Authors: Catrin Collier
|One Last Summer (2007)|
A hidden past, a dangerous love and a voice to reach across the ages. A brand new title from best-selling author Catrin Collier.
Allenstein, East Prussia, 1939 - Charlotte von Datski's parents hold a glittering ball to celebrate her eighteenth birthday and announce her engagement to a Prussian count. But Hitler is about to plunge the world into war... Soon, Charlotte will be forced to leave behind her beloved homeland and flee to England carrying a secret that both strengthens and torments her.
Years later, Charlotte's granddaughter, Laura, is shocked when the truth about her grandmother's past comes to light. Laura persuades Charlotte to embark on a journey to her childhood home in Eastern Europe. There, as Charlotte re-reads her diary and recalls the one great love of her life, she finally faces the demons that have haunted her for over half a century.
ONE LAST SUMMER
First published in Great Britain in 2007 by Orion Books, an imprint of The Orion Publishing Group Ltd
This edition published by Accent Press 2013
Copyright © Catrin Collier 2007
The moral right of Catrin Collier to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers: Accent Press, Ty Cynon House, Navigation Park, Abercynon, CF45 4SN.
Except for those already in the public domain, all the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
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For my grandmother, Martha Gertrude Salewski, née Plewe, who, during the Hitler years, lost husband, daughter, mother, brother, two sisters, nieces, nephews, friends, home, country, all her material possessions; and who survived to teach me that money has no real value and that I should spend every penny I earn lest the Russians come and take it from me.
I am no longer afraid of the Russians – in fact, I love their country and them – but, Liebe Omi, I learned the lesson you taught me too well.
Also for my great-grandmother, Amalia Plewe, née Mau, who disappeared, along with her daughter Gretel, granddaughter Gisela and tens of thousands of other East Prussian civilians and German soldiers in Königsberg in January 1945.
May they rest in peace wherever they lie.
My mother, Gerda Jones, née Salewski, for allowing me access to her own and my grandmother’s diaries. I am indebted to her for the information they contain.
Helen Rodzina and her family in Oltszyn, at one time Allenstein, for their warmth and generous Polish hospitality, and for allowing my mother and me to stay in her apartment in the house that my grandfather, Albert Salewski, architect, master builder and a past burgomaster of Allenstein, designed and built for his family in 1936.
My agent Philip Patterson for picking out the manuscript of
One Last Summer
after it had lain for ten years in my ‘unpublished’ drawer. Philip, please take another look – there are several others there!
And to the Polish people, who extended a warm welcome to a traveller who not only wanted to visit their country, but also the past.
Catrin Collier, November 2006
I have changed the names of Grunwaldsee and Bergensee. Both houses exist – Bergensee massive, imposing and regal even in dereliction; Grunwaldsee restored to pristine condition – but neither are in the locations I have placed them.
The Adolfs’ house still stands in Olsztyn on the site I describe, in the same street as the abandoned synagogue, next to the old Jewish cemetery that, according to eyewitness testimony, was excavated by the Polish Communist regime in the early 1970s. Several truck-loads of valuables, hidden in family graves by Jews prior to their war-time deportation to concentration camps, were taken away, and the coffins and corpses stripped of precious metals and jewellery. Even the bones and coffins were removed. Today the site remains, a rough piece of pockmarked wasteland between a street dominated by post-war, tower block housing and a flea market.
The final death toll of conspirators involved in the von Stauffenberg plot to assassinate Hitler may never be known. The army officers concerned had either witnessed the atrocities on the civilian populations of Eastern Europe carried out by all branches of the German army, including the Wehrmacht, or heard first-hand accounts. They felt they had no option but to break their oath of loyalty to Hitler, just as Hitler had broken his oath to the German people. Their intention was to sue for peace.
Prior to the failed attempt, the conspirators contacted the Allies in the hope of negotiating an end to the war. After the plot’s failure, the BBC broadcast lists of the conspirators, which proved useful to Hitler, as not all were known to the Nazis. The failed plot was used as an excuse to detain everyone who opposed Hitler. Over seven thousand people were arrested and, by April 1945, five thousand had been executed. Over two hundred army officers were sentenced to death in the infamous ‘People’s Court’ between 20 July 1944 and 21 December 1944, before the judge, Roland Friesler, was killed in an Allied air raid. Hitler initially intended to conduct ‘show trials’ modelled on the Soviet show trials of the 1930s with radio and film coverage. He later changed his mind and, on 17 August 1944, forbade any further reporting of the trials. From that date not even the executions were publicly announced.
Colonel Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, his aide, Lieutenant Werner von Haeften, General Friedrich Olbricht and General Staff Colonel Albrecht Ritter Mertz von Quirnheim were executed by firing squad on the night of 20 July 1944 in the courtyard of the headquarters of the reserve army in the Bendlerstrausse. Others weren’t so fortunate. After their trials, civilians were guillotined, and military personnel stripped naked, hung and slowly strangled on piano wire, before being taken down, revived, and the process repeated, on occasions, several times before they died. Their ordeals were filmed on the personal orders of Hitler and the films shown to the staff in Hitler’s HQ.
