Memories of a 10 year old fleeing from the Russians

Discussion in 'Germany' started by lcrone, May 31, 2009.

  1. lcrone

    lcrone Junior Member

    RECOLLECTIONS Written March 1983.
    I have just finished reading Count von Lehndorff’s “Ostpreußisches Tagebuch," his account of the occupation of East Prussia by the Russians until his escape in mid 1947.
    The first part of his book recounts events in Konigsberg and around the Samland where I grew up. We left Konigsberg in the morning on January 26, 1945. I was almost ten years old when the war ended and am now almost fifty years old.
    Two reasons cause me to jot down these notes that my wife, Kathleen promises to render more permanent and legible by typing them onto fine paper: the first reason is that there seems to be an unbridgeable gap between children and their ancestors. I hardly knew grandfather and grandmother Crone. My mothers parents died before I was born. My children do not know their real grandmother Crone, hardly recall Grandpa Cameron. Seeing that events surrounding my upbringing were quite turbulent and interesting, they ought to be written down so that the children of my children learn something about their ancestors. Secondly, I now realize that there are but a handful of very old people left that speak the East Prussian dialect, meaning that soon nobody will be able to tell of East Prussia as it once was.
    These reasons I swear by Wotan are the only two. I am not a frustrated writer. These notes are not written in any particular order. They are jotted down as time permits and happenings flee by an aging mind that still recounts childhood as if it were yesterday.

    The Very Beginning
    I was born at 4 p.m. on Nov. 12 1935, in Hannover. My Father, Eberhard, had married my mother Hildegard in January of that year, presumably on the strength of the prospect of permanent and gainful employ in the cause of the newly-born Luftwaffe. Previously his airborne activities were confined to flying around in gliders with the N.S.F.K. - the National Socialist Flying Corp. (Footnote; As the N.S.F.K. became the Luftwaffe = Air Force, so the National Socialist Motorcycle Club (N.S.K.K.) graduated to armoured infantry etc. Until then the shackles of Versailles did not permit much else.). Simultaneously, my mother went onto the breadline, so to speak, because the Nazis confiscated her placard-printing business. This happened because Hannover required only one such outfit to be steered centrally after 1933 and my mother earlier had unwisely taken on the business of Wilhelm Piek - later a leading figure in Communist East Germany.
    Typically my mother amended such lack of foresight and became a member of the "Party" - N.S.D.A.P. - and of N.S.F.V. - the National Socialist Women's Club - more or less at once.
    My father's folks hailed from Siegen in Wesphalia, where they had been miners. After the first war they moved and settled in Eisleben where Opa Crone ran a prosperous smithery and even became Alderman. Opa Crone was tall, thin and friendly. Oma Crone was short, thin and according to my mother mostly unfriendly. Her ire might be better understood given the fact that my mother was eight years older than my father i.e.39 at my birth, and already blessed with three children: Walther, Hannelore and Jurgen Rehtmeyer.

    Her earlier marriage to Mr. Rehtmeyer a druggist, had not lasted the course. Sexual incompatibility has been mentioned. Neighbours recall seeing a goat's bladder on the washing line almost daily. Consider that the condom in 1925 had not been invented leave alone perfected.
    My mother's folk hailed from Stolp in Pommerania and Berlin. Most of my maternal grandmother's ancestors had been men of the Protestant cloth. Having repeatedly cursed zealous missionaries in front of my wife, I was somewhat embarassed to learn later that two of my ancestors - the Felmys - had been spreading the Gospel and handing out mother-hubbards in Hawaii in the 1840 -60's

