On Sunday, March 4th, around noon, the shooting became more distant. Our SS, which was last fighting in the Lucknitzer Woods, had withdrawn and the Red Army occupied the city (Baerwalde.) My husband, who was sitting just outside the public shelter, must have realized this. He became very nervous and insisted that we give ourselves up. So he asked me for a white kerchief. I cried and didn’t want to give it to him as I feared for his life. My husband got angry with me, saying I was the one who was losing her nerve, and that he had thought he could expect more from me, that I would be brave.
My husband then left the shelter with two Poles and came back just a short time later. All of them had their watches taken away, and had orders to get us all out of the shelter. We all came outside hearing that usual shouting of the order “Urri, Urri.” We had to line up and go to the commandant. We asked for permission to take our belongings with us, which was allowed; and then we were ordered not to go to the commandant but to our houses. We were accompanied by Soviet military police. Along the way we were met by Soviet cavalry, all Mongols and Asians; they were frightening to look at, and we became even more scared.
Two military policemen accompanied us, my sister and her children, into our house. Right away one of them gave us his field flask of vodka, and each of us had to drink two glasses. Then we each got a piece of sausage which we ate even though we had no appetite. We were glad that they were so friendly, and had no idea of what was to come.
My husband then told me to go back to the shelter with him to get the rest of our things. My sister begged to go along so she and her children wouldn’t have to stay behind alone in the house with the soldiers. My husband agreed. He and my sister said I would get along with the soldiers better anyway. You see, my sister was very frightened with all this. She put her suitcase in my room and asked me to keep an eye on it.
As soon as they left the house I was raped for the first time by the two Soviets. When they were finished with me, one of them opened my sister’s suitcase and my brother-in-law’s golden watch, which lay right on top, found its way into his pocket. Then for the first time I got a pistol pressed against my chest.
Then my loved ones came back, my husband white as the plaster on the walls, my sister covered with blood. But she had escaped from what they wanted her to do in the shelter, because my husband had stepped in. But now she became the victim of those a thousand-times-accursed military policemen.
After that one of them went off while the other stood in front of the house, continuously calling out to the passing Russian troops, bringing in several hordes of seven to ten men, one group after another. My sister was on one side of the house with her other two children and my husband. Someone had pressed a burning candle into his hand. My sister and I were raped again and again. The beasts lined up for us. During this time one of the military policemen held the door shut. I saw this because I was finally left alone before my sister was. Once she and her daughter both screamed in a most unnatural way, so that I thought they were being killed; and I wanted to go over to them when the policeman standing guard burst into our room and knocked my husband to the ground with his rifle. My niece Ilschen was crying and threw herself on my husband while the boy and I held the policeman’s arms crying loudly, otherwise he probably would have killed my husband.
When we were finally granted a little peace and my husband had regained his senses, my sister came over to us and begged my husband to help her, asking, “Karl, what’s going to happen to us.” My husband said, “I can’t help any of you; we’re in the hands of a mob, not soldiers, and they’re all drunk out of their minds.” I said, “Karl has to hide himself or they’ll beat him to death; they’ve already beaten him half to death.” My husband agreed with me and wanted to hide, but Grete held him back and begged him to think of her poor children. My husband then answered: “Grete, I just can’t help anybody, but I’ll stay with you; all we can do is hide, all of us, out in the hayloft.”
No sooner said than done. But just as we were climbing up into the loft, three men appeared; since there was snow outside, they had seen our tracks. We had to climb down; then the two little girls were kissed and their mother raped again. She and her children cried so that it broke my heart She cried out desperately: “O God, O God, why is this happening?
The men left, and my husband said: “They’re going to kill me, they’re going to kill all of you, and what they’ll do to the children you can well imagine.” My husband said that hiding now made no sense, we don’t have any time to do it. I said: “Everybody get up there. I’ll lock the doors and they’ll have to break them down first,” hoping that it would give us the time to hide ourselves. But I had forgotten in the excitement that the yard gates had been broken down already because we had been closing them whenever we could.
We had just gotten into the loft when there came a howling and yelling of rabble in our yard, shooting like crazy into the ground, and then they came after us. It had gotten dark in the meantime and they had flashlights. They were civilians and some military wearing cornered hats with pompoms. What happened next I can barely write down, the pen sticks in my hand. They hanged us all in that hayloft, from the rafters, except for the children. The mob strangled them by hand with a rope.
