Submitted by Steven Weidman
Exactly 77 years ago my partner Petra’s family fled the German state of Pomerania. The group included her mother Ellen (aged eight), Aunt Anita (aged four) and Uncle Jochen (aged 12), her grandmother (who oversaw the journey), her great-grandmother and great-grandfather. They were trying to stay ahead of the advancing Russian army coming from the east.
Ellen’s father, Petra’s grandfather, was serving in the German Army on the eastern front.
The family carried what few belongings they could on a small horse-drawn wagon and traveled during the daylight hours trying to avoid being strafed and bombed by American aircraft. They had become part of the millions of Germans who were displaced by the war.
Ellen’s memories of that terrifying trip were the sound of approaching aircraft, running for the ditches along the side of the road, the sound of machine guns and exploding bombs, the screams of people and horses wounded, usually mortally. To this day when she hears propeller-driven aircraft, she is again a frightened eight-year-old little girl.
At night they would try to find a barn or some other outbuilding to sleep in. On rare occasions they were able to stay overnight, in beds, with friendly farmers. The great-grandmother’s memories of the first World War had taught them to pack as much salt and tobacco as they could to trade for necessities.
The only good memory she had of that journey was stopping one evening at a small village and the pastor’s wife made a birthday cake for Ellen. The cake was put in a mason jar for traveling because they had to stay up with the convoy. It was March 25, 1945.
My point in relating this story is, to this day, Petra’s mother Ellen still suffers from the trauma of her experiences during this time. The children we see trying to escape from Ukraine with parents, or more likely just their mothers, will also experience this trauma, likely for the rest of their lives.
In 1945 the Germans were the enemy, and the Russians were allies, but that doesn’t apply to young children who don’t understand the politics — just the fear.
We don’t know how the present Russian invasion of Ukraine will turn out, but there will be many traumatized Ukrainian children.
As a Jew I have heard many similar stories from Jewish friends of their relatives escaping from the Holocaust and the trauma does not end with one generation. Each following generation is in some way affected.
Steven Weidman has been a Reno resident since 1986, is an amateur street photographer whose images of people living homeless have been featured on This Is Reno, and a docent at the Nevada Historical Society Museum.
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