Interview with Erika Muller
Erika Muller was born in Wünschendorf in nineteen thirty-nine. In nineteen forty-six, following World War Two she was deported from Wünschendorf along with her brother, mother and grandmother. Her father, who later died during the war, was fighting for Germany at the time. In her interview Erika describes her memory of the village including those of growing up in the grand Lindenhof estate. Over seventy years since the deportations from Wünschendorf she reflects on her mother’s experiences and how she feels about them today. Since two-thousand-and-nine she made many return visits to the village of Wünschendorf, today called Srbská and since two thousand and nine has been returning with a group of people also deported from the village. Erika talks about her relationship with the group, her memories of her first return and why she makes these visits. Later she discusses the necessity of the deportations from the village and speculates as to why the desportations happened. Finally she ends with her attitude towards these events in the past and her current stance of the issue of compensation.
wünschendorf, lindenhof, childhood, memory, gerlachsheim, russians, world war 1939-1945, motherhood, deportations, germans, Srbská, friedland, luggage, family, expectations, czech, travel, transport, elbe, christmas, foreign, silesia, agriculture, farm, livestock, politicians, government, ownership, beneš, compensation,
Interview conducted by Sophie Dixon in Anklam, Germany in September 2013.
Original language in German, interpreted by David Lion and translated by Marina Tomic & Johanna Spaeth.
Erika Muller [EM]: My name is Erika Müller, I was born on the sixteenth of May nineteen thirty-nine in Wünschendorf where I lived for seven years.
Sophie Dixon [SD]: You were very young when you left Wünschendorf. Are there any memories you still have of Wünschendorf?
[EM]: You do remember when you are seven, so I have some memories. I lived behind Lindenhof  and most my memories are centred around there, rather than the upper or lower part of the village. I also remember some children, for example the lady we met earlier today, as well as others. I did not go to a Kindergarten, although this was available, but my mother looked after us at home. I do remember certain things in Wünschendorf. Our house was located behind Lindenhof and not along the main road, as all the other houses were. I also remember the school very well, as I was supposed to start there but the end of war made this impossible. I do remember some children too, which were my age. I can remember the way down into the village towards the border slightly better, as my aunt, my father's sister, lived there. I remember going shopping with my mum, holding her hand. All this was available in walking distance from Lindenhof. Across the road was a butcher, a little further up the road was a general store. The memories of further up into the village have mainly faded, but some of it has come back due to the events we have started holding there every year.
[SD]: Do you have any memories around the days just before and after the end of war, maybe in relation to what people were feeling at that time?
[EM]: I remember the days of the end of war, as far as possible for a child, quite well, because the Russians came from Gerlachsheim  from behind Lindenhof on a path that passed our house. There were many of them, they came in a convoy, and we were looking down from our upstairs window. We children thought this very interesting, but I am sure my mother would have been very afraid. When it happened my mother was out of house, she had gone to the blacksmiths, to see the Hausmann family. I am talking about May ninth nineteen forty-five in the morning. She had gone to find out whether it was known if we were going to leave. Everything had been packed for a while in order to leave. At exactly this time the Russians arrived and my mother was told to hurry back home as the Russians were coming in via the Heidberg. Heidberg was the little mountain the the direction of Gerlachsheim. My mother, who was a young woman at this time, had to go back, crossing Lindenhof and passing the convoy of Russians, that’s what we always called them. I am sure she would have been very afraid, but the worry about us two children and her own mother, gave her the determination to go. This was the first time we encountered the Russians. Nothing happened though, I have to say, nothing happened to us. Not on the following days either. Sometimes they used to come but it was said the Russians were child friendly and as we were two little children my mother used to take us by the hands. I am sure she would have been very afraid, but I do not remember this feeling. I only understood what my mother would have gone through when I was a woman myself, years later.
[EM]: I do remember a story about Russian soldiers. first I need to explain the metal track that ran over the road, at a height of … maybe eight metres, leading to the manure heap outside our house. One or two days later a lorry came into the village from Gerlachsheim with a Russian soldier standing on the back, facing back towards Gerlachsheim. The track above was made from very strong and solid metal. The lorry was going very fast and the soldier hit the back of his head on the track and fell. I don’t know what happened to the soldier, but all my life this has come back to me, making me wonder if or not he survived this. This is one of the memories I have of being a child in nineteen forty-five. I don’t really care if he was still alive or not, but …
[SD]: What can you remember from the days around having to leave the village?
