A miraculous family reunion.
As time goes by, I often find myself recalling a critical moment in my life, especially if it is related to an important date. Thus it is with the anniversary of the date marking the end of World War II, which for my family meant gaining our freedom and returning home after spending three years in the concentration camps at Dachau and Ravensbrück.
The Dachau concentration camp was liberated on 29 April 1945 by the 7th Division of the U.S. Army. The SS had not had time to completely evacuate the camp. My brother, my father and myself, along with my grandfather, had remained in the camp, but were paralysed with fear over what might come next. However, the Americans moved quickly. Immediately after liberation, the U.S. Army, in cooperation with the international deportees' committee, took the initiative to first separate all those who were sick with typhus, then look after organisation and safety. We were vaccinated and de-liced. Life in the camp was orderly. A quarantine was declared for 3 weeks. Every nationality prepared precise lists for the return to their homelands. For Czech prisoners, repatriation started in stages between 21 and 24 May. Military vehicles were provided for transport, one for every 25 persons. My brother and I were part of the second wave, on 22 May. We left the camp in the morning, crossed the city of Munich in ruins, and headed for Landshut, Deggendorf, Einsenstadt and Plzeň. That was where the journey was to end. Subsequently, everyone would have to find his own means to go the rest of the way. We got lucky and found a car that took us on to Prague that very same day. My grandfather followed the same route on 24 May. Since he was in rather poor health but consumed by the stubborn desire to return home, the Americans transported him to the hospital in Plzeň in a medical vehicle. Three days later, I took him to the hospital in Prague, but unfortunately, he passed away one week later at age 84. His desire to return home had been fulfilled.
My mother's and aunt's trip home from Ravensbrück was both more exciting and more perilous. The Ravensbrück concentration camp was evacuated on 28 April 1945 in the middle of a huge chaos caused at the last minute by the advancing front lines. My mother had just come down with typhus. The two women set out on their march without knowing where they were headed. Supervised by SS guards, they were not far from the front lines. The Red Cross had given each of them a packet for the journey. The battle line was constantly moving about. One time, they were ordered to take shelter in a forest but there was fighting nearby. They spent the entire night there, and the group ended up being scattered. The next morning, the Czech group noticed that there was no longer anyone next to them, nor any guards, either. They cautiously continued on their way and spent three days hiding out in vacant houses. Everywhere around them, they could hear sounds of the fighting. On 5 May, the front caught up with them and they found themselves in territory occupied by the Russian army. They then went back to Ravensbrück, where they found no one. They next moved on to Fürstenberg and along their way met up with a group of escaped Czech prisoners who had managed to find a cart with two horses. Since there was no road connection available, the group decided to continue on foot in the direction of Frankfurt and the Oder. Along the way, the region was strewn with the dead bodies of people and animals, and with demolished houses everywhere. They were able to find food in abandoned houses and also received rations from the Russians. The women did the cooking and the men looked after the group's safety and the horses. Every day meant new adventures, but their fear was always present. After nearly one month, this group of men and women reached the Czech border. The army and local authorities requested a bus for the group and they arrived in Prague on 23 May. My brother and I were there to meet them since their arrival had been announced on the radio. We welcomed my mother and took her home. My father arrived from Plzeň on 24 May at the end of his journey from Dachau.
That is how, after three years in Dachau and Ravensbrück, our family found each other and were re-united in the space of three days. Now, isn't that miraculous?
A video with Vladimir Feierabend can be found here