On the road

Irene's Story6 million Germans were evacuated from occupied German territories at the end of World War Two. Many evacuations were delayed by the Nazi authorities until the very last minute and were therefore very poorly organized. In February 1945 as the Soviet Red Army approached Breslau and the evacuation began,18,000 people froze to death in temperatures of -20 degrees.


Irene describes her experience: 

Jutta was born in February 1944 and in February 1945 they chucked me out on the road. The SS came in the middle of the night, it was 12 o’clock. They gave me ten minutes to have my daughter ready to go. I was sitting there thinking ‘What do I do, what do I take,’ because I couldn’t carry anything, I was pregnant with Dennis. I was hoping it would never happen but I was prepared for it because it happened to so many people, it was all around me. So I took the mattress out of the pram, and I put a big feather bed in it and then I put Jutta in and another big feather pillow on top of her and took some baby clothes because I knew I would be having this baby soon – I was 6 months pregnant. I didn’t think about things for me. I just took a little electric plate, for cooking.

It was the coldest February it had been for a long time. You go down and you go out of the house and it’s completely dark, you see nothing because there is no light allowed because of the bombardments. And then you get a push and you are in a long line of shadows and you only hear screams, people screaming for mother, father, aunty, whoever they have lost they are screaming for, andI am thinking ‘I have to go to my parents, I have to go to my parents’. I tried so hard and so many times to get out of the line but I got a push in the back from the soldiers and I was in the line again. They were walking along the line and they watched you, you couldn’t get out of there not for anything, not for anything. This was right on the street. It was scary, because you didn’t see who or what. I still have it in my memory as shadows, shadows with voices. There were many many people. My neighbour on the floor where I lived, she was there, and there was another woman my age, we were good friends. She had a little boy Loter who was two years old. Then they locked us up in a small railway station. I looked around and I wondered how I could get out of there. My friend was crying, so I said ‘Stop your crying.’ The trains came in and they were full of people like us who were getting transported. I think they didn’t know themselves where they were going, I tell you this much…

I saw there were soldiers and I thought, ‘No’. ‘You stay here’ I said to Hedel, ‘I look further, you stay with your boy and my baby, I go and have a look what goes on there.’ There was screaming ‘You have to go in, you have to go in,’ and people put the prams in, then the doors closed and the train left and the people were on the station and the baby was gone, or vice versa the pram was standing there and the people were in the train.

I didn’t move. A man with a white cross on his sleeves came to me and said ‘You have to get on the train.’ I said to him ‘You know what, what I have to do, I stay here, I can die here, I don’t have to get on the train to die.’ And he looked at me and went away and about ten minutes later he came back and he says ‘Come with me’. He opened up another train for me and my neighbour and we got on. It was frozen. Icicles were hanging from the ceiling. Lots more people came– parents with big girls and boys. They were trying to get into our carriage and chucked their stuff in, so I chucked it out and and I told them ‘You don’t do this, you go and look for your own carriage, get lost.’ You don’t play with me around.I don’t have my kids killed for people like that. So then they stopped, they went somewhere else, and we had the carriage to ourselves. She had the one pram, and I had the other, so it was full.

The train went to Lowenburg, and they took us out of the train, and there were farmers who took people in for a short time. We were in a place like a restaurant, with a big dance fl oor. I was lying on the concrete in the cold – they had put straw on it – and a Red Cross sister came in and looked at me and said ‘What are you doing in here?’ and I said ‘I’ve been thrown out’. And she took me and said ‘I take you home.’ This is what I mean. All the way through all the hell I did go, I always had a light.