten Germans, a tall, red-headed 16 year old boy, who had heard a rumour that US troops were already in the city. We were in the hills overlooking Karlovy Vary/Karlsbad and he wanted to leave our truck and go down into the city in search of the Americans even though his ‘evidence’ that they were there was only a rumour. I thought he was crazy and said so as I thought it was mad to leave our transport on the vain hope that we could find another truck to travel on if the stories weren’t true. But I was overruled, and we all left the truck and walked down into Karlovy Vary/Karlsbad. Sure enough, there were no US troops there and I swear that if he wasn’t bigger, taller and older than I was, I would have belted him. So, we then returned up the hill to where we disembarked our truck to find that it was, unsurprisingly, not there. At this point my red-headed friend announced that he though the best option would be for us to turn around and return home. We once again got into an argument as there was no way I was going to walk into the arms of the Red Army thinking, rightly, that we were going to be far better off if we made it to the American lines. In the meantime, we had been trying to hitchhike and asked a number of trucks if they could take our group. While a couple of drivers were willing to take one or two, no-one had enough space to take all of us. Eventually it came to a head and the Sudeten Germans decided they would go back, and Manfred said that he would stick with me. Manfred and I had made a deal that our respective families would take each other in depending on what happened: that is, if I found my mother in Bielefeld first we would take him in, and if Manfred found his family first then they would take me in. So, we said our goodbyes to the Sudeten boys, wished each other luck and by happy chance a truck arrived that was able to take both Manfred and myself.

 

 


My escape to the west, January 1945 – April 1946. Map courtesy of The Department of History, United States Military Academy at West Point. Place names and arrows added by the author.

 

But our good luck was short lived and Manfred and I soon found ourselves hopping from one hitchhiked lift to another. Eventually we found ourselves on a tractor with two guys from the Reichsarbeitsdienstxlv (Reich Labour Service). They had a trailer on which were two heavy car engines and a load of special wood chips for modified cars that were fuelled by so-called ‘wood-gas’.xlvi Also on that tractor was a woman from Katowice/Kattowitz with a son and daughter. Like ourselves, her son was a teenager and the daughter was a couple of years younger. There was also another boy who was travelling alone, and the woman looked after him as best she could. One night, we stopped to sleep and when we woke up the following morning the tractor had left and we were left stuck on the trailer. We spent most of the day watching people and the other refugee traffic go by. The roads were packed full of vehicles of all types and there was an almost endless stream of traffic and humanity all heading west trying to reach the American lines.

 

Eventually a large Mercedes truck pulled up on the other side of the road. It was owned by on elderly woman from Upper-Lusatia in Silesiaxlvii (Oberlausitz in German) who had owned a flour mill there. She had filled up her truck with all her possessions before evacuating. With her were her two daughters, one of whom was about 30, with the other in her mid-40s. The truck had itself been modified to run on the very wood gas that the wood chips in our trailer were designed to produce. So it wasn’t too much of a surprise when the driver eventually came over to us and asked if he could have some of the wood chips. Even though the wood chips weren’t ours to give, the woman from Katowice/Kattowitz was shrewd and said: “Yes, but you have to take us with you.” The driver started to make what to me sounded like excuses about his poor clutch and brakes but when we offered to hook up the trailer and give him all the wood chips we had, he agreed on two conditions: firstly, that we get rid of the two heavy car engines (which were now essentially useless) and secondly, that one person had to stay on the trailer and operate its hand-brake during the trip. “No problem” said our Kattowitzian friend and we were once again on our way. I didn’t quite trust the driver so to make sure he didn’t leave us behind, Manfred and I sat rather dangerously on the front bumper bar clutching the guidance poles that were positioned on each side. Manfred and I also rested on the roof of the truck’s large wood chip box so that the driver couldn’t drive off without us. In the end, we needn’t have bothered. The driver kept his word and allowed us to travel with him until we finally got to the US refugee camp. The Kattowitzian woman rode on the trailer and operated the hand-brake as promised while Manfred and I stood ready to use wooden chocks to help stop the truck when required. The trip itself was painfully slow as the roads were packed and it was all ‘stop-start’ driving. We were lucky to travel three kilometres in a day.

 

I don’t remember much about what we ate, but food was not easy to come by and you grabbed what you could when you could. On one occasion, Manfred returned from an excursion with two loaves of bread under his arms. He told me that there was a German truck throwing them out to the evacuees and that I should also go and get some. So I went and managed to get a loaf and then waited hoping for a second. I was standing on the rear axle and asked the driver to throw some out from the side of the truck rather than just from the back. He did and I grabbed my second loaf. But just as I did, I could feel someone trying to rip it out from under my arm. I turned around to see a young woman grappling with my bread. It didn’t matter what I said to her she just kept trying to pull it out from under my arm and she seemed to be in some sort of daze. Although I initially hesitated, in the end I struck her on the chest and she fell back onto the ground. Sacred that the other people were going to attack me, I ran but it seemed that no-one cared as they were themselves were desperate for food. When I got back to the truck, I put both loaves in my rucksack and headed back to see if I could grab another. Sure enough, I once again caught a loaf as it came out of the truck and once again felt someone trying to rip it out from under my arm. I turned around to see an old farmer in his mid-60s trying to grab my bread but this time I did not hesitate to hit him and again make my escape. When I got back to Manfred at the truck, we split up the loaves so that we each had two in case we became separated, and we then shared the fifth. I only remember eating one warm, cooked meal during that time. One evening we had stopped for the night and the one of the two daughters from the Mercedes truck saw me eating a slice of my dry bread. Although we had hardly spoken to each other during the entire trip she asked me what I was eating, took pity on me and gave me a bowl of warm stew.

