Luzia Kollak

Luzia Kollak (nee Jaschinski) was born in 1918 in Allenstein/East Prussia. She worked as a nurse from 1935 until the end of the war. In 1940 she married Panzer soldier Gerhard Kollak (11th Panzer Division). Their daughter Doris was born in 1941. Gerhard Kollak met his child on two home visits before he was sent back to the Eastern Front. At Stalingrad he was awarded the German Gold Cross. The last sign of life Luzia received from her husband was a letter dated December 28, 1942. In early 1945 Frau Kollak and her daughter fled from East Prussia. They now live in the town of Münster, a Catholic enclave in predominantly Protestant Northern Germany. We spoke with both women in the mother’s apartment.

My God, I thought to myself – is this the one?

I met him …when I was a nurse – there was a Christmas party and I acted the part of the snow queen. As luck would have it, my husband and his parents had also been invited by acquaintances to the same party. Someone was in the hospital. And our friends staged a theater production. After the show there was a cozy get-together. That’s when he already showed interest in me and looked at me. While I was acting on stage, I noticed that he was seated in front and constantly looked at me. After that there was some dancing and music. At the very first dance, when partners were chosen, my husband came and stood before me, asking me to dance. My God, I thought to myself – is this the one? Well, he turned out to be the one.

Gerhard Kollak and Luzia Jaschinski married in the fall of 1940 – they had a long-distance marriage ceremony. He was stationed in Poland and was called to the local command post; there was a phone connection to the registrar’s office in East Prussia, where his bride was waiting. In the following years the married couple rarely saw each other. At the movie theaters Luzia constantly scanned the weekly newsreels when they were showing 20-ton tanks, hoping to catch a glimpse of her husband.

What nearly killed me was the fear when I was pregnant and about to give birth. For a week I tormented myself with fear. I thought I would bleed to death. The midwife arrived, but she couldn’t help me. She would say: “We must wait. It’s not yet time for the birth.” I was in pain. I thought I would go crazy.

My husband was not there. I constantly thought, now I will die. He isn’t here, and the child will be left alone. Will it be a healthy child? What will happen? Well, we had good doctors then, especially good military doctors. And then a Doctor Petzun showed up, he was a military doctor, who had been working at the military hospital. He delivered my little one. She was born feet-first. She was born wanting to walk, I tell you. And this doctor, he made me well subsequently. I was given injections to build my strength. I then received a certificate. I was allowed to travel. I was allowed to travel to the Baltic Sea, to recuperate. The child was looked after, and I was given everything I needed. I got a lot of big presents, from the city and elsewhere. They said it was because my husband was a soldier and at the front, you see! Yes, one has to admit that we were very well taken care of. The difficult part came after the war. But during the war, I have to admit, we were still comfortably well off, compared to the situation in the cities here, which were already being bombed and so on. In East Prussia we enjoyed peace and tranquility at the time. And we had enough to eat. My parents had a farm. They had enough food.

When was that?

In the spring of ’42. Buying vegetables at the market was now out of the question. And all he could think of was “Where’s the baby? Where’s the baby?” Well, he then went to the bedroom, and she was in her little bed. Fast asleep. I can still see how he went down on his knees. He just gazed and gazed. And we simply couldn’t pry him away from the baby. Yes, his child meant everything to him.

In spite of all the violence during the war and so on, he was such a good man, believe me. I marveled at his composure. He should have had frayed nerves, you know, what with the constant fear of death at the front. After all, so many soldiers had already fallen. It was in the news. Many deaths. Yes, he was… he was fearless, always; he never made me feel concerned. He was convinced that he would return. He would return.

Russia. Oh, how my husband enthused about the wide-open spaces there. The natural landscape there was marvelous, he said, the Volga, that immensely broad river. And the ships that sailed past. Everything there appealed so much to him. He simply could not understand the war. Every time he returned he would tell me, “You simply wouldn’t believe the wide open spaces. When the sun set, half the world was bathed in red. The sun’s rays reached so far. Well this was all evident when there were no gunshots being exchanged.

You spent the summer of 1942 with your husband in Silesia, and then, as you had mentioned, on September 15 he was ordered back to the front.

Yes, he was completely silent. It gave me a chill up my spine. He was just so silent. Was so silent (weeps). He was unable to say anything any more. It was terrible. And then there was the baby. That was when we said goodbye. He then turned around and was gone.

“My dear little Lucy…”

You then heard on the radio that there was heavy fighting at Stalingrad.

