Beautiful time of year. I'm sitting in my garden surrounded by the energy of new growth. But what was May like back in 1945? I’m researching another novel and re-confirming that when the Second World War ended, everybody didn’t just pack up their war toys and go home. For some, like my mom, there was no home and any blossoms reflected only a cruel irony.
Back in old East Prussia, Hitler had retreated from the Wolfschanze (Wolf’s Lair) his eastern war headquarters and the bunkers were blown up in January, '45 just before the Soviets arrived. (The Wolfschanze is where Stauffenberg attempted to assassinate Hitler back in July of '44.)
While Hitler made his getaway, my mom and millions like her, were ordered to stay put. Any attempt to retreat west was viewed as treason. And so the East Prussians celebrated a final Christmas in their homes before the biggest offensive ever assembled began on January 12th. The Nazis had focused their troops on the Western front and completely underestimated Stalin’s forces. They were now outnumbered: 250, 000 Soviets vs. 30,000 Germans.
But it was more than just the numbers that spelled defeat. The Soviets were fired up with revenge, while the German soldiers were tired and discouraged. Nazi atrocities were beyond despicable and soon it would be the German women, children and elderly who would bare the brunt of the Soviet wrath.
So by May of 1945, Hitler was dead, the Wehrmacht was kaput and there was no one left to defend the defenseless. May, 1945 in East Prussia was a cruel spring—crueler than any indecisive weather of April could ever be. Rape, hunger and disease flourished alongside the linden and chestnut blossoms.
I’ve just finished re-reading “A Terrible Revenge” by Alfred-Maurice de Zayas. It’s filled with memories similar to conversations I've shared with older Canadians of Eastern European origin—survivors of that revenge. They were children and teenagers during that ugly spring ending the war. Now that they’re old, horrific memories leak out and I want to hear them—before they all get lost by the power of time. Eleven million Germans were displaced after the war. Many came to Canada to start over...to forget. And then these darn writer types start asking questions. What does it mean to lose your home? Maybe the people in Ft. McMurray know. I can only imagine.
The fact that a song about a 1944 atrocity can win the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest proves that our histories continue to be relevant even on this beautiful spring day. Art echoes history. We can listen, read, and grow wiser. Or not. It's our choice. We always have a choice.