by Dennis Dalman – firstname.lastname@example.org
Battle– That same day, Leokadia’s wagon came across a battle that was in progress – Germans and Russians battling to the death. The Wenzels quickly got out of their wagon and huddled underneath it as bullets and explosions ripped through the cold air.
Leokadia told Erika years later: “Bodies were lying all around us, everywhere blood, the fresh-fallen snow had turned into a field of blood, blood everywhere we looked, bodies and blood.” By that time, they had only one horse for their wagon. Earlier, a Russian had taken one of the horses. After the battle, Polish men took the last horse and the wagon, tossing the Wenzels’ last possessions onto the road. Still later, another Pole came by and tossed the bundles of goods onto his wagon, saying it’s better he take them than the Russians.
The Wenzels had nothing left except the clothing they were bundled in. Leokadia at least had the knee-high heavy boots she was wearing. But not for long. Later, a Pole took them, too. She wrapped her feet with her shawl and trudged on, holding her cold baby tightly to her, with the children following – all freezing, hungry, terrified.
Then they came upon a Polish woman with a kind heart, who gave Leokadia a pair of wooden shoes. They were far too big, and Leokadia’s feet kept coming out of them in the snow, but at least they kept her feet from freezing completely. Still later, they met another kind Polish woman who suggested the family take immediate shelter at a nearby dairy farm.
On a hay pile in a barn, the Wenzels collapsed from hunger, cold and exhaustion – so grateful to be out of the cold outside air. Next morning, shaking with fright but determined, Leokadia found the courage to go knock on the door. She asked the people if she and her daughters could do some work for a bit of food. They agreed. They worked very hard at some chores, but in return did not get a bite to eat – except for a bowl of dried peas. Then the mother asked if, at least, the baby could get a little milk.
“For Hitler’s kids we have not a single drop of milk! But wait, you like the peas so much.”
The man brought back another bowl of peas purposely mixed with excrement.
Then that family, shouting derisions, ordered the Wenzels out of their barn and off of their property.
Down the road about a mile, they happened to meet another kind woman who brought them some milk and then led them to a house, where she lived in a straw-littered shack. Through that woman, the Wenzels met a Polish couple, who agreed to have the Wenzels work on their nearby farm, for free. Even though Leokadia suspected it would be an ordeal, she was hugely relieved as it would be some kind of shelter from more cold, more cruelty.
At the Polish farmhouse, Leokadia became a virtual slave, toiling all day for the family and their frequent swarms of guests. But at least she and her family had a roof over their heads in a drafty room, and they had food now and then to eat. At that farmhouse, Leokadia was plagued by constant fears – fear the occasional Russian guests would rape and kill her, leaving her daughters all alone. Throughout the entire ordeals she faced, she prayed constantly God would keep her family together, even if it meant death for all – just so it would happen to them all at once. Leokadia’s worst fear was one or more of the children would be utterly alone, without their mother or anyone else to protect them and comfort them in their suddenly hellish world.
Bad to worse
Leokadia and her daughters toiled from sunup to sundown on the farm. They were, in fact, slaves.
Through some secretive connections, Leokadia learned she could work on her grandmother’s farm where the grandmother and mother lived. That farm had been Leokadia’s childhood home, but it had been snatched away by the Poles, and the mother and grandmother were serving as maids to the new owners.
Leokadia was overjoyed. That is, until a Polish owner and her mother pulled up in a carriage. She wanted to greet her mother with kisses and hugs, but she could not. They had to pretend they did not know each other. Leokadia’s heart dropped when she learned only she – not her daughters – would be allowed at the farm. Vowing never to be separated, she declined. She worried if the daughters were alone, they would be shipped to Siberian labor camps to be used as sex slaves by the Soviets.
Not long after Leokadia’s crushing disappointment, she learned of another opportunity. A Polish major and his wife wanted German slaves for their farm. Since they had connections and power, they forced the “owners” of the Wenzel family to give them up.
Life at the major’s farm was worse – far worse – than life before. The mother and daughters worked non-stop for two days with nothing to eat.
The major’s wife had a lover, a sadistic Polish policeman who enjoyed brutally beating and whipping any German on mere whim, for the slightest of reasons. At one point, he beat Leokadia because she would not agree to give her baby (Erika) to the major’s wife or sign adoption papers. He lashed her with a whip over and over so viciously, in front of her screaming children, that she fainted. By some lucky fluke, the deranged policeman left her alone after that.
On one happy day, thanks to the secret plotting of Leokadia’s mother, who was a slave on a farm just 20 miles away, there was a chance for escape. After two years of misery and pain, there was a chance for hope, for escape.
Kind Polish people living nearby helped the family.
On a dark night, a man on her mother’s farm helped Leokadia and her children escape from the farm to a city called Stettin. After hiding hungry for days, they were taken to a refugee camp where they joyfully reunited with Leokadia’s mother and her grandmother, who was 80 years old.
Hunger, humiliation and fears continued, however.
Finally, the family with other German refugees were allowed to board a cattle train heading west, toward Soviet-occupied East Germany. The year was 1947, two years after the end of World War II.
East Germany was another kind of hell. There were diseases like typhoid that killed many. Hunger was constant. Work was hard to find. They lived in a room of a bombed-out castle. It was a bitter survival, a new kind of prison in which one could never express one’s thoughts because of strict Communist rules in a system of abject oppression.
Morning, noon and night, Leokadia and her mother meticulously planned a way to escape from East Germany to West Germany, knowing they would be shot if they were caught. Luckily, they became aware of a man who would help them escape, a Mr. Demann, and coded messages fairly flew back and forth.
The man, who refused any recompense and at the risk of his own life, helped the family escape one by one: first Sophie, then Edith and Lilli. Two years later, it was Leokadia’s turn with 5-year-old Erika.
It was a very complicated plan that ended happily when mother and daughter slipped under an electrified barbed-wire border on a dark, rainy, muddy night. Slithering under barbed-wire is a maneuver mother and daughter had practiced again and again.
Once in West Germany (the year was 1950), Leokadia literally kissed the muddy ground.
“But, Mom, it’s raining here too,” Erika said. “Is this really the Golden West?”
“Yes, yes, my child,” the mother said, lifting her child into her arms and crying tears of joy. “We are in the West and its gold is our freedom.”
Thus began a new productive, happy life for the Wenzel family. There were struggles, of course, but all of the difficulties were nothing compared to the horrors they had endured – together.
Where are they now?
Erika’s father, a German solder, survived the war and internment in a Soviet Siberian labor camp. Weighing only 80 pounds, he found his way back to Germany and his long-missing loved ones. Eventually, after brutally hard work by the whole family, he built a home for his family in Gohfeld, West Germany.
He died, at age 85, in 1987.
Leokadia died at her home in Gohfeld at age 90, in 2002, just three months after a happy family reunion..
All of the four Wenzel daughters except for Sophie are still living – Edith in the family home in Gohfeld; Lilli in northern Michigan and Erika in St. Cloud. Sophie died of cancer at age 60, also in Gohfeld.
Vora’s book may be ordered by calling 1-888-795-4274 or online at www@Xlibris.com or at amazon.com
She also has just had a new book published, entitled “Silent No More,” which tells the stories of 33 German women survivors who were forced from their homes and became refugees, like the Wenzel family was.