Part 17 (Behind Barbed Wire)
Stuck in Sosnovitz
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Now my father kept trying to get papers so we could continue to get to Prague and rejoin the Kiev group. I don’t know who was trying to help him or what, but we didn’t have a real reason to go to Prague. It was just sort of…. I think you had to have a specific job offer or something like that. What he had was like a fake offer but not a real one and I have the suspicion that my parents may have gotten some false documentation of some kind. That’s the type of thing you did. But I don’t know the details.
After we were in Lvov for six months, the Soviets began to approach. It was high time we left. We started out for Prague, but we were turned back and ended up with a whole group of people in a refugee camp in a town called Sosnovitz. It’s right near Katovice, a town in Silesia which is now in Poland. At the time it was mixed Polish and German — it seemed that the majority of the population spoke German.
Current route from Lvov to Sosnovitz. Kiev (Kyiv) is at the far right. Source: Google Maps
The camp held different groups. There were Russian and English prisoners of war, Czech and Slovak laborers, and displaced civilians. The laborers came for 5-6 days at a time to work in the coal mines and factories and went home for weekends. The prisoners were behind barbed wire within barbed wire.
We were not permitted out of the camp. Each room had 20 or more double decker bunks. Everyone hung up blankets to create their own little space. The food was distributed in buckets per room. It looked and tasted like slop.
The British I just remember vaguely. They seem to have a little more freedom and the Red Cross was helping them. The Russians were behind barbed wire and they were fed even worse than we were. We used to sneak food to them and try to be helpful.
The Germans treated Russian prisoners of war terribly. In Kiev, the Germans used to have them work on the rubble — trying to clean up the city. We used to sneak food to them. You had to really sneak it. You were in danger when you did that. My parents did a lot of things that endangered their lives — just to help others. Especially my mother. She was just not afraid of things. She sheltered people and helped them escape. It was brave. We did that all along. You feel a moral obligation to do it.
From the English language Wikipedia article German mistreatment of Soviet prisoners of war:
During World War II, Nazi Germany engaged in a policy of deliberate maltreatment of Soviet prisoners of war (POWs), in contrast to their treatment of British and American POWs. This resulted in some 3.3 to 3.5 million deaths.
As usual, there were many kid’s my age and we found time for play. We even found a way to slip out under the barbed wire and go to the village once or twice.
Eventually my parents obtained permission to leave for Prague, but our first attempt at was unsuccessful. An overzealous Nazi official looked at our documents at the border [of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia] and sent us back. This was in early spring. The countryside in coal country was barren and dull. The only thing I remember was the yellow forsythias. I had never seen them before.
After a few weeks we made another attempt to reach Prague and this time we were successful. I remember the big soldier who glanced at our documents and looked at the pitiful condition we were in and let us go on. The train ride through Moravia was on a glorious sunny day and we rode through beautiful fields of marsh marigolds.
Here is more detail from another interview.
Did you need an ID?
In Kiev as well?
In the Soviet Union you always had to have an ID. You had to have a passport. You couldn’t move from one place to another for more than a few days without registering with the police. That was a way of life. So I think we always had IDs.
So even though there was barbed wire… you were able to leave?
We left officially. Otherwise we were not supposed to go out of the camp. We were not permitted to go into town. But in the camp – like refugees anywhere – there were older people and little kids of all different ages. There were hardly any young men. My father was a lot older. Most of the men were sort of a motley crew. Of course I was immediately friends with some kids and we found a place were we could make a hole near a creek. And we went to town a couple of times. The population was a nice population, a mixed, mostly Polish population – I don’t think anybody would have ratted on us. We would have gotten into trouble but since we were kids I don’t think it would have been serious trouble. But my parents never snuck out. It wasn’t worth the risk.
How were you able to leave for Prague?
Through official channels. We kept saying that that’s where we were supposed to go – that someone wants us there. And on the second try we went and we got to Prague. That was the spring of ’44. The first time, some official was very suspicious and he stopped us. On the second try, the guy checking our papers was easy going and he hardly looked at them. It’s like this all over the world.
Current route from Sosnovitz to Prague. Rena and her parents probably got turned back at Ostrava (Troppau in German). It was on the border of the German district known as the General Government and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Kiev is at the far right.
Source: Google Maps
There were many POW/work camps of different types in the Third Reich including more than one in and around Sosnovitz. There may be specific information about this camp at:
Akta Miasta Sosnowca (Sygn. 776/I), 1902‐1945
Records of the City Sosnowiec RG‐15.132M
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Archive
100 Raoul Wallenberg Place SW Washington, DC 20024‐2126
Tel. (202) 479‐9717 Email:
The journey to Prague had a stop at another Nazi camp that my mother doesn't remember. I will write about this in the future.