[EM]: I think this was more of a process, a long process that would have been going on for most of nineteen forty-six at least. I do know that even in nineteen forty-five deportations had taken place, but of a more illegal, non-organised kind. Then there was this theory that Germans could stay, which calmed everyone down. But I assume this, I don’t know exactly. But in spring nineteen forty-six there were new laws and it was clear that German people would have to leave from this area. Everybody was busy packing. I do not remember my mother showing any feelings at all. She wasn’t like that anyway. But I think they were planning to stay together. Some families were making plans on how to stay together and find a safe place. We didn’t have to leave until September, and by this time we already knew what to expect: you had a certain luggage allowance and you were taken to Friedland. In the end my mother started getting worried about being left behind as the only one with her children and having to learn Czech. She didn’t like the idea and kept asking when it was going to be our turn. One major point was what my father would say when he came back, if he would think she had acted correctly, but one of the things she didn’t want to lose was the connection with the village. She used to work at Lindenhof, which had a Czech manageress to with whom she had a good relationship and I once heard that she would have been able to stay and work there for longer, but she didn’t want that. In my opinion, there was not really the time to show feelings or let your children see them. You had to act, be careful and up-to-date with what was going on, see how other people were dealing with this situation.
[SD]: Could you go a little more into detail how this was for you, being a child.
[EM]: It was more an adventure for us, travelling, going away. We had not been that far away until then. We didn’t have a car or anything like that back then, it was different. We did expect to come back, at the least the adults did. That went on for years really, even when we were living here, always saying ‘next year for Christmas we will be back home’, but for us children that was not a priority. I need to add here, that we, our family only, had already been evacuated once back in nineteen forty-four to Aussich , near the river Elbe. I have never been able to find out why, and why only us. Our mother then made the decision and took responsibility to move us all back to Wünschendorf. So we were already familiar with going away and coming back and we just thought ‘another travel’. I did not understand the political background when I was a child.
[SD]: Another question going back to the process of deportation. What was it like being one of the last ones left behind?
[EM]: I am not even sure if it was still possible to do your shopping in the village by the end. I was not aware of that at the time. But I was very aware that my mother was keen to leave, despite the good relationship she had with the people from Lindenhof. She wanted to go with her fellow Germans and was very afraid of ending up having to live in a country where she would be a foreigner. She was not originally from Wünschendorf but had moved from Silesia in nineteen thirty-eight so she had already been in this situation where you have to settle down and find new friends again. But for me as a child this was not really important. The family Hausmann, you’ve already met their son, were close to us, and family Ressel. Us three families we on one train when being moved to Anklam, and I have a list for later with all the names. Yes, the village was quite empty but the children in our family didn’t really go into the village on their own anyway, I don’t know if that was because my mother was afraid. But my mother was getting desperate to be on the next transport and despite that woman on Lindehof who kept holding my mother back because she was needed there, eventually we left. We left Wünschendof with what was almost the last transport.
[SD]: Could you tell me more about your house in Wünschendorf?
[EM]: I remember the house well. It was the caretaker’s house. My father was employed by the Lindenhof estate as caretaker and this included the house. It was located behind Lindenhof, as I keep saying. It was a two-storey house and we lived upstairs in a two bedroom flat. It was my father, mother my little brother who was born later and myself. I think for the time it was a pleasant accommodation. Downstairs there was a long extension which was the stables for the farm’s pigs. The pigs were looked after by a ‘Pig Master’ (Schweinemeister) and a help. When everything broke down, after the farmer left and my father had to go to war, my mother was helping as well looking after the pigs. So, you can either say that I lived in a caretaker’s villa, as it says on one form, or above the pigsty. I have been asked by members of this party whether we lived in the pigsty or in the villa! But the house had originally been built without the stabling, especially for the caretaker of the estate. We had a little garden, some chickens and maybe some rabbits. My mother was originally from a farm, so she wanted to be able to do all this. She did not work until the end of the war but was looking after us. I remember there were ponds behind, three ponds with water where fish were kept. And there was always this passage, and the archway. You can still see this today, but it looks really bad. We had to cross the entire Lindenhof to get into the village.
[SD]: Can you remember the house numbers ?
