Interview with Ines Muller
Ines Muller was born in Anklam, Germany, in nineteen sixty-five. Her mother’s family lived in Wünschendorf until her grandfather left to fight for Germany in World War Two, and her grandmother was later forced to leave with her family (including Ines Muller’s mother) in 1946. Although Ines Muller has never visited the site of Wünschendorf she expresses a connection to the village. In her interview she discusses her desire to visit the site of Wünschendorf, now named Srbská, and her mother’s annual return there with a group of former residents. On the subject of World War Two she talks about her grandfather’s role, the letters he sent to her grandmother, and describes what happened to the family when he didn’t return. Ines talks about her grandmother’s resistance to talking about her past and her fear of Russia. On the group return to the village, Ines talks about their first return in 2006, her mother's reaction and the sense of community within the group.
wünschendorf, srbská, friedland, reichenberg, liberec, teaching, anklam, germany, grandparents, letters, holidays, feelings, expectations, uncle, world war 1939-1945, russia, ukraine, soviet union, USSR, odessa, chisinau, moldova, romania, fate, coincidence, camp, refugees, christmas, community, home, neighbours, poland, nationality, sudeten deutsche, sudeten mountains, third reich
Interview recorded in Anklam, Germany in September 2013
Conducted by Sophie Dixon, assisted by David Lion
Ines Muller [IM]: My name is Ines Muller I was born on April the eighteenth nineteen sixty-five here in Anklam . My mother comes from Wünschendorf and she was expelled from there in nineteen forty-six at the age of seven years. That's my connection to the story.
Sophie Dixon [SD]: Have you ever been to Wünschendorf?
[IM]: No, unfortunately I've never had the chance to go to the village of Wünschendorf where my mother was born which she had to leave, in forty-six because the group of people who regularly go there, plan that trip for June and as I'm working as a teacher, we still have school here in our region, and so I do not get those days off.
[SD]: Would you like to go there?
[IM]: Certainly I have the wish to go there, it might be not regularly, not every year, but at least once, to see the place where my mum, my grandma, my family comes from. That's family roots you know, I think everybody is interested, in their family history and I just know that part of my family from photos and from stories my mum and my grandma and my uncle told me. It's always a great experience to see everything live. It's different to photos. Life experience.
[SD]: Did your relatives tell you about their experiences of living in Wünschendorf?
[IM]: Well, of course my mum, my mum likes speaking about the past, especially if she has people around her, who are deeply interested in that story. So, whenever she is asked the question, she tells whole stories, about the past. It was similar, but also different, with my grandma, because she told me the facts about her past but I experienced that she hardly ever spoke about feelings. That's why, today, I think it must have been terribly hard, especially for her, but not for her children, not for my mum, and her uncle. She proudly showed me her grandpa's, my grandad's letters from the war, which are really, very very pretty, nice, interesting, to read, although also difficult to read, because they are written in an old German style. My grandma taught me how to read those letters and so I started studying them, word by word. It takes a lot of time to read that old English writing, and writing, but I managed it.
[SD]: Can you tell us more about your grandmother’s story?
[IM]: It's quite difficult to remember, such exact moments when my grandma explained something to me. I remember, quite often I spent my holidays, especially the summer holidays where she lived, in a place about one kilometer away from here. I would spend a lot of time with her playing board games and card games, and things like that and I was also allowed to look into all of her cupboards, where I discovered those letters. I asked her about the war and she just mentioned facts like, "well yes, your grandad was in the war, he was in Russia, and, he certainly died in a place, in a Romanian place, a place in Romania next to, the border to Moldova" the place was called (*) but she mainly mentioned facts, and when I asked her whether it wasn't terrible or hard, she refused ... I think, she did not want me to think, that it was hard. I think that she spent all her life, telling herself that it was not hard because she also did not tell, her children, or let her children feel that it was a terrible time, a hard time, and it might be she got used to that idea, that she believed it herself. This my explanation why she never talked about feelings. My uncle also explained, when I asked him about possible reasons for not speaking about feelings, he said, there was just no time for feelings, because, she had to take care of the children, for her mum, she had to work, she had to do the household, the washing, cooking, earning enough money, and, things like that. There was no time for feelings. Nowadays I think it is difficult to imagine such things, because feelings are very important also, to speak about feelings, to show feelings, but this is what she hardly ever did.