    Early Childhood in Hannover - 1935 until Aug. 1939
    My early childhood was a happy one by all accounts. This was in no small measure the result of being spoiled rotten by 3 older brothers and sisters. Jurgen was 12 Hanning 13 and Walther 15 at the time of my birth. They adored me and I returned the feelings; I have been very close to them since and especially now since all three are dead.
    We lived on Landwehrstrasse 31 in Dohren- a southern workers suburb of Hannover. Our flat was the first one to the left. Poloczeks inhabited the II Etage right and "Uschi" lived two floors above us.
    Our apartment consisted of kitchen, locus, dining room living room and 2 ½ bedrooms, the \ being mine. Jurgen, I do not remember well, he left the house in 1938 shortly after Anne's birth Jan. 29 to join the Merchant Marine at age 15. Walther did the same about a year later. Neither was happy at school. Hanning did finish grade ten, then the customary top grade for womanfolk, and became a medical technician but continued to live mostly at home.
    My window fronted Landwehrstrasse. Across the street there lay a large, old factory that manufactured tiles of baked clay. The clay was hauled by narrow-gauge railroad from the Dohrener Marshes. Equipped with old streetcar tickets, a punch and red bag I was a constant "conductor" on that little railroad. After lunch I counted the crews' every move past the house and waved, instead of snoozing as I was told to.
    My earliest dream was to become a streetcar conductor, preferably on a line II which was a red, high-speed, long distance tram to Hildesheim.

    By 1938 the Maschsee had been created by the Arbeitsdienst out of the Dohrener Marsches and the Leine River flood plain. Arbeitsdienst at first was a giant make-work program to put 12 million plus unemployed to work in 1933. Later everyone had to spend one year after school building roads, airports and the like. The Maschsee soon became the recreational centre of Hannover. My elder brothers and Hanning regularly took me there to swim on their backs.

    In August of 1939, Father was transferred to Heiligenbeil in East Prussia. Heiligenbeil, a medium sized village 30 km, southwest of Konigsberg had a large airport just off the Frische Haff. It was to be one of the Lufawaffe's main staging areas for the assault on Poland which began almost as soon as we got to East Prussia. Father with the rank of lieutenant was to fly HE III in what was to become the fourth partitioning of Poland.
    Mother supervised the move. The summer was hot and peaceful.

    The Mappenman I
    The Mappenman was severly hump-backed and measured 4'6". His head was large and heavy, weighted down so it seemed, by his heavy bushy brows. He drove a delivery bike, a cast iron contraption weighing 100 lbs. empty. Mounted
    above the front wheel, which was smaller by half than the rear wheel, was a cast iron basket which was filled with "Maps" - collections of magazines and periodicals as one today finds in doctors' waiting rooms. Mappenmans' business was to cart these things around. Rich folk got them brand-new, poor folk eight weeks later with other users in betwixt. Mappenman was my friend. We hugged one another good-bye.

    Konigsberg - 1939
    We moved into a large 5th floor apartment on Hardenbergstr. 30, halfway between Hammerweg and Hagenstrasse in a nice suburb called Die Hufen. Louisen Park was but 10 minutes walk away.
    The dimensions of the flat and number of rooms were the same as in Hannover. However, the place was centrally heated by means of a cast-iron coal furnace in the kitchen and hot water pipes feeding radiators in the individual rooms. Ceilings were 14' high. Mother strung a swing across one of the hot water pipes in the hallway.
    Below us lived the Munks with two bratty children of our age. On the same floor the Rogallas, with a nice son named Klaus, similar in age to my brother Walther. The landlord Heidenreich was old and operated as a cobbler out of his garage. They occupied part of the second floor with a good view of the large garden which was lined by many cherry trees.

    9 Poland Feldzug 1939
    I recall much excitement of people by and large that fall. No more, I was told, would trains have to be sealed as they traveled through Poland to reach East Prussia, as our train was in Aug.'39. Personally, I was most impressed by all the planes in the sky on their way to pounding shit out of Polish factories, bridges, railway yards, cities and villages; nobody bothered to tell me that cows, hospitals horses and old peoples' homes were equally hit.
    Whatever, the spook was over within a month and Father was promoted to full lieutenant. Things were moving through at Heiligenbeil. The old HE III was slowly being replaced by the faster JU 78.

