It was on this day in 1944 that the Red Army first broke through the Wehrmacht defence line in East Prussia. After 3 years of the Nazis committing atrocities in the Soviet Union, the Russians were bent on revenge. The Red Army descended on the town of Nemmersdorf where women were nailed to barn doors and children were murdered. In total 71 townspeople were killed in the massacre.
The Nazis showed footage of the Nemmersdorf tragedy to the German public in hopes that they would dig their heels in and fight the Russians to the death. However, for many the response was the reverse: they planned to flee. The result was the biggest removal of a population in modern European history, some voluntarily, some by force. My husband Rob's Oma was one of tens of thousands of East Prussians who joined the "Exodus from the East".
For the lucky refugees, they would find a ship to take them across the Baltic Sea to safety. Some ships, however, would be torpedoed. For others, they would die of starvation or disease en route. For still others, like Oma, they would be forced to turn back and face the wrath of the Red Army.
Here is a poem that I wrote about one of the greatest treks in human history.
WAGON OF TEN
A wagon of ten East Prussians fled westward
On the road that would take them to freedom.
All dressed in rags and no food in their bellies
Pulled by two workhorses bred in their homeland
They passed another farmhouse burnt to the ground
Nothing left but a chimney amidst the ruins.
As the wagon of ten rolled past the ruins
The enemy waited to the west and east.
Two workhorses made a clip clop on the ground
As the riders thought of what the foe would say
What would become of their beautiful homeland?
Their thoughts were blocked by the growl of their bellies.
The wagon of ten had ten hungry bellies
As it maneuvered past another ruins
The riders never again saw their homeland
They traveled for months on the road to the west
The toad where the enemy prowled
Overturned wagons littered the ground.
The wagon of ten passed over blood-stained ground
Many passengers had to purge their bellies.
On the road that would lead to safety
The wagon wheels passed over a barn in ruins
The refugees feared what they'd find in the west
They longed for those left behind in their homeland.
The wagon of ten couldn't returned to its homeland
As it passed over tank tracks carved in the ground
They looked in the sky and saw planes to the east
The refugees felt a pit in their bellies
They passed a Lutheran church now in ruins
On the road that leads to salvation.
The wagon of ten took them nowhere
The refugees dreamed of their cherished homeland
A country that was so strong, now in ruins
Charred crops and dead livestock on every farm
As vicious diseases riddled their bellies
Who else would they meet on their trek to the west?
The wagon of ten rolled over the battleground
No hope in their heart, no food in their bellies
Fleeing the enemy on their trek to the west.