[SD]: Could you tell me more about the letters you showed me earlier?
[IM]: Well my grandma told me, the story of her past because I was really interested in that, especially after I found those wonderful letters, and, she told me that she lived, she was born, in that region, she got to know my granddad, they fell in love, with each other, founded a happy little family and, then, they got two children, my mum and later my uncle, who is two years younger than my other and then my grandad had to go to war. He went to Russia, to the Ukraine, what is now Ukraine, and he did not return, but he regularly wrote letters. Those letters I have just mentioned, many letters, full of love, and suddenly in summer nineteen forty-four, that stopped. The last letter she received was from August twentieth in nineteen forty-four, and no other letter followed. That was the last letter, and she must certainly have been afraid of something terrible, that might have happened, during the war, that he might have died, but she always expected him back, she always had hope, she always hoped he would return one day, which is also a reason why she worked so hard, for the rest of the family, for her children, for her grandma, because, she thought, this is what my mum told me, she thought it would be her task, to educate the children and to care for the children. So, incase her husband would have returned from war, she could proudly show her children, and show that she had done her job as a housewife. That was the situation when she left Wünschendorf, not knowing what happened to her husband, and suddenly getting the information, that they had to move, to leave the place, she had to pack, well, I don't know, thirty klos, fifty kilos, um and then they had to leave Wünschendorf, she, with two little children, her ma who was nearly sixty at that time, leaving back everything, leaving behind everything that belonged to them. especially their home. Their home, and of course it was also a problem, because she did not know, where she was being taken to, and, in case her husband returned from war, where should he look for her? and find her?
[SD]: Although you haven’t visited Wünschendorf, could you describe your relationship to the place?
[IM]: The relationship to Wünschendorf, it belongs to my family, to my mother's family, I don't know what to say, there is a relationship. I was nearby when I went there as a teacher together with a group of students. We were staying near Liberec , and I saw a road sign on which was written Frydlant . I know that Wünschendorf is north of Frydlant, it belongs to that region, and I remembered the stories my ma and my grandma told me, and it was somehow a strange feeling being close to that place, quite near to that place, but again I had no chance visiting the village at that time, because I was doing my job. To continue speaking about my grandmother’s feelings - I remember another situation when my grandma was dying and my mother visited her for the last time, or one of the last times, and my grandma asked my mother, and she deeply asked her, not to allow her daughter, that means me, to become a teacher. Not any teacher, but a teacher of Russian. She did not want me to become a teacher of Russian and we all asked ourselves, why not? We wondered about that until we finally found a possible answer, that she was really afraid or that she was really still affected, by those stories, by those events, and that she must have been terribly afraid of the Russians during World War Two or in the years after the war, because her family had been expelled and because her husband was there during the war. That means she had feelings but she did not want to show those feelings and she was certainly afraid and sad, which , when thinking about that makes me sad, my grandma, not being able to talk about her feelings which, certainly would have helped to make the situation much easier for her. There's something else that is quite strange. Of course I became a teacher of Russian and it belonged to my studies to go abroad, to go to the former Soviet Union, USSR , um, we went to the city of Odessa at the black sea, it is in the Ukraine, nowadays it does not belong to Russia but at that time it was the USSR and that's why we went there. It was a wonderful time and we also made some excursions, among them was one to Chisinau, the capital of Moldova, and I enjoyed those six or seven months. Years later when again from time to time when I find those letters and I studied them, I started looking at the places where my grandad was during the war, and my grandma told me they were not allowed to give any details about war, that's why he did not write in the full names of the places, he left out some letters from the name. So my grandma got to know where exactly he was, and I tried to do the same, and you know what I found out? It was exactly the region where he was, exactly the same region, might be not directly in Odessa but just one hundred kilometres away north east of Odessa. Odessa is in the South, and then the place I mentioned, Moldova, must have been his way back when the Russians became stronger than the Germans and they crossed the border between Moldova and Romania. The place where he must have died, or became a prisoner, was also just another one hundred kilometres away from Chisinau, and I often ask myself, is it coincidence? Is it fate? I don't know.
[SD]: Could you tell me about your grandma’s time after leaving Wünschendorf?