 

Our first sight of the Americans was on the road. Our truck had just stopped in the jammed traffic and on the other side of the road I could see a US jeep slowly driving in our direction. In it was a driver, and in the back were two officers both of whom were standing up. They all looked confused and disbelieving as they had probably never seen anything like this before: an endless rag-tag column of vehicles full of desperate refugees. I was relieved and said a quiet word of thanks as I thought that the American lines can’t be far away and that hopefully we were now safe. We soon ended up in a big village and parked on a steep slope only a few hundred metres from a river, and it was that river that was the demarcation line between the US armies and the Soviet Red Army. The bridge over the river was guarded by two US Sherman tanks with their guns facing eastwards: that is, in our direction. Just at that moment, five Red Army officers approached with smiles on their faces and we all felt a moment of panic and terror. Some of the women and older men started to cry and I, too, was at the end of my emotional tether. Having done all I could, I now felt that fate held my future in its hands and I just waited to see what would happen. Then, a US jeep came towards us with two Americans in it and one asked: “Why are the people crying?” A woman answered: “The Russians are here and we are scared of them. We know what they are going to do to us.” The American replied: “Oh no, this is American occupied territory and the Russians can’t do anything to you – you’re safe here.”

 

I had made it to the American lines.

 

 

THANK YOU, 'BLOOD AND GUTS' PATTON

It is a quirk of fate that I made it to the safety of US-occupied territory. In fact, the US army shouldn’t have been there at all. General George S. Patton, whose nickname was ‘old blood and guts’, had advanced into the then Czechoslovakia against the intent of the western Allies agreement with the Soviet Union. Patton didn’t like, nor did he trust, the Soviets and would have continued on to liberate and occupy Prague if he had been given the chance but the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, ordered him to stop at the Karlovy Vary – Plzen – Ceska Budejovice line.xlviii Nonetheless, Patton had penetrated about one hundred kilometres into Czech territory and it was his enthusiasm that allowed me to reach the relative safety of the American lines. Thank you, General Patton.

 

 

LIFE IN THE REFUGEE CAMP

The refugee camp was just outside of Mariánské Lázně (Marienbad in German). The city was only 10km from the Czech-German border and, like Karlovy Vary/Karlsbad, was also a historic spa town. Run by the US army, the camp was on a former Luftwaffe auxiliary air-field which had been ploughed over so that it could no longer be used to operate aircraft. It had what looked like a concrete bunker, on top of which was a huge radar dish.xlix

 

We weren’t in the camp for very long, only about three weeks. When we first got there, Manfred came upon the idea of swapping our HJ daggers for cigarettes. Apart from smoking, cigarettes were also good for use as barter for other goods. We approached one of the 18 year-old guards and asked if he wanted one. He agreed to a swap of one dagger for one packet of Camels: my first American cigarettes.

 

We received no food during the first three days and I began snooping around the camp for whatever I could find. There were a few smashed barracks so I thought I would take a look. In the rubble of one of the buildings I found, in a small ornamental table, a partially cut loaf of bread. I sliced off and piece and, not wanting to be greedy, left the area and watched to see if anyone else turned up. No-one did, but had they I would have asked before I took anymore. My restraint did me no good as the following day I returned, but someone else had taken the remaining loaf. So, I kept looking and eventually found a 5x8 centimetre piece of smoked bacon rind. Even back in Bielsko-Biala, I used to love eating bacon rind. For me it was a sort of chewing gum, so I took the rind, cut it into spoon sized pieces and heated it using a spoon that I had also found as well as the matches and candle that Frau Eckert had given me. Given my hunger and the circumstances, it tasted quite good.

 

Slowly our rations increased. Our first cooked meals were a modest amount – about 300g – of potatoes and green peas with a sort of potato flour sauce mixture on top of it, but with no meat or butter. At first, food was only served at lunch time, but then we eventually also got two slices of bread for breakfast. In the end, we settled into a routine of bread for breakfast with the potatoes and peas mix for lunch, then on the following day we received soup for lunch and two slices of bread in the evening. Then the cycle repeated. The only meat we ate was when Manfred and I stole some preserved goose meat from the Mercedes truck on which we had been travelling. Having not had meat for so long, it was unbelievably delicious and we then bartered the left-over gravy in the jars for about 500g of sugar.

 

Despite it being run by the US army, the camp had a German Kommandant who also happened to come from Silesia. The Kommandant was subordinate to the US camp commander and was in charge of the camp’s bureaucracy. All the refugees in the camp had to report him and give their details. Apart from the Germans, there were many other nationalities including Russians, Hungarians, Romanians and Poles. As we reporting to the Kommandant he offered us extra rations to do some extra work for him. So, we became his personal helpers but our reward was some poorly prepared and usually burnt soup made from the camp’s stale bread. Eventually, I felt that we were being taken advantage of and I ‘resigned’ as his helper. A threat by the Kommandant to tell the US camp commander didn’t mean anything to me as I was sure the US commander was far too busy to occupy himself with our petty disputes.

 

I was wrong. Not too long after, I heard a sort of scratching sound on the side of the tent Manfred and I were sleeping in. The ‘scratch’ was, in fact, the ‘knock’ of the US camp commander and he asked in broken German if he could enter. I said: “Of course: you are the commander and you can do whatever you like.” Very politely he said: “No, I can’t. This is your tent – your personal space – and I will only come in if I have your permission.” I was flabbergasted. This was something I certainly wasn’t used to, having grown up with adults constantly telling me what to do with very little consideration of what I thought. I invited him in and he then asked about the situation with the German Kommandant. At the same time, he also explained that he was in the process of improving the camp by digging latrines, cleaning up rubbish and generally organising it so that it was as functional and hospitable as it could be. To do that, he said, he needed people who were able to work to join in and the German Kommandant had said that I wasn’t willing to work. I very quickly corrected him saying: “I’m very happy to do my share of the work, but we had been promised extra rations by the Kommandant and he didn’t keep his part of the deal. I won’t be taken advantage of.” The US camp commander offered a double ration to all those who worked. I told him I was sceptical given everything I had already experienced but he gave his word that if I didn’t get my double ration I could walk into his office anytime and he would personally make sure I got it. I was impressed and agreed to work the following day. It wasn’t really work. To me it seemed more like ‘busy-work’ to make sure we weren’t bored. The irony was, when Manfred and I got our second rations we were unable to eat it all in one go. We were so used to the meagre food we had been eating over the previous weeks that our stomachs had shrunk. It didn’t go to waste, though. We just ate it in small portions spread out during the day.

