My mother was born, Feb 11, 1930, in Kunitz, Silesia, which was a small province southeast of Germany. It no longer exists, but was absorbed by Poland and Czechoslovakia following WW2.
This is the shortened version of my mom’s life story.
She left her home at 13, the end of formal schooling, to apprentice for one year, as all german children were required to do at the time. She was at the end of her apprentice year in February 1945, and with the Russian army advancing, she left with thousands of others on a long trek through the snow, their only transportation being horses and wagons. She turned 15 during that very cold winter. She was lucky enough to be given a seat on a wagon with the family that she had worked for that past year.
The remainder of her family was left behind to make their way to safety separately. Her journey took her northwest towards the coast across the Vistula Lagoon. The convoy of wagons was attacked from above, likely Russian, as they crossed the frozen Lagoon. The bombs that were dropped broke through the ice of the Lagoon and many people were killed while trying to get to the other side. Did the Russian military think that this was a military convoy? Probably. Although it was only families with children. Those that survived continued on to Danzig (now Gdansk) and the seaport looking for a ship to carry them to Denmark.
When she arrive in Danzig she was alone and looking for a place to sleep. She found a warehouse late at night and went inside to try and get warm. She fell asleep and in the morning some german soldiers found her and told her where to go and get food. She had been sleeping in a makeshift morgue near a pile of bodies, which were wrapped in burlap.
As she was walking she heard her mother’s voice and was reunited. Truly a miracle. They made their way to the shipyard where she was reunited with the rest of her family. They were transported by ship to Denmark. When Denmark was freed from Nazi rule, the remaining German civilians were sent to various refugee camps. Mom’s family was sent to Rye. She volunteered in the kitchen as a cook, which allowed her to bring some food to her family. They remained there until about 1947, when they were repatriated to Gotha, Eastern Germany. They lived in a small village called Grabsleben, just outside of Gotha.
Unfortunately, the area they returned to was under Russian control and eventually became communist East Germany. At 20 years old (about 1950) she decided that she did not want to stay in a place where there was no freedom. She did not like being told where she could work and live. Hmm, not really any different today, she is very stubborn, but it got her a long way.
Leaving quietly was the only answer. Her sister. Ellie, who was pregnant, lived in Munster, West Germany. Her mother was not allowed to travel to Munster, since it was in the west. Legal emigration was extremely difficult and expensive.
Some time in the summer of 1950 she hired a young man to help her get to the border and escape. At that time the border was patrolled by armed guards. The wall had not yet been built. She took the train from Gotha to Gerstungen, which was close to the GDR border. After leaving the train she walked into the forest, hiding in the bushes and trees. She was found by an American Soldier, who took her to a local hotel, where they got her something to eat and drink. She managed to find work in the kitchen of that hotel. I am not sure which hotel it was. It would have been just over the border in Hessen (West German). She worked there for some time and then continued her journey to Munster, to see her sister and new baby. She managed to make it to Munster and then worked at the local hospital, where she met a woman, who told her that she was going to Canada and get married. Apparently that seemed like a great idea, since there was nothing holding her in Germany. The woman became her best friend, Valerie.
Hildegard was called to travel to Canada in the fall of 1953, before her best friend. She landed in St. John’s and not speaking English, when they asked where she wanted to go she only knew of Edmonton, from her friend. She was placed on a train and continued west to Edmonton.
She arrived in Edmonton and became a nanny/cook/housekeeper for various wealthy families. She learned English at Victoria School in Edmonton. She met my father at a local dance, after his friends bet that he couldn’t pinch that ‘red-headed’ woman. I guess he did and she, being a fiery redhead, slapped him. They moved in together and married in December 1954.
AND SO, at 93 my mom’s dream is coming true. She is finally returning after 30 years. This year she will have lived in Canada for 70 years. The tickets are booked, hotels are waiting. I think there is a beer with my name on it (or maybe a nice glass of wine). This ‘gals’ trip has become a reality, my mom, her daughter, and her granddaughters. Some of this trip will be to visit various cemeteries and see where various members of her family are buried, and maybe to find out some more information about some ancestors. I know so little about her family. I’m sure there will be lots of shopping and visiting of some of the many cousins that live in Germany. Valery and Nicole have never been to Germany, so this will be a wonderful way to see some of the country.
Our trip begins in Hockenheim, where my dad’s family still lives. The house where his parents and grandparents lived is also where his sister Elisabeth and husband Hermann Frank live today. We will stay with them for two nights after we arrive. A quick day trip to Heidelberg is on the agenda.