Fleeing the Russians in World War II
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
In January 1945, Trudy Milcan was 15 years old and attending a boarding school 100 miles from her home in Germany. World War II was nearly over, and the Russians were advancing into Germany. Here Trudy recounts her journey to safety.
Milcan: The door flew open and somebody shouted, “The Russians are here, they have broken through!” We ran back to our quarters and there was a lot noise and fighting. I think it was just tanks that had gotten through, but it was horrible.
I said to my friend Edith, “I’m not going to stay up here. I know where we can go and hide.” So we put on as many clothes as we could because it was very cold. We went down to the boiler room, which I had explored before. There was a little room beside it. It was very dark, and that is where the coal was kept. I thought, “Nobody will find us here.”
We had water from the boiler, but the boiler went out and it got very cold. We had nothing to eat. I am not sure how many days we were there. I think maybe two, maybe three. Whenever we went to the little window in the boiler room to check we could hear the soldiers fighting so we decided to just stay put.
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Suddenly the door flew open and a Russian soldier came in with a drawn gun. He saw us. We were huddled in the corner but he had a flashlight. He motioned to us to get up and he motioned to the chute where the coal came down and there was an opening. He wanted us to run. So we crawled up the chute but we couldn’t run because there was so much snow. There was a big open park and then a forest, and we thought he would shoot us before we could get to the trees. But he was a great man. He let us go.
Each step we took we went into the snow up to our waist, but we finally made it to the trees. We found an old man who was a forester. He was already helping several other women and children. He said he knew the way out and that he was going to lead us. So we stepped one behind the other and made our way through the forest. We were extremely lucky, because the Russians were being pushed back by the Germans when we made our escape.
We got out of the forest and we walked and walked and walked. There were a lot of people going west with carts and their belongings. Everybody was on the move away from the Russians. Somehow, Edith and I made it the hundred miles to our home. We were dead tired. I don’t remember how long it took.
When I got to my house I came in downstairs and I heard my mother up on the first floor. She had a pail of water in her hand and she was talking to one of our neighbors and I heard her say, “Oh, Breslau has been encircled and Trudy would have to come through there. I don’t think we will see Trudy anymore.” And with that I cried out, “Mother!” My mother screamed and she let the pail of water fall and it went down the stairs. Clack! Clack! Clack! All the water came rushing down and I fainted, but I was home.
I was at home for quite a while. My father was fighting against the Russians somewhere. At that point in the war, they were taking the young boys and old men who were left and throwing them against the Russians so that they could get the women and children out.
The White Russian soldiers had set up an army kitchen in our garden. The White Russians fought alongside the Germans against the Russians. Everyday these soldiers would tell my mom that she should take me and go somewhere safe. And my mom would always say that she wanted to wait another day to see if my father would come home. She didn’t want to leave without my father knowing where we have gone.
She finally decided to put me alone on a refugee train. I was supposed to leave the next day with a friend of my mother and her daughter. But my grandmother came to my mother and said she had a very strong feeling that I should not go on that train. She said I should go the day after. My mother finally agreed because she knew my grandmother was able to see things that other people couldn’t see. I left the day after like my grandmother suggested.
We found out after the war that the train I didn’t take went to Dresden and was caught in the bombing. They never found a trace of anybody who was on that train. When I left the next day they didn’t tell us why we were taking a different route, but we went around and through Czechoslovakia and into Bavaria and that took several weeks. It was exhausting. In all those weeks I had one hot meal and that was in Prague. A Red Cross worker handed it to me through the window of the train. It was pea soup with pieces of weenie in it. That was wonderful. I never forgot that because it was just something so special.
Anyway we came all the way down to Passau, Bavaria. When we came into the station the air raid siren went off, and we all went down into the bunker, and after a long time we were allowed to go out and the station wasn’t there anymore. So I figured somebody was watching over me.
Gallacher: You must have been so scared. You were 15 and all by yourself.
Milcan: Yes, I was. But you know the thing is, and this is a very dangerous thing, after a while you switch into neutral. You don’t really think anymore. It happens to somebody else, because it is too horrible to live through it by yourself. You see a lot of things and you grow up very fast.
(Trudy finally found her sister in the village of Griessenbach. It would be two and a half years before she would learn that her parents were safe and living as refugees near Dresden.)
Immigrant Stories runs every Monday in the Post Independent.
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