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|Flight and expulsion of Germans during|
and after World War II
|Wartime flight and evacuation|
|Post-war flight and expulsion|
Between the end of 1944 and January 1945 civilians were forbidden by the Nazis to evacuate. The Nazis viewed evacuation as a sign of capitulation. As the Red Army got closer, many prepared to evacuate anyway. Until the last minute, NS Governor Erich Koch gave orders that fleeing was illegal and punishable ("strenges Fluchtverbot" - flight strictly forbidden). At the last moment flight was allowed. The invasion prompted thousands of men, women, and children to flee; however, many adults were killed, leaving many orphaned children. The children fled into the surrounding forest and were forced to fend for themselves. Many German children who were not fortunate enough to escape were killed by Allied bombs. Thousands more found themselves abandoned, orphaned, raped or kidnapped.
At the end of World War II the Soviet Army told the German population, "Wojna kaput-damoi" ("the war is over, go home"). They needed people to work for them and to raise food to feed their troops in the occupied territories. However, most homes had been destroyed by British and Soviet bombardment and the Soviet ground assault on East Prussia.
When the Red Army conquered East Prussia in 1945, thousands of German children were left on their own, because their parents had been killed during bombing raids or during harsh winters without any food or shelter. Older children often tried to keep their siblings together, and survival—searching for food and shelter—became their number-one priority. Many went on food-scrounging trips into neighboring Lithuania and were adopted by the rural Lithuanian farmers, who often employed them. Most of these children made these trips back and forth many times to get food for their sick mothers or siblings. They were called “wolf children” because of their wolf-like wandering through the forests and along railroad tracks, sometimes catching rides on top or in between railroad cars, jumping off before reaching Soviet control stations. All who assisted the German children to survive had to hide their efforts from the Soviet occupation authorities in Lithuania. Therefore, many German children's names were changed, and only after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990 could they reveal their true identities.
After Soviet occupation and when parents and grandparents had died from hunger and diseases, these orphan children had to care for themselves. Not to die from starvation meant they were condemned to live "begging, drudging, stealing".
Lithuanian farmers, who sold their products in the townships of East Prussia In 1946, looked for children and young people, to support them in their daily work. Thus many children streamed regularly to the Baltic region to get food in exchange for products or their labor. Others were condemned to roam around begging.
The Lithuanians helped the children of East Prussia commuting to Lithuania to find nourishment and called them vokietukai (little Germans). They adopted some of the younger ones, even though Lithuanians risked severe treatment by the Soviet authorities should it be detected that they sheltered Wolfskinder.
Some of the children remained in the Lithuanian farms permanently. Exact statistics are not available. But according to rough estimates, 5,000 German children and young people stayed in Lithuania in 1948.
"Most of them became orphans by war and flight in the stage of child or baby. They had to care for themselves and find out how to survive. Many reached Lithuania, where they worked at farms to gain their living. Most had no chance for school education. A larger part never got lessons to write or read. In many cases, the children got new Lithuanian pre- and family names and became Lithuanians. There was no choice, as it was forbidden for them to opt as Germans."
Later on, those who could be identified as German orphans in former East Prussia were sent to stay in Russian homes for children.
Orphans from former East Prussia were also adopted by Russian families. Documents about these adoptions are not open to public.
In 1946, the Soviets began emptying Samland of Germans. In October 1947, the Soviets decided to resettle 30,000 Germans from Kaliningrad Oblast by trains to the Soviet Occupation Zone of Germany (later GDR). On 15 February 1948, the Ministerial Council of the USSR decided to resettle all Germans, declaring them illegal residents in their own homeland. According to Soviet sources, 102,125 persons were resettled in 1947 and 1948. Of those, only 99,481 arrived. (Communist GDR sources attribute this to "perhaps a Soviet calculation error.") In May 1951, another 3,000 East Prussian Umsiedler came to the GDR.
The Soviets eventually put German orphans in orphanages administered by Soviet military officers but staffed mostly with some of the remaining Germans. In Fall 1947, 4,700 German orphans were officially registered in Kaliningrad. In 1947 The Soviet Union sent trainloads of orphans to the communist GDR; these train rides took four to seven days, partly without food or toilet facilities and some children did not survive. In 1948, the children's village of Pinnow, then Kinderdorf Kyritz, was opened. Orphans who managed to live with Lithunian farmers remained there mostly undetected.
At that time some of the young orphans had no knowledge of their identity, information in search files was vague, the occupational development difficult.
Later on some orphans managed to flee from the GDR to West Germany where they had better living conditions.
