Innocence Lost

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Author: Else Elfriede Burt (Hopp)
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A true story of a young German girl surviving the horror of the Russian advance westward in the last months of World War Two. From peace as an evacuee to survival as refugee.

Prior to the start of the Second World War in September 1939, my father, mother, brother and I lived in Düsseldorf, Germany.  My father worked as a civil engineer architect and my mother was a hard working housewife looking after her family.  War breaks out just before my tenth birthday and just as my mother gives birth to my second brother. My father is conscripted into the army and leaves home for Norway.

Although life in Düsseldorf stays normal for a while, the air raids soon get worse and the authorities decide to evacuate my school to a small village in the south of Germany near the Czech border.  While I am there our block of flats receives a hit and my mother and brothers are evacuated to Pomerania in the east of the country, close to the border with Poland, not far from the Baltic Sea.  My father meanwhile fights first in Norway, then France and finally on the Russian front.

At the end of October 1942 my friends and I are told we need to leave the town we have been sent to and return to Düsseldorf. But I can't return to Dusseldorf, my family are not there. Plans are made for me to travel east and I travel alone by train for 2 days to reach my mother in Pomerania.

Our family, which now includes a baby girl, my new little sister, spend two peaceful years in Glowitz, hardly aware of the fighting in other parts of Europe and the world. My father returns on leave and tells how the tide of war is turning against Germany. Finally the German eastern front collapses and in January 1945, the Russians ride into Glowitz. Drunken soldiers roam the streets and cause havoc with murder, rape and pillage a daily reality.

A few days later the second wave of soldiers sweep into the village and begin interrogating the women, of which I'm one. They keep about twenty of us to be marched eastward with women from other towns and villages for slave labour in Russia.  The Russians then force us to walk to the town of Stolp to join a crowd of women already locked up in the town’s prison.  Two weeks go by and then, with hundreds of other women, I leave the prison under armed guard and trudge eastwards, to an unknown future. I discover that our destination is probably the factories east of Moscow and I decide I must escape before reaching the Russian border.

My friend Ruth and I, against all odds, manage to slip away from our captors but then have to find our way back home through dangerous forests without food or proper clothing, a journey laced with many heart-stopping moments and anguish.  I eventually reach Glowitz and my family, who keep me hidden from our enemies.

The Russians make way for the Poles, who take control of eastern Pomerania. Life is very hard for all and my mother decides we have to return to Düsseldorf. But without trains the only way to get there is on foot – a journey of almost 1200 kilometres, fraught with danger.

For nine weeks our family tramp the roads heading westward, our belongings hidden in the pram under Marlene, my little sister.Awful scenes of devastation and horror meet us as we walk through bombed-blasted cities, past a battlefield strewn with the corpses of our German soldiers and kilometre after kilometre of ruined, blackened buildings.

After a long arduous journey we reach Neckar Street. Is our house still standing? Where is my father, is he still alive?