Helmut Schmidt

* 1943  

  • “My family told me nothing about it, I only know that according to the general orders, we had to leave Česká Kamenice on 19 June and gather in the direction of Janská (previously Jonnsbach) at the fishpond and also vacate our flat according to very detailed instructions. There was a detailed description of the things we could and couldn’t take with us, no valuables. That’s something I found out after the war from my own notes. The family didn’t talk about it, but we were expelled with only hand luggage, which was difficult to accept. Mum was in her sixth, seventh month of pregnancy and she had to walk on foot to Hinterhermsdorf. That’s about 15, 16 km uphill and down, it was very difficult for her. But she never mentioned it. I only know that my brother was born on 4 August in the Diaconia of Ratten. Ratten is about 30 km from Děčín. That means my brother was born during the expulsion.”

  • “He was later held in Kamenice, in his own prison in solitary confinement, alongside another roughly twenty people. And then they transported him by truck to Rabštejn, that was in early June, I think it was 4 June. So he was also there when the other transports, for example from Děčín the Germans, but also other nationalities for example from Austria or Hungary. In Rabštejn before that 6 June he was placed in the former concentration camp and on 6 June as I said, another transport arrived and with it a German named Helmut Khun, who already in that Děčín prison had promised the Czech, or Czechoslovak guards that he’d show them what he’d been through in the German concentration camp of Ravensbrück or even Buchenwald. It was all lies, but the Czech patrols believed him and he even started beating and torturing Germans in that Děčín prison. And that made him a Kapo, meaning a person responsible for German captives in the concentration camp.”

  • “He was my first sibling, this brother. You probably can’t imagine it, but at the time it was almost impossible for a newborn to survive. And so he did die on 10 October. I have the dates from my mother, I can only remember being told it as a story, apparently I had said: ‘Now Wolfgang is lying down in the pit and he can’t get out. It was in October 1945’.”

  • “What I’m interested in about Česká Kamenice is that it’s something of a backdrop to my social existence. I understand that my only connection to Česká Kamenice is what was mediated through my grandparents. As well as a certain humanism that my grandfather talked about after his stay in Rabštejn, that was taken from Masaryk. Coexistence in a multinational monarchy was one of the things that defined my life. Above all, a certain tolerance handed down by my grandfather. But at the same time I know that the expulsion meant I’ve never, as they say so nicely, cast anchor. That’s a disadvantage. I only realised it at the moment I noticed I’d never properly let down roots in any one city. Part of that is having relatives, acquaintances there, knowing the history, being involved. I miss all of that.”

  • Full recordings
  • 1

    Praha, 31.08.2021

    (audio)
    duration: 01:34:56
    media recorded in project The Removed Memory
Full recordings are available only for logged users.

After expulsion I couldn’t put down roots, I miss feeling at home

Helmut Schmidt, Prague, 2021
Helmut Schmidt, Prague, 2021
photo: Post Bellum

Helmut Schmidt was born on 3 June 1943 in Česká Kamenice (Bӧhmisch Kamnitz, in German) to the parents Ingeborg and Maxmilián Schmidt. From 1943 onwards, his grandfather Uhman was mayor of Česká Kamenice, when it had a predominantly German population. After the war, Uhman was sentenced to six years in prison for membership in the NSDAP, interned at the former concentration camp in Rabštejn and released in 1948. Helmut’s father, a mechanical engineer, was enlisted into the Wehrmacht and died at the end of the war in Berlin. In June of 1945, together with his mother, grandmother and aunt, Helmut was expelled into the Soviet occupation zone of Germany. During the wild expulsion, his mother gave birth, but his newborn brother survived only a few weeks in the inhospitable conditions. The family later illegally crossed into the American occupation zone and this witness graduated from a grammar school in Düsseldorf. He continued his studies in Berlin, at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering. In 1968 he attempted to galvanise public discussion on issues surrounding the Second World War. Today he lives in Berlin, with his second wife, daughter and son. He has a strong relationship towards Česká Kamenice, where he organises meetings of expelled Germans. He has initiated the creation of memorial sites – in Hinterhermsdorf in Saxony as well as the former Rabštejn camp near Kamenice.