None of these events were reported in the press, and they only became known to the public after 1990, because the official Communist Party line in Russia and Poland was that there were no Germans in these areas. This had been their official position as early as the Potsdam Agreement in August 1945. Historian Ruth Leiserowitz, who lived in Lithuania, researched and published books about the Wolfkinder of East Prussia under her maiden name Ruth Kibelka and her married name.
Some historical records given by children from East Prussia survived, about how their families were overtaken by advancing Soviet Forces as they tried to flee. They were sent back to their old homes in East Prussia, found them destroyed, were expelled from their homes and then died from starvation, cold and typhoid fever. The orphans had to find a way of surviving and became Wolf children.
Another five orphans, born in the years 1930-1939, told Ruth Leiserowitz how they managed to survive. In the end, these Wolf children were transferred to a children's home in the GDR. In an obituary notice for an East Prussian woman, born in 1939 and deceased in 2009, it was revealed that she had lived under terrible conditions as an orphan without home and shelter in East Prussia and Lithuania.
The story of one survivor can be read in “ABANDONED AND FORGOTTEN: An Orphan Girl's Tale of Survival in World War II by Evelyne Tannehill,” in which Evelyne and her family fell victim to the Russians who invaded her parents' farm by the Baltic Sea in East Prussia. Her family was separated; only after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 was she able to return to East Prussia to revisit her childhood homeland.
One outstanding story is that of Liesabeth Otto, born in 1937, who, after her mother had died from starvation, went with her brothers and sisters to her homeplace Wehlau, where she managed to survive until 1953 by working and begging. In 1953, because of stealing food and clothes she was sent to a detention camp for children. After an odyssey through many detention camps, later on looking for work in the USSR, she located her father and brother in West Germany in the 1970s.
Some hundred Wolf children were discovered in Lithuania after the separation from Russia. Today almost 100 still live there. From the beginning of the 1990s on, Wolf children have fought for their German citizenship. They have their own association. The Federal Office of Administration within the Federal Ministry of the Interior (Germany) held for a long time to the standpoint that persons who left Königsberg territory after World War II had renounced their German citizenship.
From January 1, 2008 on, compensation is granted by Lithuanian law for those persons who suffered on account of World War II and the Soviet occupation. Consequently, Wolf children get a small additional pension. In German laws, the Wolf children are not mentioned. From private sponsors they get a small quarterly stipend, organized by Wolfgang Freiherr von Stetten.
Today, some Wolf children's aim is to learn the fate of their relatives, obtain German citizenship, reunite with the families, and leave the country for Germany, remaining faithful to German culture.
The association Edelweiß-Wolfskinder is headquartered in Vilnius. Another location is in Klaipeda. It gets support from German donors. The members can meet and exchange views and stories. The members are old and weak and rarely can speak the German language. Aid for the German minority in the Baltic states will expire about 2008.
The Communist Regime and the Iron Curtain lasted from 1945-1991. Once the Iron Curtain fell, people could once again travel to research or reclaim their identities as Germans.
The German Red Cross helps to identify and locate family members who lost contact with one another, such as the Wolf children, during the turmoil in East Prussia. “It was only the politics of Gorbatschow which allowed the opening of the Russian archives. Since the 1990s, the fates of about 200,000 additional missing persons have been clarified. More information about the fates of Germans who were taken prisoners and died still remain in unopened archives in Eastern and South-eastern Europe.
Five kilometers north of Tilsit on the crossroad of A 216 Tauroggen-Tilsit with A 226 from Heydekrug there is a memorial for Wolf children ("Wolfskinder-Denkmal"). The goal of the memorial is to publicize the fate of all human beings who were killed or died from starvation in East Prussia in the years 1944-1947, and to remember the orphan children left behind. Another memorial, the House of Wolf children, will be created with a permanent exhibition to remember Wolf children in Mikytai/Mikieten at the crossroad Sovetsk/Tilsit. This memorial will be organized by historians of the Verein Wolfkinder.Geschichtsverein e. V. in Berlin.
" The aid by Lithuanian people for the hungry East Prussians was invaluable. Every historical record brings new facts and insights. Mentioning this time and these circumstances will always cause thankful thoughts for the Lithuanian people of that time."
Former German president Christian Wulff was visited on May 10, 2011 by a group of so-called Wolf children from Lithuania. The leader of the parliamentary group within CDU/CSU for expelled, relocated and German minorities, Klaus Brähmig, believes that research on Wolf children should be intensified: "The president gives an important sign of solidarity by meeting Wolf children, whose fate is not well known in Germany. It is encouraging that politics and the media report more and more on these orphans, of whom many up to now are not aware of their German descent. The union goes on requiring, that scientific research ought to be intensified and matters of Wolf children dealt within the Bundesvertriebenenstiftung".