Thursday, May 1, 2008

Part II: Pomerania - War and Consequences

Note: In my previous post, I talked briefly about the County Stolp in the province of Pomerania. This is where my Germanic roots lie. Today I conclude with the end of the war and its aftermath.

The people of Pomerania knew that the Russian Army was rapidly advancing on them. Hitler had made sure that everyone heard of the horrors that had happened in Nemmendorf when the Russians had overtaken that village in the fall of 1944. Women crucified on barn doors, children murdered, old women shot as they sat in their homes. Anxiously the people of Stolp waited for the required permission to evacuate to the coast — some would be taken in ships to Mecklenburg and others to Denmark.

Finally, at the beginning of March the word came to evacuate the villages in the Southwestern point of Stolp. Budow, Muttrin and Klein Gansen were ordered to evacuate on March 6. Klein Nossin, Nippolglense, Gross Gansen and Gaffert were ordered to leave the following day. But had the evacuation orders come too late?

The Russian Army moved quickly and some of the refugees were overtaken by the army and were forced to retreat back to their homes. Others, not overtaken, found themselves behind enemy lines, making it perilous to continue. On March 8-9, the county of Stolp was the site of fierce fighting and the danger to those who journeyed to the coast was increased even more. The net effect of all this was that most of those who set out to leave were still in their villages when the Russian Army took control. Yet, some managed to make it to safety and boarded refugee ships.

An interesting collection of letters and recollections of the events of March 1945 were edited and published by Heino Kebschull in 2002. Called, “Klein Nossin, Flight and Expulsions Recollections,” and translated by Leslie and Martha Riggle, you can read a more detailed account of the experiences of those who lived in Klein Nossin during those fateful days at There are also recollections about what was to happen next.

The redrawing of borders was finalized at the Potsdam Conference in July and August of that year. Germany and Austria were divided into four occupied zones, as were their respective capital cities, Berlin and Vienna. The land that Hitler had “annexed” would no longer be a part of Germany. Russia added to its territory by taking a chunk of what had been East Prussia and by grabbing 70,000 square miles of Poland along what was known as the Curzon line.

The Poles who had lived in the area east of the line were to be expelled, but would be given land elsewhere in compensation. “Elsewhere” turned out to be German lands east of the Oder and Neisse Rivers. Two-thirds of Pomerania was east of this line. A plan of “humane” expulsion of the Hinterpommern, West Prussia, Silesia and the remaining portion of East Prussia took place between 1945 and 1949. They were joined by ethnic Germans who had lived in Czechoslovakia, Poland, Yugoslavia, Hungary, and Romania. Depending on whose numbers you believe, up to 12 million Germans were expelled from their homes, an estimated 10 percent died or went missing as a result of their flight from the Russians or the expulsions.

In a world weary of war, and in the wake of uncovered atrocities of the Germans, no one raised a syllable of protest when the Polish citizens were expelled from the new Russian territory, nor did they protest the followed expulsions of the Germans.

Those in the Hinterpommern were allowed to take one suitcase — sometimes not even the suitcase arrived at their new destination. And the destination — a war-ravaged Germany that had little room for them.

Karl-Heinz Pagel, in his book, “The District Stolp in Pomerania,” gives the following statistics. He reports how many wanted to live in the occupied zones controlled by the British, American and French forces. This area was commonly known as West Germany. The fourth zone was under Soviet control and was commonly called East Germany.

Budow - 310 to West Germany, 122 to East Germany, 31 killed in war, 20 civilians dead, 41 missing

Gross Gansen - 193 West Germany, 186 East Germany, 23 killed in war, 22 civilians dead, 63 missing

Klein Gansen - 244 West Germany, 98 East Germany, 21 killed in war, 26 civilians dead, 44 missing

Klein Nossin - 129 West Germany, 54 East Germany, 17 killed in war, 11 civilians dead, 41 missing

Muttin - 465 West Germany, 126 East Germany, 26 killed in war, 36 civilians dead, 75 missing

Nippoglense - 150 West Germany, 125 East Germany, 15 killed in war, 9 civilians dead, 25 missing

Gaffert - 153 West Germany, 59 East Germany, 7 killed in war, 9 civilians dead, 42 missing

The Soviet controlled German Democratic Republic or East Germany had closed borders, restricting travel between the “two” Germanys. While West Germans were permitted limited access into East Germany, most East Germans were not allowed to cross over into West Germany. In 1990, the two halves of Germany were reunited. One of the conditions of reunification was that they agreed to make permanent the Polish Border at the Oder-Neisse Line, thus officially ending any German claims to the Hinterpommern.

Should I choose to visit the former homeland of my great grandparents, the Baltic Sea would still be there, as would the deep green forests, and the gentle countryside, but the signs would not be written in the language of my ancestors, nor would the faces searched be those of any distant relative.

But as I looked for information about the village of Budow, now known as Budowo, I found a journal entry mentioning an old church there. I remembered seeing a picture someone had taken of the church on Google Earth. It was labeled, Budowo Ko_ció_ zabytkowy z XIV w, which roughly translated means “antique church in Budow.” Could it be the same church where my great-grandparents and their two oldest boys had been baptized?

Anxiously, I looked for the picture again, this time comparing it to an old picture I had found online a few years ago. It was the SAME church — it still stands, and the thought that it still stands there, surviving both time and war, seems somehow right.

Until Next Time!

Note this post first published online, May 2, 2008, at Desktop Genealogist Blog at The News-Messenger Online

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