Helmut Hempel

* 1938  

  • And then we settled down here in our new home in Warmensteinach. But there’s one thing from the deportation I still (one more thing) remember well. Dad tried to find a place to stay and was promised by a local that he would be allowed to extend the attic which at the time was only a single room. Our uncle helped him out with the building materials and soon it was built up enough to allow us to move in. On that note I’d like to add that when we arrived, our father of course picked us up at the train station. Our luggage was a single suitcase and we moved into our new home with just that. The way it worked was they didn’t take the suitcase straight inside, but first went in to pay their respects without any luggage. And so I had to wait outside and watch the suitcase. And this odd thing happened. Suddenly a young man walked around the corner, slapped my right cheek then my left and disappeared again. That was how they greeted me in my new home. That meant we weren’t welcome there.

  • My best guess is it must have been about four or five kilometres to the train station and from the station itself it wasn’t very far to the Polish border where as we walked we were constantly under armed escort. Those guards were of course very careful to see if anyone was going to try to fight back or run away. At the Polish border they handed us over to the border guards and we carried on foot. At any rate it was late afternoon, about six or seven o’clock when we arrived in Zittau and sat on the side of the road, deathly tired.

  • Early in the morning, at six, armed men knocked and banged on the door: “Everyone up!” then they ordered us: “You must leave the house in an hour!” We were only allowed to take the most essential items and property. And because we basically didn’t live very far from the newly created border with Poland, they sent us in the direction of Oppelsdorf (Opolno in Polish). At the time that was the railway station in the direction of Zittau and Frýdlant. A few compassionate residents accompanied us to the border, encouraging us and saying” “It’s not so bad, wait a bit, maybe things will end up just like in 1938 and when the new borders are set up they’ll let you come home.” Of course we would only find out that was not true much later.

  • Meanwhile a messenger on a motorbike and sidecar drove by our house and was naturally curious, wanted to look down, but broke the glass with his head. Of course he was wounded and bleeding, he did however allow the women (no one else being in the village) to bandage his head. And suddenly he held a pistol to my chest and said: “You. Name Adolf?” Thankfully my name is Helmut. That luck was what most likely saved me. He also said that SS members in Russia put little children in ovens. Those are the memories that have stayed with me until today and which I’ll most likely never forget.

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    Weidenberg, SRN, 31.05.2019

    (audio)
    duration: 01:28:43
    media recorded in project The Removed Memory
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You feel tied to the place you were born, but you can’t call it your home after deportation

Helmut Hempel - first day at school
Helmut Hempel - first day at school
photo: pamětník

Helmut Hempel was born on 14 August 1938 in the village of Uhelná (in German Kohlige, today part of Hrádek nad Nisou), after the annexation of the Sudety regions the village was administratively assigned to the nearby Václavice (Wenzige). His father Erich was originally from Saxony and despite spending almost his entire life in Bohemia, he had German citizenship. Helmut saw almost nothing of him during his childhood, because his father was conscripted in 1939 and after the war on his release from imprisonment in the United States, he never returned to Bohemia. Helmut started attending the German school in Václavice in September 1944, and it was only open until half way through April 1945, when almost everyone left. In Uhelná the looming surrender was embodied in retreating German soldiers, who spent the night of 5 to 6 May in the neighbour’s barn, under fire from a Soviet fighter plane. The Red Army arrived in Uhelná on 8 May 1945. After the army rapidly moved on, suddenly Czechs were in power and the Hempels, as the family of a German from the Reich, were among the first to be expelled on 16 June 1945. They went on foot across newly adjusted Polish territory all the way to German Zittau and a few weeks later they were forced to move again, this time by train. Up until 1946 they lived in the East German village of Pritschöna. After his release from American imprisonment their father Erich tried to cross into the Soviet Zone illegally, but was caught at the border and arrested for three days. Eventually their mother was more successful, crossing the border in the opposite direction with the help of a bribed smuggler in 1946. She and little Helmut crossed the small river dividing the occupation zones in Thuringia near the town of Fulda. Once more reunited, the family finally settled in Bavarian Warmensteinach, which was becoming a centre for work and living for Jablonec glassworkers, including Helmut’s uncle. Later on, Helmet also trained up to work in his uncle’s fashion jewellery factory and when he returned to Warmensteinach after a short student stay in Neugablonz (New Jablonec), he eventually he took over management of the company. In 1964 he married his wife who had also been expelled from Czechoslovakia as a girl. Mr Hempl visited his older sister Gerta (who was not deported due to her relationship with her future Czech husband) for the first time in 1966 and despite the language barrier still maintains contact with her children to this day.