Georg Richter: My own end of the War

Georg Richter: Mein Kriegsende

Richter, Georg. "Georg Richter: My own end of the War." Volk auf dem Weg, May 2005, 22-23.

Translation from the original German text to American English by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado

I experienced the end of World War II in the Trud Army in Solikamsk, on May 8, 1845. Our bricklayer brigade of about twenty men was getting ready to go to work just as a party official came and said: "The war is over, today will be a holiday!"

What a joy! We were jubilant! At noon we were given a somewhat better meal, but otherwise nothing departed from the usual. My hope of hearing something more about my family -- my wife Elsa and the children Waldemar (nine years old), Valentina (six), Reinhold (five) and Herbert (five) -- or to get to see them again was beginning to grow a little. Since our family had been torn apart on September 3, 1941, I had not known their whereabouts.

On that third day of September in 1941, in my village of Rosenbach in Ukraine, all the men between 15 and 45 years of age were mobilized by the war commissariat. The front was only about 15 kilometers (9 miles) away. The German army had already reached the Dnyepr River. We were called up by name and, together with food supplies for three days, were led on foot to the collection point of Orechovo Suyovo. Three weeks later we reached by train the Trud Army location of Solikamsk. There we found two camps for a total of 16,000 men.

We were ordered to clear the swampy woods and to dig canals using spades and picks. Without any machine whatsoever, with our bare hands, in bitter cold temperatures. On the same grounds we then constructed a large factory for the production of war material.

The work was very difficult, but we were not allowed to complain. We were called fascists and were told to work to atone for our guilt. Ten to twelve hours a day, hardly ever a free day.

Our [production] orders were very strict, and those who did not meet them were punished with reduction of food. We had bread and soup, occasionally a bit of gruel made of grain. Depending on the amount of production, we were given 1,000 or 750 or 500 grams of bread per day. We slept in barracks, ten men each, on wooden bunk beds. There was a small stove for heating and for drying our clothes.

Twenty people died each day -- of malnutrition, the cold, or hopelessness. I saw corpses stacked naked on sleds. They were tided together with a rope and taken to the nearby forest. They were tossed to the ground and covered with a bit of snow.

No mercy, no pity, nobody could do anything against it. People were buried like animals, without any blessing they went to their eternal rest.

The war was a terrible time. I knew nothing of my family. From September 3 of 1941 until October of 1945 I had no sign of life of my loved ones.

After the end of the war, many women and children arrived in Solikamsk from Germany; my family was among them. But it took several days before I located my family in one of the barracks that housed so many women and children. I asked one woman about certain women from a specific area of Ukraine. "Back there is the barrack." Once inside, I opened a door, and my wife, who was about to go outside, was standing right in front of me. We embraced, cried and laughed and then went to another place that contained the children. They already approached us. I took the youngest up into my arms, and he grabbed me and shouted "Papa, Papa!" The others clung to my pants legs. That is how we were reunited after the war. A miracle and a great joy!

On May 10, 1946 I was released from the Trud Army, but without papers or anything else. My wife did not have papers or any photos, either; everything had been stolen on the journey from Germany to Russia. The worst time was 1946/47 following a failed harvest. There was hardly any bread; rations were reduced from 1,000 grams to 700 for adults, and from 500 grams to 300 for children.

Our stomachs were growling of hunger, we always awaited noon. Mother divided the small piece of bread, it is black like the earth, and hard like a rock.

My wife was also forced to work unloading train cars in cold down to minus 40 degrees [Celsius, which happens to be minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit]. The children attended school, but had to learn Russian, since there was no German school. I continued to work in construction of another factory.

In 1957 we moved to Kazakhstan, to Dshanbul. There I worked with the animals in the collective, and my wife took care of the beets. By 1958 we were able to build a house, and we stayed there until 1993. Finally, we gave up everything and, along with the entire family, participated in the wave of emigration to Germany.

I am now 92 years old, and my wife is 89. On October 24, 2004 we celebrated our 70th wedding anniversary. We have four children, eleven grandchildren, 19 great-grandchildren, and two great-great-grandchildren. Everyone is enjoying good health, we are doing well, and we are happy.

In thinking back to the times in Russia, I am reminded of the terrible times we experienced -- disownment, collectivization, the great famine -- but the worst time had actually been in 1937/38. My brother was shot by the Party, at the age of 28, my father in 1938 at the age of 49, and my wife's father at the age of 49. They were accused of being "enemies of the people." Much later (about 1956) they were actually rehabilitated. All in vain!

At the family celebration of the 66th wedding anniversary of Elsa and Georg Richter in the year 2000 in Muensingen (always left to right): - Row 1: llona Schmid, Emilia and Nathalia Salli, Reinhold Richter, Paul Gudnik, Ina Schmid, Alwina Arend, Eduard Richter with Valentina; - Row 2: Lida Richter, Reinhold Richter, Lida Meyer, Elsa and Georg Richter, Anna Richter, Eduard Meyer, Valentina Oberlaender, Simon Kroppmaier; - Row 3: Viktor Meyer, Ludmilla Meyer, Lilli Wandschei, Johann Wandschei, Hildebert Richter, Waldemar Richter, Herbert Richter, Friedrich Semke, Olga Knaub, Viktor with Richard Knaub, Edik Knaub, Konstantin Gudnik, Irina Richter, Sergey Arend; - Olga Richter, Gnadi Salli, Ira Salli, Lilli Gudnik, Katja Richter, Maria Richter, Ida Gudnik, Nelly Knaub, Olga Schmidt, Maria Semke, Ira Richter, Lena Arend, Aelxander and Eugen Rehmann; - Waldemar Richter, Viktor, Anatoli Gudnik, Waldemar Richter, Erich Richter, Alwira Rehmann, Waldemar Knaub, Maria Schweigert, Viktor Mundschau, Simon Schweigert, Albert Schmid. In 2003 the youngest great-grandson, Nick Knaub, brother of Richard Knaub, was born.

Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.

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