Brigitta Gottmann

* 1939  

  • “Because I married early and had three children one after the other, I even lost some weight and was so overworked that I got very sick. I was afraid, afraid, everything was fear. And there was no reason for it. I couldn’t find any reason around me, not from my husband, mu children or even myself, no sign of any illness that would give me such anxiety. I couldn’t take the bus, go to the cinema, even at church I got sudden bouts of claustrophobia. Then I went to this psychologist for therapy, and among other things he said I was old enough to have seen all the things around the expulsion going on, but too small to have properly understood and processed it. And then he sent me on a spa retreat. Anyway, I’ve fought to get rid of that anxiety for years. It wasn’t always easy for my husband, but eventually I managed it. Until one doctor from the insurance company told me: Travel back to your homeland as often as possible. And then it worked. That’s how you process things. And to be honest, yesterday when I was at the church in Svádov, I burst into tears again. It’s still not completely behind me. And that happens to many of us, for example this old man who called recently, he said the same thing. There are a lot of people I know who burst into tears as soon as the homeland is mentioned. That’s just how it is. I would never say that Lüdenscheid is my homeland, but that I live there, I feel good, we’ve built up something. But my homeland is here, in the Sudety. And when I go here, I’m going home. Although I was very little, it stayed inside me.”

  • “Our aunt informed us about this pretty quickly. Because my Grandma was also working at that Schicht plant and she went home quickly taking the high road, going across the meadow and through the woods, because the house she lived in was in upper Svádov, the upper village. And our aunt lived in the lower part of the village, she walked up the main street looking for Grandma. As soon as she heard the noise she turned around and ran home and then visited her mother in the village. Because it was quiet there. My grandmother almost ended up there as well. She would’ve died if she’d gone towards the bridge. They were rounding up everyone from both directions. But Doctor Kaiser told me that it wasn’t as many people as many have claimed. I have this thick book, Eyewitness Reports, from as early as 46. Even back then there were eyewitnesses. And everyone there claimed the Labe run red with blood. And a few of them also came to Saxony.”

  • “How did I get into the Sudetendeutsche Landsmannschaft? At school in Saxony I had to write an essay on the topic My Homeland. That was very important. Grandma helped me, because I didn’t know a lot. So we wrote it all down nicely and two days later the teacher walked up, threw the notebook on my desk and said: ‘You didn’t do your task!’ I wondered: What have I done this time? ‘You should’ve written about Saxony!’ Well I’d have known even less about that. And so it all came to me and I said: ‘But that is my homeland.’ I was also led to believe this at home: We’ll go back. We’ll return home. We just have to find out where all our friends and relatives are. We’ll go back, you’ll see. But it didn’t work out at all.”

  • “I remember when we arrived in Sebuzín, my mother wanted to jump in the river with us three. We wouldn’t have been the only ones. At that time a lot of women and children were tied together, even husbands, floating in the Labe. I’ve heard that told. And my mother headed out from our grandmother’s house, down to the river. The river was quite fierce there, and in some places quite fast. And there we met a relative of ours and Mum cried a lot. And that relative did her best to convince her to take us kids and go back. And that’s what she did. But my mother was very mentally beaten down due to her difficult childhood and her sick and blind father. She had to go work at the age of twelve. She walked bare foot to wash people’s linen. She was really poor and Grandpa even had a blind-man’s membership card, authorising him to beg.”

  • “Even though we had to leave, we were allowed to take our furniture with us and my mother put me on this kind of shovel that I could sit on and look out of the cart. And then I saw a dead soldier lying in the ditch by the road. My mum and aunt were looking at the river Labe and I saw that dead soldier by the road. His face was turned the other way. Years later, when the cemetery of fallen German soldiers was being consecrated, I wanted to cry, because I kept thinking of that dead soldier. And then during the ceremony, with people of many nationalities present, I imagined that my soldier was buried there. Those are experiences you can’t just shake off, all you can do is build bridges. On the way to Sebuzín, we saw many animals and people floating in the river Labe. Even I saw that. I just saw these objects. Once I saw a cow with its legs up in the air. I think what was sticking up had to be its legs. I really saw that. And then the rest, the human bodies. What was wrong with each one, how were they wounded? You couldn’t tell. My aunt and mother always talked about it every time they met after the war. Some of things I’ve mentioned, I saw with my own eyes. And I also saw the floating people and animals, but I don’t know any more about it. I didn’t see them from up close, it was just silhouettes, definitely no faces or anything like that.”

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    Praha, 27.07.2020

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    duration: 01:34:03
    media recorded in project The Removed Memory
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I’m the child of a country of two peoples

Brigitta Gottmann, Prague, 2020
Brigitta Gottmann, Prague, 2020
photo: Natáčení

Brigitta Gottmann, née Kaschte, was born into a lower class family on 11 April 1939 in Svádov. During the war, their father reached the position of stationmaster in Velké Březno. They lived for several years in the service flat of the station building, after 1944 only the mother and her three daughters lived there. Brigitta associates her memories of the end of the Second World War with this railway station in particular. In April 1945, they had to leave the flat and Brigitta, along with her mother, aunt and two sisters, left for Sebuzín, where their grandmother on the father’s side lived. On arriving in Sebuzín, their mother wanted to commit suicide with her children in the river Labe. In the end they survived a few weeks, working in strawberry fields, and were deported through Cínovec to the refugee camp in Saxony. After primary school, Brigitta went to the surface mines as a locksmith / lathe operator. Then she wanted to study at the agricultural faculty, but missed her training deadline and ran away to her sister in the West, in Lüdenscheid. She soon married and had three children. Since the 50s, she has been a very active member of the Sudetendeutsche Landsmannschaft. Due to her childhood experiences, she has suffered from anxiety and at her therapist’s recommendation she often returns back to her place of birth. She collected money to help fund the reconstruction of the Svádov church and to build a hospice. Today she continues to initiate meetings of witnesses and works primarily with Czechs from among the clergy.