 

The Americans actually treated us well and, given the circumstances, I find it hard to fault them. The only inappropriate thing that the Americans did was that, one day, there was a call over the loud-speakers saying that: “Due to espionage, all cameras, radios and binoculars are to be surrendered to the camp authorities.” Dutifully, we all surrendered the relevant items. It didn’t bother us too much as we were still grateful to have reached the American lines and generally felt ourselves lucky. Over the next few days, however, it became apparent that the Americans were walking around the camp with all our surrendered goods: they had effectively stolen them.

 

In the camp were also German POWs. They were separated from us and placed in a set of barracks across the road, which was guarded by the Americans with watch-towers and machine guns. Manfred and I befriended one of them, a young 18 year old called Heinz. One morning we saw the POWs assembled and they were given some news which caused a very angry response and a sort of collective ‘growl’ could be heard. My impression at the time was that they were going to be handed over to the Soviets, and that is what caused the ‘disturbance’.

 

Suddenly after three weeks in the camp, we were told by the Americans one evening to get ourselves ready as we were going to be transferred from the camp into Germany the following morning. We were all very happy to hear that. To us the most important thing was to get to Germany. For me, the travails of past few weeks had all been worth it.

 

 

LUCKY FOR SOME, UNLUCKY FOR OTHERS

My experience as a refugee is a small part of a much greater story about the flight and forced removal or ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Germans and ethnic Germans from eastern Europe after the Second World War. Largely unknown outside of Germany, between 10-14 million Germans were uprooted and sent west. This is not only the largest forced migration in history but probably the largest single movement of population in history.l There were many, like me, who fled west of their own accord when the Red Army came through fearful of the consequences of being in their path and not wanting to live under Soviet rule. In July 1945, the so-called ‘Big Three’ – Soviet leader Josef Stalin, US President Truman and the UK’s Prime Ministers Churchill and Atleeli – met at the so-called ‘Potsdam Conference’. There, the borders of post-war Europe were redrawn and Germany ceded nearly 30 per cent of its pre-1938 territory, leaving large ethnic German minorities as new constituents of Czechoslovakia and Poland.lii Although the Potsdam agreement stipulated that their removal was supposed to be ‘orderly and humane’, the reality was very different.

 

Prior to the Potsdam Conference were the so-called ‘wild expulsions’ where the local authorities removed the local populations. They were not ‘wild’ as they were organised and the police, troops and militias who carried them out were acting under orders and more often than not acting under direction of the highest authorities.liii Finally, the better organised and systematic expulsions occurred after the Potsdam Conference. This included those expulsions undertaken, for example, under the so-called ‘Beneš Decrees’ in Czechoslovakia.liv In total, approximately 500,000 expellees died during the expulsions due to hypothermia, starvation, and to a lesser extent direct violence.lv

 

Some famous names can trace part of their family history to these events. In the Federal Republic of Germany, Joschka Fischer, Foreign Minister in the government led by Gerhard Schröder (1998 – 2005), was from a family of ethnic Germans who were expelled from Hungary.lvi In Australia, the comedian Adam Hills, who for many years hosted the hit music show ‘Spicks & Specks’, can trace his ancestry back to Sudeten Germans who were also expelled from Czechoslovakia after the war. As part of the television series, ‘Who do you think you are?’lvii Adam Hills traced his family back to a small village near the German-Czech border called Hora Svatého Šebestiána (Sankt Sebastiansberg in German) and he met his relatives who are now living in Germany. When he returned to the village, all traces of its German history had been removed. Incidentally, Hora Svatého Šebestiána/Sankt Sebastiansberg is only about 50km from Hrdlovka/Herrlich.

 

Although my mother and I made it to the west, my sister and my great Auntie Antonina did not. They remained in Hrdlovka/Herrlich when I left. Frau Eckert later told me that, despite everything, the Red Army was well-behaved when they reached Hrdlovka/Herrlich and once there, they told all the evacuees to go back to the home towns. There was, however, no transport and my great Auntie Antonina and my sister started to walk back using the railway-tracks as a guide. But given that my Auntie was about 70 years old, and my sister was about 10 years-old, travelling by foot was very arduous and they didn’t get very far. Eventually they took shelter in a nunnery. There, during the night, my great Auntie Antonina began to scream and shout. She made an awful noise and then suddenly fell silent. The following morning she was found dead – presumably from a heart attack. My sister was eventually placed in the care of another foster family and stayed in what became communist Czechoslovakia.

 

Despite my ordeal, I was grateful that I had come out of it alive, safe and uninjured. But life in post-war Germany was not going to be easy. Far from it.

 

 

INTO POST-WAR GERMANY: 'DIE STUNDE NULL'

The morning after we were ordered by the Americans to prepare for our departure – 7 June 1945 – about twenty US army trucks arrived in the camp. We were told to take only what we could carry, and we were then loaded up with twenty people per truck. The trucks, though, also had a trailer so it was possible for us to take a reasonable amount of personal belongings. Manfred and I broke down our tent and he took half and I took the other half. We had no idea about our final destination.

 

The Germany into which we were travelling was a desolate and desperate place. Not only militarily defeated, Germany’s cities and industry were devastated by Allied air-raids and large portions of the population were suffering from hunger and the loss of their homes. Moreover, it was occupied and divided by the four victorious powers and morally bankrupt as a result of the Holocaust and other Nazi crimes. In Germany today, the end of the Second World War is referred to as Die Stunde Null – ‘the Zero Hour’ – a point of time at which everything begins again.

