Interview with Wilfried Ressel
Wilfried Ressel was born in Wünschendorf in nineteen-forty. In nineteen forty-six, following World War Two he and his family were deported to northern Germany, close to where he lives today. During the interview Mr Ressel remembers the deportation and his return visits to the village, both with his family and with former residents from Wünschendorf. He talks about his memories from the camps during the deportation and touches on the issue of property and compensation. Mr Ressel talks about the economic situation of both Germany and Czechoslovakia and reflects on the necessity of exiling ethnic-German residents of the Sudetenland following WW2.
wunschendorf, expectations, prague spring, return, parents, germany, czech, czechoslovakia, childhood, CSR, GDR, landscape, agriculture, property, memory, friedland, home, houses, trains, camp, belongings, mecklenburg, dresden, berlin, pirner, elbe, sudetenland, deutsche reich, nationality, visits, World War, 1914-1918, World War 1939-1945, hitler, austria-hungary, grandparents, anklam, community, compensation, lastenausgleich, ownership, government, benes decrees,
Interview recorded on the Isle of Usedom, Germany in September 2013. Conducted by Sophie Dixon, assisted by David Lion
Sophie Dixon [SD]: How was your first visit return to Wünschendorf? What were your expectations before you arrived and what were your feelings when you were actually there?
Wilfried Ressel [WR]: Our first return to Wünschendorf was after the Prague Spring , in nineteen sixty-nine. The place had partly disappeared and many houses were not standing anymore. The mountains seemed ‘flatter’, not as high as I remembered them from childhood. At this point the tragic of having lost your home really sank in.
[SD]: Did you have contact with anybody whilst there?
[WR]: Yes, in the house across the road from the chapel there was an old couple. He was blind but spoke German, and he said ‘you will be coming back soon then’. He didn’t mean coming back for another visit, but to move back to live there. This was not our intention then at all. And it still is not today.
[SD]: Do you remember what your parents expectations were with regards to coming back?
[WR]: My parents were planning to go back and thought about it for a long time. For us boys it was not a priority at all. From today's perspective, I have to say I would not want to go back to that house. But despite everything it will always be my home.
[WR]: Why would you not want to go back home?
[SD]: Well, I have to say that the social environment and living conditions here have been, and are better than in the CSR . Although obviously we grew up in GDR . I don’t want to say anything negative, all I want to state is that I prefer to be living here rather than being Czech. To have to be Czech.
[SD]: You still return every year to Wünschendorf. Why is that?
[WR]: Well, one point of coming back home is to see the landscape, the environment. This is often more interesting and beautiful than you remember from your childhood. Also, my parents had a small farm, which meant you had to be available twenty-four hours a day, so travelling was not really an option. So today we are catching up on what we missed out on.
[SD]: Can you describe the first time you returned to the village?
[WR]: Well, our house wasn’t standing anymore when we came back. We had been warned about this beforehand and were prepared, so we didn’t have unrealistic expectations. Still, after that first visit, we returned a few more times. It was just to look, without expectations.
[SD]: Could you describe your property in Wünschendorf?
[WR]: Well, the farm had a house, half of which was living quarters and the other half was stables. In between these was a working area where you would boil potatoes for the animals and where the pump was located, inside, so as not to freeze in winter. The building was a relatively small half-timber house, a ‘Fachwerkhaus’, not a typical ‘Gebindehaus’. On the other side there was a barn with stables for smaller animal such as pigs, and a barn for the hay, corn and the threshing machine. The corn would be harvested in autumn and stored in the barn until you would do the threshing. The aim was that the corn would be done before Christmas. You couldn’t imagine this being done manually anymore. The house wasn’t standing when we returned so it was not possible to make any comparisons. There were photographs but none none of the interior. It would all have been very small.
[SD]: Do you have any memories of the expulsion?