    Oldenburg - 1940
    In the spring of 1940 father was sent to Oldenburg, 100 km northwest of Hannover. Mother, Anne and I visited Father and stayed throughout the summer. Father, however lived mostly in Antwerp, one of the bases for the Battle of Britain. According to Mother, he also had a lady friend there, a countess. This issue popped up later in Konigsberg when mother opened and read to us a letter from self-same countess asking when beloved "Hardy" would show off his offspring in Antwerp. Things were a bit strained around the house for awhile, particularly when my father, home on furlough, seemingly made and inappropriate comment on the size of mother's breasts. During occasional arguments, references to the "cow" were heard. At any rate Hutzelsieder, father's batman, took good care of us in Oldenburg which had fascinating green trolley buses.

    Lest the record leave the impression that Mother was a bit off the rocker, I must state categorically that we had a wonderful childhood, Mutti loved us and we loved her dearly. Mutti was quite energetic and ran an efficient household. Ultimately the war, the miserable period 1945 -1950 took their toll. The long separations from my Father during the war was compounded by their age differences.

    12 School
    In the spring (!) of^42 I entered Hermann Lohns Schule. Hermann was a writer of nature stories of some fame. I cried the first Sunday that school was closed. I was violently in love with my teacher, Fraulein Gross. Even today almost 50, I am astonished at the intensity of my first conscious love.
    The summer of 42 took us to the first of many visits to the Samland, a rectangular piece of sandy land and quiet forest west of Konigsberg. The Samland is surrounded by water on three sides. The big port of Pillaw lies on the extreme southwest corner of Samland, Palmnicken just to the north. We stayed on a farm owned by farmer Zechan in Palmnicken. Helmut, their 13-15 year old son probably is Helmut Z who in April of 45 briefly joins up with von Lehndof during his forced march digging trenches for the Russians.
    The Samland Beaches must be amongst the most beautiful in the world. The beach often measures 300 - 500* in width. The sand is snow white except for dark blue patches that hold amber. Anne and I collected amber some of which survives as a lid to a now defunct jewelry box.

    Hanning had joined us in Koinigsberg and continued her training there. Sometime in the early 40's Mutti and Hanning had a fall-out. Reasons are now unclear. The scene remains indelibly inked in my memory: rushing repeatedly from Hannings room to the landing above the huge stairs leading to our flat, Mutti emptied drawer after drawer and suitcase after suitcase of Hannings belongings over the railing down to the next landing. Hanning sat crying amongst her scattered belongings. In a final fit of temper Mutti hurled some suitcases at Hanning. The Rogallas took pity on Hanning and temporarily took her in. The apartment door got slammed shut and I did not see Hanning again until 1944.

    Jurgen: 1942
    Jurgen was on guard-duty aboard some merchant steamer when, at night, it entered the Holtenau locks from the west along the huge Kaiser-Wilhelm Canal which today still is the preferred way to cross from the North Sea into the Baltic Sea. One thus avoids the always stormy and often dangerous Skagerak and Skattegatt narrows separating Denmark from Norway and Sweden. While entering the locks an air raid occurred, causing confusion and a collision with an eastbound ship leaving the locks. Jurgen lost his legs and died that night.
    When a man came with the news Mutti cried as I have never before or after seen a human being cry. Both Anne and I realized the Jurgen was dead although even then neither clearly remembered him since he had never come home since joining the navy in 1938.
    In 1972, I joined a stockbrokers’ binge up the Elbe from Hamburg and into the Canal's western locks. We collided with another vessel!

    Walther was very tall (6'4") and very strong. He served aboard the merchant vessel Simon von Utrecht. It docked in Konigsberg sometime in the early 40's. We visited his ship and Walther posed scrubbing the decks. Along the Pregel river were many vessels big and small. Many hailed from Sweden, some from Finland and Norway. Most carried and unloaded lumber and iron ore.

    Grade II
    We got a new teacher, male by the name of Hoffman. He liked sneaking up from behind and slamming his open hand around one's neck forcefully. Rudi Urbschat once vomited. His father was a Prof at the University. He must have complained and must have been a party member for this fellow Hoffmans's habit waned. Prof. Urbschat crops up as helping in the hospital in Feb. 45 according to Count Lehndof. I bumped into Rudi Urbschat in 1947 in Bielefeld.