 

 

ROAD TRIP AND ARRIVAL

We travelled all day and, on the way, we passed a number of US army trucks travelling in the opposite direction most of which were carrying east Europeans who had been forced into slave labour. Nazi Germany’s war economy had been supported by millions of slave labourers who had been forcibly deported and made to work in the Third Reich so as to release man-power for the Wehrmacht and the arms industries.lviii Now, with the war over, they were being repatriated to their homelands. At one stage we also passed through Nuremberg. For kilometre after kilometre, there was nothing to see but burnt out and blasted ruins as the city had been utterly destroyed by Allied bombing raids and the street battles during April 1945 through which the Allies had taken the city.

 

In the evening we arrived in, as it turned out, Dinkelsbühl, an old medieval town in southern Germany which was then part of the US occupation zone. The Americans unceremoniously dumped us in the city’s central square and left immediately. There were many people standing in groups so, not sure about what to do, I went from one group to another asking what was happening. Much to my surprise, almost everyone self-identified according to their province: that is, they would answer ‘I’m a Saxon’ or ‘I’m a Thüringien’. When I came across a group of Austrians and I identified myself as German they got very angry and told me to ‘get lost’.

 

Eventually, I met a farmer with a cart who explained that the foreign slave labour was gone and they needed people to help with the up-coming harvest. Manfred was initially taken in by the town mayor (Burgermeister in German).

 



DOWN ON THE FARM

When we arrived at the village, the local farmers were already waiting for us. I don’t know how the arrangements had been made, but we as refugees were allocated to various people around the village for somewhere to live and work.

 

I ultimately spent ten months in that village. But living there killed off whatever enthusiasm I ever had of being a farmer. Farming was extremely hard work – between 12 – 14 hours a day in summer – and village life generally was terribly boring as there was absolutely no entertainment to enjoy when one wasn’t working. The farmers themselves were extremely difficult to understand with their thick Bavarian accents and they also treated us very poorly. The farmers generally, and my farmer in particular, didn’t seem to realise that most of us were from the cities and knew virtually nothing about farming and, in my case, I was only 14 years old. We were also fresh out of a refugee camp and had only been given basic rations to survive on. When we had our first meals together, I told the farmer that I wasn’t used to the thick, rich food they were serving. Having been in the DP camp and, before that, on the run from the Red Army, the milk, meat and other foods they were offering were difficult for me to digest. After a few days I fell sick with colic. For three days, I was in extreme pain but I got very little sympathy from my farmer as he thought I was just trying to avoid working. Slowly I got better, but having had the farmer give me a hard time just for being sick I went to the village mayor and asked to be relocated. He obliged. I was moved to a new farm and for a few weeks I was treated better. But after that, I started to get treated poorly once more and the farmer and I had a number of arguments. On one occasion he threatened to run me through with a pitchfork, and I in turn threatened the same. It seemed to me that, having become used to ordering around their foreign slave labourers, the farmers thought that could treat displaced Germans, such as me, the same. Although in the end I was given a miserly 150 Reichsmarks for ten months work, I never got paid a regular wage and he never replaced the clothes I ruined working for him.

 

As for Manfred, he was eventually placed on a farm across the road and although he was worked for longer hours he seemed to cope better than I did. Manfred’s farmer had also promised him a new suit and shoes as a Christmas gift and that kept him motivated but it also meant he lost his enthusiasm to keep travelling with me until I reached Bielefeld. In the end, the farmer went back on his word and Manfred got nothing. He too had been taken advantage of.

 

 

MOTHER AND SON

It was in February 1946 that I re-established contact with my mother. One evening, I got a message from the village Burgermeister that a letter from my mother had arrived. I was having dinner but I dropped everything and ran in my socks (there was still snow and ice on the ground at that time) to the Burgermeister’s house and got the letter. Letters at that point were quite something as war damage meant that it took four weeks to arrive due to the country’s smashed roads and bridges.

 

I wrote back to my mother and she agreed that I could come up to Bielefeld. But, strangely, she insisted that I keep her agreement for me to come a secret and that, if asked, I was to say I came to Bielefeld of my own accord without my mother’s knowledge. The impression I had was that in this way, my mother could plead ignorance if my arrival caused any problems with her landlord.

 

At the end of April 1946, I got my clothes and other items together and checked out of the local Burgeramt (‘Residents Registration Office’) which in this case the Burgermeister’s office. The daughter of the elderly lady from the Mercedes truck generously gave me a set of lady’s skiing trousers (which might sound a bit strange but I didn’t care as I had no long trousers at all), and a leather hunting bag. The farmer’s wife also gave me a 4kg loaf of bread and twenty eggs. According to an old superstition, she cut off the first slice of bread as to do otherwise meant bad luck. The Burgermeister offered to take me to the railway station, but I took the bus. I was, however, very grateful for the offer as the Burgermeister was a busy man and had other tasks to be going on with. I thanked him sincerely as he had been as helpful as anyone could have expected him to be during my stay. From there I went up to the main street and caught the bus to the main train station in Dinkelsbühl.

 

Despite our initial deal, Manfred didn’t follow me to Bielefeld. We eventually said our goodbyes and I didn’t see him again. I heard later that he was reunited with his family in October 1946 and he ended up in what became East Germany.

 

At the time one couldn’t book a ticket directly to your destination if that destination was over a long distance. Like the mail, personal transport was dependent on how much war damage existed on the roads, bridges and railway lines between you and your journey's end. So, in the first instance, I could only book a ticket to Nuremberg. Having bought my ticket, by chance I ran into a family who had also been in the Marienbad refugee camp. They were two boys, one of whom was called Wolfgang, and a woman and had been in the truck next to ours while we had been on the road in the Sudetenland. So, we kept each other company through the train journey from Dinkelsbühl to Nuremberg.

