Thursday, March 29, 2012

DP Camp Rehden and Diepholz

My Mother ( with cigarette ) and Father behind her.

Hitler made the decision to turn Poland into a purely German area within 15-20 years during WW II known as The Germanization of Poland. Various plans regarding the future of the original population of Poland was made with the deportation of Poles to Western Siberia and the Germanization of four to five million, although deportation really meant that Poles were to be put to death. There were millions of Displaced Persons ( DP'S) in Germany during WW II , most of whom were brought  in for forced labor and used as slave laborers in factories and farms in Germany. Many of the DP's from Eastern Europe did not wish to go back to their country of origin at the end of the war fearing retaliation by the communist regime. There were Ex-Pows, displaced persons, former slave laborers and concentration camp inmates in Europe of which 2.5 million were in the British Zone of Germany. DP Camps came into existence after the German capitulation in 1945. there were thousands of DP Camps in Germany from different nations.

In the British Zone was camp Rehden, a labor camp that my parents were living , as well as two of my brothers Eugene and Henry. My brother Frank died as a baby and is buried in the Rehden cemetery. My brothers Eugene and Henry were born in a DP camp in Diepholz , which was on the grounds of the military airfield Fliegerhorst, that had been badly damaged by the bombings in February 1944. Air strikes took place on the air base which 78 bombs fell. I remember my parents talking about the bombings and how part of the plant they were in got hit and my Mother's leg was badly injured and scared for life, a  memory that stayed with her  every time she looked at the long scare on her leg. The bombings were a large scale attack with 90 four-engine bombers of the Americans and the plant was destroyed to a large extent. My parents from here went to Rehden Camp,  it was a former German Army Camp that held a large ammunition depot which was scattered over a huge forest area with bunkers mainly underground. The Army personal was housed in low stone buildings and the labor force , mainly forced labor , in wooden barracks in a separate area from the Army buildings. The location of the compound was about 3K from the village of Rehden. This camp became one of the many camps my parents lived. The main occupants were Poles, but there were some Lithuanians, Latvians,and Ukrainians at the beginning but soon were transferred to other camps  because of constant friction  among each other. Rehden became 100% Polish and administered by the British as it was in the British Zone. Within a short time camp Rehden became the Polish center for Higher education for all Polish DP camps in Germany using the Polish system with the equivalent of high school education and eventually was called Polski Oboz W Rehden KR. Diepholz. When I was searching for information on Camp Rehden, I  came across  a gentlemen who lived in the camp at the same time my parents did and was nice enough to send me photos as well as his description of the camp. Erwin lived at the camp from 1945-1950 and had an excellent memory of Camp Rehden and has been very helpful on my search  of the camp.

I think of my parents often, the more I look at the old photos from WW II , I admire the strength, endurance and the fight for life they had. I was a child protected from the cold careless world. Through all the trials and tribulations that they have faced and endured let not their spirit be restless , for they are always here with me.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Searching For Relatives

My Father's Sister Frani and her daughter

As a child I always thought  there was something missing in my life. I wondered why I didn't have any grand parents, uncles, aunts or cousins, like so many of my friends had.When my friends would say they were visiting relatives, I was jealous; I would make up stories of visiting my grand parents or cousins. My parents had many friends that shared the same fate they did living in DP camps ( displaced people camps) and  memories  of coming to America. There was a special bond among these friends, sharing stories from WW II and the hard times they endured during the war and lived. These friends of my parents became my aunts, uncles and cousins, but still I missed not having grand parents.

My mother was left an orphan at the age of two, her parents were killed during WW I , her father died fighting the war, and her mother killed during the war, she never knew her parents. My father was born to Bleslawa Brejwo and Anny Rubiel in Poland and had a brother Jan Brejwo and a sister Frani. My parents , three brothers and I came to America on November 11, 1951, after being displaced during the war and living in DP camps for ten years. My uncle Jan was sent to Greta Australia with his family. The Greta Army Camp was opened in 1939 as a training camp for WW II soldiers and in 1949 was transferred to the Department of Immigration which became one of Australia's largest migrant reception center from 1949 to 1960 as part of the post-war immigration to Australia. Over 100,000 migrants seeking a new life passed through the Greta Camp . My parents were also to be sent to Greta but because of my mother's bad health at the time , they were sent to America. From Greta my uncle moved to Maitland, after the flood of 1955 in Maitland they moved again. My uncle had a wife and three sons, Marian, Zdzialaw and Jan Brejwo. My older two cousins have passed on and Jan is the only living relative of his family. It took my father twenty years to find his brother after being separated in Germany. Their correspondence was shorten by my father's brother's early death. It was sad , so many years searching and such a short time being connected again. Today's modern technology and the web , I was able to find my cousin Jan Brejwo living in Australia. It has been  six years since we got in touch and because of Jan , he gave  me the information written above. Since he was born in Australia in 1953 , he has vague memories of any other family.

I have been working with the International Tracing Service (ITS) to find out any information of my father's sister Frani and her two daughters.I doubt my aunt is living but would love to find my cousins. I wonder where they are ? What is their life like ?Sad, I don't even know their names. My father never talked about his sister , I did not  know he had a sister until I came across this photo after his death, written on the back" From your sister Frani  my two daughters."War changes people's lives , separates families and many never see each other again. I yearn to find them, how vital it is to have family and roots of generations pass.