[EM]: There is paperwork that shows the numbers of the houses. On my birth certificate it says I was born in house number sixty-two. But if you look at the index of the village, it is Lindenhof which is listed under no.sixty-two. You can find the house where I was born on the map of the village but it didn’t have a number, or rather has the same number as the Lindenhof. So, I was born in house number sixty-two.
[SD]: Can you tell me about the first time you returned to the village, to Srbska?
[EM]: Well, at first, many did return for visits, but I never did. I lived further North, but it still could have been possible. I have a brother who lives in Cottbus. He had been back once or twice and told me about it, that there was not much left and that gypsies were living there now. It was all quite unsafe when you travelled by car so he didn’t go back again, either. My mother wanted to go back. She wanted to go back and said to us, ‘please can you take me back?’. But for me, that was it really. Its where I was born and spent the first few years of my childhood. That was it. At least until we started this initiative in two-thousand-and-six to travel to Wünschendorf every year for one week. That’s how I have met again all these people. Most of them I did not know before.
[EM]: We travelled back on the first day in two-thousand-and-six and stopped at the first house on top of the hill. My brother joined us from Cottbus by car, and up there on the right hand side is the cemetery where another brother of our has his grave, that was very emotional and made me cry. I can't exactly describe what it was that upset me, but it did make me think that this was the place my parents had chosen to settle down and make a living and it didn’t work out. No matter really who was responsible for this or not. It was not an angry feeling I had, just very depressing. But then we went on to explore the village and we got talking, sharing knowledge and experiences and that made me feel better. I was then really relieved that I had come back to the place where I was born and where my parents had found some luck even if it was also the place where the luck ran out. But this has cleared it for me and since then I have no problems coming back here every year. We have had some interesting experiences, we have met some of the younger generation that lives there today and we have met the mayor, who is a great man. Today, I always enjoy my annual travels to Wünschendorf, whilst I still can. The first time was difficult for me, but obviously it was a very long time after the war.
[SD]: Could you tell me why you didn’t want to return to the village between the deportation and two-thousand-and-six?
[EM]: Well, I didn’t have any reasons not to return, but I didn’t have reasons to come back either. Maybe to come and see what it looked like, but I started my professional apprenticeship here and I didn’t really feel the need to come back. My brother had told me what he found when he returned, what was still standing and what wasn’t. For me it was just historical facts, and subject closed. I started a new life here. Today I am happy to go, but not necessarily because of the village, but mainly because of the people who go. We shared the same fate and the experiences and we go back because these places are where our families lived. It’s also where some of us were born, but other than that I did not feel I needed to return. To me this was a finished and closed chapter of my life.
[SD]: What were your expectations before you returned the first time?
[EM]: I wanted to see what it looked like so I could try and imagine what it would have looked like when I was small, because I did not have very precise or detailed memories, other than the corner where we lived. I did have some ideas what I was looking for, as I had heard the stories and my mother used to receive post with photographs showing certain houses. Until two-thousand-and-six my memories were limited to a small area of the village. Of course today, with all the research that I have done, I have a very different understanding and knowledge of the village was like before nineteen-forty-six and about the people too, for example who was related to who. In hindsight this is very interesting. I do quite a lot of research and I write for the ‘Homeland Magazine’. My main motivation though is that we all enjoy this. It’s our history that we share, we do not have a political agenda. I enjoy the historical facts but I am also aware of reality and I am fine with it.
[SD]: I would like to know, since your deportation how much or how little did you stay in touch with the other villagers?
[EM]: My mother did stay in touch, but mainly with Ferdinandshof , and we did end up living in Saxony-Anhalt , so that was quite far away, and I think she also visited the Böhm family. So she did make an effort to stay in touch. There are some people who ended up in West Germany, to whom she did not have any contact. We only had one aunt who was from Wünschendorf too, so of course we kept contact to her. I myself wrote all my life to Edeltraut, the tall white haired lady who always comes along on our travels. We are the same age we shared the same profession, Edeltraut became a teacher too. And then some political measures meant that I returned to Wolgast, where Edeltraut still lived. So the two of us never lost sight of each other really. But Edeltraud hadn’t been back to the village either, and it wasn’t really an issue for us, we were just living our lives here. But the contact to family Hausmann and family Walter have always been there. But certainly, keeping in touch through writing letters and the occasional visit, we never lost that.