 

 

JUDGMENT AND NUREMBERG

My travel companions and I arrived in Nuremberg in the evening. Tired and hungry, the rest of us thought we would see if we could find a meal or hot tea at the local Red Cross. Halfway to the Red Cross station – which wasn’t far from the main Nuremberg train station – we were stopped by a US army Lieutenant and a German civilian in a trench coat. They asked Wolfgang to go with them. He wasn’t keen to join them but rather stupidly I encouraged him as my previous experience with the Americans had been that if you helped them out they would give you some form of reward, like chocolate or cigarettes. I then followed the three of them hoping to also pick-up some goods. What I hadn’t initially noticed was that there were two US army trucks and two jeeps parked just outside the train station. The two jeeps were each armed with a mounted machine-gun and they ‘bookended’ the two trucks. Although I tried to disengage myself at that point, it was too late and the German in the trench coat insisted I remain with them. We were put on one of the US army trucks which was already full with some young men who looked a bit ‘rough’ to me. From there we were taken to the Nuremberg ‘Palace of Justice’ which was the very same building where the International Military Tribunal was then conducting the war crimes trials against the Nazi leadership.

 

 


The Hauptbahnhof (main train station) in Nuremberg, pictured in 2005, where I was effectively arrested.

 

 

We were taken the Sub-Regional Office for the US Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC) which was within the compound behind the ‘Palace of Justice’. At first we were interrogated individually. This included being stripped naked to see if we had any tattoos that may have indicted SS membership.lix Our clothes were also searched.

 

We were eventually put back on the US army trucks and transferred to a gaol where we spent four days. We had ‘mug-shot’ photos taken of us complete with numbers, and our fingerprints were taken as well. We also got very little food with only oats for breakfast and dry bread. I was furious to the point of tears that I had been arrested and put in gaol without having done anything and made a little ‘protest’ by deliberately smearing my fingerprints. The US officer taking my prints said: “Well, that’s a nice set of fingerprints!” but he didn’t make me do them again. Although I didn’t know it at the time, Wolfgang’s parents had tried to find a lawyer to get our release but the Americans wouldn’t allow it.

 

On the second day, a guy was put in our cell early in the morning. It was made to look as if he had been picked up like we had been at the train station. But the strange thing was that he was wearing a US army olive green tank-top shirt. This was unusual because normally anyone wearing US clothing had it immediately repossessed by the Americans regardless of the circumstances – even if it meant they were left half-naked. I was definitely convinced that this guy was a ‘plant’ to pass information on us back to the Americans. He would try to make lots of conversation and every so often he would be taken from the cell only to return a few hours later. So, I said the bare minimum.

 

 


The ‘Palace of Justice’ in Nuremberg, pictured in 2005, behind which I was held in custody, and where the International Military Tribunal were holding the trials of the Nazi leadership.

 

Wolfgang and I were finally released on the fourth day and we were told to leave Nuremberg within twelve hours otherwise I’d be locked up again, but this time for six weeks. Both Wolfgang and I then went back to an apartment where we essentially hid until we could get the early morning train. On the way there, we had been very careful to check around corners to avoid any Americans. Thankfully his family had kept my rucksack with my food and other belongings in it and I was able to retrieve it before I left for Bielefeld.

 

Although I eventually got on the train and was able to continue my journey, I never did find out why I was detained. Perhaps the US authorities were still chasing people who they suspected of being ‘Werewolves’ or perhaps it was because they thought I may be associated with the so-called ‘Edelweißpiraten’ (Edelweiss Pirates) who had been reported attacking Polish and Russian refugees and German women who had been ‘fraternising’ with the US or British occupation soldiers.lx Again, I was comparatively lucky, apart from the annoyance of a time delay I suffered no harm. Others housed in the ‘Palace of Justice’ met a different fate.

 

 

BIELEFELD

The remaining train trip took a few days. Wolfgang and I parted company when we arrived at Bielefeld as his village was a bit further along the rail-line. I had arrived mid-morning – at about 10am – and I started asking people for directions to the trams. My mother had given me a written set of instructions on how to get to her home and I eventually caught the correct tram and found my way there. The landlady asked me who I was, so I gave her my name and told her I was looking for my mother. “Oh, you silly boy” she began, “why didn’t you stay on the farm? At least you had food there. We don’t have anything here.” She went on and on and then asked: “Can you take you clothes of and wash? You smell like the farm.” I must admit, I did smell pretty rank having travelled for three or four days and been held in captivity for four more. I never had the opportunity to wash either myself or my clothes and I must have been quite ‘on the nose’. A widow, the landlady offered me a jacket from her dead husband which I gratefully accepted even though it was bit too big. She then offered to walk me to the factory where my mother worked.

 

In 1946, Bielefeld was had a population of 130,000 people. On 30 September 1944, the old historic city centre – the Altstadt – was all but destroyed during an air-raid which killed hundreds. In March 1945, the Royal Air Force’s famous 617 Squadron, ‘The Dam Busters’, successfully targeted the city’s railway viaduct with specially designed ten ton ‘Grand Slam’ bombs.lxi I myself saw the viaduct ruin after I arrived. Surrounding the ruin for one square kilometre there was nothing but bomb craters.lxii In April 1945, the US army took the city and, after the German surrender on 8 May, it was handed over to the British occupation authorities.lxiii

 

In the Altstadt, there were narrow laneways between the rubble so that people could move through the city. Rubble clearance started quite early with small locomotives. The rubble was so bad that as late as 1947, the Bielefeld city council compulsorily conscripted all able bodied men there were for three days to help clear the city.

 

Having spent ten months in the US occupation zone, it was an interesting contrast to observe the British soldiers in Bielefeld. While the American soldiers were reasonably generous to children and gave them chewing gum and chocolate, the British soldiers weren’t as charitable as they were less generously provisioned by their own government. For example, while a US soldier might offer you a cigarette, the British soldier was likely to ask you for one. The UK soldiers were less well liked than the American soldiers. They were not hated, but you couldn’t engage with them easily whereas the US soldiers were generally more affable and approachable.

 

Like many immigrants and refugees, we were given a hard time by the local people. In a classic case of ‘blame-the-victim’, the local west Germans said things like: “You are foreigners – what are you doing here?”; “You’re taking our jobs”; “Why don’t you go back to where you came from?”; “You must have done something wrong to have been on the run” and so on. Some things don’t seem to change.