I am hoping that someone who reads this, might recognize the photo or know of my cousins. The photo shows a life of hardship of war torn Poland that they endured. Where ever they may be, I thought of you today, but that is nothing new, I thought of you yesterday and tomorrow too. May God watch over you.

My Father's brother Jan  and his sons.

Friday, March 9, 2012

My Father " Pop"

My father and I
Most people knew my father as Walerian Brejwo, to me he was Tata, Polish for father. I called my father Tata as a child but eventually I matured and so did the name that connected me to him, from my teen years to the day my father passed away I affectionately called him "POP". Pop was born to Bleslawa Brejwo and Anny Rubiel on September 29, 1914 in the village of Pacewicze. Pacewicze is a small village in the providence of Lida  near the border of Russia and Lithuania now known as Belarus.In 1922 Belarus became a republic of the Soviet Union. Pop rarely spoke of his parents , my grandparents and I have been  searching for information of my grandparents and so far unsuccessful to fill in my history. Pop was one of three children, he had a brother and a sister.

I draw on my memories of stories Pop told my siblings and myself. Pop did not have the opportunity to advance himself in education , he did have 6th grade education and was able to read and write.Pop grew up on a farm in Poland and had the responsibilities from an early age to work the farm.Looking at the large size of his hands you knew he was a hard worker, his hands were always callused and rough. Pop was not a tall man, but he was fit and handsome with strawberry blonde hair and hazel eyes. Pop always stood proud and strong even in the faces of a crisis.

Pop was not educated by the traditional sense of books,teachers, schools but he was self-educated in photography, music and arts. My strongest ,most positive connection I have with my father is the above mentioned. I vividly remember as a child smiling for the first camera my father ever purchased, a Beacon. I cherish the photographs taken from my father's camera and I am fortunate to have the Beacon in my possession. I myself have developed a passion for photography, when I am behind a lens  I know I am stopping that second in time in a photo to cherish forever. Taking a snap shot in present time in order to remember the past. My brother is a great artist as well  and listening to a song or playing a piano piece brings me back to my youth.

Pop's first job in the U.S.A was as an janitor in 1952, cleaning offices on Wall Street. Growing up as a teen, friends would ask me about my father's occupation,my answer was he worked on Wall Street. As little kids we never saw much of my father, nights were spent working and daytime we were in school.He managed to send his children to a Private Polish Catholic school, good schools were important to him. Pop loved the ocean many summer Sundays were spent in Coney Island. He took us on trips to the Bronx Zoo, Prospect Park, Orchard Beach and other places around New York and Brooklyn. There was another side to my father, he was also very stern. Bad behavior or misconduct led to having us kneel on raw rice in a corner of the room for an hour.The time my mother was in the hospital giving birth to my sister , my father made us oatmeal for dinner , I would not eat it and Pop made me sit at the table for four hours before he gave in and let me get up. I think because I was the only girl at the time, he was a little easier on me. When my mother was killed in 1970 that was a very hard time in his life, my sister was only ten years old. It took Pop a long time before he pulled himself together.

It has been thirty years since Pop's death on February 16, 1982, at the young age of 68. He died of a massive heart attack and died instantly, my brother found him in his garage leaning on the car. Pop retired from work two years earlier and he was just starting to enjoy life after all those hard years living through WW II and living ten years in DP Camps in Germany. I think of Pop often, a talented man who never was  given the chance to show his talent.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Leaving Poland

My parents and brother
The Germans waged war on Poland and the Polish people on September 1, 1939. The German intent was to destroy the Polish nation and it's people. The destruction of the country was enormous,there was no doubt among Nazi Germany that Poland and the Polish people were to be obliterated.,by order of the government , the the Nazis were to kill every man, woman and child with no mercy. Polish workers deported to the Reich had to wear a letter "P" on their clothing to distinguish them from the Germans. The Germans took all the property from the Polish state and all private property considered necessary for strategic purposes or for Germanization. A Pole could and often was shot  for not making way on the sidewalk for a German approaching from the opposite direction or for not taking his hat off to a German.  People lived in constant fear, torture and death . Every nation under enemy occupation during WW II experienced a reign of terror by the Nazis.  In the period 1939-41, Poles were more exposed than Jews to arrest.

My parents were twenty five years of age when the attack on Poland happened, living in the area of Poland known as Belarus now. Throughout the bitter cold early hours of February, 1940, thousands of Polish country folk were aroused from their sleep from soldiers knocking on their doors. Under gunpoint entire families were crammed into cattle cars , trucks , many on foot ,and deported as disposable labor. 5,384,000 Polish citizens were killed by the Germans during the occupation. As a result of almost six years of war, Poland lost 6,028.000 of it's citizens, Christan Poles and Jews, 22 percent of it's total population, the highest ratio of population of any country in Europe.

My parents lived through this horrific time in Poland. With nothing but a handful of belongings they fled their homeland of Poland and left whatever they had behind. Families were separated, many never to see each other again. My parents found refuge in DP Camps ( Displaced People Camp) in Germany. They lived in various camps in Germany from 1941 to 1951 , the first camps were labor camps. God was watching over my parents.