[SD]: What then motivates you and the group to return to the village each year?
[EM]: My main motivation for going along year after year is that we have such a nice group, and obviously we share the same fate, but that alone does not make you keep in touch. There are some people that are not particularly keen on each other, but as a rule we all get along really well. Today I am meeting today the people that I would have, could have, should have played with when we were children. For example Herr Ressel, he lived not far from us at all. Frau Förster, they are all the same age. I am only getting to know them now, as very pleasant people and hard workers. So every person who comes along on our journeys, I like them and I appreciate them for what they are. And we all keep together, we stand by each other but there is no particular goal or ambition in these visits. We talk about our parents fate, we get along so well, and I don’t know whether it might be that we share the same mentality because we are all from Sudetenland , but in these past eight years, we as a group really have grown together. These are my motivations, but I think I might be doing the same, even if I was not originally from a little village that is now part of Czech Republic. It is all down to the people, although you can't deny that we do have a shared history. We are now exploring the stories of the separate households and I know now already almost as much about Wünschendorf as I do about my current home, for which I’ve lived in for forty years.
[SD]: A slightly more philosophical question, where would you describe as home ?
[EM]: My home today is Anklam  and this flat. I would define my home as where I live. In previous year that would have included my place of work, I am a pensioner today, so this is my home, here in Anklam. If you ask about my ‘Heimat’, other home, this would be where I was born. It is a small place in what is the Czech Republic today, called Srbska. This is where my parents moved and were hoping for a good future together but I have never lived there as an adult or worked there. I do not know any people there who I shared any parts of my live with.
[SD]: How present is Wünschendorf in your live today?
[EM]: Wünschendorf as it used to be is more present again as a result of our return visits. It is more present as a location, a geographical location and, of course, as part of my personal history. The people are very present, since we started our travels. We are a group of like minded people who go to Wünschendorf to see where our parents used to live and where we were born, so it is really very present. I also have quite a large amount of material I collected, for example who lived where. I am very interested in this because it is history, part of our family history. We always write a report when we meet, a longer one for the summer excursion that we send to a Homeland magazine where these articles are published. We are trying to be very objective in or approach. Wünschendorf is always very present in my mind, but it is always connected to the people from there. I am aware that different people live there today and the historical and political circumstances are different ones now. To me this is mainly connected to the people and I think it’s really good to know what happened to the people who shared my fate back in nineteen forty-six. From this perspective you can really say that our group has grown together. You were able to witness this, weren’t you? We really know each other quite well now. Particularly the Wünschendorf people who live in North-East of Germany.
[SD]: The Wünschendorf that you have in your head, that lives on in your stories and memories, how strong is the connection to the present village of Srbska?
[EM]: Obviously, when we travel today, I see that Wünschendorf looks different to my memories or to the descriptions from the older residents of Wünschendorf. For me, as a child it used to be more beautiful, there were more houses... and the hills, the road going up there, but part of this knowledge is quite recent, from postcards and other people’s descriptions. I do not believe that Wünschendorf will ever be again as it used to be before nineteen forty-six. There used to be approximately one-hundred-and-fifty houses, today there are hardly any left. Well. I can accept it the way it is, I do not feel the need to compare. I have always like the name ‘Wünschendorf’. It means that it is ok to have dreams and how nice it would be if they became true. But this does not always happen, as the history of Wünschendorf does not include its residents’ happiness. However this happened, I am not going into detail about this now. I can't compare this. How is one supposed to make comparisons about this after almost seventy years? Lindenhof, the corner where I was born, it does not look very nice today but if you go and there, you can always feel that this was the place where you were born, this is your heimat. I know how my life has turned out and I would not want to go back to living there, and certainly not the way it looks today. But I have no anger in me about this.
[SD]: What feelings do you have today about having to leave your house behind?