 

Nonetheless, I had made it. Eventually I found work with the same company my mother worked for – Anker-Werke AG – and learnt a trade. I lived in West Germany until 1955 when a spirit of adventure took me to Australia for what was supposed to be a two year stay.

 

It ended up being much longer than that.

 

 


Standing on the dock at Port Melbourne, Australia, in February 1955 with my ship, the MS ‘Seven Seas’, behind me.

 

 

 

Sources/Bibliography

i ‘Austria in 1914’, Spartacus Educational website: <http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/FWWinAustria.htm>

ii Campbell, F.G., “The Struggle for Upper Silesia, 1919-1922”, The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 42, No. 3 (Sept. 1970), p. 361.

iii ‘Silesia (historical region, Europe)’, Encyclopaedia Britannica Online website: <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/544097/Silesia>

iv ‘Silesia (historical region, Europe)’, Encyclopaedia Britannica Online website: <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/544097/Silesia>

v Karch, B., “Nationalism on the Margins: Silesians Between Germany and Poland, 1848-1945, p. 46: <www.ghi-dc.org/files/publications/bulletin/bu050/039.pdf>

vi Karch, B., “Nationalism on the Margins: Silesians Between Germany and Poland, 1848-1945," pp. 50-52: <www.ghi-dc.org/files/publications/bulletin/bu050/039.pdf>

vii Michalczyk, A., “Celebrating the nation: the case of Upper Silesia after the plebiscite in 1921”: <eprints.ucl.ac.uk/16348/1/16348.pdf>

viii See “Upper Silesia flags up its call for autonomy”, in The Guardian, 9 April 2011: <http://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/apr/08/upper-silesia-flags-up-independence>

ix Karch, B., “Nationalism on the Margins: Silesians Between Germany and Poland, 1848-1945, pp. 50-52: <www.ghi-dc.org/files/publications/bulletin/bu050/039.pdf>

James Mayfield, Director for the Institute for Research of Expelled Germans, observed that: “the main reasons behind the Silesians' exemption was primarily because most ‘Silesians’ (as was classified in 1945) were seen by the new Polish government and the communists as a regional variation of Polish culture whose Polish identity was merely "warped" and forgotten by the Nazis and Czechs, a kind of cultural amnesia. As a result, Warsaw was suspicious of them for their regionalism and potential ambiguity but did not brand them as ‘mixed’ or German… Almost all "authentic" Germans were expelled, as well as most Silesian Poles who claimed to be German under occupation. They ceased to be Polish essentially. Another key cause was the fact that occupied Germany already had 3-5 million refugees from Poland and could not cope with the remaining Silesian German expellees. Moscow, Warsaw, London, and Washington agreed to hold them back in Poland either under surveillance or in concentration camps like Zgoda. Many were later deported.” Email of 18 October 2014 from James Mayfield.

 

x ‘Bielsko-Biala’ – Official page: <http://www.bielsko.biala.pl/eng>

xi ‘Bielsko’, The Yivo Encyclopaedia of Jews in Eastern Europe website: <http://www.yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Bielsko>

xii ‘Bielsko’, The Yivo Encyclopaedia of Jews in Eastern Europe website: <http://www.yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Bielsko>

xiii ‘Bielsko’, The Yivo Encyclopaedia of Jews in Eastern Europe website: <http://www.yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Bielsko>

xiv The agreement ceded the Sudetenland to Nazi Germany, and also resulted in Czechoslovakia’s further dismemberment when Poland annexed Teschen and Hungary annexed Ruthenia. See ‘Munich’, BBC website: <http://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/higher/history/roadwar/munich/revision/2/>

xv ‘Chronology 1939’, Indiana University website: <http://www.indiana.edu/~league/1939.htm>

xvi ‘Sept. 1, 1939 Nazi Germany Invades Poland, Starting World War II’ – The Learning Network, New York Times: <http://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/09/01/sept-1-1939-nazi-germany-invades-poland-startingworld-war-ii/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0>

xvii There is a nice summary of the event in ‘World War II's first victim’, The Telegraph (UK): <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/world-war-two/6106566/World-War-IIs-first-victim.html>

xviii There are few English language sources for this event. In 1996, a joint Polish-German documentary was produced. See the ‘Der Bromberger Blutsonntag’ website (in German) at: <http://www.boen-end.de/bromberg.htm>. The program summary states: “To this day there are two fundamentally different versions of this story. In Polish schoolbooks, it is written that an uprising by patriotic citizens was crushed by Nazi agents. The then German residents say that Polish Commandos dragged innocent Germans from their homes and murdered them. The Nazis then used the ‘Bromberg Blood Sunday’ to justify the invasion of Poland and their own retaliation massacres. Later, Poland used the events as the reason behind the German expulsions.” (Author’s translation)

xix ‘Gestapo’ is an acronym of ‘Geheime Staatspolizei or ‘Secret State Police. It was the political police of the Nazi regime and eliminated opposition to the Nazis within Germany and its occupied territories. See ‘Gestapo’, Encyclopaedia Britannica Online, <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/232117/Gestapo>

xx ‘Radio Address by Neville Chamberlain, Prime Minister, September 3, 1939’, Yale Law School, The Avalon Project: < http://avalon.law.yale.edu/wwii/gb3.asp>

xxi A summary is provided at: ‘German administration of occupied Poland’, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website: <http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005300>

xxii Immigration Policy in the Federal Republic of Germany: Negotiating Membership and Remaking the Nation, Klusmeyer, D. B., and. Papademetriou, D. G., Berghahn Books, New York and Oxford. 2009, pp. 68-69.

xxiii Visions of Community in Nazi Germany. Social Engineering and Private Lives, ed. by Steber M., and Gotto, B., Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2014, pp. 135 – 136.

xxiv Service, H., “Nazi Germany, Communist Poland and the Politics of Ethnicity in Upper Silesia, 1939-1949”, University of Cambridge: <http://www.hist.cam.ac.uk/research/research-projects/modern-european/nazi-germany-communist-poland>

xxv Immigration Policy in the Federal Republic of Germany: Negotiating Membership and Remaking the Nation, Klusmeyer, D. B., and. Papademetriou, D. G., Berghahn Books, New York and Oxford. 2009, pp. 68-69.