It was terrible. We couldn’t sleep a wink. We were horrified and my father said: “There you have it.” He said, if Hitler wins the war, the Christians will be next. He’ll start persecuting us as well. My father always said: “He’s an Anti-Christ. He’s not Hitler; he’s the Anti-Christ.” I didn’t know what to think …As young people we were doing quite well. We had a good time, I must admit. We had a good time. Law and order reigned. No girl was raped, violated or killed, something that occurs nowadays. Nowadays you open the newspaper and what do you read?… And Hitler did a lot for young people. One must attribute that to him. The ending was terrible. If there had been no war, then…

How did you react when you heard that the 6th Army had been encircled?

I thought that I would die of fear and misery. How were they faring and did they still have something to eat? My God, we worried constantly about the men, the German men. Do they still have something to eat? Why did that happen, how could it come to that?

I still have the last letters he wrote me [from Stalingrad]. I no longer have the other letters.

Gerhard Kollak’s last letter from Stalingrad, December 28, 1942
(click to view the letter transcript)

28.12.1942

My dear little Lucy,
Greetings to you and Doris in your lovely home! Your G[erhard] is completely with you in his thoughts right now. You know, my dear little Lucy, now that I have a bit of time, I am sending you wishes and greetings for hours on row. And what would I only want to do for you if I was with you, my dear wife. Nothing would be too hard, for if I picture what we are enduring here, any other work seems like child’s play. How I long for the day that will bring us together again and have us embrace, my dear little Lucy. No one, I believe, can be happier than me. And when I think that there is a tiny little creature in our midst that is also partaking in our joy and happiness.. All my joy, confidence and love for you I also want to extend to my dear little daughter. How she must be blossoming and thriving if all my wishes for the two of you are coming to fruition. You, my dear wife, are the only one to make my heart happy and fill it with strength. Because I’m only thinking of you. Oh, if only my heartfelt wish will be fulfilled and I am granted home leave so that I can ease my enormous longing for you and our sunshine! With these thoughts I’m concluding, with love and kissing you both, your Gerhard

You didn’t keep his other letters?

No, how could I… I couldn’t take everything with me [when she fled East Prussia in January 1945]. We only had ten minutes to prepare to leave. We had to leave helter-skelter, chaotically. Half the village had already left. All the young people had left. “What, you’re still here with children? What are you thinking? The Russians are already at Allenstein!” We could already see the red bullets, the Russians’ bullets. “And you’re still here?” I hadn’t realized that they were already so near, the Russians. We could already hear the roaring of cannons. My parents said, “Oh, what should we do? What should we do? And how should we get away from here?” I went to the railway station, wanted to buy a ticket to travel to my female friend in Bischofswerda. That would have created hysteria. It was strictly forbidden. I wasn’t able to obtain a ticket. That’s how it was. So we had to stay. And then they continued to exhort us to leave. And we were so afraid. And the chaotic circumstances, the pressure to be quick. Well, then this officer came to me and said: “Mrs. Kollak, can you help us to get to such and such street?” He spread out a map. My apartment was a mess! Some soldiers slept in the rooms. Others got the chickens out of the coop. They slaughtered and plucked the chickens and cooked them in the pot that was meant for laundry. They were famished. I said, “Eat, eat, everything, including the preserves in the cellar. Keep yourselves warm! You can do anything you please”. I said, “If we have to leave, then eat up everything”. It was a mess. They cooked. The men were constantly in the kitchen. We left everything the way it was. We closed the door and left. At ten-thirty at night. It was pitch dark.

“What, you’re still here with children? What are you thinking?”

We found ourselves in the city of Elbing, moving westwards. All of a sudden there was an explosion in the direction that we had come from – a bang, fire, people running. They then stopped. There was an officer there, an Austrian, who said to me: “Mrs. Kollak, quickly enter the next house, go to the cellar!” I took my daughter with me, took my bag, the bed remained on the car. And tried to get into the house. All the doors were locked. We simply couldn’t find an open door. And the men fled. They drove off, leaving us standing there. That’s what men are like, I said to myself. When it gets difficult they leave women in the lurch and escape.

