The Return 2002
Recently I was in a shop and inadvertently listened to a conversation. The shop assistant was wrapping a rather large picture for the customer. She asked the buyer if she lived in Manchester to which the lady replied "No but I was born there and I always longed to move back there one day". It looked as if the just bought picture was from the place she once lived. It brought back memories of my own birthplace. The older I get the more it hurts not to have had the chance of living among my family and friends I once knew. My home was Silisia. We were tucked onto Germany just like Wales is to England. The Germans did not like us because we were more of a Slavonic race and not at all like them.
When the War ended, Silisia was given to Poland as part payment for the war and from that moment on, we the Silisian people, lost all status. We were called DP`s "Displaced People". We never believed that we would NEVER be able to return. The war was finished and soon we would be able to go back to our homeland. Fifty-eight years have gone by since we had been made refugees and left. I have a Polish pen friend who had stayed with us here in Wales for holidays ten years ago. Her family had moved from Krakow Poland to the new vacated Silisia. Ever since her visit to us here in Wales I have been invited back to her home for holidays. She would say, "Come and see your beautiful birthplace", but now I did no longer want to go. I was afraid. It was not any longer the place I once had known. I am very sentimental and it would break my heart.
I had been born in the Silisian Capital City Breslau, now known as "Wroclaw". Not once do I recall an air raid all the six years of war but when the Russians entered this City it was 85% destroyed. Even Churches still standing were put to the torch.
No, I just could not go and be reminded of all that had happened there. I close my eyes and see blood soaked ground and every house on fire. It would be better just to remember as it was; so beautiful. Again last year Anna begged me to come and see what is now her beautiful country. This time I went for one week.
I shivered at the thought of it but then I said to myself "You are not visiting your past, but going abroad to your friend Anna who lives in Poland". I gave myself very little time to think of going. After finding out the availability of a flight, I booked my seat and wrote to Anna saying, "I am on my way". It would be a long flight.
I started my journey the night before on the train to Birmingham and from there I would leave next morning at 7 am for my first flight to Copenhagen. I got rather excited. We would take two ours getting there and have one hour to change on to a much smaller plane for "Wroclaw" where we landed just one hour later. I had a seat by the window and eagerly watched very intently everything below us. Nothing looked familiar but then, I had never seen Breslau from the air before anyway. We arrived at 12 noon and I saw Anna waiting for me. It was a very small airport; just one small building with a large landing strip. We were very happy to meet again at last and we talked non-stop in the excitement. I stayed one week and Anna drove me everywhere in her car. Wroclaw did not look or smell or remind me of Breslau.
I tried hard to connect somehow but no, nothing came. Even the main square, the heart of the city was completely different to what I once knew. It had cobbled stones and although the beautiful Town Hall had been completely rebuilt. The rest of the square were bistro cafes or ice cream parlours or tourist information shops. Very few shops and most of them had been once a spare living room. The people in my age are desperately poor. Some of them were sitting in front of their houses selling what ever they could to buy their daily bread. The younger generation is struggling but one can tell if someone has a job or not. Everything is very cheap but very little is available. The people are very warm-hearted and friendly.
Some of the older ones do still remember the German language and the younger ones are able to speak some English which they love to speak to visitors. In one shop the young assistant would say every time I said thank you, she gave a very warm smile and say very quietly, "You're welcome". She spoke perfect English. Also Anna my friend spoke impeccable English and her handwriting is a work of art! She is a single person; a lecturer at a University and was born in 1953.
The School I went to was no longer standing. Its last function had been a Hospital. Very few new homes have been built. Whenever possible, the existing ones were patched up. Some of them reminded me of patchwork quilts. However, I did see one or two new ones, but lots of vacant spaces everywhere with grass, hedges and trees. The main road resembled more cart roads with pot-holes. I did not see any good roads at all. Anna said that if I had come for a visit 10 years ago I would have had to queue for food. The weather was absolutely wonderful. I could sit on the balcony after lunch close my eyes and dream. Sometimes I would go and sit on one of those benches just below us, and always, someone would come and sit by me. In no time we would tell each other who we are and where we are from. One lady had just stepped of the tram and came straight to where I sat. She greeted me in Polish. I apologised and said, "I speak English or German". She smiled and we spoke in German. She must have been nearly 80 years of age. Very quietly she told me that she lived in the next block of flats, had one son who was a solicitor and she had lost her husband. I was very nosy and wondered if she is German how come she had been able to stay in Wroclaw? Unless she had married a Pole, so I asked her. She told me that she and her family had been in a concentration camp where she had lost all of her other families. She was a Jewish lady. I told her some of my story she was very interested and when it was time for me to go for tea, she begged to see me again next day. We had so much more to talk about. I promised, but tomorrow was my last day before returning back to Wales. We spent one more hour together. She gave me her telephone number and I did the same but we never used them. It would be too dear for me and pointless because we did not get to know each other well enough. I still think about her sometimes. Anna and I also visited the church where I was confirmed on the 15th March 1943. I felt goose pimples on my back going through those huge doors.St.