xxvi This observation is made in an overall sense - proportionally Croatia and Belarus lost larger shares of their populations during the Nazi occupation. Email of 18 October 2014 from James Mayfield, Director for the Institute for Research of Expelled Germans.

xxvii A summary can be found at: ‘Poles: Victims of the Nazi era, 1933-1945’, Florida Center for Instructional Technology, College of Education, University of South Florida: <http://fcit.usf.edu/Holocaust/people/USHMMPOL.HTM> Also, the German magazine ‘Der Spiegel, ‘Germany's WWII Occupation of Poland: 'When We Finish, Nobody Is Left Alive'’, 27 May 2011: <http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/germany-s-wwii-occupation-of-poland-when-we-finish-nobody-is-left-alive-a-759095.html>

xxviii See the ‘Katyn Memorial Wall’ at Electronic Museum website: <http://www.electronicmuseum.ca/Poland-WW2/katyn_memorial_wall/kmw_G.html>, that lists the victims of the killings, including Adolf Jozef Gaczol.

xxix A full summary can be found at ‘Chronology of the Holocaust’, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum webpage at: <http://www.ushmm.org/m/pdfs/20000321-holocaust-chronology.pdf>

xxx From ‘Bielsko’ on the Jewish Virtual Library website: <http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0003_0_02953.html>

xxxi ‘Auschwitz’, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website: <http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005189>

xxxii ‘Human Fat Was Used to Produce Soap in Gdansk during the War’, Auschwitz–Birkenau Memorial and Museum website, 13 October 2006: <http://en.auschwitz.org/m/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=55&Itemid=8>

xxxiii Scheinfeld, J., “Israeli director dismantles Nazi Jewish soap myth“, Jewish Telegraphic Agency website: <http://www.jta.org/2013/06/06/arts-entertainment/israeli-director-dismantles-nazi-jewish-soap-myth>

xxxiv Immigration Policy in the Federal Republic of Germany: Negotiating Membership and Remaking the Nation, Klusmeyer, D. B., and. Papademetriou, D. G., Berghahn Books, New York and Oxford, 2009, p. 69.

xxxv ‘World War II: The Soviet advance to the Oder, January – February 1945’, Encyclopaedia Britannica Online website: <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/648813/World-War-II/53598/The-Soviet-advance-to-the-Oder-January-February-1945>

xxxvi For example, of the out of the 91,000 German soldiers captured after the battle of Stalingrad, only 6,000 survived the prison camps and returned home - most of them dying through disease and neglect. See: ‘The Great Patriotic War: 55 years on’, BBC, 12 May 2000: <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/744350.stm>

xxxvii The German television series: ‘Damals in der DDR’ (‘Back then in East Germany’) documented this aspect of the Soviet occupation of eastern Germany. They gave the example of Gerhard Fischer who, as a 15 year old, was arrested in 1945 and then continuously interrogated until he signed a confession saying he as a ‘Werewolf’ underground resistance fighter. He was then imprisoned and eventually sent to Siberia only being released after four years. See Episode One: ‘Aufbruch in Trümmern’, (‘Dawn amongst the Ruins’), MDR Broadcasting Germany, 2004.

xxxviii An account was written in German on the experience in Bielsko-Biala. See Konecny, G., Bielitz 1945: Ein Augenzeugenbericht, Franken Ferialverbindung, Frankfurt am Main.

xxxix The 1974 BBC documentary series ‘The World at War’ shows some footage of Allied fighters even attacking a lone man on a horse and cart. See Episode 21 ‘Nemesis’.

xl The village no longer exists. When it was discovered that the village sat atop of a coal seam, the decision was made in the late 1960s – early 1970s to resettle its occupants to the nearby town of Osek and demolish the town to mine the coal. Some photos can be found at: ‘Historie Hrdlovky’, Historie Oseka: oficiální stránky města website (in Czech): <http://historie.osek.cz/kategorie/historie-okolnich-obci/hrdlovka/historie-hrdlovky>

xli ‘Sturmabteilung’ Encyclopaedia Britannica Online website: <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/514736/SA>

xlii Still debated today, the destruction of Dresden – and indeed other German cities in the last six months of the war – was questionable given the superior military situation that the Allies were enjoying and the indiscriminate nature of the bombing. By March 1945, even PM Winston Churchill expressed his disquiet and penned a memorandum to the RAF Bomber Command leadership stating: “It seems to me that the moment has come when the question of bombing of German cities simply for the sake of increasing the terror, though under other pretexts, should be reviewed ... The destruction of Dresden remains a serious query against the conduct of Allied bombing.” See ‘British Bombing Strategy in World War Two’, Siebert, D., BBC History website: <http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/wwtwo/area_bombing_01.shtml> The most authoritative source on the city and its destruction is Frederick Taylor’s Dresden: Tuesday 13 February 1945, Bloomsbury Publishing, London 2004.

xliii The ‘Werewolves’ were mostly propaganda bluster that showed very few real results. See Biddiscombe, P, The Last Nazis: SS Werewolf Guerrilla Resistance in Europe 1944-1947, Tempus Publishing, 2004; and Biddiscombe, P, Werwolf!: The History of the National Socialist Guerrilla Movement, 1944–1946, University of Toronto Press, 1998.