I ran for 20 kilometers, alone with my child. It was minus 15, ice-cold, there was snow on the ground. I lost my coat. And we just ran and ran. Then a farmer showed up with a horse-carriage and said: “Madam, what are you doing here? You could freeze to death. Come to us on the farm!” I said: “No, the Russians will be here tomorrow. I must travel further. And I continued to run, run, run. All of a sudden I heard the sound of an engine. I thought: It’s the Russians. Now you’re done for. I hid myself with my child behind a tree. The headlights from the cars shone in our faces, and I trembled with fear. I thought they would shoot us. I thought it was all over. It was the Germans; they had lost their way! The people with whom we had fled, the Austrian officer…

And she constantly cried: “Mummy, are we going to die? Mummy, are we going to die?” And then, well… they drove with us the entire night till we crossed the river Weichsel, till we reached the other side of the border, where Germany was. That was the corridor, you know, that came into existence after the First World War. East Prussia was separated from the rest of the German Empire. And we were then in Germany, and were then for the first time able to relax and rest.

Luzia Kollak and her daughter continued their flight onwards to Bischofswerda near Dresden where they were hoping to stay with friends. A massive air raid began just after they had changed trains in Dresden in the evening hours of February 13, 1945.

The train departed for Bischofswerda. All of a sudden the air-raid sirens went off. The lights went out. The train stopped. The train stood still on the tracks. We stood there, Dresden already behind us, but we were not yet in Bischofswerda. We suddenly heard bombs explode. There they flew…and the howling. The airplanes…uuuuh. We thought the world was going to end. At that time I thought it was over. Someone called: “Quick, to the Elbe meadows, into the water!” The Elbe was flooded. The meadows were full of water and we stood up to our knees in water. Yes, and the Americans dropped phosphorus. They don’t want to hear that it was phosphorus… but it’s true, the water was burning. We took willow sticks and did this (shows the movement). Or else we would have been burnt. They deny it, but it’s true.

And suddenly it was quiet; the planes had gone. There were many planes, and then it was quiet. Then, splashing through the water, we ran to the train. The lights went on again and our train still stood there. I tell you, the Heavenly Father had accompanied us from above. I know it.

Suddenly the doors were kicked open. It was the Russians. Davai! Davai!

From Bischofswerda mother and daughter fled to Austria. There they found themselves in the Soviet occupation zone. Luzia Kollak tells about mistreatment at the hand of Soviet soldiers.

I had bathed her [Doris] and was almost finished. Suddenly the doors were kicked open.It was the Russians. Davai! Davai! [Hurry up!] Take the clothes and all get out! I had to take the little one out of the water. Threw a towel over her. It was summer. And quickly went outside. We all had to stand there. Ugh, I said: I know, this is our last hour. Really, truly. I thought they were going to shoot us. We had to stand there and they raged and cursed. We did not understand a word. Only “khorosho” [good] or “davai!” or “to syuda!” [go there!], I still remember that. And then it went on. We stood there and hugged each other. Then they came and pulled us apart. I held my daughter and Mrs. Stütz cried and screamed: “Help!” Then she got a blow with a fist across her mouth from the Russian. And you know the reason? They had found a German soldier’s backpack. It just lay there. They thought we were hiding soldiers. They ran in the house and searched. I said: “neto, neto, nie ma nyemcy” [No, no, there is no German!].

That’s how I spoke to them, half German, half Russian, and half Polish. They were furious. Suddenly I heard the noise of an engine. A car came down the hill and stopped. Russian officers got out. Or generals, they had these white stripes here, you know. Smartly dressed men, the two. And one came and screamed …He spoke to me: You there, what is this? – “Ne viem”, don’t know. I started to cry. My daughter screamed with fear. Yes, don’t know. And then – the Russian soldiers had to stand to attention to the two officers. And they showed them the backpack. The simple soldiers. And he [the officer] then ordered them to pick it up and throw it in the river. I to syuda i dobrze. Nothing else, and they were gone. And we were allowed to go into the house, where we hugged each other.

I could prove that they had infected me, the Russians…

Then we screamed with fear. They had…oh…two daughters. One was sixteen. They dragged her to the hayloft and raped her. She screamed. We heard her even where we were. And the old mother, oh, they threw her onto the road. Her skirts pulled up. I don’t know, why did that have to happen? Why did women have to suffer so much? Well, there were also good Russians.

Like the two officers who showed up. I said, the Lord has sent them. They saved us. Otherwise the soldiers would have shot us. Yes, one of them always held his Kalashnikov like this. Always like this. That was before the rape.

