Christa Maria K., Camp Sachsenhausen

After the birth, my newborn Bärbel was first of all wrapped up in striped Nazi prisoner’s cloth (there were no other clothes) and laid in a basket. After the first two weeks, when numerous bugs and fleas that crawled through the wooden slats of the barracks during the night bit my baby, I was put with the other mothers in the “mother’s room”. There were six mothers and six children that lived there.

Every day the children received the same old groat soup for breakfast and a thin potato soup for lunch with 800g of bread, which was actually what we ate as well. We also received 200g milk for the six babies. On Sundays and bank holidays there was no milk at all so the groat slime and the whole-wheat gruel had to be enough. I think it is a miracle that we were able to raise a seven-month-old child whose mother was sick with TB, with this food.

We had to get scraps of material from the stores (used to store the clothes of the people who had died in the camp) to use for baby clothes and nappies. We exchanged bread for wire sewing needles and knitting needles made out of wire from bicycle spokes with the men. That’s how I was able to make my Bärbel a little baby jacket and hat from the coveted sugar sack wool. They were the only things we were allowed to take home from the camp later.

It was one of the coldest winters in that year and we had no prams – where were they going to come from? – We carried our babies wrapped in a blanket whilst walking between the barracks. We were given very primitive beds for the children that we had to wash every week with a chloride of lime solution because the fleas and bugs nested in the wood knots. We scratched away at chalk plaster of the stone foundations of the barracks so that the children at least got some calcium. Then dysentery broke out in the camp and many died because they were too weak. The first to get it were the weakest, our children!

Betty B., Camp Sachsenhausen

Viktor K. secretly visited mother and baby nearly every day for eight weeks. Proud and happy he cuddled Felicitas. But the price for doing this was too high: he was deported to the USSR and then we lose all trace of him. The documents from the German Red Cross on him finish with the entry: “Handed over to the Brandenburg Group Operatives”. Betty B. and her daughter never saw him again.

Irmgard K., Prison Hoheneck

In Hoheneck Irmgard met up with her mother again – at least one trusted person who helped her get over the pain of losing her child. Relatives tried again and again to fetch Dorothea from the home without success and a family member was allowed to visit the child once.

Irmgard and her mother were released on 21 January 1954 as part of an amnesty. Irmgard and other mothers drove with the executive official Hammer (a name which Irmgard will never forget) to the children’s home in Zschortau-Biesen in Saxony. The three and half year old Dorothea stood on the steps and did not know what she should say when the strange lady asked her if she would like to go with her. After a long moment of hesitation the child answered with a shy “yes”.

Gabriele W., Camp Taischet, USSR

Traute and Gabriele did not recognise each other. Her daughter was neglected, had a shaven head, tatty clothes and rags on her feet. Gabriele remembers the reunion thus: “I didn’t want to go with her; that was not my mother. When we stopped in Moscow, we ran away but after a few hours they caught us again”. On the trip to Germany the children hid and stole filled bread rolls from the nuns of the Red Cross that had been prepared for the released camp detainees. The children hid the bread under their chairs. That was what they were used to in the camps where you had to steal food from the others.

Gabriele remembers that gangs of children ruled the camp and the strongest bullied the weaker ones. There was little food, the children were undernourished and often died: “the weaker children just died”. All children had shaved heads because of the lice. They were only allowed to speak Russian and if they ever spoke German they were hit by the other children.

Hedwig M., Camp Ketschendorf

In Ketschendorf there was no help for the children. Several of the children who were born there died, one of who was the child of Uschi Sch and it was obviously her fault (perhaps even intentional). One of the children whose mother had died was adopted by Mrs K. and taken home.

Hedwig “lived” in Ketschendorf with the young girl Inge P. and Ursel v.R. who really helped the baby. They exchanged bread for the clothes of the dead with the medical staff, unpicked them and made new ones. She spoon fed bread, etc. Hedwig breast-fed for a long time and also breast-fed a Russian’s child without any extra care in Ketschendorf.

The Soviet camp leadership ignored the children. January 1947 – transportation to Jamlitz. In the cold (20 degrees), in cattle wagons without any care or facilities.

Gerhard K., Camp Sachsenhausen

I was released when I was 3 ½ years old. That’s when I got the first apple of my life, given to me by one of the camp guards. It’s an event I had never forgotten: the first apple of my life!

Erika P., Camp Buchenwald

When I arrived, the Latvian girl Renate had given birth to a girl that morning. Hanni L., who at the time was the camp elder, told me about Renate. During the war she had volunteered with the German air force and expected now to be punished for this by the Russians. She covered her fear well and always seemed happy and relaxed. That morning, before roll call, she had had to visit the toilet. Hanni had told her not to go again. She said to her that if the baby fell into the toilet, they would think that she was trying to kill it as the father was supposed to have been a Russian. She gave her a cleaning bucket that Lilo had just used to do the cleaning. Just then the child fell into the bucket. Lili, a medical student, was called out of roll-call and looked after mother and child.

Alexander L., Camp Bautzen and Sachsenhausen

I was 9 years old and we arrived at Berlin-Friedenau station a long time after midnight. At that time of the night, the train was almost empty and we slowly walked along the platform to the exit. A long wide staircase led down into the entrance hall. When we got to the stairs and could be seen from downstairs, a small lady in a brown leather coat ran up the steps to me and took me in her arms. I am not sure but I have never in my life seen anyone run up steps as fast as that woman then. She wept for quite a while and told me that she was my mother but for me she was a complete stranger who I had to address respectfully.

From: A Childhood Behind Barbed Wire,
ISBN 978-1-4659-0627-4, Price: $2.99 USD