[EM]: Well the house was not our property, my father was the caretaker, but of course this is always somewhere at the back of your mind. For my mother particularly, this was a very difficult, bad time. It also made a difference if the resettlers, which is what we called ourselves, were moved to Eastern Germany which was under Russian Occupancy, and eventually ended up living in GDR  or to the West of Germany. In the West, women would receive a widow pension if the men didn’t return. Here, the women didn’t get anything. They had to earn a living without any support. Also compensation varied a lot. As far as I know, resettlers who had lost property either in Czechoslovakia or Poland received compensation payments depending on the size and value of the property they lost. This did not happen here in the East. But my family did not own any property, so it would not have applied to us anyway. People like my mother did have much harder situations to deal with compared to women in the same circumstances living in West Germany. But my mother chose to live here and she appreciated that she was able to send her children to school and later to university without having to pay any fees. My mother did think about these things, and her sister in law who lived in Bavaria kept sending letters and asking her to come over, that she would have a better pension, but my mother wanted to stay, insisting that her children would find it easier where they were.
[SD]: Do you think it would have been possible for Czech and German people to live in harmony after the war or do you think the deportations were necessary?
[EM]: I don’t believe it was necessary to evacuate the Germans. I have learned that the Czech republic was founded in nineteen-eighteen and even then, for many hundreds of years going back, there were always many German people living in Wünschendorf and surrounding areas. I have not heard of any conflicts between the German and Czech population of Wünschendorf, there were twenty Czechs living there at the time. I think they would have been happy to continue living peacefully together. Eventually I think, the Germans would have had to take Czech citizenship, that may have turned into a difficult decision for some of the Germans. But the conflicts that we hear about so often, we didn’t see any of that in Wünschendorf. At least I do not know about anything personally. But maybe the reason for this is that my mother did not move to Wünschendorf until nineteen thirty-eight and I didn’t know about previous conflicts. My father’s side of the family was already torn apart after World War One, as my grandfather died in that war. I also know of the theory that initially it was decided that we would be able to stay, until Beneš  appeared, and became very engaged in supporting the idea that Czech and German people could not live together peacefully. This then resulted in a mass deportation. I think it may have been a political issue somehow, political revenge maybe, not by the people on the street but on a political level, to force the deportations through. I have also heard that the Russians were somehow involved somewhere and eventually the decision was made that we had to leave. But personal, actual conflicts with Czech people, I have no knowledge of that. After the breakdown there was a Czech administration office located at Lindenhof, and my mother only ever had good things to say about them, that is was easy and good getting along with them. The village itself was not home to many Czech families so I have always been of the opinion that the deportation was a brutal, and unnecessary interference with people's lives, whose families in some cases were going back to be living there since the sixteenth and seventeenth century. To send away these German families, simple people who just wanted to live their lives. I know there was this issue, that they were German and they may have sympathised with the Nazis and so on, but from my perspective this hasn’t anything to do with the relationship to the Czechs. We had no choice. We were not asked. Today I think how difficult it must have been for the parents. I know there are some who see this differently, they may be older and have had different experiences, but I have never heard about any aggressive conflicts between the Germans and Czechs.
[SD]: Would you like to add anything that we may not have asked or talked about yet?
[EM]: I can't really think of anything at the moment. For me Wünschendorf has become an interest as I get older. I try to intensively think through it, without anger. I look at it as a fact and I understand that this is a consequence of World War Two. I can well imagine that when we were first seen coming into the village with our large group and a bus, people may have thought we were thinking about claiming back some of our properties. But as far as I know there is nobody amongst our group who is even considering anything like this. Also, what would you want to claim back? There are not many buildings or other things left standing. The land, well. I can very well imagine that these fears are still present, as the mentality from the West German provinces after the reunification were all about reclaiming and wanting back. I didn’t like that and I do not get involved in this. What I do want is that it stays as it is at the moment, that we treat each other in a friendly way, each side from where their home is today. That is my wish and I hope we will succeed. We have had more than enough wars in this part of the world.
[End of interview ]
Lindenhof  A large estate still standing today.
Gerlachsheim*  Unknown reference
Aussich*  Unknown reference
Ferdinandshof  62 km north east of Berlin [ 53.3943, 13.5322]
Saxony-Anhalt  A landlocked federal state of Germany [51°58′16″N 11°28′12″E]
Sudetenland  the name for the northern, southern, and western areas of former Czechoslovakia which were inhabited primarily by Sudeten Germans
Anklam  A town in northern Germany [53.850290, 13.695973]
GDR  The German Democratic Republic (Deutsche Demokratische Republik in German, abbreviated from GDR) often known in English as East Germany, existed from 1949 to 1990.
Beneš  Edvard Beneš was President of Czechoslovakia (1935–1938 and 1945–1948).