Later I was told by the people who had taken shelter in the Hackbarth family’s cellar on Polziner Street that they had heard our unnatural screams, even down in the cellar; but no one had the courage to come for us, they were all fighting for their own lives at the time.
I came to on the floor, lying next to my loved ones. I didn’t know yet what had happened to them, although I had a good idea, it was the details I lacked. Because I was first thrown to the floor when the mob caught us, hit on the head and raped, after which I was hanged. I lost consciousness immediately. Later I heard voices. I was lying one the floor, four men kneeling around me. They said, “Frau komm,” and when I tried to stand I fell down at once. Later I found myself in the yard being held up by two men. They took me inside and laid me on a bed. One of the four men, a civilian, a Pole, stayed by me and asked: “Frau, who did?” I said: “The Russians.” Then he hit me and said: “Russians, good soldiers. German SS, pigs, hang women and children.”
I fell into a fit of crying; it was impossible to stop. Then the other three came back in, but when they saw me, they left my apartment. Shortly thereafter a Russian came in carrying a whip, constantly yelling at me. Apparently he wanted me to be still, but I just couldn’t. So he hit me once with the whip, then kept hitting on the side of the bed. When that didn’t work, he gave up and left my house. Then I heard voices in front of the house and got more scared than I was ever before or since. Seized by a cold panic I ran out to the little creek next to our garden, where the geese used to swim. I wanted to drown myself and tried for a long time until I was faint. But even that didn’t bring my life to an end.
How I got through all this I don’t know to this day. In any case someone had hauled me out of the creek. When I regained my senses I made my way to Fraulein Bauch’s room on the ground floor of Schmechel’s, the shopkeeper. Dear God how I was freezing because there were no windows or doors left in the place, and my clothes were wet; it was the night of March 4th to 5th and there was still snow and ice about. After a while I saw there was a bed in the room, so I laid down thinking I was alone in the place.
But I quickly saw that someone had been sitting at the table and was now standing up, coming over to my bed, and, oh no, it was a Russian. Suddenly my whole miserable plight came before my eyes. I cried again and begged him if he wouldn’t please shoot me. He shined a flashlight in my face, took off his coat and showed me his medals, saying that he was a first lieutenant and that I need not be afraid. He took a hand towel down from the wall and began to rub me dry. When he saw my throat, he asked: “Who did?” I said, the Russians. “Yes, yes,” he said, “Was the Bolsheviks, but now not Bolsheviks, now White Russians. White Russians good.” He then took his bayonet and cut off my panties, whereupon I again was ready to die, for I didn’t know what to expect anymore. He rubbed my legs dry; but I was still freezing and didn’t know what I should do if I had frostbite. But then he took off my wedding ring and put it in his pocket. He asked me where my husband was, and then raped me in spite of my miserable condition. Afterwards he promised to send me to a German doctor. I was happy about that, but then I remembered there were no more German doctors in our area.
Shortly after he left four 18- to 20-year-old Russians appeared. Totally drunk, they pulled me out of bed and raped me in an unnatural way. In my condition I wasn’t able to do more and fell beside the bed, so they kicked me with their boots, getting me just in the worst spot. I fainted again. When I came to, I crawled back into the bed. Then two more such bums showed up, but they left me alone as I was more dead than alive. I learned back then how much a human being can endure; I couldn’t talk, couldn’t cry, couldn’t even utter a sound. They hit me a bit, which didn’t matter to me since I couldn’t feel anything, and then left me alone. I fell asleep out of sheer exhaustion.
When I awoke very early next morning, I realized again where I was. I quickly noticed an open wardrobe door, and inside was a dress. There was also a shirt and some underwear. So even though the things were much too small, I put them on; what was left of my clothes was still wet. I had to put the dress on leaving the back unfastened, to make it fit. There were no stockings to be found; mine had been wound up so tight they were like bones.
Then I was visited by the Russians again. First one who apparently thought the room was empty, because when he saw me in bed, he left the room immediately. He came back with three more men; that first one wanted to hit me, but the officer wouldn’t let him. So the first man pointed to the Hitler portrait on the wall which was full of bullet holes, and he said I was Hitler fascist. I said, “No! This isn’t my house.” He said, “Come! Go to your house!” I had to walk ahead of them to my house and must have been a pretty sight. When I got there I saw a truck parked in front, and Russian soldiers were loading my slaughtered livestock into a car. The soldiers almost laughed themselves to death when they saw me.
