Because of the war in Ukraine, millions of people are currently fleeing.
Exactly 78 years ago – on March 17, 1944 – the residents of Katharinental also had to flee from what is now Ukraine. They never came back. So it was the last day of this colony. My grandfather, then 16 years old, describes the flight from Katharinental like this:
“We were prepared to flee west. A lot of work and planning was done. The military was constantly moving through our village. The German army retreated to the west. The Russian army advanced quickly, the Germans offered no more resistance. For us Katharinentaler it became more an more dangerous. The commander of the army ordered the villagers to flee.
We were all supposed to gather on March 17, 1944 on the hill towards Speyer to flee.
[Michael Hörner, who was also there in Katharinental as a child, writes in the magazine “Volk auf dem Weg” from April 2020 on page 36: “Women with children under the age of eight and older people over 60 were able to take the train on March 13 1944, the rest on March 17, 1944 with horse and cart in a trek.“]
It was a farewell from home to an uncertain future. It hit us twice as hard. When father came to the stables on the day of the escape, the best horse was no longer there. It had been stolen by a German soldier during the night. That was a big shock for us because we now only had one single horse to hitch to the wagon. With the help of other residents, we arrived at the hill where we were all to gather and awaited the order to leave.
Then we saw a horse in the meadow that had been left behind by the German military. It was injured on the right hind foot, but the injury had already healed well. For us, this horse was a godsend. We caught it. It was in good condition, well fed. So we hitched to the wagon – our lucky horse. We were able to keep up with the trek without any problems.
[The records of the Federal Archive show that my grandfather, his father and his older brother were on the trek from Katharinental to Wartheland for 78 days: from March 17 to June 3, 1944. Michael Hörner confirms this in his article, he writes: “The escape lasted for weeks. Shortly before Budapest, it was already mid-summer, the wagons and horses were taken away from the families, and the train continued to the district of Altburgund in Wartheland/Poland]
We started the escape with 2 horses and a cow that gave us milk. We also took a foal (1 year old) with us. It was a sunny day but cold. We made it to the village of Speyer. [Today Speier is called Pischani Brid. That was about 12.8 kilometers to walk]
Then came the first escape night. The Katharinentalers were the last to flee. The commander, who was responsible for the refugee trek, organized the daily overnight stays in the villages and also the food in advance. Everything went very well. We managed about 30 kilometers a day. Seldom there were air raids by the Russians. The weather was changeable for this time of the year, cold, sometimes very stormy, with snowfall. Our wagon train moved in parallel with the retreat of the military. A hopeless state, and that for weeks.
Fortunately, the inhabitants of the villages were all already on the run. As a result, we had no problems finding accommodation. Only the weather went crazy. Sleeping outdoors was impossible. Every tiny room in the houses and stables was occupied by several people, refugees and soldiers.
Our escape route led to Hungary via Moldavia, Bessarabia, Romania and the Carpathians.
In Hungary, the entire inventory was taken over by the German army. We were promised that „after the victory of the German Empire“ we would get everything back. Everything was registered and certified in writing. Each vehicle owner received a document.
We were then loaded onto the train and traveled via Lower Silesia and Upper Silesia to Warthegau in Poland, where all the refugees were distributed and housed in shelters. Some Polish citizens were evacuated to make room for the Germans from Russia. Of course, the Polish population was not at all happy about this.
My parents and I lived in a school. 1 room for 5 people, my parents and the three children (my grandfather does not mention separately here: his mother and younger brother, born 1942, had already been taken to Wartheland by train on March 13. They met all together there again, in June 1944).
The place here was called Hansdorf near Litzmanstadt. In Hansdorf there was a large estate. Vegetables were planted here. The vegetables were bundled and sorted every day in line with the market. We got work there and Polish citizens worked with us. It was wonderful working with them. We got to know each other and became friends.“
So far my grandfather’s report on the escape from Katharinental to Wartheland. Later it went on to southern Germany, where my grandfather lived until the end of his life.