Willi Gerlach

* 1932

  • “We would take the train from Reppen to get to our place and at the Reppen train station, we saw cattle cars returning from the eastern front, crammed with wounded soldiers. That was for the first time we saw battered German soldiers. There was bloody gauze all over their smashed bodies. Before then, trains with the wounded soldiers (so-called ‘Lazarettzüge’) were well camouflaged in order to keep this demoralizing show away from the public eye. But now, the wounded soldiers could be seen by everybody. This, of course, raised question nobody would publicly answer. Then it happened. It was in January 1945. I was out with a couple of friends. We were going downhill a slope on a sled when suddenly we heard a mighty thundering sound. We remained silent for a while until somebody said: ‘that was a cannon’. Somebody else said that it was plainly impossible. Nobody would believe it at that moment. We then simply continued sledding, paying no more attention to the thundering in the background. A few days later, the first fugitives with their carts and wagons started to appear in the village. I remember that one of the runaway families came to our house. It was wintertime and a woman let me hold her little child. She instructed me to be silent, to not wake up the child. The child was awkwardly silent and I soon realized that it was dead. The woman hadn’t realized it, yet, she only found it out later. After she realized that her child had died, she broke out in tears and weeping. The people coming in told us about what they had witnessed, about the onslaught and the atrocities committed by the Red Army, about civilians being run over by tanks, being shot by Russian soldiers, women being raped. Even some of the wagons that appeared in our village showed signs of damage. The next days were calm and peaceful again.”

  • “The next day, we heard a mighty rumbling and it didn’t take too long before the first Russian tanks stood at our doorstep. The first Russian soldiers that came inside our house behaved… well, more or less humanely. There were hardly any problems with them. The real trouble started with the troops that came later. It was all a bit different with these soldiers. They jumped down from their trucks and came inside the houses. We heard shots being fired and we could also hear women screaming and crying. At night, I heard a loud bang and when I looked out of the window, I saw that our neighbor’s house was up in flames. It was the first house that had been set on fire. The next day, I mean the next night, our other neighbor’s house was burned. It was the Kiebels. My grandmother called me and my brother and told us to get the hand carts out of our barn. We hurried to the barn and tried to move the carts out of the barn but as we were pulling them out the gate, a group of passing Russian soldiers on trucks opened fire at us. I can’t really tell you if they aimed at us or not, but we were scared to death. Anyway, we somehow managed to come back to our house with the carts and I remember that on this night, it got really bad. The Russian soldiers came to our house on that night and demanded that the women – my mother, my mother’s mother and my father’s mother – come with them, supposedly to make them diner. But even before they had left – we were standing in our kitchen – one of the Russian soldiers wanted to touch my mother. When my brother saw this, he jumped in between them and the Russian soldier, who probably felt threatened, took his machine gun and wanted to take my brother outside of the house. Now my mother jumped between them and screamed ‘take me, take me’. Then the women were separated from us (me, my brother and my grandfather) and they only came back in the middle of the night. We didn’t sleep on that night, of course. I have to point out that these Russian soldiers were demanding something specific. We didn’t understand what they were saying. Then they searched the rooms and found sauerkraut. Pickled sauerkraut. They were very angry as they supposed that we were hiding it away from them. This was the point where the whole affair escalated and then our women were separated from us on that night.”

  • “On February 10, we were instructed to leave the village. They told us to assemble on the northern fringe of the village. Every family loaded their belongings on a hand cart. There was also a marching column of German prisoners of war. They were taken on a field bordering the village and shortly afterwards, we heard gun shots. The prisoners were shot there. Many, many years later, a woman from a neighboring village called Mesow told me that she had really bad memories of Baudach because of the many dead bodies of shot soldiers that were decomposing freely all around the village. She was talking about huge piles of corpses they saw in the surrounding meadows, forests and fields. We then proceeded to Dobersaul. Our mayor was then shot in the outskirts of Dobersaul. On the way, we met German soldiers that were just kids. They might have been fifteen or sixteen years old. We gave them some food and some clothes. I very much doubt that these boys survived the day. We moved on and we then came to a place called Topper. There, the Russians took the young girls from our village away from their families and the girls only came back the next day. Nobody asked them any questions. We just didn’t speak about it. Head down and keep on marching. Then we came to Lago. What I saw in Lago was probably the worst. I was only thirteen years old by then. We witnessed the mass executions there. I still keep seeing this scene in my dreams today. In Lago, I also saw a Russian soldier grab a little kid by its legs and smashing its head against a wall next to his screaming mother, who didn’t want to do what the soldier wanted from her. I ran away. Much, much later, a couple of years ago, a neighbor once asked me if I had helped some of those people. She had absolutely no idea what the times were back then. If I had tried to help them, I would not sit here today.”

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    Budachów, Polen, 18.06.2011

    délka: 02:16:08
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The most important thing is to speak to each other

Willi Gerlach with his borther Kurt, parents and grandmother Jischke
Willi Gerlach with his borther Kurt, parents and grandmother Jischke
zdroj: Pamět národa - Archiv

Willi Gerlach was born in 1932 in Baudach in the district of Crossen. His father was a civilian employee of artillery barracks and his mother was occupied in the household. He has an older brother. At the outset of the war, his father voluntarily enlisted in the army. In late January 1945, the battle lines were approximating Baudach and Willi Gerlach and his family fled Baudach on February 10, heading westward. After the war had ended, they returned to Baudach to find that a new Polish administration had already been established in the village. Just a few days later, all inhabitants of Baudach were expelled from the village. At first, the Gerlach family sought shelter with their relatives in Berlin. However, they were banished from Berlin and ended up in Saxony-Anhalt, where Willi completed his primary education. In 1946, his father was released from a British internment camp and returned to the family. After he graduated from school, Willi began an apprenticeship for a car mechanic. In 1961, after he had been warned by a colleague, he, his wife and their little daughter managed to flee to the western part of Berlin just shortly before the Berlin wall was erected. In West Berlin, he studied and worked as a teacher until his retirement in 1994. In 2002, he went on a picture-taking trip to his former home Baudach, today‘s Budachow. Since then, he goes there several times a year. He currently lives with his wife in Cologne.