Elizabeth's Church resembled more a Cathedral. It was enormous and had been very badly damaged. In 1979 the rebuilding got under way and took many years before it was finished. We sat on chairs rather than benches because inside of the Church had been laid bare. The walls still had no pictures, but dark shadows showed where once fine art had hung. The Altar was a very little draped table with candles on it. Nothing more. Tears fell down my cheeks. It was only afternoon but the Church was almost full of people. Many were on their knees praying. Next, Anna took me to where we once had lived. It was only a few minutes away. Our house and a nearby Convent were the only ones still standing on May 8th. They had structural damage and the third and fourth storey was missing but the second floor where we had lived had been made a Russian command post at the end of the war and the Russian flag was flying from our Window. The entrance had huge oak doors and they were still the same after all that had happened but they looked ugly; hardly any paint on them and the wood looked dry and chipped but they were the same doors. I looked up to our windows. Someone must be living there now. Window boxes with pink Geranium were hanging there. It made me happy and I smiled, thinking my mother would also be happy if she could see it now, but she died in 1971. Never got over our drama and loss. One day she said to me why has God punished us? We had never done anything wrong. I replied, "It is man in his greed and all the warmongers who are to blame. As long as there are people who make and sell armaments and get fat on it, there will be war". Anna and I had to use all our strength to push these heavy doors open. We looked at a long semi-dark very cold tunnel with an open end but no stairs. We went in to find out how one would get up stairs and there it they were just out of sight. They too were original but bare splintered wood. Normally we would see inner mirrored swing doors and then stairs in front of us but all this was missing. It must have got badly damaged. At the end of the tunnel was a yard. Our dustbins used to be there. Now it was cluttered up with broken cars, bicycles and broken household things. I did not want to see any more. A young lad of about 18 years came bounding down the stairs, taking more than one step at a time, just like I had done so many years ago.
In 1945 we had to leave in such a hurry with only our warmest clothing and because we were promised that in two weeks we could return, we forgot to bring the little suitcase with all our documents. Nothing to prove that we really had existed. No birth certificates, no bank books or photographs of our ancestors etc. We took no soap, towel, comb or anything! Outside we mingled with thousand other people in the bitter cold. No more public transport. No more nothing and everyone for himself. We made our way to the station and got the last train out of Breslau before the Russians surrounded this city. I had only just turned 16 years of age, my sister Inge was 14 and other sister Christa 10 years old. My mother was invalid and a widow since 1931. She had brought up seven children and took in sewing to earn enough money to keep us together. She had seen very hard times in her life but losing everything was the hardest. For me it was adventure. I never minded begging for food or sleeping rough, but I do know that without me, my mother and sisters would not have survived. My mother told me so many years later, she would have rather died than go begging. Life itself was from then on my teacher, and I had to learn very fast. God gave me strength and health.
We reached the West on May 8th and had once more a roof over our head. The war had ended but my real adventure was only just beginning. I crossed Nomansland and headed back East many times to find out if we could return home. I had many narrow escapes and even was betrayed by our own people but I always believed I had a Guardian Angel at my side. I have asked myself, if I get the chance to visit my homeland once more would I go and without hesitation the answer would be yes. The longing for the place one was born gets stronger as one gets older. Just like my mother I too have cried and asked God, why did we have to leave our home and all our relatives and friends. I could have gone back to Germany and started life anew but although I speak German, I am Silisian. You can say the difference is like cheese from chalk. The Germans classed us as being of Slovak origin but in all the other races' eyes we were classed as Germans. It is just one of those things !
The bridge I took to school
My friend Anna and I
Outside the flats we called home
Our last sight as we left - the station