“No one cared about us, they didn’t give a tosh. So, until they evicted us from the flat, we had to sell things like clothes. We lived off of the money from that. Except that when they came and threw us out of our flat all of a sudden, we lost everything. We only had what we were wearing. It was a Saturday during the summer, so I had taken my shoes off and was barefoot. Then there were the two small children. The little one was less than a year old. Mum realised she didn’t even have any nappies with her, so I went back for the nappies, but I didn’t take the shoes and I went barefoot. They took us away in that state.”
“They took them all away, they collected them from throughout Poland and sent them away, even to Russia, to some mine shafts. Some of them came home. We were surprised because there wasn’t a year that dad didn’t have some boils. And it was exactly those types who managed to get back from there because people kept away from them when they saw the pus. And so they put them on the occasional train going back. Well, and as if by spite, Dad used to have so many boils, and at the time he didn’t have a single one. He didn’t come back.”
“It got much worse at that point, because the Poles were quite stubborn, and they insisted we had to speak only Polish. But we didn’t know how to. We didn’t speak it there. Grandma could, she was from that part of the family, but Granddad didn’t, so they couldn’t speak [Polish] at my mum’s house because Granddad didn’t understand. And he never learned it. When he went to get his Polish citizenship, he came inside the room and said: ‘Guten Tag meine Herren, ich bin da...’ And what did they want from him. They gave him Polish citizenship even though he greeted them in such a way.”
I starved so that my mother and my siblings could live
Erika Gajová was born on 8 February 1931 in Hindenburg, what is now Zabrze, in Polish Silesia. Her mother came from the vicinity of Opole, her father was a German. He worked in management position at one of the mines in Hindenburg. In January 1945 Hindenburg was liberated by the Soviet army, in May it was handed over to the Polish army. The witness’s father was sent with hundreds of other men from the city to work in newly developed mine shafts in Ukraine. Erika Gajová and her mother and two younger siblings were evicted from their flat by Poles and sent to a concentration camp because the family had not officially claimed Polish nationality, and so they were considered Germans. Their aunt succeeded in getting them out of the camp. However, Erika’s mother was not capable of feeding three children, and so she sent Erika, who almost died of starvation at the time, to stay with relatives in Darkovičky near Opava in Czechoslovakia. When the borders were closed, she had no way of getting back again. In the end she spent her whole life there. The family had information concerning their father’s fate for many years, it was not until 2010 that found out via the Red Cross that he was buried in a mass grave in Ukraine.