[IM]: After my grandma's arrival here in Anklam, they stayed in a special building, for refugees, for about eight weeks I think, before they were taken to a camp, within the forest, somewhere further north from here. They stayed there for one and a half years, quite a long time, in very very simple conditions, of course it must have been a hard time but she pretended always to be satisfied. I can't say whether to be happy, but at least this is what my mum told me, that for them it was an adventure and they never saw their mum cry or be sad, or things like that. They stayed there for one and a half years before they got an individual room for the family in a real building, in one of the villages nearby, and every Christmas, they said, well, this is going to be the last Christmas we are celebrating here, next Christmas we will certainly be back home in Wünschendorf. Which also shows how deeply they wished to go back, to be able to go back, to be allowed to go back, but I think it must have taken years until they realised, that they would never go back. Forever, at least forever, just to visit the place but not to live there.
[SD]: Do you remember when your mother first went to Srbská with the group? Can you remember what she felt before and after the trip?
I still remember the time, the year, I think it was in two-thousand and six, when my mum went back to Wünschendorf for the first time after so many years, after decades, together with other people who came from Wünschendorf. I think the idea began in regular meetings with those people who are all, rather old, and they decided to meet and to talk about those old times and about their old homes there, about their lives, about everything that happened from then on until today. I think it was there that they got the idea of going back and visiting Wünschendorf. They prepared everything and I still remember that my mum became very very enthusiastic, it was her and Mr Bohm, another man from Wünschendorf, who organised the trip. It was an enthusiastic time, she was happy, looking forward, to going back to Wünschendorf. She contacted many people, called them, wrote letters, emails, I think emails, I'm not quite sure about that! Yes, and then they went on the trip, and I remember, I wanted her to phone me, "well," she said "I don't know whether I will have time for that" because she was so nervous about it and knew there would hardly be any time. When I tried to contact her in the evening, she said, "everything is ok, we arrived safely here. It is great to be here, but now I have no time", she wanted to make use of the time she had there, "I can tell you everything afterwards" she told me and this is what she did. She did not speak about that trip for an hour, or half an hour, not for two hours, but for days, for many many days, maybe even weeks. They regularly go there in June and they also have another meeting here in Anklam, all those people who join the trip to Wünschendorf, meet again in September, and in the meantime, my mother is busy organising it, looking forward to it, and so, the community from there, those people from there, from Wünschendorf, are still a kind of community here. Perhaps it helps them feel home here too, they feel home here because they've been living here longer than forty years, but netherless, you're looking for your neighbours, for your real neighbours, and not new neighbours and I think this is what they are doing with the help of those meetings and trips.
[SD]: Could you talk a little about the issue of nationality in relation to the group?
[IM]: Something which was confusing me for a long time was the question of nationality, especially when I was a child growing up. I started talking about my family history to my mum and grandma and I knew the area they came from, Wünschendorf, belonged to Czechoslovakia, I was born in sixty-five so for me, it was always Czechoslovakia, I didn't know the Czech history of course. I was told, that there, in the north west of Czechoslovakia, of Czechia now, and, in the south west of Poland, there had always been German people, Sudeten Deutsche there. There are the Sudeten Mountains  and that's why they were called Sudeten Deutsche, and I asked the question, well, it is Czechia, what were the Germans doing there? I was told that they did not always belong to Czechia, it was German for a long time, it became Czech for several years, I don't know, two decades, three, four decades, I don't know. But the germans were allowed to live there, they had to, they got special papers, which explained that they were Germans but had the right to live there, because it had always been their home. They could live there until the end of the war, and, the latest, until forty-six. I think this is really confusing, when you hear that there were Germans expelled from Czechia, why did they live there? Was it because of World War Two? A result of the expansion of the Third Reich? The answer in this case, is no, those people had always been living there, before the war, long before the second world war, but it took me some time to realise that and to understand the answer.
[End of interview]
Anklam  A town in northern Germany [53.850290, 13.695973]
Liberec  A city 40km from Srbska [50.766279, 15.054338]
Frydlant  A town 15km from Srbska [50.921396, 15.079751]
USSR  Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. A socialist state existing until 1991
Sudeten mountains  Referred to as the 'Sudetes' a range stretching from eastern Germany along the northern border of the Czech Republic to south-western Poland.