They indicated to their officer, their fingers tapping their heads, that I was probably crazy, and when four female soldiers appeared, they wanted to shoot me. But the officer didn’t permit it. He asked about my neck, and I said, “Russian soldiers; my husband, sister, children, too.” When he heard the word children, he was shocked. I asked him to come to the barn with me but he didn’t want to, and I wasn’t allowed to go back either. So I asked to go to the commandant. He agreed at once with that and sent a soldier with me. But when we got the corner by Kollatz, he indicated to me that I should continue along Neustettiner Street by myself. There were several men already in the marketplace, clearing things away. When I got to the butcher, Albert Nass’s place, a Russian soldier told me to go in: Commander’s Headquarters.
Inside the courtyard I saw three farm wagons filled with Poles, men and women, all in new clothes. Leather chairs and other furnishings came flying out the windows and the Poles leapt at them in a frenzy. Then I saw a Pole who, if I’m not mistaken, was there when my family was murdered; in fact I’m sure he was there, just when they were picking me off the floor. He was the one who hit me when I said it was the Russians who did this. I went over to him and asked to see the commander. He said, “No speak German.” “Yes you do,” I said. You were there at my place yesterday, and you could speak German quite well.” He screamed at me: “I there, I not there, so what. You keep quiet.” A Polish woman came over and said: “What you want, German sow? Commander not for Germans. Commander for Poles. I take whip and chase you away!” As I was about to leave the courtyard, a Russian soldier said, “German woman! Stairs there, go up.” I was immediately made a prisoner for my efforts, locked into a room with others.
When evening arrived it was hell itself. One woman after another in our group was hauled out. The shoemaker’s wife, Frau Graf, who was in her last month of pregnancy, was taken, also a woman from Wusterhausen, and the Peters’ daughter Frau Schmidt. They were driven away by some soldier. The women screamed as they were being forced into the car, and the prisoners’ room was full of screaming. Our nerves were raw. Then we heard the motor revving up, the Russians shone searchlights into the room through the window, so bright that several women screamed out that they were using flame throwers against us. The children cried miserably; it was horrible.
Toward morning the women came back. Two came into the room and collapsed; the other woman was raped once more by the door before they let her in. They came to get me once during the night. I was taken into the slaughterhouse and assaulted on a feather bed right on the soil. When I came to, my neighbor Herr Held was crying over me. My neck had swollen so much over the past hours that I had trouble moving my mouth, and I was spitting blood.
The next morning the Polish “gentlemen” wanted a turn with us, but none of us moved to go along. That one certain Pole, always the worst of the lot, had wedding bands on every single finger, top to bottom. (Oh, it’s so disgusting to think back on all this.) The next night was not much better than the first. We still had not been given anything to eat or drink. Toward morning some Poles came and said that we had to go to Neustettin. There the commandant of Neustettin would give us the necessary papers so that we could return to our homes. They drove us out into the street and said that whoever didn’t come would be shot that night.
The butcher, Herr Nass and his family had come back home in the meantime. People like us were also coming out of the houses across the street. I felt so miserable that I didn’t want to go. Frau Loewe said, stay with us and come what may, we won’t make the march either. But all the others, especially the Peters family, talked us into it because they were afraid I would not live to see the next morning. Peters had a hand cart with him; it had bedding in it. He told me I should grab onto the back end and they would pull me along. Gradually the march began to move; up front were the wagons filled with Poles decked out in their new finery, followed by Poles on new bicycles, then at the rear, the Germans. A procession of misery which exceeded by far the lines of foreigners that had come through Baerwalde during the war.
In the evening we arrived in Neustettin. The Russians directed us to the officers’ villa. We still had nothing to eat, and were not permitted to cook anything ourselves even though food was available there, and we could smell cooking odors. The night was quiet. The next morning two Russians came and ordered us to accompany them to the commander, get our documents, and then go home. We had to leave our baggage out in the street where women with small children also had to wait, as did old people and those badly wounded in the war. We were taken around the church to, I think, Fischer Street. We were taken into a house. No hearing. Twenty-eight people from Baerwalde were there. Women left, men right, crowded in a room where many other Germans waited. The room was about 12 metres square; two beds with mattresses, a closet wardrobe, a chaise lounge, and a chair. Whoever couldn’t find a place to sit had to stand. We got something to eat on the third day. On this third day we were counted, whereby the victims for that night were looked over. When the beasts came that night, of course no one wanted to go, so there were some horrible scenes.
