Many of the Germans lived there for a couple of centuries. They were annexed by Hitler’s Germany before the war. – “Of the 4,000 who remained, 500 ended up committing suicide in the first 14 days.”
From the Eastern documentation of the German federal government.
About the expulsion crimes against Germans
(Doc. V./1/2/No. 221 and no. 297)
Pastor George Gottwald, Dean of Grünberg
“Of the 4,000 who remained, 500 ended up committing suicide in the first 14 days.”
The Russians marched into Grünberg on February 14, 1945. From the 35,000 [German] inhabitants were only left 4,000 in the city. According to Russian soldiers the city and district was a free zone for three days to plunder; in reality it took place over several weeks. Everywhere blazed a fire, all the facades burned completely off. By mid-June, there were in the city neither light nor water, the few wells were not enough by far. Waterworks, Electricity headquarters and the gas tanks were blown up.
The city resounded day and night by wails of tortured, raped citizens. The women and girls were fair game. In my rectory fled a large number of girls and women who had been twenty to forty times raped in one day in an unbroken sequence. Several lust killings were reported to me (slitting the body, the genitals, cutting off the breasts, etc.) I saw and buried the bodies. How terrible these atrocities were, can be gauged from the fact that of the approximately 4,000 who remained in the city, the first fortnight over 500 people ended their life by suicide (whole families, men, women, children), including doctors, high court officials, industrialists and wealthy citizens.
The bodies of those who committed suicide were not allowed to be buried for two weeks. They had to remain or were ordered onto the pavements to deter others. Capitalists (factory owners), which one could get a hold of, men in whom a soldier was suspected – the possession of a pair of high boots or a piece of outfit was enough – and men who wanted to defend their wives and daughters, were immediately shot or beaten to death. The furniture of people who had fled, all their clothes, linen, etc. were loaded onto trucks and transported to Russia. The less precious possession were thrown out the window or put into waste dumps or sand pits, all smashed. German women were divided into columns, for weeks, and had to do this work of disposing the trash under the supervision of Russian ‘shotgun women’ and Russian slave drivers abused by the appropriate treatment. All hospitals have been cleared of all equipment, stripped back to even the light switch, and the sanitary facilities smashed. It was a most terrible vandalism with all imaginable brutality.
All males, from 14 to 65 were captured, imprisoned in factory premises and then transported to central Russia. Only ten of the many hundreds have returned. Three neighboring pastors were shot or beaten to death. One, because he had a pair of high boots (i.e. SS suspect), the second, when he reached into his pocket for his rosary, the third, because he started to take care of the body of a nine year-old boy who was shot to death by a Russian. Two of my deans were dragged off to Russia, although they identified themselves as clergy. One came back last year, the second (my chaplain) died in prison camp.
Throughout the summer of 1945 and also in 1946 women and girls were rounded up or captured on the road and, often in just makeshift clothes, dressed as they were captured shipped off for harvest work to the East. After months they finally returned physically and mentally demoralized. Many hundreds have still not seen their homeland again.
A ghastly drama was the driving away of cattle. For weeks, day and night, were immense herds of horses, cattle, pigs, sheep and goats driven off through the streets, and then driven over hill and dale to the East. In the district Grünberg each village was allowed to keep only one cow. What gruesome scenes these were there! In the villages the entire food stock was confiscated: grains, potatoes and all the food stocked, as well as the giant food stores of the merchants and towed off. The people were told to get from the cellars of the ones who fled the small amounts of inventories and canned goods for their livelihood. A general famine with all its symptoms broke out, epidemics threatened. For a day-long hard work, people received only a piece of dry bread.