At that point in time they pulled me out of the bed. My daughter, thank God, she was asleep. She did not see what happened. They pulled me out of the house and in front of the house they turned me around and around: sssssss, and they repeatedly held me by the nose and turned me around. One of them had the knife here, in front, and the other one the Kalashnikov in my back. Yes, then I fainted and collapsed. I lay there, and was unconscious. They dragged me away across the bridge, over the river, deep into the forest, and then both raped me. First one of them…. and then… they bite when they do it. They bit me here, and blood ran over my body. And then they left me lying there and took off. I didn’t know where I was.  Where was I? Where was my daughter? I stumbled around… it was dark; it was late evening when I wandered around in the forest. I was afraid and barefoot. My feet torn and bloody. And then I heard the splashing of the river. Oh, now I knew. It must be… If I go along here, I’ll be able to return.

I found the way back, and found my daughter. She was still asleep in the bed. Had not seen anything. And Mrs. Stütz, she helped me. We washed and bathed ourselves. But they had infected us. And we soon began to notice that we were in pain. And everything was different. We needed a doctor, but where? We were scared. It was far away. Where was the next village? The villages were far and few between there. And Mrs. Stütz said, “We’ll go to a doctor in Gutau,” but we could not walk on the country road. The Russians were everywhere. So we went across ditches, through the woods. We arrived and waved. Someone saw us and let us in through the backdoor. Secretly, because the Russians were staying at the front of the house. We heard them hollering and yelling. He examined us and said, “I’ve buried it in the garden; I knew that they would come.” He had buried a lot of medicine in the garden, to be on the safe side. And then he helped us, gave us medicine. Thank God. But I was scared, and it had not yet healed properly.

…From the hospital in Vienna, I had this ambulance board. I could prove that they had infected me, the Russians, and that I was sick and had worked like a horse.

Luzia’s daughter Doris speaking:

Doris

She guarded it carefully, like the apple of her eye, because she wanted to show it to my father. That was the actual reason why she guarded this proof so carefully. So that she could say to Papa: This is not from my…

Luzia

…that I did not voluntarily have anything to do with men.

Luzia Kollak and her daughter then received a notice from the West German authorities allowing them to settle as refugees in Lower Saxony.

Luzia

And then I continued to toil with the farmer from morning to night in the fields, and she sat by the side of the field and played with the grass and picked flowers. And I toiled, digging potatoes and spreading manure.

That was in the countryside in Germany. We had to go begging. No pension, no money, nothing. As long as my husband was missing – nothing!  Nothing changed with regard to our finances. The government here, they also didn’t do anything. And I worked. I sewed clothes. I knitted. I did everything.

Doris

I was the only Catholic girl in class, all the others were Protestants. I suffered like a young dog. … I was in fifth grade, and the teacher’s name was Rabe [German: “raven”]. In the first four grades I had Ms. Zwickler, she wasn’t mean to me. But when I had Rabe as a teacher, he really did justice to his name.

Luzia

He hated Catholics.

Doris

It was bad. He beat me. If I forgot a hyphen the entire word was wrong, or something like that. He always beat with a cane, which lay by the side, and he always beat one’s fingers if one wanted to say something. It was really awful.

Luzia

He stopped me once on the street. “Become a Protestant. It will be easier for you.” I said, “You, an educator, are telling me this ? I’m a Catholic and will remain one. And my child, too.”

…And I thought, before something happens… I stood with her at the Weser River. We wanted to jump into the Weser…

…When we came here to Münster, it was in 1955, everyone was Catholic. We thought we were in paradise, but it wasn’t really like that. But it was different; we now had a church we could attend.

I raged. I had not only lost my home, but also my husband. Dead in Russia

In 1948 Luzia Kollak received news from the German Red Cross that her husband was considered to have gone missing in action.

Luzia

I raged. I wanted to smash everything, beat everything to pieces. I had not only lost my home, but also my husband. Dead in Russia

Only forty years later did Luzia Kollak learn through the German War Graves Commission that her husband had died in the spring of 1943 during a prisoner transport through Central Asia and was buried in a cemetery near the Uzbek city of Kokand.

You never gave up hope throughout all these years that your husband was still alive?

Luzia

No, never. Even now I think he is alive. …

Now most of it is behind me, but I just can’t accept that my husband had to die in Russia. And that we lost our home, and that we fell into the hands of the Russians in Austria. I can’t cope. I still suffer because of the memories. But then, I sometimes forget it. I now tie rugs.

2014 © Facing Stalingrad. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise stated, all text by Jochen Hellbeck, photos by Emma Dodge Hanson.
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