Threaten to Undo Us

By Rose Seiler Scott

Historical fiction, General fiction

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5 mins

Introduction Yalta, February 1945

Stalin traced his finger along the Curzon line which encompassed the cities of Brest and Lwów. Regarding the other world leaders with a steely gaze, he squared his shoulders so that his epaulets formed a straight and rigid line. “I will settle for the Eastern territories and nothing less.”
All of those present knew that the co-operation of the Soviet forces, allied with the Western powers, had been critical in turning the tide against Nazi Germany.
Churchill tightened his jowls around his cigar. He was not comfortable conceding anything to Stalin and even viewed Roosevelt with some distrust.
Roosevelt flicked the ashes from his cigarette into the ashtray and coughed; a sound that rattled from deep within his chest. He pulled the matchbox towards himself and looked up, his pale face thoughtful. Shaking out a number of matches, he arranged them on the map along the crooked lines of the Oder and Neisse rivers. “If we do what you propose, perhaps it would be prudent to give the territories of Pomerania and Prussia to Poland.”
Churchill removed the cigar from his mouth. “But what of the people living in that region? These are German territories and many Germans live within the General Government area as well. Surely we will experience more bloodshed if we make this part of the new Poland.” His ample jaw hung slack. “These nationalities need to be separated. We cannot have Poles and Germans together and expect them to live in peace after the atrocities of this war.”
Stalin stroked his moustache and waited for his turn to speak. Though a cunning and ruthless man, patience was one of his better virtues. When at last he had opportunity to answer, it was a gross exaggeration, but one that would likely accomplish his own aims of domination. “Most have fled the region,” he shrugged.
“Well,” said Roosevelt. “Why should we not simply evacuate the remainder of the German population—in an orderly and humane manner, of course, and assist Poland in the set-up of its new and independent government.”
The discussion continued at the conference of Potsdam and when the proceedings were complete the map of Poland was once again redrawn. As a result, millions of ethnic Germans from east of the Oder-Neisse line were driven out of their homes, stripped of their human rights, and enslaved by the new Communist regime.