    18 Pyrotechnics
    Come early p.m. Anne and I had to have a snooze - even when both were already in school. Mother, not to be disturbed! I passed the time trying to light soap on top of my cupboard. Peeing was outlawed til Mutti arose. If nature called too urgently we ran around the table in our room, peeing lightly as we ran. That way two whole bladders could be emptied quite evenly over the carpet without anyone noticing. Number two posed a problem. Once Anne and I shit into the bottom drawer of our store keepers set amongst the barley. The drawer would not open for many months after. Mother finally unjammed the drawer during spring clean up: Three weeks sentence of stuben arrest - confined to quarters.
    This severe penalty was exceeded only by Mutti’s discovery of my ash-cum-gue heap on top of my cupboard and simultaneous removal of cupboard and bedside curtains from the walls. The thusly bared walls were found covered by copious amounts of all those tablets that neither Anne nor I liked or considered vital for our well being.
    We visited Hanning who had found quarters with her girl friend around Schlossteich. We swam and were happy.
    Diabetic Rita Krenzberger donated a huge stuffed real hare as bunny for Easter. Anne and I lugged the thing all over the place.
    The aborigines of Prussia proper are the Masurians and farther west the Kashubians. They are strong, simple landfolk, heavy-boned and slow. But to borrow from Carrie, "made from the same form that built Stonehenge" . I take mischievous delight in imitating their accent. "Mariellje, zieh de Blechbuchs an, de Marosen Kommen" (Marie, Marie, don the tin pants, the sailors are coming).

    The best account of these people is to be found in the first chapters of G. Grass' "Tin Drum".
    Throughout the early part of our life in Koinigsberg the war virtually did not exist for me. My Father was away. He had been made Captain by now. Furloughs were frequent. Rationing cards , were in existence but rations were plentiful. My Father sent goodies from the eastern front, with friends flying to Heiligenbeil, his old base. Once some hare, once some deer and once a crate of cherries from the Ukraine. Air raids did not occur. I had yet to meet Luftschuftswart and Blockwart.

    These things began to change slowly after the winter of ’42 spent with my father in Posen. He had been grounded on account of "old age", age 39. His new tasks consisted of supervising the maintenance and repair of aircraft well behind enemy lines. Posen was pleasant enough. After a brief try at playing with Polish children we quickly gave up and played by ourselves. The language barrier was in part to blame. Some Polish kids did not seem to like us either for inexplicable reasons.
    Hutzelsieder, Father's batman, was transferred to the front. We missed his sunny Tyrolean manner. Then in Dec. of '42 things turned foul. I recall seeing on Posen Airport a Ju78 so shot full of holes that father could not fix it. It was towed into the nearby dunes.
    One day Vati took us to the airport again because a close friend was to arrive from the east. Standing at the end of the runway a burning plane approached. It landed and stopped in front of us - by now burning out of control. My fathers friend sat quietly in the cockpit, engulfed by flames. His only movement was a continuous motion with both hands as one would do to brush back one's hair after a shower.
    This incident was quickly forgotten. I took my first drive across the airfield in Vati's car. Also I was allowed to climb aboard and even fly on a Ju 78 strapped into the "bordwanne", the bathtub - shaped belly protrusion that normally held the forward-down gunner.
    Then disaster struck again. The children's hour on radio was suspended in Jan. '43. Instead we got two weeks of sad music. Nobody talked much and one never laughed: von Paulus had surrendered in Stalingrad with the pitiful remnants of the Sixth Army. Mother gave premature birth to a set of twins who died.
  2. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD


    Welcome to the forum.
    Are these recollections from an acquaintance or relative of yours?
  3. Smudger Jnr

    Smudger Jnr Our Man in Berlin


    Hello and welcome to the forum.

  4. machine shop tom

    machine shop tom Senior Member

    Welcome to the forum.

    I have a feeling that "The Mappenman" probably was eventually euthanized by the Nazis.

  5. Steve G

    Steve G Senior Member

    That was some read. Thanks, Icrone.

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