Along the Road to Freedom Comes Home (to Winnipeg)

October 30, 2016

Her Name IS Katja

by Eckhard Goerz

She was 29, three children, her last baby had just died shortly after being born, and perhaps pregnant again, in the middle of the war. She and HER HUSBAND (in lieu of conscripted front line service) were managing a farm in German occupied Poland, the farm workers were French prisoners of war, but now the dreaded Russian army was nearly there

Come with me back to that time.....December 1944

It's Christmas Eve

"... And she kept all these things in her heart...."

It has all come crashing down around us
Now !
It was all artificial, the yearly rhythm of sowing and reaping
An illusion of safety
The casually, near comfortable, interactions with soldiers and prisoners

We must leave and soon He says, urgently

It all sounds so horribly hollow

"Peace on Earth - Good will towards Men "

This will end badly -
In the air, a sense, the end is near
Contrary to WHAT THEY SAY the war does not favour the Germans
Rumours of advancing Russians are getting louder -
Stories of what they, the front line shock troops will do - unimaginable atrocities - plunder and take

We cannot stay -we don't belong
This dream, an awful nightmare,
We don't belong here - we don't belong anywhere -we are alone
No contact with family, now for six years - impossible to send or receive -letters go nowhere.
Do they even know we are alive -are they alive?
We cannot stay
OUR dream, has morphed into nightmare
We don't belong here - we don't belong anywhere -we are alone

There is no time
No reflecting, no indulging in recriminations, no sentimentality, no pointless " if only"

Quick. Decide
Pack up,
I can't,.yet I must

But it's Christmas,..?
What about gifts,.the children,...

"Silent Night... Holy night,.."

Our protection, THE soldiers, are leaving us, deserting perhaps
The French prisoner workers - our friends - ALSO disappearing
-don't blame them
No one knows what is happening

It's been decided,...nothing left for us
Everywhere fear lurks
I see it in the eyes of the children,
Tiny headstone in the corner of the farmyard
The spot where my sweet infant was laid to rest
Swaddled in death
a tear shrouded blessing perhaps,
Not a world into which to bring new life
and yet,..the ache deep inside remains,
a terror blended ache - an unknown fearfilled future

We must leave
This was not the dream he promised me, yet..
what choice did he, what choice did we, have
They promised us a home, the Germans, they promised us a home,
it would work to our advantage -manage this for a short while and it will be yours.
A choice so preferable to the near certain frontline death by conscription.
Our home! Really?

We did farm Yes, it was only managing their farm
and the workers did not work of their free will,
That daily reality with uniformed men with guns
patrolling the boundary
They were decent people these captured French men -
my children love them and they in turn are kind -
our children, reminders perhaps of little French children, countries away. -
Prisoners desperately wanting to believe their children were protected from this insanity by someone kind.

No time for anything
Quick. Decide
Pack up,
I can't,.I can't, I can't,..yet I must

What about gifts?,.the children,so full of promise,.
My firstborn, my son, trying hard - brave little man
Eyes full of questions, confusion and fear
My beautiful daughter, my helper, a little mother,
Playing with, caring for, the youngest, my little Harry,
struggling with discovering his world, practising his two year old defiance

We all wish defiance
but against what ?

Defiance will surely kill us

"Silent Night... Holy night,.. "

Silent perhaps, but holy?

"I look to the hills from whence cometh my help
My help cometh from the Lord.."

There are no hills, there is no help
There is no help....
The Lord seems strangely absent tonight

Impending death all around
For two months now that familiar nausea
Does that mean life? Please no. No! No! I want no more, not now
Images of cold ground receiving that tiny coffin - as vivid as yesterday

...Their war seems lost, ours still rages
This will be a departure with no return

"Sleep in Heavenly peace "

If only I could,.let me close my eyes and sleep- shut out this ugly world -and sleep

No time for that
Old helpless women -dear friends, depending on us.
Alone as well. so fragile, one opting out, choosing, seeing a different reality
-if only I could do that

It is Christmas Eve..
I see the manger, I hear the horses
I feel the enveloping darkness of the cave
I so understand,.. the parallels are too painful
I grasp the strong, yet trembling, hand of my "Joseph", my Jasch
And I reach out, desperately, for the Hand of God

There is a PostScript,...

Mom left Poland and that farm in the early days of Jan 1945, right after Christmas, defying Nazi army orders -on penalty of death
She was three months pregnant
Travelling discretely to safety hopefully, far to the west
Three horse drawn wagons contained her family, two fragile older women, one actively hallucinating, three children and two French POWs who at personal risk offered to assist.
They stayed off main roads - roads were reserved for the panicking German military who had no qualms, driving over anything on the road in their way
A tattered convoy they were, travelling over rough plow-furrowed fields
Old people dying, children dying, horses dying by the hundreds, summarily cut loose and rolled off to the side to freeze and later rot in spring
Twins born to a newly minted widow in the wagon ahead, died immediately- my Father sadly but quickly buried them in unmarked snowdrifts alongside the road - "we must keep moving".
Sleeping in wagons or on straw ticks in abandoned barns they became totally infested with lice
Little Harry became deathly sick - Dysentry and Dehydrated, the army doctor said Mom had no milk, crying -pleading to be left at the army hospital -the plea was denied -we must keep moving
That hospital was bombed that night killing all inside.
"Safety is an illusion"
Their French prisoner friends, Clement and Lyle -kind and helpful -driving loading harnessing feeding horses finding wood and scavenging food, dry bread, vegetable peelings, and standing guard, Once safely into Germany they out of necessity both vanished

Bombers of unknown identity continuously overhead
When bombs explode near you it doesn't much matter whose they are

It took three months

This part of Moms journey ended in a small village in northwest Germany. Germans citizens were required to take in German speaking refugees. Mom gave birth to another son in June 1945. They were given sanctuary in a large house-barn with a farming family, Meyers, in the village of Krumse, who chose to receive us, and graciously granted us a temporary home,

... the search for a home continued