Walter Pilz

* 1932

  • “But the Russian soldiers who stayed the night with us didn’t harm us directly in any way, apart from the mess they spread all around themselves. They searched and pillaged everything around. I’d heard it from other people who the Russians moved in with. They didn’t take anything from the people they stayed the night with. But they searched and looted the surrounding area. So I don’t know if this is something to do with Russian hospitality or whatever, that’s just how it was. The ones who kept plundering and carrying out endless home searches, those was the Czech partisans, at least that’s what they called themselves. These men visited us for several weeks two to three times a week, looked all over the apartment, opened cupboards and prowled about to find something worth taking. And then they took it with absolutely no scruples. For example I was really angry when one of the partisans stuck my stamp collection under his arm and said: ‘That’s a really nice collection, now it’s mine.’”

  • “Dad was gone. We only heard about him and got in contact two years later. During those two years, the Russians took him to Ratibor, in Upper Silesia, jailed him there for a few months without doing anything to him. It appears they didn’t even interrogate him, or punish him in any way, he wasn’t the only one, they just held him in prison for no reason. A few months later they let him go, without any explanation and on foot, so he tried to walk all the way home. But he only got as far as Opava. In Opava he was arrested by the Czech gendarmes and they shoved him in an internment camp. He stayed in that camp until 1946 and was then expelled to Bavaria with the other prisoners. Hardly a year later, in 1947, in roundabout ways through friends and acquaintances we’d rebuilt ties with, we found out where he was.”

  • “On the morning of 11 July 1945 two armed soldiers appeared on our doorstep and told us to pack some things, food for three days, some clothing and then stand outside the house. We had an hour to leave the house. We weren’t allowed to take anything with us apart from our documents, no bankbooks, jewellery, valuables, nothing. Just food for three days and the clothes on your back, one piece of luggage per person, a case or backpack, no more. Well of course as a result, my mother was at her wits end, she had no idea what she should pack in that rush. Because nobody gave any answer when we asked what was going to happen to us. We had no idea at all and an hour later we were standing in the street in front of our house. The flats were to be locked, the keys left in the locks. That was all. Then we waited. The whole day we stood in front of the house, with all our neighbours of course, people were run out of all the surrounding houses in exactly the same way, and it was only late in the afternoon that they called for us to march towards the train station. There used to be a factory there, a weaving mill of the Machold company. And in that factory there was a large storage hall and they gathered us all there for the night. We spent the night there in the factory hall, we had to hand in some document with personal information, presumably they recorded it all. During the night we got those cards back. The next morning they drove us out of the hall and out in front of the factory they did a luggage check, body search, frisked everything all over again. They took the last valuable thing my mother still had with her, her wedding ring. As soon as all these searches were completed, they gradually moved us to the train station, meaning we had to march there under guard. At the station there was a long cargo train, it had open cars with metal floors that had clearly been used to haul coal just before, because there was still a several-centimetre layer of coal dust on the floor. My guess is they were all carriages from the Ostrava coalfields.”

  • “As soon as we were in the carriages, which was around noon, we weren’t allowed outside for the rest of the day, so we didn’t get anything to eat or drink, nothing, we weren’t even allowed to go get water. So we were stuck in those carriages until six in the evening without being allowed out. The train started moving at about six. We spent the whole day or half a day in those carriages in direct sunlight. So you can imagine how people felt. The train started moving, as I said around six o’clock towards Olomouc. That was our so-called ‘goodbye’ to our town.”

  • “None of us had the slightest idea where we were going, what their plans for us where. Our imaginations were running riot. So we thought we were going inland to the Moravian farmers to help with the harvest. Others said, no, no, they’re taking us to Russia, to Siberia, so there were a lot of crazy rumours going around. Nobody knew what was going to happen to us. When we passed Olomouc, it was getting dark and so we basically couldn’t even tell which direction the train was going. So we tried to get our bearings from the signs and local names we could read in the stations our train passed, to at least find out the direction. But when we passed Morava and were crossing Bohemia, it was all quite small Czech villages that none of us knew. So it was still hard to find our bearings. It was only in the morning, after sunset, that we were able to determine the direction we were moving in, and it wasn’t south or east, but we were going west. And then it gradually became clear that we were probably being expelled to Germany. But that was only obvious in the evening, because we spent the whole day driving through the Czech countryside, passing by Prague on the north side, we didn’t go through Prague. We only began to recognise it was Labe around Litoměřice, Ústí and Děčín. As soon as we were heading north alongside Labe, it was clear they wanted to take us to Germany.”

  • “Those two soldiers or partisans, whoever it was that told us to leave the house, they ordered us to lock the entrance door after we left and leave the keys in the lock, so that somebody else could get back in as need be. We had multiple sets of keys to the house and of course we did what we were told, otherwise we’d be punished, but there was one set of keys I hid deep within my trouser pocket, that I managed to smuggle out of Czechoslovakia so to say, and to this day I have them as a keepsake at home.”

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    Dresden, Německo, 17.06.2021

    duration: 01:45:09
    media recorded in project The Removed Memory
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Let’s try to learn from the mistakes of the war and post-war years

Walter Pilz, Dresden, 2021
Walter Pilz, Dresden, 2021
photo: Natáčení

Walter Pilz was born on 12 June 1932, in the then almost entirely German town of Bruntál. His parents operated the family grocery store and also had one daughter. Nobody in the family spoke Czech. Their father Adolf fought in the Austrian army during the First World War and was a member of the Sudeten German Party. In 1938 he was also briefly imprisoned by the Czechoslovak authorities (similarly after the war). His grandparents on his mother’s side got in trouble with the policy of the Third Reich and were arrested by the Gestapo in 1944, which only the grandmother survived. She subsequently stayed in the Bruntál flat with Walter, his mother and sister, until their expulsion on 11 July 1945. As part of the so-called wild expulsion, they were transported by train to the Soviet occupation zone of Germany, where they settled at their uncle’s in the town of Mücheln (Saxony-Anhalt). After graduating from grammar school, Walter started his university studies in physics and mathematics at the university in Halle. In 1952, he left for Munich in Bavaria as part of the “family reunification” process, completing his physics studies and settling down permanently. He married his wife Astrid, a German expelled from Ústí nad Labem, and they have one daughter together. He began visiting his childhood Bruntál in the 70s. He likes to visit his old homeland to show his grandchildren, but he’s never been inside the house of his birth. He still keeps the original keys.