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Demmin 1945: "Lost in the meaning of life"

As of March 29, 2021 2:03 p.m.

At the end of April 1945 Russian tanks reached the Western Pomerania town of Demmin. The escape routes are cut off. More than 900 people take their own lives in a panic.

On the 60th anniversary of the end of the World War in 2005, the NDR spoke to contemporary witnesses who were children at the time and who witnessed the events.

by Gisela Zimmer

The memories lead back to the spring of 1945, to the small, West Pomeranian Hanseatic town of Demmin. Everything is green and blooming. It is unusually warm for the time of year. But nobody makes sense for the summer temperatures. Because panic has broken out in Demmin. Women and children wander around in confusion on the banks of the Tollense, Peene and Trebel rivers. The mothers only want one thing: into the water to drown themselves and the children. Out of shame, out of fear - they were all raped by Soviet soldiers. Mrs. Quadt is also standing on the bank with her four children. She also wants to take her own life. But her eldest son Heinz-Gerhard, then 14 years old, talks and talks to her. Until he manages to pull her away.

An anti-tank ditch against the Russian army

Chaos and hectic rush dominate the city. The "Third Reich" collapses, soldiers of the Wehrmacht rush back. Schools become hospitals. At night people sit in the basement. "And you could hear this rumbling from afar," remembers Heinz-Gerhard Quadt. "Especially the rattling of the tank tracks. It's so scary to me, I can still hear it today. And then the big question, what are we going to do? What are we going to do when the Russians come?"

They are there on April 30th: the first Russian tanks are rolling towards Demmin. The city's Nazi bigwigs have long since run away, not without announcing beforehand that Demmin must be defended to the last drop of blood. On this day, a white flag is blowing from the church tower, visible from afar. In the event of the surrender without a fight, the Russian parliamentarians had assured that Demmin would not be looted and the civilian population would not be harassed.

The escape routes from Demmin are cut off

But suddenly - the Russian army has long been pushing into the city - all bridges explode. They were prepared for demolition by the last Wehrmacht reserve. The civilian population is thus trapped. There is no longer any escape route across the rivers. The Russians cannot move on either; they actually wanted to go to Rostock that same day. Some Germans begin to shoot Russians passing by. Also the teacher Gerhard Moldenhauer, who says to his neighbor: "I just killed my family, now I'll kill a few Russians and then I will die myself."

Russian soldiers rape women and children

According to Soviet martial law, the incidents mean that Demmin is released for three days for looting. The city becomes "outlawed". The Russians set fire to the houses, the city center burns for days. The situation escalated on May 1st: The pharmacist on the market held a so-called victory celebration in his apartment. The invited Soviet officers are poisoned with red wine. Revenge is immediate and hits the weakest: the women and girls. "Girls from ten to eighty-year-old grandmothers were raped. And anyone who objected to this by the men was shot down without further ado," says Heinz-Gerhard Quadt.

"My mother knew right away"

Karin Rudolphy was just ten years old at the time. In fact, she and her mother had long since left Demmin. But where do you go, with all the flow of refugees? So they run back - towards the tanks and straight into the disaster. Karin Rudolphy remembers: "The way the three of us walk there, my mother in the middle, aunt and I on the sides, an adjutant came with a bayonet like this, took my mother out of the middle, I see the job today before me. My mother knew right away. She didn't make any fuss either, because in such a case you might have been shot. This person with the bayonet led my mother to an officer and the officer disappeared with her into a house . "

Karin Rudolphy continues in tears: "We found shelter with a master baker. We were in the back room. And it was very loud and bad. They raped the paralyzed wife of the master baker. That was very, very bad." Karin Rudolphy is lucky, she is spared herself.

Most victims cannot talk about it for decades. Only in letters - written anonymously - do some women reveal themselves. In one of these letters it says: "We younger women had blackened our faces and held our children protectively on our laps in front of us. Russians took women and girls into the next room and raped them. They took a 14-year-old girl from our room with. It came back completely disturbed. "

Many victims commit suicide

What follows is probably the largest mass suicide in German history. The revolver, the razor blade, the rope, the poison or the river - everything becomes an instrument of death. Countless Demmin women drown themselves. You step into the rivers, a backpack with stones on your back, your baby in your arms. An old Demmin teacher noted in her diary on May 1, 1945, that suicide does not always succeed. Some women survive. Every now and then a child who appears to have drowned crawls out of the water again.

What to do with the dead

At the beginning of May 1945 Demmin was completely destroyed. The flames have eaten the city center. Countless corpses are floating in the rivers. They need to be taken out and buried. Not all dead are identified. Heinz-Gerhard Quadt has read the cemetery book: "There are 35 pages in it about the dead in May 1945. Some came to the family grave, others went to the mass grave. And for a whole series of dead - as for refugees - it says: 'unknown woman, handkerchief EB' Or: 'Old man, right thumb is missing.' "

Pastor Heinrich Wessels stands by the people. He is there when truckload after truckload arrives at the cemetery and the corpses are placed in a large mass grave. It is very important to him that people are buried in clothes. There are no more coffins. Instead, cardboard boxes, duvet covers or large paper bags are used. In 1990 Heinrich Wessels was made an honorary citizen of Demmin.

The shock afterwards: The great silence in Demmin

The silence in Demmin is broken only gradually over the years. For a long time it was not allowed to talk about the rape and rioting. That made people mute, says Heinz-Gerhard Quadt: "In GDR times you had to be in a familiar circle to talk about these events. The image of the Soviet Army was not to be scratched. And that's how it is It was a small circle that people only talked about it in confidence. I sometimes tried to talk to my mother about it or made hints. But we never had a discussion about it because she actually knew: He saw how the Russians raped me, how we had to leave the house and what condition we were in. "

A large boulder in the Bartholomäi cemetery in Demmin has only been a reminder of the almost 1,000 dead women and children for a few years. It bears the old teacher's diary note as an inscription: "Freedom dead, lost in the meaning of life".

The second World War

The Second World War begins with the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939. Years of fighting cost the lives of more than 50 million people worldwide. more

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Our story | 04/14/2021 | 8:15 pm