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Wit, Will & Angels


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Will, Wit & Angels: The Life of a Woman in the 20th Century

CHAPTER SEVEN

Becoming a Landowner

T

hings had changed in the village during the month of September. The Russian Commandanture had decided that every large farm, such as the one in Thurow, would henceforth no longer exist but would be divided up into small parcels. These were to be given to the workers who had been living in the village, and who now were to become farmers in their own right. The purpose behind this decision was undoubtedly the fact that direct demands could be made of individuals who were personally responsible for their produce. Later, when the small property owners could no longer fulfill the demanded obligations because they had neither horses nor machines, the land would be turned into Kolchosen, or state ownership. For now, each new “farmer” had to deliver a percentage of goods to a collection place for the Russian army. The registrar’s office in Anklam was approached and Mr. Krose’s farm was divided up into as many parts as there were families. I was one of the recipients and still have the document to show that I became the owner of a farm of 20 hectares—about 50 acres. A stretch of bush was part of my land. Since there were only a few horses left, lots were drawn for them. My mother had picked the lot for me and, voilà, she had drawn the strongest of all the horses for me. I still remember its name, it was Lotte; I had had my eye on her all along. Of all the horses that were left, she still was in


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the best condition. The new owners now had to look after the animals themselves, but they also had to share them with the people who had not been lucky enough to get one. The work had to be done jointly. There was also one tractor that was still working, and some machinery that had been in use the year before. The few cows that were left were divided up in the same manner, but we were not lucky enough this time to get one. However, it was not too long thereafter and I managed to acquire a cow for ourselves. This happened in the following manner. Throughout the summer, the Russians had collected all the herds they could find in stables or meadows and driven them on foot to the closest larger train stations where they loaded them into box cars and transported them eastward to Russia. We had seen several herds of cows and sheep coming through our village, a few hundred at a time, guarded by armed soldiers in the front and the rear. The schoolhouse in which my mother and I, and now also Juergen, lived in one room lay at the corner of a bend in the road. It had a wooden fence around the yard and several small rooms in a larger barn in which the former teacher had kept some sheep and pigs and probably a cow as well. I had cleaned these stalls out and moved some foodstuff—potatoes, carrots and grain—into them for our own use, which I had recovered from the main barns on the farm property. In anticipation of another herd of animals coming through, I had collected a large pile of turnips and sugar beets with the leaves still in place and stored them as well. When one day I saw a herd of cows approaching, I ran into my little barn, grabbed an armful of sugar beet leaves and spread them from the road across our yard into the open barn. Sure enough, one of the cows followed the food train and ate her way into our barn. The soldiers in the front had just passed our house when this happened and the end of the herd was still beyond the bend so the soldiers in the back could not see what went on in the front. As fast as I could I closed the door shut behind the cow, gave her some more to eat and danced and laughed for joy, having a cow and having fooled


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Will, Wit & Angels: The Life of a Woman in the 20th Century

those darn Russians. I used the same method to catch two sheep a few days later. Since we had not eaten any meat for months, one of the men in the village killed one of the sheep for us and I gave him the second for his family to eat. For the next weeks and months we ate salted mutton each week a few times. To this day I cannot stand the taste of lamb or mutton. As it turned out, we were indeed very fortunate, since the cow happened to be pregnant and not long after we had her, she delivered a calf. From then on we had lots of milk. I found an old centrifuge in our attic, which we used to separate the cream from the rest of the milk. I was also able to organize an old butter churn so now we had lots of butter and milk, more than we could use ourselves. At that time people in the cities had very little to eat. What could be bought for food stamps was very meager and the lines in front of stores were huge. Almost daily, people came from Anklam and other nearby places into the villages and went from door to door trying to trade commodities for food. In this way, by trading milk and butter, we acquired some bedding, a few blankets, some dishes and cutlery and other household items. After a few weeks we sold the calf to another family in the village.

Russian Soldiers in our German Village THE SOLDIERS WHO LIVED IN THE MANSION had not bothered us too

much. They seemed to be quite self-sufficient, probably getting their food and necessities delivered from some depot. Every so often we saw them arriving in the village in carriages with girls at their sides, mostly on weekends. We always heard loud music, shouting and goings-on at the main house, but mostly they left us in peace. There were a few exceptions. One afternoon in early November, when I was doing the books downstairs in the old schoolhouse, two drunken soldiers suddenly burst through the door. They each swung an open bottle of vodka in their hands, plunked themselves onto a bench and motioned for me to drink


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with them. They became so insistent that I had to take a sip, which tasted horrible. When they did not stop urging me to drink, I just put the bottle beside my mouth and let the stuff run down my blouse. They were far enough gone not to realize what I did and when the bottles were empty, they mumbled something in German about coming back and staggered out the door. I had become very scared, ran upstairs and changed, and did not go down again for fear they might return. I do not remember where our mother was on this evening, but she definitely was not in our room, though Juergen was. I told him what had happened and the two of us pushed as much furniture as we could in front of the door. A chair stood underneath the doorknob and the table and some shelves were barricading the door. We hoped that nothing would happen, but around eight o’clock when it was dark already, we heard some commotion downstairs and then someone came tramping up the stairs. Then followed heavy banging on the door and a voice shouting, “Frau raus, Frau raus!” (Woman, out!). I was frozen with fear but Juergen had his wits about him. He realized that sooner or later the soldier would break the door down, so he very quickly tied several bed sheets together, then told me to climb out of the window and slide down while he held one end of it. I had to jump the last five or six feet and remember falling pretty hard on the ground, then felt the bed sheets falling on top of me. As I got up and grabbed the sheets I could hear the door crashing upstairs and the soldier yelling, “Wo Frau, wo Frau?” I did not wait to hear Juergen’s answer but ran with my bed sheets as fast as I could in the dark to the nearest ditch behind the village, where I stayed until I saw the light go out in our room. Eventually I crept as silently as I could to the house at the end of the village, where another young girl lived with her parents. They took me in for the night. Poor Juergen had to suffer some punches and kicks from those two drunken soldiers because they hadn’t found me, and he had said he did not know where I was.


Wit, Will & Angels: Chapter 7 - Sampler