What follows is a fictionalized account of one family’s story…

Chapter 1: 1945

Ernst’s face was cast in darkness; his tall frame a shadow in the open doorway.
“I’m in the army now,” he said, his solemn voice fading as he backed away into the night. “I can no longer give you my protection.”
Submerged in the blackness of loss, paralyzed to reach out, Liesel pleaded to her husband, “Come back!” Her voice echoed off the wall. Simultaneously she heard the rumbling of a truck motor and a tinny voice on a bullhorn. “All German citizens of the Third Reich are to evacuate as soon as possible. You are no longer under the protection of the German army.”
Liesel’s eyes fluttered open and her conscious mind recalled that Ernst had left their home in Poland months ago and was missing in action, somewhere in Russia.
The blackout curtains were securely in place. A single gas lamp, dimly lit, cast a soft glow on the green tiles of the Kachelofen. On the hearth ledge of the large ceramic stove, a few sticks of kindling poked out of the wood box. Above the mantel the cuckoo clock ticked softly, its pendulum swinging gently back and forth in counterpoint to Liesel’s racing heart.
In the gloom, silent companions watched from the walls; Ernst in his Wehrmacht uniform and his brother attired in the black garb of the “Schutz-Staffel,” sepia sillouettes of Liesel’s parents and grandparents and a portrait of her children, taken near the beginning of the war.
Kurt and Olaf stood on either side of Liesel like miniature sentinels in the matching dark suits she had made for them. Edeltraud was only a baby sitting on Liesel’s lap, wearing a perfectly tailored coat and a ruffled hat. Rudy stood next to the chair, his face turned slightly as if his attention was elsewhere.
The announcement reverberated down the street. “Allied forces are advancing. You are no longer under the protection of the German army. All German citizens of the Third Reich, General Government, are to evacuate to the west.”
Startled, now fully awake, her heart pounded and icy fingers of terror crept over her. Reich citizens of the General Government of Poland. That meant her. Evacuate her home? With four young children? Thoughts swirling anxiously, she wondered how she would manage everything in her condition.
Pulling her sweater tight against the sudden chill of the room, she heaved herself out of the rocking chair she had fallen asleep in, knocking over a half empty glass of tea in the process. Amber liquid splashed on the braided throw rug and streamed out across the floor in several directions.
She felt the baby move within her. It would only be a few more weeks and she hoped for a girl, a sister for four-year-old Edeltraud. A girl wouldn’t be drafted into the army.
Liesel forced herself to take a deep breath. Words she had learned long ago came to mind and she whispered them to herself. “The name of the Lord is a strong tower. The righteous run to it and are safe.” She repeated this a few times until the panic receded enough for her to think.
A mental list began to take shape. She would need food, utensils, bedding, things for the baby. First she must tell the boys and enlist their help.
She put on her coat and headed out to the barn. The warm smell of hay and manure enveloped her with heavy sweetness. Kaspar brushed up against her leg, meowing softly. Kurt was mucking out one of the stalls, while Olaf sat on the stool milking Wande.
“Mutti? Wass is loss?” Eleven-year-old Kurt replied, his voice mirroring the tone of his mother’s.
“Jungen, we will have to leave quickly.” She swallowed, choking on the enormity of her task
“Where are we going?” asked Kurt.
Olaf, less than two years younger than his brother, patted the cow. “What about Wande and Kaspar?” His voice was brittle and his eyes glistened.
Liesel lowered her voice. They must not sense her alarm. “We are — taking a trip. We’ll take some chickens along if we can, but the rest will have to be left behind. Too many animals will slow us down,” she explained, thinking things through even as she spoke. “Olaf, make sure there is hay and grain for the animals while we are gone.. Leave their pens open.”
In case we don’t come back.
“But mother, I don’t want to go,” Olaf said. Standing up, he gripped the top of the cow’s pen. “Who will look after Wande and the goats if I am gone?”
Feeding, milking, and grooming were his jobs and Liesel had observed how seriously he took these tasks. At butchering time he was scarcely to be found, unlike his older brother, who had always been fascinated by the process at an early age and was not at all bothered to wring a chicken’s neck or help pour the blood from a pig’s head.
Liesel squared her shoulders. There was no time for obstinate children right now. Looking him in the eye, she grasped his ears firmly, an action that was reserved for only the gravest offences. “You must do as you as you are told.”
Olaf’s eyes filled with tears and he looked down. “Yes, Mother.”
With the absence of their father and grandfather and the scarceness of hired help, the boys had borne much of the workload on the farm. Necessity had dictated responsibility at a young age.
Liesel felt a twinge of guilt for making Olaf cry, but the virtue of patience was worth little right now. There was no time to lament the sacrifice of their childhoods to this relentless war.
Turning back to her older son, the one most often to try her, she steeled herself against whatever he might say. “Kurt, you get the wagon and horses ready,” she commanded, “and bring along some tools. We will need the shovel in case we get stuck, a hammer, nails, a saw, and some grease for wagon repairs.”
Kurt’s eyes flitted to Olaf. He shrugged his shoulders and walked over to the harnesses hanging from the wall.
Liesel left the boys to their tasks. I can do this, she thought to herself. With a surge of nervous energy, she began preparations, based on the little she knew—winter weather, a baby on the way, and limited room in the wagon. How long they would be gone she had no idea, only that they must head west.
In the pantry she took stock; crocks of sauerkraut, pickles, and a box of rye, which had been destined for the flour mill. A short link of sausages, rationed from the last butchering hung from a nail. Thankfully she had baked two loaves of bread earlier that day. Linen bags held dried plums and apples, but much of the food they had raised had gone to the war effort, and it was mid-winter.
In her bedroom she lifted the small stack of handmade sweaters, booties, blankets and diapers. She stroked her hand over the fine wool, comforted by its softness. What would the future hold for this child?
Not much if I don’t move quickly. From the drawer she took out pillowcases and stuffed one full of things for the baby and the other with her own clothing.
When everything was ready, she sent Kurt to load the wagon.
Only the most difficult thing left to do.



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