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Years of Persecution and War: A Report from a Contemporary Witness

Ella Hiller, born September 25, 1930 in Kassel/Glueckstal District, Odessa Region

Kampen, Johann. "Years of Persecution and War: A Report from a Contemporary Witness." Volk auf dem Weg, June 2011, 12-13.

Translation from the original German-language text to American English is provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado


My parents were very devout farming people who, despite the prevalence of Communism and atheism, raised me in the spirit of the Christian faith.

When the German soldiers marched into our village, I was not quite elven years old. Even during those initial days I was struck by a statement from a soldier in a blue uniform: “Over there is where I tossed a bomb!” It happened to be really close by. How easily that bomb could have hit our house!

I can also remember how our area collective was dissolved, the land was doled out to the people, and workers in the collective became independent farmers! At twelve years of age, I often had to help out in the fields, take care of the cow when it was returned from the grazing meadow, and prepare supper because our parents often remained in the fields until dark. How I managed to get all that done is still a mystery to me.

In any case, school remained rather strange to me. During the first three years I learned everything in Ukrainian, and now that the Germans were in charge I was learning in German. But that German was a different German than I knew at home.

Of the war I did not take much notice at first, only that somewhere there was shooting, even though the front was far away. During the winter of 1943/1944 we again heard cannon fire. It was called “nashi.” That much Russian I still knew, despite two years of re-educating. “Nashi” meant “ours” and “vashi” meant “yours.”

“Yours,” however, were our new bosses of the German occupation power. During the spring of 1944, they ordered that we leave everything and prepare for a long trip. And sometime in April we were told, “Early tomorrow morning you’ll be leaving!” (The likely date was April 15, when the so-called Glückstal, or Northern, Trek took off. Cf. Heimatbuch 2004, p. 9. - Ed.)

Our trek with its horse-drawn wagons moved very slowly, especially because the roads were clogged with German troops retreating from the Red Army. The route took us through Bessarabia, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia, all the way into the Warthegau in Poland. For the greater part of the way, which, due to various detours caused by war conditions, likely totaled more than 500 kilometers [ca. 320 miles – Tr.], I had to manage behind the wagon on foot.

In Kalish on the Prosna River [in Poland] we were initially quartered in three churches. After we had completed the naturalization [citizenship] process, ethnic German men were inducted into military service or into the Volkssturm [regional militia]. Papa was drafted into the Operation Todt (OT), which operated at the front and consisted of men who prepared the roads for the war.

When the Red Army came ever closer, we were shipped to Chemnitz [in eastern Germany]. On May 20, 1945 the Americans transferred us from their control to the Russians, who allegedly were to take us back to our Ukrainian homeland. And, in fact, our destination turned out to be Odessa, and a month later we were back in Kassel. I think the authorities did not know what to do with our colorful crowd. They were waiting for enlightenment from Moscow.

That came very soon. We were no longer allowed to stay in Kassel. The Far North and East of the Soviet Union was in dire need of workers. So our next destination was Syktyvka in the Komi ASSR [Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic]. Mama’s attempt at soothing me was weak: “Ella, at that time you were four years old, now you’re fifteen, but there will again be hunger, frosty cold, and dire need.” Our new quarters were in some barracks, and the very next day our workplace became the Taiga. That was in the winter of 1945/1946.

Thirty-five years later, on May 29, 1981, I, an Aussiedler [resettler] with only one suitcase, landed at the Frankfurt Airport. I am preserving many documents and photos of my family’s life in bygone years and times.

My husband Julius was unable to experience our return. He died in Moldavia, halfway – in a sense – toward the original homeland. Still with me are a son and a daughter, three grandchildren, five great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchild Rodon. They live in the immediate area of Augsburg, in Heilbronn, and far, far away in Syktyvka.

Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.

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