[WR]: Usually, expelled people would be taken to the next town by people who were staying behind. Eventually we had to leave too. We were some of the last people who had to leave. We left by horse-drawn cart and were taken to Friedland . I do not remember who took us. The detail I remember, slightly curious maybe, is that on the way, just before Friedland, my mother started distributing and peeling apples for everybody. My brothers, who are seven years older than me, said that she shouldn’t peel them, we could not afford to waste the skin. Of course, at that age, I was not able to comprehend the enormity of what was going on. It was certainly unpleasant, but as a six year old I was not able to understand the extent of it. Our stay at the camp, to us children it was like an enormous playground. It was on the grounds of some large factory. There was some playing equipment set up in one of the halls, including a large round platform that could be turned, from a child’s perspective it was six or ten metres in diameter. It was suspended from the ceiling by ropes, and the older children would hold the ropes and walk on the platform to make it turn. To the children, of course, this was a fantastic distraction from what was actually going on.As a negative point I have to say, we were lucky in this unlucky situation to be allowed fifty kilograms of luggage per person. For a family with three children that was not too bad, but you were not allowed to take any valuables. You were only allowed a certain amount of bedding, I am not sure about the exact quantity, but I do know there were checking this. My mother was generally more careful and had not exhausted our allowance, so she was given some bedding or table clothes that they had taken from other people, in order to make up the full allowance. In the camp my mother went to find the owners and gave the items back. The other negative memory I have is that my mother had to go for a physical inspection in some small room. As the little boy I went too and can remember my mother’s inspection. There was nothing improper about the examination, but the memory has a negative feeling to it. I remember they took her watch. The watch could be removed from the strap, and the strap must not have been valuable and she was allowed to keep it, but they took the watch. My belongings were also checked, quite thoroughly actually. Of course people had tried to get away with sewing some valuables into clothing, so my clothes were inspected too. I do remember that to have been negative too.
[SD]: Can you tell me about the camp you were taken to in Germany?
[WR]: I think we most likely stayed for around four days in September nineteen forty-six. I can only remember how we were lined up and marched to the train station. My parents were given some money, I can’t remember the sum, but at least it was something, even if there was nothing to buy. It must have been Deutsche Reichsmark. There were many people who had to leave and they didn’t have anything, and were not given anything either. We then had to get on the freight waggons, probably for ten days, to get to Mecklenburg, via Dresden and Berlin, I don’t know any more. The only other memory I have is of travelling over a very high bridge, probably Pirner, to cross the Elbe, and for me that was an amazing height. Yes, that is all I can say.
[SD]: When you were born in 1940, Sudetenland  was already part of the ‘Deutsche Reich’ . You were officially a German, from the beginning, but your parents lived in Czechoslovakia for many years before that. Today, do you feel any ties to the region, to being Czech, any affinity to the Czech nationality in any way?
[WR]: No. The connection is very weak. For the majority of the time it hadn’t been Czech. The Czech Republic was founded nineteen-eighteen as a consequence of WW1. Before which, it was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. My grandfather for example was loyal to Austria-Hungary and fought for it in WW1. My parents were born in 1909 and 1910 in the Austro-Hungarian empire. The majority of people living in the village were German, so we children were hardly aware that at any point it had been Czech. In nineteen thirty-eight we were made part of the Deutsche Reich already. Hence, I really can’t identify at all with the Czech Republic. This seed had not been planted in us. And it is not different today. I talked earlier about my regrets about having to leave, but from today’s point of view I must say I think it was the better decision. The living standard in nineteen forty-five was not rosy anywhere, but Germany managed to improve from there, the Czech Republic did not. Even though the GDR did evolve differently to the Czech Republic, but I must say I am very happy with today’s situation. Despite the fact that, as you get older, your heart longs more and more for your home - the brain knows it was for the best.
[SD]: Can you tell me about your return visits to the village with the other former residents?
