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PostExpulsion of the Sudeten Germans: Irmgard's Story (Patrick Mears, Germany, 02/02/19 3:52 am)
This correspondence responds to John E's request of a few weeks ago for the submission of "first-person recollections" of the expulsion of the Sudeten Germans from Czechoslovakia shortly after the end of the Second World War. The wife of one of my friends here in Germany, whom I will call "Irmgard," is one of those people who kindly imparted to me particulars of that experience.
Irmgard was born into a Sudeten German family in 1935. They resided in the Czechoslovakian city of Reichenberg (now Liberec), which was first settled in the late 14th century and which, prior to World War I, formed part of the Austro-Hungarian Kingdom of Bohemia. After the Armistice, the city wavered between becoming a part of Czechoslovakia or Germany, but this issue was settled by the occupation of Reichenberg and the surrounding area on December 16, 1918 by the Czechoslovak Army. The city developed a reputation as a textile manufacturing center, earning the nickname "Manchester of Bohemia." Other light industries included the carpet weaving and glassmaking. Liberec is situated in a mountainous region of the northern part of the Czech Republic near the southernmost point of the border between Poland and Germany and boasts approximately 100,000 inhabitants. Ferdinand Porsche ((1875-1951), the founder of the Porsche automobile company, is probably today the best-recognized, former citizen of Liberec. Important sights in the city include its Town Hall and its Opera House, the latter possessing a main curtain designed by the Austrian artist, Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), a member of Vienna's Secession Movement.
Irmgard's father, who perhaps was of Alsatian descent, was a master shoemaker in Liberec during the 1930s and during World War II was recruited as a military policeman for the district. The family resided in Liberec until the end of World War II, when the Soviet Army occupied the city and later that year organized the first deportation of Sudeten Germans from the city and its surrounding areas. Irmgard described this expulsion as a "walk out"-this first wave was brutally forced to leave the city on foot, during which many of them died. Similarly, in Moravia, the "Brno Death March" ("Brünner Todesmarsch") was carried out on May 30, 1945, and the "Massacre of Aussig" ("Der Massaker von Aussig") occurred on July 31, 1945. This latter event was essentially a pogrom against ethnic Germans in the city of Aussig-an-der-Elbe, now Ustì nad Labem and situated near Liberec, and was instigated by the local Czech authorities.
During the Winter of 1945, the number of these expulsions decreased, but in the Spring of 1946, they resumed in full force. At that time, Irmgard's family received notice that they would be expelled from Liberec within 24 hours and be forced to move to Germany. Her father was not with the family then; he was in the custody of the United States Army and later rejoined the family in Hessen. Thus, Irmgard, her mother and her grandmother were forced to make this journey on their own. The group which they were forced to join was assembled with their personal possessions outside of the Liberec train station, where Czech soldiers were allowed to take any of this group's property that the soldiers desired from the departing residents. In this makeshift camp, the soon-to-be refugees were infested with lice while they waited for their trains. Some other members of Irmgard's family were included in this expulsion, but they were loaded onto trains that traveled to what later became East Germany--the DDR. Irmgard and her family were placed on a railroad car containing 58 other Sudeten Germans, who traveled west into Bavaria and beyond. At that time, certain German towns on the train route had quotas of refugees that they were required to accept into their communities. Irmgard's train journey terminated in the City of Gießen in the state of Hessen, where she, her mother and her grandmother spent a week at a makeshift camp. There they were deloused and then displayed to local families for "adoption." After being selected by a family from the nearby town of Lauter, Irmgard her mother and her grandmother were loaded into a bus that deposited them in this village, which had at that time approximately 300 inhabitants.
Irmgard's father later rejoined the family in Lauter, and there they lived for three years in a 15-Quadratmeter room in a private home. The room's furniture was only a bed and a dresser; the bathroom was "in the yard, next to the barn." In 1954, nine years after arriving in Lauter, the reconstituted family moved to the nearby city of Grünberg and remained there until Irmgard's grandmother died.
Irmgard's father passed away in 1977 and 13 years later, her mother died. When Irmgard was employed by the United States Army here in Heidelberg, she met an American private contractor working in the Army as a "logistics person." They later married, retired from the Army, and now live in Heidelberg.
JE comments: What a gripping narrative. Irmgard's story is no doubt typical of thousands (millions?) of other Germans after the war. Imagine undergoing "selection" at the train station, with some of your family being sent to the DDR, which in 1945-'46 meant a permanent separation.
Many thanks to Irmgard for telling her story, and to Pat Mears for the splendid write-up.