a childhood behind barbed wire
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E
veryone who grew up in East Germany (aka GDR) is familiar with the novel "Naked Among Wolves" by Bruno Apitz who tells the story of Jerzy Zweig, the "Child of Buchenwald". It was obligatory reading in (the communist run) East German schools. But who in the GDR knew that there were children living in Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen, Bautzen and the other former concentration camps after WW II as well. Children who were born there, lived there - and sometimes even died there. They were as innocent as Jerzy Zweig and all the other prisoners in the Nazi concentration camps.

Since the fall of the wall I have been engaged in research about the fate of these children. It is difficult research due to the scarcity of documents. These children did not exist in the bureaucracy of the camps and since they did not appear in the statistics, they did not receive food, clothes, diapers, shoes or toys. Particularly in the first years the mothers had to share their own small food rations with their children and sewed clothes from the remnants left behind by the dead. In 1947, in Sachsenhausen the camp commandant made only one bottle of milk available for six children - to last from Monday till Friday.

So it is not surprising that babies and young children died. In the spring of 1949 the last overseer of the camps, Colonel Ziklajev, asked Moscow for permission to release the children and send them to relatives, but he never received an answer.

My research brought to light sufficient data which I was able to add to the information from witnesses to make a reasonable reconstruction of the fates of 80 children and their mothers. I would like to present here one story to represent the stories of all the others.

In 1946 Ursula Hoffmann took the risk of lodging a complaint against 'persons wearing Soviet uniforms' who had raped and murdered her mother. She was 20 years old at the time and was living in Berlin. Shortly after registering her complaint she was arrested and accused of being a spy for a foreign intelligence service. The soviet military tribunal of the 9th Mobile Division gave her a 15 year sentence to be spent in a forced labour camp. She was placed in camp # 8 in Torgau, and it was that one of the Russian guards fell in love with her. He was her age and had been brought to Germany at the age of 17 as a forced labour hand. After Liberation Day he escaped the fate of so many other Russians who were shot as 'traitors of the fatherland'. Instead, he was incorporated into the Army - as a guard. His name was Wladimir Brjutschkowski.

Their forbidden relationship came to light when Ursula became pregnant. Ursula was sent to camp # 4 in Bautzen, while Wladimir was deported after a trial before a military court and sent to one of the correction camps of the Gulag Archipelago. He left Germany the day before the birth of his child. In Bautzen Ursula gave birth to a son, a boy whom everybody called Sasha. Some eight weeks later the mother and her child were transported to the camp at Sachsenhausen, where they stayed till 1950.

Ursula and her child were no exception. In Sachsenhausen alone were more than 36 mothers and their children in that time. The youngest of them was 20 years old, the eldest 42 - each with a 3-month old daughter. Then the mother of 42 died. Witnesses told me that her baby was given to a woman who had lost her baby a short time before. According to former camp inmates this procedure was customary in other camps as well.

When the last camp was closed in 1950, there were still 42 children 'living' in Sachsenhausen. Some of them were deported to the Soviet Union and some were released together with their mothers. 1,119 condemned women and about 30 children were handed to the GDR authorities to have them serve the rest of their sentences in East Germany prisons. A new period of suffering lay before them, only now they were in the hands of the East German authorities. The women and children, among them Ursula Hoffmann and her son, were sent to Hoheneck Prison in the town of Stollberg.

There was no place for children within the East German detention system. So instead of sending them to relatives, in answer to repeated requests made by the mothers, the authorities took the children away from their mothers and brought them initially to the city of Leipzig as so-called 'children of the State Government'. They were regarded as orphans without names or date of birth; their only record was a number. In the autumn of 1950 they were separated and sent to several children's homes where they were entered in the registers with their own name. But for all the children without exception their place of birth was stated as Leipzig, for the authorities could, of course, never admit that they had been born in Soviet labour camps or East German prisons.

In March 1956 Ursula Hoffmann received a pardon and was released. She was very ill and decided to go immediately to West Berlin. It was from that free city that she started the long search for her son. With the help of some other women, she ultimately found him and, after many requests to the East German authorities, received permission in 1957 for him to travel to the West. At the age of nine years and without any personal documents, he arrived in West Berlin. The reunion of mother and son was subdued. Whereas the mother had yearned all those years to see her son, she was a stranger to him and he insisted on addressing her with the formal German 'Sie', instead of the intimate 'Du'. Less than 10 years later Ursula Hoffmann died at the age of 41, after a long illness. She never saw Wladimir Brjutschkowski, the father of her child, again.

On April 10th, 1995, Ursula Hoffmann was rehabilitated by the Russian Military Governor according to Article 1.1 of the Laws of the Russian Federation of October 18th, 1991 and recognized as a victim of political repression. In the letter from Moscow, written 28 years after her death, it was stated 'that there had not been any justification in the past for her imprisonment.' About 80 per cent of the condemned camp inmates received a similar declaration from Moscow during this period. It means that 80 per cent of the condemned prisoners in the soviet camps in Germany were innocent according to contemporary Russian laws.

Ursula Hoffmann was my mother and I am the boy whom everybody called "Sasha". And so even I was rehabilitated by the Russian Military Governor and recognized as a victim of political repression.

My father managed to survive the Gulag Archipelago. With luck and the help of the German Red Cross I found him in Russia in 1997 and two years later in 1999 we met for the first time - more than 50 years after my birth. In summer of 2000 he came to Germany, to see his two grandchildren and to place flowers on my mother's grave. I also have two sisters now and I visited them all for a several times in Russia. My father died five years later on Christmas morning 2004 in the age of 79.

So this is my story. It's only one of many other children and only one of million others victims of the Communism. It's only another unknown aspect of the communist history and the history of the "German Democratic Republic", of innocent people who became victims of a political system that was intended to create a new and a better and fairer world. The exact number of victims of the experiment called Communism is still unknown. Only a small number of the former prisoners are alive today and soon all of them will be gone. That's life and we have to accept it.

But I will never accept that these people will be forgotten. That is, what this website is for.

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© by Alex Latotzky 2012