[WR]: We are from a different generation. We do not like what happened but we had to come to terms with it. The most astonishing thing is that most of us, who have been meeting for the last eight years, did not know each other before. In a way, during the holiday, we have something like a village community. The atmosphere is always good and it is as if we have known each other for ever. Slowly now, you learn the history of the others as well - where they lived, what street etc. The sad thing is there are so many more of us that we have never met. Have they been back on their own? It’s a shame there are not more of us. At this moment there are still a few alive, but there are less and less of us. We are all over seventy and have most of our life behind us.
[SD]: Can you go more into detail about the sense of community you have with the other people from Wünschendorf?
[WR]: Well, we met because we’re from a small circle from Anklam. I know there were two or three families there, and our parents used to visit each other. The circle in Ferdinandshof was larger and still is. In Wolgast there are a few people too. But you must remember that some moved on further after the resettlement, they moved to the moved West.
[SD]: Where would you describe your home to be?
[WR]: That is a good question. My home of course, is now Anklam. But I can not forget that my original home is Wünschendorf. You could try to define this word in a philosophical way. You could define is as home is where the government looks after you and where you are happy. If I apply this definition then my home is here. But actually, my original home has been taken from me, to put it very factually. And I have to add that growing up in GDR meant you were strongly motivated to forget about the old home and remember that you were German. Also, all our travels today would not have been possible in GDR times or only with greatest difficulty. Being able to travel so easily today makes it more possible to remember. It helps to bring the memories back. Whilst we were growing up it was not something that was encouraged.
[SD]: Can you go a little deeper into the fact that your home was taken away from you? About the issue of compensation?
[WR]: During old GDR there was no question about compensation. There was nothing. After the German Re-unification there was a compensation paid out to people who had lost their home through exile. This compensation was per person and you had to have lived in GDR. In West Germany they had paid out the so-called ‘Lastenausgleich’, So people who had lost property, were compensated in part. We didn’t have that in GDR at all. But after the reunification, I think we received four-thousand Deutsche Mark from the German Government. I think that must have been mid-to end nineties. As I said, we children didn’t feel so strongly about it then, but I went back home with my father, he very nearly cried when we were had to leave after a day-trip. The feeling there was much stronger. For us children, that was different. We grew up here and that feeling didn’t grow in us.
[SD]: Do you think that the resettlement of the German population after WW2 was necessary?
[WR]: Going back to what we felt and thought as children and later, growing into adults, we thought that people should be able to, must be able to, get along. But looking at it from today’s perspective, and based on the Benes Decrees, which we didn’t know anything about in the forties, and the animosity created by Hitler and the war, I am convinced that the differences and conflicts between the people would have been unsurpassable. As hard as it seems to say this, living together, alongside each other would not have worked. I think it was the right decision, although it is so hard and almost not understandable. I have to say, the unhappiness and misery that was created kept growing on both sides, for very human reasons. I think I have to accept this as a solution, not the perfect solution, but still a solution. But I wouldn’t want to be a prophet. Or a politician.
[ End of interview ]
Prague Spring  A period of political liberalization during 1968 in Czechoslovakia, during the era of its domination by the Soviet Union
CSR  The Czech Socialist Republic (Česká socialistická republika in Czech; abbreviated ČSR) was a republic within Czechoslovakia that is the Czech Republic today. The name was used from 1 January 1969 to March 1990. Wikipedia
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.
Friedland  (today named Frydlant). A town 15km from Srbska [50.921396, 15.079751]
Sudetenland  the name for the northern, southern, and western areas of former Czechoslovakia which were inhabited primarily by Sudeten Germans
Deutsch Reich  the official name for the German nation state from 1871 to 1943 in the German language
Beneš decrees  The Decrees of the President of the Republic , commonly known as the Beneš decrees, were a series of laws drafted by the Czechoslovak government-in-exile in the absence of the Czechoslovak parliament during the German occupation of Czechoslovakia in World War II. They were issued by President Edvard Beneš from 21 July 1940 to 27 October 1945 and retroactively ratified by the Interim National Assembly of Czechoslovakia on 6 March 1946. (Wikpedia)