xliv Karlovy Vary/Karlsbad is a famous spa town which was founded in 1350 by the Czech King and Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV. The town has had many famous visitors over the years including Ludwig van Beethoven, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Franz Kafka. See the ‘Karlovy Vary: Introduction’, My Czech Republic website: <http://www.myczechrepublic.com/karlovy-vary/>

xlv See ‘Der Reichsarbeitsdienst (RAD)’, German Historical Museum website (in German): <https://www.dhm.de/lemo/kapitel/ns-regime/ns-organisationen/arbeitsdienst/>

xlvi There is a useful description of such cars at ‘Wood gas vehicles: firewood in the fuel tank’ Low-tech Magazine website: <http://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2010/01/wood-gas-cars.html>

xlvii An historic summary of the region can be found at: ‘A Brief History of Upper Lusatia’, Oberlausitz website: <http://www.oberlausitz.com/kultur/en/geschichte_oberlausitz.htm>

xlviii For a detailed discussion see Dickerson, B. J., “The Liberation of Western Czechoslovakia 1945”, Military History Online website: <http://www.militaryhistoryonline.com/wwii/articles/liberation1945.aspx>

xlix There is reference to our camp, and the unauthorised advance of General Patton into Czechoslovakia in this article ‘Veterans gather to remember Patton’s “greatest, but most terrible sport”’, Radio Prague, 8 May 2010: <http://www.radio.cz/en/section/special/veterans-gather-to-remember-pattons-greatest-but-most-terrible-sport> A former US serviceman remembered: “We went to Marienbad for a short time after that, and there was a huge displaced persons camp there at the airport. I can’t estimate how many were there, probably several thousand. And all we were doing there was guarding them so they wouldn’t walk away, but they didn’t want to go because they were getting food and bathing facilities and I guess getting a paper so they could leave.”

l Douglas,R.M., ‘The Expulsion Of The Germans: The Largest Forced Migration In History’, The Huffington Post, 25 June 2012, <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rm-douglas/expulsion-germans-forced-migration_b_1625437.html>

li There was a change of Government in the UK following the July 1945 General Election and Mr Atlee, Leader of the Labour Party, replaced Mr Churchill as Prime Minister during the period of the conference.

lii An academic institute, ‘The Institute for Research of Expelled Germans’ (Institut für Vertriebenenforschung) has been founded to help document this history. Some of this summary has been taken from their website: <http://expelledgermans.org/>

liii Douglas, R.M., Orderly and Humane: The expulsion of the Germans after Second World War, Yale University Press, 2012, p. 94. This publication from R.M. Douglas is considered a balanced, fair and well-researched study. Richard Evans, Regius Professor of History and President of Wolfson College at Cambridge University, provided a summary and review at ‘The Other Horror’, The New Republic, 25 June 2012: <http://www.newrepublic.com/book/review/orderly-humane-expulsion-germans-richard-evans>

liv A summary of the continued impact of these decrees can be found in an article ‘The Beneš decrees: A spectre over Central Europe’, The Economist, 15 August 2002: <http://www.economist.com/node/1284252>

It is worth noting that the governments of the Czech Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany have signed an international agreement recognising these events. Through this document, both governments expressed regret and the desire to move forward. See: ‘‘Czech-German Declaration’, Harold B. Lee Library Brigham Young University website: <http://eudocs.lib.byu.edu/index.php/Czech-German_Declaration>

lv ‘The Institute for Research of Expelled Germans’ (Institut für Vertriebenenforschung) webpage: <http://expelledgermans.org/>

lvi Gordon, P. H., “Book Review: ‘Joschka Fischer and the Making of the Berlin Republic: An Alternative History of Post-war Germany’” Foreign Affairs: <http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/63131/philip-h-gordon/joschka-fischer-and-the-making-of-the-berlin-republic-an-alterna>

lvii ‘Who do you think you are?’, Special Broadcasting Service Australian television: <http://www.sbs.com.au/shows/whodoyouthinkyouare/episodes/detail/episode/4694/season/5>

lviii “In September 1944, 5.5 million foreign workers and two million prisoners of war were working in Germany; 38 percent of those were Soviet and 20 percent were Polish. By the end of that year, another 1.5 million forced labourers had been recruited… Eastern European forced labourers were treated much worse than those from western Europe… although Western European workers had better living and working conditions, they also complained that they were treated like slaves.” See ‘Forced Labour’, Shoah Resource Center, The International School for Holocaust Studies website: <http://www.yadvashem.org/odot_pdf/Microsoft%20Word%20-%206625.pdf>

See also: Herbert, U., “The Army of Millions of the Modern Slave State: Deported, used, forgotten: Who were the forced workers of the Third Reich, and what fate awaited them?” Universitaet Freiburg, (Published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 16 March 1999. This is an extract from Herbert’s Hitler’s Foreign Workers: Enforced Foreign Labor in Germany under the Third Reich, Cambridge University Press 1997: <http://web.archive.org/web/20110604024311/http://www.ess.uwe.ac.uk/genocide/slave_labour13.htm>

lix Members of the SS had their blood group tattooed on their skin so that medical treatment could be quickly administered in case of being wounded: “Each member of the Waffen-SS had a blood-type tattoo under the left axilla on the inner arm or chest wall.” See Wolf, E. K., & Laumann, A. E., “The use of blood-type tattoos during the Cold War.”, Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, Volume 58, Issue 3, Pages 472–476, March 2008: <http://www.jaad.org/article/S0190-9622%2807%2902359-6/fulltext>

lx The Edelweißpiraten were a group of non-conformists during the Third Reich who rejected political assimilation into the Hitler Youth and other Nazi organisations. After war they for the most part, similarly rejected the youth groups set up by the allies. See McDonough, F., Opposition and Resistance in Nazi Germany, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2001, pp. 15 – 20; as references also see Schult, P., Besuche in Sackgassen. Aufzeichnungen eines homosexuellen Anarchisten, Munich: Trikont Verlag, 1978, p. 46; and Henke, Klaus-Dietmar, Die amerikanische Besetzung Deutschlands, Munich, Oldenbourg, 1995, pp. 198–200.

lxi See ‘Grand Slam Raids’, Royal Air Force webpage, <http://www.raf.mod.uk/history/bombercommandgrandslamraids.cfm>

lxii A number of photos of the ruined city and the destroyed viaduct can be found at ‘BAOR Locations‘, British Army Of the Rhine website: <http://www.baor-locations.org/bielefeldvarious.aspx.html>

lxiii ‘History’, Bielefeld Tourist Information website: <https://www.bielefeld.de/en/ti1/history/>