The greatest misfortune for Grünberg were the huge stocks of wine, champagne and cognac and liqueurs of all types. Grünberg was a leader in the beverage industry in a wine producing country in Silesia. In addition, the well-known wine warehouses of Bremen and other West German locations were relocated to Grünberg. The bestiality and the orgies of drunken Russian soldiers constantly topped every conceivable measure. Atrocities and rapes were committed without measure open on the streets and squares. Easter Week 1945 the vaults of all Grünberg Banks were dynamited and demolished and plundered by Russian officers. The commander of the NKVD (GPU) boasted to me, to have found in the vaults alone over six and a half quintals (Zentner) of gold and precious stones. He himself had in all his pockets handfuls of gold chains, watches, rings and precious jewelry. He showed them to me. Precious archives perished in these explosions.
In the castle of the former Empress Hermine in Fürsteneich, province Grünberg, the largest part of the State Archives of Breslau was housed. The castle is located between the river Oder and the Fürsteneicher lakes. Thousands of irreplaceable documents with their precious seals were drifting over the meadows of the Oder river and on the water of the lakes. All precious furniture, works of art, books and archives were thrown out the windows into the great moat. A horror without end! These are only the principal moments of painful events from the Russian invasion. Listing the horrific single events and describe them is impossible, which would have to be a whole novel that no one who has not experienced it would believe or understand.
On 8 May 1945, accompanied with music, came a regiment of Polish railway men into Grünberg, followed by a swarm of Poles lusting after booty, and now all the misfortunes and suffering doubled. The Poles behaved as absolute masters. Consequently, it came sometimes to serious clashes and shootings with the Russians. Daily and nightly there were dead and wounded. The Russians kept the military command posts occupied, the Poles civilian administrations.
In May the District Grünberg / Silesia was separated from the province of Silesia and attached to the province of Posen, it was said, as a “military bridgehead” to the left of the river Oder to fight off the Germans. In our church, we were moved under the Cardinal Hlond-Posen, later under the papal administrator Nowicki in Gorzow (Landsberg / Warthe).
All private homes had to be abandoned by the Germans, and they were ordered to leave behind all their belongings and they were moved into the slums and back alleys and rear buildings of the city, eight people crammed in a room. The misery was indescribable! The Germans did not receive food stamps, but had to earn by difficult slave labor in clearing work in the city or work in the fields for meager food. A terrible famine broke out among the Germans, misery and disease. The black market triumphed, but no German was allowed to buy there, nor could he, because he had no Polish money. Old people and children died like flies.
On Sunday, June 24, 1945, at 12 noon, like a lightning bolt out of the blue by telephone, as I was told by the Polish mayor – from the Polish-Communist government in Lublin came the instruction, that within six hours the whole city and district Grünberg were to be cleared of all Germans. Everyone was deported towards the river Neiße namely by foot, with five kilos baggage allowed each person to take. The Polish military now moved in, and what is now happening in coarseness and brutality, defies description. With shots, rifle butts and whips the Germans were robbed off their meager clothing and plundered, driven on the road and formed into columns to march. These misery processions went on for several days, day and night through Grünberg on the river Neiße.
Only Officials and special workers were allowed to remain until further notice. Subsequently, the evacuation was carried out in small groups (10 to 20 people) without regard to family ties. The Polish security service came always at night into the homes of Germans, singled out a number of people who they put in jail or transported off. In these transports the poor people were mistreated in indescribable ways and robbed down to the last item. All arterial roads and routes are strewn with graves of those who collapsed.
As the expelled masses came to the river Neiße on 24 to 26 June 1945, from the ongoing downpours of the last few days, the river was severely swollen so that it could not be crossed. There was no bridge, no boat far and wide. The masses had to remain for days in the pouring rain under the sky, always frightened and harassed by marauding, rabid Russians and Poles. When the rains and floods persisted and because it took too long and always more columns of refugees were added, they were simply chased into the Neiße and had, up to the chest or neck in the water, find a way to reach the other shore. Eyewitnesses reported numerous deaths of elderly people by heart attacks or drowning. In the city of Grünberg during 24 to 26 June 1945 3,000 people were driven out in these days. The figures of the whole district are unknown to me.
After this expulsion, the situation of those who remained in the city was even more miserable. They were not allowed to possess property. – It’s tragic chapter, also in the conduct of the Polish clergy, which I only mention here but will be reporting to the Vatican.