Chapter VI continued
Report by Lavana Kilborn (Chart I – III)
My Journey from 1943 to 1947
In the summer of 1943, my mother and I left by train for Hirschberg, where relatives of mine resided. As we lived in the country, it was necessary for me to move in order to obtain proper schooling. My host-family consisted of my widowed aunt Johanna, her parents and three cousins of mine, one of them being a girl, named Elisabeth and two boys. After a few days my mother returned home.
I got along very well with my new family, in particular with Elisabeth, who was of the same age as myself. We sat side by side in school and became good friends. The beautiful city had a large swimming pool, surrounded by grass to sunbathe, play ball etc. On weekends the family would go hiking in the nearby mountains, where the source of the mighty Elbe River is located. The song “Oh du schönes Riesengebirge, wo die Elbe heimlich rinnt …” still makes me melancholic, when I sing it. We also skied on wooden skis. There were no lifts then, but how much fun it was. All these activities were new and exciting experiences for me.
In January of 1945 everything came to an abrupt halt. Refugees started pouring in from neighboring provinces, fleeing from the encroaching Russian front. They were mostly old people, women and children. There was lots of speculation about how this all would develop, some people moved westward on their own, others stayed in the city, hoping that they may return some day. The evacuation order came in early February and trains were ready to take us to safety and by now we could hear the guns in the distance. My family hesitated, there were discussions, but finally common sense prevailed. And our little group left on the last train out; later on we learned that all Russian soldiers entered the city the following day. Our train compartment was very crowded, one toilet, a small hand basin with only cold water for all of us meant long line-ups throughout the day. Food and drink were provided for our journey. The winters in East Germany are very cold, the land covered in snow, not much for us kids to see. Twice the whistle blew, the train stopped and we were ordered to step outside and move away from the train and stand still. When the whistle blew again, we were to get back on the train immediately. These were brief episodes when Allied planes came and went quickly not interested in us at all as they had bigger fish in mind. However our last stop along the way was different, as we were now ordered not to leave the train. We were all wondering what this was all about. Soon it became apparent that Dresden, the beautiful city, had been bombed, the sky was aflame to tell the story. Later we learned that thousands of people had perished, many of them at the main train station. This was the reason for us to be rerouted a day later. Our Tante Margot survived, as they were in another part of Dresden.
Our little group eventually made it to Mark Brandenburg, a place so far untouched by the war. Our major problem was that we were always hungry. Us older kids left daily on food-begging trips. Thus we managed to survive. Often I went on my own. Once while crossing a forested area, I came across the body of a German officer, eyes and mouth open providing a feast to tiny creatures. Another episode was more frightening. Three German teens in uniform, not knowing that the war had ended, shot dead a Russian soldier on patrol. These kids were caught and executed in the courtyard of the farmhouse where we stayed. It was horrifying to hear those shots. Another experience stands out for me. As I was approaching a large farmhouse, the hausfrau saw me coming, yelling at me to leave or she would sic the dog on me. Scared I turned to run off, when a Russian soldier took me by the arm and motioned to follow him into the root cellar. Here the farmers kept their food. From the shelves the soldier took bread, cheese, a piece of bacon and handed me the goodies, which I put into my bag. I was out of there in no time never to come back to that place again.
Eventually my host family was able to contact an uncle of mine in Erfurt. He and his wife took me in and my life began to normalize again. I loved the family, the school and the beautiful city. However, I often wondered where my parents and siblings might be. My mother and the two youngest brothers were finally located. In the meantime the two older brothers also arrived in Erfurt. And it was decided that Adolf and I were to join Mother in southwest Germany. The necessary papers arrived and we were on our way. The train took us close to the border and we walked the rest of the way. Two Russian border guards saw us coming and questioned us. After studying our valid papers allowing us to pass, they just tore them up. We were stunned at such injustice, after all we were 15 (Adolf) and 13 years old myself. The soldiers shooed us off, one of them pointing at his gun, in case we had any ideas of returning. We left seeking shelter behind a haystack and began to weigh our options on what to do next. Adolf wanted to return to Erfurt, but I would have none of it. I picked up my stuff carefully avoiding the guardhouse. Now a steady rain had begun. Soon I heard my brother’s footsteps behind me and I was much relieved. I don’t remember how long we walked. It seemed like a long time. By the time we got to a small railway station, we were exhausted, yet very much relieved that we were in the West. Two French border guards approached us demanding to see our papers, – no wonder, we looked like runaways. Adolf handled the situation quite well and we were allowed to board the train,
In Nuremberg we found the Red Cross Refugee Camp, where we received food and shelter. As we were out of money, discussing our next move, a woman interrupted us handing Adolf a bill that would cover our train fare to Meßkirch. Several kilometers more on foot and we arrived in Rohrdorf. What a relief for all of us to join our mother and the two youngest brothers again after such a long separation!