Eastern Prussia

Voigtsdorf / Wójtowo (N54°00.532, E020°56.863)

Wójtowo (Voigtsdorf) is located between Lutry (Lautern) and Reszel (Rösel) in the Polish part of former East Prussia (Ostpreussen). A few plots of land in this small agricultural settlement was enough to be relatively wealthy. And it was not too much to be executed on the spot as land owner when the Red Army moved in, back in 1945. Who knows the truth after all these years only captured by oral history? I was there today for the first time, to see my mother's birthplace. I took many photos that may trigger her memories: the buildings, school, garden and just the fields across the road. She never came back. I also talked to people.  There are stories of violence, betrayal, and death, but also those of bravery and humanity. I decided not to write in public about what I heard. It's too easily misunderstood in the rough world of social media and there are radical views on this chapter of history. And honestly, I can't even talk about it without loosing my voice.

All that counts for me today is that I am happy to see my mother's birthplace. Now a wonderful Polish family is living in the house. It is still as a farm. I even saw some Trakehner horses. They maintain it by the means they can earn from the land. That's not easy. It never was.

The exit of Wójtowo (formerly Voigtsdorf)

The exit of Wójtowo (formerly Voigtsdorf)

This view remined me of Andrew Wyeth' painting "Christina's World"

This view remined me of Andrew Wyeth' painting "Christina's World"

Poppy flowers everywhere

Poppy flowers everywhere

Farm house near Lautern

Farm house near Lautern

P6160171.JPG
I was always wondering why my grandfather liked these cherries called "Schattenmorelle". In his garden in West Germany he had many trees of these and they are not really common in the Rhine area.

I was always wondering why my grandfather liked these cherries called "Schattenmorelle". In his garden in West Germany he had many trees of these and they are not really common in the Rhine area.

Formerly the farm of Anton Siegmund, my grandfather

Formerly the farm of Anton Siegmund, my grandfather

The smith's workshop beside Maria Gebriel's former home, my grandmother

The smith's workshop beside Maria Gebriel's former home, my grandmother

P6160174.JPG
The former school of Voigtsdorf / Wójtowo

The former school of Voigtsdorf / Wójtowo

P6160167.JPG
Still some horse breeding

Still some horse breeding

Corn flowers in the field

Corn flowers in the field

Center of Voigtsdorf / Wójtowo

Center of Voigtsdorf / Wójtowo

The mill on the way to Reszel (Rösel)

The mill on the way to Reszel (Rösel)

Nameless graves on the cemetary in Lutry / Lautern

Nameless graves on the cemetary in Lutry / Lautern

P6160126.JPG

The past is three different countries

In the late winter of 1945, the ice on the "Frisches Haff" at the Baltic Sea was not thick enough anymore to carry all carriages and horses. My mother and her family left Eastern Prussia under the pressure of the incoming Russian Army. What happened then, was a story that shaped us for generations. Some went on land Westward, others crossed the thin ice. Too slow to make it off there before sunrise, they became easy targets for the Russian Air Force pilots. Nowhere to hide, they pretended to be dead, lying still on the ice until sunset, watching their neighbours sink and die randomly. They were running from an Army which was seeking to defeat the country which invaded it brutally and merciless before. For those who survived then came hunger, typhoid, the search for their relatives and children, homeless years, hope and despair - and for some the madness never left them. Some families were reunited in the 50s with the return of surviving prisoners of war from Siberia. Others in 1989 when the German wall fell. Many did never see each other again.

Tomorrow I still have a project presentation, and then I am on my way to Gdańsk (Danzig), with an old bilingual map, a field GPS and the few photos, articles, and extracts from birth registers. From there, I will head South-East to a village which has was called Voigtsdorf, close to Rösel. I am looking for the place abandoned by Anton Siegmund and Maria née Gabriel and their children in that late winter of 1945, in Poland and their favorite Café and chocolate maker in Königsberg / Kaliningrad (Russia). 

map location voigtsdorf alt.JPG