Thousands of relatives of the conspirators, principally women and the elderly, were separated from their children and one another, and incarcerated in ‘VIP’ blocks in prisons and concentration camps. The children of conspirators were taken to State-run camps and orphanages where attempts were made to make them forget their families and identities. Not all, but most – including Claus von Stauffenberg’s wife, Nina, and his five children – survived the war.
The Gauleiter of East Prussia, Erich Koch, who insisted that East Prussia would not fall to the Russians, ordered the civilian population to stay in their towns and villages. He supervised the loading of two railway wagons with his own possessions and sent them into the Reich in December 1944 before flying to Libau where two ice-breakers were waiting to evacuate him and his staff. Although there was room in both vessels he refused to allow any refugees on board. He changed out of his Nazi uniform into field grey and evaded capture until 1949 when he was detained by the British. A brutal administrator in the Ukraine and Poland, he was handed over to the Polish authorities. The Soviets believed that Koch knew the location of the Amber Room that the Nazis had stripped from the palace of Tsarskoe Selo near Leningrad, and asked for Koch’s extradition. The Polish authorities refused. If Koch knew the location of the Amber Room he never revealed it. His trial took place in Warsaw in October 1958. Found guilty of causing the deaths of 400,000 Poles (he wasn’t tried for his crimes in the Ukraine) he was sentenced to death on 9 March 1959. This was later commuted to life imprisonment. Some believe he traded his life in exchange for details of the location of looted Nazi treasure. Erich Koch died in prison in Barczewo near Olsztyn (formerly Allenstein) in the heart of old East Prussia on 12 November 1986.
It is estimated that between forty and fifty million people died in the carnage of the Second World War, eleven million in concentration camps. More than half died after Colonel von Stauffenberg’s failed at- tempt on Hitler’s life on 20th July 1944.
Of five million Russian soldiers captured by the Germans, one million and fifty thousand survived the war to be executed or exiled to the Siberian gulag for periods of ten years or more by Stalin.
Eighteen per cent of the Polish population, over six million Poles, were killed in the Second World War, either by the invading German or Russian armies.
Between two and three million East Prussian civilians died during the invasion of East Prussia by the Soviet Army. Those who were not massacred died from starvation, cold and frostbite on their flight. (The Russian soldiers were told that East Prussia was the lair of the fascist beast, and they were as brutal in their treatment of the civilian population as the German death squads had been in Russia.)
Estimates vary as to how many German soldiers who surrendered to the Americans died in the American-run prisoner of war camps. Recently released documents suggest between 100,000 and 200,000, some as young as fourteen years of age. The camps were identical to those set up by the Germans for the Russian prisoners of war; open fields, with no water or latrines. The Americans fed the prisoners what is, in retrospect, recognized as below-subsistence level rations.
Some historians are undecided as to whether the atrocities at Nemmersdorf in East Prussia were committed by the invading Russian army in retaliation for atrocities committed by the German army in Russia, or the SS in a last-ditch attempt to galvanize the East Prussians into fighting for every inch of their country.
One Last Summer
to put a human face on statistics I have difficulty in comprehending, even after seeing the memorials in Poland. I used archive material and private, family documents, principally the diaries of my grandmother and my mother, written between 1936 and 1948.
All the experiences and wartime events depicted in One Last Summer actually occurred. Charlotte von Datski and her family are typical of many Prussian Junker aristocrats of the period, but, aside from the well- known personalities, all the characters are creations of my imagination.
The inspiration for
One Last Summer
came in 1995, when I accompanied my mother to the home her family fled in 1945. The Polish Rodzina family, who now occupy part of the house (after it had been used as a Russian commander’s HQ for several years it was divided into apartments), welcomed us as if we were lifelong friends. They not only allowed my mother and I to stay in the dream house that my grandfather had built for his family, but also to sleep in my mother’s old bedroom.
I sat and listened while they and my mother exchanged wartime experiences. The farm the family had lived on for generations was taken from them at the end of the war by the Russians and given to a displaced Russian family. They were told to ‘go north’, search for an empty house or farm and occupy it, which they did.
In 1947, the Allies removed the name Prussia, which dated from 300BC, from the map of Europe. With the exception of East Prussia, Prussia’s lands were divided between the four Allied zones of occupation in Germany; French, British, American and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Poland absorbed most of East Prussia, apart from the north-east, which was annexed by the USSR. The capital, Königsberg was renamed Kaliningrad after Mikhail Kalinin, the President of the Supreme Soviet. Russians came from all over the USSR, especially Siberia, to settle in the city. It remains part of Russia.
On 11 February 1945 at the Yalta Conference, Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin resolved that German forced labour was legitimate war reparation. All the allies benefited from this declaration. Stalin ordered the deportation of the remaining ethnic Germans, both men and women, from Romania, Yugoslavia, Hungary, East Prussia, Pomerania and Silesia, and sent them into slave labour in the Soviet Union. The last 25,000 were transported in 1947–8. Of the one million Germans who entered the eastern provinces of the Soviet Union and the gulag prison system, only 55 per cent survived. Once East Prussia was ethnically cleansed of its German natives, the German place names were changed to Russian or Polish.
As the child and grandchild of ‘refugees’ I grew up aware that although my mother and grandmother had made every effort to adapt to their new post-war lives, they never recovered from their sense of loss, or the pain of being exiled from their beloved homeland where our family had lived and worked for centuries