Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Staying Local 2008 - A Sombre Time (Part 1)

We have a date. Our next destination is less than 100miles away, so with no rush, Ian prepares a route while Guzzisue starts packing.  To reach our destination we had to travel near a place named Belsen. Ian was not sure if this was ‘The Belsen’ and Guzzisue thought that the place has a double-barrelled name. With all day on our hands, and paws, there was only one way to find out.

Down a traffic free road we travelled, not a sound except the Guzzi’s rumble, Ian managed to overshoot a car park. Turning round he had success the second time,

The camp of Bergen-Belsen was used as both a prisoner of war camp, mainly for captured Russian soldiers and a concentration camp. I will return to this later, for our first stop was at the Learning Centre. Here there are detailed information boards outlying the liberation of the camp and an exhibition room.

Within the room, devoid of people, a slideshow showing the transporting of people to a railway station and their embarking into cattle trucks for their journey, complete with the recording of a locomotive. The recording stopped when the entrance to the camp became the last slide. Unnerving and very moving at the same time.

The exhibition taking place was titled ‘Banished From Warsaw 1944, The Plight Of The Children’.

The main objective of the exhibition was to encourage decussion on the topic concerning deportation, which took place in Warsaw between August and October 1944.On August 1st 1944, poorly armed units of the underground Home Army beganthe struggle against the German army stationed in Warsaw. The uprising began. The German army mobilized special forces to suppress the uprising. Both Hitler and the commander of the Schutzstaffel (SS) and the Police, Himmler, gave the following order: “Every inhabitant is to be killed.” And then the atrocities began.

Carefully laid out in aisles were hanging cloths, some with a child’s description of the event as they remembered it.

This is how Halina Lewicka Paszkowska, aged 12, remembers some of the events from the time and how they affected her life:

 When on August 1, 1944, at 5pm, the Warsaw Uprising began, I was at home. We stayed in our house until August 13 (Sunday), and then, during the pacification of our street, I took shelter with my parents in a cork insulation factory, which was across the street from our home. During the pacification of Wola, on August 20, as the SS formations forced us to Pruszków, we miraculously escaped being shot on the way to the outskirts of the city. As I went, I saw murdered people on Bem Street, burned infants. I saw a burning horse (restrained with a wire and surrounded by wood). On Bem Street, SS Officers were standing next to tables that were covered by white paper, displaying trays of cake, which they offered to us, while we were forced to move by the butts of guns. It turned out that they were trying to make a film; unfortunately, it did not work out according to their plan because as we walked by the table, everyone turned their head in the opposite direction. Nearby however, they were shooting people (but obviously, they did not film this).

In Pruszków, they crammed us into cattle wagons and locked them shut, and then for the next couple of days they transported us to Germany, to the transit camp in Bittenheim, where we went through a month-long quarantine. Next, after splitting us into groups, they transported our group to Stuttgart. Upon arriving in Stuttgart, we were forced into a peculiar, slave market, where we were groped, patted, and our teeth were looked at. These kinds of inspections were carried out by the directors of companies, with the assistance of Gestapo officers. All of this took place under torrential rain, on the platform of the railway station. In Stuttgart, I worked (as a twelve-year-old child) in a factory of weapons, Kugellageefabrik “Norma” (a factory producing ball bearings) in Kanstadt (a neighbourhood). The work conditions were horrible; all of the handling of ball bearings took place in kerosene. My mother had her palms and forearms eaten away to the bone by the kerosene, and after six months of work there, she weighed 38kg. I developed a rash on my entire body and horrible wounds developed in my armpits, and I had abscesses the size of nuts on my legs. We could not cure ourselves; we were slaves. The factory was responsible to the arms industry, and the conditions were like a camp. Hunger, terror, as well as continuous carpet-bombing by the Allied forces.

Before liberation, which took place on April 19, 1945, our “Guardians”, commanded us to sit in a shelter that was hollowed out on the slope of a mountain: it was cold, wet, and there was no food. We were not working there, so we did not get food! There were rumours that they were going to kill us there, and only a quick Allied invasion impeded their plans.

After liberation I stayed in a camp in Ludwigsburg; the camp was named after Washington, and I was cared for by American doctors while I was there. In November 1945, I returned to Poland by the first possible transport. There was nothing in Warsaw; everything had been burned down, so my parents settled in Lódź. My parents lived separately; they did not withstand life’s test. In Germany, their marriage started splitting. I tried to continue with my education, but I stopped after the third semester of middle school, which was ninth grade. My nerves were worn out; my whole life was in ruins. My beloved city burned to the ground, my family broken, inhumane conditions while at the camp, malnutrition, work – they all took a toll on my health.

In 1950, I got married; I have two children who are already adults. I was under the care of the Psychological Health Clinic. I do not work; my husband supports me financially. Living through the war and the occupation left me with permanent trauma, anxiety, repulsion and apprehension with regard to Germans. I cannot even listen to the German language without having my heart race and without becoming jittery. I will never visit the GDR (East Germany) or the FRG (West Germany).

I would suggest that this interview was completed some years ago, the last sentence stating that she would never visit the GDR or the FRG again. The Berlin Wall came down in 1989, quickly followed by reunification in the following year. Does she still feel the same? What are the thoughts of her children? I understand that these questions would digress from the main topic, just wondering, that’s all…

As always, within all the atrocity that takes place, there are the stories of kindness and compassion

and those that are left waiting at the train station, patiently looking after family suitcases, for their return….