After several days we were ordered to assemble out on the street. We Baerwalders had not yet been registered, and since no one could understand why we were not on the list, they just gave us false names and registered us as Hitler fascists.
We were taken into the courthouse. There we were written up as Party members. In my case the female interpreter wrote Nazi Women’s Association. When I said that was wrong, she forbade me to speak and said: “Other women said about you.” (The next day the list of names was missing, anyway.) After getting written up a Russian took us into the courthouse basement and locked us up. No furniture in the cell, the floor made of red brick, the windowpanes smashed. Besides us Baerwalder women there were a few women from Neustettin. The next morning during toilet break, which always took place in the wood shed under the watch of Russians, men and women together, we saw furniture being piled up in the forecourt. We stole a few things so we’d have something to sit on in that crowded room. At night ten of us women were always taken out to peel potatoes, a bathtub full, in the kitchen. Then out to the wood shed to fetch firewood, guarded by an interpreter. I was always one of those chosen. What that cost me in nerves no one can ever know.
On the third day another transport was leaving, this time with Herr Hass, Herr Kaske and Frau Nass. The Nass’s daughter and niece had to stay, which was quite painful for them. We were then moved to the lodgings of the prison officers. Here we had to lie on the floor again, but at least it was a wooden floor. There were several sick people in the room, among them persons with dysentery. But then we all had diarrhea, open sores and the like. We never were given water to drink or wash with, so we all stank, to say the least.
On the following night the devil himself was on the loose. The Russians came in continuously. They pushed their way between the sleeping women, kicking us in the darkness with their boots and spurs. It didn’t matter to them which woman they got hold of. The niece of Herr Nass, a girl of 16, got a saber drawn across her throat because she refused to let herself be taken, and from the backside at that. And the brave girl did not even make a sound; she did not allow herself to be used.
Unbelievable things were happening at night on Fleischer Street as well. It was so bad that the men who were imprisoned with us in the same room said they couldn’t take it any more, what the Russians were doing to us women; so they made a formal complaint; and we heard that the men were beaten for this, so we said to them: “If they would just stop beating you!” So our pain was double, our own fate and our men’s.
After this terrible night we were made to leave the prison and assemble in the courtyard; we were then given bread, the first bread we had seen in weeks. The bread was our provision for the march to Hammerstein. That bread smelled as good as cake, but no one among us could eat right away; we wanted it to last. We came to a fine villa. They had to force us to go in because we thought it was a brothel.
Then we were finally interrogated. And since I had never been political or had anything to do with the Party, they let me go. I had to made the frightening trip home by myself. It took me five days. Partisans were still fighting in the woods. I came to a village where I wanted to spend the night, but most of the houses were occupied by Poles; they wouldn’t give lodging to any German. Other houses had dead bodies in them. The Germans kept a low profile out of fear. Or they stayed together, several families in groups.
But despite this precaution it was the same story: “Frau, come!” … along with robbery and looting. Poles who would drive by me in wagons would call out: “Cherman or Polaka?” If one answered German: “German nix gut.” And to underline that they’d hit you around the ears with the horsewhip. Around the edges of the forests I saw starving stray livestock wandering aimlessly. And there were still innumerable bodies laying everywhere. Many had their skulls bashed in, and women all had their dresses pulled up. It was as bad as the outward journey.
When I was near Grabunz, I met some women and men from Baerwalde. They were there to bury the bodies that lay along the road. I learned from them that they had buried my loved ones in our garden the previous evening. That is how long they had been hanging in the hayloft. That made my homecoming still harder. My house had been ransacked just after my family was buried; everything was in the church waiting to be carted off to Russia.
Alfred-Maurice de Zayas, A Terrible Revenge: The Ethnic Cleansing of the East European Germans, 1944-1950(New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994), pp. 50-58. Marie Neumann, of Pomerania, was among the sixteen million Germans forcibly “transferred” from their homes during the greatest ethnic cleansing in history; her family were among the more than two million who perished. She eventually arrived in the West, remarried, and began a new family. None of the events described above was, of course, a “war crime,” which by definition — i.e. the victorious Allies’ definition — could only involve German perpetrators, not German victims.