Friday, March 8, 2013

Escaping from Eastern Germany

August and Henriette (Arnold) Schalin's son, Robert was born on 16 Sep 1902. He married Lydia Penno on 20 Nov 1928. And they had six children: Brigitte (1929), Antonie (1932), Linda (1933), Richard (1935), Reinhold (1941), and Gertrud (1942).

This post is about how six of eight members of Robert's family escaped East Germany after World War II.

In 1939 the family had been forcibly resettled in Poland, following the signing of the non-aggression pact between Germany and Russia. In 1945, as the Russian army was advancing, the family fled west toward Germany. Robert was conscripted into the Volkstorm, which was organized late in the war under the Nazi party (rather than the armed forces). It consisted of young boys, older men, and those medically unfit to serve. They were given weapons and expected to stand up to the advancing enemy. Not surprisingly, many surrendered or were killed. Robert was wounded during an air raid, captured, and thrown into a Polish prisoner of war camp. He spent nine years doing hard labor because he was a German, fighting on Polish soil.

Robert and Lydia (Penno) Schalin Family about 1948
Standing left to right: Reinhold, Antonie, Richard, Brigitte
Sitting left to right: Lydia, Dieter (Brigitte's son), and Gertrud
(Courtesy of Lucille Fillenberg Effa)
Robert found his family in Wildenau, which was in the Russian occupation zone. In about 1954 he got permission to visit relatives in the West German zone and never came back. His family had lived under Communism in Russia after World War I and he didn't want to experience it again. He got word to his wife, Lydia, and she soon followed him with their youngest daughter, Gertrud, by plane from West Berlin.

Reinhold, a teenager at the time, escaped a few months later, taking the same route used by his mother and youngest sister. Antonie and Richard also escaped to West Germany individually and at different times. 

It's a good thing they fled before the Berlin Wall was erected!

Only Robert and Lydia's daughters, Brigitte and Linda, remained in East Germany.  Brigitte stayed in Wildenau, married, raised a family, and died in 2002.  Linda died sometime in 1947 when the family was living in Wildenau, likely never knowing her father had survived the war.

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