Monday, January 8, 2018

Mom's WW2 Stories: Wilie

Not long after the beginning of the war, mom's family was assigned a lodger by the Nazi Army. The man who occupied one of the rooms in the family's flat was a German officer who served on the speed-boats patrolling the war port area. His name was Wilhelm S. Luckily, soon it appeared that he was quite a decent and friendly human being. The fact that grandma and her daughters were fluent in German made the coexistence easier as well.

Wilhelm had a wife and a son in Germany. The wife (her name was Lena) sent him packages with food, sweets and other things which were hard to come by in the occupied by Nazis Poland. Whenever the man got a parcel, he gave the food and sweets to mom and her sister. Food and such goodies as chocolate were scarce during the war so the gifts were helpful and appreciated.

Mom and the rest of mom's family called the lodger "Wilie".

One day, grandma said to him: "Wilie, come and help me steal some coal".

The coal was not available for Polish people then, only Germans could purchase it legally. That was why the Polish were to freeze in the wintertime or be "innovative" regarding getting the coal.

The man replied: "Hitler does not allow me to do that."

Grandma explained: "It is going to get cold, if we do not have the coal, we will all be freezing here." And the man went with her to "find and fetch" some coal.

As I wrote in one of the previous posts, mom's father was arrested by the Nazis and sent to a Lager in Germany at the very beginning of WW2. I do not know how Wilhelm managed to do that, but he organized grandma's meeting with her husband. Needless to say, visiting military men who were kept at lagers was not a common thing at all. Not to mention that the POW camps for Polish, Soviet and other East European soldiers were more similar to regular concentration camps than to the camps where American and West European army men were held.

Grandma and her two daughters traveled to Germany by train then. In a compartment "for Germans only" together with Wilie. They were all scared as they were afraid of what would have happened if it had been discovered that a Polish woman and her children dared to be there. Fortunately, it was not and they all got to Münchehagen where Wilie's house was. Mom and the family met Wilhelm's wife in those days. Grandma and the girls stayed at the S' place for some time and after that, Wilhelm, grandma and her older daughter went to meet grandfather. Mom stayed with "Tante" (aunt) Lena in Münchehagen. Mom recalls that the lady was very good to her. Aunt Lena always asked her what she wanted to eat or what cake she would want to have on a given day. And she did cook, bake and get the little girl what she felt like having. All in all, mom lived with Mrs. Lena for a year. The S. liked her so much that they wanted to adopt her. However, grandma said "no" to that offer and besides, mom missed her family as well. All in all, Wilie brought mom back home to Gdynia on one of "his" speedboats.

During the war, Wilhelm Gustloff (which was a German military ship, previously used as a hospital ship) stayed in the war port. On Sundays, parties for German soldiers' children were held on the ship. With fun and goodies to eat. Once, Wilhelm took mom and her sister to such a party. The girls could speak German with a proper German accent so there was no problem with that. However, they had been told not to tell anybody (when on the ship) what their surname was. It would have become clear that the girls were Polish - of course, it would have ended terrible meaning both the officer and the kids. Mom's (two years older) sister was also instructed to look after the younger one (mom of course). Unfortunately, when they both were on the ship, the "big" sister was so eager to go and play with other kids that she left mom behind. The little one got lost and started crying. Soon she was found by some military men who served on the ship. The first thing they asked her about was her first name and surname. Mom cried even more then because she was afraid she would get in serious trouble. Nevertheless, she remembered what she had been told before and said that her name was S. The soldiers took her to the party room and nothing bad, only fun happened.

Wilhelm helped mom's family in many ways. He also made it possible for grandpa to come to Poland "for a leave" and participate in mom's sister's First Holy Communion day.

The above picture was taken on mom's sister's Holy Communion day (1942). Wilhelm S. is the first from the left, mom's dad on the right. First row - mom (from the right), her mom and sister.

Close to the end of WW2, before the Russian army came to our city, Wilie managed to escape home to Germany on a speed-boat. Mom and her family never saw him again although the man did write to them a few letters.

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